Festival season is upon us. Here are all the big ones you don't want to miss in the Orlando area this spring.
Feb. 28-May 28
Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival
Over the past quarter-century, Epcot's gardening gathering has grown from a modest horticultural celebration into a multi-month marathon of imbibing around World Showcase. New concert acts for the 25th annual edition include Foghat (April 6-7), Survivor (April 9-10), Smash Mouth (April 13-14) and Rick Springfield (April 15-16).
200 Epcot Center | Drive 407-939-5277 | disneyworld.disney.go.com
Feb. 3-April 7
Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras
Universal's annual Big Easy event lets the good times roll all the way from before Ash Wednesday until a week past Easter, which will totally blow your Lenten penance ... but hey, free beads! New constellation-themed floats debuted with this year's nightly parade, and the weekend concert lineup includes Jason Derulo (March 10), Foreigner (March 17) and Fifth Harmony (March 18).
6000 Universal Blvd. | 407-363-8000 | universalorlando.com
Feb. 17-April 15
SeaWorld's Seven Seas Food Festival
Last year, SeaWorld's inaugural food fest floored us with flavor and value (especially using a prepaid sampling lanyard), and this year's samples run the gamut from Brazilian churrasco and Caribbean ceviche to all-American BBQ and hot dogs. Look for limited-time Latin-inspired menus on March 31-April 15, plus performances by Huey Lewis & the News (March 3), Daughtry (March 10) and the Eli Young Band (March 25).
7007 Sea World Drive | 407-545-5550 | seaworld.com
Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival
Quickly becoming the premier music festival in Florida, this year's Okeechobee Festival is perhaps their most ambitious undertaking yet. Spread over four days and nine stages on the sprawling 600-acre Sunshine Grove, more than 100 bands and musicians will entertain the Okeechobee faithful. The beyond-stacked lineup includes Bassnectar, Arcade Fire, Halsey and Travis Scott as headliners, and features the all-star PowWow jam featuring Snoop Dogg, the Roots, Trombone Shorty and many more. Even our own Sh-Booms will be making an appearance at the fest.
Thursday, March 1-Sunday, March 4 | Sunshine Grove, 12517 N.E. 91st Ave., Okeechobee | okeechobeefest.com | $289-$699
Orlando Indie Comedy Fest
This year's incarnation of the Orlando Indie Comedy Fest expands beyond the Milk District/Mills 50 bounds of previous years with new venues downtown (Odd Jobs) and in Ivanhoe Village (Savoy). This year's lineup boasts 46 national comics sharing the stage with 24 Florida comics for four days of hilarity. Along with headliners Sam Tallent, Janelle James and Rhea Butcher, two special shows – Late Late Breakfast and We Still Like You – return for special OICF editions. Plus, there's a mystery headliner on Sunday whose contract prevents them from announcing their name until the first day of the festival (but we'll be sure to tell you who it is as soon as we know).
Thursday-Sunday, March 1-4 | multiple locations | orlandoindiecomedy.com | $15-$45
Florida Strawberry Festival
If you think you're going to the Florida Strawberry Festival just to get some fruit, bless your heart. This world-famous 11-day fair boasts thousands of attendees, dozens of carnival rides and a legendary concert lineup that this year includes Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Aside from being able to buy hundreds of pounds of strawberries and other local produce, you can taste all the strangely attractive concoctions that festival vendors come up with – strawberry lasagna, fried strawberry Twinkies, chicken strawberry tacos, strawberry pizza, strawberry hamburgers and, of course, a helping of the renowned strawberry shortcake with as many dollops of whipped cream as you can take.
10 a.m.-10 p.m. March 1-11 | 303 N. Lemon St., Plant City | 813-752-9194 | flstrawberryfestival.com | $5-$10
Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival
In its 59th year, the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival can confidently lay claim to being not only the region's most prestigious and rigorously juried art fair, but also one of the nation's oldest. (Its younger sister, the Winter Park Autumn Art Festival, turns 45 this year.) More than 350,000 visitors will browse along Park Avenue and throughout Central Park, where more than 200 artists will display wares ranging from paintings, prints and photographs to fiber art, ceramics and jewelry (but no sidewalk chalk art, for those who always ask). The WPSAF remains the best place to find that one-of-a-kind, distinctive piece that'll blend in with the ottoman. Pro tip: Parking is tight, and this year the festival has discontinued the shuttle service that used to run from farther-flung parts of the neighborhood. Carpooling or ride-share services are strongly recommended – or even better, ride your bicycle and take advantage of the free bike valet located near the train station.
9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday | Central Park and along Park Avenue between Garfield and New England avenues, Winter Park | 407-644-7207 | wpsaf.org | free
Florida Film Festival
Enzian's crown jewel of programming, the Florida Film Festival, returns for its 27th year this spring. With 54 features and 126 short films, cinephiles should have no trouble finding something to pique their interest. And while celluloid is the star here, don't miss out on some of the events surrounding the festival, like the huge opening-night party, two Sunday brunch buffets, the annual Sip & Savor cocktail tasting, and the Locally Fresh spotlight on local cuisine.
April 6-15 | Enzian Theater, 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland | 407-629-0054 | floridafilmfestival.com | $11-$1,500
Florida Music Festival
In the same spirit of events like CMJ and SXSW, the Florida Music Festival is a hyperlocal look at the ever-changing state of the music biz in the City Beautiful, complete with panels and talks by pros like last year's keynote speaker, Warped Tour's Kevin Lyman. The main focus, however, is always on the music. Over the long weekend, spread out over multiple stages downtown, more than 100 musicians of all genres strut their stuff at free showcase events. Keep an eye out as well for the stage curated by Orlando Weekly's TLU columnist Bao-Le Huu on Thursday night, where the next wave is always on offer. The story of Orlando music is written and rewritten in real time during the Florida Music Festival.
April 12-14 | multiple locations, downtown Orlando | floridamusicfestival.com | free
Central Florida Earth Day
Join your fellow Earth lovers for the 13th annual Central Florida Earth Day, the largest and longest-running Earth Day celebration in the region. Not only a commemoration of the environment, this family- and dog-friendly event concentrates on promoting positivity in the community while exercising all forms of creativity and artistic expression. (Oh, and it's very much vegan-friendly too.) Also in conjunction with Central Florida Earth Day will be the March for Science, which starts on the northeast lawn of Lake Eola before it proceeds to the amphitheater and rounds back out to where it began.
10 a.m.-6 p.m. | Lake Eola Park, 512 E. Washington St. | cfearthday.com | free
Orlando's most exciting cultural festival comes back for its 27th iteration this May. Talented folks from all over the world unite at Orlando Fringe Fest for dozens upon dozens of raw, uncensored theatrical and artistic performances at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, the Orlando Repertory Theatre and throughout Loch Haven. Thousands are expected to attend the Fringe performances and other shows at the outdoor stage, Kids Fringe and Visual Fringe. As the biggest and longest-running such performing arts festival in the country, Orlando Fringe is a definite must.
May 15-28 | Loch Haven Park, 777 E. Princeton St. | orlandofringe.org | free-$15
Thomas Jefferson, one of our nation's founding fathers, once said, "Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirits and promotes health." More than 200 years after the author of the Declaration of Independence so wisely commented on the alcoholic beverage we've all come to know and love (and love and love and love), we're still celebrating those same intoxicating qualities of the barley pop – and Beer 'Merica in Orlando is a prime example of just that. To sample more than 100 different craft brews and even more sauced-up yahoos parading around, put on a pair of pants that Uncle Sam could be proud of and come out for an afternoon of live music, food trucks and more (read: beer.)
3-7 p.m. | Gaston Edwards Park, 1236 N. Orange Ave. | beermericaorlando.com | $15-$45
The area's largest pop culture convention returns to the Orange County Convention Center with a stacked lineup of celebrity guests, panels, workshops and dedicated cosplayers. In addition to Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) and Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee Herman), MegaCon has secured the first convention appearance of Jeff Goldblum and a mini-reunion of actors from The Princess Bride. And, of course, the convention promises plenty of exclusive merch to fill your shopping bags with as well.
May 24-27 | Orange County Convention Center, 9800 International Drive | megaconorlando.com | $20-$640