Once alcohol-free, Disney's Magic Kingdom to expand beer, wine sales

Alcohol sales at Disney are expanding, which is good for business, but has put off some who favor the nostalgia of a dry park. [Courtesy of Disney World]
Alcohol sales at Disney are expanding, which is good for business, but has put off some who favor the nostalgia of a dry park. [Courtesy of Disney World]
Published Dec. 17, 2016

It was big news in 2012 when Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom broke a 41-year tradition to sell beer and wine in one restaurant. Now the most-visited theme park on the planet is expanding alcohol sales into four more sit-down restaurants starting next week.

Tony's Town Square Restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen and Cinderella's Royal Table will serve beer and wine daily during lunch and dinner starting Friday, the theme park announced.

The corks will be popping in the middle of what is traditionally the busiest week of the year at the world's most-visited tourist attraction. It's a sign that the new generation of millennial parents are "voting with their feet," said theme park expert Dennis Speigel, and forcing institutions to meet their demands.

The four restaurants will join the Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasy-land, which in 2012 became the first in the Magic Kingdom's history to serve alcohol.

And like that Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant that served only French wine and European beer, the alcohol will be consistent with "theming." So there will be beer and cider in Liberty Tree Tavern, Italian wine at Tony's and champagne at Cinderella's Royal Table.

None of the drinks will be handed over in to-go cups. They will be for the pricier sit-down restaurants only.

Founder Walt Disney banned alcohol from the Magic Kingdom to maintain the family atmosphere, and Disney nostalgists have resisted the change even though Disney World offers alcohol, including liquor, at its other three theme parks in Orlando. Epcot celebrates an annual Food and Wine Festival every fall that turns into a boozy world tour, and Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom have lively bars.

But the Magic Kingdom has always been sacred ground.

"I find it sad that Disney are willing to give up its key values in favour of additional revenue made by serving alcohol," one park fan wrote on Twitter.

But the fears were eased once the drinks started pouring at Be Our Guest in 2012. Reservations were nearly impossible to get, for one, but the beer and wine were paired with gourmet meals, giving it a tasteful sheen.

The change was prompted by guest requests, a Disney spokeswoman said. With more international visitors than ever and a younger millennial audience now becoming parents, they aren't as tied to the tradition of a dry Magic Kingdom.

Tony's Town Square Restaurant gets 1,000 requests a week for wine and beer from its customers, Disney reports. With 500 marriage proposals a year at Cinderella's Royal Table, the guests wanted champagne and sparkling wine on hand.

Guest demand may have prompted the change, but it is also a revenue producer, said Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services.

"Millennials are demanding craft beer everywhere they go," and alcohol offers a high margin of profit, Speigel said. It's estimated that adding alcohol can have a 3-4 percent boost to food sales at a theme park so with 20 million Disney visitors a year, the revenue potential is substantial.

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Attendance has been sluggish at the theme parks this year, but Disney still managed to eek out more profits by generating more revenue from its visitors, according to its recent earnings reports. Disney gets people to pay more for early admission, to attend special events, get better parking or to speedily hop from park to park.

With the alcohol ban lifted, Disney "is the last bastion to fall on this," Speigel said. "It will become even more widespread. Even other recreation sources that don't serve alcohol — water parks, zoos, aquariums — will see this as a revenue source.

"Time changes things, and this is one of those evolutionary issues."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at Follow @SharonKWn.