Walt Disney World’s BoardWalk 101

Disney’s BoardWalk is a shopping, dining and entertainment district in the Epcot resort area. It is a true Walt Disney World hidden gem, many people (including locals) do not realize that it is there, they assume when it is mentioned that someone is talking about Disney Springs. Other people think that it is only for guests of the Epcot resorts. The truth is that it is open to all and because it is not as well known as some other areas it has a nice relaxed pace, even during the busiest times of the year.

Getting to the BoardWalk is easy. If you are taking Disney transportation just take a bus, it should be marked “BoardWalk” or “Epcot Resorts”. If you have any questions, just ask the driver. If you are driving there yourself follow the signs to “Epcot Resorts” once you’re on Disney property. Do not follow the signs for Epcot, they will take you to the wrong place. The BoardWalk is located at 2101 Epcot Resorts Boulevard, which is off of Buena Vista Boulevard. The entrance is across the street from a Hess station and near one of the entrances to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. There is a security booth, simply show a picture ID and tell the guard that you are going down to the BoardWalk. He or she will instruct you where to park for self parking, and valet parking is also available. Walk towards the hotel, the stairs to the BoardWalk are to the right of the main entrance. It’s clearly marked. If you can’t take the stairs there is an elevator inside the hotel.

During the day Disney’s BoardWalk has a relaxed pace. You will most likely see a few runners enjoying the loop around Crescent Lake. Bring your camera, the area is beautiful. It is designed to give the feel of an area like Coney Island or Atlantic City at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re there during the day you can pick up a bite to eat or browse in one of the shops. The International Gateway entrance for Epcot is a short walk or boat ride away so it’s a good escape from the hustle and bustle of the park. You can also catch a boat to Disney’s Hollywood Studios or take the walking path, it’s about a 20 minute walk past Jellyrolls. You can rent a surrey bike and take a ride around the lake but be warned, there are two hills along the path. If you want to just hang out for a while, ESPN Club has an arcade.

The best time to visit Disney’s BoardWalk is in the evening, the area comes alive. Try your luck at a game of chance and skill and possibly win a prize. Grab a funnel cake. The best part of Disney’s BoardWalk runs from 7:00-10:00 each evening. That is when the street performers come out to entertain you. The performers are hand picked by Disney and are the best in the world at what they do. They offer free shows that are appropriate and fun for all ages. There are three performers most nights with shows at two different locations; one in front of the Flying Fish Restaurant and the other by the Screen Door General Store. You could see juggling, magic, a plate spinner or even a sword swallower. All of the performers are unique and will leave you amazed. Most nights there is a ring of children sitting in the front, the kids will have a blast. (Make sure that you keep an eye on your children, it is not a baby sitting service.) If it rains or the temperature is too cold the shows will instead be performed inside the BoardWalk Hotel, one in the lobby and the other near the Belle Vue Lounge. Disney’s BoardWalk also offers a great view of the fireworks from IllumiNations at Epcot. Head past the ESPN Club and grab a spot on the bridge. Fireworks usually start around 9:00pm.

There are a few shopping options at Disney’s BoardWalk. Wyland Galleries offers marine sculptures and other art by environmental artist Wyland. BoardWalk Character Carnival sells Disney themed sports items, housewares and other souvenirs. The Screen Door General Store has groceries (they are expensive) and a little bit of everything when it comes to souvenirs. It’s a good place to stop when you’re not sure what to buy for someone back home. Thimbles & Threads is where you will find apparel. The selection isn’t huge so don’t expect to find something there that you saw in the parks or at World of Disney but didn’t pick up. (The Screen Door, Character Carnival and Thimbles & Threads are connected to each other.)

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Disney’s BoardWalk has restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. Start your day off with something sweet from BoardWalk Bakery. Or try some unique ice cream flavors at Ample Hill Creamery. If you want a quick bite the aptly named Pizza Window sells pies whole or by the slice. Other quick food options include Tasty Sensations, which features funnel cake and cotton candy, and Disney’s BoardWalk to Go, which serves hot dogs, sandwiches and the like. BoardWalk Joe’s serves frozen margaritas, beer, and a few snacks.

Disney’s BoardWalk also has several full service eating options. ESPN Club is a great place for lunch or dinner, or grab a drink at the bar while watching a can’t miss game. ESPN Club does not accept reservations and gets crowded in the evenings, especially on the weekends. If you’re at Walt Disney World on Super Bowl Sunday this is the place to catch the game. Big River Grille & Brewing Works has it’s own brewery, but it is still family friendly. They sell salads, sandwiches and pub favorites. They also do not accept reservations. Dine inside or enjoy the view of the lake. An Italian eatery called Trattoria al Forno is absolutely amazing with a character dining experience for breakfast and a romantic Italian dining option with no characters for dinner. Finally, The Flying Fish CafĂ© offers a signature dining experience. Open only for dinner, the seafood restaurant features an onstage kitchen so you can watch as the food is prepared. The Flying Fish CafĂ© is also the location of the Chef’s Tasting Wine Dinner and is one of two locations at Walt Disney World for the Dining with an Imagineer program.

For those 21 and older, Disney’s BoardWalk has two nightclubs and one great bar. The nightclubs are usually open from right around 9:00pm-2:00am most evenings, although special events can occasionally change the schedule. Jellyrolls is a unique club featuring dueling pianos where guests try to stump the maestros. Atlantic Dance Hall has live music or a DJ most nights. It’s a place where you can dance the night away. Both nightclubs have cover charges. AbracadaBar is a fantastic bar with an intimate and unique atmosphere. The magician’s special adult beverages are wonderful here.

So much to do in such a beautifully simple space full of great entertainment and activities!

About PaulaK

I grew up in Western Massachusetts. When I was nine my family went to Disneyland and I was hooked. I grew up, attended New England College in Henniker, NH and eventually moved to Virginia. I worked as a disc jockey, married and became a full time mom when our daughter was born. Fast forward several years. In 2010 we moved to Central Florida and my Disney obsession grew. I now work as a freelance writer and spend my spare time in the parks. Under the name Paula Brown I penned the novels Dream Wanderers and The Coffee Cruiser. I also am a co-author of Dining at Walt Disney World: The Definitive Guide. I'm obsessed with Star Wars, so this is a good time to live in Central Florida. I've been a vegetarian for well over a decade, a choice that my daughter eventually made as well. While my husband still hasn't joined us fully he has given up most meats except for seafood. I was relieved to find that vegetarian dining is not difficult at Walt Disney World.