We’re sure we can all agree that Disney is really, really good at a lot of things: television, movies, theme parks, resorts, cruise ships, dining concepts, customer service, merchandise, and heck, even fireworks. Another thing they’re good at? Nostalgia. And we don’t just mean the nostalgia you get for your childhood when you watch classic Disney movies, or when Disney+ releases reimagined versions of your favorite One Saturday Morning cartoons or TGIF sitcoms – although those are good too.
No, we’re talking about Disney’s uncanny ability to transport you to a different time and place by simply turning a corner – like at the Disney World BoardWalk, the streets of Hollywood Studios, or Magic Kingdom’s Main Street U.S.A. How? Well, it’s all thanks to that (Disney) magic combination of some clever forced perspective, well-placed and authentically inspired architectural and atmospheric details, music, tasty snacks and beverages, and maybe a sprinkle of pixie dust along the way.
And, if we’re being honest, it’s one of our favorite things about visiting Disney World. That’s why we love visiting Disney’s BoardWalk resort and entertainment area. Nestled over near Epcot’s World Showcase and the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, it’s a fun place to visit for dinner, drinks, dessert, evening recreation, or even just some idle wandering after a day at the parks. Keep reading for everything that’s available at this old-timey entertainment district in the heart of Walt Disney World.
What Is Disney’s BoardWalk?
Disney’s BoardWalk immerses guests in the charm of turn-of-the-century boardwalks like those at Coney Island and Atlantic City. Stretching for a quarter mile along Crescent Lake, the waterfront promenade is packed with shops, dining, nightlife, midway games, street performers, and even a resort. Keep walking, and you’ll not only hit International Gateway, the back entrance to Epcot, but 3 other resorts as well. So, whether you’re looking for an afternoon escape from Epcot with a slice of pizza, a shake, and a ride on a surrey bike or dinner and drinks followed by an evening stroll, a street magician, and some dueling pianos, you’re sure to enjoy your temporary trip back in time along Disney’s BoardWalk.
The Disney World BoardWalk is also one of our favorite places to explore on Disney property that doesn’t require a park ticket. That’s right, Disney’s BoardWalk is not only open to the public, it is also entirely free to enter and there’s no obligation to buy anything if you don’t want to. However, there are some activities, like Jellyrolls, the dueling piano bar, that do require a cover charge for entry.
Getting to Disney’s BoardWalk
Disney BoardWalk hours typically run from around 6:30am to 10pm or later depending on the season. Individual Disney BoardWalk restaurants, shops, and recreation may have different hours, however. So, be sure to look up the operating hours if you have someplace specific in mind for your next Disney vacation.
While Disney’s Boardwalk is open all day long, our favorite time to visit is in the evening. With the huge BoardWalk sign glittering in lights, street performers dazzling the crowd, and, if you’re lucky, fireworks streaking through the sky, it’s a truly magical place to explore with an ice cream cone or margarita in hand.
Disney BoardWalk Parking
Unfortunately, as the area is part of Disney’s BoardWalk resort, parking is extremely limited. So, while you are more than welcome to mention that you’re visiting the BoardWalk at the security gate, you may find that self-parking is unavailable or that you can only valet park your car. Typically, we find more often than not that self-parking is available, but it will fill up during the busy season.
Disney BoardWalk Transportation: Bus, Friendship Boat, Disney Skyliner & More
Of course, a safer alternative is using Disney’s complimentary transportation. That’s right, completely free. At the BoardWalk, that means busses, the Disney Skyliner, Friendship Boats, and if you’re visiting from Epcot, maybe even the Monorail. Or, for a paid option, call a Minnie Van.
Busses are located at each of the Disney resorts around Crescent Lake and connect throughout the Disney property. For a relaxing boat ride to Epcot or Hollywood Studios, Friendship Launches are available at the center of the BoardWalk promenade between Flying Fish and the Screen Door General Store, and also at Disney’s Yacht Club and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort. Or, for a different kind of tranquil transportation, hop on the Disney Skyliner to soar between Disney’s BoardWalk, the Caribbean Beach, Riviera, Pop Century, and Art of Animation resorts, and Epcot and Hollywood Studios parks.
Disney World BoardWalk During COVID-19
As with the rest of the Walt Disney World Resort, things look a bit different around Disney’s BoardWalk area as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Disney’s BoardWalk villas are open and accepting reservations, the rest of the BoardWalk Inn is closed for now. Several dining outlets are also unavailable, including Flying Fish and the ESPN Club, along with a few snack and drink stands. Many of the BoardWalk’s entertainment offerings are also on pause including Jellyrolls, Disney BoardWalk games, street performers, and surrey bike rentals. However, we do expect this to return to normal as the pandemic recedes.
Disney’s BoardWalk Resort Area
Not just a bunch of restaurants and shops, Disney’s BoardWalk and the rest of the area surrounding Crescent Lake is filled with a slew of resorts.
Disney’s BoardWalk Inn & Villas
Take a trip to turn-of-the-century Atlantic City at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn & Villas. With cozy rooms and villas overlooking Crescent Lake and the BoardWalk entertainment district, a stay at Disney’s BoardWalk resort is a charming journey to yesteryear. A deluxe Disney Vacation Club resort, this is one of the pricier stays on Disney property. Here, guests can swim in the whimsical Luna Park Pool then swing by Leaping Horse Libations for an icy refreshment. Afterwards, you can play board games over a classic cocktail or cup of coffee at the Belle Vue Lounge, a lounge made to feel like a 1930s sitting room, to a soundtrack of shows from a bygone era played on vintage radios.
Disney’s Beach Club Resort
Continuing on past the ESPN Club, the nostalgia continues over at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Another deluxe DVC resort, Disney’s Beach Club evokes the elevated yet laid back style of a classic coastal New England resort. Kiddos here can dive into one of the coolest resort pools on Disney property which is also shared with the Yacht Club next door – the sandy, shipwrecked Stormalong Bay – or sit down to breakfast with Minnie and friends at Cape May Café. Adults will enjoy the seafood buffet at Cape May or a glass of wine at Martha’s Vineyard. And whatever you do, don’t miss Beaches & Cream Soda Shop for some creamy, dreamy ice cream mounded with toppings. Trust us, they throw in the whole Kitchen Sink (har har). Though not technically part of Disney’s BoardWalk, it’s just a short walk away, and a worthwhile visit for an ice cream or more.
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
Next door is Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, the Beach Club Resort’s statelier sister. Think, a buttoned-up linen suit and tie with a pair of boat shoes. Yet another deluxe resort that’s part of the DVC family, the New England theme can be seen here as well, though this time it’s more nautical than coastal. These two resorts share many amenities, so young guests staying here have access to Stormalong Bay too. Meanwhile, adults will love having access to some prime dining, namely surf-and-turf centric Yachtsman Steakhouse. And bonus, the Yacht Club Resort is one of the few pet-friendly resorts at Disney World, so even Fido can get in on the relaxation.
Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotels
As you continue on around the lake back towards the BoardWalk, the next stop you’ll come to is the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotels. Though on Disney property, the Swan and Dolphin are technically Westin and Sheraton properties, respectively, not Disney resorts. That being said, there is still tons of family-friendly fun and delicious dining to be had here, including a character breakfast at Garden Grove featuring Goofy and Pluto. For more sophisticated palates, be sure to try one of the resort’s signature dining restaurants like Italian at Il Mulino, Japanese at Kimonos, seafood at Tod English’s bluezoo, or carnivorous classics at Shula’s Steak House. Finally, round out your stay by finding your zen at the Mandara Spa.
What Is There to Do at Disney’s BoardWalk?
From restaurants and nightlife to midway games and surrey bike rentals, there are plenty of things – both free and paid – to see, do, and eat.
Disney BoardWalk Restaurants
Whether you’re in the mood for a prohibition-era cocktail at a magic-inspired speakeasy, a fried snack from a food cart, delicious handmade pastries, or a plate of something delicious and some glorious A/C, there are several Disney BoardWalk restaurants and other dining outlets waiting to be had.
Said to have once been a speakeasy where stage magicians and streetwise illusionists could swap tricks Now, it’s a sophisticated hideaway filled with magical memorabilia from a bygone time. Cocktails – both mystically inspired sips and nostalgic favorites – are the highlights of the menu. And speaking from experience, the bartender has an especially magical pour, if you know what we mean. Ok, we’ll spell it out for you: they’re strong. Beer and wine are also available, as are a small selection of Italian-ish bar snacks from the attached Trattoria al Forno.
Big River Grille & Brewing Works
Families looking for a casual table-service restaurant with plenty of kid- and adult-friendly options will love Big River Grille & Brewing Works. This microbrewery serves up a hearty selection of American pub favorites – from healthy-ish options like greens crowned with chicken or salmon to substantial eats like kobe burgers and ribeye steaks. Top it all off with the decadent Chocolate Confusion and a pint of Big River beer. Plus, with a classic kids’ menu and even a Shirley Temple on the menu, even the little ones can get in on the fun.
On the hunt for a savory handheld bite or a sweet treat? Step on into this quick-service café next to Trattoria al Forno. A delightful array of items are on offer from morning to night at the BoardWalk Bakery, with sandwiches available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as assorted desserts and pastries. Stop here in the morning for the indulgent Brioche Boston Cream Doughnut or Butter Butter Sandwich, then swing by in the afternoon for the Gobbler and a cupcake.
BoardWalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas
Wanting an icy alcoholic beverage to go? Pay a visit to BoardWalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas. This little drink kiosk is filled to the brim with alcoholic and non-alcoholic sips like smoothies, soda, cocktails, beer, and wine. Or, put two of them together and have a boozy smoothie like the Captain’s Seaside Sensation with pineapple Dole Whip and spiced rum. Wash it all down with a salty or sweet snack like Mickey Pretzels and spicy cheese or roasted nuts.
Searching for a place to eat for the sports fan in your life? Every day is game day at the ESPN Club. Seriously, there are close to 100 TV screens here showing sporting events from around the world. And with TVs in the bathrooms too, there’s no need to worry about missing the next big play. Plus, with the Sports Central television and radio studio on-site, you might even catch your favorite athlete making an appearance for an interview. Capping off one end of Disney’s BoardWalk, this table-service restaurant meets sports-bar offers up classic American bar food favorites for lunch and dinner. If you’re planning to visit on game day, this place fills up real fast.
Devour sustainable seafood and prime steak at Flying Fish, a signature restaurant serving both lunch and dinner. Peek into the open kitchen as chefs create classic seaside dishes with a contemporary, sophisticated twist. From the expertly plated entrees and artsy desserts, the food is as beautiful as the elegant, ocean-inspired décor. Although the vibe here is decidedly more adult, kids won’t feel left out with pint-sized versions of seared fish, grilled steak, or shrimp scampi on offer.
Funnel Cake Cart
No visit to a beachside boardwalk is complete without a fried funnel cake dripping in chocolate and powdered sugar. Get your own here, along with other childhood favorites like cotton candy and fried ice cream. Or, grab a Funnel Cake Gift Kit and take your trip to Disney’s BoardWalk resort home with you.
Looking to fuel your journey around Crescent Lake but don’t have time to sit down to eat? Pop by the Pizza Window outside Trattoria al Forno for slices and full-sized wood-fired pizza pies. While you’re there, be sure to grab something to drink, like a can of beer, a glass of red wine, or some refreshing sangria.
The To-Go Cart
In the mood for some portable eats to enjoy while you explore Disney’s BoardWalk? Then there’s no place like The To-Go Cart. There are tons of American classics on offer here, including hot dogs, corn dogs, mac & cheese bites, grilled cheese, burgers, pulled pork, and even burgers topped with pulled pork. Plus, with tempting add-ons like beer cheese, bacon, and chili, this is boardwalk-style dining with a tasty choose-your-own-adventure twist.
Trattoria al Forno
Does strolling the boardwalk make you hungry for pasta? If so, be sure to visit Trattoria l Forno. This table-service restaurant dishes up old-world Italian classics just like Nonna used to make for dinner. In the morning, meanwhile, the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast starring Ariel and Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from Tangled features Mediterranean-inspired breakfast dishes with a side of Disney magic.
Disney BoardWalk Entertainment
As with any boardwalk worth a visit, Disney’s version is made for guests of all ages to enjoy. Wander down this waterfront promenade during the day or night for fun-filled activities like Disney BoardWalk games straight off the midway, street performers, and more.
There are two things we know to be true: Disney World is known for its fun, and nothing says fun like a dueling piano bar. It will probably come as no surprise that this place tends to be very popular with the conference attendees at the nearby Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort and Convention Center. Performing pairs rotate and take requests through the night (you’re more likely to hear your song played if you offer up a tip), and the whole crowd is encouraged to join in during special singalongs. Is it silly? Yes. But it’s also a ton of fun! Drinks aren’t the focus here, especially with a basket of popcorn to munch on at the same time. If you do plan to visit, keep in mind that this is a strictly 21-and-up bar and you will also be required to pay a cover charge upon entry.
Fall into the carefree spirit of the boardwalks of days gone by during impressive acts by street performers. From illusionists doing close-up magic to jugglers showing off their admirable hand-eye coordination, these evening interludes will have the whole family cheering, and maybe even getting in on the action.
Disney BoardWalk Games
One of the best parts about visiting a boardwalk, as anyone who has ever strolled one before can attest, is getting to try your hand at all those midway-style carnival games. There are a few different challenges available here, like vintage fair games and basketball, for those willing to spend a few bucks for a chance at a toy.
Surrey Bike Rentals
Don’t just walk down the boardwalk like mere pedestrians – ride around in style on a surrey bike built for 2 or 4 people. After all, there’s nothing quite like pedaling your way along the waterfront with one hand on the steering wheel and another gripping for dear life onto a drippy, melty ice cream cone. At $25 per person, we think this is kind of a steep add-on, but we can’t think of a more fun or family-friendly way to see the whole of Disney’s BoardWalk.
Movie Under the Stars
While this next suggestion may be meant for guests staying at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, with its prime location in the center of Disney’s BoardWalk on a particularly soft patch of grass, we say you might as well take advantage of this complimentary perk for Disney resort guests. No hotels reservations or Magic Bands are required – simply plop down once the film starts rolling and enjoy.
Disney BoardWalk Shops
In addition to all that eating and recreation, you’ll want to be sure to save some time for another thing: the Disney BoardWalk shops. Whether you’re on the hunt for snacks, Disney souvenirs, or a piece of art for your wall, there’s a good chance you’ll find it at Disney’s BoardWalk.
Disney’s Character Carnival
If you couldn’t already tell from the name, Disney’s Character Carnival is all about merchandise devoted to beloved Disney characters. Stop in here for plushies, children’s clothing, sports gear, and housewares emblazoned with Mickey, Minnie, and more.
Screen Door General Store
Staying at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and needing to rustle up some grub? Or maybe you’re just looking for something to munch on as you walk. Whatever your craving, swing by the Screen Door General Store for a range of groceries and sundries, including some souvenirs and stationery.
Thimbles & Threads
While you won’t be walking into Thimbles & Threads and expecting to get a tailor-made suit or dress like you might have along the boardwalks of yesteryear, you will find plenty of Disney-inspired clothing to wear here, like swimsuits and t-shirts, along with some character plushies.
Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, you won’t want to pass up a visit to the Wyland Galleries. The whole store is positively filled from wall to wall with beautiful, colorful paintings, art prints, sculptures, and jewelry inspired by the beauty of the ocean and all the creatures that live there. Consider this like Disney’s Art of Animation store but with whales and dolphins instead of Mickey and the princesses.
Well, that wraps up our guide to Disney’s BoardWalk entertainment district. With its waterfront location, delicious dining options, recreational offerings for the whole family, relaxing resorts, and fireworks views, the wholesome charm of the BoardWalk is a pleasant alternative to the craziness of Disney Springs whether you’re coming for a stroll or to stay.
If you’re interested in learning more about the restaurants located at The BoardWalk you can find several of them on our Top Restaurants at Disney World rankings guide. Plus there are several ice cream places here that made out Top Ice Cream locations at the resort. For anyone who’s thinking about staying at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn be sure to read our review of the hotel.
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.