ORLANDO – Beer hunting on a theme park holiday

A first for the blog, a travel piece! Originally planned on doing this for my taproom visits and general beer-y adventures, then I never really got round to it… Oh how the turntables have turned!

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Spooky treats down Main Street, Magic Kingdom

Back in October 2019, my partner Lauren and I packed our bags for our first long haul trip together, two weeks theme park hopping in Orlando. Why October? Well, it’s spooky season, of course! It’s also prime time for pumpkin beers, but more on those later.

For a fortnight we called Kissimmee’s Royal Parc Suites our home, situated on the 192 it’s a prime spot for getting to the theme parks, shops and even seeking out some good beer. This was a trip we’d been planning for a long time, our main objectives were Disney, Universal, Halloween Horror Nights 29 and raiding Spirit Halloween (a treasure trove of spooky goodness).

As is always the way when I go on a trip somewhere, I was keen to seek out some good beers. Never really one for beer holidays but beer certainly plays a part when I’m on holiday. This trip felt a bit different though; I’ve been to the USA a few times before, but this was my first visit as an adult, and my first where beer was of interest. So sure, I wanted to seek out some of the amazing craft beers I knew would be waiting for me, but also making the most of the macro beers that crop up everywhere, because there’s a host of them we simply just don’t get in the UK. I still have a hankering for another cold, malty Yuengling Traditional Lager now that I think about it.

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Mid-flight Märzen, Samuel Adams – Octoberfest

Our flight to the US almost put a damper on things, leaving an hour or two late meaning our generous layover in Philadelphia turned into a frantic dash through security, making our connecting flight as the gate opened! Had planned on a swift pint at the Yards Brewing Co. taproom in Philly airport – heard they brew a cracking Mild – but alas a can of Samuel Adams – OctoberFest Märzen mid flight was the best I was gonna get. After finally arriving at the hotel after about 12 hours of traveling and loading up on supplies at Walmart, a few bottles of Bud Light Lime (blame Last Podcast On The Left) certainly hit the spot. There’s a time and a place for everything.

Now my plan for this isn’t to give you a be all and end all guide for places to grab a good beer whilst in Orlando. This is more of a reflection on some of the great beers and places I visited whilst we were there, that are handy pit stops if you’re doing the theme park trail. I have to say that Untappd proved to be a big help whilst planning this trip, thanks to their verified venues function and the best way we found to get around was definitely Lyft – easy to use, nice drivers, inexpensive fares. That’s it for apps, let’s talk beer!

“Can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff!”

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All hail the Dough-verlord

This trip was my first time visiting Universal, and I absolutely loved the place! My lasting impression is that it felt more like it was catered to adults in its offering than Disney,  which meant it was perfect for childless millennial couples such as ourselves. Having said that, it’s a miracle that I even managed to make it into the park each time, as we had to pass a Voodoo Doughnuts on the walk into the park each time. I did eventually pick up one of the elusive pink boxes of doughnuts, and we kept them in the fridge at the hotel for a few days as they were monstrous. Fun fact: if you wanted to buy every doughnut on the menu, you can! They even come in their own doughnut coffin, because who doesn’t want that?!

Anyway, back to Universal. I think one of the things that really struck me about the park was the theming, so much attention to detail for the properties that they own. For instance, I’m a huge fan of The Simpsons, so visiting Springfield was a must, and they had everything you could imagine, plus you can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff while you’re there. Florida Beer Company have breathed life into Duff (amber lager), Duff Lite (light lager) and Duff Dry (stout) – aspect ratio fans take note, they’re actually all different! – which can be found at both the Duff Brewery (complete with tanks and on site shop) and Moe’s Tavern.

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Dufftoberfest… “This reich will last a thousand beers”

As we were there in October, you could also bag yourself a Dufftoberfest (märzen) which I did for our first night in the Halloween Horror Nights holding pen (aka Stay & Scream) situated in Springfield. Essentially you can use your day time park ticket to wait it out in select areas of the park to get first dibs on the queues for the HHN houses. If you pop into Moe’s you can also pick up a Flaming Moe, which in this case is an orange soda with some dry ice to give it a flaming effect, tasted like a Berocca. The Duff Brewery is home to tonnes of Duff branded merchandise, which will definitely appeal to that sub-sect of beer & Simpsons fans. Fun fact: Florida Beer Company also brew a trio of beers for the Harry Potter areas of the park but I don’t really care for the wizard so we didn’t bother with those.

 

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The entrance to House Of 1000 Corpses… Captain Spaulding’s Museum Of Monsters And Madmen

I’ve been to a few Halloween mazes/haunted houses/events in the past, but none of them match what we experienced at Halloween Horror Nights – it’s just on another level! There are scare zones dotted around the park where scare actors mingle with the crowd and jump scare everyone on their way through – best one by far was Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe, it was like Satan’s Hollow come to life. Even sat in the Dragula.
Then of course there’s the houses. There’s a few themed around Universal properties, House Of 1000 Corpses, Killer Klowns From Outer Space and Universal Monsters being the highlights, where you can walk through the film and relive it for yourself. Universal Monsters was our favourite of the lot by far.
Then there’s some HHN originals, which are designed to frighten the living daylights out of you, such as Depths Of Fear, Nightingales: Blood Pit, Yeti: Terror Of The Yukon and Graveyard Games. We managed to do both Yeti and Nightingales after a cast change and let me tell you, they were scary! There’s also a few duds too, Jordan Peele’s Us and Stranger Things just didn’t really translate well in that environment. Shame really. There’s also side shows, which are ideal for a nice sit-down and a Duff or two, and shouldn’t be overlooked. Academy Of Villains was one of the best bits of the event in our opinion; dance routines, aerial performances, contortionists, circus performances, heavy metal soundtrack, it had it all! Think we watched it about 4 or 5 times across our visits to HHN.

“If it ain’t blinkin’, I ain’t drinkin’!”

 

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Pumpkinhead in hand, headed for Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe

If you’re seeking out good beers while at HHN, then your best bet is the pop up food tents/bars dotted around the park. A lot of the usual quick service places will be open touting their regular fare and odd specials, but the tents are where it’s at, especially the one where you can get Twisted Taters – spiraled potatoes, fried, seasoned and stretched out on a skewer. Amazing! Most of these tents have specific event only beers and cocktails available in flashing souvenir cups; in Lauren’s words, “if it ain’t blinkin’, I ain’t drinkin’!”. Managed to get my first pumpkin beer of the season whilst at HHN, the infamous Pumpkinhead from Shipyard whilst a can of Dogfish Head’s Flesh & Blood was perfect with some Twisted Taters on a pit stop between houses. Other beer offerings from the event only tents were Terrapin – Hopsecutioner, M.I.A. Beer Co – Miami Weiss, Motorworks – Pulp Friction, plus Samuel Adams and Goose Island seasonals – all of these were split between cans/draft and top the usual macro offering.

One of my favourite parts of Halloween Horror Nights was the park wide loop of ominous synth wave that kept you going while in queues for houses, soundtracked the scare zones and generally upped the atmosphere. Handily those folks over at HHN popped it in a Spotify playlist and I haven’t stopped listening to it since – check it out below.

“The most magical place on earth…”

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Magic Kingdom at night

Now onto Walt Disney World, the most magical place on earth. I found that there were so many facets to Disney, with their being so many different parks, so much to see and so much to do. Some days were very heavy on character meets, sweet treats and rides, other days brought opportunities for a few beers. On a general Disney note, I will say if you’re planning a trip there, the My Disney Experience App is vital to visiting the park. You can view wait times, get fast passes and make reservations on there, if you have the memory maker package and a Magic Band, all of your ride, park and character photos will make their way on there too, obviously Magic Bands need tapping where applicable. Really felt like an essential feature when visiting the parks. While we were there we visited all the parks bar Blizzard Beach, which was shut for a refurb.

Certain parks had certain quirks when it came to beers and there’s a few that I’ll pick out as we go here. The big one is Epcot, which has the tradition of drinking around the world. Each pavilion around the main lake has different beers from the countries it represents and as such, has become a real focal point for drinkers. Only thing is we made the mistake of visiting Epcot on a Saturday. There was an overwhelming amount of stags and hens drinking their way around the world, making it feel more like a city centre on a Friday night. It was a little bit grim. On the plus side, it was the Food & Wine Festival while we were there, so each pavilion had additional food/drink offerings, so there were some good beers on offer if you were willing to seek them out. Only one that stands out was Germany, which had Schofferhoffer Pomegranate on tap!

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A much needed Not Your Father’s Root Beer float

We’ll dive into Galaxy’s Edge as a separate entity in a second, but Hollywood Studios had a similar feel as Epcot, if you were willing to seek out a good beer, you’d find one. After conquering Tower Of Terror, we popped to a quick service ice cream parlor that were doing Small Town Brewery – Not Your Father’s Root Beer as a root beer float! Now on its own it’s an exceptional root beer, but the float was a game changer. Move over soft serve, boozy root beer floats are the one!

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Jaked on Green Beers in Pandora

Similar to Universal, it’s the theming that brings out the best beers, one of which can be found in Animal Kingdom. In Pandora – World Of Avatar, you can get jaked on green beers, thanks to Terrapin – Hawkes’ Grog Ale. I don’t remember much of the film Avatar, or if they even drank green beers in it, but whatever, it was an enjoyable grassy, wheat ale that went down a treat on what was the hottest day of our trip. They also offer some funky looking frozen non-alcoholic cocktail that Lauren got. Can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was enjoyable.

“You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

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Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a different beast altogether. As soon as you walk into the park, from either Toy Story Land or past The Muppets area, you feel like you’re in a different world. The theming is impeccable, the ambient sound makes it feel otherworldly and there’s just so much to look at. On tap of that there’s the various vehicles, roaming characters (Chewbacca, Rey, stormtroopers and Kylo Ren) and off world food (blue milk anyone?), I could sit here and write an entire post about that part of the park alone, it’s incredible.

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Inside Oga’s Cantina

The main draw here though has to be Oga’s Cantina, the most entertaining watering hole in the galaxy. You have to book in advance to get in, so be sure to plan your trip and get that reservation in as soon as you can, it’s worth it. Once inside you’re taken to your table or area, for us we were situated at the end of the bar, and you’ve 2 hours once inside to take it all in, have a few drinks (2 max per person) and make your way out. There’s loads of choices when it comes to cocktails (both alcoholic and non) and some great beers to boot. The attention to detail in there is second to non, for me the stand out was the host of Star Wars themed tap handles that’d make even Emperor’s brewery jealous – think Tusken Raider staffs, lightsaber hilts, etc. You can even bag yourself a Rancor tooth beer flight, which is a work of genius. I nearly caved and got one but remembered I’d have to bring it back home to the UK. Never mind.

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The boozy half of the menu at Oga’s Cantina

Whilst we were in there, we got a plate of Batuu bits (salty de-hydrated veg snacks), and worked through the beers on offer. The stand out was easily the White Wampa Ale (cracking banana-y hefeweizen brewed by Ballast Point) but both the Gamorrean Ale (solid red ale from New Belgium) and Bad Motivator IPA (7% IPA from Sierra Nevada) were worthy of our time. Didn’t get around to trying the Gold Squadron Lager (Blue Point) but there’s always our next trip to a galaxy far, far away. On top of that you’ve the entertainment and intergalactic tunes from DJ Rex and of course some of the best bartenders this side of the outer rim which makes this immersive experience all the more enjoyable.

One other place on Disney property worthy of a mention is Savannah Bee Company at shopping/entertainment complex Disney Springs. The main draw here is it’s a shop that sells products made with honey but I did find out you can buy bottles of mead here from a host of different US meaderies, including B. Nektar Meadery. You can even sample everything on offer for free as well, so perfect excuse to explore a style that you might not be overly familiar with. Unfortunately, I missed out on going in because we’d just eaten lunch at Planet Hollywood (an experience in itself) and needed to roll back to the hotel for a lie down.

“When you see the white whale
Break your backs and crack your oars men”

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Total Wine & More offering up cans as far as the eye can see!

As I mentioned at the very beginning, this wasn’t a beer holiday and I’d no plans to go out of my way to check out breweries, taprooms and bottle shops whilst in Orlando. I did instead just look up what was nearby the places we were already planning on visiting, and low and behold, across the way from The Mall at Millenia, was Total Wine & More, Millenia Plaza. The best way I can describe this place is like Costco but for wine, beer and spirits. As you walk in, there are thousands of bottles and cans that stretch as far as the eye can see.

We made our way over the the beer aisle and it was immense! Split into sections you had local beers, regional beers, US-wide beers, international beers, ciders, there was so much to choose from. As I looked around though, everything was in multipacks, I figured perhaps I’d made a mistake here in terms of what i’d actually be able to pick up. We turned the corner and came down the next aisle to find all the same stock, but this time available by the bottle/can. Success! Turns out you can pretty much pick out any beer you want as everything is available as an individual item or in a multipack.

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White whale, holy grail…    Sierra Nevada – Narwhal (2019)

I won’t lie, I was a little spoilt for choice. There were beers from breweries I’d heard about ever since I got into craft beer (Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and Dogfish Head’s 60 and 90 Minute IPAs being the standouts), beers from local producers that you’d never see again outside of Florida (Orange Blossom Brewing Co and Tampa Bay Brewing Co amongst others) and of course a few whales (Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal!). To be honest it’s difficult to do it justice, it was a phenomenal selection of beers.

Their British section was also 10/10, stocked only with the essentials: Bass, Boddington’s and Newcastle Brown Ale. Yes mate!

 

I picked up a mix of beers that I’d always wanted to try, a few pumpkin beers because ’tis the season and when in Rome… a tin of White Claw Hard Seltzer (bobbins). Standouts were definitely Southern Tier – Pumking (pumpkin pie in a glass), Orange Blossom Brewing Co – Orange Blossom Pilsner (a honey pilsner that was incredibly refreshing in the Orlando heat), Unibroue – À Tout Le Monde (been a long time since I’d had anything from Unibroue and couldn’t resist a Megadeth collab) and the newly launched Bell’s – Double Two Hearted Ale (SO MUCH CENTENNIAL!).

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Mandatory Total Wine & More beer haul pic. (L to R; White Claw, Jai Alai, Floridan Hefeweizen, Orange Blossom Pilsner, Gourds Gone Wild, Pumking, Double Two Hearted Ale, Two Hearted Ale, 60 Minute IPA, Dragon’s Milk White, À Tout Le Monde, Narwhal (2019).

With us using Lyft to get around, I was limited to what I could carry, which amounted to two carefully packed 6 packs, one on top of the other in my rucksack. It did meant that I clinked my way around The Mall at Millenia for the rest of the afternoon.

The other place I was keen to check out that was on our travels was Yard House, situated at Orlando’s ICON Park. A sports bar chain that offers classic American food, boasts the largest selection of draft beer and is slap bang in the middle of Orlando near The Wheel, Madame Tussauds and 40 other restaurants. They really weren’t kidding about draft lines, the Orlando site has 130 beers on tap! I don’t envy those line cleans.

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Yard House beer flight

Beer wise, it’s all in the A4, multi-page menu with everything broken down into sections based on style, Florida beers, macro beers, etc. I managed to narrowed it down to a build-your-own-flight of 4 and of course one of my picks had kicked! As with my small pack picks, tried to go for a mixed bag: Crooked Can – Mr Tractor (smash-able kölsch), Orlando Brewing – I-4 IPA (dank, musty West Coast), Dogfish Head – SeaQuench Ale (a tart, punchy gose), and finished off with New Holland – Dragon’s Milk (delicious 11% imp stout laced with vanilla). Handily they even printed you off a receipt with your flight board beers numbered on it, pretty neat!

We were really blown away with our experience at Yard House and I can’t recommend it enough. They offer up amazing, friendly service, they had a smashing veggie/vegan offering (easily the best choice Lauren had on our trip), it’s great value for money and it was one of the best meals we had on our trip.

Price wise, on the whole you’re looking at around $8-9 for a beer in the theme parks, maybe around $10-15 in a restaurant. Anywhere that’s a bit of a novelty or offers take home glassware will be more still. If you have the luxury of a hotel fridge, stocking it from somewhere like Total Wine is certainly one of the better options.

We had such a blast in Orlando, once we’d acclimatised to the Florida heat, so much so we’re already looking to go back in 2021. Keen to seek out some beers from Cycle and 3 Daughters on my next visit. Until next time, here’s something from Orlando’s finest, Chuck Schuldiner.

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