Disney Springs (formerly called Downtown Disney) is a dining, shopping and entertainment complex. It is located on the shores of Lake Buena Vista close to Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and close to the I–4 in the south east corner of the Walt Disney World resort.
Both admission and parking (except valet parking) is free and it is open every day until late. Resort guests can reach Disney Springs by water taxis or Disney buses.
Disney Springs is a major upgrade to the whole Downtown Disney area, themed around small turn of the century Florida lakeside and waterfront towns that built up around a natural spring.
Like the ill fated Hyperion Wharf project, water plays an important part in the backstory.
Walt Disney’s parents actually got married in a small Florida town called Kismet on January 1, 1888 but the town of Kismet no longer exists as it was abandoned many years ago.
The heart of the new entertainment area features natural bubbling springs, like those found all across central Florida. Surrounding the springs are four neighbourhoods or districts; West Side, The Landing, Marketplace and the brand new Town Center.
A lot of the venues open around 10 a.m. and close late.
Like most Disney projects these days it is being opened in phases. Work started in 2013 and over the last couple of years it has undergone a radical transformation. The first phase of Town Center opened on May 15, 2016 and nearly all construction work was completed by the summer of 2016.
There are now roughly twice as many shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, some 150 in total.
The West Side is one of the original elements of the former Downtown Disney and provides a number of entertainment venues including La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil (closing in December 2017), Disney Quest (closing in July 2017), the House of Blues, Splitsville Luxury Lanes, AMC Movies at Disney Springs 24 and Characters in Flight operated by Aerophile.
There are also a number of restaurants plus food trucks and shops.
The existing landmark Planet Hollywood restaurant has been transformed into The Planet Hollywood Observatory.
The main change for West Side is the introduction of elevated walkways themed on abandoned overhead railroad tracks, offering shade to passing visitors.
The West Side is directly accessible from the Orange multi-story garage and as its name suggests it is at the western end of the property.
Read more about West Side…
Across a foot bridge from West Side is the newly named Landing which is located on the former site of Pleasure Island and part of the parking lots and opened in late 2015.
This area has seen some of the biggest changes with a number of new restaurants and bars opening along the waterfront including The Boathouse, Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar and Morimoto Asia. The Boathouse also offers Amphicar rides around the lake.
The mock paddle steamer, Fulton’s Crab House closed in April 2016 for a six months refurbishment and will re-open as Paddlefish in the autumn.
Read more about The Landing…
The Marketplace is home to a large number of shops including the LEGO Store, Disney’s Days of Christmas, Marketplace Co-Op and the large World of Disney Store.
Signature table service restaurants include T-Rex and the Rainforest Café connected by a new pedestrian walkway across the corner of the eastern end of the lake.
Read more about Marketplace…
The heart of Disney Springs is the new Town Center area themed on a 1900’s small Florida town with a central promenade built up around a “natural” spring. The last part of the re-imagining of Downtown Disney, the first phase opens on May 15, 2016 with the rest completed around July 2016.
It contains a number of new restaurants and shopping experiences including a Coca-Cola Store.
Read more about Town Center…
Disney Springs Parking
The existing Downtown Disney area already suffered from a lack of parking spaces and the expansion has eaten into this space. To address this, the new Disney Springs features two separate multi-story parking garages with a combined capacity of 6,000 cars and direct access to Interstate I–4. All the parking garages and lots have been named after Florida fruits.
The first garage, named Orange Garage opened in late 2014 with the second to be called Lime was completied in 2016.
Guests parking in the Orange Garage have direct access to Disney Springs West Side and the Lime Garage gives direct access to the Town Center and Marketplace.
The garages use intelligent red/green overhead lighting to indicate where you can find available spaces to save driving round and round looking for a space.
The existing east parking lot next to the Marketplace is called Lemon and the one behind Cirque du Soleil is called Strawberry. The other three in parking lots at the west end are called Watermelon, Grapefruit and Mango.
During the construction phase, Disney has introduced additional parking spaces in the SunTrust and Casting Building parking lots (on the other side of the road opposite the existing parking lot at the east end of Disney Springs. Two pedestrian bridges spanning Buena Vista Drive have been built to provide safer access to Disney Springs. These additional parking spaces are generally open after 5 p.m.
Disney is also offering a free shuttle bus service from the Team Disney parking lot to the south of Disney Springs. Both new parking lots are a 5 to 10 minute walk.
Normal parking and general admission will remain free but from November 2013, valet parking is available. To take advantage of valet parking, head for Entrance 4 on the West Side. The price is from $10 for the first two hours and it is available from 2:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
History of Downtown Disney
Downtown Disney started life as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village when it first opened in 1975 and was then renamed the Walt Disney World Village. It was renamed again as the Disney Village Marketplace and then in 1997 the area became known as Downtown Disney until it was renamed yet again in 2015 as Disney Springs.
Like its rival, Universal Citywalk, Downtown Disney offered dining, shopping and evening entertainment at a number of night clubs located on the adjacent Pleasure Island which opened in 1989.
In 2008, Disney suddenly announced it was closing all the clubs on Pleasure Island and then in 2010 announced a new project called Hyperion Wharf but it never came to fruition.
In March 2013, Disney announced a major redevelopment with a new project called Disney Springs and for the last three years, large portions of the site were shuttered as a massive redevelopment programme got underway.