Last year’s free refreshment lounge is returning to the 2022 EPCOT Food & Wine Festival. This “secret spot” is going to be a great spot for Walt Disney World guests to 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.
In an attempt to avoid being overly dramatic or hyperbolic, we stopped short of calling the new lounge a hidden gem last year. This was despite low attendance–we never saw more than a dozen people in the entire space, even after our post about it. That was in part because last year’s lounge was very much “hiding” in plain sight, right next to the Frozen Ever After queue.
There will be no such restraint this year. Even though the temporary lounge isn’t yet open, we’re going to proclaim it secret spot, hidden gem, hole in the wall, under-the-radar escape, etc. This is due to the aforementioned lack of popularity last year and because this go-round, it’s literally in the most tucked away location in all of World Showcase at EPCOT.
The Florida Blue Lounge is located in the Restaurant Marrakesh. If you’re unfamiliar with this restaurant, it’s deep in the Morocco pavilion down a dead-end corridor that is only home to Restaurant Marrakesh.
Pre-closure, Restaurant Marrakesh was not particularly popular. This was likely in part due to its more exotic cuisine, but location played a bigger role. Due to that, there was routinely a Cast Member in the front courtyard of Morocco beaconing guests back, showing menus and touting the (underrated) restaurant.
When EPCOT reopened, Restaurant Marrakesh remained closed. This was hardly surprising–it previously ranked up there with Planet Hollywood as being among the easiest ADRs at Walt Disney World. (Unlike Planet Hollywood, Restaurant Marrakesh served edible food–a key distinction.)
Even after the third party operating participant exited the Morocco pavilion and turned over operations to Disney, the restaurant remained closed. Again, unsurprising. There’s probably enough demand to justify opening Restaurant Marrakesh at this point, but now with staffing shortages, it’s hardly a priority.
Thankfully, the International Programs are on the precipice of returning. That’ll be a big help…and could also explain why the Florida Blue Lounge has moved from Akershus in Norway to Morocco. Not to fire up the rumor/speculation mill, but there’s probably a reason why Walt Disney World relocated this lounge.
In our estimation, the likelihood of Akershus Royal Banquet Hall reopening and Disney Princess Storybook Dining returning by November 2022 just skyrocketed. Place your bets now before the Vegas oddsmakers adjust the payouts!
With that said, let’s take a look around Restaurant Marrakesh Florida Blue Lounge.
The Morocco pavilion was based on designs found in the cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, and Marrakesh. (We’ll bet you can’t guess which city inspired this particular restaurant.) Like many Moroccan cities, the pavilion is divided into new and old cities, demarcated by the Bab Bou Jeloud (“Blue”) Gate.
Restaurant Marrakesh lies beyond the Blue Gate, and largely maintains its opening day appearance with ornate design and stunning details. Morocco is a country of “timeless wonders” with ancient mosques, synagogues, souks, churches, and kasbahs where the art and architecture have been designed and refined over centuries.
This is evident inside Restaurant Marrakesh/Florida Blue Lounge. The setting is truly transportive, feeling worlds away from a theme park in Florida in 2022. From tile work to the tea dispensers to the ceilings and (especially) the light fixtures, Restaurant Marrakesh is an opulent exemplar of old world Morocco–and old school Imagineering aesthetic sensibilities.
Unfortunately, you don’t get the full experience from visiting the Florida Blue Lounge. During an actual meal at Restaurant Marrakesh, you’d enjoy music from a two-piece combo performing traditional songs and a belly dancer showing off her talents and beckoning kids to join her on the dance floor.
Then there’s the cuisine. Restaurant Marrakesh served up a variety of complex but approachable dishes, with a wide variety of spices and herbs producing authentic Moroccan dishes with nuance, but not necessarily intense flavor or spice. To the contrary, one of my favorite dishes here was the roasted lamb shank, which was fall off the bone tender. Even Signature Restaurants couldn’t compete with this.
Oh, and Restaurant Marrakesh was significantly cheaper than other restaurants. Due to its lack of popularity, the location frequently offered lunch specials or large samplers that were a bargain by Walt Disney World standards.
Now, if you’re wondering why I’m blathering on about Restaurant Marrakesh in a post about the Florida Blue Lounge that coincidentally inhabits the venue, the answer is simple: opportunism. You are something of a captive audience and I’m a big fan of Restaurant Marrakesh.
You might’ve noticed that I use “subtle” efforts to convince you to see Country Bear Jamboree by spreading the gospel according to Big Al in otherwise irrelevant posts. That’s a bit selfish, as every full theater goes a little further in ensuring its longevity. (It’s also just good fun and high art that’ll make you more cultured, so you’re welcome!)
Same idea here. I’m encouraging you to dine at Restaurant Marrakesh if/when it reopens. This is because I want the restaurant to thrive in the future and not close for 2+ years again. I also want you to enjoy a great meal in a nice setting, I guess.
Now let’s cover the expected highlights of the free Florida Blue Lounge in the Morocco pavilion.
Let’s start with what was offered last year. There were stations set up with self-service tap water and fruit-infused spa water. After grabbing cups of water (or wandering around taking photos of the architecture, as the case may be) and grabbing a seat, a snack cart came around to your table.
This cart offered 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 was also AHA flavored sparkling water.
When we first reported on the Florida Blue Lounge last year, you were allowed to select two snacks and a drink. Around October, this changed to one snack. Cutbacks strike Walt Disney World again! 😉
This year, the Florida Blue Lounge will be open for the 2022 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival starting September 3, 2022 and continuing through November 19, 2022 from noon until 6 pm daily.
No word yet on eligibility, but it’s expected that anyone will be able to enter, just like last year. It was not reserved for executives, employees, or even members. All you needed to do is show the Disney Guest Pass, which was a PDF on the Florida Blue website (that page has since been removed). The reason we are not expecting that to change is because the lounge was already incredibly underutilized last year when open to all.
UPDATE: Several commenters have indicated that they were denied access to the Florida Blue Lounge last year, starting as early as September. We never had any issues, through at least late October or early November. We’re not denying that others did–just pointing this out up here since it seems access was very YMMV last year. Hopefully Walt Disney World and/or Florida Blue get on the same page this year, and it’s clear whether access is for those with Florida Blue insurance or guests as well.
Last year, the Florida Blue Lounge originally intended upon requiring reservations in October when EPCOT got busier for the start of the 50th Anniversary. Neither of those things ever happened, but the circumstances could be different this year. Once the lounge actually opens and official policies are published, we’ll update this or share a report with our experience.
Suffice to say, 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.
This year, the free Florida Blue Lounge will offer even more.
In addition to light refreshments, there will be “selected entertainment like complimentary henna tattoos and more.”
Florida Blue Lounge guests will also enjoy VIP seating for Eat to the Beat.
As covered in our Guide to the 2022 Eat to the Beat Concert Series, buying the dining package for reserved seating is not really necessary–these concerts are not nearly as popular as Candlelight Processional. With that said, it will get you a better view closer to the stage. So that’s a plus.
Ultimately, we’re really excited about the return of the Florida Blue Lounge to Walt Disney World and wanted to give you an early heads up about its return, even though full details aren’t yet known.
Last year, there was a lot of confusion about this location that led to its “hiding in plain sight” status, even though literally anyone in EPCOT could have utilized it for free snacks, drinks, and a place to cool off and escape the crowds–all in the second-busiest World Showcase pavilion.
We’re personally really looking forward to this for a few of reasons. First, because we might’ve used the Florida Blue Lounge more than any other guests last year, and hope to break our own record this year. We really cannot overstate just how great of a guest benefit this lounge was for those who knew about it. Literally better than the DVC Lounge in EPCOT!
Second, because it exposes more of you to a criminally underrated World Showcase restaurant and perhaps piques your curiosity about returning for a proper meal. Whenever we share our favorite “hidden gem” restaurant locations, some other fans of those spots express disdain, not wanting the word to get out. Our view is that it’s much better than the alternative, which is closing or being reworked into something more popular and crowd-pleasing. (Part of me worries that this will come back as Aladdin character dining.)
Finally, because there’s gotta be a reason why Disney had the lounge relocated from Norway to Morocco, and hopefully this means Disney Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall is reopening in the next few months–we know that would make many of you very happy!
The bottom line is that we wanted to give you a heads up about this great location as early as possible so more of you could actually take advantage of it this year. You shouldn’t sleep on this overlooked lounge (again). 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. Plus, it’s not every day that you get something truly free at Walt Disney World!
Did you take advantage of the Florida Blue Lounge in EPCOT last year? Will you be visiting this free temporary refreshment spot on an upcoming visit to Walt Disney World in 2022? Excited about the opportunity to experience the design and details of Restaurant Marrakesh? Hopeful that this means Disney Princess Storybook Dining will be returning to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in late 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!