For nearly 20 years, Walt Disney World’s dining, shopping and entertainment complex was known as Downtown Disney. The area has now been transformed into Disney Springs. The site is inspired by existing Florida towns like Coral Gables and St. Augustine.
Like most Walt Disney World parks, Disney Springs is most crowded on weekends. On week days, it tends to be more crowded in the evenings as park goers head there to dine and shop before returning to their hotels. As with a visit to any Disney theme park, a visit to Disney Springs can be overwhelming without a plan. Here are some things to consider to help make your visit more enjoyable:
10 Things to Know Before You Visit Disney Springs
1. Get the lay of the land
Disney Springs is quite large. It’s about a 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other. All shops have a map of the complex. Be sure to get one and don’t hesitate to ask any employee for directions. The area is divided into four distinct neighborhoods.
- The Landing – is a colorful commercial district with high end dining and lovely waterfront views
- The Marketplace – This is the most family-friendly neighborhood featuring an over-the-water pedestrian causeway, along with classic Disney favorites, including the world’s largest Disney merchandise store – World of Disney.
- The West Side – provides lively entertainment and nightlife options including bowling, a huge movie theater and the Cirque de Soleil amphitheater.
- Town Center – is the “shopping mecca” of Disney Springs. Keep in mind that the same stores can be found in major shopping malls across the country. The dining offerings are worth checking out.
2. Make a Plan
Depending on the amount of time you have to wander Disney Springs, you will want to make a plan. Consider the favorite thing for each of your family members. Have a little princess in your life? Head to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Have a Lego lover? The Lego store is not to be missed. Is dining your goal? Check out the options ahead of time to make your selections. If entertainment is your focus – like Cirque de Soleil or House of Blues, make sure to purchase tickets in advance.
3. Avoid the crowds
Most shops at Disney Springs open at 10:00 am. Restaurants that serve breakfast open at 9:00. If you want to hit some favorite shops with the kids without the crowds, get there before 11:00. One shop manager told me that the Disney Springs is a bit slower between 2:00-5:00 as well. Many restaurants are very crowded for lunch. Aim for an early lunch at 11:00 or a late lunch after 2:00.
4. Save Your Souvenir Buying
Disney Springs is the perfect place to buy souvenirs for yourself and for those back home. It’s truly a shopper’s paradise. Spend your time enjoying the rides at the parks and save your souvenir shopping for an off day. If you forgot to buy something in a park there’s a good chance that you can find it somewhere in Disney Springs. You can find everything from Christmas items, to cookware, apparel, pins, artwork, cell phone covers, sparkling tiaras and so much more! There is likely something to delight everyone in your family at Disney Springs.
5. Consider your budget
Disney Springs is NOT an outlet mall by any stretch of the imagination. Most items are full price. I only saw a few sales racks. Let your kids know your budget before you even set foot on the Disney Springs grounds. This will help kids more carefully consider their choices and maybe shop around for the best find or the most unique souvenir to take home. Check out dining options ahead of time to get a feel for what you might like to spend on lunch, snacks or dinner.
6. Dining Options
Be aware of what restaurants fit your dining plan options. Do you want a sit down meal or express option? Check which restaurants take reservations to save the hassle of wait times. I had a lovely lunch at Wolfgang Puck by making a reservation. Table-Service Restaurants, Character Dining and Signature Restaurants book quickly. Advance reservations are also required for Dinner Shows.
- Make reservations through the My Disney Experience app, at disneyworld.com/dine or by calling 407-WDW-DINE up to 180 days prior to your visit for the best options.
7. Getting Around
Transportation is available from all Disney Resort hotels, and self-parking is complimentary on our surface lots and both parking garages. A few bridges help connect different areas of Disney Springs providing lovely water views and short cuts to get from one area to another (check your map for details). My favorite way of getting around is the water taxi. It’s a great option for tired feet and a fun way to see the area from the water.
8. Family Friendly Entertainment
There are a number of great options for family entertainment to fit a variety of budgets. Here are my favorites:
Splitsville – Not your typical bowling alley with retro styling, comfortable lounge seating, a full bar and a delicious menu. Disney character balls add to the fun. You can book lanes in advance. Walk in pricing is $15 per person between 10:30 am- 4:00 pm. $20 per person all other times and on weekends. The food, especially the sushi, is terrific. There is also a kids menu.
AMC Theaters – especially helpful for a rainy day, you can catch the current box-office hits in the comfort of reclining chairs and dine in theaters.
House of Blues – best for families with older children, since the music is quite loud. Most evenings have a 7:30 show featuring a live concerts to dance the night away. If you will be there over a weekend, the Gospel Brunch is not to be missed. The music is great and so is the food.
Cirque de Soleil – La Nouba – I was disappointed that the show happened to be closed during my visit so be sure to check the calendar and book in advance for the best seats. The show offers a blend of vibrant music, daring acrobatics and dazzling choreography. I’ve seen 3 other Cirque shows and can’t brag about them enough. They are amazing!
9. Family friendly activities
I like to explore activities beyond the typical Disney character stores. Here are some unique activities that kids of all ages are sure to enjoy.
The Lego Store – has a fantastic display of lego sculptures of some disney favorites and other fantasy scenes. You can miss the fire breathing dragon out front. There are building pods where both children and adults can make lego creations. Step inside the store where to enjoy air conditioning and the building pods tend to be less crowded than the ones outside. There is also a chance to make Lego cars for racing activities.
Once Upon a Toy – This shop tends to be less crowded than the larger Disney themed shops. There are also two building activities inside. Build your own Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head with a large variety of fun accessories. You can even turn Mr. Potato Head into Darth Vader Potato Head. In the Star Wars area you can build a custom light saber or mini droid.
Market Place Co-Op – This was by far my favorite shop. It had the most unique selection of souvenirs, gifts and apparel. The super cool activity here was the D-Tech On Demand where you can personalize your phone case, charger and all your mobile gadgetry with your favorite Disney personality.
10. Great shops for the grownups
If you are like me, you like to take a break away from the family and have some time to yourself. If you are lucky enough to hand off the kids to a spouse, friend or family member, here are the shops I found as delightful indulgences for the grownups.
Arrabas Bros – This shop features amazing designs made of porcelain, glass and crystal. Surprise a princess in your life with a tiara or splurge on a delicate souvenir for yourself. This Disney castle was spectacular!
Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop – sure, the kids can enjoy an ice cream, but step into the chocolate shop to explore more grown up choices. Even if you just want a taste, someone is always giving out free chocolate to try. Yum!
Basin – Just walking into this shop is a delight for the senses. You’ll be surrounded by aromatherapy in this all-natural bath and body shop. You’ll find body butters, bath bombs, bath salts and freshly sliced soaps. My favorite indulgence is the sugar scrub station. You can try a variety of the scrubs and leave the store with soft, smooth hands. It’s like a mini spa treatment.
Amorette’s Patisserie – This is a sophisticated pastry shop. Think éclairs, New York-style cheesecake, cookies, macarons and signature cakes. You can even watch the chefs decorate their masterpieces. The chefs will pair a sparkling wine with your chosen pastry to enjoy in house or back in your room.
I hope this guide to Disney Springs helps make your visit more enjoyable. It’s truly a wonderful place to explore. If you are looking for lodging, I highly recommend The Wyndham Lake Buena Vista. It’s the closest hotel to Disney Springs with great family friendly rooms, a fantastic pool area, character breakfasts and more.