Treading the Boards at Disney's BoardWalk

By Debra Martin Koma
ALL EARS® Senior Editor

Feature Article

This article appeared in the January 14, 2003, Issue #173 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


Ask me what my favorite ride or show is at Walt Disney World, and I'm likely to hem and haw -- I love so many things there it's impossible for me to name just *one* favorite.

But ask me where my favorite *spot* is in Walt Disney World, and I'll answer immediately: Sitting somewhere along the BoardWalk, looking out at the shimmering water on a bright sunny day, or a cool summer night, with a favorite beverage in hand.

To my surprise, though, many folks don't even know that the BoardWalk exists!

When it opened in 1996, the BoardWalk was billed as a lakefront entertainment complex, similar to, although much smaller than, Downtown Disney. Shops, restaurants, nightspots, and live entertainment, all could be found on this old-fashioned, Atlantic beach-style boardwalk created by architect Robert A.M. Stern, who was also responsible for designing Disney's Yacht and Beach Clubs, located just across the lake.

Disney's BoardWalk was conceived as a "village across the water," an out-of-the-way place where guests could take a day off from the hectic pace of the theme parks or spend a quiet, romantic evening. The theme is carried out both inside the resort itself -- the BoardWalk lobby houses an authentic 1920s miniature carousel, as well as a vintage scale model of the world's first "loop-the-loop" roller coaster -- and out. And, while no on will ever truly confuse Disney's BoardWalk with, say, the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ, it does at least capture the essence of the real thing, including the most important component: fun!

BOARDWALK BOUNTY

As a native land-locked Pittsburgher, I never spent any time on *any* boardwalks... until I met my husband, a Philadelphian whose family summered at the Jersey shore. Then I discovered the joys of walking the boards at Cape May, Ocean City, Wildwood, and even Atlantic City. As much as I enjoy it, though, I would never consider a meal on one of those boardwalks, with their greasy pizza slices and French fries, caramel corn, and funnel cakes, to be a culinary delight.

That's where Disney's BoardWalk shines.

Take the Flying Fish Cafe, for example -- my favorite restaurant on the BoardWalk. Inspired in name and decor by a Coney Island roller coaster, this premier restaurant specializes in seafood. And believe me, the menu will put you in a "see-food" frame of mind -- you'll see their food and want to eat it. As soon as you walk in, past the open-kitchen and new-wave bar, the restaurant wows you with its gorgeous decor, which includes an unusual backlit glass Ferris wheel, whimsical bronze flying fish light fixtures, and a roller coaster mural studded with lights.

The thrills continue when you take a look at the menu. Chef Robert Curry has put together an imaginative and ever-changing menu that delights seafood lovers, yet still has something to please meat-eaters and vegetarians, too. Moist potato-wrapped red snapper, pan-seared venison, peeky toe crabcakes... items like these consistently win mega-raves from guests and food critics alike. And if you ever see the oak-fired dayboat scallops with lemon-tarragon risotto on the menu, be sure to order them! You won't regret it.

If you're after a more exotic experience, you'll love Spoodles, which features Mediterranean cuisine and an extensive Spanish-influenced tapas menu, perfect for sampling the authentic dishes of sunnier climes. With outdoor tables overlooking the water as well as its indoor seating, Spoodles can accommodate 250 guests, and not one of them should ever leave hungry! The menu at this airy, if somewhat noisy, restaurant includes oak-fired flatbreads, Moroccan-spiced tuna, gratin of scallops, grilled salmon, and desserts like tiramisu ice cream and dulce de leche cheesecake. Visitors can also pop in to see Spoodles and its showcase open kitchen as early as 7:30 a.m. for breakfast.

Those looking for cuisine that's a little less haute can stop in the ESPN Club, which has 100 televisions and a 108-square-foot screen. With a a darkened ambiance in a setting accented by sports memorabilia like a Jaromir Jagr hockey jersey, an autographed photo of boxer Larry Holmes and numerous autographed footballs and helmets, the menu includes pasta, sandwiches, salads, burgers and the club's signature Bloody Mary Chili, as well as specialty drinks.

Rounding out the table service restaurants along the BoardWalk, there's the Big River Grille & Brewing Works -- a brew pub with indoor and outdoor seating that serves up its own beers, as well as burgers, salads, ribs, sandwiches and other tasty fare.

None of that strikes your fancy? Well, the beauty of the BoardWalk is that it's just a few minutes away from a number of other resorts, each of which houses very respectable restaurants -- like Palio at the Swan, and the Yachtsman Steakhouse over at Disney's Yacht Club Resort. A stroll around the BoardWalk is sure to yield someplace that appeals to you.

And if you're not in the mood for a big meal, there are a number of spots for lighter snacks, like the kiosks that sell the old boardwalk standbys of chili cheese dogs, foot longs and nachos. Spoodles has a take-away pizza window, and the Boardwalk Bakery has some of the best (not to mention biggest!) cinnamon rolls you'll find... ever! The bakery is also the perfect spot for breakfast, with flaky croissants, bear claws, sticky buns, brownies, carrot cake, fresh baked breads... and I have to stop before I drool all over my keyboard! Later in the day you might also want to try one of their delicious pre-packed lunch bags or light sandwiches.

Yes, when it comes to food, Disney's BoardWalk has it all over the Jersey shore!

NOTABLE NIGHT LIFE

How many fun evenings have I spent on Disney's BoardWalk? I've lost count. Most nights start with a wonderful dinner, but after that there's still much more to do on and around the BoardWalk.

No, there are no carnival rides, but there *are* midway games -- shoot a few hoops and maybe you can take home a little stuffed animal. And what's a trip to the BoardWalk without a spin on the surrey bikes? You can rent two- or four-seaters, just watch out for the pedestrians... and the frogs, as my sad son, who spotted a squashed amphibian recently, will warn you. As you're strolling, or pedaling, along maybe you'll catch a juggler act or a New Orleans jazz band. There's a fortune teller ("Sees all, Knows All, Tells Some"), a caricaturist -- the entertaining BoardWalk Buskers change nightly.

Think there's nowhere else to go dancing in WDW besides Pleasure Island? Wrong! If your days of disco have dwindled, but you still want to cut a rug, the BoardWalk has Atlantic Dance, open Thursday to Monday nights. There's a DJ Dance Party some nights, other nights feature live contemporary and classic bands. Not too long ago, Atlantic Dance did away with their cover charge, making it even more appealing to stop in for a listen.

If you're a singer, not a dancer, you'll find Jellyrolls right across from Atlantic Dance. This hopping nightspot, which has locations in my hometown Pittsburgh and a number of other cities around the country, features dueling piano players who challenge guests to sing along with them. The audience makes the requests -- pick almost *any* song, and the guys will play it for you! I've seldom seen them stumped. How *do* those piano players have so many tunes committed to memory? You'll hear everything from Jimmy Buffet and Billy Joel to the Beatles and even Sir Mix-A-Lot. It's a raucous good time, one that's even better when shared with a group of friends over a few drinks. Be sure to look for Ray, our favorite piano man -- the onstage duo switches off periodically, so if you miss his set, we think he's well worth waiting around for!

Is sports is more your thing? You can visit the aforementioned ESPN Club, open weekends until 2 a.m., and catch your favorite team over a few brews.

But if you're looking for something a little more sedate, visit the Belle Vue Lounge in the BoardWalk Inn, which serves up some of the best Bombay Sapphire Gin and Tonics I've ever tasted, in a quiet setting replete with the charm of a bygone era. It's a great spot to sink back into a comfy sofa or overstuffed chair while you listen to old-time radio dramas, or play a game at one of the checkers tables. There's even an outdoor verandah overlooking the water.

SHOPPING AROUND

Have a sweet tooth craving? If you can't find something to satisfy it at The BoardWalk's Seashore Sweets, then you're just not looking hard enough! Mix your own colors of M&Ms, or pick out a pound of pre-mixed Mickey colors (red, white, yellow and black) or Donald's (blue, yellow, orange and white). There's old-fashioned salt water taffy, as well as assorted gummies, chocolate, and old-time candies. As an added treat, you can peruse memorabilia from the Miss America Pageant (which is held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which the BoardWalk is patterned after -- I didn't get the connection at first, myself).

Oh, you'd rather spend some cash on non-food items? (Yes, I realize there might be a few of you who do.) Never fear. The BoardWalk shops here differ from the Jersey shore boardwalk shops I've become familiar with -- no tacky, touristy t-shirts or rude bumper stickers here! What you will find is an assortment of Disney paraphernalia and sundries. Right along the BoardWalk are the Screen Door General Store and Thimbles & Threads -- the former features character souvenirs, stationery items and even housewares, the latter has ladies' and children's clothing and toys. Located between those two stores is Disney's Character Carnival, with adult and golf apparel, as well as character merchandise for everyone.

Over at the ESPN Club, they have their own merchandise shop, while tucked away in the BoardWalk Village Green is the Wyland Galleries, which offers unique seascapes and marine-based art.

There's even a very special Pin Station on the BoardWalk for all you collectors (you know who you are!), open from 4 to 11 p.m. There's special pin trading here every Sunday night from 8 to 11 p.m. and this station often hosts a "Kids Only Trading Zone" for 6-14 year olds.

I can't think of what more you could ask for in a place: fine dining, relaxed atmosphere, sweet treats, nightlife, live entertainment, fun and games... Disney's BoardWalk seems to have it all.

That's why, two weeks from tomorrow, you'll find me there... sipping an espresso (or maybe something stronger!), looking out over the shimmering water, feeling the warm breeze on my face, with Disney Magic radiating all around me.

It doesn't get any better.

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For more information and photos of the BoardWalk and Epcot Resort Area, visit our NEW section at: http://allears.net/btp/brdwlk.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.