The Wave moved into the resort one floor below Disney’s California Grill, which operates a successful beverage program that focuses on wines from the Northern Hemisphere. Playing off its proximity to the other restaurant, and looking to introduce guests to a wider world of wines, The Wave went in a different direction: literally.
“We thought it would be not so much a gimmick but an opportunity for us to feature wines from the Southern Hemisphere,” says John Blazon, master sommelier and manager of wine sales and standards for Disney. The Wave’s 80 or so wines all hail from south of the Equator and, except for three sparkling offerings, every bottle on the list uses a screw-cap enclosure instead of cork.
The emphasis on screw-cap wines dovetails with the restaurant’s environmental focus, says Blazon. Screw-caps also help to prevent cork taint, which can help the wines make a better first impression with guests.
“[These wines] are in a competitive environment where they don’t always get a second chance to make a first impression,” Blazon explains. Screw-caps, made from aluminum or metal alloys, lead to more consistent quality than do corks, he says. There’s no risk of TCA, either, and servers don’t have to fiddle with a corkscrew at the table.
While many operators and producers in the industry allege that screw-cap wines may be slightly reductive, Blazon says feedback at The Wave has been overwhelmingly positive. The wines have been a particular hit among the Millennial generation.
“I don’t know if there’s a downside,” muses Blazon.
The challenge, he says, has been encouraging guests to try wine from the less well-known regions. Disney guests generally tend to care most about both taste and cost. The price of The Wave’s wines range from $8 to $16 per glass and $35 to $89 per bottle. So to get diners interested in trying wines from Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, the beverage team must connect the wines with brands, regions and varietals diners already know. This is where the servers come in.
Through ongoing training and tastings, staffers—known as cast members in Disney parlance—have familiarized themselves with the wine list enough to make sound recommendations to guests: If you like pinot noir, for instance, try Wild Rock Cupids Arrow from Central Otago, New Zealand. Blazon says Veramonte Reserva Chardonnay from Chile’s Casablanca Valley is the top seller.
Disney also is driving experimentation with four discovery wine flights, priced from $19 to $25 and themed according to varietal or country.
A restaurant’s beverage program should always take its cues from the culinary side, says Stuart McGuire, who oversees Disney’s beverage operation as director of beverage sales and standards. Among The Wave’s most popular meals are sustainable fish and salads with locally grown ingredients; the beverage program answers with “green” and “better-for-you” drink offerings. In addition to the screw-cap wines, the restaurant touts a flight of Wolaver’s organic beers—Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout. The flight features three 5-ounce samplings for $7.25. It outsells all other beers at The Wave.
Then there are the eco-friendly cocktails that are so visually appealing and effortlessly potable that they practically sell themselves. Many drinks that started at The Wave have quickly become staples throughout both Disney World and Disneyland. The most popular is the “Tropi-glow” Cocktail, for $9.75, made from X-fusion Organic Mango and Passion Fruit Liqueur, Parrot Bay Coconut Rum and pineapple juice. Plop one of Disney’s signature glow cubes in the cocktail and the color-changing drink becomes an instant conversation piece. Almost as beloved is the Antioxidant Cocktail, $9.25, made from Findlandia Wild Berries Vodka, Chambord Black Raspberry Liqueur, Bossa Nova Açaí Juice with Agave, aloe juice and lychee.
In developing the Antioxidant Cocktail, originally dubbed the “Antioxidant Cosmo” but tweaked to dilute the intense açaí flavor, McGuire and his team involved The Wave cast.
“They feel empowered to go out and sell it, and they can give that first-hand. They can share that with the guests,” notes McGuire. “I’m convinced that’s how the Antioxidant Cocktail has done so well… Just looking at the description, there aren’t enough familiar ingredients in there that guests would necessarily gravitate or move towards that drink. But with that personal recommendation, it’s a home run for us.”
The Wave also is having success with its alcohol-free offerings, making them more than an afterthought.
For instance, the Antioxidant Cocktail was such a hit that The Wave also sells plenty of straight açaí juice at breakfast. Then there are the alcohol-free smoothies, popular at breakfast and throughout the evening: the Mega-Berry Smoothie, made with raspberry purée and nonfat yogurt blended with Odwalla Berries GoMega, and the Supercharged Tropical Smoothie, made from tropical fruit juices, nonfat yogurt and Odwalla Super Protein Original.
And this being Disney World, of course children are not left in the cold. When they see the flashy “Tropi-glow” Cocktail arrive for their parents, they want something special of their own. So The Wave offers Minute Maid Light Raspberry Lemonade in a souvenir cup with a glowing Tinker Bell or Lightning McQueen clip-on light.
McGuire reiterates the importance of his staff in making the concept a success, and stresses the need to sync a beverage program with its larger setting.
With The Wave, he says, “you make the connection between the beverage program and the overall Disney experience.”
Dalia Colon is a newspaper reporter and freelance journalist based near Tampa, Fla.