A Look at the New Disney Springs: A Photo Tour

by Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer

Disney Springs has gone through several life cycles since it was first introduced in the middle 1970s. In its first attempt, it was called the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, and was comprised mainly of what is now known as the Marketplace. It was later renamed the Disney Village Marketplace. In the late 1980s, Disney introduced Pleasure Island which was an area of nightclubs, restaurants, and bars. Disney initially required a separate ticket to visit this area at night. In the 1990s, Disney Village Marketplace was again renamed to Downtown Disney and shortly after that, they opened the West Side.

The area was a good place for guests to spend time and money without entering one of the parks, and also provided reasonable entertainment for locals looking for good, safe shopping and entertainment. To tell the truth, when we first moved to Florida about five years ago, there wasn't much draw for us in Downtown Disney except Ghirardelli's, the Rain Forest Café, and Earl of Sandwich. Not even a Starbucks at that time.

Since then, Disney has embarked on a major renovation of the Downtown Disney area, and it looks to us like it's going to end up being a great place to spend time. With the addition of several new restaurants and the renovation of others, plus the addition of lots of high end shopping, it's got quite a bit to offer.

The back story as we understand it says that the Springs was discovered as a water source in 1850 by a rancher named Sinclair. He and his family built a ranch called the Glowing Oak Ranch where they raised cattle. In the evenings, the ranch hands would build their camp fires under an old oak tree that sat outside the ranch house and because of the light casting from the campfires up into the oak tree, the name Glowing Oak Ranch was born.

Later, a town evolved around the Glowing Oak Ranch and this, with its Spanish influenced architecture is what is known today as the Town Center. The town expanded in the direction of the Marketplace in the 1930s with American Craftsman style buildings and across the Springs toward Lake Buena Vista with an industrial area that's now known as The Landing.

In the 1950s, the town hosted a world's fair which was built in the area that's now known as the West Side. You can see remnants of the fair in the form of the tent, which is now La Nouba, by Cirque du Soleil, and the hot air balloon—which is actually a helium balloon—near the bridge into the West Side from the Landing.

Mouseplanet's Jim Korkis submitted an article earlier this year entitled The Story Behind Disney Springs and it's worth a read if you want to know more.

With so much to offer at Disney Springs, it's impossible to bring a fully comprehensive photo tour of all the property, but we thought a brief look at some of the new areas might be fun. No doubt there will be other articles in the future as this Disney project unfolds.

It's worth mentioning that as you view the next few images, you might get the impression that the "springs" are phony, or somehow an exaggeration of someone's imagination. Our limited experience from living full time in Florida suggests just the opposite. These springs at Disney Springs look exactly like many of the fresh water springs we've seen and even dived in Florida. They may seem strange to the average person, but that's how they are in what locals call "the real Florida."

Standing on the bridge between Sprinkles and Cookes of Dublin, you can see the Springs with a view of the Town Center. To the left is the waterfront side of Frontera Cocina and in the middle is D-Luxe Burger. Photo by Donald Fink.

The Disney Springs Welcome Center is at the center of Disney Springs Town Center. You might say that it's at the very head waters of Disney Springs. Photo by Donald Fink.

The waterfront side of D-Luxe Burgers as seen from the springs side of The Landing. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Standing near the Visitor's Center, you can imagine the Springs as they make their way to Lake Buena Vista. Photo by Donald Fink.

Across a bridge from Town Center you'll find The Landing with Morimoto Asia, Raglan Road, and the Boathouse. Behind that, you can see the balloon from Characters in Flight as it soars over the West Side. Photo by Donald Fink.

Frontera Cocina is the creation of celebrity Chef Rick Bayless, who has several Mexican restaurants in the Chicago area. Chef Bayless is also featured on the PBS cooking show, "Mexico: One Plate at a Time." Photo by Donald Fink.

The Frontera Cocina menu was created by celebrity Chef Rick Bayless, of the PBS TV cooking show, Mexico: One Plate at a Time. The menu is described as "modern Mexican" with dishes mostly influenced by cuisine from central and southern Mexico. The restaurant is managed by Vista Springs, a company well known to Disney. In fact, they also manage one of the Mexican restaurants at Epcot, and one at Coronado Springs.

D-Luxe Burgers, where we've recently had what we could only describe as the absolute best hamburger ever. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The story of D-Luxe Burgers goes way back in the lore and backstory of Disney Springs. Originally a central Florida ranch house, the Sinclair family would prepare hamburgers for their ranch hands. The cowboys would come to the ranch house and make their camp fires under the old oak tree that grew next to the house, and the tree eventually became known as the Glowing Oak, because of the camp fires in the evenings. The ranch was known as the Glowing Oak ranch, established in 1850.

The burgers became very popular among the ranch hands, and presumably everyone else because when the world's fair came to the West Side in 1952, the Sinclairs opened a burger stand at the fair. They were so popular that the family decided to open a restaurant in the old ranch house, and named it D-Luxe Burgers. Today you can still see the flavor and style of the old ranch house on the outside and interior of this restaurant.

Hamburgers at D-Luxe Burgers are made from 100% Angus beef. They're ground from brisket, chuck, and short ribs. The patties are cooked to "medium" and show up juicy enough that you need to dig in before they get soggy. The malts shown here are made from gelato. That should speak for itself. Photo by Donald Fink.

If you can believe all the rave on social media, the Blaze Pizza quick service restaurant is a hit. We've not tried it yet, but we walked inside and spoke with the cast members. They were friendly and very excited to talk about their pizzas. It's on the list for us as soon as our diets allow. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The pizza ovens at Blaze Pizza are set to 535 degrees Fahrenheit, and crank out a hot pizza in just three minutes. Photo by Donald Fink.

Sprinkles has twenty-one locations in nine states, featuring cupcakes, ice cream, and cookies. Their newest location here at Disney Springs has become popular among locals. The only other store in Florida is in Tampa. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Sprinkles has a cupcake ATM. This, of course, is a novelty at this location, because if the store is closed, it's probably because Disney Springs is closed. But the ATM is available in other locations too. Who knows, maybe it's a way to avoid lines if they're busy. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

This image illustrates the importance of Disney's reliance of their fictional backstories in their work. To the right of this image is Town Center, that according to the back story, was built in the old Spanish style of many central Florida towns. To the left of this image and not seen here is the Marketplace with its 1930s Craftsman style buildings. Here, as possibly a transition, are buildings that, with their shingled sidings and eyebrow dormer, suggests a style from the beginning of the 20th century, from somewhere in the east coast of America. When you stop to really look, it's fascinating how Disney makes things fit. Their backstory almost becomes believable. Photo by Donald Fink.

A new bake shop in the Town Center is Amorette's Patisserie. It's one of several places in Disney Springs now where you can find high quality desserts and pastries. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The signature cake from Amorette's Patisserie consists of eleven layers of red velvet cake, chocolate cake, cherry mousse, chocolate mousse, raspberry pate de fruit jelly, and Italian buttercream. All this covered with a signature hibiscus fondant. Oh, and just for fun, every cake has a hidden Mickey somewhere on the outside. Photo by Donald Fink.

Amorette's Patisserie is what we would term as a high-end dessert and pastry shop. We haven't tried them yet, but reviews tend to indicate that they are first class in pretty much everything they do. It's on our list when the diet allows.

Strolling through Town Center reminds us of southern California with the Spanish influenced architecture. Of course, it's not supposed to represent southern California, but rather, central Florida and their Spanish influence. But, being natives of California, we think of LA when we see it. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

For Disney, it's all about the details. This water pump is a device that could have been used in the mythical Disney Springs of the 19th century to lift water from the river. And to make it more fun, with a little effort, it actually works. Photo by Donald Fink.

As you approach the Market Building from Town Center, you can't help noticing that the architecture isn't consistent with the rest of the town. The difference in architecture from most of the Town Center buildings and the Market Building would suggest that it was built much later than the fictional Spanish styled town of Town Center. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

The Market Building is home to several upscale shops including Kate Spade New York, Sperry, and american threads. It's listed in the guide map as being part of Town Center, but its architecture suggests a newer, more industrial building than the older Spanish buildings that make up most of the Town Center area. It does make a good transition from Town Center to the West Side. Photo by Donald Fink.

The clothing store Lucky Brand—located in the Town Center inside the Market Building—sells high quality men's and women's fashion wear, but I was drawn inside by the old Triumph motorcycle. Looks like a 650cc engine to me. Photo by Donald Fink.

The Boathouse is a table service restaurant located in the Landing near Paradiso 37 and the new Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar. By our standards, it's relatively expensive, but it's also worth the money. And it's not just about the price. If you happen to walk by, stop in and walk to the back dock. There are dozens of old vintage boats on display. You can sit and enjoy a drink or simply walk by and view the boats. Also, there's a unique gift shop next to the restaurant that sells, among other things, antique outboard boat engines and antique model boat outboards. And don't forget about the Amphicars. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Amphicars were originally manufactured in Germany between 1961 and 1968. About 90 percent of the 3,878 vehicles were imported to the United States between 1961 and 1967. In 1968, new EPA requirements went into effect that the cars were not able to meet, so imports stopped and production closed that year.

There are now fewer than 400 Amphicars left. Disney managed to round up a few cars, restored them and now use them for rides around Lake Buena Vista. There's room for three in each car since a captain is required to drive you around the lake. Each ride is about twenty minutes.

The Coca-Cola Store is listed as being part of Town Center in the Disney Springs guide map, but we think it fits better with the West Side. Regardless of its location, there's a great rooftop soda bar where you can try out various Coca-Cola products and get a great view of the Disney Springs area. Photo by Bonnie Fink.

Each parking structure at Disney is equipped with electric vehicle charging stations, and they seem to get a surprising amount of use. It wouldn't be a stretch to see these stations expanded in the future. Photo by Donald Fink.

World Entertainment, owned by Nicolas Jay, is responsible for providing Disney with the living statues at Disney Springs. Jay has been providing mimes for Disney for at least twenty years. His team has developed more than 620 characters and has appeared all around the world. Photo by Donald Fink.

Without visiting Disney Springs, you might be tempted to say that it's just another outlet mall in Central Florida. And while it does present a vast assortment of stores for your shopping pleasure, it's a lot more. We spend a considerable amount of time here, and we're not just buying T-shirts.

There are quick service restaurants—our favorites being Earl of Sandwich and D-Luxe Burger—but there are also some great table service dining facilities that rival the best restaurants in any of the Disney parks. Our favorite table service restaurants are The Boathouse and Raglan Road, but to be fair, we haven't tried many of the newer restaurants yet. Some of our specialty foods come from Ghirardelli's and The Ganachery, and of course we have high expectations for Amorette's Patisserie when we get the chance to try them out.

With all the excitement over the new Disney Springs, it's no surprise that many of the contributors at Mouseplanet have submitted articles, and they're worth a read if you want to know more. Here are a few: