Disney Springs: A Shopper's Paradiseby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
Hello shoppers! Today, let's take a little detour from the parks for a closer look at Walt Disney World's almost completed behemoth by the lake, Disney Springs.
The complex had humble beginnings. It opened way back in 1975 as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, and featured a decent collection of shops and restaurants. After a couple of years, it was renamed Walt Disney World Village and remained a shopping spot for locals and a smallish diversion for park guests looking to do something else on property. For my family, this was often our first stop at WDW during our trips, giving us a quick taste of Disney before heading to the Magic Kingdom (anyone remember the small playground that reminded one of salt and pepper shakers in the middle of the complex?).
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the village continued to expand. As a way to keep Walt Disney World guests on property at night, and to compete with Church Street Station in Downtown Orlando and eventually Universal CityWalk, 1989 saw the addition of Pleasure Island.
Then in 1997, big changes came along, with the launch of World of Disney, the largest Disney character shop in the world, as well as the West Side, with the addition of Cirque du Soleil, an expanded AMC Theater and DisneyQuest. The complex was rebranded as Downtown Disney.
After a few uncertain years that saw the closure of Pleasure Island amongst other changes and false starts for renewal, it was announced in 2013 that the area would undergo a major renovation and expansion that would result in the birth of Disney Springs, a massive complex with four distinct "districts." There would over 100 additional restaurants, experiences and for our purposes today, shops.
Now we come to today with the almost complete Disney Springs. As per the official Disney Springs website (which you should check out for options, special offers and coupons), there are 107 shopping options available. Let's take a look at some of these, arranged by each of the four main districts along with this writer's tips and opinions as to what you may want to visit.
This is where it all began and remains my favorite place to visit at the Springs. This is the site of the original Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village (to this day, my family refers to the entire complex as the shopping village) and is the place to find everything Disney. While there are Disney -themed shops throughout Disney Springs, this is where they're concentrated. From Disney-branded clothing and collectible artwork to keychains and luggage, you can find it all here. Some of my favorites include:
World of Disney – We have to start with the big enchilada that was recently expanded to be even bigger. Billed as the largest Disney character shop in the world, you can find almost anything here. There's plenty to choose from, with giant rooms dedicated to—among other things—women's clothing, men's clothing, baby goods, watches and jewelry, housewares, and princesses. There's also the largest plush wall I've ever seen. You want Star Wars goods or items based on other recent Disney properties? They have those, too.
Art of Disney – This is where you'll find collectible artwork and keepsakes, some of it one of a kind (my previous article goes into more detail on these great shops).
Disney Days of Christmas – If you're read my other articles, you know I love the Disney Christmas shops—and this one is the largest. There's a great assortment of ornaments, tree skirts, stockings, and small display trees. You can also have items personalized for a reasonable price, and shipped either to your home or your resort hotel. Open all year long, you walk in and instantly feel like it's the holidays.
Marketplace Co-Op – This is a mini-mall with a wide and ever-changing array of shops, all with a Disney flair. Twenty-Eight and Main features men's clothing with a Disney edge, including some great T-shirts based on park attractions. Wonderground Gallery has some great funky Disney artwork, and Disney TAG has luggage and other travel goods. Visit here frequently to check out the changing line-up of shops.
As a big Disney collector, for me the Marketplace is the mother of all Disney shopping experiences. In addition to the above, Once Upon a Toy, Goofy's Candy Company, and Marketplace Fun Finds (home of the miscellaneous grab bag and cheapish toys) are also must-visits. Shopping in the parks is great, but if you're looking to pick up all your souvenirs at once and in one place, this is where to go. This is the area that got these least renovation in this last go-round, but the choices alone make it worth a visit.
The Landing occupies the spot that used to be the home of Pleasure Island. In the middle of the complex and right along the water, it's picturesque and a must-visit for those who want to get the full Disney Springs experience. In terms of the best finds here, they seem to be more of the culinary and baked goods variety, rather than merchandising. I will defer to my Mouseplanet colleagues who cover that beat to comment on those.
From a shopping perspective, there are a few nice places. There's a large Apex by Sunglass Hut, Chapel Hats, and Havaianas, which sells some great footwear. I can tell you that I got my hair cut today, and there were three guys waiting there wearing Havaianas flip-flops, so there must be something to them. Most of the other shops are connected to the restaurants in the district, such as the Boathouse or Raglan Road.
Town Center is the newest addition and most "mall-like" of the districts. Let me say that this is the most convenient section to visit if you're driving or taking Disney transportation. It's right next to the new Lime Parking garage (a very welcome addition for someone who spent years driving around looking for parking at Downtown Disney—it's multi-leveled and has a high-tech system that makes it easy to find a space) and the Disney resort bus drop-off area. Town Center is also beautiful, with Spanish architecture throughout the main section and a brick arcade area for rainy days. This district also encompasses the namesake springs.
What you'll find here are high-end shops that would normally be located in cities or fancy malls. Here are a few highlights:
Fashion, Fashion and More Fashion – There are many great shops if you're looking to expand your wardrobe. Lucky Brand Jeans, Tommy Bahama, Columbia Sportswear, and Under Armour are just a few examples of the many fine clothing stores to visit.
Coca-Cola Store – Located right on the edge of the West Side, this is the best themed shop in Town Center. Come here to find all kinds of Coke-branded merchandise (my favorite is the old fashioned green-tinted glassware) as well have lunch and some samples.
Personally, I like a little Disney in my Disney shopping. There are some great shops in this part of the complex, but , they lack the Disney touch. That said, I live 25 miles outside of New York City, so visiting a Sephora, Johnson & Murphy ,or Coach store is something I can do at home without having to figure out how to arrange the purchases in my luggage. If these are stores you don't have near you or you just like the idea of having all of it in one place, then you'll have a blast at Town Center. This district is beautiful, convenient, and has a ton of shopping options—but aside from the Coca-Cola Store and the beauty of the springs, you could really be anywhere.
Think of West Side as the Marketplace's funkier cousin, located on the extreme opposite side of the Disney Springs complex. Dominated by the Cirque du Soleil tent and the high line food truck park, it's really unique area. There are also some really cool shops here that you wouldn't commonly find anywhere else.
Harley-Davidson – Located near the entrance to the area, there's no better place to go if you're a motorcycle enthusiast. They have plenty of T-shirts and other themed Harley gear for fans. You can't exactly walk out of there with a new bike, but you can pose for a picture on one.
Star Wars Galactic Outpost – A great example of the ever-changing nature of Disney Springs, this is essentially a pop-up shop (that was previously a shop that specialized in Vinylmation) that has all manner of Star Wars merchandise.
Candy Cauldron – Ahh, Disney-themed shop that has all kinds of goodies when it's late and Goofy's Candy Company is way on the other side of the complex.
There are a lot of honorable mentions here as well. Fit2Run – The Runners Superstore and the United World Soccer Shop are great for sports fans. Bongos and the House of Blues, two of the notable restaurants in this area, also have fun gift shops.
There's some great theming to the shops in this district and some fun stores that most of us can't find at home, so for that alone, West Side is worth a visit.
Disney Springs is, in many ways, a shopper's paradise. You could spend a large chunk of a day just meandering down the many streets here going in and out of all the different shops. Where you should focus your efforts, as always, depends on what you are seeking. If you want to feel like you're at Walt Disney World and dream of having Mickey's smiling face staring back at you from a T-shirt (or figurine, or watch, or pretty much anything else), then spend your time at the Marketplace. If you enjoy that high-end shopping experience and want to shop till you drop for a new wardrobe, Town Center is for you. If you're a sports fan or dream of owning a Harley-Davidson hog one day, head for West Side.
It's also worth noting that Disney Springs is easier to get to. Downtown Disney always had a parking problem, and spending 45 minutes looking for a space was not an uncommon occurrence. During construction the last few years, it was even worse. I avoided the place by car for a year and a half because it was so hard to get around that part of the property. With the lime and orange parking garages both complete, parking is now much more of a breeze and you can park close to the area you'd most like to visit (lime for the Marketplace and Town Center, Orange for West Side; Landing is in the middle).
All in all, it's definitely worth your time. Just for the ambience of the place, if your vacation timing allows, I'd set aside a few hours just to stroll the different districts and take it all in. See all the shopping Disney Springs has to offer along with the great restaurants and nightlife. You'll be glad that you did.
Shopping tip of the month
This month's tip involves discounts. There's a very good chance that there's a card in your wallet that'll give you 10 percent savings at virtually any Disney-operated shop. If you carry a Disney Visa card, use the card for a purchase of $50 or more to get a 10 percent discount at most Disney-operated locations. If you are a Disney Vacation Club member or are an annual passholder (any kind of pass), you qualify for the 10 percent discount regardless of purchase size. I have a Disney Visa and an annual pass, and often kick myself for forgetting to use them. This discount works in many—though not all—restaurants, too. The point is, simply ask what discounts are available whenever you make a purchase.
It also pays to look for online offers before you leave home. For example, the Disney Springs website is currently flashing several discounts across its home page. These will be changing constantly, so make sure you check it out before you shop.