RESORT REVIEW: Disney’s Boardwalk Inn Hits Just the Right Notes

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Late morning on the Boardwalk
Boardwalk Joe’s and the Boardwalk Bakery

The idea of lodging on the Boardwalk, waking up to the Crescent Lake every day, and having not only walkable access to Epcot and Hollywood Studios but Monorail access to Magic Kingdom seems like the perfect scenario. At least that’s what I remember concluding when we ended up turning around at The Boardwalk Inn after taking a wrong turn a few years ago. Even with podcast reviews of the Boardwalk being less-than-superlative among deluxe hotel options, my family and I still wanted to give it a try. (They can’t be right all the time, right?) So finally, this past spring we checked in for our most recent Walt Disney World vacation, excited to call the Boardwalk Inn home for an entire week.

The Boardwalk Inn was built in 1996 and themed in a way reminiscent of the 1920s and 1930s Atlantic and mid-Atlantic Seaboard resorts. Strong notes of Coney Island and, more influentially, the Atlantic City Boardwalk can be felt from a guest’s earliest touches throughout the entire stay. That being said, in the same way Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards represent the “Hollywood that never was,” I think the Boardwalk Inn probably works the same way. This iteration is a romanticized, Disney-ized if you will, version of the original. It feels clean instead of used. It projects modern instead of antiquated. It is fresh instead of worn. Classic black and white period photography on the walls of the hotel corridors and signage typical of early Twentieth Century resorts contribute to the facade the Boardwalk is trying to achieve—and it works. From the moment my family and I pulled into the valet area and made our way into the lobby I could feel my pulse slow and my mind begin to unwind. The open air. The ceiling fans. The windows opening up to views of The Yacht Club across Crescent Lake. These touches were just right.

Access to the Parks
Something my family and I have been talking about for years is taking it a little easier during our trips to WDW. We’ve traditionally been the sort to open up the parks at rope-drop and take every measure to close them down late that night. If we returned home anything other than exhausted then we had failed. We’ve only recently revisited this approach to our vacations, and our last visit was the first with intentionally built-in measures for slowing down and relaxing. Only because we could get in and out of the parks so easily were we able to justify taking the afternoons a little easier. Who wants to miss valuable park time in transit, right?

The hotels along Crescent Lake all give the same access, of course. The Yacht and Beach Club, The Swan, and The Dolphin are all in the same vicinity. I clocked our walk from the Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on the pace. The Epcot entrance was less than 7 minutes. Of course, the Friendship Boats are constantly coming and going thus providing another transportation option. I don’t think we waited longer than 10 minutes at any point.

The journey to Magic Kingdom took a little longer. We walked through Epcot to the Monorail, and it was still just over thirty minutes. We were able to avoid the bus system for every park but Animal Kingdom. (We skipped the water parks.) As nice as it is to stay at a Magic Kingdom resort,  they don’t offer the same access as the Crescent Lake options. We took opportunities during the day to return to the hotel to rest and relax. But we could only accept these terms because of the limited amount of time wasted in transit.

Disney's Boardwalk Inn re-creates 1920s and 1930s Atlantic City atmosphere.
Disney’s Boardwalk Inn re-creates 1920s and 1930s Atlantic City atmosphere.

Atmosphere
Simply put, I love the atmosphere at The Boardwalk. Because I can have a difficult time “unplugging,” I like having something to which I can direct my focus and attention. It’s not constant entertainment that I enjoy as much as I love being in an environment with a certain energy level. This is one of the aspects of the Disney experience that is most appealing to me personally, and this resort, in addition to the overall atmosphere of the Boardwalk, creates a great experience throughout the day.

Beginning around 10:00 most mornings, live entertainment on the Boardwalk begins. These acts possess a sense of improvisation and give off a Vaudevillian “air.” They range from comedy to variety show to magic. It was a lot of fun to return after a great day in the parks and walk up on a magic show on the Boardwalk. I still don’t know how one of the acts pulled off a disappearing cell phone trick using a teen from among the spectators that had gathered around. (I remember wondering if her parents were grateful.) While I wouldn’t recommend building a schedule around these shows, they do add to a collective experience that lends itself to a fantastic sense of authenticity.

Friendship Boats represent one of several transportation options. The Yacht Club is visible across Crescent Lake.
Friendship Boats represent one of several transportation options. Yacht Club visible across Crescent Lake.

Resort Activities
Like all the deluxe Disney World resorts, the Boardwalk Inn has plenty of activities for families, adults, and kids. I recommend asking the concierge for a recreation calendar at check-in. It provides times and locations for everything that’s going on during the day. The Boardwalk offers activities that range from tennis lessons and guided fishing to dance parties and poolside games and, of course, dining.

The poolside recreation includes games like Hula-Hoop Games, Simon Says, and “What’s In Your Beach Bag.” Cast Members begin a new poolside game every hour beginning as early as 10:00 a.m. I watched this going on a couple of afternoons while lounging at the pool and it looked like a blast. At 9:00 each evening the resort offers a campfire (weather permitting) and “Movie Under the Stars.” At the time of this post they are featuring Frozen. Much to my delight they also show classics like Pocahontas and The Aristocats as a part of the movie rotation.

Also worth mentioning is the Belle Vue Lounge just down the hallway from the check-in desk. The Boardwalk offers daily breakfast in this area beginning at 6:30, and it remains open until 11:00. The Belle Vue Lounge opens again at 5:00 in the afternoon for drinks and stays open until midnight. You want to talk “throwback.” This area reminds me of rooms in places like the Biltmore and Hearst Castle where ladies and gentleman would convene at the end of the day to discuss the times. In fact, the radio in the lounge plays programming from the 1930s. This area and how they use it is a wonderful addition to the Boardwalk ethos. And of course there’s Leaping Horse Libations (Thumbs Up!), the poolside bar serving those enjoying Luna Park Pool—the Boardwalk Inn’s signature pool area.

Dining
Dining options on the Boardwalk include Big River Grille & Brewing Works, the Boardwalk Bakery, Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas, ESPN Club, Flying Fish Cafe, Funnel Cake Cart, Kouzzina by Cat, Pizza Window, and Seashore Sweets. You can find reviews on each of these restaurants other places so I’ll stick with what worked for us.

First, I would recommend checking out the Belle Vue Lounge before making a purchase at Boardwalk Joe’s. It just feels like better quality. But I admit that there’s something special about being on the Boardwalk at night so Boardwalk Joe’s certainly isn’t out of the question.

Second, we loved the Boardwalk Bakery and hit it up every morning on our way to the parks. My wife usually started her day with one of their many excellent pastries and an iced coffee, while I took a more adventurous approach to their caffeinated options and tried everything from a regular black coffee to an iced Americano to a latte and a cappuccino.

And lastly, I must confess that even amidst gluttony I found myself drawn to the Pizza Window a couple of nights, relatively late. It was a little like college all over again. (Except in Disney World. At the Boardwalk. Put all those things together and it was beyond Magic Plus.) The price wasn’t out of line, in my opinion, the service was good, and the pizza was tasty. Maybe I didn’t need it right before going to bed, but hey, all is fair in Disney dining. No regrets.

One other item to address is the night life. There are basically two options in this category: Jellyrolls and Atlantic Dance Hall. Jellyrolls is a dueling piano bar that sounds ridiculously entertaining, and even though it was on the “to do” list, regrettably we didn’t make it to see for ourselves. (I was eating pizza instead.) We’ll probably save that one for “post-family.” The Atlantic Dance Hall is a dance club featuring Top 40 music that looks like a ton of fun, too. Both of these venues, along with the dining and walk-up food and beverage, contribute to an incredibly festive atmosphere that’s as energetic as just about any place on the WDW property.

Despite how much we appreciated the theming we found here, if you put it up against other options in the same category maybe it doesn’t quite measure up to the authenticity of Animal Kingdom Lodge, the nostalgia of the Contemporary, or the novelty of the Polynesian. But it’s still original and is by no means ineffective. What the Boardwalk Inn does, however, is offer great proximity, excellent transportation options, multiple dining outlets, and original entertainment. It’s very unique. We loved it, which shouldn’t come as a surprise from a family like mine that loves everything about the resorts. We’ll definitely stay here again, but not until we’ve completed the “Disney Cycle” by staying at every resort at least once.

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  • Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. I stayed there years ago with my wife and daughter. It was truly magical! We loved the access to Epcot. Thanks for stirring up great memories – we look forward to visiting again.

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