By Beth Deitchman
There are at least three essentials every Disney fan knows are “must-brings” for a day at one of Disney’s parks and resorts: comfortable shoes, for navigating as much ground as possible over the course of the day, curiosity, and a game plan. The same holds true for Disney Springs.
Disney Springs—Walt Disney World Resort’s one-of-a-kind retail, dining, and entertainment experience—is designed to feel like a historic waterfront town with a rich, detailed backstory. Going by the date of the town’s 1950 Centennial—noted on a plaque in West Side’s Exposition Park—Disney Springs was originally established in 1850. The town is now divided into four distinct neighborhoods: Town Center—which will be open beginning May 15—boasts Mediterranean-inspired architecture influenced by the explorers who landed in Florida centuries ago. The Landing served as the town’s transportation hub on the waterfront and was the site of the town’s marina, bottling company, and train station. The Craftsman-style Marketplace dates back to the 1930s and 1940s in the Disney Springs backstory; and West Side is the most contemporary neighborhood in Disney Springs. Though Disney Springs is filled with an astounding number of places to eat, shop, or experience entertainment that ranges from a cineplex to Cirque du Soleil, it’s not a theme park, and it’s not a mall. Disney Springs is distinctly Disney—and completely unique!
But when Disney Springs offers so many options, where do you start? With a spring in our step, we started at the western end of Disney Springs, where La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil is based, and ate, drank, and shopped our way through the sunny Florida town until we reached the Rainforest—the Rainforest Café, that is. There’s so much to see and do at Disney Springs, please consider our crawl a mere jumping off point for your own Disney Springs adventure:
Bongo’s Cuban Café: Designed to be a recreation of a 1950s Havana nightclub, you can kick off your day with a mojito while sitting atop a barstool that’s a repurposed bongo drum. Fill up for your day with house specialties like Vaca Frita (seared shredded beef) or the award-winning Lechon (roasted pork). Owned by musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Bongo’s offers live music and entertainment on weekend evenings if you feel like getting your salsa on.
Star Wars Galactic Outpost and Super Hero Headquarters: Right next to each other in West Side, these neighboring stores offer Super Hero must-haves and can’t-pass-up items from a galaxy far, far away.
Food Trucks at Exposition Park: For a taste of Disney Parks at Disney Springs, there are four food trucks—each themed to one of the Resort’s parks. Fantasy Fare presents chicken and waffles inspired by Magic Kingdom park (along with hand-dipped corn dogs from Disneyland Park). Superstar Catering lets you dine like a celebrity, Disney’s Hollywood Studios-style, with dishes like lobster mac and cheese. World Showcase of Flavors transports your taste buds to Epcot by way of pierogis, kielbasa, and gyros. And your appetite roars to life at the Namaste Café food truck, where you can order naan and samosas, butter chicken, or lamb kefta.
STK: This modern steakhouse isn’t open yet, but when it does it will be one of the largest STK locations in the world, and the building is one example of how retailers and restaurants have embraced Disney Springs’ fascinating backstory. You might note that right outside the restaurant entrance are train tracks and part of a train turntable, which would once have been used to turn the trains around as they came and went from Disney Springs.
The Ganachery: Once the Disney Springs apothecary, the Ganachery is more than just a chocolate shop. It’s an experience for all of the senses, from the chandelier that’s made out of authentic copper pots and kettles used to make chocolate, to the chocolatier who greets you as you enter (and will tell you what to look for when you taste the chocolate), to the indescribably wonderful smell of the chocolate that’s being mixed and decorated in the store’s kitchen. The Ganachery’s slogan, “the cure for the common chocolate,” couldn’t be more apt.
Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar: Movie buffs might remember that Jock Lindsey was once Indiana Jones’ sidekick and pilot. And apparently, when Jock came upon Disney Springs, he couldn’t help but make the town his home—and he welcomed world travelers and locals alike to his new home base. Weary travelers will love sitting a spell in this exquisitely appointed watering hole eating snacks with names like, “Squid! Why’d It Have to Be Squid?” and Lao Che’s Revenge; and signature libations of both the alcoholic and the nonalcoholic varieties.
Morimoto: The fine dining restaurant blends Disney Springs history with modern Pan-Asian cuisine. Located in the former space of the Springs Bottling Company—their chandelier is made out of a former bottle conveyance system—Morimoto presents a dining experience courtesy of Iron Chef America’s Japanese master chef Masaharu Morimoto. Watch Peking Duck being carved, share sushi and sashimi with friends, and indulge in the Oreo Tempura dessert within this stunning space.
Tea Traders Café by Joffreys: For a tea-drinking experience that’s far from a simple spot of tea, visit Tea Traders Café, where you can find a beverage to suit whatever mood you’re in. Looking for refreshment? Try a Green Blackberry Jasmine Iced Tea or a Frozen Matcha. Something calming? Order from Tea Traders’ extensive collection of loose-leaf teas, or their Tea Smith Reserve menu for something more elegant. And if you’re feeling a little spirited, try one of Tea Traders’ Spirited Beverages, like the Tea Breeze or the Tea Toddy, which turns your anything-but-average cuppa into an adult drink.
The BOATHOUSE: This only-at-Disney Springs dining experience doesn’t just offer an unforgettable dining experience by the water with a stellar raw bar, premium steaks, and a family-sized S’mores Baked Alaska. Located at what once served as the Disney Springs marina, the BOATHOUSE presents a truly unforgettable experience on the water with features like Italian Water Taxi Tours and Amphicar excursions in vintage cars equipped to drive on land before entering the water with a splash before taking guests on a 20-minue tour of Disney Springs.
Basin: Visit this all-natural bath, body, and hair care emporium and prepare to be wowed by Basin’s collection of bath salts, bath bombs, and body butters. But for a Disney-themed souvenir that’s truly different, pick up Basin’s “Mickey” fresh-sliced soap and remember your trip to Disney Springs long after you’ve returned home from the resort.
Dockside Margaritas: After stocking up on bath salts, it seems only fitting to enjoy a different (but just as wonderful!) kind of salt around the rim of a refreshing margarita. Dockside Margaritas serves up fresh margaritas, frozen beverages, wine, and beer right along the water and is the perfect place to relax while you plan the next leg of your adventure.
Marketplace Co-Op: The Co-op—which traces its history back to the earliest days of Disney Springs, when it served as an open-air structure where local citrus and produce farmers would sell their goods—brings together six unique boutiques under one roof. It’s a testing space for new Disney retail concepts so there’s always something new to see and buy, whether it’s art at the WonderGround Gallery, funky pillows and household items at Disney Centerpiece, or brand-new jewelry designs at Cherry Tree Lane.
Happy Hound: Why should human Disney fans have all the fun? Though your dog may be waiting for you at home, let your pampered pooch know you were thinking of him or her with a gift from this store that’s just for dogs, where their inventory ranges from custom collars to printed bandanas to squeaky toys that will make your own Pluto’s tail wag.
The Art of Disney: If you’re looking for a signature piece to display in your home, whether it’s a Disney painting, print, sketch, or figurine, you might want to consider capping your Disney Springs day with a stop at The Art of Disney to pick up an item that you’ll treasure for years to come. It’s also fun to watch artists draw sketches right before your eyes in the stop. This is, of course, how the Disney story began and makes for a perfect ending to your Disney Springs experience.