Stories of Disney Springs

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Florida has one of the largest concentrations of freshwater springs on Earth, with more than 900 natural springs. Springs served as locations for Spanish missions, steamboat landings, gristmills and more including reservoirs for irrigating crops. A few springs gave birth to towns, including Silver Springs in Marion County, Green Cove Spring in Clay County, and De Leon Springs in Volusia County.

Disney Springs is made of The Landing, the Town Center, with the Marketplace and the West Side.

Inspired by these small Florida towns that developed in the early 1900s around these bodies of water, the storyline of Disney Springs is that it also attracted its first settlers "more than a century ago".

That original group of settlers discovered a natural spring and a wonderful piece of land near it to settle on in the mid-1800s. They built the Town Center where the residents lived.

As the population grew, the town branched out to towards the water with The Landing which was the transportation hub and then, on either side of the Town Center, with the Marketplace and the West Side.

In the West Side there are remnants of an elevated train trestle that was supposedly built for the fictional 1950 Springs Centennial Expo. That Expo had hot air balloons and a big distinctive central structure like most World's Fairs that later became Characters in Flight and the Cirque du Soleil building.

D-Luxe Burger

According to the backstory conceived by Imagineers, a Florida cattle rancher named Martin Sinclair and his wife Clara discovered the water source in 1850 and settled there. Martin became "The Cattle King of the Springs".

The story of this craft burger restaurant owned and operated by Disney is recounted on artifacts decorating the interior of D-Luxe Burger restaurant which supposedly served as the original ranch house for the Glowing Oak Ranch. On the outside is the covered front porch where they could easily see the springs just a few short steps from their door.

Florida has the longest history of cattle ranching of any state in the United States so this back story honors that legacy.

The restaurant is inspired by Martin Sinclair (aka "The Cattle King of the Springs") and his wife Clara.

In a display case is an undated letter from Martin to his wife Clara:

"My Dearest Clara. After weeks spent exploring the wilds of Florida, I have found us a home! The first night I arrived here after a particularly hard rain, the light from my campfire was reflected in the droplets of water clinging to the leaves of the oak tree overhead.

"The leaves appeared to be dancing and the sight of it inspired me to name the place 'Glowing Oak'. In a fortnight I will return to you in South Carolina and cannot wait to start our living here in this happy place. Your loving husband, Martin. P.S. My crude hand cannot do justice to the beauty of this place but I've included a small drawing."

On the wall is a map of the cattle ranches in the state of Florida in 1865 including several fictitious Central Florida ones created by Imagineering like Reedy Creek Ranch, Buena Vista Ranch, Kissimmee River Ranch, Turkey Creek Ranch and, of course, Glowing Oak Ranch.

A posted vintage advertisement for "Ranch Hands Needed for the Glowing Oak Ranch" stated: "To tend the lands. Square meals and fair deals for all. Must be able to rope and ride. Opportunities for Advancement."

It ended with the slogan "There's a seat for everyone at our table!" which later became the slogan for the family restaurant. In the ranch house, the Sinclairs cooked meals for the ever growing number of ranch hands. The reputation for outstanding food sometimes resulted in them opening the house to hungry tourists and locals.

Sinclair shifted from just being a dealer in beef cattle after he attended the St. Louis World's Fair. In a display is a postcard dated from June 11, 1904 to Clara Sinclair: "My Dearest Clara, Greetings to you from the World's Fair! I am finding such wonderful things here. Among my most favorite discoveries is a kind of ground beef sandwich they call a 'hamburger'. I dare say, the recipe seems quite easy to discern, so I promise to fashion one for you upon my return. Your loving husband, Martin."

That inspiration resulted in the Glowing Oak Ranch evolving into a family restaurant. It held its first ever "Burger Day" on February 26, 1905 from noon to five pm. "It's no minced steak. It's hamburgers! Hit of the World's Fair. It's time for fun. Join us now for a burger on a bun…with plenty of plates and, chairs and outdoor space!" Glowing Oak Ranch became Glowing Oak Restaurant on July 24, 1921. The restaurant provided the refreshments for the Springs Grand Centennial Expo in 1950.

Officially, the "current owner, Martin Sinclair VI" re-branded the Glowing Oak Restaruant to D-Luxe Burger on May 15, 2016. While the ranch itself has been sold off and re-developed over the years, the oak tree that inspired the original still stands outside the restaurant.

Blaze Pizza

Blaze Pizza took over the space in Town Center at Disney Springs that used to be occupied by the town's lumber mill – The Buena Vista Timber Company established in 1868. It opened August 5, 2016.

The restaurant design includes elements reminiscent of the workings of a saw mill from a prop wood planer to the layout of the dining room where the tables and benches are arranged in rows to suggest logs that have been pulled up to the mill from the springs.

The Cypress wood panels that line the counter have a rough hewn bark edge. Log hooks hold up the menu signs. Vaulted ceilings and open trusses throughout give an open and airy atmosphere to suggest the vastness of the original mill.

The building is a showcase of the evolution of wood construction -- from early, traditional timber framing to modern-day feats of high-strength wood engineering. To highlight the change, the restaurant uses single species wood in the open kitchen and ordering area.

Materials then transition to multi-species wood in the indoor dining room. The design on the outdoor patio features furniture made from eco-friendly, reclaimed wood and sawdust composite.

Award-winning Los Angeles designer Ana Henton worked with Morris Architects to bring the project to life.

On the wall under a sheet of laminate is a cross section of a log with the following description:

"This 'sinker' Cypress log was recovered in 2013 from Florida's Apalachicola River where it was buried under more than two feet of river slit. At the time of its recovery, the log was estimated to weigh nearly 6,000 pounds and span just under fourteen feet in length. Experts believe the Cypress was approximately 350 years old when it was felled in 1812.

"Through careful work of a team of craftsmen, the log was split and sawn into wood used in this structure. The result of this effort is a material that displays timeless beauty, is environmentally sound, and represents a time capsule from our nation's earliest days."

Blaze Pizza is in a 5,000-square foot building with seating for approximately 200 people. The first Blaze Pizza restaurant opened on Aug. 6, 2012, in Irvine, California. It now has over 150 franchises in 31 states and Canada, but none in a themed restaurant environment like this one.

Because of the business' stated commitment to "Intelligent Choices for Our Pizzas, People & Planet", all dough is made in-house, pizza and salad ingredients are free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and the restaurant uses only eco-friendly packaging.

The concept for the restaurant is that the guest gets to build an artisanal custom pizza from selecting a variety of toppings and then the hot ovens cook it in one of the two open hearth ovens in roughly three minutes or less.

"When you think about the story of a Disney restaurant, it is the ambience, it is the structure, and the storyline that comes with the structure," stated Teresa Roth, director of food and beverage operations integration at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. We're fortunate with our Imagineering partners; they have created a great storyline. It's then taking that great storyline and creating it into a living, breathing document. The last thing you want is for somebody three years later to not understand the story or the 'why' behind some of the elements."

"We are excited to be part of the new Disney. True to Disney's high standards, we have built an amazing flagship restaurant that will include interesting architectural elements, great service, and fantastic meals," said Rick Wetzel, cofounder of Blaze Pizza.

The Ganachery

Among other things, the shop offers 16 different kinds of ganache squares, each made fresh in the store.

The Ganachery Chocolate Shoppe opened in The Landing area of Disney Springs in December 2015. A framed sign on the brick wall in the shop with vintage lettering proclaims: "Chocolate is Good Medicine".

Hopefully, that sentiment is true but it is placed in this location to explain the intricate design of the interior of this shop that now sells sweet treats. The building used to house the small town's only apothecary shop that supplied the necessary medicines for the inhabitants to cure their ills.

Ganache is a mixture of chocolate and cream that is often used as an icing or glaze for pastries, but it can also be used as a filling for truffles or cakes. It is usually made with two-parts chocolate to one-part cream.

Among other things, the shop offers 16 different kinds of ganache squares, each made fresh in the store. A show kitchen workshop in the store allows guests to see the fascinating process up close before their very eyes.

"Walt Disney World chefs traveled the world to research and create a custom blend chocolate with the finest beans for the all-new concept that will feature freshly made ganache," said a WDW press release. Cocoa beans for The Ganachery are sourced from Brazil, Peru, and the Dominican Republic.

According to the Imagineering back story, this particular building used to be the apothecary where residents of the Springs came for their medicinal needs. That explains the design of the vintage shelves and cubbyholes that were used to house various medicine bottles, boxes and vials but now hold chocolate instead. The ceiling is covered with beautiful stamped metal tiles appropriate for the original time period.

The space was taken over by a South American couple who turned their love for the cocoa bean from which chocolate is made into a fantastic chocolate shop. Most cocoa beans come from South America, so the Imagineers wanted to layer in hints of a Latin American atmosphere, from the ceramic drawer pulls to background music that includes a South American rhythm to reflect the heritage of the founding owners.

"We like to tell a story, because when guests arrive they want to feel like it's a real place," said Imagineer Theron Skees. "It's a fresh take on an old apothecary. Bottles, scales and other props are inspired by drugstores of another era, and well-used copper pots add a layer of history. Be sure to check out the chandelier made from authentic copper pots and kettles used to make chocolate."

Walls are painted the color of chocolate from dark brown to caramel. Photos on the wall are of the couple who opened the shop. The packaging design and all of the shop's coloration are browns, caramel, cream and ivory, inspired by all the colors of chocolate. Basically, the combination of design, costumes, graphics, props and packaging combine seamlessly to tell the back story.

"The theming carries through right down to the packaging," Skees added. "Traditional apothecary labels are 'blocked' with spaces for weights, measurements and descriptions, so we were inspired by that idea and made it more modern for the elegant chocolate bars and chocolate boxes."

The clever tagline for the shop, "the cure for common chocolate", references both the original apothecary shop and the current chocolate store.

"This is where Old World meets New World," Skees said. "Our cast members will bring our story to life and make our guests feel part of it."

Raglan Road

Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs is owned and operated by Great Irish Pubs Florida, Inc., the company of Irish partners John Cooke, Paul Nolan and celebrity chef Kevin Dundon.

The restaurant that opened in October 2005 has both a loyal local and international following and has won numerous national and local honors. Each March, Raglan Road hosts multi-day St. Patrick's Day events. Over the four day Labor Day weekend, it hosts the Great Irish Hooley Festival.

Traditional and contemporary Irish music, storytelling and dance are featured nightly and guests are encouraged to participate.

"Having built more than 400 Irish pubs in the four corners of the world, we believe that this is our best expression yet," said Paul Nolan, "We are incredibly proud and excited to continue bringing the best of Ireland to Disney Springs."

The name Raglan Road comes from an actual road of the same name in Ballsbridge, Dublin, Ireland. The real Raglan Road is on the south side of Dublin.

In 1946 the lane was made famous by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh considered one of the foremost poets of the 20th century. He used the melody of the old poem "The Dawning of the Day" for his poem titled "On Raglan Road". The poem was written about his unrequited love for a young woman.

In the 1960s Irish folk singer Luke Kelly first put the poem to music. "(On) Raglan Road" has become a seminal Irish song and has been covered by such artists as Van Morrison, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and U2.

Kavanagh was always seen sitting alone on a park bench by the Grand Canal in Dublin so when he passed away in 1967 after a long battle with cancer he was commemorated with a statue by the banks of the canal. Today, the only replica of this bronze statue of a man sitting alone on a bench thinking of his lost love, specially commissioned for this location, is found outside the front door of Raglan Road in Disney Springs.

That's why there is a crumpled hat placed next to him and the seat is not flat but slanted inward so it makes it awkward for a guest to try to sit next to him for a photo while he is looking down and pensively remembering what might have been.

Kavanagh is remembered by three plaques in Dublin. Two of them are at locations where he lived while the third plaque is beside his bronze statue sculpted by Peierls at the location by the canal where some say he found inspiration for his work. The lines on this plaque read: "Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal, pouring redemption for me."

The four aged mahogany and walnut bars that feature marble adornments, leaded glass and ornate detailing were handcrafted in Ireland for old Irish bars and churches more than 130 years ago and shipped to Florida. In addition, Raglan Road's furnishings, lighting and wall coverings were all created and built in Ireland. Authentic Irish antiques, ornamentation and bric-a-brac complete the décor.

The works of Irish artist Graham Knuttel have found homes among Hollywood celebrities and on November 11, 2011, the restaurant unveiled his commissioned painting for the restaurant based on Kavanagh's poem.

It depicts a pub scene in which more than two dozen unconventional Knuttel figures that include Kavanagh, Kelly, Irish rockers Bono and The Edge and writers James Joyce and Brendan Behan are celebrating. Looking closely, admirers may discover a photo of a child wearing mouse ears in the painting.

The Boathouse Amphicars

An Amphicar combines the two words "amphibious" (able to operate on both land and water) and "car". The Amphicar is still the most successfully mass produced amphibious car for the general public and was made from 1961 to the beginning of 1968 when a change in safety and emission standards prevented its continued sale in the United States.

The Boathouse at Disney Springs is the only place in the world that offers people an opportunity to ride in these unique examples from automotive history unless they personally own one.

The Amphicar Corporation in Germany produced 3,878 of the amphibious passenger automobiles total and less than 400 still exist today. Advertisements proclaimed, "The car of the future is here today. The sportscar that swims."

The Boathouse at Disney Springs is the only place in the world that offers people an opportunity to ride in these unique examples from automotive history unless they personally own one. The convertibles were offered in only four colors: Beach White, Regatta Red, Lagoon Blue and Fjord Green (Aqua). Disney Springs has two of each color car that cruise on the lake.

Steven Schussler is the creator of WDW restaurants Rainforest Café, T-Rex, and DAK's Yak and Yeti. He is also responsible for The Boathouse as well that opened April 13, 2015. Schussler has owned three Amphicars since 2005.

Offering the Amphicar tours around the perimeter of the lake was meant to be a way of preserving some of the cars remaining, as well as introducing the quirky creation to a new generation of fans as well as attracting attention to the restaurant.

Some of the cars were not in great shape and Schussler had modifications done on all of them including positioning the rear seat back further to offer an additional three inches of legroom as well as some mechanical changes to the bilge pump system and all new fuel injection and exhaust systems.

In an interview, Schussler did admit that some 3,200 components (generally unseen by the naked eye) were engineered specifically for the Amphicars in use at The Boathouse to guarantee reliability and safety and that each car required $65,000 to $75,000 worth of upgrades, on top of its purchase price which could run as much as a hundred thousand dollars.

The Boathouse has its own shop dedicated to repairing and maintaining the cars daily. Disney Springs has a small towboat anchored to the shore in case one of the Boathouse Amphicars stalls out and the drivers all have hand held radios to communicate that situation.

The two front doors have a double seal with rubber strips like those used on a refrigerator. The car is not made of fiberglass but steel (which can make it prone to rusting without proper care). The steel is thicker than on a regular car and much better assembled with continuous welds and lead filling around the joints to make it watertight.

The wheels are set low, so that the vehicle stands well above ground level when on dry land. Its water propulsion is provided by twin propellers mounted under the rear bumper. The engine is mounted at the rear of the craft. In water as well as on land, the Amphicar is steered with the front wheels.

The car is driven straight into the water in first gear until it floats off the bottom and the propellers take over. First gear is then disengaged. A special two-part land-and-water transmission built by Hermes (makers of the Porsche transmission) allows the wheels and propellers to be operated either independently or simultaneously.

The car was more of a novelty than anything else and did not revolutionize the automotive industry as predicted. The iconic car still generates smiles, waves from those on the shore, a sense of wonder and more important, a sense of fun.