Even for us well-traveled frogs, the rigors of the theme parks — early openings, waiting in line, heat and tired feet — can slow our roll (or hop, as the case may be). There comes a moment in every theme park vacation when we hit a wall and just need a break. With water parks, golf courses and amazing resort hotel pools, there's no shortage of off-day activities at Disney World. But our very favorite Disney World non-theme park activity is hopping around Disney Springs.
Disney Springs in Orlando is Disney World's shopping, dining and entertainment mecca. It was previously known as Downtown Disney or Disney Village Marketplace and held Disney's nightclub area — Pleasure Island. Completely re-themed and roughly doubled in size with new stores, restaurants, lounges and other amenities, Disney Springs is everything from a brief visit to a full-day — and well into the evening — experience. It's a fun break from the parks, and there are so many things to do at Disney Springs that will please shopaholics, foodies and picky tadpoles (check out our overview of Disney Springs for a more in-depth look).
Looking for seasonal goodies, experiences and merch? You'll find a ton at Disney Springs! It even plays host to its own Christmas Tree Trail and Santa visits during the holidays. Best of all, you don't need theme park admission! Here are a few Disney Springs Orlando tips for your visit to this downtime destination.
Our Top Disney Springs Tips for Your Trip
1. Plan your visit.
Wait, plan your visit to a shopping destination? Absolutely! You'll save tons of time by understanding how Disney Springs is set up and knowing where your must-visit shops and dining destinations are located. Disney Springs is divided into four unique neighborhoods: West Side, The Landing, Town Center and The Marketplace. Identifying key landmarks you may want to visit (World of Disney, Planet Hollywood Observatory or Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar, for example) will help you map out your day. Planning doesn't have to take out the spontaneity. You may discover something wandering around that didn't seem interesting on the map. Leap over to the Disney Springs website and start looking!
2. Schedule around entertainment.
If you've landed seats for a movie at AMC Disney Springs 24, bowling at Splitsville or a show at The House of Blues, plan your visit around that event. That must-visit shop you want to see may be closed when your concert ends. On the flip side, you may be able to grab a drink at Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar after your show if you can't fit it in before. Arrive with plenty of time to spare, at least two hours before your event, or longer if you don't have dinner reservations. (Pssst ... did you know that your favorite frogs can save you some green on your movie tickets?)
3. Plan for the weather.
Florida Rain + Outdoor Mall = Potential Drenching. While you can always duck inside the shops and restaurants, there isn't much in the way of shade or an overhead roof in Disney Springs Orlando (Town Center does have a covered section). Walking across the entire entertainment area will expose you to the elements. Make sure the ponchos or umbrellas are ready. Hats and sunscreen are necessary on sunny days.
4. Park near your last stop.
With two garages available (Grapefruit is currently used for cast only), two surface lots and valet stations, you have multiple Disney Springs parking options. Your tired feet will love you if you consider parking where you plan on ending your day. If you have evening-ending entertainment plans, park at the lot or garage closest to them. For instance, if you plan on shopping at World of Disney as your final destination, park in Lime. If ending the night with a meal and a movie at AMC Theatres, park at the Orange Garage for a quick getaway. Wrapping up your visit at West Side then trekking back to your valet in Marketplace can be a "sole" crushing experience.
5. Know the shortcuts.
We love the new parking garages that keep you in the center of things, but our favorite parking spot is the surface parking spots down on the West Side past the Cirque du Soleil tent (when available). We park there and walk the length of Disney Springs. After we've seen and done it all, we hop on the boat at the Marketplace to save our frog legs and take us back to our starting place. There is another boat route that takes you between West Side and The Landing Dock, and The Landing Dock and Marketplace Dock. There is also a helpful pedestrian bridge that connects near Rainforest Cafe in the Marketplace and Paddlefish in The Landing.
6. Follow the Disney Springs parking lights.
Who doesn't love driving up and down the rows of a parking garage looking for that empty spot ... only to find it, AW YEAH ... but no, it's occupied by the tiny car you couldn't see? The Disney Springs parking garages use a smart system to reduce this game. First, there is an electronic sign at the entrance of each row that identifies how many spots in the row are open. There is a sensor above each parking spot. Green light? Open spot. Light off? Spot occupied. GENIUS. The green lights do have trouble with small cars and motorcycles, but it's a better system than most.
7. See "history" at the Welcome Center.
One of the hidden gems in Disney Springs Orlando is located inside the Welcome Center in Town Square, where Guest Relations is housed. As you know, Disney always comes up with a story for its attractions, shows and even its restaurants. Paintings inside the Welcome Center tell the story of Disney Springs. Walt Disney Imagineering came up with a storyline of a settlement that started around natural Florida springs. As Florida grew, so did the town. All of the paintings reflect this history and connect all of the unique neighborhoods. As you journey throughout Disney Springs, you might notice some buildings show their "original" purpose, such as an observatory or fire department.
8. Make reservations at Disney Springs restaurants.
You can grab a reservation to many of the most popular Disney Springs restaurants, such as The BOATHOUSE, Morimoto Asia, Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' and Raglan Road through Disney's Advance Dining Reservation System. Also, select restaurants offer additional reservation times on Open Table. So one of our best Disney Springs tips is to try Open Table if you can't snag an ADR or the time you want isn't available. As a last resort, you can always try calling the restaurant directly to double check availability.
9. Enjoy quick food options.
If you’re just looking for a quick meal or can’t land a dining reservation, food trucks are always an option (usually located on the West Side near Starbucks). Earl of Sandwich is a hoppin’ spot for budget-friendly meals, and Chicken Guy! is popular for any chicken tender lover. D-Luxe Burger offers a quality fast-casual meal (plus it has mobile ordering). And Blaze Pizza lets you customize your pizza right in front of you (it's like Chipotle but for pizzas ... need I say more?!).
Plus, treat yourself to a variety of delicious Dole Whip with the new Swirls on the Water kiosk. Don't mind if we do!
10. Eat during off hours.
Just as we suggest with dining inside a theme park, consider dining during off-hours at Disney Springs restaurants. While 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. may be a hard time to get a spot for hot locations such as Chef Art Smith's Homecomin', getting a seat at 9 p.m. may be easier. (While at Homecomin', we highly suggest the Chicken Biscuits. So delish!)
11. Ask about discounts.
Many of the stores and restaurants at Disney Springs in Orlando offer discounts for Disney Visa card holders, Disney World annual passholders and Disney Vacation Club members, but cashiers and servers sometimes don't ask if you have them. You can save big if you follow this Disney Springs tip!
12. Find the unique spots.
While Disney Springs is filled with distinctive shopping and dining places, such as The Art of Disney, STK Orlando and Paddlefish, you'll notice some familiar names like UNDER ARMOUR and Sephora. Focus your experience on visiting those unique places that are not at your local mall. For example, we LOVE Sprinkles cupcakes, but we have one just up the road from our lily pad. We don't have The Ganachery, however, which stocks exotic chocolates. It's a must-see. And purchase. And indulge. OK, you get it.
13. Visit World of Disney.
If you only have time for one spot, you can’t miss World of Disney. It’s the largest Disney Store in the world, so you’re bound to find a souvenir for everyone. It'll have a selection of different themes you can typically find throughout the resort, but conveniently in one place! Coming out of its latest refurbishment, the store feels much more open while you’re walking around, and the register queue lines are a lot more organized. We’re hoppy that the spitting Stitch still remains above one of the entrances to keep the tadpoles entertained!
14. Get it personalized.
Disney Springs in Orlando is truly one of my favorite places to shop for gifts because there are so many unique items and specialty 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, all year-round.
15. Plan some fun times for tadpoles.
If you're worried that your kids will be bored with shopping that isn't for them, you have nothing to fear. The same family focus you see inside the parks is present throughout Disney Springs. Shops such as Once Upon A Toy and The LEGO store are built (see what I did there) for kids. World of Disney won't disappoint and soon, your princess or knight can get a royal makeover at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, returning at a later time.
As for dining, Rainforest Cafe and T-REX will keep your kids entertained and fed. If you're not into dining with DINOS (it's too easy sometimes), you will find kid-friendly selections and menus at every restaurant at Disney Springs. Kiddos can also take a spin on at the Marketplace Carousel, a pleasant Venetian carousel.
16. Keep an eye on the little ones.
If you’re visiting during busy times — holidays, weekends and evenings — expect crowds. Many of Lily's tips to avoid getting lost at Disney World apply here. If you'd rather avoid crowds at Disney Springs, the best time to visit is in the morning.
17. Get up and away or hit the water.
If unique views from vehicles are your thing, there are two fun options at Disney Springs. The large blue balloon, Aerophile, will give you a 360-degree view of the area from 400 feet in the air. Located in the West Side section, this unique helium balloon sends you soaring for an 8- to 10-minute experience. For a look at our land-water lifestyle, climb aboard the Amphicars. Docked next to The BOATHOUSE, these aquatic automobiles cruise around the water with your personal Car Captain.
18. Enjoy the entertainment.
As we said earlier, Disney Springs is a break from the break-neck pace of the theme park. For your day of downtime, there are lots of entertainment options outside of the theme parks to consider. Book a performance to see the new Cirque du Soleil show, "Drawn to Life." Cool seats and big-screen thrills of the movies await you at the Disney Springs AMC Dine-In theater. "Strike" up some family conversations as you bowl with the fam at Splitsville. Not all of the Disney Springs fun requires admission. Snap a selfie with the famous Coca-Cola Polar Bear, or catch a performance at the Marketplace Stage. You might also catch some “street performers” including jugglers and musicians on the West Side.
19. Set a budget for Disney Springs stores.
Our general theme-park wisdom on souvenir shopping applies here too. It can get crazy tempting at select Disney Springs locations — I'm talking directly to you, Marketplace Co-Op. Crafting a budget for everyone in your family will prevent things from getting out of hand.
20. Like it? Buy it.
Disney Springs stores offer merchandise that you may not find anywhere else at Disney World. Keeping in check with the budget tip above, make the purchase if it's something you find irresistible. While you may see some items at Candy Cauldron, Art of Disney and World of Disney at theme park or hotel resort shops, some things are only found here. There's always the option of leaving a few hours of last-minute Disney Springs shopping available on your last day of vacation.
What are some of your favorite things to do at Disney Springs in Orlando? Do you have any other Disney Springs tips to share? Hop down to the comments and let us know!
Related: The Hoppin' Good Guide to Disney Springs