Walt Disney World just won’t stop building bars! Before you grab the pitchforks and take to the comments, we think it’s a good thing in this particular case. Unlike many fans who bemoan the many lounges that have been added and complain that Disney no longer caters to families, we like this development.
We also think that the above is no longer a fair criticism, and hasn’t been for a while. Sure, when Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar, The Edison, and a handful of other locations that were very clearly aimed at adults–and only adults–it was true. There was also validity to the grousing when more bar kiosks were popping up or a greater emphasis was placed on alcohol on restaurant menus.
That hasn’t been the trend of the last several years, though. Instead, Walt Disney World has added a slew of family-friendly lounges that are more food-forward. These are more fairly categorized as restaurants than bars (or at least “and grills”), and are oozing inviting atmosphere and have robust food menus that arguably surpass some of the regular restaurants at their respective resorts.
This includes Geyser Point Bar & Grill at Wilderness Lodge, Three Bridges Bar & Grill at Coronado Springs, Nomad Lounge at Animal Kingdom, and the reimagined Banana Cabana at Caribbean Beach. Our latest entry to this list of some of our new-favorite hidden gem dining options is actually right next door to the last one, also located near the shore of Barefoot Bay.
Here, we find the proliferation of this type of dining concept at another thing that has proliferated at Walt Disney World in the last decade-plus: Disney Vacation Club expansions. The newest exemplar of this trend is at the most recent DVC expansion (for now): Disney’s Riviera Resort.
We’re talking about Bar Riva, which is the open-air pool (adjacent) lounge that’s right next door to the hotel’s counter service restaurant, Primo Piatto. Like the rest of the resort, Bar Riva draws its inspiration from the Mediterranean, serving up light European and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine along with a variety of cocktails.
Admittedly, we’ve largely overlooked Bar Riva on this blog’s coverage of Disney’s Riviera Resort. In part, that’s because we love(d) Primo Piatto. That’s still present tense, but we don’t love it quite as much as we used to–and our patience in the full menu not being restored is honestly wearing thin. In part, it’s also because my favorite thing on the original menu at Bar Riva, the Monte Cristo, is long gone and seemingly never coming back. But that’s okay, for the reasons we’ll get into in the food review!
For practical purposes, Bar Riva is about a 5-minute walk from the Skyliner station at Disney’s Riviera Resort. Meaning that you can easily take the “Most Magical Flight on Earth” from two Walt Disney World theme parks (Hollywood Studios and EPCOT) and two other resorts (Art of Animation or Pop Century) and be here in a matter of minutes. It’s also easily walkable from Caribbean Beach Resort.
Simple but stylish, Bar Riva is a lovely location. The indoor-outdoor lounge is a visual feast of vibrant blues and stark whites, which provide a sharp and stunning contrast. We’ve been critical of Disney’s Riviera Resort for being under-themed as compared to the actual French Riviera, but this is exactly the type of chic beachfront venue you’d find at a modern hotel in Nice or Cannes.
Not everything needs to feature a surfeit of ornamentation or thematic flourishes. In this case, a less-is-more design is embraced to great success, similar to the other aforementioned open air bars. Bar Riva is sleek and modern, while also managing to look classy. If it were along the French Riviera (and not a resort built ~4 years ago), you’d wonder whether it’s brand-new or was built in the 1960s.
The wood ceilings and furniture are lightly-stained, and imbue the bar with a sense of warmth and intimacy. That contrasts with the tilework throughout–on the ceiling, floor, and columns–giving Bar Riva a crisp and cool sensibility. Speaking of which, there are plenty of ceiling fans that literally keep the space cool.
I dined at Bar Riva on an incredibly hot day, and the open-air location was perfectly comfortable. (To each their own, but I actually prefer this to the jarring contrast of an hour in icy air-conditioning back to sticky hot and humid weather.) At the other end of the weather spectrum, space heaters are used for the promenade seating area on chilly evenings.
The defining visuals of Bar Riva are, of course, the murals that run the length of the wall. This depicts a sunny scene of a nondescript stretch of coastline in the riviera (French or Italian is unknown), which has been reimagined to feature Disney’s Riviera Resort and Disney Cruise Line ships.
This art is sharp and, despite not being of anywhere in particular, is actually reminiscent of retro Art Deco travel posters that are all over the place in the French Riviera. It’s a nice statement piece, punctuating Bar Riva and giving it even more personality. (Instead of Pixar and WDAS posters from France, I wish Imagineering would’ve made more like this for inside the hotel. Imagine a stylized poster of Lillian and Walt Disney high up in the hills of Èze.)
In short, Bar Riva is a simple space, but a highly effective one. It nails the look and ambiance, and the end result is an inviting place where you want to relax. Now let’s turn to the food, to see whether it’s also a place where you’ll want to refuel…
We’ll start with the Burrata Salad served with Heirloom Tomatoes, Fresh Pesto, and Focaccia Bread.
Everything about this is fantastic. The burrata itself is sizable, soft, creamy and high quality. The pesto base underneath mixes with olive oil to provide a flavorful and savory base. The tomatoes weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they’re more than good enough along with the greens, pesto, and olive oil.
Unsurprisingly, the highlight of the Burrata Salad is the burrata and the focaccia. Cheese and bread is rarely a losing combination, and this salad kept the duo winning.
All in all, the Burrata Salad is a really refreshing and delicious dish. It’s also surprisingly filling, presumably owing to the large pieces of bread and cheese. We highly recommend this for anyone wanting a salad or something not as heavy, but still filling. It’s also easily shareable and nice to pair with something that’s heavier (that’s what we’ll be doing in the future).
For our second dish, we have the Mushroom Arancini: Risotto, Mushroom, Cheese, and Truffle served with House-made Marinara.
These deep fried balls of mushroomy goodness are, unsurprisingly, taste-specific. Do you dislike anything on the above list of ingredients? Then you almost certainly won’t enjoy the Mushroom Arancini!
For our part, we love literally everything on that list and, less surprisingly, we also loved the Mushroom Arancini.
The texture is perfect, with a crisp exterior providing crunch but giving way to a soft and chewy interior that is absolutely jam-packed with mushrooms, risotto, and cheesiness.
My only quibbles with the Mushroom Arancini would be that the house-made marinara didn’t add much and the dish was light on truffle flavor. In fairness, though, I didn’t expect to use the marinara much (and was correct in that assumption) and I know some people lament the overuse of truffle in dishes were it’s unnecessary. I don’t think that would’ve been the case here, but can appreciate a light touch with the truffle.
Regardless, the Mushroom Arancini at Bar Riva is fantastic and we highly recommend it. If you enjoy these ingredients, this is perfect execution on the concept. If you don’t, well, you probably already know it’s not for you!
For our final entree, we have the Salmon with Orzo: Seared Salmon with Pomodoraccio Tapenade and Lemon Orzo.
This is the most expensive dish on the menu at Bar Riva, costing just over $20. It’s well worth it.
Salmon is one of those entrees that Walt Disney World does really well (even at EPCOT festivals), and this entree is no exception to that. The fish is a sizable fillet, and perfectly prepared–crispy skin, flaky pieces, moist inside, and wonderful flavor. This salmon would’ve been fantastic on its own, but the Pomodoraccio Tapenade provided a tangy and rich punch that elevated the fish even further.
I’m also a big fan of orzo, and love that the pasta is paired with the salmon to make for a hearty and filling dish. I could easily see a couple ordering the Burrata Salad and the Salmon with Orzo to split and having an incredibly satisfying and healthy (by Walt Disney World standards) meal. This is the type of meal I could see Sarah making at home. Very Mediterranean!
This Lava Cake would not be part of Sarah’s homemade meal. But when the cat’s away, the mice will play…or something like that.
Look, I’m never going to negatively review a Lava Cake. That’s just not going to ever happen, and I’m not going to start here.
What I will say is that, as far as Lava Cakes go, this is a fairly cheap and low quality one. There’s not a ton of daylight between this and the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Lava Cakes (found in the freezer aisle).
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say this disappointed…just as those don’t disappoint! It’s rich and decadent, and the melty chocolate and gooey goodness on the inside will leave a smile on your face. It’s also not terribly expensive, making it a good pick so long as your expectations are appropriate.
Ultimately, the atmosphere is inviting and the food is phenomenal at Bar Riva. We never did a deep dive into the menu here when it first opened, but my impression based upon a cursory review is that the current menu is actually superior to the original one. That is a sharp contrast to the next-door Primo Piatto, which is still good–but a shadow of its former self.
Beyond what we’ve been able to try so far, there’s a deep menu of dishes at Bar Riva that sound fantastic to us. This includes (but is not limited to) the Baked Brie, Grilled Chicken Sandwich, and Sticky Chicken Wings. We’ll absolutely be back (again and again) to try those additional dishes, as this type of restaurant is right up our alley. Unlike other Walt Disney World fans who bemoan more bars being added, we love this open-air bar & grill combo, and hope Disney uses this formula for future expansions.
Have you enjoyed a relaxing respite from the weather or crowds in EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Bar Riva? What are your favorite or least favorite dishes on the menu? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment that this type of “and grill” open-air lounge is really more restaurant than it is bar, and is a good type of addition to Walt Disney World? Is it somewhere you’ll make a point of checking out next time you’re staying at Disney’s Riviera Resort or doing a Skyliner crawl? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!