The four theme parks are what draw most people to visit but there is so much more to do at Walt Disney World Resort. With themed resorts, recreation, water parks and hundreds of restaurants to choose from, there’s always something new to do on an Orlando Disney trip. Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, is an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex at Walt Disney World with even more to do and see and.. eat! Those staying at DVC Resorts Saratoga Springs or Old Key West have fast access to Disney Springs. Saratoga Springs is located on the same lake and just a quick walk away. There is also a water taxi with a beautiful, scenic ride from Old Key West and Saratoga Springs that will take you to Disney Springs. All other DVC resorts have bus transport available. So what is there to do at Disney Springs?
Parking at Disney Springs
It’s free to park at Disney Springs. There are a few different parking garages for guests. The Lime Garage is closer to the Marketplace and World of Disney and the Orange Garage is closer to the West Side and AMC movie theater. The Grapefruit Garage is across the main road Disney Springs is on and accessible by pedestrian bridge.There is also the Strawberry lot on the West Side behind the Cirque du Soleil tent building and the Lemon Lot in front of it.
About Disney Springs and Theming
This area is formerly known as Downtown Disney and has had a few other names since it first opened in the 1970s. The shopping and dining district received a major makeover and retheming that took years, doubled the offerings and changed the name to Disney Springs in 2015. Disney Springs has an in depth theme and story but it is not easily recognizable to the every day visitor. The architectural style of adaptive reuse is created here in most of the buildings. While you’re shopping or dining you may notice the store or restaurant you’re in appears to have a different theme other than the current brand or purpose. Some of the easiest places to appreciate the theme and story of Disney Springs are Deluxe Burger which feels like a former ranch house and Morimoto Asia which doubles as the Springs Bottling Co.
Disney Springs has four different neighborhoods or lands.
Marketplace makes up the most eastern part of Disney Springs with notable features like World of Disney, Ghirardelli, Rainforest Cafe and The Art of Disney. In the story of Disney Springs, this was once a residential area that has since been repurposed.
The Landing is an island on the water accessible via different bridges. Formerly Pleasure Island, you’ll also find great nightlife and dining here at venues like The Edison and The Boathouse. In the story, this area of Disney Springs was built at the turn of the century. Imagineers chose to use authentic bricks from that time era from a local college.
Town Center has some of the best non-Disney shopping with well known brand name stores like Sephora and Coach. Authentic time era bricks are also used here and you’ll find great views of the springs from this neighborhood.
West Side is incorporated into the theme through the idea of a world’s fair that came to Disney Springs and decided to stay. Imagineers felt that made the circus tent and some of the other interesting visual structures fit into the story.
Stores Unique to Disney Springs
One of the biggest Disney Stores in the world is at Disney Springs. World of Disney is massive and has everything from kitchen ware to Minnie ears. It’s certainly a must-see shop on your visit. World of Disney was completely remodeled in 2018. The store no longer features larger than life twinkly characters around the ceiling but has a more minimal and open look instead. A highlight you’ll want to see is the side of the store closest to The Lego Store. This completely changes seasonally, not just the merchandise but the decor, light projections and feel of this whole shopping section. This store is themed to look like a former animation studio with a magical ink and paint check out area and counters themed to animators’ desks. Keep an eye out for Tinker Bell when you’re in line to make a purchase.
For more dainty pieces like fancy Disney themed, handbags and jewelry, you’ll want to head to Ever After Jewelry Co. This is the place where you’ll find popular items like Disney Dooney and Bourkes, Crislu Mickey earrings, designer ears and more of the like.
The DisneyStyle store opened with a younger generation and social media in mind. This store has trendy Disney apparel and accessories and photo op fun from wall to wall including a tea cup ride vehicle you can sit in for photos.
Candy Cauldron is a long time, fan favorite candy shop, themed to Snow White’s evil queen and her bewitching doings. This shop is also located on Disney Springs’ West Side across from the food trucks at Exposition Park. There are many sweets to choose from including a candy dispensary wall and a glass display with baked desserts but candy apples are the specialty here. It didn’t work out for the original Disney Princess but just one bite and all your dreams may actually come true with one of these.
The Marketplace Co-Op at Disney Springs is always interesting to visit. The indoor, rotating market style setting always has great finds whether it’s home goods, art, women’s apparel, a special collection or something seasonal.
The Art of Disney is a unique offering where you can find beautiful Disney character, movie and theme park art in every style, size and price range. Remember you can make purchases at Walt Disney World shops and have items shipped to your home.
It’s Christmastime year round at Disney’s Days of Christmas. If you love to commemorate travels with ornaments or enjoy Disney decor this is the shop for you.
This next one is also found outside of Disney Springs but absolutely worth visiting because of its rich Disney heritage. Crystal Arts by Arribas Brothers is a store full of sparkle with artisan made glass momentos and glitzy tiaras. The Arribas and Disney relationship dates back to before Disney Parks when, ‘representing Spain in the World’s Fair in 1964 the brothers met Walt Disney and impressed him with their finely handcrafted works of art.’
The Star Wars Galactic Outpost and Super Hero Headquarters are both found on the West Side. These are a fun visit for Marvel and Star Wars fans or those looking for a gift for one.
Other fun attraction type stores you may want to see are The LEGO Store with life size Disney Lego figures, the M&M’s store where you can make custom printed candies and the Coca-Cola Store which has a rooftop bar and a neat view.
Live Entertainment at Disney Springs
You’ll find lots of outdoor, live entertainment at Disney Springs. There are a few main live music venues with seating but you may also see roaming performers. The Waterside Stage across from World of Disney has a large bench, seating area and the full show experience with flashy lighting. Aside from bands, this is also where youth performing arts showcases and other special events often take place.
Waterview Park next to The Boathouse has a seating area right on the water and different musical acts will perform here. It’s a great place to catch a sunset and watch the amphicars come and go.
There is often entertainment like a live guitar player or a capella group by the fountain in between the AMC movie theater and Planet Hollywood.
The Edison restaurant has different kinds of live entertainment like musical acts themed to the era, dancers and circus art performers like aerialists.
Attractions and Fun Things To Do at Disney Springs
You can go bowling at Splitsville Luxury Lanes at Disney Springs. This two story location on the West Side has a lively atmosphere and also hosts birthday parties. The food at Splitsville is also excellent with sushi and American favorites done well.
Restaurant The Boathouse has an attraction of its own. Take a ride in a car that’s also a boat! It’s so neat to watch one of the amphicars drive down the ramp into the water and motor guests away around the lake.
If you’re ever at Walt Disney World when a new Disney, Pixar, Marvel or Star Wars film is coming out in theaters, Disney Springs is a fun place to be. The AMC movie theater at Disney Springs often has photo ops to promote new movies and a red carpet and decorations on opening weekend. If it’s a highly anticipated film, there may even be a corresponding special event.
Disney PhotoPass Studio is a photo shoot offering with a PhotoPass photographer and Disney themed and seasonal backgrounds. If you purchase Memory Maker or get PhotoPass photos with your annual pass, these images are included.
Aerophile – The World Leader in Balloon Flight is the balloon attraction that’s part of the Disney Springs skyline. This tethered and ticketed attraction offers a short overhead view of Walt Disney World.
If you love pin trading visit Disney’s Pin Trader’s store for a wide variety of pins and trading too.
House of Blues Music Hall has entertainment regularly but also brings in some popular bands for concerts from time to time.
In the Marketplace area there are a few small rides for kids that have an additional cost like a carousel and a tiny train that goes in a little circle. Grownups can ride too.
Best Restaurants at Disney Springs
Disney Springs pleases all kinds of tastes with unique treats and cuisines by award winning chefs.
Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ has homestyle menu items you’ll be thinking about reordering like the famous fried chicken, biscuits and fried green tomatoes.
Morimoto Asia has a trendy and chic atmosphere with an exciting Pan-Asian menu from celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto.
The Boathouse offers delicious food and fabulous sunsets on the water. Try the bar right on the dock for a different atmosphere and tour the vintage boat collection on our visit.
Frontera Cocina serves fresh and memorable Mexican food by Chef Rick Bayless in a colorful setting.
For themed dining experiences, try the loud and entertaining T-Rex Cafe with dinosaurs or the lush, green Rainforest Cafe. Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar provides a grown up themed setting with drinks and bar bites in a setting inspired by the adventures of Indiana Jones.
Planet Hollywood is a tourist favorite filled with movie delights and American dishes. Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant gives a full cultural experience with Irish dancing and music in the evenings.
For fine dining, enjoy a relaxing evening at Jaleo with Spanish cuisine. Paddlefish will delight seafood lovers with an upscale atmosphere in a unique boat shaped restaurant on the water.
For food that’s fast but delicious try 4 Rivers Cantina Barbacoa Food Truck for amazing bowls and chips and guacamole or Blaze for customizable pizzas. D-Luxe Burger also serves incredible fries with delicious sauces and, of course, gourmet burgers. Pizza Ponte has some of the best slices you’ll find in the Sunshine State. If you’re not familiar with Earl of Sandwich it’s also worth a visit if you enjoy a good sandwich.
Amorette’s Patisserie is a Disney owned bakery with the prettiest, fanciest, theme-iest cakes you’ve ever seen. Gideon’s Bakehouse provides a very themed grab and go experience with some of the best cookies you’ll ever eat. Joffrey’s Coffee has a really neat latte art machine that puts the cutest Disney art on drinks.
For special sweet treats try Sprinkles cupcakes, chocolate from The Ganachery or an exciting assortment of allergy friendly baked goods from Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC.
You can also get many classic Disney Parks snacks and desserts like Dole Whip, popcorn, churros and Mickey ice creams at Disney Springs. Most of these are found in the Marketplace neighborhood.Disney Springs is massive and can be overwhelming to navigate with its winding walkways. If you have specific things you want to see, or eat, I recommend taking a look at the Disney Springs map before you go to make the most of your visit.