Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney) is the shopping and dining district at Walt Disney World. This post covers some of our tips for visiting Disney Springs. As new locations have opened like Marketplace Co-Op, The Boathouse, Homecoming, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia, and more are set to open, we will update this post with the latest information on what is happening at Disney Springs.
When this post was originally published a couple of years ago, we had only been to Disney Springs once in the last several years, and weren’t exactly fans of the place. We have been five times in the last year, including once in 2016, with a couple more visits planned later this year. We’ve dined at Morimoto Asia twice, The Boathouse three times, and Lindsey’s Hangar Bar three times. Heck, we even paid a visit to the soon-to-be-closed DisneyQuest!
In Summer 2016, Town Center opened (read our review/progress report following that addition). This included Sprinkles custom cupcakes, Homecoming, B.B. Wolf Sausage Co., UNIQLO, and numerous other shops & restaurants. This is one of the final significant chunks of a multi-year construction project that is almost complete. As of Fall 2016, about all that remains to be finished is the conversion of Planet Hollywood to its new Observatory theme, Paddlefish, and The Edison. We anticipate those, and other, projects to finish before Summer 2017.
If you’re visiting for Christmas 2016, there’s more good news! Just announced (this post was last updated October 30, 2016) is a new “Christmas Tree Trail” through Disney Springs that will feature 15 themed Christmas trees. This is in addition to many other decorations, entertainment, and even a dance party. For more information on Disney Springs (and elsewhere) this holiday season, read our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World.
While Disney Springs is not yet finished, we are already enjoying it much more than Downtown Disney post-Pleasure Island closing. It no longer feels disjointed and dated, and is already starting to feel like a Disney ‘community’ of sorts, with some unique and worthwhile draws. Suffice to say, it’s much more than Disney’s take on an outdoor shopping center.
With that said, here are our tips regarding Disney Springs, and you can expect these to change as Disney Springs continues to take shape…
Disney Springs Tips
If you’re going to Disney Springs, it’s probably for shopping or dining, or maybe to get a ‘dose of Disney’ on a day you’re not going to the theme parks, or to dine at one of the restaurants there. Here are some things to know before you go.
We recommend planning for more transportation time than you think you’ll need to get to and from Disney Springs. Regardless of whether you’re driving yourself or taking Disney transportation, getting there will probably take more time than you expect. With that said, if you’re used to the headaches of Downtown Disney transportation, those are a thing of the past. New entrance roads, pedestrian bridges, boat transportation, parking garages, and drop-off zones have made getting to and navigating Disney Springs far more convenient.
Still, if you’re staying in a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you might consider just taking the bus (or walking from Saratoga Springs, or taking a boat if at Saratoga, Old Key West, or Port Orleans French Quarter or Riverside). To really avoid the crowds, you can visit Disney Springs first thing in the morning when it’s least crowded. There’s more free entertainment and the overall ambiance at Disney Springs is better once the sun goes down, and the atmosphere in general is considerably better, so take that into consideration before opting to go early.
There used to be three different “sections” to Disney Springs, and while you can still sort of see this, as the area transitions to Disney Springs, the lines are being blurred, and these distinctions dropped entirely. The Marketplace is the main shopping area (and by far the most popular section) with stores like World of Disney and The LEGO Store. Pleasure Island is the former nightlife district where restaurants and shops largely operate, and is located in the middle. The West Side is on the far side of Disney Springs, and is where more of the third party entertainment, shopping, and dining options are located.
Downtown Disney was, essentially, laid out in a linear pathway along the waterfront. This made for some long walks if you wanted to get from, say, Once Upon A Toy to Cirque Du Soleil. The awkward layout is another thing Disney Springs seeks to address, with more bridges and “shortcuts” between locations.
Shopping is a big draw for the Marketplace area of Disney Springs, where the insanely large World of Disney store dominates this area. Don’t get separated from your group in this store, or you’ll probably never see them again. While the large selection in World of Disney is nice, I can’t say I’ve ever found anything in there that I wanted that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Since it’s way larger than any other store on property, it must have things other stores don’t. It is definitely a good one-stop-shop.
Personally, I prefer the nearby Art of Disney and Disney’s Days of Christmas. There are Art of Disney stores in the parks (and a Christmas shop in the Magic Kingdom), but these locations are larger and offer more variety, and it’s of niches of merchandise that I really like. There are other focused stores throughout the Marketplace, which will appeal to different guests. I prefer these focused stores. Maybe it’s just me, but I find World of Disney a bit overwhelming.
The new place that is really awesome is the Marketplace Co-Op, which features boutique stores and test products. I have made a couple visits to the Marketplace Co-Op, and it took incredible restraint for me to not buy anything. I could’ve easily spent hundreds of dollars there, and I’m not normally into merchandise. The stuff here has great designs, with a lot of retro influences and nods to classic attractions. From home goods to really cool signage, there are some inventive and (what I’d call) inspired designs here. This isn’t your ‘boring-design 2016 Fab Five shirt’ type of stuff that dominates too many gift shops at Walt Disney World.
We’ve eaten at several restaurants in Downtown Disney/Disney Springs over the years, and have found them to be of varying degrees of quality. Our favorite option for table service is Raglan Road, and our favorite counter service spot is Earl of Sandwich. Earl of Sandwich is pretty hyped-up among fans, and while we don’t think it quite lives up to all of that hype, it is good and (by Disney standards) inexpensive. Raglan Road is just awesome no matter how you slice it. I was not a huge fan of its counter service counterpart, Cookes of Dublin, but I know a ton of people love it.
I recently tried T-Rex Cafe, and it was shockingly good, and the ambiance is awesome for anyone who loves dinosaurs (so, any patriotic American). It used to be the case that many Downtown Disney restaurants were ‘real world’ spots, and we don’t have much interest in places we could dine at elsewhere when we’re visiting Walt Disney World, so there wasn’t much of a draw.
Fast forward to 2016: Raglan Road is still awesome, T-REX Cafe is a surprise new favorite, Splitsville is a fun entertainment/dining option, The BOATHOUSE is a great fine-dining or casual restaurant (depending on whether you do the dockside bar or restaurant itself), Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar is looking awesome (because anything Indiana Jones is a must-do!), and Morimoto Asia is inventive, and can offer good value. Then, there are the other restaurants slated to open in Disney Springs through the rest of 2016 that also look promising.
This makes where to dine at Disney Springs a difficult decision, rather than “Raglan Road for table service or Earl of Sandwich for counter service” as Downtown Disney was for us. This isn’t to say there weren’t other good restaurants at the former Downtown Disney, but we think Disney Springs is really upping its dining game. To help you choose a restaurant (or a couple of restaurants), we’ve ranked the table service options in our Best Restaurants at Disney Springs post. We’ll keep that updated as new restaurants open.
In terms of other restaurants, I like Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop for a snack. We are not fans of Rainforest Cafe or Planet Hollywood, both of which are very loud with only “basic” cuisine. However, if you have kids and don’t live near one, Rainforest Cafe is something to consider.
Heading to the far side of Disney Springs, there are a few options that are major draws: DisneyQuest, Cirque Du Soleil, Splitsville, and House of Blues. DisneyQuest is closing soon and I previously covered whether DisneyQuest is worth the money; in short, it’s fine if you have it included as an add-on in your tickets, but otherwise is pretty badly dated. If you are a DisneyQuest fan, you should probably get there in the next couple of months before it permanently closes!
New entertainment options will be opening at Disney Springs in 2016, and should continue to revitalize this area, as well. NBA Experience alone (replacing DisneyQuest) should be a huge draw, with Splitsville and other popular new-ish favorites also hopefully providing a solid slate of entertainment in this area. It’s now getting to the point where a visit to Disney Springs can be an all-day thing. That’s really saying something for me, as I could barely tolerate a few hours of Downtown Disney.
Overall, Disney Springs can be a fun place to visit if you’re into shopping, dining, and other entertainment. For a while, after the Adventurers Club closed, we avoided Downtown Disney. The new-look, Disney Springs is quickly winning us over, and this is even as construction remains ongoing. We’re optimistic that once complete, Disney Springs will really revitalize the area, and be a much more enjoyable place to visit thanks to a unified thematic experience and a layout that makes going from one side of the area to the other. As construction at Disney Springs remains ongoing (and will until 2016), Disney Springs continues to change and evolve on a regular basis. Because of that, it’s difficult to offer advice that won’t become stale, but hopefully these tips offer some guidance if you’re thinking of going.
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation? Use our resources to help! If you’re interested in learning more about hotels, our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page is a good place to start. For where to eat, try out our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews page. If you want to save money on tickets or determine which type you should get, 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 unconventional things you should take on your trip. Once you arrive at the parks, our Walt Disney World “Ride Guides” are great for determining what to do and when to do it.
For overviews of all of these topics and so much more, the best place to start is our comprehensive Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide to make the most of your experience!
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Are you a fan of Disney Springs? What do you recommend doing there? Any favorite Disney Springs restaurants? Leave any questions or comments you have below in the comments!