I know most folks traveling to Walt Disney World are not thinking primarily about going on a bar crawl. I also know that many legal adults could use a drink when they get back from a day at the theme parks. So here’s the scenario: You are done touring the parks for the day and are looking for a place for a nightcap or two. Maybe the kids are with relatives, maybe there are no kids on this trip…either way, you only have a few hours because you don’t want to be out too late. After all, you know making park opening, or rope drop, is super-important when touring the parks.
In these few precious hours of adult time, how can you go about maximizing the time and quality of the bars you visit? Well, that’s what we’re here to decide. For the purposes of this article money is not a concern (that’d be nice, right?) meaning that you can stay at any Walt Disney World hotel. I am also assuming that you are visiting multiple drinking establishments, either on multiple nights or on an increasingly popular Disney World hotel bar tour.
So what are the criteria? Since I’m looking for multiple options, I will only consider an area that has at least 3 bars within a reasonable traveling distance, either by walking or another quick method, such as the monorail. No buses (just because they can take too long) and absolutely no driving! Any walk must also be safe, so no crossing Buena Vista Drive or anything crazy like that. Here are the resorts that are immediately disqualified:
- Pop Century / Art of Animation – They each only have one pool bar, which doesn’t add up to 3.
- Caribbean Beach – really only has its pool bar, which is a darn shame.
- Saratoga Springs – It does technically have 3 bars, one at the Turf Club restaurant and two pool bars, but it is a long walk to the furthest pool bar and not worth it.
- Old Key West – Only one full bar, Gurgling Suitcase, and one pool bar.
Okay, with those few out of the way that leaves us with 7 areas, which I’m going to go through in reverse order. Please remember that these ratings are based solely on the amount and quality of the bars in the general area and have nothing to do with the quality of the resort. They are also based largely on my personal opinion and it is entirely possible that I am a dimwit.
I’m going to guess that the placement of this grouping is no surprise. Each of the three All Star Resorts has one pool bar and each of those pool bars is identical in all but the groan-worthy name: Team Spirits, Singing Spirits, and Silver Screen Spirits respectively. Hopping between these 3 is not a bar tour, it’s a walk of shame.
Coronado gets its own grouping since it has 3 bars within its boundry: Siestas (the pool bar), Laguna Bar, and Rix Lounge. Siestas is a good quality pool bar, but it is still just a pool bar. Rix Lounge is a strange, club-like establishment that has an upscale feel and often has DJ-fueled music in the evenings. If you like clubbing or getting generally jiggy with things you may enjoy Rix. I find that it is often either filled with conventioneers holding up the walls or not filled at all.
My favorite bar at Coronado Springs is far and away the waterside Laguna Bar. Sitting alongside the scenic Lago Dorado (Dorado Lake for the non-cultured), Laguna Bar is a very simple bar serving about the same stuff as the pool bar. What makes it so much better than a pool bar is that it has a fantastic view of the lagoon without having the multitudes of children in bathing suits running by. If you are staying at Coronado Springs, I would recommend a quick drink at Rix Lounge just to check it out followed by lots of time staring out over the water at Laguna Bar.
This grouping is quite a stretch because it is a substantial walk between the two resorts, somewhere around 1 mile. That’s not too far compared to the amount one walks in the theme parks, but if you’re looking for a quick bar stop a 2 mile round trip is not very efficient. What keeps this grouping in here is the quality of the bars involved.
Fort Wilderness only has one bar, but the quaint, homey Crockett’s Tavern is a nice place for a drink and one of the few places on Disney World property that you can have a beer and stare at a huge stuffed bear (which is…nice?). The best part of Crockett’s is outside on the porch, where you can pull up a rocking chair and look over the lake, the boat dock, and the area that feels stuck in time.
Wilderness Lodge has the typical Deluxe Resort setup of one full service bar and one pool bar. Trout Pass is the standard pool bar, although it has the distinct advantage of having some very nice scenery around it. Taking your drink over near the geysers or down to the beach on Bay Lake elevates the experience significantly. The full bar, Territory Lounge, is a favorite of mine for its upscale log cabin feel (yeah, it’s a thing I just made up) and Lewis and Clark era explorer theme. Territory Lounge has a solid drink menu and some killer snacks…seriously, downing a dose of the deliciously delectable Drunken Donuts might kill you.
#4: Port Orleans Resorts (Riverside and French Quarter)
It might surprise some, but these two sister resorts do meet the qualification. Each of these resorts has one full bar and one pool bar and there is a nice path that connects the two areas. The French Quarter pool bar, Mardi Grogs, is fairly standard, but the full bar has some quality entertainment. Scat Cat’s Club is an average setting, but the pianist Tom Casey is very talented and fun.
Speaking of talented, fun pianists, Ye Haa Bob Jackson has been playing at the River Roost over at Riverside for a very long time. His show is eternally goofy and sounds ridiculous, but is infectiously enjoyable. Additionally, Muddy Rivers, the pool bar, is very nice with a large, mostly covered deck overlooking the pool and the surrounding woods. There are better options (3 to be exact), but this is not a bad choice by any means.
#3 Animal Kingdom Lodge: Jambo House and Kidani Village
Like the Port Orleans grouping above, these separate resorts are linked by a path that is around a half-mile or so. Unlike the Port Orleans path however, this one is not along a river, nor is it pretty: much of it is alongside the entry road. Luckily, that doesn’t take away from the amazing quality of the bars at both of these hotels.
Let’s start with Jambo House, which is the one most people think of, and refer to, simply as Animal Kingdom Lodge. The main bar in Jambo House is Victoria Falls, which is a lovely, modern looking, abstractly themed lounge that is both elegant and comfortable. The only slight downside is the noise due to its location, on a level found in between the main floor lobby and the lower floor restaurants. While the location makes it loud, it also gives it life and brings a vibrant energy that floats up from Boma, the buffet restaurant below. (Ed. – my beef with Victoria Falls is the number of families who bring their children into it, either to wait for their Boma reservation or just to hang out. Don’t bring kids to a bar. Disagree? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The other restaurant below Victoria Falls is Jiko: The Cooking Place, which is one of Disney’s “Signature” restaurants (signature = more expensive). The restaurant also has a small bar area that is mostly used by those waiting for a table, but you can easily slip in there for a drink or to order off of the fabulous bar menu. The third bar at Jambo House is Uzima Springs, the pool bar. While it is not particularly special, it is a nice setting and very close to one of the animal overlooks that is even nicer.
Over at Kidani Village there is no standalone lounge, but there is an excellent bar in the equally excellent restaurant Sanaa. Like Jiko over at Jambo House, you can order several Sanaa menu items as well as a good selection of drinks. The pool bar situation at Kidani Village is also similar to Jambo House in that the best area near the Maji pool bar is the nearby savanna overlook tucked behind the building.
#2 Seven Seas Lagoon Resorts (Bay Lake Tower, Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian)
Okay, this ended up being way harder than I thought it would be. Under many circumstances this group of Seven Seas (or Monorail) resorts would be tops. Hopefully you’ll understand why it couldn’t be today, even though it’s excellent.
Let’s start at the top…Top of the World that is. The Top of the World lounge on the top floor of Bay Lake Tower is one of the top bars in Walt Disney World (get it…it’s the tops!). Of course, it’s only for resort guests or DVC owners, but if you’re staying there that’s not a problem. It is a beautiful, modern bar with a view of the lagoon and the Magic Kingdom that is indescribable (luckily I have photos!).
At the Contemporary Resort next door (and connected by walkway) you’ll find The Wave…of American Flavors (the real name, not just my love of the ellipsis) which is also a modern bar with a futuristic underwater thing going on. The Wave has some local organic beers on tap and some pretty good food. Also in the Contemporary is California Grill, which also has a great view, but the bar area is small and if it’s busy you may not be allowed in.
Jumping on the monorail takes you over to the gorgeous Polynesian Resort. The full bar here is the Tambu Lounge, which is beautifully decked out in Tikis and ancient Polynesian art. The only downside is that it’s basically the waiting area for the popular restaurant ‘Ohana, meaning it gets crowded.
Coming in a year or so to the Polynesian is Trader Sam’s, which will also be tiki themed, but we’ve got a while for that yet. What does currently exist is the Barefoot Bar, the pool bar at the Poly, which deserves a special mention since its location beach-side gives it one of the best views of any bar, let alone a pool bar. Unfortunately, the same construction that is bringing Trader Sam’s is also impacting the entire resort, including the pool area.
Continuing around the monorail loop we come to the Grand Floridian, which you can walk to from the Poly if you want to. The main lounge at the Grand Floridian is Mizner’s, which is tucked up on the second floor of the lobby behind the orchestra. The lovely band music is the only real plus for Mizner’s, which I find boring and stuffy otherwise. The two pool bars at the Grand Floridian are actually more impressive, one large and classy at the Courtyard Pool and the other with a great lagoon view at the Beach Pool. One spot where the Grand Floridian has an advantage is if you get hungry, because you can nosh at the bars found in the wonderful restaurants Citricos and Narcoossee’s.
As I said, I’m putting this second even though this list of bars and lounges is very impressive (and I didn’t even mention the Contemporary’s Outer Rim or its or Bay Lake Tower’s pool bars). However, there is still one group that’s better.
#1 Crescent Lake Resorts (Boardwalk, Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club, and Beach Club)
There are so many bars in this resort group that I’m going to have go through them fairly quickly. Let’s start with the Bellevue Lounge at the Boardwalk, which is a great, low-key lounge with lots of early 20th century touches and an outdoor lounge. It is one of my favorite bars in Disney World.
Moving clockwise around the lake you come to the Swan and Dolphin, which have a few places worth stopping. Kimonos at the Swan has karaoke and sushi, Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Dolphin is cool and modern with an outstanding, freshly made cocktail list, and the poolside Cabana Bar, also at the Dolphin, has some good food and a South Beach feel to it.
Continuing around the Crescent Lake loop you’ll find another wood-paneled favorite: Crew’s Cup Lounge at the Yacht Club. It’s rowing theme and craftsman style make it very comfortable. The Yacht Club also has the small Ale & Compass off of the lobby which is surprisingly nice. Heading to the Beach Club brings you to Martha’s Vineyard, which I find boring, but is still technically a bar. A much better spot nearby is the pool bar at Stormalong Bay, Hurricane Hanna’s, which has some good, quick food and a lovely setting near both the pool and the beach.
The rest that I somehow didn’t mention above includes the pool bars at Boardwalk and the Swan, the oddly placed, yet accurately named Lobby Lounge at the Dolphin, or any of the Boardwalk spots like ESPN Club, Big River Grille and Brew Works, Jellyrolls, or Atlantic Dance Hall (which are all decent stops). Frankly, there are just too many places: even I don’t have an unlimited amount of words here.
Another plus for the Crescent Lake resorts is that both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios are within walking distance, opening up any of the bars in either of those parks as well. If you are looking for bar and lounge options, staying at one of the Crescent Lake resorts is the way to go. You could visit three bars a night for a week and barely hit any twice, which sounds like a heck of a week to me.
As always, I appreciate any feedback in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
This was meant as a quick overview of some of the bars and lounges. If you are interested in much more detail and hundreds of stunning photos you should check out my Walt Disney World Bars and Lounges eGuide.