There are a great many variables that go into planning a Walt Disney World vacation and yet, while important to many sports fans, timing a vacation around a specific sporting event is not always feasible. If you are faced with the dilemma of finding a spot on Walt Disney World property to watch a “big game,” know that you’re neither alone nor short on options.
Walt Disney World resorts carry all of the major networks, meaning that most of the biggest sporting events like the Super Bowl, World Series, or Daytona 500 require going no further than your resort hotel room. As Disney owns the ESPN family of networks, you can find almost every ESPN channel in the resorts as well, giving you easy viewing of most college bowl games, FIFA World Cup, Monday Night Football, the NBA, etc. The resort television package also includes TBS (MLB playoffs, NCAA tournament), TNT (NCAA Tournament), MSNBC & CNBC (Olympics), Golf Channel, NFL Network, MLB Network, and both CBS and NBC Sports. At the current time the resort television package DOES NOT include Fox Sports 1 (MLB playoffs, college sports, UFC) or TruTV (NCAA tournament.)
If watching a sporting event in your resort hotel room is either not possible (sleeping kids, uninterested family, etc.) or undesirable (you ARE on vacation, after all) be aware that most hotel bars and pool bars will have these channels and will generally be willing to tune in to whatever sporting event you ask. I watched my fantasy football team lose their championship game during a Broncos/Bengals Monday Night Football telecast on TV at Port Orleans French Quarter’s Scat Cat’s Lounge. (Darn you Giovanni Bernard!) Just be aware that these lounges often close around midnight, so they are not the best bet for overtime or extra innings. In an emergency situation, you can sometimes find televisions in the resort guest laundry rooms. I once watched the New Jersey Devils clinch a Stanley Cup in a laundry room while waiting for a swimsuit to dry.
The ESPN Club at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort is the standard go-to spot for viewing any and all sporting events on property at Walt Disney World with good reason. The restaurant is a sports-lover’s dream with televisions plastered everywhere and all the beer and hot wings you could possibly consume between tip-off and the final whistle — not to mention being the only place on property to watch out-of-market games. The problem is that it is EVERYONE’S go-to spot, so you need to be prepared to lineup early to get a seat on NFL Sundays or especially big events like playoff games. ESPN Club does not accept reservations for tables but will allow you to reserve a recliner with a $50.00 purchase minimum for specific games. So if, for instance, two people want to watch a 4:30 P.M. Patriots vs. Colts game on a Sunday, they can reserve themselves two recliners facing the game for $100.00. This $100.00 must be spent on food, alcohol, or merchandise during the game (with anything over being billed additionally.) It is a somewhat preposterous indulgence but in the grand scheme of preposterous indulgences available for purchase on a Walt Disney World vacation it is pretty worthwhile. (After all, you are not paying anything extra for the seats, you’re just committing to consuming a lot of mozzarella sticks and Bud Light.)
With football season beginning, there is one other caveat for NFL fans to be aware of when traveling to Walt Disney World and planning to watch a game. Outside of the aforementioned ESPN Club, you will be limited to watching whatever local telecasts are shown in the Orlando market. Unfortunately this means an awful lot of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Miami Dolphins. If you think there is a chance your favorite team will be shown on local TV in Orlando, check the Buccaneers schedule first. If they are playing a road game at the same time, you are out of luck and this game WILL be shown in Orlando due to bizarre NFL broadcasting rules. Otherwise, hope that your team is not playing opposite any Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, or Miami games and you may have a chance to see the game in your resort, especially if you are lucky enough to be a fan of a team with a big enough following to be in a featured 4:25 P.M. “Game of the Week.”
It is considerably more difficult to catch “pay-per-view” boxing, UFC, or WWE events on property. You can check with the ESPN Club on an event-by-event basis but you will probably have better luck taking a cab off-property to a Buffalo Wild Wings or Hooters.
One other potential option for watching games on property (and, you’ll note, the only option for watching from inside the theme parks) is on your own personal device using the free in park Wi-Fi. I don’t personally recommend this as I attempted to watch the final week of the NFL’s regular season using the DirecTV Sunday Ticket app on my iPad and found the in-park Wi-Fi to be a bit too slow for live streaming video. It may work a bit better in the resort hotels and is an OK emergency option if you absolutely must watch your team play and have nowhere else to turn but it should not be relied on.
What experiences have you had watching games at Walt Disney World? Things are always changing so there may be different options now from what I experienced. Did I forget something altogether? Join us in the comments!