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A New Spring in Disney’s Step

In September 2015, something happened to the local attraction formerly known as Downtown Disney: It transformed into Disney Springs, ushering in a new era for the shopping, dining and entertainment destination. While much remains familiar, Disney Springs will more than double the size of its predecessor by the time it’s complete, and the existing additions and improvements are just the start of what’s planned throughout 2016.

“Speaking as both a local and a Disney cast member, one of the most exciting aspects is that we’re doubling from approximately 75 shopping, dining and entertainment options to more than 150,” says Darcy Clark, Disney Springs marketing manager, “including 60 new retail locations and more than 10 new restaurants.”

Once finished, Disney Springs will comprise four specific “neighborhoods”—The Landing, Marketplace, West Side and still-in-the-works Town Center. The changes certainly have many local residents excited, including Lora Scott, a Disney super-fan who relocated to Orlando in 2000 specifically to be closer to her favorite theme parks.

“I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the result,” says Scott, who was initially uneasy with the plans to revamp Downtown Disney. “But the work has made Disney Springs more pleasant to the eye, and they seem to have spread everything out enough to curb foot-traffic congestion. Whether you’re visiting as a tourist or a local, Disney Springs won’t disappoint.”

With much of the transformation already done, there’s no need to wait for the dust to settle before discovering Disney Springs. Take Orlando Family as your guide as we dive into everything new.

Magical Atmosphere

Keeping with the “Springs” moniker, the four neighborhoods are built around manmade replicas of natural bubbling springs found in Florida.

The area has always offered places to shop, eat and have fun, but some of the newer additions seem more akin to what you’d find at one of Disney’s paid-admission parks than at a free tourist destination.

Take Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, located in The Landing. While it’s not technically ripped from the silver screen, it does pay homage to one of moviedom’s most popular action heroes: Indiana Jones. Built around the conceit that the venue is owned by and named after Indy’s pilot in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Hangar Bar boasts food and drink inspired by its honorary owner.

“Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar fits into the storytelling of Disney Springs—a town that grew up over time,” says Theron Skees of Walt Disney Imagineering. “It’s all about Jock’s love of flying and his collection over the years.”

The Hangar Bar isn’t the first themed restaurant to pop up at Disney Springs, but it can only be found in Orlando. The same will be true of the upcoming NBA Experience at Walt Disney World Resort, which is slated to take over the space currently occupied by the DisneyQuest Indoor Interactive Theme Park, as well as The Trophy Room.

The latter is spearheaded by NBA star Michael Jordan’s son Marcus—a University of Central Florida graduate—and will recreate the trophy room found at the basketball legend’s home. Naturally, Jordan- and Nike-branded footwear, apparel and merchandise will be available for purchase, including Disney Springs exclusives.

“As a University of Central Florida grad, I spent much time learning about Walt Disney and was inspired by his pioneering spirit,” says Marcus Jordan. “It is a true honor to build my dream business at Walt Disney World.”

Dining and Shopping

No matter what tickles your taste buds, you’ll likely find something to satisfy at Disney Springs once it’s complete. In fact, they might already have you covered.

For instance, Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s Morimoto Asia offers a variety of Asian flavors, while The Boathouse serves up a nautical-themed experience. There’s more on the horizon, too, including 2016’s openings of STK (a steakhouse with a lounge ambiance) and The Edison (an “industrial Gothic”-style restaurant). New celebrity chef-fronted eateries are also coming, such as Chef Rick Bayless’ Tablas Frontera and Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine.

“I couldn’t be happier about coming back to Florida and Walt Disney World Resort,” says Smith, a sixth-generation native Floridian. “To be able to prepare the food I love in the place where I have so many special memories is a dream come true.”

Disney Springs also hopes to become the area’s retail leader with a full range of high-end and affordable options for the whole family. Recently opened shops include the Star Wars Galactic Outpost, Erwin Pearl (with a focus on fashion jewelry and accessories), footwear experts Sanuk and Sound Lion, featuring the latest in audio accessories. Many more are slated, such as LACOSTE, Lilly Pulitzer, M·A·C Cosmetics, Under Armour, Tommy Bahama and Vera Bradley, which will boast a custom Disney Springs storefront and offer exclusive, Disneythemed products.

Ease of Access

Glitzy new restaurants and shops aside, arguably one of the most welcome—and needed—improvements to Disney Springs involves how much easier it’s become to get there and park.

For starters, visitors no longer have to slog through Buena Vista Drive’s notoriously congested traffic. Instead, Disney Springs now has its own dedicated spur on I-4 Exit 67, which in turns leads directly to a brand-new, high-tech parking garage and the existing surface parking lot.

Speaking of garages, the new one has helped alleviate what had been chronic parking problems at the attraction—while keeping the sun from baking visitors’ cars during extended visits—and a second, under-construction garage should take care of the rest. For residents and tourists alike, these changes are a huge deal.

“Local families will definitely benefit from Disney Springs’ improved ease of accessibility,” says Clark, who adds that the garage’s smart technology tells guests how many open spots are available on a level or row, and empty spaces are clearly marked by a green overhead light. “Look for the second parking garage to open in mid May. Self-parking will continue to be complimentary.”

“Having the off-ramp that funnels guests right into the new parking garage at Disney Springs was true Disney magic!” says Scott. “Not only does it make arriving less of a hassle, but it also makes departing very easy, too.”

And residents, don’t think for a second that Disney rolled out these improvements just to attract tourists. Disney Springs has launched a billboard campaign in Sanford and other areas far removed from the tourist corridor, extending a virtual welcome mat to those of us who call Greater Orlando home.