The holiday season in Central Florida’s theme parks is a magical time of dazzling decorations, heartwarming traditions and soul-crushing crowds. The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are typically the busiest for Orlando’s attractions, and with tourism rebounding to post-recession highs, Christmas 2013 promises to be the most insane in recent years.
Frankly, it’s a situation nobody should have to face sober. So, if you are going to be squeezing through a local resort’s overcrowded gates over the next week – whether you’re being forced to escort out-of-town guests, or have simply gone nuts and are going of your own volition – you need this survival guide to my favorite in-park libations. For additional tippling tips, check out partythroughtheparks.com.
Walt Disney World
Disney may be the most popular local resort, but it’s also the most expensive one to get drunk at. The original Magic Kingdom was famously booze-free until the recent opening of Be Our Guest restaurant, which is too pricey and overbooked to count on for a good buzz. If you want to toast the Holiday Wishes fireworks over Cinderella Castle, park at the Polynesian Resort and crash their beach; I recommend a hip flask of rum poured over a self-serve Dole Whip from Captain Cook’s.
Since the death of Pleasure Island, Epcot is Disney drinking’s ground zero. The best time to drink around the world is fall’s Food & Wine Festival (I’m still salivating over the Glenfiddich flights) but you can get smashed year-round in Mexico’s tequila cave – go exotic with a jalapeño or avocado margarita – or England’s semi-authentic pub. There are no notable potables at Animal Kingdom (at least not until Na’vi Juice arrives in 2017) but Hollywood Studios now has a nice al fresco tapas bar outside the Brown Derby restaurant, featuring pricey cocktails and priceless people-watching.
It’s no coincidence that my favorite Mickey competitor and the complex with the most bars per square foot are one and the same. Before you even get into the parks, you can hit Universal’s CityWalk and its various hotels for numerous happy hour drink discounts; start with half-price margaritas at Margaritaville’s Lone Palm bar, continue to half-price Abita Turbo Dogs at Emeril’s and end with $5 Dark and Stormies at Royal Pacific’s Tchoup Chop. Stop into the soon-to-be-shuttered Cigarz for a shot and a smoke while you still can.
If you have an annual pass, the Watering Hole and Backwater Bar in Islands of Adventure and Finnegan’s in Universal Studios Florida offer $4.50 drafts and $6 well doubles; the Alcatraz bar pours call brands for the price of wells. For a few bucks more, no Simpsons fan should leave without a sip of Duff Beer at Moe’s Bar in the new Springfield area; the Yuengling-like standard brew is the best. Finally, the bartenders at the Hog’s Head Pub at Harry Potter’s Wizarding World aren’t allowed to adulterate Butterbeer, but if you order a shot of Bailey’s on the side and it “accidentally” slips into your virgin beer, they can’t stop you.
I’ve long been a big fan of SeaWorld’s park, but in the wake of Blackfish it’s getting harder and harder for me to swallow their style of entertainment. Setting orca issues aside, SeaWorld scrapped their tradition of free beer a couple years back (it briefly returned at Busch Gardens Tampa this October) – another serious strike against the park. Expedition Cafe, attached to the new Antarctica penguin ride, offers international drafts like Kirin and Peroni for $7, and the swank Sharks Underwater Grille serves creative $11 frozen cocktails over a unique aquarium bar. But the best bang for your buzz is probably a $7 Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea vodka from Voyager’s BBQ.
Unlike the other parks, at Fun Spot you can park for free and walk inside without paying admission, making it ideal for alcohol-oriented attractions fans (not unlike the Budweiser brewery tour in Williamsburg, Va., where I began my theme-park career). The Skydiner at Fun Spot’s northern I-Drive location advertises twice-daily happy hours with $3 drafts and bottles, making it the cheapest beer inside any Orlando park; munchies like fresh-baked waffle cones are similarly cut-rate compared to the corporate competition. Just beware: After a few rounds that 250-foot-tall Skycoaster swing might start to seem like a smart idea.