Home » Coffeeland: 8 “Starbucks in Disguise” Inside Disney and Universal Parks

Coffeeland: 8 “Starbucks in Disguise” Inside Disney and Universal Parks

If you were to ask his friends and family what Walt Disney was, you might get any number of answers: an animator; an artist; a dreamer; an optimist; a futurist… But that’s not all…

According to the fantastic Eat Like Walt by Marcy Carriker Smothers, Walt was also a restauranteur – a man experimenting right at the height of mid-century middle class American dining, introducing the idea that food and fun could go together; that food was full of color and fantasy; that food could be an integral part of the story of each of Disneyland’s themed areas.

Image: Walt Disney Archives

However, there was one area where even Walt wasn’t willing to mess around: coffee. As the story goes, Walt decreed back in 1955 that Disneyland would always offer a cup of coffee for ten-cents and not a penny more. And in fact, coffee in the park did cost only a dime until Walt’s death in 1966. Those days, of course, are long gone…

That’s partly because coffee has changed. An inescapable part of the story of the rise of premium coffees in American culture must be the founding of Starbucks in 1971 – coincidentally, the same year Walt Disney World opened!

Image: Starbucks

Over the last fifty years, Starbucks has played a massive role in elevating coffee from its simple brewed bean origins to a luxury product customizable with decadent drink options, frozen-and-flavored caffinated concoctions, and seasonal staples baristas can set their calendars by. Starbucks stores have been incorporated into Downtown Disney, Universal’s CityWalk, and other “lessee” shop spaces for decades. But the coffee giant was like any other retailer renting property in those retail malls.

Then, in 2012, the inevitable became real when Disney and Starbucks announced a partnership that would bring a real Starbucks into each of the six U.S. Disney Parks. But of course, setting a Starbucks down on Main Street wouldn’t exactly jive… which is why we’re taking a cross-country tour to see how Starbucks was “disguised” for each Disney Park!

1. Disney California Adventure

Image: Disney

Disguise: Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café
Land: Buena Vista Street
Opened: June 15, 2012

Believe it or not, the first ever Starbucks inside a Disney Park was built at Disney California Adventure, unveiled alongside the park’s billion-dollar Grand Reopening on June 15, 2012. It can be found along the park’s iconic Buena Vista Street – its “Main Street” equivalent – that transports guests to a romanticized and idealized 1920s Los Angeles. Amid elegant department stores, artist lofts, bubbling tile fountains, and the graceful Red Car Trolley, Starbucks is hidden in plain sight as… well… a coffee shop! 

Image: Disney

Along Buena Vista Street, you’ll find the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café (named in-universe for a trio of lounge singers who frequent the nearby Hollywood Tower Hotel’s Tip-Top Club, but truly an allusion to the names of the Three Little Pigs in Disney’s 1933 Silly Symphony cartoon). Set directly in the shadow of the Carthay Circle Theater, the jazzy interior is adorned with posters and black-and-white photographs of the “Silver Lake Sisters” live shows around Southern California. Though the high-capacity café is more cafeteria than cozy, it feels appropriately bustling for the big city it’s meant to recreate.

Image: greentleaf, Flickr (license)

Naturally, Starbucks baristas inside the elegantly-stylized restaurant wear 1920s-inspired attire. Another charming detail? Rather than displaying Starbucks’ corporate logo, Imagineers got the rare clearance to use Starbucks’ original, vintage logo, stamped gold on a brown sign.

Though Imagineers and Starbucks went to great lengths to ensure that the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Café recalls the Los Angeles Walt first experienced when he arrived in 1923, note that all the coffee prices are startlingly modern.

2. Magic Kingdom

Image: Disney

Disguise: Main Street Bakery
Land: Main Street, U.S.A.
Opened: June 18, 2013

The second Starbucks to make its way to Disney Parks opened almost exactly one year later – the Main Street Bakery at Magic Kingdom. It’s also the first example of Disney recrafting one of their own food service locations to become a Starbucks rather than California Adventure’s from-scratch build.

The Bakery also perfectly balances maintaining Disney’s in-universe storytelling style while clearly communicating to customers that Starbucks can be found within. The Bakery is earthy and upscale, with a stamped copper ceiling, a green patina color scheme, dark wood, and glowing chandliers. The very large, very exquisite space is fittingly ornate for Magic Kingdom’s Main Street (which was designed to be more East Coast than Disneyland’s Midwest). As you’d expect, Cast Members wear costumes consistent with the early 20th century look and feel of Main Street, U.S.A.

Image: Disney

Another thing this not-so-secret Starbucks gets right? It’s immensely high-capacity. That’s important given that Magic Kingdom is the highest-attended theme park on Earth, and that an incredible percentage of parents make a bee-line for coffee first thing in the morning. In the name of that capacity, however, this coffee shop is “standing room only,” encouraging guests to get their morning brew and get moving – and in a fast-paced park like Magic Kingdom, who needs a place to sit, sip, and savor? 

For everyone else, the Main Street Bakery still functions as it did before Starbucks’ move – as the perfect place to grab a scone, muffin, or cookie during the day. As for the Disney-made baked goods that formerly called the Bakery home? Disney smartly transferred their own popular treats to other locations in the park. The Bakery’s beloved cinnamon rolls were moved to Gaston’s Tavern in Fantasyland, while ice cream sandwiches moved just down the street to the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor.

3. Epcot

Image: Disney

Disguise: In transition
Land: Future World / World Celebration
Opened: Fountainview (September 4, 2013); Rose Walk (December 20, 2019)

When EPCOT Center opened in 1982, the Sunrise Terrance restaurant was prominently featured in the parenthesis-shaped Communicore West building. After shifting menus over three decades selling fried chicken, then Italian food, then espresso, then ice cream, the restaurant – by that time called Fountain View for its prominent location overlooking Epcot’s Fountain of Nations – had developed a very ’90s style of neon lights, metallic accents, and saturated color tiles. It was a look that pulled Future World into the past.

Image: Disney

That’s why Starbucks’ arrival in Epcot wasn’t fretted over, but celebrated. True to expectactions, Starbucks’ touch massively modernized Fountain View. The building’s walls were pushed out (more or less eliminating the restaurant’s outdoor seating with its eponymous fountain view) but the reward was a sleek, colorful, and – dare we say? – futuristic spot for a morning coffee. The new Starbucks featured a glowing wave ceiling with glass and wood accents throughout. 

While California Adventure and Magic Kingdom’s historic, story-based Starbucks use an old-school vintage brass logo, Epcot’s went just the opposite direction, adapting a specially-approved transluscent version of Starbucks’ fabled siren. It was a cool, smart way of identifying the brand amid Future World’s stylized aesthetic.

Image: Disney

At the bi-annual D23 Expo in 2019, Disney announced an ambitious reimagining of the style and substance of Future World. The transformation would include the unfortunate removal of the iconic Fountain of Nations, which would leave Fountain View without a fountain or a view. That’s fine, of course, since all of the Innoventions West building would be torn down, too.

On September 7, 2019, the third Disney Parks Starbucks to open became the first to close. Don’t worry – Starbucks was relocated to a temporary, walk-up-only spot closer to the park’s entrance, opening just in time for holiday crowds in December 2019. Once all is said and done, the new Epcot’s “World Celebration” realm will undoubtedly feature a permanent Starbucks in a much more prominent location.

4. Disneyland

Image: Disney

Disguise: Market House
Land: Main Street, U.S.A.
Opened: September 25, 2013

Dropping a Starbucks into Disneyland might’ve been a major frustration for fans… and not just because the Market House was where Walt’s famous 10-cent cups of coffee were. Akin to putting a McDonald’s in Frontierland, some fans fought back against the idea of the reality-shattering modern coffee brand being shoehorned into a turn-of-the-century American town. Of course, Disney wouldn’t have allowed such an embarassing intrusion, and the transformation of the Market House was done thoughtfully and carefully.

Image: Disney

The result is a beautiful dark wood coffee shop that feels immensely more intimate than Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Bakery. (Continuing the classic comparison of Disneyland being more cozy than its corporate-designed younger sister in Florida.) Again, that makes sense; Disneyland’s Main Street is, altogether, “simpler,” with far less ornate architecture lending itself to belonging to a much different town than Magic Kingdom’s grander and more elaborate city street. This coffee shop fits that vibe surprisingly well. It’s darker and more compact, with hidden Easter eggs, dark wallpaper, brass railings, and simple light fixtures (versus Magic Kingdom’s chandeliers).

Plus, the Market House was expanded into the nearby Disneyana shop to up the coffee shop’s capacity, and in so doing, created a comfortable, warm book nook corner of towering bookshelves that’s entirely charming, and completely appropriate for this Main Street. It also means that both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure’s Starbucks locations have charming dining rooms to actually sit and relax – a natural fit for the calmer resort compared to the high-capacity, go-go-go Starbucks at Disney World that lack tables or booths.

Image: Disney

In fact, despite being in the second-busiest theme park on Earth, this may be one of the most attractive Starbucks on Earth, lit by simple brass lamps and encased in a warm, 1900s atmosphere that continues right to baristas’ costumes. Smartly, the Market House is located about halfway down Main Street, making it perfectly placed for guests entering, exiting, and circumnavigating the park. 

5. Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Image: Universal Orlando

Disguise: Starbucks Coffee Co.
Land: Port of Entry
Opened: February 4, 2014

Though Disney didn’t open any in-park Starbucks locations in 2014, their competitors did. Just a few miles from Walt Disney World, Universal’s Islands of Adventure debuted a Starbucks of its own, in the highly-detailed and beautiful Port of Entry. In keeping with the land’s exploratory theme, Starbucks was placed in a beautiful, exotic temple along the park’s Great Sea with vines crawling across its northern face and its thick wooden sign.

Image: Universal Orlando

But once through the ornate entry, guests find themselves in… well… any corporate Starbucks. It’s especially unfortunate that Universal wouldn’t go the extra mile given 1) that every other shop and restaurant in Port of Entry carefully adheres to the land’s ancient and adventurous theme and 2) that Disney was opening its own in-park Starbucks at the same time and using their individualized, park-appropriate theming as part of the draw!

The location replaced Arctic Express, an ice cream walk-up window that opened with the park (and, in a bit of a park history Easter egg, retains a map mural of icy blown winds and swimming penguins on its exterior). It’s also perfectly positioned within the land’s main entry, but also along the path that circumnavigates the park, giving guests plenty of opportunities for refills.

6. Universal Studios Florida

Image: Universal Orlando

Disguise: Games of Amusement – Starbucks Coffee
Land: New York
Opened: February 4, 2014

Though technically you probably wouldn’t expect a Starbucks in a 1900s Midwest downtown or a 1920s Los Angeles, Universal Studios Florida placed its Starbucks in a picture-perfect place: New York. In fact, this park’s “Seattle Staple on the Streets of New York” is on the corner of 5th Ave. and South St., in a repurposed Games of Amusement hall. There’s an extra level of brilliance here since Starbucks is a leader in such “adaptive re-use,” appropriating older, classic buildings with its modern shops.

In other words, it’s entirely appropriate that this Starbucks is “hiding in plain sight” among the streetscape clutter of New York while prominently featuring a vintage sign completely unrelated to what’s within! And indeed, like at Islands of Adventure – though much more forgivably here – the Starbucks within is your off-the-shelf corporate store.

Image: Universal Orlando

With that being said, both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are unique in the theme park world in that most guests don’t set course for coffee when the park gates open… They’ve got another drink in mind. Despite “secret menu” Starbucks hacks claiming to duplicate the proprietary taste of the Wizarding World’s Butterbeer, most guests head into the parks looking for the real thing, making Starbucks just a little less essential at Universal that it is at Disney Parks.

7. Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Image: Disney

Disguise: Trolley Car Café
Land: Hollywood Blvd.
Opened: June 19, 2015

The recreation of Culver City, California’s Ivy Substation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios has seen far more uses than the real Substation did, and in a much shorter lifetime. We traced them all in our look at the REAL History of 6 Hollywood Icons Recreated at Disney Parks. But in 2014, after years serving as the park’s intentionally-cluttered Cinema Storage gift shop, the space shut down to be reimagined.

Image: Disney

When it re-opened, it was the Trolley Car Café. Trolley Car Café blends beautifully into Hollywood Blvd. with the “vintage” Starbucks logo and neon sign feeling just right along the park’s entry land. Now the interior is bright, open, and nods to the Ivy Substation with electrical supply rigs.

8. Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Image: Disney

Disguise: Creature Comforts
Land: Discovery Island
Opened: June 19, 2015

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is interesting among Disney Parks, as its “Main Street” equivalent – The Oasis – is a sanctuary of nature. You won’t find gift shops or coffee shops along that gorgeous natural garden of animal habitats, jungle paths, and waterfalls. However, once guests pass into the park’s central Discovery Island, they find themselves into a crafted artisan village of saturated colors and celebrations of animals. It’s here among the roots of the Tree of Life that the park’s essential shops and restaurants are located.

Image: Disney

It’s here that guests will find Creature Comforts, which was reimagined into the park’s Starbucks in summer 2015. With a carved wooden style adapting bold patterns, this Starbucks was designed with African design elements such as geometric designs and carvings, warm colors, African maasai shield designs, and hand-painted coffee beans. It’s also the perfect spot to grab a drink before wandering the Discovery Island Trails that snake through the Tree’s grottos and roots. 

There’s really only one downside to Animal Kingdom’s Starbucks: it’s not really along the park’s main entry. While perfectly placed for guests who make way for Kilimajaro Safaris first thing in the morning, the opening of Pandora: The World of Avatar essentially created a new main flow for the park that bypasses Creature Comforts entirely. Of course, in such a sprawling park (and one dedicated to exploration, nonetheless), perhaps it’s important that guests be challenged with finding their morning coffee rather than simply stumbling across it.

Image: Disney

To its credit, it’s definitely the only Starbucks we know of where guests can also sit back and watch cotton-tailed tamarins leap from tree-to-tree as they sip and relax. Plus, in keeping with Animal Kingdom’s conservation message, any purchase of a Flat White benefits Disney’s conservation program for tamarins in Colombia. Why a Flat White? The drink was selected because of the creamy white dollop on top, similar to the crest of white hair that extends from the animal’s forehead to the nape of its neck.