You’ve been pounding the parks like a champion, and now it’s time to relax with something cold and interesting, with a great view and a friendly bartender. Here are our Top Five Chill-Out Spots at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
Duff Brewery: Because “You can’t get enough of that wonderful Duff”! When the Simpson’s invaded Universal Studios it was a shoe-in Homer’s favourite beer would make a showing, but who knew we’d get the whole brewery? Or at least a bar that calls itself a brewery. And while it’s a rather worrisome brew in the cartoon version of The Simpsons, it’s actually hand-crafted by Florida Beer Company, in three different styles: Duff Light (light ale), Duff (American Pale Ale), and Duff Dry (Porter), with the occasional addition of a seasonal beer (Dufftoberfest, I’m looking at you!). Homer’s local, Moe’s Tavern, serves up all three, but you want the waterside open-air ‘brewery’ with covered and uncovered seating. Sit by the lagoon if the weather cooperates, for a fabulous view of the park, especially Rip Ride Rockit, which looks fantastic at night.
The only food offerings here are packets of crisps and foot-long hot dogs, but the Springfield food court right across the walkway has take-aways. And one of the big bonuses is, Duff’s is open right up to park closing, so you can let the hordes exit, then take a leisurely stroll out.
Chez Alcatraz: Think of Alcatraz and you think of soft sea-side breezes, blissful relaxation, and great beer, right? Okay, maybe not. But just because the Island in the middle of California’s San Francisco Bay made its name as an inescapable prison housing baddies such as Al Capone and George “Machine-Gun” Kelly doesn’t mean its namesake at Universal Studios isn’t a waterside retreat, where freedom is the name of the game. Freedom from the crowds, the heat, and a burning summertime thirst. Put the word ‘Chez’ in front of anything and it becomes just that bit fancier, so the name here is doubly inaccurate (it’s not an island prison and it’s anything but fancy), but it’s one of the park’s true overlooked gems, serving sandwiches, flatbread, shrimp cocktail, lobster rolls, clam chowder, and seasoned house-made crisps, along with a full bar and a view of the marina.
If you stop by for a drink, try The Rock (Jim Beam Bourbon, sour mix, Sprite, and fresh mint) because Alcatraz’s nickname was “The Rock”, so it’s story-appropriate. Or order up a Shark Attack (Malibu Coconut Rum, Blue Curaҫau, pineapple juice and a dash of Grenadine) and raise your glass to Bruce, the shark from the former Jaws attraction that used to scare the living daylights out of guests in the area where Diagon Alley now stands. Bruce lives on, though, and when you grab a cooling drink and a snack at this outdoor bar you’ll be sitting in his shadow. Located in the San Francisco area of Universal Studios, it’s open from 11am until 15 minutes before park closing.
Finnegan’s Bar and Grill: Americans have a fascination with Irish pubs, and every town seems to have one, as does the New York section of Universal Studios. That said, Finnegan’s is Irish in the same way corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day is Irish, meaning: it’s not very Emerald Isle; instead it’s pleasingly American-Irish. Further culture-confusion permeates the menu, with Fish-and-chips, Shepherd’s Pie, Cornish Pasti’s, Scotch Eggs and Bangers and Mash, but that’s part of its charm. And besides, you’re here for a chill-out, which means you’ll be sitting in the bar rather than the livelier restaurant. Not that the bar is overly quiet; far from it, especially when there’s footy on the telly or live music in residence.
Finnegan’s full-service bar has 8 beers on draft, including Smithwicks, Guinness, Tennents, Harp, and Strongbow Cider, plus 10 bottled beers and 4 beer “cocktails”. Or try the Irish Shake, a combination of Guinness Stout blended with a vanilla shake, then go one better with a Bailey’s Irish Cream or Jameson’s Irish Whiskey floater. It’s so delicious your eyes will roll and your mouth will make “yummy” sounds! Located in the New York section of the park, it’s open from 11am until apx two hours before park closing.
The Hog’s Head Pub: Yes, it’s frantic and filled with people either avoiding the long queues for Butterbeer at the outdoor carts, or looking for the toilets (they’re next door). But don’t worry; this is still a great chill-out spot, and we’ll tell you why: the half-round booth at the back of the bar. Peek in the front door to make sure it’s unoccupied and make a bee-line for it if it is. Like pubs in the UK, this one requires you to come up to the bar to order, which is a good thing. It means you’ll only be bothered when you want to be bothered, and that little cubby-hole you’re relaxing in becomes your safe-haven from the crowds.
It’s all about the drinks here, with the pub’s own Hog’s Head Brew (red ale), plus Stella Artois, Guinness, Strongbow Cider, London Pride, Boddington’s and Tennent’s. Wine, spirits, and wizard-appropriate cocktails are also available, as are non-alcoholic drinks, including Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice.
If the weather is nice and you want a more festive beer-garden atmosphere, snag a spot outdoors for a riverside view that feels light-years away from the hustle-bustle, especially in the evening. Located in the Hogsmeade area of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the pub is open from 9am until park closing.
Backwater Bar: And finally, our favourite. Why? We don’t know. Do we have to have a reason? It’s indoors, so Florida’s famous afternoon thunderstorms don’t matter, and it’s air conditioned, so Florida’s famous heat and humidity don’t matter. But more than that, it’s cozy. It’s comfortable. And the bartenders have the kind of laid-back, laissez fair attitude we so enjoy. Want to be left alone? No problem. Feel like chatting? They’re right there with you. Priceless.
Draft beers are limited, with Shocktop, Yuengling and Sam Adams being the best of them, but there are domestic, imported and craft beers by the bottle, and a good selection of wines and cocktails. The full menu from Confisco’s restaurant (just through a doorway) is available in the bar, and there is a daily Happy Hour from 4pm-7pm. Backwater is located between Port of Entry and Seuss Landing, and is open from 11am until park closing.
You’ve invested a lot of time, money, and effort into your holiday, and while the natural impulse is to rush around like crazy fitting as much in as possible, from experience we can assure you that slowing down, chilling out for an hour, and enjoying the parks from a seat at the bar might just be the highlight of your day.