This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We LOVE Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. While we have done articles on several of our favorite Walt Disney World resorts, including Animal Kingdom Lodge, Art of Animation, and Coronado Springs, it was the BoardWalk Inn & Villas which was the hardest to cut down to just our six favorite things. The overall depth of theming and amount of details throughout the resort is second to none.
The BoardWalk was the second of Disney Vacation Club properties to be built (following Old Key West) and its “story” revolves around the great East Coast boardwalk areas of the 1920s and 30s. In the early part of the 20th century, places like Coney Island in New York and Atlantic City in New Jersey were the Walt Disney World of their day. Attractions, restaurants, hotels… they were the place to be. Disney Imagineers and architect Robert A.M. Stern pulled from this incredible era of history of America to create Disney’s BoardWalk and left tons of wonderful details for guests to appreciate. The details are just one of the many reasons we think this resort is the bee’s knees, so let’s begin counting down our top six reasons starting with…
# 6 – The Lobby
There are some lobbies at Walt Disney World which will have you picking your jaw off the floor (most notably the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge) but what the BoardWalk lacks in expansiveness it makes up for in fantastic show elements, such as the gorgeous Hippocampus Electrolier hanging above. A hippocampus is a creature from Greek mythology that is part horse, part fish, while electrolier is a name for a ceiling fixture holding electric lamps (a name which never took hold and is just referred to as a chandelier today.) Weighing in at 3,000 pounds and intricately detailed, this may very well be the most impressive chandelier on Disney property, and imagine what that is saying.
Hanging above the check-in desks are three paintings of Disney castles. There is one each for Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris. The reason for this is that in the 1920s/30s, cameras were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. Much of what people saw, even in advertisements, were paintings. These castle paintings, and the gold carousel rounding boards that frame them, help make the BoardWalk’s registration area one of the best at WDW.
Walking through the BoardWalk’s lobby you will be drawn to the glass display cases featuring a miniature carousel and a reproduction of the Flip Flap Railway roller coaster. The closer you get to the carousel the bigger your eyes open as you take in the details. This is a to-scale model created by Marcus Charles Illions (the developer of the “Coney Island Style” of carousel wood carving) and bought by Disney from Illions’ granddaughter. Imagineers restored the carousel to its original grandeur, and even added a little Disney magic.
We can’t leave the BoardWalk lobby without paying special tribute to one of the creepiest chairs our eyes have ever seen. It is incredibly rare to see someone sitting on one of these chairs (probably because they think they came straight from the set of the latest Insidious movie) but back in the day these were known as Nanny Chairs and were used on carousels for people who did not want to ride.
# 5 – AbracadaBar
Replacing the former Seashore Sweets bakery on the BoardWalk is AbracadaBar. Situated directly in-between the Flying Fish and Trattoria al Forno, Abracadabar is a great place to go for drinks before or after dinner at either. Like Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar and Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Abracadabar is richly themed with details that will appeal to both the Disney fans and those who enjoy the history of magic. We personally love the use of screens as magical posters that elaborate on the backstory of the lounge that involves magicians that “disappeared” one fateful night. Above all though, AbracadaBar is a bar. There are no souvenir cups here, no food other than some truffle popcorn, and the drinks themselves are less like the sweet and fruity concoctions that make up the standard Disney Bar Menu. While intimate in overall size, with the seating you don’t feel cramped and can enjoy a conversation while trying creations such as the Pepper’s Ghost, Conjurita, or the non-alcoholic Magic Mirror.
# 4 – Location, Location, Location!
Being able to walk to the Magic Kingdom was one of our favorite parts of staying at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, so you can imagine how much we loved being to walk to not just one, but TWO parks while staying at the BoardWalk. In fact, not only were both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios within walking distance, but we could also take a leisurely cruise on a Friendship Boat to both parks. So you have the two Disney theme parks, but you’re also within walking distance to the great restaurants at the Swan & Dolphin (our recommendation? Todd English’s bluezoo at the Dolphin), steps from places like Beaches & Cream at Disney’s Beach Club and Crew’s Cup at Disney’s Yacht Club, and even Fantasia Gardens mini-golf! Is there anyplace on WDW property where you are within walking distance to so much great stuff? WE THINK NOT!
One underrated aspect of the resort is the abundance of nighttime entertainment at the BoardWalk, including the dueling piano bar Jellyrolls along with the Atlantic Dance Hall at the end of the boardwalk. Meanwhile, in the heart of the boardwalk itself you’re bound to find performers such as magicians, jugglers, caricature artists, musicians and more performing their art for the crowd. Don’t forget the carnival games, synonymous with the great boardwalks of yesterday and today.
# 3 – Ample Hills Creamery
Ample Hills Creamery sits in the home of the former ESPN Club arcade and gift shop. The decor of Ample Hills is whimsical, and has versions of several Disney park icons on its walls. Serving possibly the best ice cream on Disney property, Ample Hills allows you the opportunity to sample any flavor before making a selection, and you can combine multiple flavors in a cup or cone. Several of the cones are especially unique, such as the one featuring mini M&Ms. The cones also come with a handy plastic holder that prevents any ice cream from running down onto your hand, which can certainly be helpful when strolling around the BoardWalk under the Florida sun. You’ll also want to try the incredible milkshakes and the Build-Your-Own-Sundae option. You can really taste the quality, and be sure to keep Ample Hills in mind when you can’t get an ADR at the nearby Beaches & Cream.
# 3 – The Dining
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” With those words in A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens was writing about the state of London and Paris, but he may have been foreshadowing the dining situation at Disney’s BoardWalk. We have previously covered that the BoardWalk Pizza Window just may serve the worst pizza on Disney property, an extraordinary feat in and of itself. However, the BoardWalk also offers some of our FAVORITE places to dine as well. First stop is the Flying Fish, a venue that earned the rare “10 out 10” from Disney Tourist Blog’s Tom Bricker, no stranger to theme park food. The name of the restaurant is inspired by a 1930s Coney Island roller coaster the Flying Turns, where one of the cars on the ride was dubbed the Flying Fish. The new refreshed decor of the restaurant moves away from the former boardwalk thrill ride theme and instead puts guests “under the sea” with a brilliant use of silver and blue along with gorgeous fish artwork. The new menu, while smaller, allows the Flying Fish to focus more on the details of each plate, and the service is still among the best on Disney property.
Across from the Flying Fish sitting along Crescent Lake is the BoardWalk To Go kiosk. While small, this venue ranks as one of our favorite quick service locations on property offering all your favorite fried foods such as corn dogs, mozzarella sticks, french fries, and onion rings. This is the exact type of food you’d find yourself eating on the boardwalk, and the fact that not a single item on the menu could earn a Mickey Check makes them taste all the better to us. Did someone say fried Macaroni & Cheese balls…
The BoardWalk Bakery is a great place to get a fresh made sandwich and the new Trattoria Al Forno Italian eatery is getting strong reviews (you still have to drag us away from Via Napoli or Il Mulino if we’re going to eat Italian in the Epcot area) but more often than not you’ll find us at ESPN Club having a beer and watching a game. With 100 screens, you’re able to watch just about any sporting event in the world, and there just not enough places at WDW showing the big games. We’re also huge fans of the menu overhaul at ESPN that includes some great items including the must try Old World Burger.
# 2 – Luna Park Pool Area
The BoardWalk pool area is themed around the historic Luna Park, one of the most popular (and progressive) amusement parks in Coney Island. It’s impossible to miss the Keister Coaster slide that stands tall above the pool, having guests exit the slid through a gigantic clown’s mouth. While this may be nightmare fuel for the few guests who can still sleep after seeing the nanny chairs in the lobby, this gigantic clown’s mouth is actually supposed to represent the carnival game where guests use water guns to fire into a clown’s mouth in order to build pressure and blow up a balloon (today most variations just have a moving object make its way to the top.) The walkway for the Keister Coaster slide is completely themed to an old-timey wooden coaster, complete with billboards on the side.
The BoardWalk’s pool bar is Leaping Horse Libations. It is themed to a giant carousel, but the Leaping Horse reference is to a popular attraction at the time involving a “diving” horse (it was dropped more into the water than anything) and rider Sonora Webster. In a freak accident, Sonora ended up losing her eyesight during one of these dives, but continued to be a part of the show. Disney itself even made a movie about Sonora with Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. One of the most lavish suites at Disney’s BoardWalk is also named after her with The Sonora Suite.
# 1 – The Belle Vue Lounge
The Belle Vue Lounge just may be one of the best kept secrets at WDW and will transport you back to a different era, when people took a break and sat down to enjoy conversation with friends, instead of just searching for an outlet to charge their smart phones. The bar area is more like an old fashioned sitting room, complete with couches and authentic 1920s-era radios playing audio programs from that time! The books and board games aligning the walls are also period specific, including Eddie Cantor’s New Game: Tell It to the Judge, a bonafide piece of New York history.
We like history as much as anyone (well, maybe not as much as Jim Hill) but the Belle Vue Lounge is also where you’ll find some Disney themed games, including the Holy Grail of Disney board games: DVC Edition Monopoly. The game Monopoly is actually perfectly themed to the BoardWalk resort, as it revolves around Atlantic City and was first produced by Parker Brothers in 1935 (although it was invented years earlier and was originally passed on by Parker Brothers.) The DVC Edition is possibly the most next level bananas piece of Disney merchandise we have ever seen, and you can imagine the ground that covers. The game works like standard Monopoly, but all the cards are themed for the most hard core of Disney fans. One card reads “Successfully trade your widely available pin for another member’s limited edition. Collect $20.” That’s right, you’re being rewarded for possibly taking advantage of a fellow DVC owner. Another card has “Discover that your resort merchandise shop sells Vinylmation figures! Pay $50.” If the SATURDAY SIX ever gets a hold of this game, we promise a full review.
There is also a DVC Edition of Scrabble, but nowhere near as bonkers. You do get bonus points for spelling Disney related names, but I imagine supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is going to score a bunch of points no matter what.
HONORABLE MENTION – Dundy’s Sundries
The resident gift shop at the BoardWalk isn’t huge like the ones you’ll find at Jambo House or the Contemporary, but it does pack in some really great items. Named after Elmer “Skip” Dundy, one of the cofounders of Luna Park, Dundy’s Sundries has several items with Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy in 1920s/30s attire. One of my particular favorites had Mickey and Minnie sitting on a bench enjoying the boardwalk in front of them, which is exactly what we did while enjoying our vacation.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION – The Bathrooms at ESPN Club Have TVs Everywhere (and we mean EVERYWHERE!)
We mentioned the 100 screens at the ESPN Club, but not all of them are located in the dining area. When eating chicken wings and drinking ice cold beer, there have been times – on occasion – when one has to relieve themselves in the lavatory. That can almost be counted on happening during an important part of whatever sporting event you may watching. Thankfully the ESPN Club has us covered with TVs filling up the bathrooms as well. There are TVs by the sinks, TVs by the urinals, and TVs above the restroom stalls (please, don’t ask for the clicker.) This innovation is tied with the TVs in the bathroom mirrors at the Grand Floridan Villas as WDI’s greatest achievement. Take a bow Imagineers, you’ve earned it.
So there you have it: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the Pardon the Pixie Dust podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
If you enjoy the history of Disney’s BoardWalk we strong recommend reading Treasures of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn parts ONE and TWO by Jim Korkis. A Disney treasure himself, Mr. Korkis is one of our absolute favorite authorities on the little details hidden in plain sight within Walt Disney World.
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, Disney photography icon Tom Bricker, Disney Twitter celebrity Schmoofy, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-host Aengus Mackenzie along with Meg’s Yeti To Be Named Disney Podcast.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it? Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. PRE-ORDER this baby now! (For every copy sold, a percentage of the profits* go towards buying a DVD of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rap video.)