Walt Disney was famously against alcohol at his family-friendly parks, telling The Saturday Evening Post in 1956: “No liquor, no beer, nothing.” But as Disney World evolved, that teetotalism only applied to the original Magic Kingdom; the three other parks have served alcohol since their openings, beginning with Epcot in 1982. The Magic Kingdom’s 41-year run as a booze-free bulwark finally ended in 2012, when Be Our Guest, the elegant Beauty and the Beast-themed, French-inspired restaurant, caused a frisson by offering wine at dinner. It also opened a whole new world at the tentpole theme park.
Today, more than 110 Disney World venues serve alcohol, including every sit-down restaurant in all four theme parks—a change that only came about last May. But beyond options for serving adults at mealtime or during a break, the kid-focused Disney World has created a whole new line of programming around food and drinks for adults. For the gastronomes among you, here’s a look at your (many) delicious options.
Catering to the Peter Pan Syndrome
The growing number of adults who visit Disney World without kids has surprised longtime industry watcher Len Testa, founder of Touring Plans, a popular app and website that uses big data and user-generated intel to help theme-park-goers slash wait times. An analysis of hundreds of thousands of trips revealed that a whopping 38 percent of app users had visited Disney World without kids in 2018, up from 32 percent five years earlier. “If you would have told me that more than one third of trips taken by our users was adults-only, I would have thought, no way,” Testa says.
With millennials having babies at the slowest rate of any generation in American history, along with myriad Disney-loving kids who’ve grown into Disney-loving adults, the company is simply responding to shifting demographics, says Robert Niles, founder of amusement park intel site Theme Park Insider. “Disney is no longer just a niche family entertainment company,” he says. “It is a cradle-to-grave lifestyle company.”
Whether you’re traveling without kids or because you’re traveling with kids, take note: those 110 Disney World venues that serve alcohol offer some 400 different kinds of beers, 500 types of spirits, and more than 2,000 wines, according to Brian Koziol, a food and beverage concept development director at Disney World. After waiting in an everlasting queue for Avatar Flight of Passage, you can recharge with a cocktail at Nomad Lounge in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, or kick back with a craft beer at BaseLine Tap House, a brew pub in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Developing a drinks menu for a new Disney World restaurant or bar can take anywhere from seven months to several years, Koziol says. “We know that our guests really embrace when we get the theming of the location to coincide with all things within the menu,” he says.
To wit: a new bar called Barcelona Lounge opening in July at the soon-to-launch Gran Destino Tower, part of the expansion at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Koziol and his team took cues from the tremendous gin culture in the namesake Catalan city. “We knew we wanted to have a great gin-and-tonic program, so we played around with testing various recipes and how we could make our own tonic,” he says. “Then we did a big taste profile with the different types of gin available today across the world.”
Another instant hit since it opened: Wine Bar George in Disney Springs, known for its down-to-earth, personal approach to engaging guests through wine pairings and tastings. Speaking of Disney Springs, where you can’t swing a Mickey backpack without hitting a James Beard Award-winning chef, there’s at least one more on the way and he’s bringing small plates. “The world can’t wait for Jaleo to open,” says Tom Corless, founder of the Disney fan site WDW News Today. He’s referring to the any-minute-now launch of the new Spanish restaurant by celebrity chef and humanitarian José Andrés. At other Jaleo locations, one of most popular fixtures is “sangria hour.”
Grownup Disneyphiles can’t get enough options, says Michelle Allen, owner of Travel Magic, an authorized Disney travel agency. “Over the past few years—and especially in the last three years or so—I’ve definitely seen clients seeking more adult-only experiences, whether it’s for girlfriend getaways or couples trips.”
Drinking ‘Around the World’—and Beyond
Along with the drinks in restaurants, bars, and lounges, the park also hosts special foodie events throughout the year. At Epcot, where you can take the “Drinking Around the World” challenge by trying a tipple at all 11 countries in the World Showcase on a regular visit, you can also look out for one of the festivals happening there ten months out of the year. “Each of the festivals has expanded in length over the last few years,” Testa says.
While the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival has been the gastronomic highlight on Disney’s calendar since 1995, nowadays every event has a strong food-and-beverage component, Corless says. “The Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival used to just be about learning how to grow things and looking at topiaries,” he says. “Now it has almost as much food and drink as the food-and-wine festival.”
If the crowds put you off, consider The Highway in the Sky Dine Around. Priced at $170 a head, the decadent, multi-course extravaganza follows the monorail line, beginning with a check-in at the Contemporary Resort for an appetizer and specialty cocktail, then making stops at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts for more drinks and small plates, before returning to the Contemporary for dessert, cordials, and coffee—at a private viewing party of the fireworks over Cinderella Castle. “People absolutely love this experience,” Allen says. “I always advise booking as far in advance as possible.”
For the ultimate in exclusivity, there’s the three-day Family of Wines Weekend in mid-May. This first-ever event will showcase seven California wineries with special connections to Disney, including Kurt Russell’s GoGi Wines, George Lucas’s Skywalker Vineyards, and Silverado Vineyards, which was founded by Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane. “It’s a two-night stay at the Contemporary Resort with all these interactive wine workshops, luncheons, and receptions—all just for adults,” Allen says. For many, the $2,950-a-head price tag will be a splurge too far, but Allen says several of her clients will jump at it. “This weekend is very, very exclusive and intimate,” she says. “It will make them feel so special.”
Without a doubt, the year’s most-anticipated drinking experience will happen at Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars-themed land set to open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on August 29. To create the refreshments at Oga’s Cantina, Koziol and his team joined Walt Disney Imagineers for months of blue-sky brainstorming. “We wanted to make sure that we have a great storytelling aspect in the course of these drinks,” he says.
The payoff is a menu that includes a half-dozen space-age cocktails with names like the Fuzzy Tauntaun, a colorful take on a fuzzy navel that’s topped with foam, and the Bespin Fizz, a rum-based Cosmopolitan with a pop of yuzu, served with dry ice to create a swirling fog. Corless says he’s looking forward to extensive testing before picking a favorite. “Just like the rest of the world, I think I need to try them all.”
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