Some people travel just to eat. And if you’re “some people,” EPCOT®, part of Walt Disney World® Resort, should be very, very high on your list of travel goals.
Since it opened with nine pavilions in 1982, the World Showcase at EPCOT® has become a dining destination that attracts visitors from all the world over to … well, see the world over. For those not familiar, this is the part of the Theme Park that offers highly concentrated and condensed, authentic but Disney-fied immersive experiences into some of the planet’s most wondrous and famous destinations. Featuring replicas of iconic landmarks, architectural designs, and, at times, full vistas of 11 countries or regions (the view of the Eiffel Tower and riverbank from the bridge gave me full River Seine déjà vu chills!), plus seasonal and local areas, this attraction has long made a global vacation something you don’t even need a passport for. And several times a year, the Imagineers at Disney make this world even more magical as they layer celebration themes over this international feature.
This spring, vacationers headed to MCO (and its fancy new terminal) for the house of Mouse should definitely plan for a stop toward Spaceship Earth. Starting in March and ending July 5, this park is hosting the EPCOT® International Flower & Garden Festival and pairing fantastic topiaries of favorite Disney characters, gardens, and tours with influences from all around the world.
To help visitors make the most of their stomach space, we at ALG Vacations® are offering our firsthand experience Keep reading for tips on special features to take note of and highlights of some of the best and most interesting bites and sips to partake in this season when making it “a small world after all.”
Plant-based food is in, and where better to feature it than a botanical-themed attraction? This year, there are 11 items that are highlights for this menu, and if you try at least five of them and get your festival passport stamped at each, you’re eligible to collect a Pineapple Promenade treat near Port of Entry.
The goodies are spread all over the world, showing the diversity of possibility for plant-based choices. Impossible™ hosts one stop, so this is a good chance to try out their meat substitute as Filipino lumpia or as a Korean short rib. Coconut tres leches at La Isla Fresca and Cookies and “cream” in a mousse cup by World Nature offer good dessert options. And if you don’t need your plants to try to be anything but themselves, head on over to Germany for potato pancakes with housemade apple sauce or avocado toast at the new Brunchcot station.
Port of Entry
Of all the items up for grabs in this entire world, The National Honey Board®-sponsored Honey Bee-Stro had my favorite item: Chicken and “waffles” that were more a rustic, corn-studded cornbread than a waffle. The boneless chicken was honey-brined and both were topped with whipped honey butter and “spicy” honey that was actually quite mild. This was an absolutely outstanding dish that I could have eaten two of and just called it a day.
Also hard to resist by this area was the Pollinator Flatbread, which was a generous sharing size and great value. It’s topped with honey-whipped mascarpone, honey-caramelized onions, blueberry gastrique, prosciutto, honey-whipped goat cheese, baby arugula, honey vinaigrette, and bee pollen. It’s colorful, beautiful, and the sharp and salty elements do well to balance out all the sweet. Wash it down with the Honey-Peach Cobbler Freeze with blueberry vodka to keep the theme going.
What many Americans don’t realize is that food in Canada is delicious. The cattle raised by our neighbors up north provide some of the planet’s best beef and French influence is strong on the eastern side, which is where the menu for Northern Bloom takes its inspiration. Here, I tried the Northern Bloom station’s gluten-free Seared Scallops, which came with some brown butter vinaigrette-covered French green beans, tender butter potatoes, and a generous smattering of Nueske’s smoked bacon. However, the beef tenderloin tips with mushroom bordelaise and whipped potatoes was hard to pass up. Drink a Maple Popcorn Shake to bring the fine dining air back down to earth. You can get it with Tap 357 Maple Rye Whiskey, too. But if you want to keep the honey theme going, they’re also serving Collective Arts Brewing Honey Lager from Ontario.
Yes, there’s always irresistible fish and chips in this corner of the world, and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist as you hear the sounds of happy folks crunching into their big, battered fillets. But here, make sure to make time for tea. Twinings® has established a tea garden in the countryside village area that features plants that make up some of their signature blends. The Tea Caddy offers sign-ups for a 30-minute guided tour, but you can also wander through self-guided if you grab a free brochure.
If you plan to eat in France, don’t do it starving. The lines are long here and for good reason. The specials that caught my eye were the croissant with goat cheese, herbs, and roasted garlic and the Provencal-style braised beef with Niçoise gnocchi. However, vanilla-cream caramelized beignets and warm chocolate tarts topped with brownies and raspberry coulis turned just as many heads as the savory dishes. Pair the latter with the raspberry rosé and the former with dessert-pair sparkling wine.
They call this La Isla Fresca, but it’s a tropical-themed area that feels kind of Caribbean … and tastes like it, too. Come here for braised oxtail with pigeon pea rice, or sugar cane shrimp skewers with mango salsa and coconut-lime sauce. This is where you can also pick up a Garden Graze stamp, as the tres leeches is soaked in every milk but dairy, making it a must for the vegan in your crew. For drinks, you should go a little more local here – they have Coconut Key Lime Ale from Islamorada, Florida, and white sangria from St. Petersburg.
If you feel like going in and sitting down, stop at the Tangierine Café: Flavors of the Medina. Their hummus trio is on the Garden Graze trail, and complements the usual menu. Try a pomegranate mimosa with the orange blossom saffron cake, or local pomegranate hard cider.
Here, you’ll want to look for the little booths and not the big shops. The regular food options in Japan are a big draw, but the seasonal ones are going to be at the Hanami stand. Cool off with Frushi, which is fruit wrapped in sweet mochi-like rice and pink soy paper wraps with whipped cream, raspberry sauce, and toasted coconut. There’s of course sushi and udon, too, but the fruit-based sake (plum and dragon fruit) options are a better pairing for the sweets!
Magnolia Terrace is a tribute to the Deep South, but this season’s offerings are distinctly New Orleanian. Grab a muffuletta panini with all of the traditional trappings, a bit of crawfish pie (now that mudbugs are in season!), and finish up with some Bananas Foster bread pudding. Ale from Asheville and an IPA from Broussard, Louisiana are good choices for the seasonal menu and the barbecue that’s always on offer in this corner. Look for the new Princess Tiana topiary to mark the spot!
This is out of order of appearance if we follow the counterclockwise route we’ve established, but Florida Fresh by Disney Traders is a great chance to savor a local sense of place and reality amid all the global fantasy. Two types of grilled corn on a cob are on offer there, and both qualify for a Garden Graze stamp. But for me, the main attraction was the strawberry shortcake, which is served like a big, sugar-crusted biscuit sandwich of Florida berries and whipped cream. The watermelon salad with blueberries, pickled red onions, balsamic, and feta offers a welcome cooling option as the weather gets warmer, and blackened fish sliders with citrus remoulade on brioche remind us just how good seafood can be as we get closer to the Gulf.
Good news! You can now get pizza al taglio (by the weight/length) here now. However, you can also get pizza anywhere, even here in Florida, so instead, go for the Primavera Kitchen festival specials. Tortelloni Primavera makes the most of spring, the season it’s named after, with spinach, corn, peas, fava beans, plus sweet butter and pancetta. I’d recommend the white sangria or the Italian Margarita with tequila and limoncello to go with this, but you also can’t go wrong with a Peroni Pilsner or Prosecco. The dessert is chocolate-hazelnut pudding with a cookie crumble.
Pancakes are in the house in Germany! The Garden Graze version has real apple sauce and the ultra-savory recipe has caramelized ham, onions, and herbed sour cream. They also have split pretzel rolls stuffed with Black Forest ham and melted Gruyere for a speedier bite you can inhale with one hand. You can satiate your sweet tooth here with Apfelschaumwin, which is a sparkling wine with apple liqueur, or a warm cheese strudel with mixed berries. Or, you can skip all of that and just go for a beer flight, as many visitors seemed to be perfectly satisfied with!
The diversity of the cuisine in China is finally hitting the mainstream, and while the festival menu is pretty “safe” with cheesy crab wontons/rangoons and fried vegetable dumplings, Disney is sneaking in a taste of regional culture with the third offering: Spicy Mala Chicken Skewers. For those not in the know, mala is a peppercorn and chili-based seasoning from Sichuan that’s gaining popularity in the States. But don’t worry – it’s not that hot in this application, and if your taste buds aren’t ready, it comes with creamy peanut sauce that will dampen the spice with salt and sweet, and milky bubble tea will cool you down right quick.
Many people end with Mexico because they want to finish their route with a great drink. Well, two types of margaritas – one with elderflower-chamomile tea, UNA flower-infused vodka, and chili salt – and craft Mexican lager guarantee that, but don’t sleep on the snacks. Here, you have housemade masa tortillas with squash blossoms, bacon, onion, zucchini, and cheese or a barbacoa beef taco with cheese, salsa ranchera, and esquites, which are a street corn snack that dates back to the age of the Aztecs. Both are gluten-free.
Out of This World
One thing newbies to EPCOT® need to learn is to pace themselves. Not only because there are fantastic options in quick succession, but because there’s more to eat outside of the World Showcase, too.
This is the first year for Brunchcot; head over toward the Test Track® Presented by Chevrolet ride and attraction, where they’re serving up cold foods trending hot, such as avocado toast and lox benedict on everything focaccia (no egg), plus shrimp and grits with sweet corn salsa and fried cinnamon roll bites with candied bacon.
Right around there, at EPCOT® Farmers Feast, the Early Bloom dishes they were serving looked fantastic and made me regret my full stomach. A gluten-free potato and leek “vichyssoise” soup was served child but with bacon lardons, potato croutons, chive oil, and crispy leeks, and the char-grilled bison ribeye portions, accompanied with leek fondue, red wine in the butter sauce, and goat cheese, were large.
As the season progresses, folks can look forward to grilled swordfish with pea and mint puree, grilled asparagus, and lemon beurre blanc; strawberry rhubarb upside-down cake; seared pork tenderloin with summer succotash; sweet corn crème brûlée, and more.
Finally, The Citrus Blossom at Odyssey is a refreshing way to end the grand tour. Energizing orange, lemon, and the like add a pep in your step with orange, chili, and sesame tempura shrimp; baked brie with preserved lemon marmalade and limoncello-macerated blueberries; lemon meringue pie; Citrus Honey Cream Ale; Orange Sunshine wine slushies; or a simple orange-lemon smoothie in a souvenir Orange Bird sipper cup.
And there you have it – how to eat through the gardens of the world at EPCOT® International Flower & Garden Festival.