Dining Reviews

Review: BOATHOUSE at Downtown Disney Opens With Expansive Views, Upscale Food at Future Disney Springs

Hi everyone!

In March, we shared an interview with The BOATHOUSE founder Steven Schussler, who has opened several restaurant concepts at Walt Disney World: Rainforest Cafe, T-Rex Cafe and Yak & Yeti. This week, his latest restaurant concept opened at Downtown Disney (soon to be Disney Springs). Unlike the other restaurants I mentioned, The BOATHOUSE is not a Landry’s restaurant – it is managed by Gibsons Restaurant Group out of Chicago, which is highly regarded for its steak and seafood. There is a chain of Landry’s restaurants in Canada called The Boathouse, but this is not related in any way. The BOATHOUSE at Downtown Disney is one-of-a-kind. Menus are printed daily depending on what has been caught, and there are a lot of options – more menu choices than just about anywhere at Walt Disney World.

The BOATHOUSE is located on what used to be Pleasure Island, not far from Paradiso 37 and Raglan Road. It can be seen from all directions.  Currently, The BOATHOUSE is not on the Disney Dining Plan nor does it offer any discounts. That could change, it is standard procedure for restaurants at Walt Disney World to open without having that set in stone. So we will see what the upcoming months hold. If the Disney Dining Plan is added, The BOATHOUSE would be a Signature Dining location. Hours of operation are from 11am – 2am.

We updated this article on May 7th, 2015 with a few more menu items after a second visit.

For full disclosure, we had arranged a tour of the restaurant, but also ended up with a food tasting as well. We sampled small amounts of a number of items, and each enjoyed an entree and a portion of the enormous Baked Alaska. On our second visit, we tried a few more menu choices. When we go back on our own in the future, we will add anything else new to the article.

We talk about The BOATHOUSE in Mousesteps Weekly #143, but there is much more detail in the article.

Tickets for Amphicar rides were not yet being sold when we visited the first time. Rides in the cars cost $125.00 for 20 minutes. It isn’t a cheap excursion, but it is a unique one. Less than 4000 of these 1960’s Amphicars were made in Germany, and the BOATHOUSE has upwards of 10 of them. Only hundreds are still left, and they are expensive to buy (similar Amphicars have sold for over 100k) and to maintain. This may be the only place in the world that has this type of Amphicar ride. Those who want a free ride on the lake can take a Disney water taxi from one side of the lake to the other, but this is an experience to remember. And on our second visit, The BOATHOUSE did invite us to ride. We have an article here about it. The ride is a LOT of fun!

Here is a video of our Amphicar ride!

We have been asked for the phone number for reservations. The BOATHOUSE can be found online at theboathouseorlando.com or at 407-939-BOAT. Reservations can also be made at OpenTable. Eventually Disney should also be handling reservations.

CEO Steven Schussler took a moment for a photo. He has his hand in everything when designing a new restaurant, and is even very particular about light bulbs being burnt out or the wrong wattage.

Walking into The BOATHOUSE, the first thing guests may see is fresh seafood in the case, including shrimp, lobster, and Anastasia Gold caviar. Most or all of the items have a label.

There are three bars. This first one is very large, not just encompassing the bar with stools, but a large section of tables as well. There is a bar menu (which includes quite a few items) and a more extensive meal menu. The only thing I’d change here is to have some beers on tap, and not just in bottles.

Entertainment began while we were seated.

There are 400 inside seats, and about 200 outside. Most or all tables have a nice view, windows are everywhere! The BOATHOUSE is situated about 80% over water, although it doesn’t feel like it.

The nautical theming permeates the restaurant.

There were about 8 guests at our table splitting most of the food items during our first visit. Jeff and I split one of these Joyce Farms Chicken Strips ($19). Joyce Farms never adds hormones, antibiotics, or anything else to its poultry – and the chickens are free range. The BOATHOUSE prides itself in serving high-quality meat, and that means it will be a little more expensive than many other restaurants. For us, the hand-cut fries are decent, but I prefer a thick steak fry. One thing I love about The BOATHOUSE is that it is a laid-back place where guests shouldn’t feel rushed.

Jeff liked the kick of the Firecracker Shrimp ($19), with Laughing Bird Shrimp, Sriracha Mayo, and Shishito Peppers. Laughing Bird Shrimp is also certified organic.

Wild Caught Baja Cocktail Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce ($4.00 each from the Raw Bar). The shrimp were very large. I don’t eat seafood, but Jeff had one and enjoyed having a larger, top-line shrimp.

Oysters in the Half Shell with Cocktail Sauce and a Cucumber Mignonette (3.50 each). Jeff said that the oyster he had tasted extremely fresh.

On our second visit, we split one Caesar Salad ($12). The server split the salad for us onto two plates – the salad could have served 2 or 3 guests. This is 1/2 of the salad.

We didn’t try this one, but this is what The Plank ($15) looks like. It is an iceberg wheel with crisp bacon planks, crumbled blue cheese and grape tomatoes.

Sides were brought out for our meals, including the Pound of Roasted New Potatoes with Old Bay Remoulade ($8). I had a few of the potatoes, and absolutely would order this side again. I would suggest dining with a group at The BOATHOUSE, it is easier to order and try different items.

When I read about the Roasted Cut on the Cob Corn ($10) on the menu, I thought it would be a small portion. It isn’t. It tasted sweet and I ended up eating what was left over. I would also order this again – all for myself. 🙂

Now for the entrees. Entrees start at about $15.00 for a “Yacht Club” Club Sandwich and go up from there. Jeff ordered the New England Lobster Roll ($29.00). This comes with Whole Maine Lobster on a Toasted Split Top Bun. This sandwich was loaded with Maine lobster and came with a very generous portion of hand-cut fries. Jeff is originally from New England and thought this was one of the better lobster rolls he has ever had. And you can see the lobster, it isn’t swimming in a large pool of mayonnaise.

We were told by Chef Bob that The BOATHOUSE prefers to go with bigger (i.e. – more impressive) entrees, even with the bigger cost. Not only entrees, but desserts and nearly everything else we’ve ordered has been larger than expected. Sharing is easy here.

Two of us at the table enjoyed the 8 ounce Filet Mignon ($39). And by enjoy, I mean it was really just an outstanding steak. We were given heavy knives, but they were not necessary. The spice was perfect. Next time we order this, I would go with the 12 ounce ($48) and bring some home. For only $9, that is another 4 ounces of filet. The Gibsons website says about the USDA Gibsons Prime Angus Beef,We are the only restaurant group in the country to be awarded its own USDA Prime Certification. Our beef is region specific to upper Midwest sustainable farms and is breed specific Black Angus. It is corn fed for 120 days and aged for 40 days providing maximum flavor and tenderness.”

This is a high quality product. It is not a cheap steak. Compared to Yachtsman’s Steakhouse after adding a side, it will be a similar price. The steak does not come with a side, which is where bringing a group would come in handy. If I was ordering this steak by myself, I probably would add the potatoes or corn. But with 2 or 3 guests, it is nice to order 2 or 3 sides and try smaller portions of each. I was also asked about the ketchup in the photo – I don’t know why it is on the plate, but it probably came with the french fries (it didn’t come with the steak). I generally don’t eat ketchup so I didn’t think about it.

This is what medium looked like.

On our second visit, we enjoyed The BOATHOUSE Surf & Turf Table for Two ($135). The Long-Bone Tomahawk Rib Chop is $115 itself, so it is worth getting the 1 1/4 lb. Whole Maine Lobster on the side. We also received one side item with it (we chose corn). The steak itself was exquisite. We have enjoyed quite a few great steaks in the past year, but this was just phenomenal. I don’t eat lobster, but Jeff ate all of it – happily.

Twitter was abuzz with the $21 Grilled Asparagus with Hollandaise price. The numbers were transposed on the Disney website, it is actually $12, and is a sharing portion.

The Baked Alaska ($40) looked like a cruise ship from this angle. It is massive. The menu says it is for 4 people, but it fed 7 of us with some left over. It is not for the faint of heart. We were told that it is Blue Bell Rocky Road ice cream, and then meringue and marshmallows. This is 1/4 of a pie, and a full pie would include 1 1/2 gallons of ice cream. There is not a small option, I don’t know if that will change eventually. But if you have a group, it is a wonderful dessert to split. It certainly draws attention. There are a number of single desserts, most in the $10.00 range.

The Baked Alaska was bigger than Jeff’s head.

Jeff doled out the Baked Alaska. It is easiest to turn on the side and slice.

The Key Lime Pie in a Mason Jar ($9) has a nice flavor, but I only tried a small bite and it was overshadowed on this day by the Baked Alaska. This is the only dessert we’ve tried that seemed like a one-portion serving. It has a very nice Key Lime flavor.

On our second visit, we tried two other desserts. The first one was the Double Chocolate Bundt Cake Ala Mode with Blueberries and Raspberry Coulis. It is very chocolately, but my favorite dessert of all was next.

My favorite dessert at The BOATHOUSE and actually, one of my favorite desserts now at any local restaurant is the Whiskey Caramel Cornbread Cake ($10). Easily enough for 2 guests to split, this came with a very large serving of berries, along with Whiskey Syrup and Whipped Buttermilk. I even snagged some of the ice cream from the bundt cake for this one. It is sweet but not too sweet…like a strawberry shortcake with cornbread and whiskey. I can’t recommend this one more.

Oh, yes.

If I had to choose just one table inside to sit at, this would be it – except for all the photos that I would be in. It is front and center, and draws a crowd.

We took a photo inside. Actually, this would be a great photo booth for guests (without dining).

I’m not sure if this boat will need to be requested or reserved ahead.

Every room in the restaurant is airy and bright.

Photographs on the wall evoke the sea and boating.

There are a number of unique tables to dine at.

Displays are everywhere, from counters to shelves.

The second indoor bar also includes stools for guests.

Fish swim on the wall.

Last year, I broke my ankle and couldn’t walk for a couple of months. It didn’t slow me down much, but I did find out how important accessiblity is. I noticed quickly how easy it would have been for me to get around The BOATHOUSE compared with most other Walt Disney World restaurants – and in fact, better than much of Downtown Disney. Restroom entrances have gotten so narrow as Disney Springs is built, that it doesn’t matter how big a stall is if you can’t get inside. There is also a companion restroom down this way.

This is the entrance to the ladies room.

Steven Schussler told us last month how impressive the bathrooms were going to be – and they are.

The Companion Restroom is easy to find. It was in use or I would have taken a peek inside.

Decor on the wall.

It is hard to capture with one photo how expansive this outside area is. Actually, it is hard even with several photos. The back deck seems to go on forever.

The Amphicar Landing is next to The BOATHOUSE restaurant dining area.

Captain Spencer told us about some of the boats, with Characters in Flight in view.

Some boats are just for show, including the Alter Ego. We were told this one would be extremely loud if it was started up.

Guests can enjoy the “Floating Art” boats – most of these are for display only, with a couple that will take to the water. On our second visit, signs were being added for guests to learn about each boat.

BOATHOUSE beverages sit on a table with the Dockside Bar in view. Beers at The BOATHOUSE range from $6.00 domestic to $7.00 import to $8.00 craft. Crafted cocktails listed on the menu range from $11.00 Cucumber Cooler to a Moscow Mule or Mint Julep for $13.00. And there are BOATHOUSE specialties that include a souvenir glass for $21. I am not sure what mine (on the left) was called, it was non-alcoholic with cranberry juice.

The Dockside Bar is beautifully jutted out onto the water. Schussler told us last month that he really wanted to utilize the waterfront in a way that it hasn’t been before, and he accomplished that (with the help of Disney).

Guests can pull up a chair and enjoy the views that Downtown Disney/Disney Springs has to offer.

The Amphicars were being tested on the day we were there, and we have video from a previous day with several cars in the water.

A BOATHOUSE boat captain waves as he passes by a floral Mickey at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

This is our video of the amphicars as they were transporting pre-opening guests.

An amphicar takes off with BOATHOUSE employees inside.

This 40-foot Venezia Italian Taxi will transport guests around the lake, complete with a champagne toast and chocolate covered strawberries.

Here is a look inside the water taxi, which can take a group of up to 20.

Great photo ops can be found all along the walkway.

More floating pieces of artwork can be seen here.

The Lady Rose is a much smaller boat than the Venezia Water Taxi, and will be available for rides as well (for 2 guests). It is also used for the Flag Ceremonies, which we haven’t seen yet.

This seating area includes a view of the Rainforest Cafe.

I mentioned that the deck seems to go on forever.

Plenty of tables and chairs are available, and the boat to the left looks like a flying saucer!

Here is our video of The BOATHOUSE, including all the dining rooms.

There is a large gift shop that includes rubber ducks, apparel, and so much more.

Photos can be purchased.

Several Tervis BOATHOUSE tumblers are available to buy.

These paddles cost $60.00, and can be personalized (included in price) in under 10 minutes. They have already proved a popular seller.

These two ducks are exclusives of The BOATHOUSE.

We had a very nice time at The BOATHOUSE and look forward to going back again. The restaurant is great for splurge dining, but also moderate dining (the Classic Burger consisting of chuck & brisket costs $18, we just paid similar for a burger at a sports bar in a local resort). After some of the very small bar menu portions we’ve received at other restaurants, I don’t mind paying a little more and receiving a full, delicious meal that can even be split. The BOATHOUSE states on its menu that the food comes from “Thoughtfully sourced products” and “Day boat line caught seafood”. The food is fresh and tastes that way. If nothing else, stop by for a drink or two and enjoy the great views that come with the outdoor seating. And then stay for dinner.