Late to the game here, but we never shared new thoughts on Christmas at Disney Springs, nor did we do a December 2018 construction update on Disney Springs, so this is a bit of both. We’ll share progress photos of Jaleo, NBA Experience, Wolfgang Puck, and more.
While most of the Disney Springs re-imagining and expansion has completed, a handful of restaurants and other concepts are slated to open sometime in 2019, so work continues. In this update, we’ll take a stroll around Town Center, Landing, West Side, and Marketplace to check everything out.
Let’s start with Christmas at Disney Springs. Now, if you’re thinking that it’s pointless of us to post this after December 25, and with only a couple days left in the year…you have a point. However, the holiday offerings do run at Disney Springs until January 6, 2019, so there is a still a little over a week to enjoy them.
Moreover, in our existing Tips for Christmas at Disney Springs, we are harsh on the Christmas Tree Trail. That’s no longer a fair review of the offering, as it has improved significantly this year.
We probably should’ve updated that earlier so people didn’t skip it on our account, but judging by the crowds we’ve experienced at Disney Springs this holiday season, it’s not like they needed any “help” with attracting more visitors. (Holy cow!)
Previously, we said the Christmas Tree Trail felt like something you’d find in a Home Depot parking lot with decorations from the clearance bin at Hobby Lobby.
Our ultimate conclusion was that “Christmas Tree Trail is an unmitigated disaster. It’s hard to believe that Walt Disney World’s wonderful Holiday Services division came up with this, which more looks like it was thrown together by a couple of chimpanzees after polishing off a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”
Not exactly high praise, and not even remotely accurate for this year’s incarnation of the Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs. The concept here is the same: it’s still a bunch of themed trees with a temporarily walled-off area in the loop Downtown Disney bus loop. By and large, the concept remains true to its original incarnation.
What has changed is the level of attention to detail and degree of originality. There are many more ancillary evergreens with white lights serving as transitions between each themed tree display, and the walls to conceal the unused bus stops (or whatever’s back there now) are not just plain and unthemed.
In fact, the decor on these walls is my favorite part of the whole Christmas Tree Trail. They’re adorned with posters and faux advertisements that are nicely-designed and contain great references. There are clever, and look like they were designed by a fan–nods to Country Bear Jamboree, the Dreamport’s rainbow tunnel, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, Dr. Seeker, and more.
If these posters weren’t enough to win me over (they were), it certainly helped that the Christmas trees have far more substance to them, and the themes are conveyed via more than just off-the-shelf things for sale in Disney Days of Christmas (with an assist on the generic stuff from Hobby Lobby).
The oddball decor in these trees is still there. In the exceptional Haunted Mansion tree, there are some things that look like they were leftover props from the first season of True Detective. Random occult imagery aside (or perhaps not aside–this stuff is so befuddling that it really just adds to the fun), this Haunted Mansion tree is a stand-out, with a huge bride that’s arguably better than the one currently in the attraction.
In other trees around the Christmas Tree Trail, the improvements are more on the subtle side. There are ornaments that were either custom-made for their themes, or carefully curated so they’d work in service of the overarching design. By and large, these trees look nice.
This isn’t to say the Christmas Tree Trail is perfect or anywhere close to it. It still has a low-budget feel, and lacks the polish you’d find on any decor or offerings in the parks. There’s also a lingering sense that it exists to advertise ornaments for sale at Disney Springs, and the overuse of the ‘ornaments inside lanterns’ style is…weird.
With that said, this is a free offering outside the Walt Disney World theme parks, and I think it’s fair to grade on something of a curve. The Christmas Tree Trail could benefit from permanent, custom-made infrastructure and set-pieces, but it’s a decent-to-good free thing to do, and one that has improved substantially since debuting. Hopefully it continues on the path of enhancement, and is even better next year.
Now let’s turn to food, construction, and other random stuff…
The Linz Angus Burger lunch special at STK is fantastic. Highly recommended. Also a great, albeit unconventional, Christmas playlist. pic.twitter.com/XGbb0rNE14
After seeing Mary Poppins Returns (which we reviewed here), Sarah and I did a spontaneous lunch at STK. Like a total newbie, I didn’t bring my camera to the movie theater, breaking blogger motto. (“Be Prepared: You are always in a state of readiness in stomach and camera to do your blogging duty.”)
Anyway, I took the above phone photos of our excellent burgers. There are a variety of ‘happy hour’ specials around Disney Springs, and I should probably do a full post on them, but this is currently the standout. It’s better than D-Luxe Burger and less expensive!
The line was really long, so I went around to get other photos for this update while Sarah ordered. By “mistake” (yeah right) she ended up ordering the same, delicious cake we had before rather than getting the new stuff. I wasn’t even remotely upset. The other cake was just fine and tasted slightly stale–a rare misfire for Amorette’s.
Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill has been open for about a month now, and seems pretty popular.
We’ll review it at some point in 2019, probably once off-season hits and they start doing more aggressive discounting.
We will not be waiting to dine at the Awesome Blossom Transformer Restaurant (a.k.a. Jaleo), a concept by world-renowned Chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup that is replacing Wolfgang Puck. Tremendous progress has been made since we last stopped by here.
Judging by the recently-released menu (and its prices), we might have to do a DTB car-wash to raise funds so we can ‘live our best lives’ and eat so much that we can barely walk out of the restaurant. Suffice to say, our hype levels are off the charts for this, and it looks like it could open literally any day now.
Have you ever started a really big project, worked on it for a while, and not made much progress? You get to this point where, in your heart, you know you should probably cut your losses and just give up…but you stubbornly persist because you’ve already invested so much time, energy, and money?
Kingdom Hearts is one of those things about which I should probably know as a good Disney fan, but I’ve never even made any effort. About all I know is that it’s like Final Fantasy, but with Disney stuff. (Even that may be inaccurate.)
Anyway, this pop-up Kingdom Hearts III preview is super popular, with wait times over 2 hours on busy days. It’s across from UNIQLO in the flex retail space.
That wraps it up for this Disney Springs update. We’ll drop in again once the holiday season ends or Jaleo opens, whichever comes first. Hopefully there are also some off-season dining deals once the off-season starts, as we have a few restaurants we’d like to review/update, but some of the menu prices are a bit asinine, in our estimation.
What do you think of Disney Springs during the holidays? If you visited the Christmas Tree Trail this year, what did you think? As good as our review indicates, or still a letdown? Are you excited for Jaleo, NBA Experience, or anything else on the horizon for Disney Springs? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!