The 120-acre Orlando’s Disney Springs at Walt Disney World — open since mid-2016 — almost doubles the number of stores and significantly expands its dining, shopping and entertainment options formerly known as Downtown Disney. Why the name change? The theme park is always evolving.
This area opened in 1975 as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village and catered to residents of this still relatively remote area. The name changed in 1977 to Walt Disney World Village to attract people staying at new hotels going up in the village. In 1989 it was divided into two sections: Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island, a night spot. For the next two decades, from 1997 onward, it was known as Downtown Disney. The new Disney Springs expansion almost doubles the area’s size.
Disney Springs is divided into four major areas. The Marketplace and West Side of Downtown Disney remain much the same with some additions and refinement. The Marketplace has kept its quirky character and eclectic line of small stores. Shade trees remain to offer respite from the sun. DisneyQuest closed at the end of 2016, and the venerable Cirque du Soleil closed at the end of 2017.
The Landing is a new upscale waterfront dining area with a small fleet of watercraft. Tour boats include Italian water taxis, classic wooden American craft and rare amphicars (half-boats and half-cars built from 1961 to 1968). The signature Landing restaurant, The Boathouse, features fresh seafood, sushi bar, Angus beef and a casual outdoor menu. Also check out the Paddlefish seafood restaurant and the STK Orlando steakhouse.
Town Center constitutes the heart ofDisney Spring’s new dining and shopping destination. It’s accessed by pedestrian bridges over the a man-made waterway that gives Disney Springs its name. (There is no natural fresh water spring here — and hardly a tree anywhere to offer shade.)
Bridges lead to an open air shopping mall with more than 25 stores housed in large Spanish Revival style buildings. Look for an impressive list of well-known fashion names, similar to what’s found at the Florida Mall or Mall at Millenia. But how many people will want to do high-end shopping in a sunny theme park rather than an air-conditioned mall? Getting purchases to your car also requires a bit of a walk from Town Center.
The Welcome Center, identified by the shaded rocking chairs outside an Old Florida style building, offers air conditioning and a knowledgeable guest relations staff.
Regardless of how you feel about shopping, don’t overlook Town Center restaurants. There are some very good ones, including casual ones, but sit-down meals cost two to three times that of comparable restaurants around Orlando.
Parking spaces were sparse at Downtown Disney. That problem no longer exists at Disney Springs. Two (free) multi-level parking garages eliminate shortages. Lime parking is closer to the Marketplace; Orange is more convenient to the Town Center. Surface parking is a better option for seeing the West Side.
Find the Disney Springs at Walt Disney World map here. Zoom in close to make sense of the layout and locate restaurants and stores.