New Free Refreshments Lounge in Epcot

There’s a new lounge in Epcot where Walt Disney World guests can relax and recharge with free refreshments and air-conditioning. This post takes a look inside, food & drinks, how to access the temporary venue in World Showcase, plus some history.

We’ll stop short of calling this new lounge a “secret spot” since we don’t want to be overly dramatic or hyperbolic, but if attendance is any indication, the temporary lounge is very much under the radar. During our visits in the last couple of weeks, we’ve never seen more than 6 other parties in the entire lounge.

This isn’t a huge surprise, as Walt Disney World never announced it or offered details about it, and the lounge is somewhat tucked away. Even if you do happen upon it, you might naturally assume it’s a private event for a convention or only available to employees of the sponsor.

The Florida Blue Lounge is located in Norway’s Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, with a little podium tucked away in the shade behind the Frozen Ever After queue that usually spills out the front entrance. It’s not exactly hidden, but still easy to miss.

Pre-closure, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall was the World Showcase table service restaurant home to Disney Princess Storybook Dining. Upon reopening, it served as a relaxation station before closing along with the rest of those and transforming into this temporary lounge by one of the 2021 Epcot Food & Wine Festival sponsors, Florida Blue health insurance.

As I’ve lamented elsewhere, we did dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall last March to get the most bang for our buck from the then-new Disney Dining Plan Plus.

I had been dragging my feet on revisiting Akershus for a while, because dining with face characters makes me uncomfortable. However, it was probably the meal about which we received the most questions, so we did it. (I know, play me a sad song on the world’s smallest violin.)

Part of my personal motivation for doing the Disney Princess Storybook Dining Dinner was getting back inside Akershus Castle. We stayed until the very end of the night and I took a ton of architectural photos without other guests. It was actually a fun food-filled evening and unique experience.

Shortly after eating at Akershus, I wrote a review of dinner, weaving in details about the history of Akershus and its themed design. That review was never published, for reasons that are probably obvious given that we did dinner last March. Of course, I’d never recycle content or have that be my pretext for sharing details about a new lounge. I vehemently deny any such allegations, and am offended by their mere suggestion. You can’t prove anything!

With that said, let’s take a look around Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Florida Blue Lounge.

This location opened with the Norway pavilion in 1988 as Restaurant Akershus, serving a Norwegian buffet. When the Norwegian government stopped supporting the pavilion financially back in the early aughts, princesses were added for breakfast, followed by lunch and dinner a few years later. The restaurant was renamed Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, a precursor to the princessification that would occur a decade later with Frozen Ever After replacing Maelstrom.

While princesses were added, the restaurant Florida Blue Lounge largely maintains its opening day appearance. It’s based on Akershus Castle and Fortress, a fortified medieval castle on Oslo harbor. That castle and fortress was built in the late 1200s to protect and provide a royal residence, which was also strategically important for the capital city.

Whoever controlled Akershus ruled Norway. From what I understand, this is the premise of Frozen III, with Elsa seizing Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Florida Blue Lounge from Belle the healthcare conglomerate. This culminates in the climactic Battle of Test Track, before the tear-jerking conclusion with the Guardians of the Galaxy rewinding the cosmos to restore order to the Other-World Showcase. Synergy at its finest.

The Norway pavilion’s Akershus replicates many architectural features of Oslo’s real Akershus Slott og Festning. Elements of the facade, towers, and hall in the World Showcase version are all strikingly similar to the real thing in Norway.

In All About Norway in Epcot’s World Showcase, we cover the pavilion’s other architectural inspirations from Bergen, Ã…lesund, Oslo, and the Setesdal Valley.

We haven’t toured the real Akershus, but have visited a variety of forts, castles, and churches in Norway and elsewhere. The interior is reminiscent of many of these, and feels like an amalgamation of locations throughout Scandinavia. Many of these are austere instead of opulent, with largely unadorned architecture.

I don’t purport to be an expert on Norwegian forts and castles, but the use of patterns and decorative dishware to punctuate the design “feels” authentic. (One of the coolest things we saw throughout Norway’s countryside was church walls covered in rosemaling.)

Now let’s cover the cuisine served at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Florida Blue Lounge.

In the restaurant’s buffet area, there are stations set up with self-service tap water and fruit-infused spa water. After you grab cups of water (or wander around taking photos of the architecture, as the case may be) and grab a seat, a snack cart comes around to your table.

This cart offers a variety of snacks: pre-packaged carrots & celery, apple slices, Oikos Greek Yogurt, Sabra Snackers hummus & pretzels, Babybel cheese, and whole oranges or apples. There’s also AHA flavored sparkling water.

You’re allowed to select two snacks and a drink.

Not that you need grocery reviews from me, but I’d recommend the Oikos yogurt and hummus. These are the most filling and “valuable” options, and they’re also packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats. (Plain Greek yogurt is one of my go-to snacks at home, since I’m sure you all care tremendously about my snacking routine.)

Of course, vegetables and fruit can also be a good pick. Walt Disney World charges exorbitant amounts for these at snack stands, and you might otherwise not get sufficient amount of these while eating out. While desserts are one of the pillars of a balanced vacation diet, so too are fruits and vegetables–or so I’ve been told. You probably know what you want/need to eat better than I do…

The Florida Blue Lounge is open for the remaining duration of the 2021 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival until November 20, 2021 from noon until 6 pm daily.

Right now, anyone can visit the Florida Blue Lounge–it is not reserved only for executives, employees, members, etc. All you need to do is show the Disney Guest Pass. That’s free and available to the general public on Florida Blue’s website; it’s not behind a login page and even says they look “look forward to hosting Florida residents of every age.”

You don’t need to print that guest pass out–just flash your phone screen and you’re golden. Officially, I don’t know how many people can gain access with one guest pass, but we’ve had 3 on one. It’s not like the passes are limited or anything, so this should be a non-issue.

It’s like the “secret knock” for infiltrating this selective speakeasy. (Everyone who spent tens of thousands on Club 33 must feel like a chump now that the free Florida Blue Lounge opened!)

When the Florida Blue Lounge first opened, there was uncertainty whether it would become more “exclusive” in October and stop accepting the guest pass or would start requiring reservations. On our most recent visits, we’ve confirmed that this is not the case. It’s going to be open to anyone with the guest pass on a first-come, first-served basis through November 20, 2021.

Presumably, this is due to current demand (or lack thereof). Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is huge and can accommodate hundreds of guests. We’ve yet to see the Florida Blue Lounge use more than 5% of its total capacity.

Nevertheless, circumstances could always change. This lounge could become slammed when word gets out or 50th Anniversary crowds pick up. Don’t book a trip to Walt Disney World solely because you want to get some free snacks–they might stop being offered, the lounge might change policies, etc.

Finally, since we know it’ll come up if we don’t proactively address it: we don’t know when Disney Princess Storybook Dining will return to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. The Florida Blue Lounge running until late November is a pretty solid indication that the answer is “not until 2022.”

Just the fact that Walt Disney World opted to open this lounge–a process that was likely set in motion back in the spring–suggests to us that face character dining is not something on the near-term radar and still several months away. With that said, Storybook Dining almost certainly will be back. Just like the Disney Dining Plan, it’s incredibly lucrative for the company.

Ultimately, things could always change with the Florida Blue Lounge as circumstances and demand dictate, so you should inquire as to its status when visiting Epcot. Regardless, thought we’d give you a heads up about this great location with free refreshments and a cool area to get away from the crowds and heat, while also sharing some non-recycled history of Akershus.

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t sleep on this overlooked lounge. Not only is it a great spot for free refreshments, but it’s a rare chance to see inside an exemplar of Imagineering’s old school World Showcase design work without paying an arm and a leg for princess dining!

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Have you visited the Florida Blue Lounge in Epcot’s Norway pavilion? Will you be visiting this free temporary refreshment spot on an upcoming visit to Epcot? Excited about the opportunity to experience the design and details of Akershus Castle and Fortress without the chaos of character dining? Disappointed that Disney Princess Storybook Dining almost certainly won’t be returning to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall until 2022? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

57 Responses to “New Free Refreshments Lounge in Epcot”
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