Review: Gardens of the World Tour at Epcot

There are many hidden gems in the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, and one of the most interesting is the Gardens of the World Tour.

©Steven Liebman

Getting in the park early allowed us to take photos with no one around.

This three-hour tour is given only during the festival and is led by one of Disney’s full-time horticulturalists. We say it’s hidden because it can be a little hard to find information on it unless you call Disney at (407) WDW-TOUR. You won’t even find it listed on the Events & Tours page on the Disney website. That may be why it’s not a hot ticket — either that, or because enjoying the tour requires a certain combination of stamina and a keen interest in gardening.

Our group only had seven participants, which made it very easy to ask the tour guide questions and for all of us to navigate the park.

We took the tour on a Thursday morning, arriving at Epcot at about 8:20 for the 9 a.m. tour. We wanted to get there early because there was some lack of clarity around where to meet. In years past, the tour kicked off at the Festival Center, but this year the center is only open on weekends. And the weather can change the meeting place up until the last minute.

©Mary Liebman

Zulma explains how hanging baskets are made.

We arrived early and went to the guest relations window outside the gate, where we were directed to head into the park to meet at the butterflies topiary behind Spaceship Earth. This is exactly what we were hoping to hear: Getting in early gave us almost half an hour to photograph topiaries without hordes of opening-time visitors getting in the way. We spent some time at the helicopter garden at the front of the park — no doubt aggravating the people standing at the turnstiles waiting for the 9 a.m. rope drop — the teardrop garden that features Mickey and Minnie in an American Gothic pose, and the “Frozen” garden featuring Elsa and Anna. All three are normally mobbed, so it was a real bonus to get some private time with them.

Our guide, Zulma, has been with Disney World for nine years, leading the Gardens of the World Tour for three. A normal day for Zulma starts at 4 a.m. at the Grand Floridian where she supervises the indoor landscaping, then continues at 9 a.m. at Epcot for the tour before wrapping up a little after noon. Zulma clearly loves her work, and loves to share it with visitors.

Our tour started in Future World, where we talked about the immense effort involved in creating the colorful berms that are a trademark of the festival. But most of the tour was spent in the World Showcase, exploring how landscaping works with the park’s architecture to help create a story in each land. We had spent time at Epcot photographing the topiaries, but Zulma still showed us wonderful things we hadn’t noticed, including an explosion of orchids high in the trees of the Mexico pavilion.

©Mary Liebman

These berms are hand weeded daily.

In three hours, we learned a lot about the army of gardeners it takes to keep Disney World — not just the Flower & Garden Festival — flowering all year.  It took 400 Walt Disney World horticulturists to install the festival landscape, topiaries and many exhibits.

We also heard about how many of the signature features of the festival are made, including the flower towers (31 of them), topiaries (over 100) around the park, hanging baskets and floating gardens (225 of them). Here’s a more complete list of how much it takes to put on the festival.

The cost is $65 per person. In addition to the tour, you walk away with a pin (this year’s design features Olaf from “Frozen”) and a poster from this year’s festival.

A few tips if you’re interested in taking the tour:

  • If you’re doing it for the pictures, do yourself a favor and get there early! 
  • Take a bottle of water, or buy one before your tour group gets to the World Showcase, especially if it’s a hot day. We got to the World Showcase around 10, and we were running a little behind schedule. You could end up walking for an hour or more before you can find an open kiosk to buy a bottle of water. There are water fountains along the way if you want to bring something you can fill up.  
  • Disney may tell you there are no bags allowed on the tour; don’t believe them. We were instructed that there is a strictly no-bag policy, so we carefully avoided bringing bags — even our camera bags! — but when we joined the group, even our tour guide was carrying one. 

If you’re in need of some inspiration for your own garden, or you’re interested in how Disney manages to put together its gorgeous Flower & Garden Festival seemingly overnight, think about adding Gardens of the World to your itinerary.

©Mary Liebman

These orchids were individually tied to the tree just for the festival.
©Steven Liebman

The orchids placed on the tree.
©Steven Liebman
There are special gardens throughout the park, including this Pizza Garden.