My wife and I got got married 15 years ago and honeymooned at Disney resorts for nearly 2 weeks. At that time I was already a homebrewer and beer geek, but there was no good beer to come by around the Disney properties. For our 15th anniversary we decided to go back, and I figured I’d do a blog series focusing on the boozy options available now. Organization of this series may be a little scattered since we moved around quite a bit from park to park, and more. By no means consider this a complete list, I could only eat and drink so much in one trip. I’ll do my best!
I started this series with Epcot since it had so many options around the World Showcase–you can check that out HERE. The second issue HERE focuses on the other three Disney theme parks. This issue will pay attention to some of the Disney resorts as well as the restaurants and lounges to be found there. A lot of folks think Disney is just all about the rides and princesses, but there are a ton of things for adults to do around the parks and resorts. While we did visit several of them, we didn’t get everywhere by a long shot!
This is where we stayed for most of our honeymoon 15 years ago. A huge rustic central area with fireplaces and a small river running right through the center provides tons of space for lounging, as well as access to the arcade and shops. There will always be a special place in my heart for this resort.
We made a special trip out for dinner to celebrate our anniversary, but got there a little early for our reservations. We decided to try out the Territory Lounge to kill some time. Somehow we totally missed visiting this place on our previous stay–possibly due to both of us being shy and not drink savvy back then. Oh how things have changed for us over the years! Full of rough-hewn wooden logs, dark woods and leather, this place is relaxing and comforting. A huge map-like mural adorns the ceiling and the yellowish lighting makes everyone in the place look a little jaundiced. They have a pretty large bottled beer list, but the majority of the beers are pale lagers (both macro and craft). The high points of the list are Boulevard Tank 7, Bear Republic Racer 5, Cigar City Jai Alai, Funky Buddha Blueberry Cobbler, and (local!) Orlando Brewing I-4 IPA. The cocktail list on the other hand is extensive and illustrated! We discovered the best cocktail on Disney property here: the Smoked Turkey–made with Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Red Stag Cherry Bourbon, grenadine, lemonade, and a hint of smoke. Yum! We paired this with some tasty nori yuzu popcorn. This place had some of the best options for beer of any place on properties that we visited. We also discovered whiskey flights!
Wilderness Lodge is home to one of the best restaurants on Disney property: Artist Point. The restaurant focuses on mostly West Coast cuisine and we dined here again with great gusto! We were treated to a complimentary champagne toast from our kind server, followed by a massive amount of perfectly cooked cedar plank salmon. I ordered the best beer on the limited list–Chimay Blue, since I wasn’t feeling like wine after my previous cocktail.
Having been recently updated, this was our home away from home for this visit to Disneyworld. In classic “modern” 60’s and 70’s tiki glamour, this place seems cheesy at first, but on digging in is really quite fun. They do a cool evening Luau dinner with dancing and fire-spinning that is fun to try–we did this on a previous visit. Several restaurants ranging from counter service, sit-down, to character dining are available in the main building. Good beer is not present in the main areas of the resort, but tropical cocktails are in much abundance. As a coffee snob, I was disappointed in the terrible thin brown-water mess that the Kona Cafe made of the expensive 100% Kona coffee we had there.
The shining star of the Polynesian (and possibly the whole of Disney) for this trip was Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. This is a very small, dark, tiki bar hidden away behind a nearly unmarked door near the side exit from the main building. With very limited space, it can take a while to get in…we were there in low crowd times and visited either very early or very late at night in order to get in and one time had to join a very sweet couple from England at a small table. Tons of cool shrunken heads, tribal masks, and other island bric-a-brac adorn the walls and bar area adding lots of character. An extensive list of tiki drinks allows for multiple visits to try them all! They do offer a small flight of Kona beers which I got just to be complete, but I’d stick with the cocktails. Each of the fancier drinks that come in their own special tiki glasses are accompanied by a special effect, chant, fire effects, talking idols, and rituals you must complete–making this one of the most interactive and fun bars I’ve ever been to. This is the magic and customer service that Disney should be doing all over the properties! Not to give too much away, but when I ordered my Shrunken Head cocktail, the lights dimmed and my server shambled all the way across the room to present my drink to me. Not until I had kissed the ugly mug (literally) could I get to work drinking this fruity concoction! You better bet I came home with a few tiki’s for my home bar…
The staff at Trader Sam’s were great, with lots of crowd interaction and comic relief. One of the bartenders kept adding light-up ice cubes, bendy straw towers, umbrellas, and more to one “happy” lady’s beer each time she walked past until the lady turned around to find that a towering, flashing, tiki sculpture had invaded her drink.
This is Disney’s fanciest, most lavish Victorian themed resort. Someday we’ll stay there! One of the nicer restaurants on the properties is Narcoosee’s: located right on the lagoon with a great view of the water. Specializing in fresh sea food, this place had wonderful scallops that Sj and I shared. We received great service and a special anniversary desert on our visit. The wine list was extensive but I opted for a rare treat around Disney–Terrapin Hopsecutioner. Not the cheapest spot, but well worth the visit for the food alone.
Being “contemporary” in the 70’s this place hasn’t aged as well as some of the other resorts. The monorail actually has a stop directly in the hotel though, so it’s convenient to get to some of the other parks and resorts. Up on the top level of the resort is possibly the fanciest ($$$) of the Disney restaurants: California Grill. Upscale dining with a fantastic view of the area makes this one a worthwhile stop if you want to drop some cash. If you time your reservation right you can also take a break from your dinner to go out on one of two observation decks to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks display over the iconic castle. Last time we were there it was too foggy to see, but this time we got a pretty cool show! For dinner we split a wonderful tasting Dragon Roll of sushi that had been made with questionable structural integrity (I’ll stick with Yumi’s in Excelsior) and a beautiful piece of halibut. The wine list was quite extensive, and they had one of the better craft beer selections I saw on Disney property: Bell’s Oberon, Cigar City Jai Alai and Maduro, Duvel, Napa Smith Hopageddon, Omegang Three Philosophers, and Left Hand Milk Stout. I opted for the Jai Alai since this was our first dinner in Florida and I wanted something local. This was a great night!
Several years ago (7?) we stayed at the Boardwalk, mainly due to it’s walkable proximity to Epcot. This is still one of my favorite spots in the Disney (Boardwalk) Empire. The resort is set up along the lake and has a huge wooden boardwalk all along the front of the buildings. Carnival games, buskers, drink snack stands, and more take place here during the day and early evening. This is one of the more “happening” spots in any of the resorts, but luckily things quiet down by bedtime so sleeping in the resort isn’t too much of a problem. There are several restaurants, a good bakery, an ice cream shop, and a few bars along this stretch as well.
One of our first stops here was the fairly new AbracadaBar–a magician themed pub specializing in cocktails. This place seemed right up my alley with a cool vibe with old stage magician posters and memorabilia in abundance. However, I question their cocktail chops based on the fact that the Old Fashioned included soda! What? We also waited nearly 15 minutes without being acknowledged (probably the worst service we had in all of Disney) and ended up just leaving for greener pastures before ordering anything. I’m curious to hear from others what their experiences here have been like.
Our next stop was Big River Grille & Brewing Works right on the waterfront. Big River is an actual tiny craft brewery right on Disney property and has been there since 1996. Back during our previous stay we had lunch here and were somewhat disappointed in the food and beers. This time we just shared a beer sampler to get the lay of the land. I will say that, under the current head brewer Sky Conley, the beers had improved quite a bit. Most were fairly average, but he had a good mix of styles to choose from and I think these would appeal to a wide audience. My favorites were the Southern Flyer Light Lager (clean and very refreshing on this 93 degree day) and the (Shaft’s?) Big Score oak aged barleywine. This place is worth a stop if you are in Epcot or the Boardwalk, but I don’t think I’d make it a specific destination.
So that’s it for this visit’s stops at the resorts! I look forward to going again in the next few years and trying out more places. If anyone has other hints for great places for beers or cocktails in the resorts please comment or send me a message!
This is the newest of the Disney resorts and is a bit farther from the action than the others. We really want to stay here sometime, but having to wait for buses to get to the other sites can take some precious time out of your “parking”. The construction and layout of this site is very similar to the Wilderness Lodge, but with African theming rather than Pacific Northwest. I can’t really do the place justice by description–you really just need to stand in the central greatroom and take in the massive scale of it. Out back is a savannah with giraffes, zebras and more, and the fancier rooms face this beautiful area. For folks staying at this lodge you can book a special tour of the savannah and dinner at Jiko package that looks intriguing.
Within the Animal Kingdom Lodge are a few restaurant options, all with an African flavor but plenty of options for less adventurous eaters. Back on our honeymoon (eons ago) our favorite dining experience by far was at Jiko–the fine dining restaurant on site. Back then we got to try several South African wines, and cool unusual flavors in upscale cooking. This visit we perhaps had too high of expectations. Our food was still quite good–I had perhaps the best chicken dishes I’ve had in years, bursting with strange flavors and perfectly crispy skin. I opted for a beer rather than wine, mostly because they actually had a local beer to try. Orange Blossom Brewing’s Pilsner (made with local orange blossom honey) was very crisp and yet I could pick out a distinct citrus flavor that was unique and refreshing. Our visit was tainted a bit by our server being not especially attentive nor helpful. This wasn’t a terrible experience, but I almost wish we had left it as the very special place of our early years.
There is also a wine bar attached to Jiko with plenty of good wines to choose from. A small open Victoria Falls Lounge just upstairs from the restaurants that provides some cool cocktails (including the wonderful Smoked Turkey) and a decent bottled beer list including 5 IPA’s.
And that concludes my essay on cool places to eat, drink and be merry outside of the parks at Disney. These are just a few of the spots to check out on the resort properties, but there are a ton of hidden gems to explore on your vacation at Disney World. If you plan to stay more than a few days, take some evenings or late afternoons to explore some of the properties! With mostly convenient bus, monorail, or walking trails between parks and Disney property it’s pretty easy to get around.
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