Disney Springs is the shopping, entertainment, and dining district at Walt Disney World. This guide offers our best tips for where to eat and what to do. New locations have opened like Gideon’s Bakehouse, Cirque du Soleil: Drawn to Life, Everglazed Donuts, Salt & Straw Ice Cream, and more are coming in 2023–we’ve updated this with everything you need to know! (Updated June 21, 2022.)
Following Disney Springs’ rejuvenation and transformation from Downtown Disney, we’ve become big fans and frequent visitors. As tourists, we’ve visited primarily for ‘destination’ worthy entertainment, seasonal events, bars and restaurants, plus shopping trips to pick up souvenirs that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
While living in Orlando as locals, Disney Springs was our closest mall–we’d do dinner and a movie, plus brunch and a matinee on a weekly basis. That gave us a totally different perspective on Disney Springs, as revisited familiar favorites, shopped the sales, and dined for value more often. Suffice to say, we’ve become very familiar with Disney Springs!
Even though it serves the purpose of “local mall” for us, that’s really selling Disney Springs short. It’s significantly nicer than other malls in Central Florida, and is more an upscale complex you’d find in Southern California. The creative team for Disney Springs clearly visited The Americana (in Glendale) and The Grove (in Los Angeles), which is unsurprising given that Walt Disney Imagineering’s headquarters is only a few miles away from the former.
To that point, Disney Springs falls somewhere between upscale shopping mall and Disney theme park on the spectrum of design and detail. This is neither a compliment nor a complaint. It just is what it is. High-end outdoor malls can be pleasant places–far better than past incarnations of this space or any other Downtown Disney districts. It is a bit disappointing that Disney sought to emulate real-world malls instead of aspiring for something original and innovative, but it’s still an improvement over its predecessors.
Since I can remember, the Lake Buena Vista Village/Disney Village/Downtown Disney/Disney Springs area has been fairly generic (my memory only dates back to the Disney Village incarnation, which was changed in the mid-1990s to Downtown Disney). It’s always been a shopping center with Disney touches, rather than a fully Imagineered or themed environment. It’s quite possible that third party tenants don’t want want a themed spectacle distracting from the shopping experience.
Where Disney Springs really shines is in terms of streamlined organization and ease of visiting. As this complex grew from its humble beginnings into Downtown Disney, expanding to include nightclubs and a larger West Side, it became a hodgepodge with an almost linear layout that made it painful to navigate. Traffic flow was a nightmare, and all of that has been remedied with Disney Springs.
The layout is still familiar, particularly the Marketplace and West Side, but the former site of Pleasure Island (now The Landing) is almost unrecognizable and the addition of the Town Center makes the whole complex feel less like a never-ending corridor. Other structural changes to parking, pick-up/drop-off, bridges, etc., have facilitated better flow. The Disney Springs experience from arrival to departure is considerably more pleasant than what existed a decade ago, and that’s thanks almost entirely due to layout changes.
Visiting Disney Springs can still entail a lot of walking, but it’s so much more pleasant than before. One big thing to note is that there is not much cover outdoors at Disney Springs. We recommend avoiding it during the midday summer sun or when rain is in the forecast. Unless you’re constantly ducking into shops, you’re going to be out in the elements a lot. Disney Springs is definitely best in the late afternoon and evening.
While Disney Springs has improved across the board, it’s the atmosphere and food that are the big draw. Even prior to living in Florida, we made a point of visiting Disney Springs for two meals per trip. We now seldom visit Disney Springs to shop (like everyone else in the area, we do our shopping at Disney Character Warehouse for deeply-discounted merchandise), but still often to eat.
We’ve dined at almost every restaurant at Disney Springs, some many times. 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. Our additional recommendations beyond those lists would be to look for lunch and happy hour specials–many restaurants offer one or both.
In case you haven’t visited Walt Disney World in the last few years, we’ll quickly recap all of the changes. Right now, the area going through the biggest changes is the West Side of Disney Springs.
Salt & Straw Ice Cream Shop, Jaleo, and CityWorks recently opened, NBA Experience just closed, and Summer House on the Lake is opening in 2023. Other less significant changes have likewise occurred on the West Side, with more on the horizon. (It’s still the area that needs the most work.)
Cirque du Soleil: Drawn to Life also recently debuted on the far end of the West Side at Disney Springs. This show beautifully marries the family-friendly acrobatic escapades of the Cirque troupe with lessons of Disney animation. It’s a touching tale with ruminations on grief, perseverance, and using art and creation to overcome loss and personal tumult.
That might sound overly heavy and deep for the escapism that typifies Disney, but it tugs at the heartstrings in a fashion that’s familiar of Disney’s animated films. Those themes are there for those who want them; on the surface, the show offers stunning visuals and breathtaking acrobatics. It’s incredibly well done and fun…it just might make you shed a tear or two along the way!
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.
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. If you’re 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.
Speaking of which, unlike Walt Disney World’s theme parks, parking is free at Disney Springs. There are three parking garages and several surface lots at Disney Springs. Lime Garage is on the far side of Walt Disney World, but more or less in the middle of Disney Springs. It’s easiest to access from off-site hotels or traveling southbound to Walt Disney World.
If you’re coming from somewhere within Walt Disney World, you’ll likely park in the Orange Garage. This has a slightly less convenient location within Disney Springs, but it offers the easiest parking if traveling northbound. There’s also the Grapefruit Garage, but pretty much no one aside from Cast Members (intentionally) parks there. It’s inconvenient to everything. While there’s much debate among Walt Disney World fans about the “best” Disney Springs parking option, you should do Orange or Lime–whichever you approach first. It’s as simple as that.
Still, if you’re staying in a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you might consider just taking the bus. The ultimate advantage is staying at Saratoga Springs and walking over. In fact, our opinion of Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa has been elevated considerably by the improvements at Disney Springs–we now love staying in Congress Park and walking over to Disney Springs for a nightcap or dessert after getting back from the parks.
You can also take a boat to Disney Springs if you’re staying at Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, or Port Orleans French Quarter or Riverside. It’s a lovely float down the Sassagoula River–you might consider going from Disney Springs to those resorts even if you’re not staying at them on your non-parks days.
To really avoid the crowds, you can visit Disney Springs first thing in the morning. This is far and away the least busy time of day at Disney Springs; if you visit before noon, you’ll encounter minimal crowds. Even on weekends, it’s not even remotely busy before noon. Disney Springs gets progressively busier as the day goes on, peaking around 6-8 pm.
However, 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. Even though it’s significantly busier in the evenings, we’d never recommend doing Disney Springs during the day at Christmas-time. It’s simply such a better experience at night–the crowds are worth it.
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 Fab Five with the year 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 mentioned at the top of this post, you really should refer to our Best Disney Springs Table Services Restaurants before booking your Advance Dining Reservations.
Counter service is also very strong at Disney Springs, and there are several 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.
Another inexpensive option is Blaze Pizza, but you can find that pretty much everywhere. We’d recommend skipping both for more unique and ambitious alternatives.
We’re bigger fans of Polite Pig, D-Luxe Burger, Pizza Ponte, and Chicken Guy. In fact, there are several counter service options that far surpass their in-park counterparts. (Everglazed Donuts, pictured above, might be viewed as a snack spot given the name–but where it excels is on the savory side. The burger is one of our sleeper picks!)
This is likely the case since Disney Springs doesn’t benefit from the “theme park bubble” and competes to a greater degree with nearby off-property restaurants. Remember, many visitors to Disney Springs are locals–they have cars and are not a captive audience. (See our Best & Worst Disney Springs Counter Service Restaurants list for a full run-down.)
While there are great restaurant options, we absolutely love snacking at Disney Springs. Swirls on the Water is great for a refreshing Dole Whip, Everglazed has fun and unique doughnuts, and don’t even get us started on Amorette’s Patisserie. You can also find a number of savory options, including Daily Poutine and the sides at Polite Pig.
With that said, the must-do dessert spot at Disney Springs is Gideon’s Bakehouse, which is so popular it usually uses a virtual queue. Another personal favorite is Salt & Straw Ice Cream, which is a scoop shop serving up envelope-pushing flavors.
For those who need an afternoon or evening pick-me-up, there are two different Starbucks locations at Disney Springs–one near World of Disney and another on the West Side. See our Guide to Starbucks at Walt Disney World for more info about both, where you can find Disney-exclusive mugs, and more.
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 has totally won us over, and this is even as some minor work remains ongoing. With a new look plus a ton of great new shops and restaurants, Disney Springs has been revitalized.
It’s now an 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 now 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? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!