Disney’s Boardwalk Inn is one of my favorite Walt Disney World non-park destinations. Having gone through a bit of a facelift over the last couple of years (some of it still ongoing), this charming waterfront village—themed after turn-of-the-century Atlantic City and perfectly nestled between Epcot and Hollywood Studios—is crawling with experiences that, now more than ever, guarantee the “Disney magic” we all look forward to feeling at Walt Disney World. From delightful street performers who engage both young and old with their mesmerizing acts to restaurants and quick-service food stops that offer a whimsical atmosphere with tantalizing dishes and treats, from souvenir shops that stock all the Disney memorabilia you never knew you needed until you saw it to exciting nightlife that proves adults can let loose and have the time of their life at Disney too, there are countless ways to experience all that the Boardwalk has to offer! Let’s take a look at 7 experiences you must have at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn!
You’ll find a small gift shop right off the main lobby called Dundy’s Sundries, but the souvenir shop you’ll want to spend your time (and probably money) in is on the main boardwalk. The Screen Door General Store section of this shop provides quick grab-n-go snacks, including the eye-catching treats that used to be housed in a display case at the now-gone Seashore Sweets. Moving beyond the General Store you’ll find a long stretch of shopping space housing Disney’s Character Carnival and Thimbles and Threads. Toys, t-shirts, car accessories, kitchen supplies, clothing, and many more Disney keepsakes fill the shelves here. What will you find here that you won’t find at any other Disney souvenir shop on WDW property? They have exclusive Boardwalk Inn specialty merchandise (shirts, keychains, mugs, magnets, etc.) so you can proudly display that you have visited and/or stayed here! Also, don’t forget to check out Wyland Galleries located just off the grassy hub below the main lobby. This premier art gallery features gorgeous marine life paintings and sculptures by famous artist Wyland.
6. Table Service Restaurants
Rarely does my family visit Disney World and not make a reservation somewhere on Boardwalk property. They have everything from casual dining to signature/fine dining, and no matter what your palate is craving, they’ve got you covered! Let’s check each restaurant out:
Are you a sports fan? Great! This place is DEFINITELY for you! Are you not a sports fan? No problem, you’ll still love the food here! As THE sports bar above all other sports bars, ESPN Club is decked out to the nines with giant television monitors everywhere you turn (I’m not kidding, there are nearly 100 monitors, even inside each bathroom stall!!) playing major and minor sporting events as well as ESPN television segments and shows which are sometimes even broadcasted live here. Below the monitors are walls filled to the brim with fun-to-peruse sports memorabilia—jerseys, pictures of famous athletes, etc. As far as the food goes, delicious all-American fare is offered here like nachos, specialty burgers, chili, and the like.
Big River Grille and Brewery Works
This microbrewery and restaurant offers a casual dining atmosphere that is fun for the entire family. Patrons have the option of enjoying the Boardwalk hustle and bustle while dining outdoors or if you’d prefer air-conditioning (and don’t mind a little bit of noise), you can get a table inside. Menu items feature “American pub fare,” such as fish sandwiches, quesadillas, nachos, chicken dishes, etc. This place makes for a great stop to meet up with a group of friends and enjoy some delicious craft beers!
Flying Fish Café
As one of the most popular and consistently recommended signature restaurants on Disney property, the Flying Fish Café receives its praise from dishing out perfectly prepared plates of fresh seafood and mouthwatering steaks. Despite its upscale deluxe dining status, the atmosphere isn’t so fancy that it can’t take on whimsical carnival-like design elements—the overall theme blending in quite nicely with the Atlantic City Boardwalk—but still exude much elegance and beauty. The potato-wrapped red snapper is one of their signature dishes and one of the most-raved about plates in all of Disney World. It truly lives up to the hype, and is a must-do dish for those who enjoy seafood. Regardless of what you order here, however, it is almost certain that you’ll be dreaming of that plate for years to come. Yes, the menu is expensive, but is worth the experience to dine here at least once!
Trattoria al Forno
A number of restaurants have come and gone in this location (Spoodles, Cat Cora’s Kouzzina), and in my view Trattoria al Forno runs laps around its predecessors. You’ll find Italian infused cuisine here, and the atmosphere is up-to-the-task at making its patrons feel warm in cozy as if they are sharing the home of a large Italian family. The exhibition kitchen is the main focus here, and beyond that there are three dining rooms, all flanked by exposed brick and rich finishes of stone and wood. While the dinner menu here is full to the brim of tasty, traditional Italian dishes and fresh pasta and bread, the breakfast menu is where it’s at! By far one of my favorite places to dine for breakfast, Trattoria offers dishes like tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella scrambled eggs, as well as breakfast sandwiches with cured Italian meats. If there’s one thing I can say about this beloved restaurant, it’s that it’s deliciously authentic!!
If there is ever a time to experience Boardwalk in all its glory, it’s at night. Music, street acts, glittering lights strung overhead—this place truly comes alive and sparkles when the sun sets! There are two adult nightlife locations that open their doors as night settles in, granting grown-ups access to fun and entertainment without a kid in sight.
Atlantic Dance Hall
What makes this dancing club unique is the giant movie-screen that takes center stage just beyond the dance floor, which plays videos from practically every decade (since the introduction of music videos, that is). This place truly is spacious, offering guests many tables and chairs to choose from on an elevated platform surrounding the club’s bar. The DJ spins quite an eclectic mix of music, and takes special requests. Atlantic Dance Hall doesn’t typically get busy until well after 10pm, and unlike almost all other places on Disney World property, it really only gets better as the crowd grows.
This dueling piano bar requires ID (over 21 only) and a cover charge to enter, but once you grab a seat inside this lively bar, you’ll be in for a night of great fun. Two piano maestros duel it out while guests can place special requests on their pianos throughout the night. Their talent is on true display here—playing practically anything and everything you can imagine (from Journey to Kermit the Frog’s Rainbow Connection). Audience singalongs, belly-busting humor, and great music make this place a diamond in the rough and a must-do experience for grown-ups!
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4. Boardwalk Bakery
It’ll be hard to choose just one delectable treat from the display case once you enter through these doors. The tantalizing aromas tempt your taste buds, and the gorgeously-crafted desserts will demand that you order more than one! You’ll find cupcakes, mini tarts, cakes, eclairs, cookies, trifles, donuts and more at this bakery. Want a suggestion? The strawberry shortcake cupcake never fails to deliver! Don’t be fooled, though, this place offers more than just sweet treats. Delicious sandwiches and salads grace their lunch and dinner menu, and you can pop on over here for a savory breakfast on-the-go too!
3. Street Performers
As many times as I’ve visited Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and watched the various nightly street acts, I never grow tired of them. There are typically three or four performers per night, and they rotate their locations and times. You’ll find street performers enchanting the crowds with magic tricks as well as street performers drawing “gasps” with defying acrobatic feats. They’ll make you laugh and make you break out into applause, and some will even make you turn ten shades of red as they select you from the crowd to participate in their show!
Featuring “Enchanting Elixirs” and “Curious Concoctions” this new lounge which took over the space Seashore Sweets used to occupy is themed around the 1930s golden age of illusionists. There is so much to gaze upon inside this hypnotically creative bar, and though the lounge is small, there is a good amount of rich, luxurious seating. The drink menu boasts a wide range of wines and beers as well as specialty cocktails and though you won’t find any food on the menu, the bartenders do provide guests with a complimentary popcorn and chickpea mix. Really driving home the magician theme, some of the specialty drinks, once mixed, will change color right before your very eyes. This place is a must-see for grown-ups, and offers a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Disney magic.”
1. Ample Hills Creamery
Ample Hills Creamery, an extension of the original Brooklyn-based ice cream shop, boasts all-natural ice cream with playful flavors and incredibly tasty mix-ins! One sample of the ice cream here and you’ll be ruined for all other ice cream, trust me! Made with hormone-free milk and cream from grass-fed cows and organic cane sugar, you’ll find ice cream with generous chunks of enticing add-ins like pretzels pieces, hunks of butter cake, and oatmeal cookie chunks, to name a few. What makes this place so special is that most of their mix-ins are made from scratch, adding that old-fashioned, homemade taste you won’t find in the grocery aisle. When you enter the building, you’ll be greeted with welcoming Cast Members who will eagerly allow you to sample as many flavors as you’d like. Nope, they don’t skimp on the samples as each small spoon contains an easy two to three bites worth of delicious ice cream (after all, they want to make sure you get to experience the entire flavor of the ice cream with all its mix-ins!). The Ooey Gooey Butter Cake and Nonna D’s Oatmeal Lace were the two flavors I went with in my bowl, and I can honestly say that it was the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted! Unless your diet absolutely prohibits it, don’t restrict yourself here. Give in to the indulgence and treat yourself as these flavors are ALL out-of-this-world spectacular. It’s worth every sugar-packed calorie!
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