If you’ve never made the trip to Downtown Disney, you’re missing out! This shopping, dining and entertainment mecca offers a little something for everyone — along with a good sprinkling of that Disney magic. While I might confess to being a little bit of a shopaholic, there is plenty to see and do even if you are not.
As you might have read a few weeks ago, Disney announced plans to transform Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, a re-themed entertainment complex, drawing inspiration from Florida’s numerous turn-of-the-century waterfront communities and roughly doubling its current size (which is already pretty big!). While the complete transformation is a ways off, we thought it was a good time to put together our top 10 tips for enjoying Downtown Disney. Be sure to share your favorite tips in comments below!
1. Park on the West Side. Since parking was the first question that came up about Disney Springs, we’re listing this first. While the Marketplace area is closer to more of the shops — and is home to the world’s largest Disney store, the aptly named World of Disney — its parking lot is also more congested than the West Side.
2. Take the boat launch behind House of Blues. If you want to cut over from the West Side to the Marketplace — and you don’t want to walk or you just want to save your feet — you can take the ferry from the West Side Marina to the Marketplace Marina near Cap’n Jacks.
3. Make a reservation! While reservations aren’t required for the table service restaurants, they are highly recommended, especially during peak times — evenings, weekends and holidays.
A handful of the restaurants are also on OpenTable, so if you don’t find a suitable time on the Walt Disney World Resort website for Crossroads at House of Blues, Paradiso 37 and Raglan Road, try this alternative reservation source.
4. Set your budget in advance. Leap doesn’t believe this, but I actually do set a budget in advance of heading to this shopping mecca. I can’t help it if we don’t agree on what the budget is OK, more seriously, setting a budget in advance and clearly communicating the budget is a good idea for the whole family and can prevent serious meltdowns.
5. If you want it, buy it then. This might seem counter to my previous tip, but if you see something you like at one of the stores and boutiques, you very well may not find it again! Team Mickey Athletic Club, for example, has a ton of Mickey-themed gear for many college and pro teams. And Mickey’s Pantry includes a special area that features custom blends of sugars, salts and other spices as well as loose-leaf teas.
6. Ask about discounts. Many of the stores and restaurants at Downtown Disney offer discounts for Disney Visa card holders, Disney annual passholders and Disney Vacation Club members, but cashiers and servers often won’t ask if you have them.
7. Keep an eye on the little ones. If you’re visiting during busy times — holidays, weekends and evenings — expect crowds. Many of Lily’s Top 10 DON’Ts for Getting Lost at the Theme Parks apply here. We recommend staying with your children at the LEGO Imagination Center, because although it’s one of the most fun places to visit, it’s also one of the busiest places to visit. If you’d rather avoid crowds at Downtown Disney, the best time to visit is in the morning.
8. Let the kids burn off some energy. Our favorite places to do this are at DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park, an indoor interactive gaming theme park, and the LEGO Imagination Center, which features a whole area of the store devoted to building LEGO creations and an outdoor area where kids can build race cars and test them out on an oversized ramp.
9. Buy tickets in advance. We sell tickets to two of the hottest destinations at Downtown Disney: the above-mentioned DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park (for a savings of $8 off of the gate price) — and Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba ($7 off of the gate price) — which features acrobats, singers, trapeze artists and more performers demonstrating daring feats of strength. You’ll be saving money, and you won’t have to stand in line for tickets.
10. Get it personalized. Downtown Disney is truly one of my favorite places to shop for gifts because there are so many unique items and speciality stores. At Disney’s Wonderful World of Memories, there’s a “Create Your Own Ears Hat” boutique, where you can craft a custom hat out of snap-on ears, letters and stickers plus monogramming. At Days of Christmas, you can personalize a variety of ornaments as well as a number of other keepsakes.
Bonus Tip — Save room for dessert! Make sure to stop by the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop for a FREE sample of its world-famous chocolate OR you can splurge a little and see if your family has what it takes to finish The Earthquake — that’s eight scoops of ice cream, eight toppings plus bananas, whipped cream, chopped almonds, chocolate chips and cherries!
We hope you’ve enjoyed all of the tips and that you’ll add a few of your own. Share your suggestions below, or just tell us what you love most about Downtown Disney!
– Mommy Frog