Over the past 5 years, Downtown Disney has become a bit of a mixed bag in terms of offerings and guest appreciation. With the closure of the majority of nightlife in Pleasure Island in September 2008, and the announcement-then-hiatus of Hyperion Wharf in 2010-2011, both longtime fans of Walt Disney World and newcomers to the Orlando resort may wonder what the shopping, dining, and nightlife hotspot currently has to offer.
Personally, I love making time during my Walt Disney World vacations to visit Downtown Disney, even if our time on property only spans a weekend. This is article serves as the beginning of a series I will be posting on the TouringPlans blog taking a closer look at everything you can see and do during a visit to Downtown Disney, and why you should make time for it during your next Walt Disney World vacation. In each article, I will provide an overview of the shopping, dining, entertainment, transportation, special events, and additional attractions that can be found at each of the three sections of Downtown Disney: the Marketplace, West Side, and, yes, even Pleasure Island. Before we get started, here’s a brief look at some of my personal favorite spots:
5 words: Ger’s Bread and Butter Pudding. Oh, alright, I’ll offer a few additional words. Raglan Road is one of the remaining venues on Pleasure Island and has easily become my favorite restaurant on Disney property. The food has never disappointed, the atmosphere is authentic, and the music and Irish dancers provide entertainment throughout your meal. But seriously, even if you forget all of that, just remember to order the bread pudding.
Known to most people as “the Vinylmation store,” D-Street is located in Downtown Disney West Side, and carries more than just the wide range of vinyl figures. Clothing, jewelry and some pretty interesting art can be picked up in this store as well. If you are a fan of Vinylmation, this is a must-stop location, as you can not only purchase Vinylmation figures from nearly every current series and a variety of Vinylmation themed accessories, you can also design your own Vinyl and see complete sets of new and old series.
Festival of the Masters
Occurring annually in the fall, this art festival featuring over 150 artists spans the length of Downtown Disney and gives guests a chance to view and purchase a variety of artwork, as well as meet many of the artists, themselves. Art media range anywhere from sculpture, painting, and photography to jewelry, sidewalk chalk art, and glass creations, and include a mix of both Disney and non-Disney inspired art. Even better, the festival is free to attend, so if you find yourself in the area during the next festival (probably the second weekend in November), it’s definitely worth stopping by.
Re-opened in October 2012 with a new balloon design, Characters in Flight can be seen rising into the air from various parts of the Walt Disney World Resort. When you ascend in the balloon above Disney property, you will have views of the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror, the Contemporary and Swan and Dolphin resorts, and, of course, the Downtown Disney area. Depending on the time of year, if you time it right you may also have the opportunity to watch both Wishes and IllumiNations from the air simultaneously.
Earl of Sandwich
Possibly the most loved restaurant in Downtown Disney. I know it’s not unheard of for me to stop in and eat here more than once during my Disney vacations. I may not know what seems to make their sandwiches so delicious and perfect, but they sure do know what they’re doing. Lines here can get long during prime meal times, but don’t let that scare you away – the service moves very quickly. I recommend the Best BLT or the CannonBalls!
Marketplace Fun Finds
As the name of the store suggests, it can be found in the Downtown Disney Marketplace, and all items in the store cost $25 dollars or less. There is a little bit of everything, from clothing to toys and plush, and even a mystery Grab Bag option. This is definitely the place to go if you are looking for souvenirs on a budget.
If you use the Disney Dining Plan and have some remaining snack credits near the end of your trip, have you ever struggled with how to use them? If yes, it’s time for you to visit Goofy’s Candy Company. Goofy’s has nearly any kind of sweet treat or snack you can imagine, and the majority are packaged to be easily stowed away in your luggage to bring home. You can also find the infamous $50 Mickey and Mickey crisped rice treats here, along with a Create-Your-Own snack station. My sweet tooth is calling out to me just thinking about it.
Sassagoula River Cruise
Guests who are staying at or visiting Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, or one of the Port Orleans resorts have the option to take a boat from Downtown Disney to their resort of choice. This is a very relaxing visually enjoyable way to end your evening at Downtown Disney, particularly if you are departing around sunset.
As implied in the article title, this list is only a brief glimpse of what you can see, do, and eat in Downtown Disney, and I am looking forward to going more in depth in regards to what is offered in each of the three areas. If there is anything specific you would like to see and learn more about in a future post, mention it in the comments!