“Every resort can tell a story”.
Joe, the front desk manager at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn, began our recent Boardwalk Ballyhoo tour by telling us his story, and how it led to the formation of the tour.
One of the things we love most about Disney Destinations is the detailed backstories throughout the rides, attractions, and theme parks, and the resort hotels on property continue this trend so perfectly.
Disney describes the Boardwalk Inn as follows:
Experience the charm and whimsy of turn-of-the-century Atlantic City at this waterfront Resort hotel… Discover carnival games, unique dining and exciting nightlife on the Coney Island-style boardwalk. Strung like saltwater taffy along the shimmering Crescent Lake, Disney’s Boardwalk Inn is located within walking distance to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Much like when Michael Eisner described the Disney-MGM Studios as “the Hollywood that never was and always will be”, the atmosphere of the Boardwalk area harkens back to the most wonderful, nostalgic trends of a 1920’s boardwalk getaway – all in one central location. Architect Robert Stern (who has a longstanding Disney history, in addition to being a world-renowned industry leader) chose elements that interpreted the feel of the boardwalk rather than specifically copying a row of high-rises and boarding houses amidst grand hotels.
Our guides Jim and Norb began the tour talking about the boardwalk barkers who would create a ballyhoo to get people into their respective establishments. We heard stories from Jim’s past being on Atlantic City even in the early 1950’s, where people would still buy and wear furs in the middle of summer – because they could.
1920’s Atlantic City was the place to see and be seen, especially for socialites and big stars. The only way to get there was by train from Philadelphia, so between cost and distance, it wasn’t a weekend getaway. There were of course no TVs or internet, so the lobbies were grand public spaces where guests could listen to radio (a huge luxury at the time!), read, play board games and talk with one another.
We also talked about Coney Island – a subway-accessible destination for a different demographic and quicker getaway, but with a lot of the same fun. It was in Coney Island that attractions such as ferris wheels, etc would have been right on the boardwalk versus out on piers.
The main lobby of the Boardwalk Inn is breathtaking. Though our first time on the tour, it certainly wasn’t our first time in this spectacular space. Even if you miss the tour, pop in to see it the next time you’re strolling Disney’s boardwalk! See the Hippocampus “Electrolier” (a phrase coined by Thomas Edison to distinguish from chandeliers which had previously only been lit by candlelight) covered in bronze statues that are half horse, half sea creatures.
Check out the intricate detail in the M.C. Illion carousel model. Recently, an M.C. Illion horse (alone) sold for $73,000 and one of three only Illion carousels of this particular model will soon be in operation again. This beautiful little thing is really a neat bit of history! (If you like carousels, or just geek out over Disney history, make sure to check out the birthplace of Walt’s Disneyland dream in Griffith Park, Los Angeles!)
Don’t overlook the “picture frames” above the check-in desk, which are actually Rounding Boards from a carousel featuring gorgeous paintings of Disney castles from around the world.
Kids of all ages will love checking out the scale model of “Flip Flap Railway”, which was the first roller coaster with a loop. Said loop was only 25-feet in diameter, but took people to 12 Gs and caused whiplash and back injuries. The story goes that people would pay admission to sit at the bottom of the loop just to wait for a disaster! 🙂
And if you’ve been in the lobby, you’ve probably wondered – what are those creepy little chairs?!
It turns out, it would have been improper for a woman to sit – even side-saddle – on the carousel horses during that time. These “Nanny Chairs” were created to sit near a nanny’s charges to safely ride next to them without being indecent.
If you wanted eye-catching though, you didn’t have to go far. “Lucy”, a 6-story, elephant-shaped building was constructed in 1881(!) to draw attention to James Lafferty’s real estate business. Lucy still stands today in nearby Margate, NJ!
The Luna Park pool at the Boardwalk Inn is a fun pool that’s actually themed after a real Coney Island park. In true Disney form, one of the founders of the original Luna park (Skip Dundy) is recognized at nearby “Dundy’s Sundries”, while his partner Frederic Thompson is the proprietor of the shop “Boardwalk Thimbles & Threads”. The pool is complete with
roller keister coaster water slide that exits through a clown face.
The elephants here pay tribute to the herd of elephants you could ride at the original Luna Park. The Luna Park elephants used to go down to the ocean to wash themselves, which allowed for another attraction in and of itself – and a “moving billboard”, as tour guide Jim says, for the park.
Leaping Horse Libations is named after the horse diving shows (anyone grow up watching “Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken”?! Just me? :)). We learned too, that the architecture of the ESPN club building at the end of Disney’s boardwalk is reminiscent of the horse diving tanks. How fun!
Seashore Sweets, another of the storied shops and restaurants along the Boardwalk, features pictures and memorabilia from decades of Miss America pageants (and former “bathing beauty parades”) held in Atlantic City.
In addition to all the amazing things we saw and heard, we learned where to find a few Hidden Mickeys (and a Hidden Tinker Bell!) and got a special treat at the end of our time together. The (free!) Boardwalk Ballyhoo Tour was an absolute delight!
Thinking about staying at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn or Disney Vacation Club’s Boardwalk Villas? Here are some of the things we love most:
- Attention to Detail. Clearly we love this, as I just spent an entire post talking about said details. Don’t forget to check out the board games (both those you can actually play, and those decorating the space). Whether or not you take a tour, be sure to slow down and look around as you walk through the resort.
- The perfect mixture of quiet spaces and hoopla 🙂. The Garden View cottages, especially, provide some of the most picturesque settings on Disney property… and just steps away, you can hear the hustle and bustle of carnival games and boardwalk barkers. For a city girl who occasionally loves to slow down, this is a perfect mix.
- Nighttime atmosphere. It was pointed out on our tour that the glittering lights of the Atlantic City boardwalk would have been a huge deal in the 1920’s… and it still creates a pretty amazing atmosphere today. There’s just something extra special about walking around the Boardwalk at night.
- Jelly Rolls dueling piano bar. We learned about the history of Jelly Roll Morton on our tour, which was cool. But this establishment could have been named after the pastry, and it wouldn’t have changed the fact that some of our favorite adult nights out have been spent here. This is, hands down, the best dueling piano bar I’ve ever been in. In fact, it has sort of ruined all the rest for us. You’ve been warned. 😉
- Surrey Bikes. Ok, these are just adorable and quaint. And just so you know, there are some little hills around Crescent Lake, so you’re getting your exercise too, if you rent one! The Boardwalk/Beach Club area also an *awesome* location for getting in a run.
- Great dining options. Apparently, when Bob Iger comes to town he chooses to eat at Flying Fish restaurant. While we have never eaten there, I have only heard great things about it. We have, however, eaten at many of the other restaurants here and have never had a bad experience. I highly recommend the Boardwalk Bakery, Big River Grill & Brewing Works, and the Boardwalk Pizza Window. The latter, admittedly, isn’t the very best pizza you’ll have on WDW property. That said, we love that we can feed our family of five for about $30 in Disney World with a pizza and outstanding bakery desserts in one of our favorite environments.
- Epcot’s International Gateway and the walkway to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It is *so* wonderful to be in walking distance of two of our favorite parks. To me, it’s easily equivalent to being at a resort on the monorail loop. Additionally, there is the added bonus of walking through the International Gateway in the morning instead of the main entrance if you’re headed to Epcot. Fewer crowds and great photo opportunities!
- Deluxe service. Of course, it could go without saying that you’re going to get the service, quality and amenities of a Disney Deluxe resort, whether you’re staying at the Inn or Villas. But I’ve said it anyway 🙂
- This view.
The Ballyhoo Tour is full of phenomenal detail. If you’re interested in the history of the Atlantic City area and boardwalk culture (or even the history of board games or postcards!), take a listen to The Disney Nerds podcast Episode #54. (You can also hear Jennifer getting super nerdy and answering a trick DVC question right and taking Jim by surprise… ;)) If you want to see (the details) and be seen on the boardwalk yourself, be sure to check out the free tour! It’s offered every Wednesday-Saturday at 9am beginning in the Bellevue Lounge. Just show up! 🙂