The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Starbucks in the Parksby Tom Richards, contributing writer
Changes to Walt Disney World theme parks almost always cause controversy, so it's no doubt that the addition of Starbucks to the Walt Disney World Resort caused some fans to rejoice and others to despair. Coffee drinkers have long complained about the Nescafe formerly served throughout the Vacation Kingdom of the World. The addition of the Tampa-based Joffrey's Coffee was a welcome addition to many locations and kiosks, but coffee drinkers still demanded more choices for their daily cup of java.
When the announcement was made that Starbucks would soon be setting up shop within the berms of Disney parks, many people complained for a variety of reasons. One was that Starbucks was not their brand of choice. Others argued that the presence of a well-known branded company might shatter the carefully constructed environments created by Imagineers. The inclusion of something from the "outside world" might make it more difficult to "leave the today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy." I admit that this was my concern, but then I recalled that when Disneyland opened in 1955, Main Street U.S.A. featured stores sponsored by Gibson Greeting Cards and Wurlitzer Organs among others. As a result, I tried to keep my fears at bay.
This past summer, I made a point to visit each new Starbucks location to judge for myself—and to buy a "you are here" coffee mug from each location.
Fountain View Café
The first location I visited was by far the least intrusive. Fountain View Café, located in the heart of Future World, has long been a coffee shop and bakery. The façade and look of this location has changed very little; the Starbucks logo is very subtle and very unobtrusive. The staff here were as friendly as any Disney—or Starbucks for that matter—location, and the selection of juices, snacks, fruit, pastries, sweets, and sandwiches was a good one.
The biggest change to this location would be the interior design. The "flow" of the store is good, and the ordering stations well placed. The ordering process is efficient and the delivery of specialty coffees surprisingly quick. The design elements are similar to those found throughout Future World, and the whole affair looks as though it has always been there, which, from a certain point of view, it always has.
The biggest change is the elimination of seating areas, both inside the restaurant and out. One of the joys of the original Fountain View was this ability to linger over treats, caffeinated or not, and enjoy the view. We noticed the lack of seating in the form of benches throughout Walt Disney World lately, but it really impacts this particular location. There we were with coffee for the grown-ups and fruit and juice for the kids and nowhere to go.
Fortunately, we found what appeared to be a very temporary seating area inside one of the old Communicore buildings. The seats and tables were not particularly substantial, and the worn carpet and odors from the nearby washrooms were unwelcome. The air-conditioning and the lovely outside views, however, were very nice indeed. As a bonus, the timeline mural created for the 30th Anniversary of Epcot Center remains here, and we enjoyed lingering over the images and learning a bit about Epcot's history.
Overall, the addition of Starbucks to the Fountain View Café is a positive one. Hopefully, Future World will soon receive some much needed attention, and the lack of seating might be addressed. It would be nice if the "view" in this location's name would once again be a view of the fountain.
The newest Starbucks location opened this June in Disney's Animal Kingdom. Located in a former merchandise location, Creature Comforts blends seamlessly with its surroundings. The carved monkeys on either side of the main entrances now hold coffee cups, but this is the only major change besides a new, more subdued color scheme on the exterior of the building. Located on the path that takes guests from the Tree of Life to Africa, there's a very good chance that most, if not all, visitors will walk past this particular coffee shop.
The interior of Creature Comforts is less ornately painted and less cluttered than the previous merchandise location, but it is definitely still in keeping with the look and feel of the entire Animal Kingdom. Once again, efficient lines and effective ordering systems prevail. There was a relatively large crowd there the day we visited, yet the lines moved quickly and the drinks were delivered in an astonishingly short amount of time.
Again, the only complaint is the lack of seating – inside and outside. One of the joys of treating oneself to over-priced coffee and over-priced sweets is the ability to sit and enjoy them. Without a specifically designed seating area, that sense of slowing down and lingering is greatly diminished.
The Trolley Car Café
My favorite of all the new Starbucks locations can be found on the corner of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards at Disney's Hollywood Studios. This space has been home to the L.A. Property Warehouse since the park opened in 1989. Originally a merchandise shop themed to a Hollywood warehouse, this location has formerly featured opportunities for guests to pose for pictures wearing costumes inspired by Dick Tracy as well as vintage Hollywood clothing. The "props" were a combination of old-looking bric-a-brac, a few Mickey Mouse Club signs, lots of chairs hanging from the ceiling, and a few picture frames thrown in for good measure. In later years, the photo-op area was removed, a large covered porch added, and the merchandise focused on toys, plush, and children's clothing featuring Disney characters.
The new theme is actually much better than the original. The idea is that this is a Trolley Car barn, and the interior details are appropriately aged and placed so effectively that the location feels like the trolley barn it is supposed to be. Look up to see catwalks; the walls feature time schedules and trolley posters. Much like the Animal Kingdom location, the Trolley Car Café was designed in an efficient manner, with merchandise, food, and ordering counters neatly arranged to ease traffic flow and speed service.
By this time, it came as no surprise that there was a noticeable lack of seating at this location as well. There are no tables, inside or on the porch, to invite guests to sit and relax. We found a seat on the nearby fountain to sit and enjoy the sights and sounds, but a table and chairs would have been more comfortable for those in my family who choose drinks and food.
Disney Springs Locations
The least unique Starbucks locations are found at Disney Springs (aka Downtown Disney). One is simply a kiosk built into the side of the World of Disney. This outdoor location was crowded and slow, but there were tables and seats located nearby to sit and enjoy a beverage.
The largest Starbucks on property is located at the intersection of the old Pleasure Island (soon to be known as The Landing) and the West Side. It's a modern building made of gray concrete with a sloping roof and ample seating, inside and out. Grass grows on the large slanted roof, and some of its walls are covered in water and vegetation. There's an outdoor fireplace, and the interior seating is spacious and inviting. While this location doesn't necessarily have a Disney feel about it, that seems entirely appropriate as it is located here, in Disney Springs, an area that has always been a hybrid of Disney and the outside world.
Main Street Bakery
The other terrible thing about this location is that Main Street lost two wonderful locations in the process: The Market House and Disney and Co. The Market House exterior is still there but the interior is not the same. The Market House was so authentic and charming, complete with Franklin stove and checker boards on cracker barrels. Behind the Market House was once a charming little gem called Disney and Co., complete with gleaming white gingerbread woodwork, wainscoting, and Victorian wallpaper. The shop stocked items typically found in the Emporium as well, but this intimate space was far less intimidating. We almost always found a treasure or two here, everything from porcelain music boxes to books on Disney animation and some charming kid's clothing. Disney and Co. will be missed.
After visiting each location, my fears that Starbucks would shatter the illusion of the Disney parks were totally allayed. The theming at each new café is fine, blending in with the surroundings. The food and beverage offerings are solid, if generic in the sense that they can be found in just about any Starbucks anywhere; I do miss the unique offerings that once filled the Main Street Bakery. The lack of seating, both inside and outside each location, is a major drawback. Again, this might be more of a societal shift in that people carry their drinks and food rather than sitting down to enjoy them. It would be nice to have the option. The biggest surprise for me was that the level of Starbucks service was on par with the legendary Disney service, and that's a very good thing. As a result, I was able to calm my fears and enjoy my visits. Only the Main Street Bakery caused me any pain, mainly because of what was lost by the Starbucks expansion.
If you are wondering—the "you are here" mugs are great. Each one features iconic locations from each park: think Spaceship Earth and the American Adventure in Epcot, Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, the Tower of Terror and the Chinese Theater in Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the Tree of Life and Expedition Everest from Disney's Animal Kingdom. There is no special mug from Downtown Disney. In addition to the icons, each mug has a dominant color that is boldly carried through to the inside of the generously sized mug. I bought all four, not because I needed more coffee mugs, but mostly because these were unique and only available here.
For years, I have argued for more resort and park specific merchandise. Even though these mugs come from outside Disney's world, I love this trend toward unique items found only at the Vacation Kingdom of the World.