My Disney Top 5 - Hits and Misses at Disney's BoardWalk Inn

by Chris Barry, staff writer
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Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.

My last Top 5 article talked about how the quick trips to Walt Disney World can sometimes be your best trips. Just about a month ago we returned from another one of those amazing short Walt Disney World trips. Thanks to the Jewish holidays, we were able to jet down to Orlando for a long September weekend. Only two days into the school year and we were off and on a plane! Our little four-day weekend escape certainly lived up to our expectations. Although it was a little busier than I thought it would be, it was still off-season travel and the attraction wait times and park crowds reflected as such. The New Fantasyland walls were finally down. The wonderful little area built around the Tangled Tower is all finished and a host of other new surprises were waiting for us throughout the resort.

However, the newest aspect of this trip was our first-ever stay at Disney's BoardWalk Inn. We've walked around the boardwalk many times in our previous visits and have stayed across the lake at Disney's Yacht Club. The BoardWalk Inn has an extremely loyal cadre of fans. People are very passionate about this place. It's always one of Disney's top rated resorts so we were eager to finally check in and see what all the fuss was about.

Which brings us to this list. In the past, I've crafted articles extolling what I felt were the Top 5 virtues of whichever particular Disney resort I had just visited. I did so for my favorite resort, the Polynesian. I also wrote ones for Port Orleans Riverside and Caribbean Beach. In anticipation of this last trip, I even wrote an article about the Top 5 things I was looking forward to at the BoardWalk Inn.

So, as I sit here a month after our trip and reflect back, the question becomes, "Well… what did you think?"

In the spirit of full disclosure, here are the details of the trip in question. We were there for four nights and five days—Wednesday through Sunday.  My family of five consists of my wife and myself, our 14-year-old daughter, and 11-year-old twin boys. This was our tenth trip together as a family in 10 years. We traveled with our good friend Laura and her daughters, ages 13 and 11. They haven't been there quite as much as we have as a unit, but Laura is a bit of a Disney veteran in her own right from before she had kids in tow. Our BoardWalk Inn rooms were connected and were standard view, boardwalk side of the resort, looking out at the central courtyard between the BoardWalk Inn and the attached DVC BoardWalk Villas.  Bottom line: we're two Disney-experienced families staying right in the thick of things at the BoardWalk Inn.

So, what did  I think? I have pros and I have cons. In the interest of fairness and for those that read MousePlanet for trip planning advice, I offer up a slightly different take on my usual list with my Top 5 Hits and Misses at Disney's BoardWalk Inn. (With all apologies to MousePlanet's own BoardWalk champion, Steve Russo.)

5 – Dinner Choices: Hit


Delicious food awaits at Cat Cora's Kouzzina on the boardwalk. Photo by Mark Goldhaber.

It's hard to beat your choices for a nice dinner within walking distance of the BoardWalk Inn. The BoardWalk itself has Kouzzina, Big River Grille & Brewing Works, Flying Fish Café and the ESPN Club. Across the lake at Yacht and Beach Club there's Cape May Café and its character meals, Captain's Grille and Yachtsman Steakhouse. The Swan and Dolphin have a whole slew of restaurants between them and oh yeah…Epcot is just a short stroll or boat ride away. That's a fairly impressive list of great sit-down meals at your immediate disposal.

4 – Lack of a Central Area: Miss


Old Port Royale at Caribbean Beach. Photo by Jeff Kober.

This has been mentioned before in many reviews I've read of the BoardWalk Inn, and now I can see why. I didn't think it would bother me all that much, but I have to say I missed having what I can only refer to as a central area in the resort. By that, I mean I missed having the Great Ceremonial House at the Polynesian or the restaurants, shopping and counter service food right downstairs from our room at The Wilderness Lodge or even the central building at Riverside, Sassagoula Steamboat Company. You can get all of the things you need at this resort… you just have to go downstairs and outside to the boardwalk to find it all and it's not all that convenient.

Is that really a big deal? Actually it can be, and it was a running comment amongst our whole group. For instance when we first arrived, we were greeted by one of those lovely afternoon Orlando rainstorms. We were all quite hungry and wanted to just sit down and grab a bite. We didn't want restaurants and wait service, but just a quick "grab and go" or a counter service meal to satisfy our cravings.

The Bakery, while delightful and yummy, had a few offerings—but the only place to sit was outside… in the rain. The BoardWalk Pizza is also quite good, as were the hot dogs from BoardWalk To Go, but once again… tables outside in the rain. We found ourselves huddled under an awning trying not to get wet as we choked down our meal: definitely not what we had in mind.

Something similar happened another day when we returned from Epcot and were hungry for lunch. This time, we were trying to escape the heat. We really could have used a cool escape to sit and eat some lunch. Once again, the choices were tables outside or eat up in my room. I found myself longing for a nice, dry, air-conditioned, indoor table like at Captain Cook's at the Polynesian. I also wasn't crazy about having to head down to the Bakery each time I wanted to refill my mug. It may sound like a minor miss to some, but it bothered us all quite a bit on this trip.

3 – Location, location, location! Hit


Take the boat, or better yet, take a short walk right into Epcot. Photo by Steve Russo.

Walking in and out of Epcot really is a fantastic thing and completely spoils you, especially when you end up taking a bus over to Magic Kingdom or Animal Kingdom. I never mind the Disney buses, but it sure is nice to walk instead. We only took the boat into Epcot once, and then walked every other time. Walking in actually beat the boat, so there was no point in taking it most of the time. We even walked over to Hollywood Studios along the wonderful path along the water. I love staying at a Monorail resort, but being able to just walk right into two parks from the BoardWalk really is a dream.

2 – The Boardwalk: Hit


The BoardWalk Inn side of the boardwalk. Photo by Steve Russo.

Disney's boardwalk is a unique place. It's a beautifully themed and well-executed throwback to the boardwalks of yesteryear. The view across the lake of the Yacht and Beach Club with Spaceship Earth in the distance is wonderful. It's definitely worth your time to stop and watch the jugglers or other entertainers in the evening. Seashore Sweets ice cream and candy certainly hit the spot several times as did the Mickey muffins from the Bakery. The shops are well stocked with food, wine and Disney treasures. The flowers in the courtyard are beautiful. It's all put together very well. A walk along the boardwalk, day or night can truly be a treat.

1 – The Boardwalk: Miss


This end of the boardwalk definitely came alive at night... a little too alive. Photo by Steve Russo.

So, given what I just said above, how exactly can the boardwalk also be a miss? I'm sorry to say that several times on this trip, my "Disney bubble" was popped on the boardwalk because of the very nature of what the boardwalk is. First (and this is really a matter of room location), while the partial lake view from our balcony was quite nice, what wasn't quite nice was the noise level we experienced every time we sat out there. We love ending our day with a glass of wine on our balcony while the kids drift off to sleep. I requested a room with a balcony facing the inside of the resort to avoid looking at the main entrance and buses and taxis, etc. I'm quite sure that facing the inside courtyard around the quiet pool would have been very tranquil. The main boardwalk side courtyard that we faced is quite a different story. We were consistently hit with very loud people and music, and I can't even imagine being stuck on a balcony above or adjacent to the restaurants and bars. No thanks.

And speaking of bars, one night coming home from the Magic Kingdom, we hopped on the Yacht and Beach Club bus instead of the BoardWalk. It had a very short line and was pulling up right when we got there. The walk around the boardwalk home would be no big deal. Actually we thought it would be a nice way to end our night. And it was, until we left the Yacht Club area and got to Jellyrolls on the boardwalk. The loud group of drunks that had just emerged was barely tolerable. What wasn't at all tolerable was the creepy, drunk guy sitting alone on the bench who started to make comments to my daughter as we passed by. We've never felt skeevy or unsafe at Walt Disney World, ever, but making our way through the smoking, foul-mouthed drunks at that end of the boardwalk completely ruined that nice Disney family walk.

...And then it happened again at the opposite end of the boardwalk on our last day of the trip. We spent Sunday morning at the Magic Kingdom and midday walking around our favorite place, World Showcase. We had a fantastic day at both parks and were enjoying our last bits of Disney magic walking back to the resort to check out and board a Magical Express bus home. When we turned the corner onto the boardwalk, we were hit by loud, screaming, football fans spilling out of the ESPN Club.


The ESPN Club on the boardwalk. Photo by Steve Russo.

Once again, I was faced with walking my family through a gauntlet of beer-drinking yahoos—only this time, they were all wearing football jerseys and yelling at widescreen TVs. That's not the way I wanted my final Disney moments of the trip to be. In my humble opinion, the ESPN Club belongs at Downtown Disney and not here on the boardwalk. It seems that the lovely atmosphere created at Disney's BoardWalk Inn and Villas is book-ended by two places that, once again in my opinion, just don't belong there.

Did I enjoy my time at The BoardWalk Inn? Yes, I did. I see its charms. I see the beauty of the place. It's completely unique and I can see why so many people love the place. But I have to be honest:  I probably won't stay there again. I'd rather be across the lake at the Yacht and Beach or basking in the tranquility of the Polynesian any day. That may be an unpopular sentiment. I know how fervently people love the BoardWalk and you're completely entitled to that opinion. But know that I wasn't alone. My wife wasn't in love with the place either for much of the same reasons I listed above and our new Disney traveling compadres in the adjoining room stayed at the Beach Club on their last trip and want to go back there next time.

I'm glad I stayed there. I'm glad I braved that creepy clown pool and got to soak in all the niceties that the BoardWalk Inn does have to offer. I'm just not a convert to the place—and that's OK. All of you out there who love the BoardWalk so much can have my room.

If you want to find me, stop by the Polynesian and we'll sit on the beach and watch Wishes together because that's where this Disney fan definitely belongs.

I'm sure there are some comments out there on this one. So, click on the link below, let me hear your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.

Comments

  1. By srusso100

    Nice article, Chris. As you mentioned, I'm a staunch supporter of the Boardwalk and feel compelled to respond.

    First, let me say I'm sorry for the difficulties you had - I do think you nailed the pros and cons.

    Many have mentioned the lack of a food court as a drawback. It's not that big a deal for us - if I really want a quick service meal the Bakery suffices or we'll head to Picabu at the Dolphin. If we do get a snack on the Boardwalk, I've always enjoyed the outdoor tables for people watching and... well, it's beautiful out there. In your case it was raining. I might have opted to bring the food upstairs to the Belle Vue Lounge. It's closed during the day and I doubt anyone would object to using the tables.

    Your last point regarding the bars and the occasional encounter with the "not-so-Disney" crowd; I can sympathize. Our experiences at Jelly Rolls is very positive but we haven't been inside in a few years. We did have one occasion with a room over the Wyland gallery where some late night partiers decided screaming as they exited through that area was a good thing.

    I really enjoy the ESPN Club but admit that some crowds, particularly football crowds, can get a little... shall we say passionate? I've only had one problem there in all our years at the BW but some might consider one to be too many, and I understand that.

    All in all, it's still my favorite spot - as you mentioned, the location and general beauty of the surroundings are the chief reasons. But like everything else at Disney, it's not for everybody.

    Someday I need to stay at the Polynesian. Now that they've announced a DVC resort there, hopefully that's in the near future.

  2. By pmhacker

    great article. I have to agree with many statements in your article. I dislike the boardwalk for the lack of food and central area as well. I've also never felt a buzz there. It always seems quite, which some people might like. I also don't like the layout very much. I have yet to stay where I haven't walked what seems like a mile to my room. Unfortunately I end up staying their more often than I want too. As a DVC member it has been easy to get into the Boardwalk. It's impossible to get into the Beach Club if it's not your home resort and you're not diligent. I do love the boardwalk area. I am a huge fan of Jellyrolls and ESPN zone. Both places are fun and I've never had a bad experience relating to either. The boardwalk area is one of my favorite areas for the ability to walk to two parks, lovely setting and scenery as well as a fun lively atmosphere in the evenings.

  3. By Goodnplenty

    A very nice article Chris. I always enjoy reading your Top 5. This may sound silly to you, but first, I would like to thank you for always including pictures in your articles. It certainly helps me to visualize what you are talking about. Lately there has been a lack of pictures in MP articles.
    I think you described the Boardwalk very well. And I would feel exactly as you do about the lack of a central seating area or the long hike down and outside to get coffee or snacks. That would be a drawback for me. But I understand why people love it so. I've walked thru many times and it's a beautiful, beautiful hotel.

    GnP

  4. By davidgra

    Having recently stayed at the Boardwalk Villas, I agree with some of your points about the resort. Proximity to Epcot and DHS is excellent, and there certainly are plenty of great restaurants within walking distance.

    However, you seem to find fault with one of the biggest aspects of the Boardwalk Resort -- its authentic theming. It really is like an old hotel along the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Old, Victorian-era hotels along the Boardwalk don't have "hubs" and food courts. When you want to eat, you go out to the Boardwalk and walk to a place.

    For me, the authenticity of theming was one of the few things I really enjoyed. Otherwise, I wasn't particularly impressed with much of the resort, mainly due to its size. Our room on the DVC side of the resort was as far from the International Gateway at Epcot as you could get. I think it was actually a shorter walk to DHS from our wing than to Epcot. Guest self-parking is also a VERY long way from the lobby.

    Perhaps the biggest disappointment for us was the bland room decor. We're used to staying in highly-themed DVC resorts (we mainly stay at the Bay Lake Tower, Kidani Village or the Grand Californian), and the room decor at the Boardwalk didn't really "feel" like the theme of a Victorian-era East Coast seaside resort.

  5. By carolinakid

    We love the Epcot resorts and usually alternate our visits among all three (Boardwalk, Yacht Club or Beach Club) unless the Swan or Dolphin is having a promotion we can't refuse. We love the dining in that area and being able to walk to Epcot or the Studios. For us it's the perfect place to stay.

  6. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by srusso100 View Post
    Nice article, Chris. As you mentioned, I'm a staunch supporter of the Boardwalk and feel compelled to respond.

    First, let me say I'm sorry for the difficulties you had - I do think you nailed the pros and cons.

    Many have mentioned the lack of a food court as a drawback. It's not that big a deal for us - if I really want a quick service meal the Bakery suffices or we'll head to Picabu at the Dolphin. If we do get a snack on the Boardwalk, I've always enjoyed the outdoor tables for people watching and... well, it's beautiful out there. In your case it was raining. I might have opted to bring the food upstairs to the Belle Vue Lounge. It's closed during the day and I doubt anyone would object to using the tables.

    Your last point regarding the bars and the occasional encounter with the "not-so-Disney" crowd; I can sympathize. Our experiences at Jelly Rolls is very positive but we haven't been inside in a few years. We did have one occasion with a room over the Wyland gallery where some late night partiers decided screaming as they exited through that area was a good thing.

    I really enjoy the ESPN Club but admit that some crowds, particularly football crowds, can get a little... shall we say passionate? I've only had one problem there in all our years at the BW but some might consider one to be too many, and I understand that.

    All in all, it's still my favorite spot - as you mentioned, the location and general beauty of the surroundings are the chief reasons. But like everything else at Disney, it's not for everybody.

    Someday I need to stay at the Polynesian. Now that they've announced a DVC resort there, hopefully that's in the near future.


    Steve,

    It's only suitable that you posted the first comments on this article. Thanks for the kind words. I did enjoy the BoardWalk, As I said, I do see the beauty. I just think our haven is someplace else!

    Now that the Poly is DVC maybe I'll finally pony up and discover the biggest Disney secret!!

    Thanks for always reading Steve!

    Chris

  7. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by pmhacker View Post
    great article. I have to agree with many statements in your article. I dislike the boardwalk for the lack of food and central area as well. I've also never felt a buzz there. It always seems quite, which some people might like. I also don't like the layout very much. I have yet to stay where I haven't walked what seems like a mile to my room. Unfortunately I end up staying their more often than I want too. As a DVC member it has been easy to get into the Boardwalk. It's impossible to get into the Beach Club if it's not your home resort and you're not diligent. I do love the boardwalk area. I am a huge fan of Jellyrolls and ESPN zone. Both places are fun and I've never had a bad experience relating to either. The boardwalk area is one of my favorite areas for the ability to walk to two parks, lovely setting and scenery as well as a fun lively atmosphere in the evenings.

    We definitely did alright with room location. The elevator right outside the Belle Vue Lounge was ours. We were on the 2nd floor literally a few steps from the elevator. It was always a 30 second walk to the room once we were inside. So, I don't even know how far the hallways go!!

    Thanks for reading and responding!

    Chris

  8. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by Goodnplenty View Post
    A very nice article Chris. I always enjoy reading your Top 5. This may sound silly to you, but first, I would like to thank you for always including pictures in your articles. It certainly helps me to visualize what you are talking about. Lately there has been a lack of pictures in MP articles.
    I think you described the Boardwalk very well. And I would feel exactly as you do about the lack of a central seating area or the long hike down and outside to get coffee or snacks. That would be a drawback for me. But I understand why people love it so. I've walked thru many times and it's a beautiful, beautiful hotel.

    GnP

    I'm so happy that you enjoy reading my Top 5's. Nothing could please a writer more. It's not silly at all to like the pictures. Walt Disney World is one of the most visual places you'll ever visit. Pictures often don't do it justice, but nothing brings it all back to me when I'm not there than looking at my photos or other people's photos. The photos drive home the message and I always take care to seek out the best ones that I can. Thanks for noticing.

    Chris

  9. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by davidgra View Post
    Having recently stayed at the Boardwalk Villas, I agree with some of your points about the resort. Proximity to Epcot and DHS is excellent, and there certainly are plenty of great restaurants within walking distance.

    However, you seem to find fault with one of the biggest aspects of the Boardwalk Resort -- its authentic theming. It really is like an old hotel along the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Old, Victorian-era hotels along the Boardwalk don't have "hubs" and food courts. When you want to eat, you go out to the Boardwalk and walk to a place.

    For me, the authenticity of theming was one of the few things I really enjoyed. Otherwise, I wasn't particularly impressed with much of the resort, mainly due to its size. Our room on the DVC side of the resort was as far from the International Gateway at Epcot as you could get. I think it was actually a shorter walk to DHS from our wing than to Epcot. Guest self-parking is also a VERY long way from the lobby.

    Perhaps the biggest disappointment for us was the bland room decor. We're used to staying in highly-themed DVC resorts (we mainly stay at the Bay Lake Tower, Kidani Village or the Grand Californian), and the room decor at the Boardwalk didn't really "feel" like the theme of a Victorian-era East Coast seaside resort.

    You bring up an excellent point. There would be no food court in an old boardwalk style resort. So, I guess the authenticity is pretty spot on. However, that doesn't mean I have to like it. So, let's say that I do applaud it's level of authenticity but I don't prefer this style of resort. That sounds fair, don't you think? Not to provoke an alternate discussion but the Hall of Presidents audio-animatronics are supposed to be pretty authentic, but that doesn't mean I want to go in there!

    You know as I'm responding to you, I'm reading your response out loud to my wife and her first comment was, "You know I can't really remember the room decor." I guess you're right! Maybe the decor wasn't all that memorable? I do remember the cool Mickey lamp on the desk. I'd love one of those at home on my own desk!

    Thanks for reading and responding.

    Chris

  10. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by carolinakid View Post
    We love the Epcot resorts and usually alternate our visits among all three (Boardwalk, Yacht Club or Beach Club) unless the Swan or Dolphin is having a promotion we can't refuse. We love the dining in that area and being able to walk to Epcot or the Studios. For us it's the perfect place to stay.

    Hey John,

    I've always been a little turned off to the Swan and Dolphin. They do look like nice hotels. I know the pools are supposed to be awesome and the restaurant selections are extensive, but I kind of think they'e misplaced with the classic and beautiful architecture of the BoardWalk and Yacht and Beach. However, I can never argue with walking into not one but two Disney parks from your hotel. That aspect is pretty unbeatable of all of Epcot resorts.

    Thanks for reading and responding.

    Chris

  11. By carolinakid

    Hey, Chris! I always look forward to your Top 5!

    I agree that we'd always prefer staying at the Disney owned and operated Epcot resorts BUT sometimes the deals at the Dolphin & Swan are too good to pass up. In 2011, we were able to book a week in October at the Dolphin for literally $1000 less than the same week at the BW, Y or B Clubs! We couldn't refuse that! And I would recommend any of the restaurants there if you've never tried them even if you're staying elsewhere in the World. Shula's, Bluezoo and Il Mulino are some of our faves!

  12. By gointowdw

    Hi Chris-

    I always enjoy your Top 5 articles. For me, the Boardwalk Resort brings to mind the phrase "It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live (in this case, stay) there."

    With its many restaurants, shops, bars, and clubs, the Boardwalk tends to be more of a gathering place than other resorts. In addition, since its design aptly replicates that of a seaside boardwalk, it seems to promote hanging or wandering around. I reallze that all Deluxe Resorts, with their signature restaurants and character meals, also draw significant traffic beyond those guests staying at that particular resort. As a specific example, let's look at your favorite resort and mine, the Polynesian: 'Ohana is a very popular dinner destination. Patrons that are not staying at the Polynesian may browse the shops of the Grand Ceremonial House and/or enjoy a cocktail at the Tambu Lounge before or after their dinner at 'Ohana, which is fine. But, I get the sense that these folks don't hang around as much they do at the Boardwalk. In other words, as a guest of the Boardwalk, you tend to "share" the amenities and public areas more so than at other resorts. Hard to put into words, but that just changes the vibe of the place for me, somehow being "home" at your resort feels less special.

  13. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    mr barry the 2 instances you describe are what I call the coarseness that our culture in this country has become . it is the ME, ME MYSELF & ME that people adopt because they pay for a ticket or I am not bothering anybody just having a good time . mr russo has also written about this as well . food & wine on weekends is another example . to me Disney appears to have a lets everyone have a good time approach to this $$$$$$$ but sadly it affects families like yours . I cannot begin to tell you over the years how many times I have had to shall we say raise "my voice " or seek out Disney security because of PUNKS . as I get older I just shake my head note the time & place & e-mail guest relations . sadly one day someone will get seriously hurt . enjoy your blogs mr berry thanks

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