One of my family’s favorite parts of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival has opened early this year. The main kids’ playground — which is themed to the upcoming movie, “Oz The Great and Powerful” — and its carnival-style game tents are up almost three weeks before the festival begins on March 6.
Disney World decided to preview the area along Imagination Walkway in an effort to promote the movie, which hits theaters on March 8. Follow the yellow brick road and pass under the Oz arch near Showcase Plaza and you will spot the downed hot-air balloon on the left, indicating you are approaching the play area. (An area to the right of the walkway in past years has housed detailed sand sculptures related to a current Disney movie. This year, guests will find the Water Wise Garden presented by RainBird located there.)
The Land of Oz Garden where the playground is located also features fantastical art-glass poppies “planted” among beds of real flowers, which will be updated through the festival’s end date of May 19. Inside the “garden,” families will find play equipment from Landscape Structures. This company has been providing the play structures for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival for years.
This year, the company chose the PlayBooster Vibe and Evos structures for kids ages 5 to 12 and the Cozy Domes with flower steps for ages 2 to 5. The Evos structure is one that veteran festival-goers will recognize: The arch has a series of suspended tire-like elements that kids must climb through. It’s a challenging journey that often requires some parental assistance. The Playbooster Vibe is similar to the main structure showcased in 2012, but this version has been modified to include tall metal flowers to carry out the garden theme. In addition, one of the ramps to the structure has been adorned with a flower motif and an Oz logo.
My children gravitate to the crowded play area each year, and my husband and I don’t mind taking a break there either, because of the shade and plentiful seating. This year, one section of Adirondack chairs is designed to look as if guests are inside the hot air balloon from the movie.
Outside The Land of Oz Garden and farther up Imagination Walkway are carnival games. Test your skill at throwing hoops around milk bottles and you’ll receive an “Oz The Great and Powerful” button. Try your hand at the bean bag toss, too, and you can take home a packet of seeds to plant in your own backyard. Guests also can see silly images of themselves reflected back in fun-house mirrors or take photos with carnival backdrops.
The Land of Oz Garden is not the only play area for kids at The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. This year, the Radiator Springs interactive play zone debuts on the walkway near Test Track. “Cars 2” stars Lightning McQueen and Mater will be represented as topiaries overlooking another play structure from Landscape Structures that includes a pair of climbing rocks. This section is geared toward ages 5 to 12.
In addition, the Backyard Play Garden between Morocco and France returns. Sponsored by GoGo squeeZ, the area offers outdoor fun designed to keep the young and young-at-heart active and is a third separate area with play equipment from Landscape Structures. There you will find select items from the HealthBeat Outdoor Fitness System.
There are many other kid-friendly aspects to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, and I’ll be writing about more of those experiences as this special event starts.