I know that many longtime Disney World veterans miss the original Epcot. I for one wish I could travel back in time and endlessly ride Horizons. The park has somewhat lost sight of it's original mission. I originally was against the inclusion of Marvel characters with the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy coaster in Future World. But I've learned to move past the nostalgia. Sometimes it's good to let the past go and move on. After all, change is a good thing. But for those of you who still can't shake off your distaste for new direction of Epcot, there are still some offerings that provide entertainment with a sprinkle of education.
For years, I've walked through the Land pavilion en route to Soarin' without thinking about other attractions inside the pavilion. Just a few months ago, I finally tried out Garden Grill and in the past few years, grew a new appreciation for Living with the Land. (Which is one of the only opening day attractions still in tact.) But during the opening weekend of this year's Flower & Garden Festival, I decided to take things a step further and book the Behind the Seeds Tour. This is a one-hour walking tour of the greenhouses that you pass through on the boat ride. It's offered year-round, but I thought it would be a good way to add to my Flower & Garden experience. I was also secretly hoping that the tour would inspire me to develop a green thumb.
I booked a midday tour at 12:45pm. I went for a quick spin on the boat ride first, then arrived at the check-in counter for the tour about 15 minutes before it officially started. I normally tell people that you should pre-book everything at Walt Disney World. It just makes for an easier experience. Even if you're not a planner, it's a good idea to make some sort of plan well before you visit. This was the first experience at Disney World where I didn't feel it was necessary whatsoever. The tour can normally handle at least 20 people or more. But on this particular day, I got very lucky and had a small tour group of only 5 people.
The tour works in the reverse order that the boat ride does. At the very beginning of the tour, your guide will escort you through a backstage hallway and to the exterior of the pavilion before your first stop. Our guide was a plant science intern originally from Georgia and she specialized in the tropical rain forest greenhouse inside the pavilion. She explained that every tour guide is a Cast Member who actually works in this particular pavilion, so it's interesting to see that they rotate tasks throughout the day. But this also means that depending on who you get, you'll experience a slightly different version of the tour given that each guide will have advanced knowledge in one particular area.
Before stepping inside the actual greenhouses, our guide first walked us to a window looking into the biotech lab. Both here and shortly after at another indoor lab, did we learn a little bit more about pest control. She went on to explain the dangers of leaf miner flies and how they can damage the leaf of plants. If you've ever seen thin white lines spreading through your plants at home, it's possibly baby leaf miners that crawl and chew at plant leaves. She went on to explain how the scientists at Disney use parasitoid wasp to fight off the leaf miners as a way of conducting natural pest control. The presentation got very scientific and I was taken back to my school days instantly. After this brief presentation, it was time to actually step foot inside the greenhouses.
We first walked through the final greenhouse seen on the boat ride. This is where Disney experiments with alternative growing techniques to grow vegetation. We were reminded that this is indeed a working greenhouse and many of the fruits and vegetables grown here are used at restaurants throughout Disney World. Depending what time of year you visit, you'll see a different collection of vegetation. On this particular day, a series of kale plants were hanging from the moving aeroponic system. This is a way of growing plants without the use of soil. This technique involves hanging plants and passing them through a misting system that waters the plant's roots. Thanks to this tour, you can get a very close look at the spray system. It was here that our guide also began talking to us about hydroponics, which is another method of growing plants without soil. Our guide even provided us with some additional reading material that explains how you can create your own hydroponics gro-tank at home.
In the next greenhouse, we got to see even more interesting techniques used to grow tomatoes. You'll notice that space is everything inside these greenhouses. While they may seem big aboard the boat ride, you begin to notice that the greenhouses are a bit smaller than you think when passing through here on foot. But the scientists here are using a variety of techniques to maximize space in every which way. For example, the vines of the tomatoes wrap around the base of one structure so that they are easier to pick. Some plants are grown vertically atop one structure, while others lay directly underneath. The lettuce here is also grow with a clever water system. On average, it takes 12 gallons of water to feed one pound of lettuce. This ingenious water system, which utilizes inclined gutters, cuts that down to 2.2 gallons per pound of lettuce by reycling the water constantly.
The tour then ends with a trip through the aquaponics section and of course the tropical rain forest greenhouse. The aquaponics on display show the relationship of fish farming combined with the growth of plants. We even got to feed some fish! The end of tour under the glass dome where tropical plants and fruits are grown, was my favorite. Mainly because this is where the tour turns away from the details of growing techniques and highlights how the vegetation grown here is used in your food. Our guide took us to a table where several jars of spices were laid out. We got to smell each one and play a little game of 'name the spice'. It may seem simple to adults who are masters of the kitchen, but for younger guests it's a fun game to play.
At this point, our guide escorted us back through all the greenhouses once again to exit exactly where we started. Along the way, several boats on the ride passed by and I could tell that there were curious passengers wondering how to get their own private tour of the greenhouses. Our guide also took this time to answer any questions we had, but since the group was exceptionally small there weren't many. We were taken right back to the check-in counter and in true Disney fashion, you have the opportunity to take home a little souvenir. Your own mini-Mickey garden to take home with you.
In the end, I had a mixed bag of thoughts with this tour. During my trip to Flower & Garden I booked this tour and the Royal Tea Garden Tour at the UK Pavilion. The second is exclusively offered during the festival. I went into both thinking I would love Behind the Seeds and glaze over in the Tea Garden. However, I left both experiences with the exact opposite opinion. Behind the Seeds certainly puts the education back into Epcot. I think if you have younger guests traveling with you and they have a particular interest in science and agriculture, they will love Behind the Seeds. Not only is it engaging, but kids will enjoy the idea of being 'backstage' at Disney and in this case, inside the ride itself. I personally, lost a bit of interest in this tour because science and gardening is not my forte. My passion for food and cooking kept me involved, simply because of the connections to agriculture.
Behind the Seeds is priced at $25 plus tax for adults and $20 for kids 3-9. There are several ways you can get a discount at this tour as well. Annual Passholders, DVC Members, Disney Visa Cardholders, AAA Members and both retired and active military employees receive a 15% discount. This is an extremely fair price to do something very unique at Disney World. However, having an existing interest in the subject is a plus. Tours are offered year round, usually between 10:30am and 4:30pm. You can book this tour by calling (407) WDW-TOUR or by booking online here.