May 24, 2024

Animal Kingdom’s Culinary Escape from Crowds

Animal Kingdom has a lot going for it, but it’s also arguably the most tiring park at Walt Disney World. That’s especially true if you get up at the crack of dawn for Early Entry, race around at rope drop, or bounce around redeeming Genie+ Lightning Lane selections.

Suffice to say, a day at DAK can be exhausting. To add insult to injury, many highly scientific studies have shown it to have the hottest and most humid weather at Walt Disney World. (Okay, not really…and the last time I mentioned this, several of you vehemently disagreed, so let’s file that one under “disputed claim.”)

Regardless, the weather in Florida is uncomfortable about 9 months of the year, and although its themed lands suggest otherwise, Animal Kingdom is located on planet earth and in the U.S. state of Florida. One of the keys to beating the heat and savoring a day at Walt Disney World is taking the time to slow down and decompress. Literally and figuratively, to digest things to greater appreciate the parks and build strong memories of the experience.

Each park has places like this that offer a reprieve from the crowds and a nice place to enjoy a relaxing meal. We already shared our favorite such spot in Magic Kingdom, and now, we’re bouncing over to the other kingdom for a similar story. This spot is hiding in plain sight, attached to one of the Top 10 Table Service Restaurants at Walt Disney World.

Of course, we’re talking about Nomad Lounge. This family-friendly bar is located towards the front of the park, nestled between Pizzafari (a not-so-hidden, not-so-gem) and the pathway to Pandora – World of Avatar. This has become one of Animal Kingdom’s main thoroughfares, and yet, Nomad Lounge still keeps a relatively low profile.

Jumping right into what makes Nomad Lounge special, let’s start with the menu’s introduction…

Welcome Travelers, to the Nomad Lounge, a place to share stories about travel and adventure.

The work of Disney’s Animal Kingdom requires travel, both by the artists who create the park and the animal experts who care for her inhabitants. Our trips are about research, but they are also about understanding cultures, exploring environments, and having unique experiences.

These trips are important to the work, but they also change us in unexpected ways. Travel has a way of doing that.

In fact, the concept of being transformed by adventure is a key idea behind the design of this park. Travel opens your eyes and inspires as many questions as it provides answers.

Now is your chance. We want you to enjoy Nomad Lounge and feel comfortable sharing your own stories of travel and adventure. If you’ve traveled the world or stayed close to home, it does not matter. The spirit of travel is the same.

This is accomplished via hanging banners in the center of the lounge and around the walls, each of which pose a different question about traveling the world, the thrill of discovery, and transformative nature of experiencing foreign cultures.

During your visit to Nomad Lounge, you might be given the opportunity to jot down answers to these questions on decorative tags provided by Cast Members. Later, your responses will be hung on a “tag chandelier” suspended above the bar (pictured above).

This really sets the tone for Nomad Lounge. It’s a relatively simple and straightforward concept, but one that we’ve found prompts interesting discussion and dialogue, along with reflection and introspection. Whether it causes you to think back to conversations you’ve had with families from different states or countries on the bus to the park, or how you have or would navigate an exotic destination–it’s thought provoking.

As with the adjacent Tiffins, eschewing the contrived backstory for a peek behind the curtain, so to speak, was the right call with Nomad Lounge. I wouldn’t want every restaurant at Walt Disney World to be like this, but it’s natural and organic and feels like a watering hole the Imagineers themselves would frequent after a day working on the park’s next big project…and perhaps it’ll be exactly that when work commences on Moana and Zootopia expansions–or whatever other lands are next.

In addition to the inspirational indoor seating, there’s also a giant wrap-around balcony out back. This overlooks a river and thick vegetation, and feels miles removed from the hustle and bustle of Walt Disney World. That might not seem like it’s saying a ton in a park centered around nature, but this feels decidedly untamed. It’s just different than the rest of DAK.

We know a lot of Walt Disney World fans absolutely love the Nomad Lounge back balcony, especially when the weather is nicer. It’s impossible to argue with this perspective, but we far prefer the interior. Perhaps that’s giving the ‘travel prompts’ too much credit, but I truly think the inside is beautiful, relaxing, and thought-provoking. You really can’t go wrong either way, though.

Whether you dine indoors or out, Nomad Lounge is known for having a wide variety of comfortable chairs. While some of the lounge chairs can be awkward for actually eating, they’re absolutely fantastic for kicking back. I’m surprised more people don’t “accidentally” fall asleep in these comfy chairs.

Another thing for which Nomad Lounge is known is the signature cocktails. This isn’t simply the generic mixed drinks menu of sugar water with splashes of alcohol–there are several options that aren’t available anywhere else at Walt Disney World, and the bartenders tend to be great.

Another thing to know about the menu at Nomad Lounge is that what you see online or in the My Disney Experience app is only a portion of what’s available. In addition to that, there’s a list of specials on each table.

Some of these menu items have been available since Nomad Lounge opened, so I’m not really sure why they aren’t listed as permanent small plate options. Either way, there’s more than meets the (online) eye when it comes to the menu at Nomad Lounge.

Let’s start with the most popular menu item at Nomad Lounge, the Tiffins Bread Service. As the name suggests, this is actually from the Tiffins’ menu. This features Thai Milk Bread, Indian Pappadam, and Brazilian Pão de Queijo breads; plus Coconut Curry Sauce, Guava Sauce, and Ginger Pear Chutney.

We’ve had this several times in the past, albeit with one or two different breads (if memory serves me correctly). It’s an item we almost always order because it’s shareable, filling, and fun. Mixing and matching the breads and dips is enjoyable. It’s also usually delicious. That was not our experience this time, as the breads were only so-so. Still a fun dish that we’d generally recommend, but a surprising disappointment this visit.

Next up, we have the Honey-Chili Glazed Pork Belly with Chorizo-Goat Cheese Biscuit, Soft-poached Egg, and Tasso Gravy.

This tender and fatty pork belly with a sweet flavor dials the decadence up to 11. The cheese biscuit, egg and gravy give it a breakfast-like quality, but that really sells it short. This is a symphony of flavors and textures, with all of the comfort of something you’d get at Cracker Barrel, but more sophistication and nuance.

This small plate is highly recommended, but it does strike us as slightly small for the price. Still, it’s delicious and you won’t want to share it. (This rivals the beloved Bacon & Eggs at Steakhouse 71, and I think it might just be better. More exhaustive research will be necessary to decide!)

Nomad Lounge currently serves up Cuban Frita Sliders and Impossible Sliders, and it’s very difficult to tell them apart, which speaks to the quality of the plant-based option.

Of course, there is a difference, and the Cuban Frita Sliders are superior. The meat is moist and savory, and could stand on its own without the buns or accompaniments. The shoestring potatoes and sour orange mojo provides nice texture and a bit of piquancy that ups the ante further. The buns are straightforward, but get the job done. All in all, a delicious dish–nothing revolutionary, but still very good.

It’s a similar story with the Smoked Pork Ribs in Sweet Soy Glaze and served with Apple Slaw.

These are really good in terms of texture (perfect char), tenderness, and taste. The quality is definitely better than Flame Tree Barbecue, which has underwhelmed of late, but they’re nothing revolutionary. They’re “just” really good ribs that hit the stop after a morning of touring the park. That’s more than enough for me to order them again.

Another item I’d absolutely order again is the Tuna Poke Bowl with Steamed Rice, Red Cabbage Kimchi, Edamame, Sesame-chili Glaze.

My artsy photo doesn’t do this dish justice, but this has a generous helping of tuna, and the rest of the bowl is also jam-packed with edamame, rice, and kimchi. This is right up my alley, and the components meld together perfectly in a refreshing and light-but-filling dish. We both highly recommend this one–and is great when paired with one of the heavier dishes like the pork belly or ribs.

Finally, we have the Churros with Vanilla Crema and Coffee Crème Anglaise.

You might be tempted to skip dessert at Nomad Lounge. After all, you can get churros just about anywhere at Walt Disney World, and for less than the cost of this dessert. Given that, why bother…right? Wrong. Very wrong.

I’ve long been a critic of Walt Disney World churros, often comparing them (unfavorably) to the far cheaper ones sold at Costco. The churros at Nomad Lounge are nothing like the regular outdoor vending cart version at Walt Disney World. These churros are fantastic, and will be a revelation if you’re used to the ODV variety. A slight crispness on the outside, warm and soft on the inside–they are like the dessert equivalent of a great (and oversized) french fry. An odd comparison, I know, but I really can’t think of any better way to describe them.

It’ll be tough to go back to normal Walt Disney World churros once you’ve had the ones at Nomad Lounge. I’m not joking–these are an absolute must order. Get multiple rounds of these churros, too. While technically a shareable dessert…you might not want to do that. These are in the ballpark as the churros over at Three Bridges (again, more exhaustive taste-testing research will be necessary).

Ultimately, even with all of this praise, I feel like I’m actually underselling Nomad Lounge. There are a handful of locations at Walt Disney World where the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and Nomad Lounge is most certainly one of them. It bears striking similarities to a couple other lounges we love–Geyser Point at Wilderness Lodge and Three Bridges at Coronado Springs. The atmosphere is similar at all three, but the key difference is that this is in the middle of a theme park, next door to one of the most popular lands in all of Walt Disney World.

Nomad Lounge is not as much of a hidden gem as either of those (after all, it’s in the middle of the park!) and walk-up waitlist return times or lack thereof often bear this out. Cuisine-wise, it’s tough to crown a champion among the trio. While we prefer specific menu items at its counterparts, Nomad Lounge arguably has the better and more well-rounded overall menu. Regardless, they’re all varying degrees of very good to excellent on the culinary front.

Beyond that, where Nomad Lounge excels is in offering greater depth. Like so much of the park it calls home, Nomad Lounge poses big questions and asks guests to think, rather than providing mindless escapism or, in this case, comforting cuisine. (An odd comparison, but Nomad Lounge/Tiffins remind me a lot of Living with the Land, right down to the questions/statements in the queue.) Obviously, these calls don’t have to be heeded–you could just as easily ignore the decor, fill up on ribs and pork belly, and call it a day.

However, Nomad Lounge is more satisfying when treated as an experience, and not just a simple place to eat. Words only begin to do it justice, so we hope you’ll check out Nomad Lounge on your next visit to Animal Kingdom. If you give it a chance, we’d be willing to bet that you leave rested, relaxed, filled, and fulfilled.

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

Have you enjoyed a relaxing respite from the Animal Kingdom weather or crowds at Nomad Lounge? Do you agree with our assessment that Nomad Lounge is thought-provoking and invites reflection and introspection, or think it’s just another dining option? Is it somewhere you’ll make a point of checking out next time you’re in Animal Kingdom? If you’ve dined up here before, do you prefer the back balcony or inside seating area? 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!

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