It started as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, quickly became known as Walt Disney World Village would later become Disney Village Marketplace only to expand into what we knew as Downtown Disney. For a moment it was going to have a Hyperion Wharf to replace a Pleasure Island but now in 2016 the dreams for Disney’s retail district are as large as they’ve ever been even if largely the same as they ever were. Alas Disney Springs is here after years of construction and staggered openings, some of which are still ongoing. One thing is for sure, Disney’s retail district no longer finds itself in the 70’s nor the late 90’s and this isn’t the same Walt Disney Company it was back then either. Today the expectations for the media conglomerate are much higher than even just decades ago. Society is very different these days and every minute detail of what the Walt Disney Company does is instantly scrutinized, often here on this very site. The reach and power of the purse for the Walt Disney Company today is far different and greater than even what its founder Walter Elias Disney ever saw. It is through these myriad of perspectives and prisms that we often share our thoughts about just what is going on in the world of mouse. Disney Springs has a lot to live up to even if its beginnings were somewhat modest back in 1975 and the question on most people’s minds today is does it? Is it everything Disney said it would be and more? Are there surprises no one could see coming? Is the Disney difference evident? Does it revitalize Downtown Disney and most importantly should one make it part of their next Walt Disney World vacation? We’ll begin to answer these questions and more in the weeks and months ahead but we won’t make you wait another second for our initial impressions.
Infrastructure – Roads, Bridges and More Oh My!
Disney can still build great things when it wants to and Disney Springs is evidence of that. The sheer gargantuan scale of the reworking of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs still gives us awe and we’ve been covering the project since its inception. You can now go right in from I-4 Southbound straight into Disney Springs’ Orange Parking Garage. As if one massive state-of-the-art parking garage isn’t enough and trust us it isn’t there is another, the Lime Parking Garage, this one directly flowing into Disney Springs’ newly unveiled Town Center, the heart of the new areas for what was Downtown Disney built out onto what was formerly surface parking lots. Now instead is a welcoming lagoon that takes your eye into the Disney Springs Water Tower Icon and the Spanish-styled architecture that is pervasive in most parts of Florida and fits right in with Disney Springs’ Floridian inspired theme. Soon Disney’s bus system will flow in and out of this Disney Springs entrance and into an expansive bus parking zone much like the area built for the Magic Kingdom. But even more impressive and frankly necessary is that bus lanes were added to the center of Buena Vista Drive allowing the bus traffic to flow freely to and from Disney Springs whilst not crowding up the enhanced roadways beside it. Even pedestrians many of them Disney cast members will also have an easier time getting to Disney Springs due to the pedestrian bridges that now majestically span Buena Vista Drive. If there is one area to Disney Springs that we can definitively tell you is better today than it was yesterday is its infrastructure and the roadway improvements are a large part of that. Disney has largely gotten this right and it had to because there is no doubt many more people will be visiting Disney Springs than ever visited Downtown Disney or any other iteration of Disney’s retail playground before it. In many ways this is now Disney’s fifth gate and with access being the price of free it would be difficult not to see visitation soaring in the coming months and subsequent years.
Disney Sprung Beauty from Downtown
Before we get to the shopping and trust me we’ll go there with enthusiasm, we have to say a few words to Disney Springs’ aesthetic, how it has reshaped Downtown Disney as a whole into where it stands today and how Town Center raises the bar of retail theming at the very least for Walt Disney World if not elsewhere. The best part of a Disney project for us is watching it go from concept to reality and over the past couple of years the construction pace at Disney Springs has truly picked up and changed the landscape of Downtown Disney forever. While some areas do indeed feel fresh and new the biggest failing to the Disney Springs project may be that once you’ve visited Town Center, the actual from-the-ground-up new area of Disney Springs it is hard to view the existing neighborhoods of West Side and Marketplace without thinking they still need a ton of refacing and rethinking. Having received overlays, West Side with its abandoned railway high line and Marketplace with its admittedly far more useful Marketplace Causeway (a.k.a. bridge), the existing areas are to Town Center what “old” Fantasyland was to New Fantasyland. They’ve been spruced-up but there is little hiding the fact that if you built them today they’d be little like what was built then.
On the other hand, though it will always be tough to come to grips for some that Pleasure Island is no more, its replacement The Landing is much more of a reimagined space. The dining experiences from The Boathouse to Morimoto Asia are transcendent especially for the Walt Disney World Resort. Though it’s hard to see The Landing creating its own aura the way Pleasure Island came to be a brand and Town Center likely will as well, it does give off a distinct urban fun vibe through the thematic detailing of the brick and wooden buildings that house this waterfront escape. The Landing largely serves as a bridge between the existing Marketplace and West Side and the all-new Town Center in both theming detail and quality of experiences. Which then leaves us at the main course, Town Center itself with its shiny new decor and feel.
Town Center is the New Kid on the Block
Town Center is the heart and soul of Disney Springs and it’s where we plan on spending the vast majority of our time when at the area formerly known as Downtown Disney. This fictitious Disney town doesn’t have a vast thematic storyline to sink your teeth into, though there are some of those details if you search for them but what it does have is a Spanish inspired architecture that fits right in with Disney Springs’ Florida inspired theme. And it is stunning. If you are from Florida, or California the beauty of Disney Springs’ architecture is something you are accustomed to in homes or even other malls but for the vast majority of Disney Springs’ clientele who will originate from elsewhere the Disney Springs aesthetic in Town Center will feel luxurious especially when Disney’s design elements always seem to have that extra touch. From the varying stucco patterns on the walls, to the mix of dark woods, second story balconies complete with gardening and the red clay roof tiles that are a feature borrowed from the Mediterranean, Disney Springs feels decadent, close to perfect in its appearance and sometimes like an exquisitely executed theme park space but for retail. The wood-paneled buildings reminiscent of Key West as well as other Florida coastal towns are mixed into Town Center to give one a relaxing sensation along with the crystal clear blue waters in the totally revamped waterway that is now the home of Disney Springs’ – well, springs. Complete with bubbling waters and tree roots edging into the man-made spring all to give guests of Disney Springs that pristine look and feel when going about their relatively upscale shopping.
It is time to get to talking about shopping because let’s face it, it’s the reason Disney Springs exists after all. Disney and its retail partners would love nothing more than for every guest of Disney Springs to walk out with a little brown paper bag made with 98% recycled materials and a fancy modern logo emblazoned on it. Whether that becomes a reality depends on just what kind of shopper you are and Disney can attract. As a whole the shopping experience at Disney Springs unquestionably is upgraded and when all is said and done the total number of retail shops and dining experiences will have doubled. It means that Under Amour has a new spectacular two-story home. It means Alex & Ani finally has a permanent residence at Walt Disney World. It also means Pandora, Sephora, Lacoste and other brands so many visitors to Walt Disney World treasure are available to them at a moments notice and how the Walt Disney Company likes it, all on its property. For guests it means that if you forgot that expensive lip gloss you can’t live without, you can make a quick Disney Springs Town Center run. For Disney it means more dollars stay on property versus leaving to Mall at Millenia or even the Orlando Premium Outlets. It’s a win-win or so it would seem.
Distinctly Disney in 2016 but is that Groundbreaking?
If you are looking for a truly innovative shopping experience there is little we’ve seen that Disney Springs does in that regard thus far. It’s majestic, it’s beautiful but it doesn’t really do anything new. In fact the things that feel new are the Disney owned and operated restaurants from Poutine to Amorette’s Patisserie and D-Luxe Burger. That’s where you find hints of Disney details, care and wonder. But even these are borrowed experiences from Disney Park but not necessarily breaking new ground. That isn’t to say your shopping experiences such as at the extravagant two-story ZARA will be hampered by not having the Disney touch outside of the building’s design. For those looking for the specific stores available at Disney Springs at the moment and not looking for much else they will get to shop in a sophisticated new space. But for those looking for more, who hold Disney to the higher standard and expect a company with the largess and power of the Walt Disney Company to produce the unimaginable you’d be better off looking towards East Asia.
There is so much about Disney Springs that we love, so many great ideas coming to fruition and some that are a little half-baked by the standards we have set for the Walt Disney Company because of the greatness of their own history. The extraordinary thing (depending on how you see it) is that Disney Springs is still unfinished, its story is still to be determined. But at these early stages of its final chapter for now, we can safely determine that Disney Springs has definitely become a must visit destination at the Walt Disney World Resort. It will be part of your itinerary and if it isn’t already it probably will be soon. It deserves praise for its sheer beauty and scale and even some of its details. Some will love Disney Springs more than they ever loved Downtown Disney and every iteration before that, others will be left wanting more (hello Apple Store) but either way we at Da Mouse welcome Disney Springs into the Walt Disney World family with open arms and we can’t wait to share with you all the finer details about this magnificent place. From the elaborate and yet finely styled cupcake house, Sprinkles to the train yard shopping district where you can find Tommy Bahama, the next few weeks and months will include a steady deluge of Disney Springs for you our Da Mouse reader. We can’t wait to hear what your experiences of Disney Springs are for you and your family as we continue to share ours with you. Disney Springs is finally here, can you believe it, now it’s time to enjoy.