What in heck is Downtown Disney?
Walt Disney World Orlando has a lot of square miles of property about 20 miles West of Orlando. On that property they have four theme parks, a couple of water parks, scads of resorts rated from budget to ultra-classy, more highways than many small cities, and they still had some property left over.
So, since the Disney folks are super sharp, they turned some of that empty land at the Southeast corner of their property into Downtown Disney.
Is Downtown Disney Another Disney Theme Park?
Downtown Disney is a free entry, part theme park and part shopping mall, with an unbeatable venue to enjoy on a hot, Orlando winter or summer afternoon.
Downtown Disney has an AMC Theater complex, a Cirque Du Soleil theater, many world-class restaurants, a hot air balloon ride, a lake complete with no-charge water ferries to take you to various landing points at Downtown Disney, candy shops, specialty retail shops… and more.
What is happening at Downtown Disney?
When we visited early in 2013, all facilities at Downtown Disney were open for the enjoyment of visitors. This is not the case any more. Since mid-2013 much of Downtown Disney has been boarded off. There is still lots to see and do, but much of the property is no longer accessible. Why?
Downtown Disney is morphing – in a multi-year construction project – into Disney Springs. The process makes enjoying Downtown Disney a bit more difficult as much parking has been closed off for construction. We had a devil of a time finding parking, and it was only after research that we learned that overflow parking is available on weekends, with ongoing shuttles to Downtown Disney from the overflow parking occurring regularly. Watch for the signs.
The new, and much larger Disney Springs will still be a shopping mecca, with neighborhoods offering visitors much themed entertainment and shopping experiences.
Downtown Disney Parking etc!
We parked at West Side Downtown Disney, and entered beside the AMC Theater complex and the giant Planet Hollywood restaurant. There was lots of parking. There is no charge for parking or for entry into the grounds, just like your typical North-American shopping mall; but what an outstanding mall!
When we reached the main thoroughfare, with Orlando Harley Davidson on the left and Wetzel’s Pretzels ahead, we turned left, and enjoying seeing people and places as we wandered along the West Side cobbled thoroughfare. Some lovely shops begged to be entered. Then, down past Splitsville, the upscale bowling alley.
Next came the huge Disney Quest facility on the left, where there are restrooms, wheelchair rental, a cafe, and an indoor, interactive theme park!
Continue on past the House of Blues restaurant and store on the right, and the imposing Cirque Du Soleil building on the left and you’ve reached one end of Downtown Disney. Never fear. Turn right when you just get past he House of Blues, and you can see the no-charge ferry dock.
The ferry’s run all day, and it’s only a couple of minutes for one to arrive if you get to the dock and there is no boat waiting for you.
Downtown Disney Ferry Boats
Have no worries about the boats or the crew of the Downtown Disney ferryboat services. They are thoroughly professional and do, themselves, sometimes put on quite a show.
The ferries run from West Side where we were, head to Pleasure Island dock next (about 5 minutes or so), and after a couple of minute wait, head for the Marketplace, and again, only a four or five minute float. If it weren’t for the few minutes loading and unloading at the various docks, the whole round trip back to the West Side dock would only take about 15 minutes or so.
We opted to take the ferry to the end – the Marketplace at Downtown Disney, and then meander back along the shore seeing the sights, tasting the sights, and ultimately, wander back to the AMC theater complex and back out to our car.
Spend as little time or as much time as you want at Downtown Disney, but do go. It’s fun! The Disney site claims there are 102 activities at Downtown Disney. We sampled but a few. Here is their URL if you wish to visit the site: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/activities/downtown-disney/map/
Here are a few more photos of our visit.
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