Disney's Boardwalk Resortby Steve Russo, staff writer
I haven’t written any restaurant or resort reviews—and there’s a reason. A few reasons actually. First, I never met a burger I didn’t want to build a short but meaningful relationship with. That fact alone should be enough to preclude me from ever offering a review on finer cuisine. Second, I’m typically so ecstatic to be on vacation at Disney World, I could be staying in a refrigerator box next to a dumpster behind Pecos Bill’s and I’d still be the happiest man alive. Really.
So why am I offering a resort review now, you ask? Allow me to explain. We recently returned from a stay at the Boardwalk, and I dutifully filed my trip report on MousePlanet’s forum, the MousePad. I received a number of comments about the report but one specific comment caught my attention. The author expressed relief that I spoke highly of the Boardwalk because they had an upcoming stay planned and had seen some recent, and negative, comments on another Web site.
What? Negative reviews on my beloved Boardwalk? These people need a sound thrashing! Get me their names or IP addresses! I went to take a look but… more on that later.
Everyone has a favorite resort—go ahead, admit it—you do. Our first onsite stay was in 1992 at the Caribbean Beach Resort. That was such a wonderful trip with family and friends that the Caribbean became our resort of choice for the next 8 years. Sure, there was the occasional stay at an All Stars or Port Orleans, but the Caribbean is where we wanted to be. To this day, it holds a warm spot in whatever organ in my body is reserved for resort affection—the spleen, maybe.
Then, in 2000, the world changed. We joined the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) and, in January 2001, we had our first stay at the Boardwalk Villas. I quickly became a card-carrying member of the group affectionately known as the “Crescent Lake Snobs." Heck, I may be a founding father.
I’m not much into producing travelogues, resort reviews or photo journeys, but I’ll do my best, through words and photos, to give you the flavor of the resort—for those who have never stayed there. If you have stayed there… what the heck, read it anyway. If you’re looking for the gruesome details of square footage, number of sinks and the force of the toilet flush, I’ll direct you to MousePlanet’s information pages on the Boardwalk Inn and Boardwalk Villas.
I will also need to be very careful here. While I want to impress upon you why I love the resort and the area so much, I would like to discourage you from ever staying there. The Boardwalk tends to fill up rather quickly, particularly during Epcot’s special events like the International Food and Wine or Flower and Garden Festivals. If more of you stay there, it’s less likely I’ll be able to get a room when I call at the last minute—and after all, it is all about me, isn’t it?
Location, to me, may be the single biggest benefit of staying at the Boardwalk. The resort is located on Crescent Lake, which is circled by a walkway (part boardwalk / part sidewalk) that runs slightly under one mile around. To be precise, my friend, Laura Gilbreath, once took a series of measurements with her new GPS-enabled watch and reported it as .81 miles “staying pretty much in the middle of the path." See, Laura... I save everything.
If you stand on the boardwalk looking north, you will see the Yacht Club and Beach Club resorts across Crescent Lake. To the west, and over a bridge, are the Swan and Dolphin hotels.
What that means is within a short walk, you have all the facilities of five deluxe resorts at your disposal: the Yacht Club Marina; the shops in the Swan and Dolphin; the many spas, bars, restaurants and cafeterias of these resorts are all within a 10-minute stroll. Neat, huh?
Wait… that’s not the best part. Epcot’s rear entrance, the International Gateway, is approximately one-quarter mile from the Boardwalk— or, as measured by Laura, .39 miles from the security table at the International Gateway to the Boardwalk Lobby. A ten-minute stroll from your hotel and you’re walking through the United Kingdom, possibly ordering up some fish and chips from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop or sucking down a Guinness from the Rose and Crown Pub. How terrific is that?
Not good enough? There’s also a walking path to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Laura has measured this at .76 miles from the start of the path to the Studios (from the sign that says "Pathway to Studios" near the Swan/Dolphin bridge) to the Studios security tables. You can shorten that a bit by exiting the Boardwalk by the Luna Park pool and picking up the pathway there. This represents about a 15 or 20-minute walk. If you’re less inclined or unable to walk, you can choose to take one of the Friendship boats that make continuous runs from the Studios to Epcot, with stops at the Swan/Dolphin, Yacht Club and Boardwalk.
Sure, the Contemporary offers a short 10-minute walk to the Magic Kingdom and it, along with the Polynesian and Grand Floridian, has the monorail but the Boardwalk allows you to eschew bus and car for the easiest way to get to two of the four major parks—your legs.
As the real estate folks say, the three most important things are “location, location and location."
It’s not a Disney resort without a theme, right? The Boardwalk’s resembles a turn-of-the-century (19th to 20th that is) Atlantic seaboard resort. An earlier Atlantic City comes to mind—think Boardwalk Empire (but without the bootlegging, extortion and murder.)
The resort is easy on the eyes, making use of pastels throughout the rooms and common areas. The lobby is bright and cheery, and while it does recall the Eastern seaboard, there have been times when I considered the lobby a cleaned-up version of the Hollywood Tower Hotel—that’s not a bad thing but it may be just me.
Around the hotel, you will find several references to early-1900s Atlantic coast resorts. For example, the main pool is called Luna Park, presumably named for the Coney Island amusement park. The resort’s common areas also contain many authentic period photos and two working Kinetiscopes. The resort’s bar/lounge, the Belle Vue Room, is sprinkled with old board games and period radios, several of which actually play some old-time radio shows.
The lobby contains a miniature carousel (with a much larger representation above it) and is home to a model of the famed Elephant hotel:
On the down side, the Boardwalk lobby is also home to the very creepy little girl chair(s). Since my first visit in 2001, there were two of these “things” on either side of the lobby fireplace. On my most recent visit in October, one of the chairs had gone missing. I have this nightmare of stepping out of my room into the hotel hallway and coming face to face with the missing chair. That’s a Twilight Zone episode.
The Boardwalk is similar to several other Disney Vacation Club (DVC) properties (the Beach Club, Contemporary and Wilderness Lodge) in that it essentially houses two resorts: the Boardwalk Inn and the Boardwalk Villas. The Inn is the hotel while the Villas are the DVC property. The two resorts share the same staff, lobby and facilities.
I’ve not stayed at the Inn but I can tell you it offers almost 400 rooms and the same general theme as the Villas. In addition to well-appointed standard rooms, the Inn also offers a Concierge level and the beautiful, two-story Garden Suites. The latter have private entry, landscaped courtyards outside most rooms.
The Inn occupies the wings on the Epcot (east) side of the Boardwalk facility. The opposite, or west, side houses the Villas. The Villas offer Studio accommodations, as well as one and two-bedroom suites and the Grand Villa that sleeps 12. While the Studios contain a kitchenette with refrigerator, sink, microwave, toaster and coffee maker, all the larger villas sport full kitchens, a washer/dryer and a master bedroom suite, which includes a Jacuzzi. The Villas are reserved for DVC members staying on points but are also available for cash stays on a more limited basis.
Here’s a common complaint:”There are no restaurants in the Boardwalk.” True, but if you step outside on the boardwalk, in short order you’ll find: the ESPN Club, Kouzzina by Cat Cora, the Flying Fish Café, and the Big River Grille and Brew Works. That’s probably enough to satisfy everyone’s taste; if not, stroll across to the Beach Club for the Cape May Café; or the Yacht Club for the Yachtsman Steakhouse and the Captain’s Grill. Need more? How about Il Mulino, Shula’s Steak House, Todd English’s bluezoo, Kimono’s, or the Garden Grove over at the Swan and Dolphin. And let’s not forget the many fine establishments in Epcot’s World Showcase.
Another complaint: “There’s no food court.” No, but there is the Boardwalk Bakery for breakfast items and sandwiches, Seashore Sweets, the Boardwalk pizza window, Boardwalk-To-Go, Boardwalk Joe’s, the Beach Club Marketplace, Beaches & Cream, Picabu Buffeteria at the Dolphin… you get the idea.
I’d wager that the Crescent Lake resorts offer more food choices within a 10-minute walk than any other resort on property.
Pools and Recreation
As previously mentioned, the main pool at the Boardwalk is called Luna Park. It’s large and boasts a great slide, the aptly named Keister Coaster that has you careening out of a clown’s mouth into the pool. Unfortunately, the clown bears a striking resemblance to Pennywise, the clown/demon in the film of Stephen King’s It. It freaks out more than a few people. I swear, between Pennywise and the little girl chairs, there’s a horror film to be made.
If the crowds at the main pool are too much, or you’re just scared off by Pennywise, the Boardwalk also offers two quiet pools, one each for the Inn and Villas. All three pool areas also have a heated whirlpool spa.
On the hotel’s lower level near the main pool, you’ll find a small game arcade and the health club, Muscles and Bustles. The latter offers free weights and exercise equipment as well as a steam room, sauna, tanning bed and massage services. Bike rentals are available on the boardwalk and boats may be rented across the lake at the Yacht Club Marina.
Forget your toothbrush? Dundy’s Sundries, located just off the lobby, offers standard hotel stuff: health items and toiletries, some limited clothing, a few souvenirs, newspapers, books, and magazines. Out on the boardwalk is the more elaborate Screen Door General Store, which stocks grocery, snack and beverage items. The Screen Door connects to Disney's Character Carnival and Thimbles and Threads, which offer Disney-themed clothing, collectibles and souvenirs.
Each evening, the boardwalk comes alive. There are several carnival-style games where you can take your chances and win prizes. At varying times, musicians, magicians and/or jugglers will set up shop and perform for passing guests. Grab an ice cream cone from Seashore Sweets and watch a magician dazzle the audience.
If you appreciate a different type of entertainment, Jelly Rolls is an adult establishment that features continuous dueling pianos. If you’re up for singing along to the “Unicorn Song” or taking part in the “Big Tree Dance” it can be a lot of fun. Next door is the Atlantic Dance Club for those in search of a dance floor and music.
So… the Boardwalk offers a superb location, abundant nightlife, shopping, free entertainment each evening and more dining venues than you could ever want. Who’s giving it bad reviews?
Reasons Not to Stay at the Boardwalk
As indicated above, I went in search of the reported “negative comments." I searched reviews for the past six months, and while most provided above average to excellent ratings, I found four of the less-than-stellar variety. While there wasn’t a common theme, there are a few items worth mentioning.
The sheer size of the resort is often viewed as a negative. Indeed, the hallways at the Boardwalk can sometimes seem to stretch on forever. If you are unlucky enough to get a room at the furthest reaches (and yes, I’ve been there), you could have a very lengthy hike from the lobby to your door. That never struck me as that significant but, there have been a few days where that walk has felt like a death march—particularly after a heavy park day.
What else? I saw a comment that stated, “The room layouts are confusing, and the hallways are sort of plain and repetitive, not at all a ‘wow’ factor.” A confusing room layout is, to me, well… confusing. I’m going to guess they stayed in a two-bedroom unit at the Villas. Like many DVC properties, the two-bedroom villa comprises a one-bedroom unit and an attached studio. The one-bedroom unit provides the full kitchen, living area and the master bedroom suite while the attached studio yields the second bedroom. It’s possibly a tad elaborate but I can’t quite get “confusing." Perhaps the myriad doors had this particular guest walking into the bedroom when he or she wanted the bathroom—that sort of thing. On the second comment, I would agree that the hallways are “sort of plain and repetitive” but what hallways aren’t?
The Bottom Line
So why shouldn’t you stay at the Boardwalk? If you’re put off by the size of the resort and the potential for long, late night walks back to your room, the Boardwalk may not be for you. If you’re a stickler for having dining options in your resort as opposed to a short walk away, the Boardwalk may not be for you. Lastly, you shouldn’t ever plan to stay at the Boardwalk for the simple reason that you could negatively influence the availability of a room for yours truly and, as I mentioned, it’s all about me.
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy and safe Holiday season. Merry Christmas!