Restaurant Mystery at Magic Kingdom

Something’s up with the dining scene at Magic Kingdom. From new construction permits to a surprise restaurant closure to radio silence about another counter service spot that’s expected to be reimagined, there’s enough to qualify this as a bona fide Walt Disney World mystery. And that’s just a partial list of what’s happening–or isn’t!

Let’s start with what has not happened, and that’s an announcement of Tiana’s Palace in Magic Kingdom. Back during the last D23 Expo, Imagineers let slip that they were working on Tiana’s Palace Restaurant for both coasts. The company later “clarified” that only Tiana’s Palace Restaurant for Disneyland was official at that time, and that restaurant has since opened. (It’s currently our #1 counter service spot in the park.)

Since then, it’s been radio silence from Disney about Tiana’s Palace in Magic Kingdom or anywhere else at Walt Disney World. It’s likely that the Walt Disney World version of Tiana’s Palace Restaurant wasn’t announced at the same time as the Disneyland version because it wasn’t actually greenlit or because they hadn’t settled on a specific spot. It still seemed like a foregone conclusion that it would happen–and probably replacing Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe since Imagineers were spotted poking around there on multiple occasions…which doesn’t strike us as a spot they’d hang out of their own volition. Now, we’re not so sure.

For one thing, a lot of time has passed. There was a time when it made the most sense to reimagine a restaurant into Tiana’s Palace, and that was when Disneyland did it. Ahead of the attraction, offering a way to generate interest for the reimagined ride during the closure. Failing that, having the restaurant ready by the time Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opened would’ve made the second-most sense.

That window of opportunity is closed. Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is now here, and it doesn’t make as much sense to embark on a reimagining now, only to have the restaurant open in a year, right as the ‘new ride smell’ has worn off the attraction. As perfect of a theme park concept as Tiana’s Palace Restaurant is, I also think Princess and the Frog is too ‘minor’ of a movie to receive a ride and a restaurant.

Then again, Disney has really leaned into Princess Tiana over the last several years and it really does just make sense for her to have a restaurant. It’s also not just the movie–there’s also a Disney+ series on the horizon, so there’s potential future synergy there. And it’s not like Pecos Bill is exactly a hot property. (Unless Disney is planning a live action remake of the live action remake from 1995 starring Patrick Swayze.)

Nevertheless, my gut says that Tiana’s Palace is unlikely to be announced at the 2024 D23 Expo in August. That the scale and scope of converting the existing Pecos Bill restaurant into Tiana’s Palace is too big of a project and not worth the investment or downtime. I think Disney is ready to look forward to the big additions for the next decade, not linger on the past and present. What I could see is Walt Disney World adding Tiana’s Palace down the road if the Disney+ series proves successful or there’s a sequel.

Even then, I think it’s just as likely to end up at a resort as in Magic Kingdom. No, not Port Orleans French Quarter. As thematically perfect as that would be, there’s a reason the Port Orleans Resorts share one table service spot–demand. If it goes anywhere, it’ll go at a Deluxe Resort and my guess would be as a split concept character breakfast/Signature Restaurant a la Topolino’s Terrace. Remember, Tiana’s Palace was announced for the cancelled-but-maybe-resurrected Reflections Lakeside Lodge.

With all of that said, I do think something will happen with Pecos Bill. The underlying IP is almost certainly viewed as “outdated” in Disney’s eyes, and ripe for replacement. However, I think if a change is made, it’ll be very superficial–probably just the name, signage, and a bit of placemaking. (Sorta similar to San Fransokyo Square at DCA, but not even as ambitious as that.) If this is on the table, I’d humbly suggest “Sammy’s Raccoon Saloon” or “Big Al’s BBQ Barn.” Or even just revive the Mile Long Bar moniker. Give us Country Bear fans a win.

I just hope something happens with the current concept. As we covered in The Death of Pecos Bill, it just isn’t very good anymore. I’d love to be wrong and for an ambitious Tiana’s Palace Restaurant reimagining to happen–as it truly is exceptional at Disneyland and tailor-made for a theme park. I’d also be fine with something more superficial like a name and signage change–so long as it also comes with a menu overhaul that includes more inventive cuisine and–hopefully–a return of the toppings bar!

Now that we’ve covered what hasn’t happening, let’s turn to what probably is starting fairly soon. That’s the Pirates of the Caribbean Tavern Coming to Magic Kingdom. This was announced at last year’s Destination D23 event–roughly 10 months ago–and Walt Disney World hasn’t said anything about it since that one, brief mention.

Honestly, we kind of hoped that it would be open by now. Don’t laugh or make a snide comment about WDW construction timelines. Remember that this is a bar, otherwise known as a cash-cow, and Disney has no problems moving fast of things that generate revenue. Look at how quickly the Poly Island Tower is being built!

The big question is where the Pirates of the Caribbean lounge will go. Many fans have made logical inference that it will replace Tortuga Tavern as that’s the obvious location for the Pirates of the Caribbean bar–the restaurant closest to the ride. Previously, we expressed skepticism about this for a number of reasons.

I’m not going to rehash all of those, but the two big ones are restaurant capacity/size and the concept art itself. The PotC Tavern art looks like the inside of now-closed and unused Pirates League more than anything else. Additionally, the interior of Pirates League is already beautiful and it’s the same kind of intimate space as Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto or Oga’s Cantina. Converting Pirates League to a Pirates Lounge is the easiest option, by far. Given all of that, I assumed it would happen–and fast.

However, now I’m also not so sure about this! Once again, given the passage of time, I’m starting to suspect another possibility. That Imagineering was tasked with coming up for announcements for Destination D23, as Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro started to feel pressure from fans and (more importantly to the company) investors. That Disney was comfortable greenlighting a Pirates of the Caribbean bar (because it’s a cash cow), but they hadn’t settled on a location. So they created concept art that looks like Pirates League, but didn’t commit to that spot.

In such a purely hypothetical scenario, the delay makes more sense if the scale and scope of the Pirates of the Caribbean tavern have expanded and it’s now going to take over Tortuga Tavern. And such a decision would make sense because, again, bars are a license to print money for Walt Disney World. Not only that, but Tortuga Tavern was only seasonal and whatever counter service capacity it did offer could be found elsewhere. (At one of the many other unused dining venues at Magic Kingdom.)

Suffice to say, the Pirates of the Caribbean tavern is one case where it makes sense for Disney to bet bigger rather than scale back plans! This would also leave the vacant Pirates League open for other uses. It could reopen as retail, revive the makeover concept, or become something else entirely. Remember that Disney currently has multiple Pirates of the Caribbean projects currently in development, so it might make sense from a synergy perspective. I speak for everyone when I say that the world needs more pirate and dinosaur movies (preferably films combining the two).

To make abundantly clear, everything up until this point is purely speculative. I don’t know where the Pirates of the Caribbean tavern or a possible Tiana’s Palace are going, or what’s happening with Pirates League. The point with all of the above is to illustrate that there are a lot of moving parts, and what was once considered a “done deal” for one of those (Tiana’s Palace) now seems highly improbable. So it’s not far-fetched to believe other things have changed, too.

Which brings us to a couple of really-for-real developments in this corner of Magic Kingdom. The first is that Tortuga Tavern has closed as of mid-June 2024. Menus have been removed, cash wraps have been covered up, and no hours are listed as far out as the official calendar goes. All of this suggests that Tortuga Tavern is closed indefinitely.

Honestly, if this were the only thing happening, we wouldn’t even be reporting on it. Tortuga Tavern has, frustratingly, been seasonal for a while. It’s one of several counter service spots in the world’s busiest theme park that isn’t open regularly–or at all. A park that has less quick service capacity than it did just a few years ago back when this, Tomorrowland Terrace, Aunt Polly’s, and Be Our Guest Restaurant all were open for lunch during peak season. (Not 100% sure, but Magic Kingdom might have less counter service capacity than it did in the 1990s.)

Point being, it’s not exactly breaking news that Tortuga Tavern is closing for the summer. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not the peak season. Crowds should be on the low end of moderate for the next couple of months, and then flat-out low for another month or so more after that. Tortuga Tavern’s capacity may not be “necessary” (air quotes) until mid-October. The one wild card this year is the return of Free Dining, with arrival dates beginning on July 1, 2024. I could see that necessitating more dining capacity at Magic Kingdom, even if there are minimal material changes in crowds.

In addition to this, Walt Disney World has filed a construction permit for Magic Kingdom’s Caribbean Plaza area, which encompasses the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and more. There are a few things that are interesting about this.

The first is that it’s assigned to Whiting-Turner Contractor Company, which is a frequent collaborator with Walt Disney World on relatively major projects. They’re usually building venues, not renovating restrooms. (So it sounds like our beloved bathrooms tucked away in Caribbean Plaza are safe…for now!)

Second, the permit has been extended until August 31, 2025. The default 1-year timeline is never noteworthy, but shorter or longer ones always are, as they’re extended or reduced purposefully. Meaning that there’s a reason for doing so. In this case, that’s because the work is expected to take longer than one year. Obviously, that suggests a project that’s larger in scope and scale. Again, probably not a restroom renovation. (Phew.)

Given that, all signs would point to a reimagining of Tortuga Tavern into the Pirates of the Caribbean Tavern. It makes perfect sense. Tortuga Tavern will need major changes to become a bona fide bar as opposed to a walk-up window with open-air seating. And that work will probably take until the end of next summer.

Plot twist. The address on the permit is 4873 Caribbean Way #B. Unless I am mistaken (always a possibility), this aligns with only the portion of Caribbean Plaza on the same side of the promenade as the attraction. Meaning that it encompasses the ride and (unfortunately) the restrooms, but also the Pirates League and all of the gift shops in between.

Double plot twist. The permit is via Walt Disney World’s Facility Asset Management (FAM) group rather than Walt Disney Imagineering. This alone suggests that it’s a project that’s more minor in nature, making a Tortuga Tavern reimagining unlikely. For reference, the last high-profile permit that was assigned to FAM was the lengthy permit for Journey into Imagination…which turned out to be related to the DVC lounge.

Ultimately, all of this is a long-winded way of saying we don’t know what will happen–but that there’s a lot of “activity” in this area resulting in an active mystery in Magic Kingdom’s dining scene. I have zero inside information so this is purely speculative, but my guess is that Tortuga Tavern is the new home for the Pirates of the Caribbean Lounge and that this permit is unrelated to that, and instead involves the Pirates League or adjacent gift shops and repurposing those spaces–a project that wouldn’t necessarily require Imagineering. I can’t imagine that’ll actually take until next August, though, so I don’t know how to explain that. I guess it’s also possible that they listed the wrong address? I guess we’ll find out soon when construction walls go up (or don’t) or perhaps by the D23 Expo in a couple months. Either way, we’ll keep you posted!

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think about Magic Kingdom getting a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed lounge? Would you prefer to see this replace Tortuga Tavern and have an abundance of seating that would make it easier to access? Or would you prefer the intimacy, exclusivity, and challenging ADRs that would come with the Pirates League? Thoughts on the likelihood of Tiana’s Palace coming to Walt Disney World? 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!

14 Responses to “Restaurant Mystery at Magic Kingdom”
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