Tag Archives: Epcot

Doing Disney: Flower and Garden Festival

003In yet another ploy to lure visitors during “off peak” times, Epcot offers the Flower and Garden Festival from early March to early June. And it works! The continuously changing face of Epcot draws seemingly never-ending crowds.

The Flower and Garden Festival, as you might expect, features a bright array of flowers and plantings. The Park simply bursts with bright colors in planting beds and floral arrays everywhere you look. Highlighted are the fanciful topiaries of beloved Disney characters, placed in appropriate locations for the theme. For example, the Beauty and the Beast topiaries are located in France, while the Toy Story topiaries are located in Future world, near the Mission to Mars ride. Just like the other Festivals, a guide to all of the offerings and features can be picked up at the entrance so you won’t miss anything.

It’s not just about the Disney topiaries, either. Other attractions include a butterfly aviary and specialty plants in various countries.  Japan showed off beautiful bonsai trees and China exhibited topiaries of all of their zodiac signs. (This is the year of the Dragon) Two beautiful new play “gardens” (playgrounds) sprouted up for the younger set for the festival. I hope they keep those around, because I do think Epcot needs more amenities for the under-8 set. Of course, all of the outdoor kitchens fired up again, re-branded and with new offerings complementary to the theme.  It isn’t Epcot without eating and drinking around the world!

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Like the other Festivals, this one has a concert series called “Garden Rocks!”.  A variety of artists are scheduled throughout the festival to perform their greatest hits. We caught “Air Supply”, one of my favorite duos from the 70’s,  the original artists still touring after 44 years. They were fantastic – very enjoyable!I’ve simply never seen a bad Disney-sponsored concert.  There are some great artists still in the line-up and if we were going to stick around longer, we would go back just to catch the shows. However, this was our last Disney outing for a while, since we are currently heading North to our next stop;  beginning our Midwest loop.

I guess if we lived in Florida all of the time, we might get blasé about Disney. But, after quite a few visits (I’ve lost count) in past months, it still really hasn’t gotten old. There always seems to be something new to do, or something to re-visit. There’s just SO MUCH offered between 4 theme parks and network of resorts.

Maybe it’s time to buy more Disney stock!

Doing Disney: Epcot’s Festival of the Arts

083Jeff and I are back in the Central Florida area, within reasonable proximity of Disney World. Back to taking full advantage of our annual passes!

Disney is a master at finding ways to entice you back to the parks. I’m sure a high-paid team of Disney Management huddles together, looks at the seasonal attendance patterns, and plots ways to suck you back in during the “low” attendance times. Nowhere is this more evident than at Epcot, which hosts a seemingly nonstop series of Festivals, each with their unique features. The Festival of the Arts at Epcot begins almost immediately on the heels of the Holiday Festival, running from mid-January through the end of February.

Epcot’s World Showcase area is ideally suited for special events like these. There is a large area to work with, several stages, and permanent “special event” kitchens scattered throughout the various countries. No matter the festival theme, each country can insert their own unique flavor.

The arts festival features displays of Disney-themed art (for sale, of course) throughout the world showcase. Mostly pictures/paintings, you can also find sculpture, jewelry, glassworks, bath products, even a “dye your own” silk scarf booth. You will often find the artist at their booth, working on their next creation. It’s fascinating to see each artist’s “take” on the iconic Disney subject matter.  One unique art style displayed is the chalk sidewalk art. So ephemeral, it’s sad to know that it will soon be washed away in the Florida rain.

088Guests have the opportunity to join in the fun at the “paint by numbers” poster. Each guest is given a numbered color and invited to fill in several squares. It’s cool to see the picture emerge over the course of the day. Once completed, a new poster is mounted and the completed artwork displayed elsewhere.

Another opportunity to join the fun is at a free interactive workshop at the Odyssey Festival Showplace. We took part in a 15 minute “draw a Disney character” workshop. Sitting at tables, a Disney animator instructed us line-by-line through a face drawing of the character Stitch. OK, mine turned out looking more like an evil don’t-feed-it-after-midnight Gremlin. But it was cool and rather giggle-inducing!

094The performing arts are also represented at the festival. Local bands and musical groups perform at the festival stage while “statue guys” amaze and amuse. The highlight (for me) was the thrice-nightly “Disney on Broadway” show at the American Pavilion stage. Each night, two veteran Disney Broadway stars perform a selection of Disney Broadway show tunes. Each couple perform a different show. I caught two different shows over different visits, and they were both just awesome. My favorite part of all!!

I went several times to this festival. The folks you see in the photo are Marissa’s family, who played with us for a couple of visits. There’s so much to see, it can definitely keep you entertained for more than one visit. The food offerings at the special event kitchens change with each festival, aligning with the theme. Different singer/actors perform different “Disney on Broadway” shows throughout the festival.  And all this is on top of the regular Disney rides, shows and displays. Disney really knows what it’s doing.

And that’s why we own Disney stock.

Doing Disney: Candlelight Processional

One of Disney’s most popular holiday events is Epcot’s Candlelight Processional. This presentation of the sacred Christmas story in narration and song originated more than 60 years ago in Disneyland. Migrating to Disney World in the 1970’s, it has evolved over the years to become the beloved show it is today.

The Candlelight processional cast consists of a full orchestra, a Disney Cast member choir (the green robed “tree”), guest choirs garbed in gold robes, and a celebrity narrator. The Processional showings begin before Thanksgiving Day and extend past Christmas – with 3 shows per day, every day. With so many shows, there are multiple celebrity narrators that participate 2 or 3 days each as well as many guest choirs.

The Processional is located in the American Pavilion, part of Epcot’s World Showcase. It is unbelievably popular, especially for shows with favorite guest narrators. Jeff and I had attended last year, but I definitely wanted to go again. Due to its popularity, the only way to guarantee seating to a performance is to purchase a “Candlelight Processional Dining Package”. This involves making dining reservations at one of a selection of Disney sit-down restaurants. For a modest up-charge over the normal cost of dining, you are guaranteed seating at a selected show. I hadn’t planned to go the dining package route this year, but changed my mind when I saw people queuing up at noon in the Stand-By line for a 5 pm show! I checked the website and snagged a lunch reservation and a 5 pm show time slot just two days in advance. To add to the excitement, the guest narrator was to be Neil Patrick Harris, a fan favorite narrator!

IMG_5029Our lunch reservation was for the Restaurant Marrakesh in Epcot’s Morocco. It doesn’t seem to be as popular a dining location, perhaps because the food is more exotic than the norm. But we had a delicious lunch, enjoying the belly dancer and Moroccan music as we dined. We couldn’t linger too long over our mint tea, it was soon time to queue up for the show!

Entering the theater as part of the guaranteed dining package line, we were able to snag prime seats in the middle of the theater – perfect for viewing the large stage. The show is primarily the re-telling of the classic Christmas story of Jesus’ birth and is chock full of classic carols. Hearing the familiar carols and watching the choirs process into the theater, candles in hand, just gave me happy tingles. Neil Patrick Harris was a superb narrator. Not only is he an accomplished actor/singer/dancer, he was celebrating his 11th straight year as a Processional narrator. This has become a part of his family’s Christmas tradition! He was relaxed and entertaining, but respectful of the material. I even saw him singing along during the Hallelujah Chorus! I can see why he is a fan favorite. I loved, loved, loved the show from start to finish! It was over all too soon.

It’s simply a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas season!

Theme Park Mania!

IMG_3386What do you do when you’re in Orlando?  Why, go to the theme parks, of course!

In our two weeks in Orlando, we ended up buying passes for 8 days of theme parks, which was a bit more than we originally intended! Here’s how it happened — Disney has 4 parks, so we figured we needed a day each. We had a one-day park-hopper pass left over from a previous purchase, so bought a 3 day pass for me and 4 day pass for Jeff.  Universal Studios has 2 parks (well, 3 if you count the new water park) and the parks are smaller so using the same logic, 2 days of passes would do, right? BUT, Universal Studios had this super Florida resident special where you bought a 2 day pass and got 2 additional days for free! How can you say no to two free days?? So, there you go, 8 days of theme parks!

IMG_3418If you come to Orlando and want to play in the theme parks, definitely check out the pass options online before you arrive. There are always a variety of options and often special deals, especially if you are a Florida resident. Universal Studios passes are discounted if you purchase online and you can pick up your tickets easily at the will-call kiosks located outside the entrance to each park, however if you purchase a Florida resident ticket, you will have to show your ID at guest services.

It was great fun! All of the parks decorate and have special themes and shows for the holidays. We were here during the first two weeks of December, which is touted as being “less busy” than other times. We found that Universal Studios wasn’t too crowded, but Disney always got busy by mid-day. The rides at Universal rarely had lines exceeding 30 minutes or so, but the most popular Disney attractions (such as the newly-opened Avatar section) could quickly build to queues of two hours or more.

IMG_2994Universal Studios / Islands of Adventure highlights:  The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular, Harry Potter areas (Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade) and the Hogwart Express train that connects them, the holiday projection light show against Hogwart Castle, Universal’s Holiday Parade, and all of the usual fun rides (the Hulk, the Mummy, Men In Black Alien Attack, RipIt RockIt Roller Coaster) and shows. The regular shows, such as the Blues Brothers, offered a special holiday version. It was great fun, but 4 days was more than we needed to cover everything. 2 big days or 3 mellow days would do it. We ended up spending 2 long days and 2 half days there. On our last day, we were tapped to participate in market research: we simply watched 20 minutes of video, answered questions about one of the commercials and received a $20 Universal gift card each! Cool!

IMG_3436There are 4 Disney parks:  Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios (formerly, MGM) and Animal Kingdom. 4 days is simply not enough time to see everything! The parks are large and you have to rely on Disney transportation to get from one park to another (as opposed to Universal Studios where you can walk from park to park). There are so many highlights it’s difficult to single out just a few, but I’ll attempt: The new Avatar area of Animal Kingdom, Holiday around the World at Epcot’s World Showcase, Jingle Bell Jingle BAM! projection/fireworks show at Hollywood Studios, Happily Ever After projection/fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, and the Candlelight Processional at Epcot. We purchased a Candlelight Processional dining package for the four of us (Sean, Marissa,  Jeff and myself) which guaranteed seating at this hugely popular show. I absolutely loved it!

It was exhausting but, I have to say it … magical!

IMG_34298 days in less than 2 weeks was probably a bit too much, even for us. I averaged around 20,000 steps each theme park day! 8 days in three weeks would have been about right. We did have time to fit in some other activities. Sean and Marissa were able to join us for some fun at the Disney parks and we are going to see the new Star Wars movie later today in IMAX 3D! Jeff also cashed in a 15 year old coupon for a Richard Petty Driving experience at the Daytona Speedway. He was quite impressed! We also enjoyed a few activities here at the KOA including Bingo night and Friday night line dancing.

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Hogwart’s castle at night

If you go – here are a few theme park tips:

  • Budget for parking – it’s $20/day which really adds up!
  • Snap a photo of your parking location – you’ll be thankful for that reminder at the end of a long, busy day!
  • Pack in your own snacks and save on food purchases. You can also take an empty water bottle and re-fill at drinking fountains.
  • The casual sit-down restaurants don’t cost much more than the fast “window” service, and the food is much better. However, you may need reservations during busy times.
  • Go early and head for the most popular rides first. It takes a little while for the lines to substantially back up. This is a place where the early bird definitely catches the worm!
  • Download the apps. Both Universal Studios and Disney have apps that provide maps, wait times, show times, and locations of dining and restrooms. If you don’t have a smart phone, printed guides are available just inside the entrance of every park.
  • At Disney, take advantage of FastPass. You can snag FastPasses through their app or at kiosks in the park using your admission ticket. If you stay at one of the Universal Studios resorts, your guest key acts as a fast pass for everything!
  • Here’s super secret time saver:  Getting out of a packed Magic Kingdom after the night time spectacular show means long lines for the monorail or ferry back to the Transportation Center. Instead, get on the “Resort” monorail. It stops at the Contemporary Resort, but the second stop is – the Transportation Center! There’s usually little or no wait for this monorail and you’ll get back to your car much quicker.

Next stop – Jacksonville! Maybe we’ll have a little down time, or, maybe not!