There are EPCOT resort area resorts and there are EPCOT resort area resorts—you know, actually working walking distance to theme park. Of that bunch, Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas Resort is certainly the flashiest, and after my recent stay I fully understand the appeal. Read on for my guide to Disney’s Boardwalk Resort—with tips for parents!
About Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. Disney’s BoardWalk Resort opened in 1996 during the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World (you know, the year Cinderella Castle was dressed as a birthday cake). Located along Crescent Lake, the resort sits perched between EPCOT and other Disney Resorts–the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, and Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Themed to a seaside BoardWalk from yesteryear, the resort is described by Disney as having “the charm and whimsy of turn-of-the-century Atlantic City.” The resort consists of two connected buildings, one with standard rooms (which I will refer to as the BoardWalk Inn), and the other, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Villas. (Remember, you do not need to be a Disney Vacation Club Member to book a stay in the Villas.) The back side of the resort that abuts Crescent Lake features a functioning BoardWalk with shops, dining, and entertainment options that draw in visitors from around the Orlando area.
Theming. The BoardWalk is heavily inspired by turn-of-the-century theme parks and amusement from that era. Gold and crystal chandeliers hang from the ornate lobby that is filled with amusement park decor, including a model classic wooden roller coaster and black and white photos of amusement parks. The theming extends to other areas outside the lobby, but in a more playful display; for example, at the Luna Park Pool, the bar area is shaped like an old-fashioned carousel.
The BoardWalk Resort truly comes alive in the nighttime. Golden lights dot the waterfront, basking Crescent Lake in a glow. Signage to the shops and restaurants illuminate in turn, making each night feel like Summer. Carnival games and street performers pop up in between the shops, drawing crowds, cheers, and music. The lawn in between the buildings fills with families, children running around as a Movie Under the Stars screens in the background.
The BoardWalk Resort, perhaps more so than any other Disney World Resort, wears its adult offerings on its sleeve. A cocktail lounge, a piano bar, and a dance hall coexist along with other quick-service and table-service restaurants normally filled with families. This certainly gives the BoardWalk Resort more of a late-night vibe; it’s perhaps the one resort clearly intended to cater to guests of all ages, and not just the Monorail crowd.
Layout and Parking. Think of the BoardWalk Resort as two horseshoe-shaped buildings that connect in the middle. Upon entering the resort grounds, you drive between two relatively small parking lots (one for self-parking, the other for valet) before arriving at the entrance, which sits between the two buildings that effectively acts as one large complex. As mentioned, one building houses the DVC Villas, the other–the Boardwalk Inn–houses the standard rooms. The lobby sits to the left of the entrance, technically part of the wing where the DVC Villas are located.
The entrance and lobby area are on the second floor of the resort. Each wing contains a set of elevators that can you get to the multiple floors. Just outside the entrance are stairs down to the other side of the buildings, where the actual BoardWalk entertainment exists. Otherwise, you can take the elevator to the lower level where you can walk to other amenities, and to the BoardWalk itself.
Once on the BoardWalk, the options are seemingly endless. In one direction you can quickly reach a fork just before the Swan and Dolphin Resorts; from there, a left will take you to Disney’s Hollywood Studios; a right will take you towards Disney’s Yacht Club, Disney’s Beach Club, and eventually the International Gateway entrance to EPCOT, and a Disney Skyliner station.
From the center of the BoardWalk itself, the opposite direction leads you past more shops and restaurants and just over a bridge to the International Gateway entrance to EPCOT (and the Disney Skyliner Station). Essentially, the Boardwalk Resort places you within walking distance to two Walt Disney World theme parks–EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios–and both Disney’s Yacht Club and Disney’s Beach Club. That’s in addition to all of the things to do on the BoardWalk. That is a lot of options!
Transportation. The BoardWalk Resort boasts several transportation options. In addition to the Disney bus system, guests can take Friendship Boats and the Disney Skyliner without leaving the resort area.
As mentioned, a Disney Skyliner station is located just outside the International Gateway entrance at EPCOT. If you stay at (or just visit) the Disney BoardWalk, you can walk to the Disney Skyliner station and take it straight to Disney’s Riviera Resort, home to Topolino’s Terrace, among other hotspots. From there, you can continue riding the Disney Skyliner station at Disney’s Riviera Resort to Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort station (which acts as the hub for the Disney Skyliner), and ride it to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (You can also walk from Disney’s Riviera Resort to the station at Disney’s Caribbean Resort.)
If you are more interested in navigating Disney World waters, you can always ride the Friendship Boats. There are two “launches” for these water transportation options on Crescent Lake. One is on the BoardWalk Resort side, and the other, at the lighthouse in front of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort (check out my review of Disney’s Yacht Club here). Either stop will take you to your choice of Disney’s Hollywood Studios or EPCOT. (Note that there is also a stop at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, too; those resorts are technically not owned by Disney but they are affiliated with Disney and they offer much of the same perks.)
Dining and Shops. There are a ton of options for shopping and dining at Disney’s Boardwalk, such that it feels like its own little universe. Here is every dining and shopping option, organized by type, and location.
Food and Drinks.
Flying Fish. This sophisticated restaurant–Disney stresses a dress code here–offers fresh seafood in a luxury setting. It is located at the center of the Boardwalk, but closer to the Boardwalk Inn side of the resort.
Trattoria al Forno. This casual table-service restaurant offers Italian favoraites; it is located on the Boardwalk Inn side of the resort.
Big River Grille & Brewing Works. This is a family-friendly restaurant and microbrewery that offers American pub favorites. It is located on the Boardwalk, on the DVC side of the resort.
Boardwalk Deli. Inspired by the Northeast, this brand new deli offers sandwiches, bagels, and desserts. Note that this is the only quick-service option at the BoardWalk Resort, and it is located closer to the BoardWalk than the rooms. While there are many dining options at the BoardWalk Resort, most are table-service. Because it is located on the actual Boardwalk and not inside the resort, it can be quite a walk to get there.
Boardwalk Ice Cream. This ice cream parlor serves–you guessed it–ice cream and beverages, and is located on the Boardwalk Inn side of the resort.
Carousel Coffee. This brand-new coffee shop is one of the few options actually located within the Boardwalk Resort, just off the lobby in wing where the DVC villas are located. It recently replaced Dundy’s Sundries, a small gift shop.
Leaping Horse Libations. This carousel-themed bar services the Luna Park pool (more on that below) on the DVC side of the resort.
Belle Vue Lounge. This quaint, low-key lounge is the other option actually located inside the BoardWalk Resort, in the BoardWalk Inn section of the resort.
AbracadaBar. This is lounge themed to magic and optical illusions is located on the BoardWalk Inn side of the resort.
Jellyrolls. This is a dueling piano bar that is popular among Orlando locals, located on the BoardWalk on the DVC villas side of the resort.
Atlantic Dance Hall. This is a nightclub on the BoardWalk that plays “hits from the ’80s, ’90s and today” located on the DVC villas side of the resort.
Screen Door General Store, Disney’s Character Carnival, Thimbles & Threads. Though technically three different shops, they are all connected internally, sort of like how the Emporium extends along the entirety of Main Street, U.S.A. at the Magic Kingdom. Each has a separate entrance, but you need only enter at one point to access everything inside, which mostly consists of apparel and souvenirs. Screen Door General Store is the most akin to typical convenience store found at most Disney World Resorts, and that is where you will find food, beverages, and snacks.
Wyland Galleries of Florida. This is a quaint art gallery located next to Screen Door General Store on the DVC side of the resort, but unlike the shops mentioned above, it is not connected to Screen Door General Store.
Pools & Recreation. There are two pools at the BoardWalk; the larger of the two is the Luna Park pool on the DVC Villas side. The pool features the Keister Coaster, a large slide themed to look like a wooden roller coaster. (This is also where Leaping Horse Libations is located.) The other pool, which is more of a leisure pool, is located on the BoardWalk Inn side of the resort.
The Luna Park Crazy Play Area is a kids play area, which includes a kiddie pool, located in the Luna Park area. The kids play area, while relatively large, lacked any shade or protection from the sun. I visited with my children in September, in the heat of Summer, which resulted in most of the park surfaces being too hot to play on during most of the day.
The gym, Muscles and Bustles Health Club, is located on the ground floor on DVC Villas side, next door to Side Show arcade.
Is it Kid-Friendly? Ultimately, yes, but with a few caveats. As you may have gleaned, there is a lot to do at the BoardWalk Resort, much of which caters to families. The sheer size of the place makes it perfect for letting your kids run free to get their energy out. There is also a dedicated kids playground, though as mentioned, it’s not suitable for the summer months. And the transportation options cannot be beat; the fact that you can walk, ride boats, or take the Disney Skyliner to two theme parks makes the Boardwalk Resort rival the monorail resorts in terms of convenience. As a parent to two young kids, time is everything. The ability to walk to EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios without loading the stroller and kids in a car, or waiting for a bus or boat, makes my park days feel like actual vacations. Double points that I can walk the kids back to the resort for nap time. Add in the Disney Skyliner access to Disney’s Riviera Resort, which features the best Character Dining on Disney World property, and this place is truly a parent’s delight.
But, there are some downsides to such a bustling resort. Disney’s BoardWalk is busy, at all times of day, but especially at night. There are bars, lounges, and dance halls along the BoardWalk, which attracts a mature crowd. My children sleep early, so I would be concerned had I been placed in a room overlooking the noisy BoardWalk. Further, though it wasn’t an issue for me, I couldn’t help but notice the age differences between the younger kids and the adults entering the nearby bars and lounges; I don’t think I would want my kids so close to such venues while on a family vacation. These observations may not be a deal breaker for you, but I figured they would be worth mentioning if you prefer a quieter, family-friendly resort
What’s New at the BoardWalk Resort? The BoardWalk Resort has been undergoing major refurbishments over the past several years, including changes to the lobby, guest rooms, and some BoardWalk restaurants. The Boardwalk Deli and Carousel Coffee are two examples of recent updates. A major change on the horizon is The Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers, a table-service option offering French-inspired meals and afternoon tea. The Cake Bake Shop is replacing the ESPN Club, a sports bar that closed in 2020. It is scheduled to open in 2023.
The Verdict. Disney’s BoardWalk Resort is easily one of the best Walt Disney World Resorts. It’s showy, loud, boisterous, and fun. There are so many dining options. It is perhaps the most centrally located Disney Resort on property. It is served by buses, boats, and the Disney Skyliner. It is incredibly walkable, allowing you to fully escape inside a resort bubble within the Disney World bubble. Sure, there are a few downsides–you will walk a lot when you stay there, which can be a negative for some people. (I prefer to walk most places, even at home; at the BoardWalk, I felt those long walks between my resort room, my car, and between the resort and theme parks.) It is popular, meaning it is busy; it is clearly a resort filled with non-resort guests, which can give it an energetic feel. There are few elevators, which often had long lines throughout the day. The lone quick-service option may leave you wanting for a quick meal during your stay. You may prefer a resort with less things to do, if only for a quieter atmosphere. That said, none of those potential cons outweigh the pros. Disney’s BoardWalk Resort is a true standout that makes the case for staying at an EPCOT area resort instead of staying along the coveted Magic Kingdom Monorail Loop.
Want to learn more Disney Resorts? Check out my guides to Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Villas, Disney’s Polynesian Village and Resort, Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and Disney’s Yacht Club.
If you are thinking about a trip to Hilton Head Island, check out my guide to Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort (with tips for parents).
Planning a Walt Disney World trip soon? Check out my book, The New Parents’ Guide to Walt Disney World for all of the tips you need to navigate Disney World in the post-pandemic era.
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Have you stayed at Disney’s BoardWalk Resort? Let me know in the comments!