Exploring Disney Springs
Formerly known as Downtown Disney, the popular Orlando restaurant, entertainment, and shopping district inside of Walt Disney World recently underwent a facelift. Renamed Disney Springs, this area of trendy shops and restaurants centers around a man-made spring, a nod to Florida’s most precious natural resource.
About Natural Florida Springs
Florida is home to the largest concentration of natural springs on Earth, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. They are, by far, Florida’s most precious resource. With over 900 springs, 33 are classified as 1st magnitude springs, pushing out over 64 million gallons of fresh water daily. Many of these springs are accessible to the public through the Florida State Park system, while others can only be reached by boat or are located on private lands.
Although some spring hunters don’t approve of Disney creating an artificial spring environment, the detail and artistry involved in Disney Springs provide an astounding representation of Florida springs, minus the invasive and non-invasive fish species, bugs, wildlife, debris which usually litters the sandy bed, and the curious kayakers. At Disney Springs, water bubbles from the artificial spring vents and floating lanterns dot the crystal clear lagoon. They look inviting for a refreshing swim, but these springs are for looks only, a centerpiece for the different surrounding areas that represent the different communities and cultures of Florida, from waterfront harbor towns to Spanish inspired terra-cotta rooftops and stucco facades.
The Disney Makeover-Not Just for Kids
Famous for the ultimate princess makeover, the Bibbide Bobbide Boutique provides all of the elements needed to transform little girls into their dream Disney princess, with hair styling, makeup, dresses, and accessories. Although this dream transformation remains limited to ages 3 to 12, more mature gals can leave the kids under dad’s watchful eye at the Lego Store to build their masterpieces while they receive a makeover at Sephora. Nearby stores like Anthropology, Free People, and Zara can help create a more sophisticated princess style that would make Cinderella’s step-sisters green with envy.
The Shopping Hub of Walt Disney World
Guests will find a plethora of shops at Disney Springs, from the more traditional Disney Pin Trader to the thematic like Harley Davidson, Coca Cola and Marvel. Shoe stores, spice stores, housewares and art–the variety seems endless. Not a shopper? No problem.
This entertainment complex area offers movie theaters, themed restaurants, and even a Splitsville, where visitors can bowl and dine at the same time. Check out the live music at House of Blues, catch a gin & tonic at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar set in an Indiana Jones type- setting, dine under a rainforest canopy at the Rainforest Café, or grab a coffee at one of their Starbucks coffee shops.
Kid-Friendly Dining Options at Disney Springs
Visitors in search of that memorable family meal may want to try one of Disney Spring’s Themed Restaurants. T-Rex offers dining under moving dinosaurs. Kids can uncover dinosaur bones in a sand pit play area, adjacent to the restaurant, or build a dinosaur in a build-a-bear type store. In the Rainforest Café, patrons dine inside of a volcano, where animals come to life throughout the dining area, reaching a crescendo of jungle sounds during a thunderstorm. Movie fans may prefer Planet Hollywood, where they enjoy their dinner among movie screens and memorabilia. Rather have dinner & a show? The AMC Dine-In Theaters offers meals during the current flicks in one of their 24 theaters. Watch and eat at the same time.
Live performances are offered throughout the Disney Springs complex daily, from music to street performers.
The Original Downtown Disney area, the Marketplace, has face painting, a carousel, a little train to ride and even some friendly character-statues for those pint-sized Disney fans.
Our Family Favorites:
On our recent Disney Springs expedition, we dined at Raglan Road, an Irish Pub and Restaurant, offering live music and River Dance Irish dancing and yummy traditional fare. Our son chose this as his favorite Disney Springs place. The brown soda bread with an olive oil and Guinness dipping sauce made for a tasty treat. We shared an appetizer of an Irish Egg – a Guinness and onion sausage encrusted egg (delish!). My son devoured a leg of lamb with mashed potatoes, declaring it to be the best lamb ever, while I tucked into a salad and pie of the day (chicken pot pie). If we hadn’t been so full, we would have tried the steamed orange pudding or lemon curd tart- but there is only so much we could eat! Around the corner, a chip shop offered faster, less expensive fish and chip and pig-in-a-box dining options.
The Japanese clothing store Uniqlo provided us with a fascinating look into the minimalist, yet affordable fashions from Japan. This two-story shop with an escalator (okay, I confess, we love riding escalators!) displayed everything from t-shirts to button-down shirts, women’s dresses, jackets and more. Uniqlo was my fave Disney Springs place, where Japanese tradition mixes with modern style. Kimonos, paper fans, and a few other items were on offer to remind us of this store’s roots.
The Coca Cola Experience
Years ago Epcot had a Coca Cola Experience, where visitors walked through an icy cave to a giant Coca Cola lover’s paradise, where they could try free samples of the different varieties of Coca Cola from around the world- and there were many. Though the experience no longer exists, Coca Cola has taken over the Cubist building on the West side of Disney Springs and offers three floors of everything Coca Cola- from apparel to housewares and of course, Coca Cola. This was our daughter’s favorite Disney Springs pick. On the second floor, visitors can get a photo with the Coca Cola Polar Bear. Take one of the long ramp passages that wind around the building’s exterior upwards to their rooftop eatery for some fantastic night time views of the Disney Springs glitter.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Self Parking is free. Besides the regular parking lot, there are two parking garages the Lime Garage & the Orange Garage. Sounds like the beginnings of a great drink!
- Staying at a Disney Resort Hotel? You can catch a free Disney bus to Disney Springs. Good idea if you want to try a drink. Buses run until 3 am. Check with your hotel reception for bus times.
- There’s no swimming! Yes, you may have seen the adverts with kids tubing around those pretty springs, but there is no swimming in the springs area or the adjacent lagoon. The nearby Walt Disney World water parks of Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach provide plenty of wet fun for families.
- Dinner time is packed! If you are looking to eat in a themed restaurant, dinner time any day of the week is pretty packed. We went at 6:30 on a Thursday and the Rainforest Café had an incredibly long wait line. We waited 30 minutes for a table at Raglan Road. However, the next day at noon, we walked into Rainforest and were seated immediately!
Natural Florida & Finding Real Florida Springs
Looking for an authentic Florida Spring? The Florida State Park Service has 19 state parks named for springs where you can experience these unique wonders of nature. There are many affordable and sometimes even free spring-based local parks as well. Check out Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland for the one of the most picturesque springs set among looming cypress trees, Rainbow Springs State Park for year-round 72°F swimming in pristine springs, float over the world’s largest spring in a glass-bottom boat at Silver Springs State Park, or take a walk into a spring at the underwater viewing observatory at Ellie Shiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
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