If you are a coffee drinker and visited Walt Disney World prior to 2013, you likely have repressed a memory of these machines:
Flanking the creamer dispenser are the hulking grey behemoths that were the “coffee” dispensers. In November 1992, Disney signed a multstrategic alliance with the Nestle Corporation for attraction sponsorship and food & beverage supplies. Included in this agreement was exclusive distribution of coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. Going forward guests were blessed with being served the coffee concentrate (a thick syrup mixed with hot water) we know as Nescafe. Not even a heavy dose of cream and sugar can hide the flavor provided by a cup of Nescafe coffee.
And so it was for 20 years. During that time, Starbucks became a worldwide phenomenon and coffee consciousness was raised to the point that the Disney java experience of Nescafe, Juan Valdez and 100% Colombian was a throwback to an earlier unenlightened (and clearly bad tasting) era. Return visitors to the theme parks knew to bring their own coffee or switched to some other beverage while they were on vacation. To watch a guest take their first sip of Nescafe was as entertaining as watching that same guest take their first sip of Beverly at EPCOT’s Club Cool.
Happily that has changed. Beginning in 1995, Disney began offering Tampa-based Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea at a single kiosk in Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park at Walt Disney World. Since then Joffrey coffee has been increasingly served at kiosks throughout the resort. In late 2012, Joffrey’s was named the official specialty coffee provider for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Vacation Club resorts. Finally, a decent, reliable cup of coffee could be found at the Disney resorts.
Note that Joffrey’s agreement names them as official but not exclusive. Thankfully for those of us who are followers of the mermaid, Disney also made arrangements with Starbucks to have Disney-themed Starbucks cafes in the Florida and California theme parks and shopping districts.
Although there have been no official announcements, it’s a good bet that there will eventually be a Starbucks in every North American theme park and resort retail area. I’ve been to each of the existing Starbucks and it’s the best of both the Starbucks and Disney experiences. The stores located in retail districts (Downtown Disney Marketplace and Downtown Disney West Side at Walt Disney World and Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort) are Starbucks owned and operated stores. As you can see, they look like pretty standard Starbucks stores (although Downtown Disney Marketplace is the only walk-up store I’ve seen):
Downtown Disney Marketplace – Walt Disney World (walk-up location)
Downtown Disney West End – Walt Disney World
Downtown Disney – Disneyland
In addition to these locations, there are Starbucks stores in four of the theme parks. These stores are run and operated by Disney and they provide an interesting mix of Disney and Starbucks service and corporate culture:
- Baristas are Disney cast members, not Starbucks partners (so don’t go looking for that black apron to answer your question)
- The stores have the full coffee menu, a limited selection of Starbucks food (including La Boulange pastries) and Disney produced food (so you can get your Mickey Rice Krispie Treat if you so desire)
- You can pay with the Starbucks mobile app or with Starbucks gift cards and can accumulate My Starbucks reward points. However, you cannot redeem My Starbucks rewards.
- In Florida, the stores are part of the Disney Dining Plan so snack credits can be used for coffees and pastries and quick service meal credits can be used for breakfast sandwiches plus beverage
- In general, the theme park stores are highly themed to blend into the park surroundings. In most of the stories, you really need to look to find the mermaid branding (not quite as hidden as a hidden Mickey but pretty close). The one exception is Fountain View Cafe at EPCOT’s Future World…there is nothing terribly futuristic or themed about it.
Fountain View Café at EPCOT’s Future World, Walt Disney World
My least favorite Disney Starbucks. Like the rest of Future World, this is a 1980 Brasilia-inspired utopia of white concrete and Blaster Eternal font. Imagineers have a back story for everything in the theme parks, but I’m hard pressed to find the story for this location.
Main Street Bakery on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, Walt Disney World
The exterior remains pretty much as it was before its conversion to a Starbucks. However, I’m very appreciative of the fact that Disney decided to use the original 1970s split fin mermaid logo. It’s not exactly turn-of-the-century America (as the original logo is based on a 16th-century Norse woodcut) but it wold be nowhere near as jarring as the current logo.
Although there’s no interior seating, the woodwork, lighting and pressed tin ceiling provide a nice atmosphere for the store.
Market House on Main Street, Disneyland Park
Just as in Walt Disney World, there was very little done to the exterior (other than the addition of the Starbucks mermaid and the closing of the old Book Rest entrance. Given the high volume, it makes sense to centralize the traffic through the corner entrance. But what this store has over the Florida store are the details that were retained that make it a very charming space.
The more detailed window displays.
The party line phones where you can listen in on your neighbors conversations.
The checkerboard that sits inside the entrance…
…and aren’t these the cutest period costumes that you have ever seen!!
There are a few tables inside the store and given the theming, it is a pleasant enough place to take a break and charge up your devices (as most tables have a conveniently located outlet nearby). But my favorite of all the Disney Starbucks is the:
Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café on Buena Vista Street in Disney’s California Adventure
This was the first Disney Starbucks to open in California and the Imagineers did an excellent job of storytelling. According to the Disneyland website:
Fiddler, Fifer and Practical are the stars of the 1933 animated short The Three Little Pigs, Fiddler and Fifer being the work-shirking music lovers and Practical being the forethinking builder of a sturdy brick house. As the story goes, Walt was inspired to create these 3 iconic characters by Dottie, Dolly and Ethel, a 1920s performing trio collectively known as The Silver Lake Sisters. In addition to singing, the sisters each played an instrument, just like their Little Pig counterparts. But unlike The Three Little Pigs, Dottie, Dolly and Ethel loved coffee and thus decided to open a coffee shop.
Throughout the café, you’ll see period references to The Three Little Pigs and to the Silver Lake Sisters:
Publicity poster for The Silver Lake Sisters performance at the Cathay Circle Theater
Notice the musical instrument theming in the stained glass. This is one of my favorite places to take a break in California Adventure. Not only is the theming well-executed, but the menu is the largest of the Starbucks (including lunchtime soups and sandwiches in addition to the standard pastries) and there are comfortable booths to hang out in:
Really great to take a break in the middle of a hot Southern California day!
As reported by the Disney Parks Blog, Disney will be opening its next Starbucks February 2015 in Disney Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. The Trolley Car Café, will be themed to a classic trolley car station along Hollywood Boulevard and will offer a unique experience for coffee lovers visiting the park.
Thanks goodness the bad old days of Nescafe are long gone!! Here’s to the mermaid in all her forms!