When it comes to dining at Disney World, the resort restaurants tend to fly a little more under the radar than those at the parks. Certainly there are quite a few of these restaurants that receive much notoriety, such as Ohana, California Grill, or Yachtsman Steakhouse, but there are also hidden gems to be found. One such restaurant is Boatwright's Dining Hall at Port Orleans Riverside. The restaurant's more out-of-the-way location may mean that it is a little more difficult to get to, but it also makes for a more quiet and calming dining experience.
I often find that restaurants at the various resorts help provide more of an escape from all the hustle and bustle of a Disney vacation. Here you can get away from all the crowds and just relax. It really makes for a great change of pace. A restaurant like Boatwright's may not have the same name recognition or draw in the same number of guests as other restaurants across Disney World, but that is part of its allure. This is one of the best parts about dining at Disney World. While there are numerous popular and well-known dining experiences, there are also many other lesser-known restaurants for you to discover that will really surprise you.
When it comes to quiet and relaxing, the Port Orleans Riverside resort certainly fits the bill. Combining the luxury of the old South with the rustic charm of the Louisiana bayou, Port Orleans Riverside is a far cry from the fast paced atmosphere of the theme parks.
Whether you want to enjoy a leisurely bike ride, take a boat down the Sassagoula River, or merely sit by the pool on Ol' Man Island, this resort provides a quiet and intimate setting that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. There is really enough to do at the resort that you could spend a whole day there and not even worry about going into the parks. While the resort provides plenty to do in terms of recreation and entertainment, it also features a couple of dining options whose Southern cuisine fits in perfectly with the resort's theme.
The Riverside Mill is the resort's food court and offers a wide variety of dishes ranging from grilled items to pizzas, pastas, salads, and sandwiches. If you are staying at Port Orleans Riverside, however, the must-do dining experience is Boatwright's Dining Hall. In fact, it is worth the trip even if you are not staying at the resort. Port Orleans is easily accessible via bus from any of the parks or by boat from Downtown Disney. One of the only drawbacks of Boatwright's is that it is just open for dinner and thus has limited hours from 5:00-10:00pm daily.
At the entrance of Boatwright's is a plaque that explains a little about the history of the restaurant. Here it states that it is the goal of the restaurant to offer a unique dining experience that combines quality and attention to detail with authentic cuisine and unmatched service. After dining there for the first time I can say that Boatwright's delivers on all counts.
The history of Boatwright's is very interesting. Designed to resemble a turn-of-the-century boat shop, the story of Boatwright's actually begins at the Brewers Dauntless Ship Yard in Essex, Connecticut. When they were first planning the restaurant, Disney obtained from the Smithsonian the original blueprints of a 46-foot Lugger. Brewers Ship Yard was then commissioned to partially-build the ship, a sturdy, wooden watercraft that was used to haul cotton up and down the Mississippi River. This partially-built ship feels right at home in the middle of the Boatwright's dining room. In fact, if you arrive at the restaurant just as it opens the servers ring a large dinner bell and declare all boat-building done for the day so dinner can begin.
In terms of theming and attention to detail Boatwright's offers so much more than just the massive 46-foot boat at its center. All across the restaurant the walls are filled with various ship-building tools, such as hammers, saws, and axes. It makes you feel as though if at any moment a group of boat builders could enter the restaurant, pick up the tools, and continue working on the partially-built ship.
There are also blueprints of various ships that add to the authenticity that this is indeed a working boat shop.
The main dining room, which is dominated by the 46-foot ship, features high, lofted ceilings and receives plenty of natural light.
My preference, and where I was seated for my meal, was the smaller, more intimate dining room off to the side that offers a more cozy and homey feel.
This area of the dining room to me felt almost reminiscent of the Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom, more like you were dining in someone's home than in a restaurant. Everything from the honey-colored wooden tables and spindle-backed chairs to the hardwood floors and checkered cloth napkins all lend to the restaurant's feeling of nostalgia.
The tables even come topped with a small lantern to provide some additional light during your meal.
Another nice touch in this part of the dining room is a working fireplace.
Overall, Boatwright's features a calm, laid back, and relaxing atmosphere. It is a casual, family-friendly setting that makes it a great option if you are looking for somewhere to dine with the entire family. At the same time, it's cozy, quiet, and rustically intimate feel also make it an good option for couples dining without children. The restaurant's success lies in something that Disney prides itself on, creating a well-themed and immersive atmosphere that helps transport Guests to an entirely different time and place. However, this immersion does not just stop with the restaurant's atmosphere but continues on with its cuisine.
Boatwright's menu is nothing flashy, but it features an array of Southern comfort food influenced heavily by Creole and Cajun dishes of Louisiana that makes it fit perfectly with the restaurant's theme.
For appetizers there is Bourbon Barbecue Shrimp ($10.99) served with a grilled grit cake, Spinach Salad ($6.49) topped with grape tomatoes, raspberry vinaigrette, roasted beets, candied pecans, and goat cheese, Cajun-Seasoned Crawfish Bites ($10.49), Romaine Salad ($8.49) with parmigiano-reggiano croutons and prosciutto served topped with a house dressing, French Onion Soup au Gratin ($6.49), and the Chicken and Andouille Gumbo ($6.49), which I was told was the restaurant's most popular appetizer.
The entrees are not necessarily going to offer you a gourmet meal, but feature dishes reminiscent of a home-cooked meal, the type of food that will leave you feeling full and satisfied at the end of the meal. Leading off the entrees is a Louisiana favorite, Jambalaya ($17.99) with spiced chicken thighs, Andouille sausage, shrimp, rice, and vegetables. The menu also features Grilled Tenderloin Medallions ($27.49) served with mac and cheese, crayfish beignets, and a red wine demi-glace, a Grilled Pork Chop ($21.99) with an amber ale barbecue sauce, cheesy grits, and onion rings, Pasta with Shrimp ($19.99) mixed with spinach, olives, eggplant, shallots, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes. This can also be served with chicken for $18.99 or as a vegetarian entree for $16.99.
Other entrees include Andouille-Crusted Catfish ($15.99) with a cayenne butter sauce and chive aioli, a Slow-Roasted Prime Rib ($27.99) accompanied by a red wine demi-glace with Yukon gold potatoes, watercress, and balsamic vinaigrette, Voodoo Chicken ($17.99) served alongside red beans, rice, and collard greens, a Blackened Fish Fillet ($20.99) with a grilled grit cake and stewed green tomatoes, and a Vegetarian Jambalaya ($15.99) featuring asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and tomatoes with rice.
The menu also features a good variety of desserts. There is a Chocolate Cake ($5.99) with a raspberry sauce, Pecan Pie ($5.49), which is a traditional Southern favorite, New Orleans Bread Pudding ($5.49) with rum raisin ice cream and a bananas foster sauce, Butterscotch Creme Brulee ($5.99), and Bananas Foster Angel Food Cake ($6.49).
The server first brought out some freshly made cornbread. Served warm, this was a great way to start the meal and its sweetness provides a nice contrast to the spicier dishes found on the rest of the menu. It was hard not to fill up on the cornbread before the rest of the meal was even brought out.
For my entrée I decided on the Jambalaya. This is a dish that I have tried at several other restaurants, but this was one of the better ones I have had. This is certainly not a meal that is going to leave you feeling hungry. Not only is the dish very filling, but the portion size is extremely generous. I was able to get two full meals out of it.
Overall, I found the jambalaya to be spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. I have had other jambalayas that leave you sweating because of the spiciness. The one at Boatwright's had a definite kick (I went through quite a few glasses of water throughout the course of the meal) but it was not unbearable. Still, if you do not like spicy foods I would probably not recommend this dish. The jambalaya was full of pieces of chicken and came topped with two large slices of Andouille sausage and two jumbo-sized shrimp. My only complaint was that I wish there had been a few more shrimp.
I am a lover of bread pudding and have had it at numerous restaurants across Disney World, so I jumped at the chance to try the New Orleans Bread Pudding. There was nothing spectacular about the bread pudding in itself, although I did appreciate that it was served nice and warm.
What really made this dessert special was the combination of the rum raisin ice cream and the bananas foster sauce. The sauce had a little kick to it and provided a lot of sweetness to the dessert. While the sauce had a slight banana flavor there were no actual bananas topping the bread pudding. The rum raisin ice cream provided a light and refreshing compliment to the sweet sauce and was very smooth and creamy in texture. While not my favorite bread pudding at Disney World, this was still a very good dessert.
This was the only aspect of my meal that was a little disappointing. I hardly ever saw my server throughout the course of the meal. He came to take my order, brought out the cornbread, and brought out the check at the end of the meal. He did check in on me once as I was eating my jambalaya to make sure I was enjoying everything, but he was not very personable. That being said, I witnessed the table next to me getting impeccable service. They had a child who had a food allergy and the chef personally came to the table and talked with them about what different dishes they could prepare for the child. This is something that Disney does very well. It does not matter what restaurant you are dining at, I have friends with food allergies that say that Disney is always extremely accommodating when it comes to food allergies.
Dining on a Budget:
Boatwright's is fairly reasonable by Disney standards. With most entrees ranging from $16 to $20, you can enjoy a good meal at an affordable price. I found that all the dishes I saw being brought out of the kitchen were generously portioned, so you are certainly getting your money's worth in terms of quantity but also quality. Likewise, the desserts are mostly around $6 a piece and give you very good value for your money. If you want to save a little extra I saw someone at a nearby table order the Bourbon Barbecue Shrimp appetizer which comes served with a grilled grit cake. For $10.99 this looked as though it could be a meal unto itself. If you are looking for a lighter meal, the Chicken and Andouille Gumbo for $6.49 is likewise generously portioned and combined with a dessert might make a good meal for someone who does not have a large appetite.
Boatwright's is on the Disney Dining Plan and is worth one table service credit. The restaurant is also a participant in Tables in Wonderland and offers members the 20% discount. However, there are no discounts offered to Disney Vacation Club members or Annual Passholders.
The Overall Experience:
Being my first time dining at Boatwright's I really was not sure what to expect and I am pleased to say I was pleasantly surprised. This is a restaurant that can make you totally forget that you are in Disney World. Offering a cozy, comfortable, and relaxing atmosphere, it is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks. At the same time, the dining room features all the great little details that you would expect from a Disney restaurant and really helps to immerse you in the theme. This is probably one of the best-themed restaurants to be found at any of Disney's moderate resorts and better than some I have experienced at deluxe resorts. The menu is not going to blow you away with glamorous, gourmet dishes, but it features some good, old fashioned Southern comfort food that leaves you feeling very satisfied at the end of your meal. With a number of intriguing menu items available, I will definitely want to be dining at Boatwright's Dining Hall again in the future.
See past reviews by Guest Blogger Andrew Rossi.
Check out Reader Reviews of Boatwright's Dining Hall and post your own too!