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I’m Just Here for the Food — Empress Lilly

Image from wikicommons 2015

In 1975, the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village opened where you could shop, eat, and be entertained without having a park ticket. In 1977, the area name changed to Walt Disney World Village and along with that, the Riverboat Empress Lilly opened. Named after Walt Disney’s wife Lillian, the riverboat had three floors of food and entertainment. 

Lillian Disney christened the Empress Lilly with champagne. 
Image from The Orlando Sentinel Star, May 2, 1977

The 217-foot-long and 62-foot-wide riverboat was built on land, actually a cement slab. When it was finished, the water was let back in to give the appearance that she was just docked, with the orange paddlewheel still spinning. The main deck Baton Rouge Lounge made its own drink called the Mark Twain, a frozen drink with creme de menthe, brandy, and fruit juices. I may have to try this sometime!

The Steerman’s Quarters served fine western beef with a panoramic view of the paddlewheel. On the second deck forward was the Fisherman’s Deck, which served the finest of Florida’s catch with an ambience of windows and hand-carved mahogany chairs. The Empress Room was the fanciest restaurant and the only one to require reservations. (Hard to imagine going to Disney without having to have reservations now!) The third deck was reserved for The Captain’s Table to have banquets and private parties. One thing I found interesting was that each restaurant is served from its own specially designed kitchen. 

Image from the The Tampa Tribune, November 28, 1976.
Notice the blocks for the water around the riverboat during construction.

Of course the riverboat closed in 1995 and was remodeled into Fulton Crab House, which opened in 1996. I have many memories of going here with my family and grandparents! Then again in 2017, the riverboat had an identity change into Paddlefish. Go back and listen to WDW Radio episode #123 if you want to learn more. 

I thought this recipe would be perfect after Lou did his Top Ten All American Foods in Walt Disney World last week.

You can’t go to Florida without having shrimp! And this dish has my favorite dipping sauce that I never knew was this easy to make. The recipe is from the 1986 cookbook Cooking With Mickey Around the World.


Fisherman’s Deck on the Empress Lilly

At the Walt Disney World Shopping Village

Yield: 4 servings

1½ pounds large shrimp in shell

⅔ cup beer 

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup water

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 eggs

1¼ cups self-rising flour

½ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon white pepper

Oil or shortening

Marmalade sauce

Remove shells from shrimp, leaving tails on. I got this tool years ago that makes the shelling part go so smooth. Then use a paring knife to butterfly the shrimp by cutting from the outer part of the shrimp into the center until the shrimp can be spread flat. Do not cut through shrimp. Pushing them onto the plate with the tail up after you cut them will spread them out even more. Be sure to wash and drain them well, then put them back in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.

Open beer and let it stand to get flat. Picking the right beer helps the batter, too; basic domestic beers are best. A good ol’ PBR or the banquet beer of Coors will keep the batter light and airy. If you use an IPA or stronger beer it can add another flavor or bitterness to the taste. 

To make the batter, mix the beer with cornstarch in a bowl until combined. Add the water, Worcestershire sauce, eggs, flour, salt and pepper and beat with a whisk or beater until smooth.

Heat oil to 350° F using whatever you fry your foods in. The one thing I alway freaked out about was the hot oil so I never had the temp correct. That made for some epic fails. Make sure it’s at temperature because the batter will be crispier. Shrimp doesn’t take long to cook.  

Dip the shrimp, holding by the tail, into batter then place in oil and fry until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes, turning to brown both sides if necessary. Remove the shrimp from the oil with a slotted spoon and place them onto paper towels. Keep hot in a warm (200° F) oven until all shrimp is cooked. 

For the wonderful Marmalade Sauce to dip them into just blend 2 to 4 tablespoons of prepared Horseradish into 1 cup orange marmalade. I like mine with a good kick so I used 4 tablespoons.

We made a nice salad to compliment the shrimp and paired it with a crisp Sauvignon blanc in my antique store find glass. 

What has been your favorite restaurant or meal in the riverboat? Empress Lilly, Fulton’s, or Paddle Fish?

My name is Molly and I live in South Dakota. With my art and design training and love for history, I have helped develop over 80 local history exhibits through the years as a Curator. Disney has been in my blood since I was born. Visiting my Grandparents in California also meant my parents taking us to Disneyland. Since the late 1970s, I have taken many trips to DL and WDW but sometimes it’s too long in between trips. I have always tried to stay connected to Disney from watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday night, to movies, books and blogs. Once I found Lou on WDW Radio, it became even easier to dream of Disney in between visits!