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In some regards “hidden” behind Epcot’s World Showcase, you’ll find a secret gem on Walt Disney World property. Just follow the path between the France and United Kingdom pavilions, you’ll find the “International Gateway” entrance to the park. Just beyond the gateway is Disney’s Boardwalk – a charming entertainment district with nighttime fun for adults and families alike.
Welcome to Disney’s Boardwalk
Guests at the Yacht and Beach Club resorts and Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas are familiar with the International Gateway, because those resorts are located within walking distance of both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The amenities in the Epcot resort area are not exclusive to those guests, yet many people who visit Walt Disney World have no idea they’re missing a truly endearing place.
The atmosphere of Disney’s Boardwalk (and Boardwalk Hotel) harkens back to the most wonderful trends of a 1920s Atlantic City getaway. In a time when electricity was a new commodity, the glistening lights of a boardwalk would have been a draw; they create a pretty amazing atmosphere here, too.
There is something romantic about spending the evening on the boardwalk with someone special. But it’s also a great place for families. Try some of these things on your next visit to Walt Disney World!
Family Guide to Disney’s Boardwalk
Kid-friendly Dining Options
Trattoria al Forno is a table-service restaurant that offers Italian staples. One of the restaurant’s claims to fame is that the menu is 100% Italian, including more than two dozen Italian wines. We have eaten here with our children and found that large families are welcome, despite its intimate atmosphere. The dining room has plenty of seating and dining options for all ages. In fact, the mornings are definitely family-friendly, with the recent addition of the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast. This character dining opportunity features plated breakfast entrees and visits from Ariel, Prince Eric, Rapunzel, and Flynn Rider. Guests can book the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast online or call 407-WDW-DINE.
ESPN Club is the place for you if you’re looking for dozens of televisions (even in the bathrooms, which my kids find hilarious) and video games at your table. Quite often, guests take in a live radio show broadcast right from the restaurant. You’ll also find arcade games, loads of sports memorabilia, and tons of fun for everyone. Please note that during special events, the ESPN Club restaurant will not accept reservations – though walk-ups may be accepted. Check the restaurant webpage for specific dates or call (407) 939-5656 for details.
Food To Go
The To-Go Cart, on the lakefront side of the Boardwalk, offers hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries, pulled pork sandwiches, and other family-friendly favorites. Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas is nearby too, if mom or dad want a drink!
When we stay in the Epcot resort area, one of our favorite dinner experiences is grabbing a pizza from the Boardwalk Pizza Window, and some desserts from the Boardwalk Bakery. We find a table on Crescent Lake and take in the atmosphere, as well as one of our favorite views.
TravelingMom tip: This is a great option for diners on a budget, too. Dinner for five – including dessert and leftovers – costs less than $30!
Check out these Boardwalk dining options from Desert Traveling Mom Karen Heffren, if you’re looking for more choices!
Disney’s Boardwalk Entertainment for Families
Fans of the musical Oklahoma! might get an immediate warm fuzzy feeling thinking about a “shiny little surrey with fringe on the top.” While the surrey bikes at Walt Disney World don’t have any fringe, they’re still adorable – and so much fun! Rental prices (by the half-hour and hour) are quite reasonable, too.
If a surrey ride isn’t on your must-do list, you’ll find plenty to see and do while strolling along the Boardwalk. Every night you’ll encounter a variety of buskers, performing tricks from juggling and magic to stilt-walking and comedy. There is no published entertainment schedule, but these street performers always draw a small crowd – so you won’t miss them!
Along the Boardwalk, you’ll also find some nicely-themed shops that add to the ambiance. While you won’t find any one-of-a-kind shopping opportunities, it’s a fun place to window shop or pick up a souvenir from your trip.
If you’re feeling lucky, try the classic midway games – which are actually more reasonably priced than those at our local theme park.
Take a Break
When you need a break from walking, take a ride on the Friendship boats. These boats travel between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot’s International Gateway. It stops at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts, and the Boardwalk along the way. Sometimes the boat rides can be as much a form of entertainment as they are transportation! They’re air-conditioned too, which is useful on a hot summer day in Florida!
Date Night on Disney’s Boardwalk
You can, of course, enjoy any of the activities above sans kids… but there some things reserved just for adults.
Romantic Restaurants & Lounges
Flying Fish Cafe is a perennial favorite among guests – and of Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger. The newly-renovated restaurant serves delicious seafood and steak options, in a festive but upscale atmosphere.
Traveling Mom tip: Flying Fish Cafe is one of just a handful of restaurants on Disney property which asks that guests adhere to a dress code. Men may wear khakis, slacks, jeans, or dress shorts, with a collared shirt. Sports coats are optional. Women may wear capri pants, skirts, dresses, jeans, or dress shorts. Tank tops, swimsuits, swimsuit cover ups, hats for gentlemen, torn clothing, and t-shirts with graphics are not permitted.
While Trattoria al Forno is mentioned above as a family-friendly restaurant, it’s also a lovely atmosphere for a date. Small, tucked away tables are perfect for couples.
AbracadaBar, opened in 2016, is a touted as a “curious cocktail lounge.” It’s one with an incredibly detailed backstory. Become part of a mysterious boardwalk legend, but keep an eye on everything around you. It’s a lounge full of illusion… and a fantastic Tom Collins.
Date Night Entertainment
My husband’s and my favorite place to spend an evening on Disney’s Boardwalk is Jellyrolls. Named for legendary jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton, this dueling piano bar is easily the best we’ve ever seen, anywhere.
Excellent musicians take requests throughout the night, and fill the spaces between songs with great chemistry and humor. Singing along is highly encouraged!
Traveling Mom tips: You must be 21 to visit Jellyrolls. There is a cover charge. There is no kitchen, though you’ll usually find snacks such as popcorn and/or pretzels.
Atlantic Dance Hall is another great entertainment venue when you’re enjoying Disney’s Boardwalk after dark. This lively night club plays songs and music videos from the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. The Dance Hall is limited to guests 21 and up, but does not require a cover.
EXTRA FUN FOR EVERYONE
Take a Side Trip to Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts
Remember that “favorite view” we mentioned earlier? Situated directly across Crescent Lake from the Boardwalk are Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resorts. Walking the whole loop is a lovely way to spend an evening, whether as a couple or a family.
On your walk, consider getting a sundae from Beaches & Cream Soda Shop. The restaurant now requires advance reservations for all seating, including the bar, but you can get many of the ice cream menu items from the takeout door! Please note: Beaches & Cream will be closed in late 2019 for refurbishment; if you’re traveling in 2019, please call or check the website to verify hours of operation.
Take a walk on the beach, sit and dig your toes in toes sand, or catch a romantic sunset on one of the beach swings. This is easily one of the most serene places you’ll ever find a few minutes outside of a Disney park.
Watch Fireworks, Explore the Resort Area, or Take a Fishing Excursion
Most of Epcot’s nighttime spectacular, Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, takes place on World Showcase Lagoon, and is only visible inside the park. Twice during the show, however, you’ll be treated to a small set of blasts high enough to view from outside. We’ll have to wait and see when Illuminations ends its run in September 2019, whether the replacement show will be able to be seen or heard from the Boardwalk.
If the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk nightlife isn’t your scene, you aren’t out of luck. Inside the Boardwalk Inn you’ll find some hidden gems, including the tucked away Bellevue Lounge. There are plenty of locations you can sit in peace and quiet and enjoy the company of your date in a calmer atmosphere, or even play some classic board games.
If instead you’re looking for something more active, check out Bayside Marina, where you can rent water mice, pontoon boats, fishing boats, and Sea Raycers, or take a guided fishing excursion.
Getting to Disney’s Boardwalk
While the Boardwalk and the Epcot resorts are open to the public, there isn’t direct transportation to the area – yet (see Skyliner information below). It’s easiest to get there by car.
Disney Resort guests can park for free, and locals can get parking validated when dining at certain restaurants. That said, as the area becomes more popular, the parking lot may fill up. If self-parking is unavailable, guests arriving by car may be required to use valet parking.
Additionally, guests are not permitted to use the parking lot to visit Epcot.
By Complimentary Disney Transportation – including the new Disney Skyliner
If you don’t have a car, guests wishing to visit Disney’s Boardwalk can take resort buses to the Boardwalk Inn, Beach Club, or Yacht Club from the theme parks or Disney Springs.
Guests visiting the Boardwalk from Epcot or Disney’s Hollywood Studios are already just a short walk or boat ride away.
Beginning in Fall 2019, the Disney Skyliner aerial gondolas will take guests closer to Disney’s Boardwalk from around the Walt Disney World Resort than ever before. The gondola system will connect Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Pop Century Resort, and Disney’s Riviera Resort. Riders can get off at Epcot’s International Gateway station and be just steps from Disney’s Beach and Yacht Club, Disney’s Boardwalk Inn & Villas, and all of the entertainment and dining options Disney’s Boardwalk has to offer.