Tortuga Tavern is a Magic Kingdom counter service restaurant at Walt Disney World, serving a limited menu of BBQ. In this post, we’ll finally review this elusive dining option, which is located around the corner from Pecos Bill and only open seasonally.
In a way, Tortuga Tavern has been our white whale. I say “in a way” not because we always miss out on when it’s open, but because we do dine here (reluctantly) when it’s open, with the goal of reviewing it, only to hesitate for too long in publishing the review and then having the menu change on us.
Over the years, we’ve done two different menus with variations of Mexican cuisine here (more like Taco Bell than real Mexican food) along with the BBQ on Texas Toast iteration of the menu before the current scaled back BBQ version of the menu. None of these menus have been inspired, with even the also-seasonal Tomorrowland Terrace consistently featuring a better revolving-door menu…
Before we dig into the bulk of this review, let’s cover the basics, which are the same for Tortuga Tavern as every other counter service restaurant in Magic Kingdom. Tortuga Tavern participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit counter service restaurant, but does not accept the Tables in Wonderland card. It’s not a good use of a DDP credit.
In terms of ambiance, Tortuga Tavern is Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired, although you probably wouldn’t notice upon casual inspection. At quick glance, it’s like a slightly pirate-y version of Pecos Bill.
Tortuga Tavern is actually one of the newer additions to Adventureland’s Caribbean Plaza, having replaced the former quick service restaurant El Pirata Y El Perico a little over 5 years ago. The pirate flags above the door are the first sign of this, followed by the ‘Code of Conduct’ (although, personally, I think Tortuga Tavern could use some roaming monkeys to spice things up) inside by the ordering kiosks.
These are the obvious things that most guests will see, along with decor scattered about that’s reminiscent of what’s in the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, plus books used to sign up pirate crews and a large mural of Blackbeard.
Then there are the details most people will miss, me included. It turns out that the proprietor of Tortuga Tavern is “A. Smith,” which refers to Arabella Smith, a character from the Young Jack Sparrow books. A. Smith is a teenager whose father runs a tavern in Tortuga called “the Faithful Bride.” A sign for this establishment is visible outside Tortuga Tavern.
As the backstory goes, Arabella Smith returned to Tortuga in 1673 to take over from her father as operator of the renamed Tortuga Tavern. In the restaurant’s open-air courtyard, there’s a stairway to her residence outside of which her hat and coat can be seen.
A surprising amount of effort went into converting El Pirata Y El Perico into Tortuga Tavern, and I recall hearing a lot of other (now-forgotten) details at a D23 event several years ago. This was during the second phase of turning Caribbean Plaza into more of a pirate-y place, an effort that is now slowly being peeled back.
The seating area at Tortuga Tavern is surprisingly large and it connects to Pecos Bill (meaning they could share seating…or you could walk through the inside to use the toppings bar at Pecos Bill, if you so desired). Between that and the effort to ‘enhance’ the restaurant, it’s a bit surprising Tortuga Tavern isn’t open with more regularity. Perhaps it’ll be necessary to have it open daily during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary?
The current incarnation of the menu at Tortuga Tavern is the most limited it has been since we’ve been dining here. At present, there’s only one unique item: Chipotle Barbecue Short Rib Sandwich served with citrus slaw and a side of chips.
I thought this sandwich was fine. Certainly better than other entrees I’ve had at Tortuga Tavern, but hardly anything special–and definitely not worth the money.
The short rib was more like pork spare rib than it was short rib, which is not at all what I expected. For the price, I was hoping for something meaty and hefty, but this sandwich was not quite as substantial as I would’ve liked.
The taste was passable, but again, not what I expected and not even remotely filling. If you’re even remotely hungry, you’re much better off ordering something–anything–from Pecos Bill and making a trip to the toppings bar.
Other than that, the menu at Tortuga Tavern is boring. The turkey leg you can find elsewhere in Magic Kingdom and the hot dog is indistinguishable from Casey’s Corner, so we didn’t even bother with those.
It befuddles me that Magic Kingdom doesn’t offer a more robust, permanent menu at both Tortuga Tavern and Tomorrowland Terrace. With Pecos Bill and Cosmic Ray’s perpetually madhouses, there’s clearly the demand for more dining in Magic Kingdom. Heck, the situation is so bad at Cosmic Ray’s that they’ve had to expand their seating areas and close certain entrances to properly route traffic.
When they’re open, we’ve never seen Tortuga Tavern or Tomorrowland Terrace with even a fraction of the crowds as those popular Magic Kingdom spots, but there are a couple of explanations for that. By not being consistently open, there’s a dearth of planning info about these restaurants. Most importantly, the menus at Tortuga Tavern and Tomorrowland Terrace leave a lot to be desired.
Location is also consistently blamed for the lack of popularity of each venue. That’s a possibility, but it’s not as if Big Thunder Mountain naturally would see a lot of foot traffic, yet it seems to draw crowds. While Tortuga Tavern is obviously no Big Thunder, there are certainly ways for it to draw crowds to ease the burden on other restaurants.
My Disney Experience notifications when guests walk past the front entrance would be one easy way (I get these constantly for Electric Umbrella and Lunching Pad). Prominent info on park maps would be another way. Finally, the simplest way would be better menus. Having a more diverse menu with delicious or “Instagram-able” items would work. If the internet can make 2-foot long hot dogs a popular item, it can do the same with the food at Tortuga Tavern.
That’s really about all there is to say about Tortuga Tavern. The menu will probably be different three weeks from now, so I’m not sure what value this review offers to those planning Walt Disney World trips for next year or beyond, but I will say that Tortuga Tavern has not once had a good menu since it became Tortuga Tavern over 5 years ago. Until a concerted effort is made at turning this into a permanent, full-time counter service restaurant, we would recommend avoiding it.
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