It’s so easy to change your latitude and attitude at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Cafe at Universal Orlando. Perched near the entrance of Islands of Adventure, you can quench your thirst for a tropical getaway simply by setting foot inside this Parrotheads’ paradise. I can safely say that were it not for Universal Orlando’s Margaritaville Cafe I would not have become an annual passholder. It is my favorite spot on Universal Orlando property and over the years I’ve made many memories and discovered many hidden details and stories about this cafe. This month marks the cafe’s 17 year anniversary, a perfect time to explore some of the best memorabilia and stories.
As you approach Margaritaville the sounds of Jimmy Buffett’s songs begin to dance over the air. The cafe itself is two stories, the tropical exterior full of bright Caribbean colors. Outside is a newly expanded Porch of Indecision, a popular place to dine al fresco in the shade surrounded by pictures of Jimmy and nautical themed decorations, plus there’s live music on the perch in the early evenings. I recommend giving Jimmy’s song “Lone Palm” a listen before a visit to the Orlando cafe, there’s multiple references to the song at the cafe, most obvious of which are the Porch of Indecision (a play on the lyric ‘port of indecision’) and of course the Lone Palm bar.
One of my favorite spots on Universal Orlando property is the outdoor Lone Palm Bar, with panoramic views of CityWalk and best of all Jimmy Buffett’s actual plane, the Hemisphere Dancer. Yes, it is indeed an actual plane, one that Jimmy loved to fly, not just a prop. The Dancer is best known for Jimmy’s song “Jamaica Mistaica” in which Jimmy describes quite colorfully the time he flew the Dancer to Jamaica and rather than being welcomed with open arms, the Jamaican authorities mistook the plane for a vessel of wrong doing and proceeded to shoot at it!
Inside a lively, colorful dining room is flanked by two impressive bars, the Landshark Bar and the iconic Volcano Bar. Every where you turn your vision is flooded with decorations, props, and Jimmy Buffett related memorabilia. Even patrons unfamiliar with Jimmy’s music (hard to believe such people exist) can still appreciate and enjoy the laid back, tropical vibe that permeates the place.
Two large white sails on either side of the dining room not only add a nautical flair, but act as projection screens. Images and video of Jimmy exploring the world, performing concerts, as well as montages of Parrotheads doing what they do best: party in the parking lot before a Jimmy concert, are projected on the sails. If you want to familiarize yourself with the world of Jimmy Buffett, these videos and images are a tour de force worthy of your attention.
At the front of the dining room a stage welcomes musicians late at night while the Parrot Perch studio welcomes JD Spradlin every Wednesday – Sunday, 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM. JD broadcasts live on SiriusXM satellite radio on Jimmy’s Buffett’s popular station, Radio Margaritaville. We can credit this Margaritaville Cafe and Radio Margaritaville for turning me into a Parrothead (the term lovingly bestowed upon mega Jimmy Buffett fans). JD is a Florida Native just like me and the moment I learned this while listening to his show years ago I was immediately filled with Florida pride. I highly encourage any Parrothead to visit the cafe during JD’s show time and go up to his Parrot Perch studio to say hello. JD will surely welcome you and show off some of the cool stuff in his booth.
In my interview with JD he shared some of his favorite moments from being a Radio Margaritaville DJ, but also his time as an entertainer at Pleasure Island at Walt Disney World.
Near the Landshark bar is a small hallway leading to a set of restrooms. There are some great photos of Jimmy Buffett covering these walls, but pay special attention to two documents hanging here too. The first is a proclamation from Orlando City Mayor, Buddy Dyer. This proclamation is very near and dear to my heart. In 2004, much of the state of Florida experienced one of the most devastating hurricane seasons on record. Jimmy Buffett, born along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in Mississippi, and a Florida resident for quite a long time, is very familiar with the destruction that can be caused by hurricanes.
On November 23, 2004 Jimmy Buffett performed in Orlando to raise money for hurricane relief efforts. As a result Mayor Dyer proclaimed the day “Jimmy Buffett Hurricane Relief Day” and this proclamation hangs proudly at the Orlando cafe.
Also in this little nook is a certificate indicating that the cafe adopted a manatee. Growing up in Florida it was quite common for kids, myself included, families, and businesses to adopt a manatee. When you adopt a manatee a donation is made to the Save the Manatee organization, for a minimum of $25 you get to choose which manatee you want to adopt, there’s about 20-25 different names from which to choose. While gathering information for this post I decided to adopt a manatee and one of the ones available is named “Margarito.” I just had to adopt “Margarito” in honor of Margaritaville!
While near the Landshark Bar be sure to look up. A school of sharks float above, but also a bear….. yeah, a bear. This black bear is hanging out with a still (used to make moonshine). This seemingly out of place decoration, suspended from the ceiling is a tribute to Jimmy’s song “God’s Own Drunk” a humorous song that tells the story of a man encountering a bear, Buddy Bear in fact, while the man tends to his friend’s moonshine still. The song came out in 1974 on Jimmy’s album “Living and Dying in 3/4 Time” (one of my favorite albums).
There’s still more to see on this side of the Margaritaville cafe, but there’s one little detail I’d like to point out before moving on to the rest of the cafe. Just across the bar is a little nook with an amusing game that is popular at many beach bars in the Caribbean. The ring game involves a ring on a string and a backboard with a hook. The object is to release the ring on a string and get it to catch on the hook.
The interesting thing about this little game is about two years ago it was removed and replaced with a new fangled digital jukebox. It seemed quite the poor decision, such a thing is unnecessary and distracting in a place with a DJ broadcasting live during the day and a live band at night. It didn’t last long and a bright, shiny, new ring game resumed its rightful place.
In this prominent spot you can also view a collection of photos especially pertinent to the Orlando Margaritaville Cafe. This collection includes photos of Jimmy performing at the grand opening party of the cafe on March 4, 1999. There is also an invitation for this party, I’ll just assume it’s the one they intended to send to me, but forgot to put in the mail.
Looking back out across the dining room, with the Landshark Bar at your back it is important to look up once again. Along the ceiling near the Landshark Bar and hostess stand you’ll see a ceiling made of cotton… cotton t-shirts that is. These aren’t just any t-shirts, these shirts were collected during the first few years of the Orlando cafe’s operation, brought in from Parrot Head Clubs from around the world. Parrot Head Clubs are an important part of Jimmy Buffett’s world. These fan clubs are full of camaraderie and fun, not only do they throw the best tailgate parties for Jimmy Buffett concerts but throughout the year they perform many charitable acts.
Throughout the cafe surfboards of various colors and sizes hang on the walls. One long board in particular is from Jimmy’s collection. This long board hangs near the aforementioned PHC t-shirts. Lyrics from Jimmy’s song “That’s What Living is to Me” – one of my favorites, are printed along the board.
In order to see the rest of my favorite details, we need to head upstairs. The second level of Margaritaville isn’t always open, but on busier periods, especially in the evenings you can dine overlooking the expansive dining room. The views up here are pretty killer. From up here I actually love watching the erupting volcano, yes you read that right, an actual erupting volcano casts its shadow over the Volcano Bar. If you can indeed get upstairs take some time to take in the breathtaking views from the outside balcony.
I prefer to sit at the 12 Volt Bar. This bar is, you guessed it, named after a Jimmy Buffett song “12 Volt Man.” The song is about a man who makes a life for himself fishing during the week and on Friday nights enjoys refreshing, tropical drinks using a blender powered by a 12 volt battery. At the bar a few Die Hard batteries adorn the shelves, and a prop blender is perched on the bar attached to a battery.
There is also a prop refrigerator with bullet holes. No, they are not the result of a wild crazy night gone wrong, but a homage to a fan favorite song “Boat Drinks” and the lyrics “I shot six holes in my freezer.” When sitting at the bar take the time to investigate the many words carved into the wood of the bar. Keep an eye out for Jimmy Buffett’s signature as well as signatures of other residents of Jimmy’s world including members of his band the Coral Reefers and Key West writer Tom Corcoran.
Throughout the cafe you can spot references to Key West. Jimmy Buffett has traveled the world, but there is one place that seems to have had an effect on him more than any other. Key West was Jimmy’s home through the early 1970’s, he had a home there until 1998. Many of his most loved songs are about life in Key West.
The first ever Margaritaville actually started as a store. On Duval Street the original Margaritaville Cafe is a mecca for any Jimmy Buffett fan. It is the place that started a tradition of enjoying island-inspired food and cool, refreshing drinks with good friends and good music. I feel the Orlando cafe carries this tradition well and does Jimmy Buffett proud. One of my favorite tributes to the original cafe is found hanging from the ceiling above the stairs next to the Landshark Bar. Three windsocks that once hung at the original Key West Margairtaville blow in the breeze. Any time I see them I can’t hold back my smile.
Hard to believe, but there’s still more details to explore. When you’re in the cafe simply take the time to wander. Look around and drink it up. Just like the incredible details found inside Universal Orlando’s theme parks, you simply need to become observant and suddenly the experience becomes richer.
I am so grateful that my “neighborhood watering hole” is Jimmy Buffett’s place. I have gotten to know many of the talented bartenders and servers over the years, such friendly people with great stories to tell. I raise my glass to each of them. A special thank you to JD Spradlin, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to put together much of this post. I hope that next time you’re at Universal Orlando you’ll swing by Margaritaville with a new appreciation for the details. Drink it up and you soak up the sunshine state of mind. You might just find yourself wasting away again in Margaritaville.