Updated: Nov 13
There's no doubt that Disney Springs is making some good profit dollars off of their free-to-park, Disney-adjacent, walking district of joy. Once a happy spot for surface parking, splash pad tip toeing and the occasional Sunday movie at the AMC, Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island transformed into a massive retail space in the last decade or so, taking on the new name "Disney Springs". From the nostalgic throwbacks to the dining options and mega stores, there's something for every type of traveler at Disney Springs.
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The Nostalgic '90s Kid
Then: Having been the prime age for Disney-going when my family moved to Orlando at age 8, Downtown Disney was THE spot to take our out of town guests. We didn't have to fork up the admission to see Disney and could still get the Disney vibes. We'd pair it with a ride along the ferryboat to Magic Kingdom or the Monorail and call it the "cheap tour" of Disney. A hit every time! Kids (ahem, now adults) who remember the "simpler" version of Disney Springs will love sharing this with their families as part of their own cheap tour of Disney.
Now: Nowadays most of the top hits are still there for the nostalgia - Planet Hollywood may no longer be a giant blue globe restaurant as we once knew it, but it remains in part as a shop and eatery near the movie theater, which now is a Dine-In Theater, one of the first of it's kind in the '90s.
The World of Disney Store is still there as is the Ghirardelli store, both still cranking out massive merchandise and sweets sales. The Rainforest Cafe still brings all the jungle-themed vibes to the '90s kid who had to have a themed lunch to be happy.
As if Ghirardelli's chocolate milkshakes weren't enough to entice, Disney Springs offers a small Garnachery Chocolate Shoppe and Gideon's Bakehouse.
The Garnachery delights the senses with aromas of cocoa in the air, Spanish tile floors, vintage etchings on the window panes, and a looking glass to see the chocolate being made in front of you.
Mix and match your own chocolate boxes and ask for them to be packed in ice so they don't melt while you are touring.
Gideon's Bakehouse is a line around the building type of shop full of folks itching to get that perfect Insta-post. Not my thing but I am sure there's a pot of gold behind those closed doors!
Some days the line to get in this store is a snake around the building, like the green Lego dragon that has been sitting in the pond outside its entrance since the '90s.
If you have the patience (and your kids have the patience), get in line and traverse the madhouse of a boutique.
You can get Lego sets for around $10 for the cheap spender, and well over $100 for the epic Lego fiend. From adult sets like building a Jazz Club or Centerpiece Bouquet of Flowers, to Marvel, Avatar and more, this store sells everything a Lego-maniac could dream of.
An extra flair of fun on offer is the pick and choose wall - fill a cup of any Lego shapes and colors that you want for one fixed fee, hovering around the $10 range. You won't have a set or guide to build off of, but this seems like a good win if your kid isn't picky and wants a souvenir.
The Indiana Jones Lover
If quoting your favorite snake-fearing, Marion loving, archaeologist with the hat is your thing, look no further than Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar. This place has ALL the vibes you need to feel transported into the movies.
From fun cocktail names and glassware to great tapas style snacks, the Hangar is typically my number one recommendation when people ask me what is cool at Disney Springs.
The atmosphere inside is filled with trinkets that will be recognizable to the Indiana Jones lover, and outside offers a beautiful lake view from the patio seating.
Want to know more about the backstory and who Jock Lindsay is? Check out more details on the website here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/disney-springs/jock-lindseys-hangar-bar/
The Whimsical Shopper
All things Disney not your style of souvenir? That's fine, you can find some really cute and unique gifts at places like Anthropologie, Francesca's, The Spice and Tea Exchange, Savannah Bee Company (mostly honey products) and Sugarboo & Co, which is full of cute phrases posted on burlap handbags and posters, jewelry, gem stones and other natural style material souvenirs. They sell books on cocktails, vintage wash tshirts and other boho items as well.
Too cool to be seen at Disney Springs? You may get into their new "Co-Op" space, which is set up like your local farmer's market or hipster art space. The building is set up with two rows with individual booths to browse.
Each booth displays different items like a "make your own candle" station, unique dresses for the Disney-bounders (adults that like to dress up like characters with subtle touches like yellow and blue for Snow White), and they also have more souvenirs here as well.
The space feels effortlessly chic and hip and is a refreshing addition to the mega souvenir shops that surround it.
Maybe you get a kick out of an amphibious vehicle or maybe you really dig classic cars, but either way this is a super fun time out in the sun and on the water. Next to the boathouse you can catch a short ride on the Vintage Amphicar. A 20 minute ride will run you $125. Ouch, but it's a BOAT CAR, right?
Once upon a time there was also a ferry running from the House of Blues to the Rainforest Cafe, and over to one of the resorts. I cannot confirm or deny if this free and short ride still exists, but it's worth mentioning if you see it in operation.
The Happy Hour Crowd
Paradiso 37 and Dockside Margaritas offer up cheap(ish) margaritas to cool you down later in the afternoon, but that's not all. Check out this great list of happy hour spots in Disney Springs.
The Scavenger Hunt Crew
Disney Springs has hidden Mickey's everywhere, which can be super fun if you know where to look. But what about a next-level scavenger hunt? Check out this offering from a local tour. It's a great idea for bachelorette parties or family fun.
The Aspiring Chef
Calling all Food Network nerds! Disney Springs is a haven for restaurants by top chefs
Chicken Guy by Guy Fieri
Rick Bayless' Frontera Cocina
Jaleo by Jose Andres
Expect to shell out some coin here and just look the other way when the bill comes. In most cases you can make a reservation on OpenTable so think ahead and don't wait until you get there - waits can be very long!
It's HOT in Florida. We really only have two seasons - comfortably cool and blazing hot. If you are here during the hellfire season, I suggest adding some entertainment to your Disney Springs visit.
Check out Splitsville Lanes for upmarket bowling and AMC for their Dine-In Theater and massive multi-level seating. This ain't your strip mall movie theater.
The Fancy Folks
The Boathouse and Paddlefish are not only scenic, but offer up some of the nicest seafood at the Springs. If your party is small enough you may be able to sneak down to the Boathouse bar on the pier for a drink and appetizer, or even a whole meal if you can snag one of the waterfront tables. If you have kids or a bigger party then definitely make a reservation in advance, preferably for the floating dock seating right on the water. Just make sure you don't get seasick!
The Florida Man
Dad's might enjoy stores like Tommy Bahama and Columbia. There's also a number of BBQ spots and food truck style eats.
The Music Lover
Look no further than the House of Blues for one of Orlando's best music venues, in my opinion. I've been going here for decades for an array of tunes. Shows are typically pretty cheap and can be purchased at the door. Check their schedule of events here: https://www.houseofblues.com/orlando/concert-events
The Front Porch outside the House of Blues also offers bar dwellers a chance to have an open-air drink and enjoy some solo acoustic or small ensemble acts throughout the evenings.
Inside the House of Blues Restaurant is also a stage for music and events.
Raglan Road Irish Pub is known for their Brunch, featuring live bands each weekend as well.
The Edison kicks off their 1920s, flapper era show on the bottom floor of the restaurant around 7pm (at least on the Saturday night we were there). With swank cocktails and bistro style seating in front of the stage it will surely transport you to prohibition times.
The T-Rex restaurant, much like the Rainforest Cafe is a theme restaurant on overload. Every 10 or 15 minutes the lights flicker and the world comes to an end when asteroids start to rain down in a light show above your head.
Dino bones are everywhere amongst the lush palm scenery, and the gift shop is pretty awesome. A kids swirley straw cup will run you about $4 and is a cheap and fun gift to bring home.
With the Orange Lot being the easiest pull-in lot from I-4, walkers can park there and be at the far end of everything. It's a perfect spot for folks who just want to get their sneakers on and walk the whole place end to end in a big loop. Note that the Lime Garage is a little bit more centralized but you can still do a loop from there as well!
Be prepared for little shade (wear a hat) and lots of families slowing you down, but this end to end walk is an enjoyable way to people-watch and get a lot of steps in.
The Date Night Couple
Wine Bar George has a little walk up bar called "The Basket", where you can put together your own picnic basket full of goodies like cheese, charcuterie meats, hummus, and more. Accompany with some wine and a view of the lake and you've got a pretty cool date night right there - no reservations needed!
For more information on shops, restaurants and movies at Disney Springs, check the directories here:
Shops at Disney Springs:
Restaurants at Disney Springs:
Movies at Disney Springs:
Parking At Disney Springs
Details on how to get around Disney Springs can be found here: https://www.disneysprings.com/parking-and-transportation/
Parking is available at several garages, all with walking access to different areas.
The Orange parking garage is directly accessible from I-4. Literally take the Disney Springs exit (exit 67) and merge right off the ramp and right into the garage. Couldn't be simpler. This spits you out around Planet Hollywood and the Movie Theater side.
The Lime parking garage is more central to dining and shopping and is easily accessed from the Apopka Vineland Road entrance and hotel area. Expect a bit of backup waiting to get into the garage.
The Strawberry and Watermelon parking lots are surface parking lots and are not really used by tourists and visitors as far as I can tell. These lots were the original lots from the '90s before the garages went in.
The Grapefruit garage is the final parking area, meant more I think as an overflow parking lot since it is across the road from Disney Springs.
Should you need to access anything across the street (Buena Vista Drive), you will need to exit the garages through the security checkpoints first, and then locate the nearest over-the-road pedestrian walkway. In many cases, this is the walkway all the way down by the Christmas shop at the far end of the Springs.
So, whether you like to eat, shop, or simply want to soak in some Florida sun, Disney Springs can make for a great afternoon with the whole family, no matter what style of traveler. Enjoy your trip!