“Beauty and the Beast” topiaries at Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival // © 2018 Visit Orlando
Feature image (above): Slinky Dog Dash will be one of two attractions in Toy Story Land. // © 2018 Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World Resort is celebrating 2018 with the return of a fan-favorite festival as well as introducing new character-driven experiences and delicious dining options.
Animal Kingdom Anniversary
This year is the 20th anniversary of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. At 500 acres, the park is Disney’s largest, providing the perfect backdrop for a large-scale celebration and two new experiences.
“The park has remained in a perpetual state of design and adaptation,” said Joe Rohde, senior vice president of creative for Walt Disney Imagineering. “Because it is engaged with living animals, the park is a living thing.”
Beginning April 22, families can enjoy a new show starring senior wilderness explorer Russell and his canine pal Dug from the Disney Pixar film “Up.” “Up! A Great Bird Adventure”, will teach guests about birds from around the world, complete with animal encounters.
Additionally, Donald Duck will take over DinoLand U.S.A for a prehistoric character celebration.
Exciting changes aren’t just happening inside the parks. This year will also bring new offerings to themed retail, dining and entertainment center Disney Springs. These include “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire,” a hyper-reality experience from ILMxLAB and The Void, as well as eight new dining venues, such as The Edison, an industrial-gothic restaurant and bar, and a trio of modern Italian restaurant and bar concepts. For example, family-friendly Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante serves Sicilian specialties; Enzo’s Hideaway Tunnel Bar & Restaurant offers hearty Roman fare and Prohibition-era cocktails; and Pizza Ponte provides pizza and Italian sandwiches.
Later this year, these venues will be joined by three more: Terralina Crafted Italian, helmed by James Beard-award winner and “Top Chef Master” Tony Mantuano, who will feature dishes inspired by his personal adventures in Italy; Wine Bar George from master sommelier George Miliotes, which will be the only master sommelier-led wine bar in Florida; and Jaleo, a Spanish dining experience from world-renowned chef Jose Andres.
Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival
Through May 28, the 25th Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is welcoming spring to Walt Disney World Resort. The event, which began in 1994 as a celebration of Disney-style gardens, now showcases more than 50 Disney character topiaries, including Belle and the Beast in France and Snow White with the Seven Dwarfs in Germany . It also features interactive play gardens and live music at the Garden Rocks Concert Series.
To mark the event’s silver anniversary, a 14-foot-high Goofy topiary will welcome guests at Epcot’s entrance. Inside, each of the festival’s 15 Outdoor Kitchens will have its own garden of herbs and produce to educate families about eating food that they have grown themselves.
“Each year, guests have questions related to edible gardens,” said Eric Darden, horticulture manager for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. “They get a big kick out of comparing items in our gardens with the herbs and produce our chefs incorporate into the festival’s Outdoor Kitchen recipes.”
Every Friday through Monday during the festival, the Garden Rocks Concert Series will take visitors on a musical journey through five decades of hit tunes. Musical acts at Epcot’s outdoor America Gardens Theatre will include Smash Mouth, Rock Springfield, Village People and The Spinners.
Beginning Memorial Day weekend, Walt Disney World Resort will kick off summer at all four theme parks with new attractions, character interactions and entertainment to immerse guests in their favorite Disney stories.
In Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom, Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone from Disney Pixar film “The Incredibles” (and upcoming “Incredibles 2”) will celebrate with a “super” dance party on the Rocket Tower Stage. And, for the first time ever, guests will get to meet character Edna Mode, the greatest superhero costume designer of all time.
Super Heroes are also taking over the America Gardens Theatre at Epcot, where Star-Lord and Gamora from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films will get fans ready for the new Guardians of the Galaxy attraction by hosting an intergalactic party featuring retro tunes from the movies’ soundtracks.
Toy Story Land
Toy Story Land will come to life June 30 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The 11-acre land will incorporate items from Andy’s toy box, including classics such as Rubik’s Cubes and Tinkertoys.
“We have an incredible summer ahead with the new Pixar-inspired land at Walt Disney World Resort,” said Claire Bilby, senior vice president of sales, services and events for Disney Destinations. “Guests who grew up with Woody and Buzz will love shrinking to the size of a toy and playing in Andy’s backyard.”
Toy Story Land will feature two brand-new attractions: Slinky Dog Dash, a family coaster that takes riders through turns and drops in fun dog-shaped vehicles, and Alien Swirling Saucers, where the little green aliens from the “Toy Story” films try to capture guests’ rockets with “the Claw.”
“Toy Story Land represents Walt Disney Imagineering’s collaboration with our storytelling partners at Pixar,” said Bob Chapek, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. “This new land will invite everyone to experience the joy of being a toy.”