I Prefer the Term Traveler: Walt Disney World

We, Matt and Shanna, spent five days over-eating, waiting in lines, occasionally relaxing, and drinking (when the cocktails seemed palatable) in Florida’s Walt Disney World this February.  We came for the animatronics, food, and warm weather, and left with a Kermit hat and a well “researched” theory on how to drink in Disney.

This theory consists primarily of what not to drink. As it turns out, we skipped a lot of opportunities to imbibe because, to our dismay, 80% of all booze on offer at the parks are cheap light beer (mostly the unholy triumvirate of Bud, Miller, and Coors), sugar & juice concoctions topped with a drop of booze, or variously flavored frozen abominations fraudulently sullying the name margarita. But fear not dear reader, for though our noses were held high in the air, they did lead us to a handful of truly magical beverages.

When you go a’drinking in the DW keep in mind that you’re going to pay anywhere between $6 to $14 per drink, and sometimes it won’t be worth it.  And don’t bet on being able to go into a restaurant and sit at the bar – for the amount of booze available in Disney, the parks contain very few actual bars.  Many restaurants on Disney property only offer table service.  Notable exceptions: Jiko’s small in-restaurant bar and the wondrous Cava del Tequila. Your hotel will likely have a bar too, but depending on if it’s pool-side or a proper indoor joint (with couches and so on) your mileage may vary.

Hollywood Studios

High Octane

Shanna: The Rum Runner was the first and last sugar booze drink I knowingly ordered in WDW – the bartender used pre-bottled juice mix, Bols Blue, Bols Banana, and the smallest, most disappointing touch of Gosling’s on top.  It was then that I realized Disney might being purposefully watering down everyone’s drink – so to get the most bang for your ten dollar bill you have to get beer, wine, or something like a martini that is guaranteed to be most/all liquor.

Matt: Here I ordered the Grand Margarita. A Margarita variation using Grand Marnier in place of triple sec (a suitable substitution), this seemed perhaps the only non-objectionable option on their menu. Unfortunately, over-sugared bottled sour mix killed any integrity the tequila and Grand Marnier could have brought to my $10 purchase. And yet, it was about as good as I could hope from an open-air bar called “High Octane” situated outside the Honey I Shrunk the Kids attraction.

Dockside Diner

Shanna: Finding Yeungling here after drinking the Rum Runner was like a godsend.  I wasn’t even upset about the $6.25 we paid for each plastic pint glass.  We’re used to only paying $3 average at home.

Matt: I’ll second Shanna on this one. It’s always nice to find Yeungling outside of Pennsylvania, and it’s always been a cheap, reliable standby. In this case, it was a reliable standby.

The Hollywood Brown Derby

Matt: The Brown Derby has, hands down, the best bar menu anywhere in Hollywood Studios. They offer Manhattans, a Sidecar (though why they would destroy cognac and cointreau with “Sweet and Sour” mix I’ll never understand), an impressive collection of cognacs and scotch whiskies, and a real honest-to-goodness Martini. And yet, in their fervor to splash every detail with a Hollywood theme, they’ve renamed some of the most classic of classic cocktails. A Manhattan is apparently now a Jack Diamond, a Kangaroo is a Shelby Mayer, and – horror of horrors – to get a Martini I had to order a Honey Darling. Luckily, the food was excellent and a couple “Darlings” soothed the sting.

EPCOT

La Cava del Tequila http://www.lacavadeltequila.com/

Shanna: It seems that La Cava isn’t directly owned by Disney, and that might be why the drinks are so good.  You can order at the bar and get a plastic glass to go, or you can sit down and enjoy the extensive menu.  The chips and guac are tops.

Matt: If you are visiting Disney and planning on imbibing, Epcot is the place to do it. And within Epcot, La Cava del Tequila is one of the best spots. A dimly lit grotto in the bowels of a giant plastic Mayan pyramid is an odd place to find such quality drinks. But determined to capitalize on this opportunity, I ordered both a San Angel Inn Margarita (earning the title this time) and the Scorpion 1 Year Añejo Mezcal neat. The Margarita was very good, and the addition of agave nectar added flavor without over-sweetening. Also, I was delighted that the mezcal was served con sangrita (literally “with a little blood”). This is a criminally rare method of serving either mezcal or tequila neat to be sipped alternating with an herbed tomato juice. The result is entirely pleasant.

Les Chefs de France

Matt: Ah, to spend Valentine’s Day in Paris (or Disney’s version of Paris). Romance, cuisine, and cocktails, oh such cocktails. We began by sharing an aperitif of Dubonnet. It’s on the menu as vermouth, and though whether Dubonnet qualifies as a vermouth could be debated, I much prefer it to a glass of Martini & Rossi. In fact, sipping a nice vermouth neat is a practice I’d like to see make a comeback. With lunch I ordered the Cocktail des Chefs with sparkling white wine and black currant. It was light and crisp, a very nice lunch cocktail. But it was almost completely eclipsed by Shanna’s St. Germaine Cocktail.

Shanna: We walked in to Les Chefs de France and were immediately met with a literal WALL of St. Germaine. I knew that we had made a great decision before we even sat down. The St. Germain Cocktail, which you can make at home, is a perfectly balanced glass full of sunshine and happiness. Les Chefs like to put Perrier instead of Club Soda in theirs, and it’s a nice touch. Definitely one drink that’s in my top five best cocktails I’ve ever ordered.

From left to right: the St. Germaine Cocktail and Le Cocktail de Chefs at Epcot's Les Chefs de Paris

Tokyo Dining

Matt: I’ll admit, I was not tremendously impressed with the food at Tokyo Dining. What did impress me though, was finding shōchū on the menu. Shōchū is a unique Japanese liquor unlike almost any other distilled spirit, and can be very difficult to find outside of Japan. This being the first time I tried shōchū, I found the flavor to be a bit harsh, despite the relatively low alcohol content, but I would absolutely try it again. I would have also liked to see a Japanese whisky on the menu, but was disappointed.

Animal Kingdom

Everywhere we went in the Animal Kingdom we saw the draft choice of Safari Amber – no brand, so this might be proprietary.  We didn’t choose to drink it, but let us know if you did.

Dawa Bar
We had heard good things about the Dawa Bar, and as it seemed  the only “proper” bar in the Animal Kingdom we hoped to find some excellent examples of African beer and/or liquors. What we found, however, were really stale bottles of Hakim Stout and Meta Beer, which admittedly may be an accurate representation of African beer. We can’t speak for the other African bottled brews (there were a few more available), but their only options on tap were, again, the triumvirate of cheap American beer, plus Yuengling. They also offered the usual array of raspberry orange something-or-other drinks.

Bottled beers available at the Animal Kingdom's Dawa Bar

Yak & Yeti
Our beer drinking experience was much better when we stopped for lunch at Yak & Yeti. Not only was the food here phenomenal, but their bottled Kingfisher Lager was just the thing on a hot day. Light for a lager, neither overly hoppy or malty, but not lacking in flavor either. I would put this in my top 5 beers for lunch on a hot day.

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is a dry park.  It has good rides, and Tomorrowland is a ton of fun for us nerds. It’s really the family park.  No booze to be had, though we’ve heard rumors that the Fantasyland expansion will change this, we won’t hold our collective breath. Instead go get a Dole Whip at Aloha Isle.

Resorts

Jiko

Shanna: Oh Jiko, the first and perhaps last signature restaurant I’ll ever go to. The service was amazing, the food was fantastic, the cheese plate was worth every penny but if we hadn’t had been on the dining plan we would have never gone here. Time and money go so fast in Disney, and next time it would be better spent not marveling at how much you can charge for booze ($255 for a 2 oz pour of Rémy Martin Louis XIII – well of course!). However, we allowed ourselves dessert drinks – I got a Taylor Fladgate 10 year old tawny port for $9 and it was pretty excellent.

Matt: To go with dessert I ordered a Cape Town Coffee. This follows the same basic recipe as the Keoki Coffee replacing brandy with Van Der Hum, a South African liqueur. You might describe Van Der Hum as the South African version of Grand Marnier as it’s brandy based and primarily flavored with tangerine. At any rate, the Cape Town Coffee was just the pick-me-up I needed after a day wandering around the Magic Kingdom.

Victoria Falls Lounge

Matt: Located outside Jiko, we killed some time here while we waited for our table. The cocktail menu was small and not particularly impressive, so I played it safe and ordered an Old Fashioned. It was made with juice as opposed to muddled fruit, which some people prefer, but at least garnished with a cherry. It was a tad sweet, and I suspect bottled sour mix was used instead of lemon, but it was certainly strong enough.

Shanna: I had the white sangria, which was perfectly fine but I drank it so fast I barely got to enjoy it. I was just happy to have a cold, fruity drink in my hand by that point.

Maya Grill

Shanna: We decided to have a late dinner at our hotel, Maya being the only serious restaurant on property it was our only choice. Since we were getting Mexican we of course had to have margaritas, which I now believe is the National Drink of Disney World. I swear every restaurant has a margarita, and even worse, the only really good ones cost $12+ at La Cava del Tequila. Harumph.

Matt: Compared to the Kool Aide that’s passed off for margaritas in most other parts of Disney, the Margarita Clasica at Maya Grill is downright drinkable. It’s tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, exactly what you should find in a margarita.

In the end, drinking in Disney is much like drinking at any bar. Know what to avoid, but don’t be afraid to try something new. With the proliferation of tall sugary tipples available, you could easily spend hundreds on drinks and end up with very little actual booze. But there are a lot of really excellent drinks at Disney as well if you know where and how to look. Really though, we’re just building to what should be the IPTB motto no matter where you travel: Drink well, drink smart, drink boldly.

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8 thoughts on “I Prefer the Term Traveler: Walt Disney World

  1. Wow. I thought Disney would serve well-crafted drinks! How disappointing…sour mix? Really. Tsk tsk. Just had an amazing cocktail at Meat & Potatoes on Saturday with Japanese whiskey, shochu, acai, grapefruit, homemade Grenadine…just a touch…and not sure what else. Magnificent!

  2. AJ says:

    Great article! I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to visit more of the bars and lounges around property at Walt Disney World. There are some truly great finds in Downtown Disney and in the resort hotels; I think you actually would have been more pleased if you were drinking primarily in the hotels. One thing I’ve never heard is that Disney’s drinks are watered down; it’s too bad that you had that experience.

    Maya Grill is owned by the same company (and staffed by the same tequila master) as La Cava, which might be why the margarita there was acceptable. The same company owns and operates all of the dining establishments in the Mexico pavilion and on property at Coronado Springs.

    • Matt & Shanna says:

      Thanks, AJ, but just to clarify not all the drinks were watered down by far – it’s really just those sugar drinks that you would find at High Octane where I watched a bartender literally put one ounce of rum in that Rum Runner. I can absolutely understand the reasoning if they do this on purpose, of course you don’t want people getting wasted and throwing up on rides. I’m sure there’s other pre-bottled mixed drinks in the various parks that aren’t as watered down as the ones we had at High Octane. However, our aim (with the blog and in life) isn’t to get drunk, but to experience finely crafted alcoholic beverages and you’re not going to find that in a bottle of sours mix. Sadly I didn’t get to try the frozen Grey Goose lemon drink from France, I’ve heard good things.

      Again, the ordering of those kind of juice-like drinks stopped there. I’m not so sure about the amount of tequila that was in my own margarita at Maya, but I’ve always been really happy with everything from La Cava.

      We would have absolutely gone to Downtown Disney if we had the time, especially for Paradiso 37, but this time we focused on exploring the parks (it was Matt’s first visit, had to show him around). Next time.

      – Shanna

    • Matt & Shanna says:

      PS I personally enjoy reading your own blog. It’s always fun to look at the new snacks that Disney whips up.

  3. Excellent notes on WDW, I think I’ll hashtag #ImbibingInWonderland while I’m there March 17-21 and again in May. I found your blog notes while searching for our upcoming trips. I’ve been spoiled by a handful of serious mixologists in Disneyland, yes, Anaheim. Both Napa Rose and Carthay Circle have people behind the stick like Matt and Raylan who craft their own cocktails and know balance. A handful of these guys are reshaping cocktails in the resorts and it is catching on. Disney is finally grasping the concept that just because you mix juice and a spirit, you aren’t makin’ a cocktail. Sadly World has been lagging behind and I’ve been optimistic that the winds of change are blowing. Although I will note, when I was there in October 2012, there was an honest to goodness Manhattan in the big boy bars like Tune In Lounge: 3:1 Bulleit Rye, Carpano, Angostura, and 3 Luxardo cherries skewered into a hidden Mickey. http://instagram.com/p/P-uw8hnFtd/ okay, they shook it instead of stirring, but hey, it is a milestone.

    • Matt & Shanna says:

      Awesome! Glad you found our post helpful. I think that as more people come to appreciate well-made cocktails, places like Disney will get the message.

      Enjoy your trip this month and if you find something really good, send us a pic on Twitter @iptboozehound.

      Thanks for reading! (And don’t forget to visit La Cava de Tequila in Epcot. I still have dreams about that place.)

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