1. La Cava de Tequila: Situated inside the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, this quaint (although often crowded) venue serves up some killer margaritas and tequila tasting flights. Carved out of a former retail space to the right of the San Angel Inn restaurant, this snug bar offers boutique tequilas and inventive margaritas. Try the Blood Orange, Hibiscus, or Cucumber margaritas. We cannot decide which one is our favorite. Although they are a bit steep in price, they are delicious. Cava also offers a limited snacking menu with selections like chips, salsa, and house-made guacamole. Cava has become extremely popular and long waits to get into this small space are common. At times, a velvet rope is set up to establish an orderly waiting area. Waits are even longer then.
2. The California Grill: Although it may seem out of the way for some guests, a trip to the lounge at the California Grill affords visitors the best view at WDW. The lounge and restaurant are squeaky clean and cheery from a recent refurbishment and sightlines throughout the space have been improved. Check-in for the California Grill sits on the third floor of the Contemporary Resort. Guests without dinner reservations are allowed up to the lounge if there is space available. This fairly new procedure is a much needed improvement. Previously, guests seemed to be permitted upstairs willy-nilly, making for a crowded, unpleasant cocktail seating area. Once atop the Contemporary, mouth-dropping views from 15 stories up mesmerize guests. Huge floor- to-ceiling windows frame views of the Magic Kingdom and the resorts on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon. The monorail looks like a toy train from here and views at dusk are enchanting as lights begin to flicker on blurring the harsh lines of the waning afternoon. This is our favorite spot from which to take in a sunset. The full dinner menu is available in the lounge as are the creative cocktails and winning wine selections. Countless by-the-glass offerings enable guests to try wines that are otherwise quite pricey by the bottle. We love the flatbreads and the sushi here. One can make a light dinner of a few appetizers and a drink. Servers here are very gracious and accommodating. Arrive early, preferably between 4:45 and 5:00PM to enjoy the best views and the least crowded lounge, otherwise, go later. As you can imagine, California Grill bustles around fireworks time. If possible, dress the part. The California Grill is a fine dining restaurant and standard tourist garb ruins the atmosphere. Make it a special outing and break out a collared shirt or a sun dress. As the sun slips below the horizon behind the Grand Floridian and you sip a perfect Cosmo or crisp white wine, think of us and raise a glass!
3. Belle Vue Lounge: This lounge makes our list for its sheer charm, light crowds, and welcoming balcony. Located on the second floor of the Boardwalk Inn, adjacent to the elevator banks, the Belle Vue Lounge wraps guests in turn of the century charm and casual elegance. Wicker and over-stuffed furniture coupled with wood paneling and rich fabrics make this space feel like a private club or a salon in a decadent house. A gorgeous wooden staircase anchors one end of the room and a bank of windows and glass doors the other. The impossibly soft couches and chairs make it hard to resist a nap! For a wonderful view of the Boardwalk and Crescent Lake, step out onto the adjacent balcony and enjoy your libation. The courtyard formed by wings of Boardwalk Inn and Villas teems with guests moving to and fro and the toot of the Friendship launches adds a soothing soundtrack to the afternoon or evening. Try an old –fashioned cocktail like a Gimlet, a Manhattan, or a Side Car and relax. Stopping in here for a drink makes us feel like we are returning to the home of an old friend.
4. Rix Lounge: Located between the lobby and the Pepper Market at the Coronado Springs Resort, Rix’s Lounge has an edgy, urban, eclectic vibe not found at other Disney watering holes. It is, in fact, the closest thing Disney has to a night club. Rix’s often fills up with conventioneers, but we have never found ourselves without a seat here. In fairness, many of the conventions that come to Coronado cater to a more sedate crowd. On one visit, a Tupperware convention had the resort at capacity, but Rix’s was still inviting. Floor to ceiling curtains form virtual walls, defining the space and creating a necessary scrim to hide the dining area of the Pepper Market. The small groups of chairs and sofas scattered throughout Rix and copious bar stools make it easy to find a spot. Two of the sofas are actually hung from the ceiling, suspended by chairs that make them feel as if they were the nightclub version of a front porch swing. If you are craving the feeling of really “going out on the town,” then stop by Rix’s, order a glowing cocktail, and soak it all in. Rix’s also features a light “bites” menu which includes items like sliders, hummus, dips, and fried calamari. If you are craving a happy hour feel, Rix’s is the place!
5. Crew’s Cup Lounge: We are hesitant to include this lounge on our list because, selfishly, we want to keep it a secret. Practically unknown to many WDW guests and even to a few experts, the Crew’s Cup serves drinks and food from early afternoon until midnight. Tucked into a small space steps from the Yachtsman’s Steakhouse at the Yacht Club resort, this location evokes the boathouses of the Ivey League with a crew boat suspended upside down from the ceiling and other accoutrements of rowing rounding out the space. A row of booths on one side of the room is balanced by a window into the meat preparation room of the steakhouse. Chairs, sofas, and cocktail tables reside in the center of the room with a gorgeous wooden bar on the north wall. Guests can enjoy regional brews or selections from the full bar here as well as meals. The Crew’s Cup begins serving sandwiches, appetizers, soups, and salads right around the time the Captain’s Grille closes. This lounge has saved the day for us on several occasions when we found ourselves hungry between the lunch and dinner offerings at other restaurants. (Table service restaurants located in Disney resorts generally stop serving lunch at 2:00PM and reopen for dinner at 5:00PM.) Not to be missed here are the fried rock shrimp, Buffalo wings, and truffle fries. Admittedly, we would eat cardboard with truffle oil on it, notwithstanding, the truffle fries here are heavenly and go so well with a drink. Hand cut and sprinkled with truffle oil and parmesan cheese, these fries are the stuff of legend.
6. The Wave: The bar and lounge at The Wave on the ground floor of the Contemporary Resort would make the list merely for its hours were it not for the fact that staff here are exceptional. One of the few lounges open from lunch and straight through dinner, The Wave has a neighborhood bar feel from about 2:30 to 5:30PM when most other bars are closed. Guests waiting for their Magical Express pick up, resort guests, and those taking a break from park touring congregate here. Although we wish The Wave had windows, the large bar here is lively and airy and service is both friendly and efficient. There are venues with more commanding views and better locations, nevertheless, the service and generous operating hours of The Wave vault it onto our list.
7. Fulton’s Crab House: The bar and lounge on the first floor of Fulton’s Crab House is charming to the ninth degree. Located in the bow section of this re-creation of a paddle-wheeler, this U-shaped room is lined with wood-framed windows and high top tables that offer excellent views of the water and skyline of Downtown Disney as well as vistas of the Saratoga Springs Resort. Wood furniture and a select mix of sea-faring décor surround guests and add to the nautical feel here. The bar serves refreshing drinks and a wide selection of microbrew beers and wines by the glass. The full menu is also available at the bar. We usually make do with items from the raw bar or a soup and salad if hungry. A welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of shopping at Downtown Disney, Fulton’s makes you want to linger. We love hiding out here to avoid a fast-approaching afternoon rain shower. Nighttime views are equally appealing, with the lights of the Westside and Saratoga Springs flickering not far away. We also love the Portobello Mushroom Fries as a bar treat. Fulton’s is home to the best fried calamari on property. We know their secret, but we are not telling.
8. T-Rex: The bar at the T-Rex restaurant in Downtown Disney makes the cut as one of our favorites. A refreshing respite from the sometimes unbearable heat and crowds of an afternoon spent shopping, the bar here surrounds a huge salt water fish tank brimming with tropical fish. This cool, inviting bar serves great cocktails and appetizers and offers giant frozen drinks for kids. Served in large plastic cups, these colorful, Slurpee-inspired drinks are only $4.99 and could easily please two children. Staff here are friendly and know the menu and drink offerings well. We often sit here with a draft beer and snack to escape the rain or heat. Beer here is the coldest on property.
9. Mizner’s Lounge: Mizner’s Lounge feels to us a bit like your grandmother’s secret tree house decked out in Victoriana. Located directly behind the bandstand on the second floor of the Grand Floridian’s expansive lobby, Mizner’s serves perfect Martinis and classic cocktails. Large windows offer views of the interior courtyards and pools of the Grand Floridian as well as the Seven Seas Lagoon in the distance. Full grown trees stand sentinel outside the windows and many branches reach out to almost touch the panes of glass. This makes us feel like we are in a very refined tree house! A live band plays big band standards and Disney songs during the cocktail hour. Mizner’s does fill up quickly, and at times guests wait quite a while to be seated. Impeccable service and quintessential cocktails bring us back often.
10. Victoria Falls Lounge: Cantilevered between the lobby and the ground floor restaurants of the Animal Kingdom Lodge Jambo House, the Victoria Falls lounge is a destination for us, even when we are staying at another resort. Framed by pillars and intricate railings this lounge is graced by soothing African drumming and music. The smell of the wood burning fireplace nearby coupled with the savory smells drifting up from Boma rub all the rough edges off of your day. Both the lounge and the lobby itself make alluring use of materials, textures, and colors to truly transport you. Columns covered in a series of textured and colored paper and a tranquil waterfall welcome guests to Victoria Falls. African-inspired appetizers are available here to complement your cocktail experience. Guests may choose to sit at the bar or in the ample seating area filled with cocktail tables and chairs which afford views down to Boma and its reception area. Although staffs here sometimes seem annoyed by the fact that they have to come out from behind the bar to serve guests in the lounge area, they are certainly still friendly and courteous. Sample a South African wine and a flatbread and dips appetizer here as you let yourself be calmed by the peaceful, elegant surroundings.
11. Top of the World: We know, we know, it’s a top ten list! We would be remiss if we did not include the Top of the World Member Lounge at Bay Lake Tower on our list. We do not cover it in the top ten because it is only available to Disney Vacation Club members and those staying with them as their guests. Perched high atop Bay Lake Tower, this lounge rivals California Grill for its views. Named the Top of the World in honor of the cabaret-style nightclub that once crowned the Contemporary, this open and light-filled space provides views of the Seven Seas Lagoon and the Magic Kingdom, Bay Lake and downtown Orlando, as well as Epcot and the Tree of Life in the distance. A glass-enclosed bar and lounge serves cocktails and a limited snack menu. Modern décor and a retractable scrim behind the bar pay homage to the Contemporary and the monorails which glide through it. Surrounding the bar and lounge, an enormous open-air rooftop patio offers bird’s eye views of WDW and beyond. We do wish Imagineers had raised the bar and lounge a few feet above the rooftop deck so that seated guests could see over the heads of those on the patio, but this is a minor hiccup for an otherwise stellar cocktail experience.