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. Some venues however do charge an admission fee.
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 was 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 Drawn to Life by Cirque du Soleil (opening in March 2020), the NBA Experience, the House of Blues Music Hall, Splitsville Luxury Lanes, AMC Movies at Disney Springs 24 and Aérophile: The World Leader in Balloon Flight.
There are also a number of restaurants plus food trucks and shops.
The landmark Planet Hollywood restaurant has been transformed into The Planet Hollywood Observatory.
The existing Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba closed in December 2017 to be replaced by a new Drawn to Life by Cirque du Soleil show. In addition, the DisneyQuest building was demolished in July 2017 and replaced by the NBA Experience attraction.
The main theme 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. There are also a number of ground level parking lots nearby; Strawberry, Watermelon and Mango.
Read more about West Side…
Across a foot bridge from West Side is the newly named The 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 planned six months refurbishment and has re-opened as Paddlefish. In the end the refurbishment took longer than expected and Paddlefish did not open until February 2017.
Portobello Country Italian Trattoria has also been refurbished and has re-opened as Terralina Crafted Italian in the Autumn of 2017.
A new wine bar called Wine Bar George opened in early 2018, close to the Raglan Road Irish pub.
Read more about The Landing…
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 opened 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…
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.
One of the latest attractions is the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire by ILMxLAB and THE VOID experience which opened in December 2017.
Read more about Marketplace…
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 three separate multi-story parking garages with a combined capacity of around 9,000 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 called Lime was completed in 2016. The third garage built on the other side of the road from the Lime garage is called Grapefruit and it opened in 2019.
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 hence Marketplace. To reach the Town Center and Marketplace from the Grapefruit Garage, you have to cross the main Buena Vista Drive using a pedestrian bridge.
All three 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. They also have electric car charging stations.
The existing ground parking lot behind Cirque du Soleil is called Strawberry. The other two parking lots at the west end are called Watermelon and Mango.
During the construction phase, Disney 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 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 three years, large portions of the site were shuttered as a massive redevelopment programme got underway.
Read more about the old Downtown Disney….