The always well received Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is nearly upon us, and there are many conversations happening about this interesting yearly event. As is bound to happen, alcoholic beverages are part of the discussion since there are many extra options popping up in Epcot for the next two months or so. I have heard several groups making plans for a modified version of drinking around the world, which is the slightly-too-common tradition of having a drink from every World Showcase pavilion. I am a fan of most adult beverages, yet drinking around the world is something I have never done. What I have done, however, is drink around the world…Walt Disney World.
As some of you may know, I was lucky enough to author a TouringPlans e-Guide entitled Walt Disney World Bars and Lounges, which was released back in March. In the lead-up to the release date my research for the guide had been slightly piecemeal, mostly acquired in portions over several trips. I felt that I needed to physically lay eyes on these places one last time as well as gather photographs and talk to some regulars and Cast Members. That led me to a whirlwind two and a half day trip, during which I visited every single bar and lounge featured in the book…and there are 74 of them! I’ve decided to finally tell the story of that weird weekend; hopefully it is as enjoyable to read as it was to do.
My plan was to leave my local airport around mid-day and arrive at the Sanford airport (which is about an hour away from Walt Disney World) in mid-afternoon. The itinerary for Thursday was simple: Downtown Disney…all of it. Unfortunately, the airline had its own plan, which seemed to be to ‘announce a 15 minute delay every 30 minutes for 5 hours.’ So rather than spend a nice leisurely afternoon in Downtown Disney, I got to spend it in a single terminal airport. To make this even more…uh, interesting, it was the weekend of the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, so there were many, many racing fans on my flight. Normally I would not have been bothered, except that quite a few of these fans decided that there was no point in waiting until Florida to get drunk. Oh, boy!
I will spare you the gritty, stumbly, slurry details of my time in the airport, but assume it was generally annoying. What was most annoying, however, was the 5 fewer hours that I would get for my Downtown Disney rounds. By the time I got to Orlando, rented the car, checked into my hotel, and got to Downtown Disney, it was almost 9:00 pm, and I had been traveling for almost 12 hours already. Time for a drink.
I’m going to stop the narrative here a bit for a public service announcement. As you may have noticed I was driving all weekend, simply because I would never have made it to all the resorts in such a short amount of time using the bus. Because of that I didn’t actually drink most of the drinks I ordered. I sipped from just about all of them to get an idea of the quality and then gave them away or threw them out if I couldn’t find an alcohol donor. Drinking and driving isn’t cool, kids.
Okay, back to the story: I speed walked through Downtown Disney, taking pictures and getting followed by management, which is one of only three times all weekend I was asked about what I was doing (Splitsville, in particular, was very nervous about me taking photos for a reason I never quite understood). I basically just popped my head into House of Blues, Planet Hollywood, Fulton’s, T-REX, Rainforest Cafe, MacGuffin’s (in the AMC Theater), and Cap’n Jack’s because I had been in them before and many of these places close at 10 or 11 pm.
In fact, Cap’n Jack’s was already closed for the night when I went in, and I got photos that night simply because of the wonderful employees (which will be a recurring theme). It turns out I didn’t really need the photos because Cap’n Jack’s has already been permanently closed as Disney moves forward with the Disney Springs renovation.
I spent at least a little time in the other Downtown Disney places: the aforementioned Splitsville, Bongos, Fuego, Paradiso 37, Portobello, and Raglan Road. I’m not going to go into my thoughts for every bar because then you wouldn’t have a reason to buy my book (which is awesome, by the way), but here are some quick hits that weren’t in the EGuide:
Bongos I sat here for a few minutes and decided to order a mojito, the most famous of Cuban drinks. I have had mojitos from a few places that are “famous” for them, and this drink was certainly a c-lister. Mojitos have muddled mint leaves in them, and this one looked and tasted like the bartender decided to empty his lawnmower’s grass bag into my glass. Needless to say, I didn’t drink too much of it.
Paradiso 37 I was starving by this point and I knew Paradiso had some interesting appetizers. I decided to try the Crazy Corn, which is corn-on-the-cob smothered with cheese and spices. It was good, but I was still a little disappointed. When you hear something like “cheese smothered corn,” you create a certain expectation, and this just wasn’t it. I felt it needed more cheese and more spice as most bites were just corn.
Portobello I ate here for one reason and one reason only: the $5 meatball slider trio they serve at the bar. Unlike the Crazy Corn, this was exactly what I expected. Three large meatballs on bread that were well cooked, well seasoned, and at a great price. I do mention the meatballs in the book, but it is worth saying again here.
Raglan Road This is one of my favorite bars in Walt Disney World, as you can tell from the incredibly long section it has in the book, but I did leave one thing out of that novella. For photo purposes I wanted a picture of the Irishist of Irish beers, Guinness, but I also wanted one of their flights, so I ordered my stout and a Jameson whiskey flight (again, I didn’t drink it all). The bartender asked for my ID (which I suddenly enjoy producing now that I’m in my mid-30s) and informed me that she can’t give me both drinks until she sees the other person’s ID, as well. To this I hung my head and admitted, “Oh…no, they’re both for me.” This probably would have been her worst opinion of me if I didn’t immediately place a miniature tripod on the bar to photograph my drinks.
Fuego This small cigar bar right next to Raglan Road is where I ended my night, since it was open until 2 am. I do enjoy the occasional stogie, and it was merely 12:45 am at this point, so I figured, why not? The bar is fairly nice if you can deal with the cigar smell, but I found the staff cold. I also found the patrons intoxicated, but it was late at night so there wasn’t much to be done about that. What I found really odd was the sound system, which consisted of a small, dual-speaker iPod dock perched atop one of the cigar cases. The thing was certainly loud enough, but required the intervention of a step-stool wielding employee every 10 minutes or so. I guess these are the things you notice when you’re the guy who’s not drunk at 1 am.
I think I’m going to have to leave the rest for a part 2 sothat the suspense can properly build. Please let me know about your experiences at any of these places and if there are any particular questions you would like me to answer in an upcoming article.
Thanks for reading!
All photos (and about 425 more) can be found in the Walt Disney World Bars and Lounges TouringPlans.com EGuide