During my family’s most recent trip to Walt Disney World Resort in April, I set aside half a day to explore what is now known as Disney Springs. Given our previous visits to Downtown Disney, I assumed this would be plenty of time to explore, have lunch, and shop. Boy, was I wrong! With so many new shopping venues and dining options added to the already existing list of entertainment, shopping and dining locations, a day at least is needed to fully experience everything Disney Springs has to offer.
Downtown Disney first appeared as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in March 1975. I remember visiting as a child, and later hanging out on Pleasure Island as a college student. For my family it was never a place to spend an entire day, but rather a place to drop in for a couple hours here and there. All that is changing now as Disney positions Disney Springs to “be the place to be.”
By the time Disney Springs is completed in 2016, there will be a total of 150 shopping, entertainment and dining venues. Drawing inspiration from Florida’s history of waterfront towns and the historic Florida springs of the 1800s, Disney Springs brings a “story” to this one-of-a-kind Disney experience. Building on everything that sets Disney Parks apart from other vacation destinations, Disney Springs incorporates a story to tie the various areas together and to create an experience for Guests that features open-air promenades, flowing springs and waterfront charm.
Once complete, Disney Springs will be home to 4 separate outdoor areas: The Landing, Town Center, Marketplace and West Side. Disney Springs West Side and Marketplace were already parts of Downtown Disney and remain with the transformation to Disney Springs, adding some new shops as well as a “Village Causeway” in the Marketplace to connect the area around the Lego Imagination Center to the Rainforest Cafe.
The Landing was formerly Pleasure Island, and Town Center is a brand new area that will offer one-of-a-kind shopping and dining along a promenade.
During our last visit, we only made it through part of the Marketplace. We ate lunch at Earl of Sandwich, shopped in World of Disney, walked around a little, and then found ourselves essentially running through the Marketplace Co-Op grabbing what we could and racing to the check-out counter because it was time to leave. As we ran to catch the boat back to Port Orleans Riverside to board the Magical Disney Express to the airport, I looked back and thought how we really needed an entire day and night to experience everything.
With the recent opening of The BOATHOUSE restaurant, Morimoto Asia, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, and multiple new shopping locations, planning a day at Disney Springs is essential – think of it almost like a fifth theme park. It’s not just shopping. It also is a dining destination, and with so many entertainment options, there is bound to be something for everyone.
First, let’s talk about the entertainment options. There are so many things to do at Disney Springs you could easily make a full day of just focusing on entertainment.
Looking for something to do with the entire family? Head over to Splitsville Luxury Lanes in West Village for some good competitive fun. You can even make it a lunch or dinner event and have burgers, sushi or pizza delivered to your lane.
Want to catch the latest movie from Walt Disney Studios? AMC Movies at Disney Springs 24, located in the West Side, gives Guests the opportunity to reserve seats or, for a really different movie experience, order food and have it delivered to the theater in the Fork & Screen Dine-in Theater. Feel like taking in a show instead? Everyone in the family will be mesmerized by La Nouba by Cirque de Soleil. Make sure to save time to take a spin on the Marketplace Carousel or try a few new dance moves later in the evening at the DJ Kids Dance Party at the Waterside Stage in the Marketplace.
Want to do something really unique? Head to The BOATHOUSE Restaurant and take a tour of Disney Springs in an American Amphicar while you soak in the atmosphere of the BOATHOUSE marina and Harbor Master festivities.
Over on the West Side, the entire family can board Characters in Flight and ascend 400 feet in the air above Disney Springs in the world’s largest tethered helium balloon. Look closely and you may even see Epcot on a clear day.
For a bit of culture, venture over to The Landing and take in a performance by the Irish dancers at the Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant patio stage every day on the hour from 4:00 to 9:00 pm.
Visiting Disney Springs with an adults-only group? Catch a concert at House of Blues or some live entertainment at Paradiso 37, where you can dine on North, Central and South American fare while sitting waterside on the patio. Or take a trip to Old Havana with some Cuban food at Bongos Cuban Cafe while enjoying authentic Latin music. You can sip margaritas at Dockside Margaritas while listening to live music, or catch a live music performance as you stroll around Disney Springs at Riverboat Square, Waterview Park, Exposition Park or Sunshine Highline. Splitsville Luxury Lanes, The Front Porch and Crossroads at House of Blues also have live entertainment.
If you’re headed to Walt Disney World Resort in 2016, make sure to stay up-to-date on yet two more entertainment venues planned for Disney Springs. The NBA Experience at Walt Disney World Resort will put Guests of all ages right in the middle of the action of professional basketball with hands-on activities and interactive experiences, as well as a restaurant and retail shop. And The Edison, an “Industrial Gothic” restaurant, will open in Town Center and feature nightly entertainment including cabaret, contortionists, palm readers, DJs and more.
If you need a break from the entertainment fun, or just want to spend your entire day shopping, there are plenty of options for retail therapy at Disney Springs. Yes, you can shop to your heart’s content for Disney souvenirs at World of Disney, but that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shopping.
If you are looking for that perfect Disney souvenir, there’s no better place to go than World of Disney, the world’s largest Disney character store, located in the Disney Springs Marketplace area. There is a Bibbidi Boobbidi Boutique located within the store in case your young princess or prince wants a makeover. If becoming a prince or princess for a day is on your agenda, you may want to book at this location as it is a little easier to reserve here than at the original location in Magic Kingdom.
If you are still searching for that perfect Disney souvenir, you also can head to Once Upon A Toy, Disney Pin Traders, Mickey’s Pantry, Marketplace Fun Finds, Disney’s Days of Christmas, Disney Design-a-Tee, Disney’s Wonderful World of Memories, Arribas Brothers, D-Tech on Demand, Disney Centerpiece, Zoey and Pickles, Twenty Eight & Main, Cherry Tree Lane, WonderGround Gallery, and Art of Disney, all located in the Marketplace area of Disney Springs. We had a great time exploring Once Upon a Toy, where my kids created customized light sabers that are still being put to good use every day here at home.
During our last visit my 11-year-old daughter especially loved Trend-D, a chic boutique in Disney Springs Marketplace with modern Disney fashions and accessories. I highly recommend stopping by this boutique for tween, teen and adult fashions.
Don’t miss the Marketplace Co-Op. D-Tech on Demand, Twenty Eight & Main, Disney Centerpiece, Zoey and Pickles, Cherry Tree Lane and WonderGround Gallery are all located within the Marketplace Co-Op. The ever-popular Pandora charms and jewelry also can be found here. The Marketplace Co-Op was one of my family’s favorite shopping areas.
If you have a Lego fanatic in your group, the LEGO Imagination Center in the Marketplace is a must-do. Dinosaur fan? Check out the Dino-Store for a chance to build your own dinosaur at Build-A-Dino by Build-A-Bear.
Other shops that can be found in Disney Springs Marketplace include Lefty’s – The Left Hand Store, Magic Ink Artisans, Basin, Rawlings Making the Game, Hallelujah Art, Happy Hound, The Spice and Tea Exchange, and Little Miss Matched.
Beyond Disney Springs Marketplace the shopping venues become more eclectic and unique. Looking for a nice chapeau? Head over to Chapel Hats located in The Landing. While you’re there buy a bit of the luck of the Irish at Shop for Ireland, or some high-end male grooming accessories at The Art of Shaving. Other shops located at The Landing include Apex by Sunglass Hut, Erwin Pearl, Havaianas, Sanuk, Sound Lion, Sublime Gifts and Finds, Set the Bar, and Ships Stores at the BOATHOUSE Restaurant.
If you’ve always pictured yourself riding a motorcycle, make your way to Disney Springs West Side and Orlando Harley-Davidson. If you’re not ready to commit and take one home, get a picture of yourself on a motorcycle in the Harley-Davidson studio. Or maybe conquering that big wave is more your style? Stop by Curl by Sammy Duvall, where you can find surf, ski and skate gear, apparel, swimwear and accessories. Any super hero obsessed members in your party? Don’t miss Super Hero Headquarters, the place for any super hero fan to find merchandise such as action figures, collectibles, apparel, costumes, accessories and Vinylmation. Other shops located in Disney Springs West Side include Pop Gallery, Something Silver, Sosa Family Cigars, United World of Soccer, Sunglass Icon, D Street, and Fit2Run, the Runners Superstore.
Town Center, the last of the four outdoor areas of Disney Springs, is still under construction, but once complete you can shop at the following stores: Zara, Tommy Bahama, Lily Pulitzer, UNIQLO, UGG, PANDORA, L’Occitane en Provence and Edward Beiner.
Needless to say, Disney Springs is a shopping paradise. In retrospect I am partially happy we ran out of time to explore more of Disney Springs last time we were there. I am sure my wallet would have been completely empty when I left, most likely as a result of my two daughters’ shopping habits. And it gives me time to save up before my trip early next year, although I may need more than just a day to do all the shopping available at Disney Springs.
RESTAURANTS AND FOOD:
By the time Disney Springs is complete in 2016, it will be a major foodie destination. On previous trips we had taken the kids to the Rainforest Cafe or T-Rex Cafe, and last ate at Earl of Sandwich, not giving the dining options much thought. With the addition of new restaurants such as Morimoto Asia and The BOATHOUSE Restaurant, I would plan a visit solely for culinary purposes. Disney Springs had several nice restaurants to visit, such as Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Cafe, Paradiso 37, Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant, Fulton Crab House and Portobello Country Italian Trattoria, but with the newest additions, and venues planned for completion next year, experiencing all the food options available may require even more than one trip to Disney Springs.
Hands down the best theming goes to Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar. Located in The Landing, this aviation-themed lounge is based on Indiana Jones’ frequent pilot, Jock Lindsey, and features unique cocktails and small plates. On my bucket list is a dinner at Morimoto Asia, Chef Morimoto’s first “pan-Asian” dining experience in the United States. Other table service restaurants available include Crossroads at House of Blues, Splitsville Luxury Lanes, and Bongos Cuban Cafe.
As much as I love the the table service restaurants at Disney Springs, I am equally excited about the Food Truck offerings at Exposition Park in Disney Springs West Side, with four food trucks featuring Disney theme park fare spanning the globe. My favorite of course is the Fantasy Fare food truck, featuring a Croque Monsieur from Disneyland Paris. Other food trucks include Namaste Cafe (wild fare from Disney’s Animal Kingdom); World Showcase of Flavors (selections from Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival); and Superstar Catering (selections fit for a celebrity).
There are many other quick service options available in addition to the food trucks including Food Quest, Express at Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe, Bongos Cuban Cafe Express, STARBUCKS, Wetzel’s Pretzels (all located in Disney Springs West Side); Marketplace Snacks, Earl of Sandwich, Wolfgang Puck Express, STARBUCKS, and Wetzel’s Pretzels (all located in Disney Springs Marketplace); and Cookes of Dublin and Tea Trader’s Cafe by Joffreys (both located in The Landing).
If you just want to go straight to dessert, there are several options to please any sweet tooth. Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC recently opened in The Landing and offers gluten-free and other specialty diet baked goods and soft serve ice cream. You can find ice cream specialties at Haagen-Dazs in Disney Springs West Side and Ghiradelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop in Disney Springs Marketplace. Prefer gelato instead? Head to Vivoli Il Gelateria in The Landing for authentic Italian gelato. Pick up some shaved ice at Downtown Snow Company or a smoothie at Forty Thirst Street Express, both in the Marketplace. You also can pick up a sweet treat at Disney’s Candy Cauldron in Disney Springs West Side or stop by Goofy’s Candy Company in the Marketplace to create your own special treat. And coming soon, The Ganachery, a new gourmet chocolate shop set to open in The Landing.
I am particularly excited about several new restaurants that will be completed in 2016, including The Edison, Rick Bayless’ Frontera Fresco, STK Steakhouse and Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine. Also be on the lookout for Sprinkles and Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza once Town Center is complete.
With so many entertainment, shopping and culinary options at Disney Springs, I definitely will be planning a full day to visit during my family’s next vacation. My dream day with the family? Bowling at Splitsville Luxury Lanes, then a little retail therapy. I’d love to watch the Irish dancers at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant and take a ride on the Marketplace Carousel. Chocolate is a must have so we’d stop by Goofy’s Candy Company and make a few treats, and then head over to The BOATHOUSE Restaurant and take a ride on an American Amphicar. We would end the night with dinner at The BOATHOUSE Restaurant, and if we had any energy left, we’d show off a few dance moves at the DJ Kids Dance Party. And even with a day full of so many activities, I still think we may leave wishing we had been able to do more!