Today we’re taking this blog all the way to the edge… of Downtown Disney!
We’re stopping for drinks and grub at the Lava Lounge, found just about as far as you can go to the end of Downtown Disney’s Marketplace. It’s funny — with the majority of the transformation to Disney Springs affecting the Landing, the West Side, and the parking areas of Downtown Disney, the Marketplace feels largely unchanged.
Now, I know that’s not true, considering the addition of spots like the Marketplace Causeway, the Marketplace Co-op and Dockside Margaritas. But comparatively speaking, and even with the welcome additions in the other areas, it feels nice to still have some familiar spots to enjoy in the area.
It says something about the rate of change in Downtown Disney lately that the Lava Lounge — now just over two years old — feels like one of those familiar spots. Still, being relatively young in the scheme of things, a lot of DFB Readers haven’t had a chance to explore it. So let’s make our way underneath that big ol’ volcano and check it out!
You’ll experience much of the atmosphere of the Lava Lounge before even entering the Lounge itself. The hallmark of the area, of course, is the “active” volcano, and if you’ve ever been anywhere in the Marketplace when it erupts with fire (about every half hour or so, I think), you’re familiar with the almost thunder-like roar that accompanies it.
So before you even set foot inside, you’ve got to make it past a waterfall and a snapping crocodile — not to mention take a walk through a lava tube — to get there!
Once you’re under the cover of the Lounge, though, things calm down quite a bit :), and the Lava Lounge turns out to be a really peaceful spot to take in a sip or a bite. The covered patio seating is kept pleasantly (almost miraculously!) cool by plenty of fans and a bit of lake effect breeze coming off the water.
In comparison to the over-the-top decor inside the Rainforest Cafe, the Lava Lounge is fairly simple in its setup. While you can still take in jungle-y touches like rocky walls, rainforest wallpaper and netting on the guard rails, the setup allows the focus to fall on conversations with your friends and family, or just catching whatever big game is playing on the screens above you.
Underneath the bright red flow of lava is the full bar, run by a staff that deserves a major shout-out. We found service here to be extremely friendly, attentive, and helpful, and the bartender especially made sure we were well taken care of.
He also made some great suggestions regarding our choices, so let’s dig in to check out what we ordered at the Lava Lounge!
Well, the Lava Lounge is — first and foremost — a lounge! So starting with some specialty cocktails is a must.
The Mongoose Mai Tai is coconut rum, dark rum, creme de almond, and orange and pineapple juices. While the juices obviously make this one a very fruity beverage, the good amounts of both rums gave this a more boozy aftertaste than your average fruity cocktail around Disney World.
The Strawberry Mojito, on the other hand, was decidedly light on the taste of alcohol, but was refreshing and fruity thanks to the fresh mint, lime, and muddled strawberries complementing the Cruzan Strawberry Rum.
As with most bars there are a couple of off-menu drinks, like this frozen Strawberry-swirled Colada concoction, which was nice and chilly but a little overwhelming on the flavors.
Out of all of the drinks this one was more of a dessert, sweet and topped with whipped cream and a cherry!
Now, are you ready for a secret? Our friendly bartender convinced us that we simply had to try the most popular off-menu drink that only folks in the know request. So we went ahead and tried the house’s Strawberry-flavored take on the classic Long Island Iced Tea.
There is definitely a more tropical vibe with this one than the standard Long Island Iced Tea. Yep, more muddled strawberries play a role, and a splash of sprite lends a little citrus. But the major difference is that the more traditional gin is replaced with 99 Bananas Liqueur. Sooooo this one is deceptive… it goes down awfully smooth, but packs a punch!
So, yeah… more than a few bites were in order to counteract all that! Now, in visits past I recall the Lounge having its own dedicated small bites menu; but these days it’s worth knowing that the full Rainforest Cafe menu is available at the Lava Lounge, making it a nice option if you aren’t up for the long waits (and fun — but not necessarily peaceful 😉 — atmosphere) that often accompany trying to having a meal inside the Rainforest Cafe.
Ultimately, we went with a few of the house favorites, starting with the Awesome Appetizer Adventure: a sampling of Cheese Sticks, Chicken Tenders, Chimi-Cha-Chas (southwest egg rolls), and Crustacean Crab Dip with chips.
I know… that’s a LOTTA fried breading on one plate, which may or may not be your thing.
Now, since there is enough on this plate to feed a small army, let’s take the items one by one. First, a couple of chain restaurant staples: Cheese Sticks and Chicken Tenders. The Cheese Sticks are the standard, frozen variety — crispy on the outside and semi-melted on the inside.
The Chicken Tenders were decent, if on the thin side (though, with this much food, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing). The coconut curry sauce elevates this typical offering a bit, with an interesting tangy-and-sweet flavor.
The Chimi-Cha-Chas began to raise the bar, thanks to the crunchy, golden-brown shell and the almost creamy stuffing of spiced chicken and corn salsa.
We found that the guacamole that came with the platter helped to even out the spice, making these more enjoyable.
The Crustacean Crab Dip was by far the standout on the platter (and — like the Cheese Sticks and Chicken Tenders — you can order this on its own). Served with tri-colored chips for dipping, there is a hefty amount of crab in the uber-creamy base.
We’ve had the Awesome Appetizer Adventure once before, but had I fully recalled the size of it (or maybe I just ate more of the newer dip, which was previously a spinach-artichoke deal), I’m not sure we would have ordered such sizable entrees. But you know, 20/20 hindsight and all that…
We went with two more of the fan favorites: the Pastalaya and the Ribs, Steak and Shrimp Trio (yep, another combo!). Let’s start with the Trio… Now, as reviewers, we’re big fans of combos because they let us sample several individual menu items at once. Guests can order just the Flat Iron Steak or Ribs (by the name of “Mojo Bones” on the menu), or a Jungle Steak and Shrimp combo. Still, anyone can obviously get the Trio if they so choose.
But know this first… this is a SERIOUSLY HUGE plate of food, consisting of four coconut shrimp, flat iron steak (I believe this is the 7 ounce, as opposed to the full-size 10 ounce), a small rack of four ribs sitting on top of a pile of Safari Fries, and a side of coleslaw.
The high notes first! Those would be the wonderfully crisp and lightly sweet coconut shrimp (I’m telling’ ya, these folks have learned a thing or two about how to fry stuff 😉 ), and the fall-off-the-bone tender and tangy ribs. One critique here is simply the plating, as the ribs on top softened the seasoned fries a bit.
The steak, however, was a bit more disappointing. It was ordered medium rare and arrived closer to medium. The decadent steak butter (yep — that’s all butter) a hand with any missing flavor.
The Pastalaya is exactly what the name implies: it’s a pasta version of jambalaya. I’ve ordered this previously in Disneyland’s Rainforest Cafe (thanks to the recommendation of some DFB readers) and very much enjoyed it. The menu cautions guests to take heed: “Only for the truly adventurous!”
And when ordering, we were again informed that this dish is spicy. It’s good to note that they offered to cut the spice a bit by adding some alfredo sauce to it, but we opted for the dish as-is on behalf of the heat seekers in our group.
And, yes — beware if you’re not a heat fan. Depending on how the kitchen makes this one, the spice can be overwhelming. Personally, I love when spicy heat is added to just about any savory food, so it was a winner again for me.
Well, I can’t say the Lava Lounge would be my first recommendation as a destination solely to eat. While the serving portions are certainly generous, as with Rainforest Cafe (naturally), the food prices are fairly steep; and some of what I think you’re paying for with a visit to Rainforest is the over-the-top atmosphere, which isn’t so much part of the Lava Lounge.
But if your goal is to indulge in a few interesting drinks lakeside with the help of a great bartending staff, then Lava Lounge might be a good option for you.
Have you been to Lava Lounge? Let us know your experience with a comment below!