So apparently there’s a this thing that happens in the winter called football.
It’s not my personal bag of chips, but my husband is all but obsessed with it. We’ve spent many an hour during our Disney vacations strategizing about how to make sure he’ll get to see his beloved Giants games on TV while we’re in Florida. (Well, probably not such an issue this year … but I digress.)
The finest place at Disney World to watch any big televised sporting event is the ESPN Club, located on the Boardwalk, just past the International Gateway exit from Epcot. And they’ve just introduced a brand new VIP seating option for game day… . More about that in a minute.
They’ve got cold brew on tap, the best wings in town, and most importantly, approximately a billion television sets tuned to sports channels.
Heck, they’ve even got TVs in the bathrooms.
And like any good sports bar, there’s lots of friendly banter among fans of rival teams.
Sounds perfect, right? The only problem is that because it’s such an awesome place, and because the number of venues to watch non-market games at WDW is fairly limited, the ESPN Club tends to fill up quickly. Without a plan, you’ll end up shut out of ESPN, scrambling to find a cab to watch your game at an off-site Applebee’s.
Here are some tips to make sure that you get in to watch your game in style:
NEW VIP Seating and Reservations
During football games, ESPN is now offering a VIP seating option.
With VIP seating, you can make reservations for your game of choice. This is particularly notable, because this is the only way to secure a reservation at ESPN Club. Theoretically, you can do this through the main Disney Dining Line (407-WDW-DINE), but when I called to give it a shot, they had no idea what I was talking about. I had much better luck calling ESPN Club directly at 407-939-1177. The cast member who answered there was super knowledgeable about game times and was happy to take a reservation.
The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m.-1:00 a.m., so that’s when they’ll be manning the phones. I asked about whether there is a limit on how far in advance the VIP seating reservations can be made and there didn’t seem to be a definitive answer. Currently, they seem to be working just a week or two ahead for most games, but I do know that they’re already taking Super Bowl reservations (which will likely be at a slightly higher price point).
The VIP reserved seats are currently all in the main room (the one with the theater-sized screen) in an area with banquette style seating. You can see many other TVs here, but the large one is fairly dominant.
While game day reservations sound great…
…there ARE some caveats.
VIP Seating Costs $50.00 Per Person: First, in order to make a VIP seating reservation, you have to commit to spending $50.00 per person on food/beverage/merchandise during your game (tax and tip not included). For example, if you’re watching the Giants play the Raiders in a 1:00 game, you’ll need to spend $50.00 each for the privilege of sitting there and crying for three hours. If you’re there with a party of two, you must spend $100, with a party of three $150, and so on.
There’s currently no child pricing for the VIP seating, but it may be something they’ll consider in the future. (Kids under age three can hang out for free.) Additionally, there are no discounts available in the VIP section; no Tables in Wonderland, no DVC discount, no nothin’.
Fifty dollars per person may sound like a lot, but it’s actually not all that hard to accomplish. Let’s say two buddies go to the game together. They share a plate of nachos for $14.49, Mr. Giant gets the Sports Center Cut Top Sirloin at $20.99 and Mr. Raider gets the famous PB&J burger at $13.99. For drinks Mr. Giant gets two glasses of $6.00 Sam Adams and Mr. Raider gets two $9.50 Margaritas. Already they’re up to $80.47, less than $20.00 away from their goal of $100.00, and they haven’t even gotten dessert.
If our hypothetical diners were completely stuffed at that point, they could just choose to call the remainder a loss and have the server bill them $100.00 for their $80 meal. Or, they could have a salad or dessert packed in a to-go box to eat later, adding that fee to the tab. Another option would be to get a couple of collectors mugs, bumping the bill past $100.
VIP Seating Is Reserved Per Game: The second catch — VIP seating is reserved per game, so if you’ve reserved the 1:00 game, then you’ll have to vacate your seat when it’s over (they’ll work with you on overtime situations, etc.). You’re welcome to reserve both the 1:00 and 4:00 game, but you’ll have to pay the $50.00 per person fee twice.
The reserved VIP seating concept is particularly beneficial for folks interested in the 4:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. game on a Sunday, because in the non-VIP area there is contingent of guests who come for the 1:00 p.m. games and just end up staying all day, making it all the more difficult to secure seating for later games.
What To Do WITHOUT VIP Seating
Let’s say that you can’t or don’t want to go with the VIP seating option, there are ways to increase your odds of getting in to see your game without making the reservation. As I mentioned, ESPN opens at 11:30 a.m. If you’re intent on seeing a 1:00 game during playoffs, then you’ll want to get in line about about 10:30 a.m. or perhaps even a little earlier. This will get you in the door.
Once you’re in, it’s actually pretty important where you sit. The billion TVs are all playing different games. If you’re not parked in front of the one that’s showing your team, then you’re out of luck.
To make it easier to head to the right spot, stop by or give ESPN a call the day before and tell them which game you’re interested in watching. They’ll check their satellite schedule and tell you which TV or TVs will feature your match. The TVs are all numbered, so they’ll say something like, “Sets 15, 34, and 52 will be showing Giants vs. Raiders.” This lets you immediately head in the right direction.
If you’re interested in watching a game later in the day, you’ll want to line up by about half time of the previous games and be prepared to jump in when seats by the TV you want open up. If you’re a really rabid fan, you could park yourself there for the first game of the day, and stay for the second, or even third. Whatever you do, it’s important to remember that you’re in a restaurant and not your living room. You should be ordering food and beverages periodically throughout your stay.
During a trip to WDW last winter, we had eaten at Victoria & Albert’s the night before my husband wanted to watch a 1:00 game at ESPN. He was still full from our big meal, so he didn’t want to eat tons at ESPN. In this case, he chose to sit at the bar. As he sat down, he gave the bartender a $30.00 preemptive tip to keep his Diet Coke filled for the duration of the game. This made everyone happy and kept hubby’s carb intake relatively in check.
A Note About the Superbowl
All this ESPN strategizing is particularly important for things like NFL playoffs where the game you desperately want to see is not broadcast on Florida local television.
For things like the Super Bowl (or the World Series or other national championship events), the game will be shown on regular network TV. Regular network TVs are everywhere at Walt Disney World. Of course you’ll have one in your hotel room, but if you’re looking for a more convivial atmosphere or frequent refills of frosty draft, you can head to any of the dozens of bars or lounges on property. They’ll all be showing the Big Game. Many of the hotels will also bring in extra TVs or extra seating into public areas so more folks can be accommodated during group viewing.
Stop by the concierge desk at your resort for details about any special viewing areas they might have.
So sports fans, what do you think of the VIP seating concept? You have any strategies for getting the best spot at ESPN? Have you watched the Super Bowl at a Disney hotel? Let us know YOUR TIPS in the comments below.