Disney Springs (previously Downtown Disney) is the shopping and dining district at Walt Disney World. This post covers some of our tips for visiting, where to eat, and what to do. New locations have opened like Maria & Enzo’s, Edison, Homecoming, Morimoto Asia, so we’ve updated this post with the latest info. (Last updated March 11, 2018.)
Following Disney Springs’ rejuvenation a couple of years ago, we now make a point of visiting for two meals per trip. While Disney Springs has improved across the board, it’s the food that beckons us. Our Best Disney Springs Table Services Restaurants and Best & Worst Disney Springs Counter Service Restaurants lists are great post to read if you’re planning.
We’ve already been to Disney Springs over a dozen times in 2018, with a few more visits planned later this year once more new restaurants open. We’ve dined at all of the new restaurants and bars: Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, Enzo’s Hideaway Tunnels, Jock Lindsay’s, Morimoto Asia, etc. We also spent a lot the Edison, which is our new favorite nightlife spot at Walt Disney Worldof time at !
In case you haven’t visited Walt Disney World in the last couple of years, we’ll quickly recap all of the changes. Last year, DisneyQuest closed and a couple more restaurants opened. The year before that, the significant expansion to Disney Springs called Town Center debuted. This included area includes Sprinkles, Homecoming, UNIQLO, and dozens of other shops & restaurants.
In early 2018, the large waterfront complex housing the Edison, Maria & Enzo’s, and two other restaurants by Patina finally opened. Over on the Marketplace side, construction work has started on World of Disney that will re-imagine the largest store at Walt Disney World. It won’t close during this time, but the work will be done in phases, so expect the store to be even more congested than normal until Fall 2018.
In our “What’s Opening at Disney Springs in 2018” post we detail that new restaurants that are coming later this year. Suffice to say, we’re pretty optimistic about the additions to the lineup, particularly Jaleo, a concept by world-renowned Chef José Andrés, that will bring the “spirit and flavors of Spain” to Disney Springs.
If you’re visiting for Christmas, there’s more good news! Disney Springs will once again be adding an extensive overlay for the Christmas season. While a lot of this was hit or miss last year, we’re hopeful that things will be smoothed out in Disney Springs’ second year of big Christmas celebrations. For more information on Disney Springs (and elsewhere) this holiday season, read our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Walt Disney World.
Suffice to say, the construction has made a night and day difference at Disney Springs. We enjoy it now much more than we enjoyed Downtown Disney post-Pleasure Island closing. It no longer feels disjointed and dated, and instead feels like a Disney ‘community’ of sorts, with some unique and worthwhile draws. 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 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 are a few different “sections” to Disney Springs. The Marketplace is the main shopping area (and by far the most popular section) with stores like World of Disney and The LEGO Store. The Landing is adjacent to that on the waterfront, and features a high concentration of great restaurants and nightlife district.
On the “inland” side of that is Town Center, which is where most of the non-Disney shopping is located. The West Side is on the far side of Disney Springs, and is where more of the third party entertainment 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 the Disney Springs AMC Theater. 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.
One place that is really awesome is the Marketplace Co-Op, which features boutique stores and test products. I have made several visits (some might say too many) 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 2018 Fab Five shirt’ type of stuff that dominates too many gift shops at Walt Disney World.
We’ve eaten at several restaurants in Disney Springs over the years, and have found them to be of varying degrees of quality. Prior to the big expansion project, many restaurants were not good, and the only reliable spot for a consistently good meal was Raglan Road.
While that’s still a great option, the Boathouse, Homecoming, Morimoto Asia, and several other restaurants have revitalized Disney Springs’ dining scene. It’s now better than any of the theme parks, and also offers better value for money, as most of these are third party restaurants that also have to compete with off-property “real world” restaurants for the business of locals with cars.
Counter service is not quite as strong at Disney Springs, but there are some good options. 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. We’re bigger fans of D-Luxe Burger, Pizza Ponte, and even Blaze Pizza.
Ultimately, there’s really too much great dining to cover in this section. As mentioned at the top of this post, you really should refer to our Best Disney Springs Table Services Restaurants and Best & Worst Disney Springs Counter Service Restaurants lists before booking your Advance Dining Reservations.
Heading to the far side of Disney Springs, there are a few options that are major draws: AMC Dine-In Theater, Splitsville, and House of Blues. DisneyQuest was one of the main draws on this side, but it is now closed. In other parts of the West Side, refurbishments are being carried out to restaurants.
This means the West Side is currently in a bit of a transition phase. To be honest, we’re likely going to be ignoring it for until later in 2018 when Jaleo opens. Even at that point, there will be another year before the West Side is truly worth your time unless you have a specific purpose (seeing a movie, for instance) over there.
Come 2019, the West Side should likewise be revitalized. 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. Even though major construction at Disney Springs is mostly finished, Disney Springs continues to change and evolve. Thanks to that, Disney Springs will continue to feel fresh and new for at least each of the next several years, with more dining options coming on a fairly regularly basis.
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!
Are you a fan of Disney Springs? What do you recommend doing there? Any favorite Disney Springs restaurants? Must-do shopping or entertainment you enjoy at Disney Springs? Leave any questions or comments you have below in the comments!