by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
Watching the half time show during the Super Bowl reminded us of what we had recently experienced while vising Disney Springs in Florida last December. Intel was responsible for the 300 plus drones, called the “Shooting Star” drone squad, that created the star show during Lady Gaga’s performance. We had first enjoyed it while dining at Disney Springs. Also while dining we were intrigued by the giant helium balloon that takes people on a 10-minute experience. The balloon is filled with 210,000 cubic feet of helium, and its basket takes up to 29 people some 400 feet up. Go to Groupon for special deals.
Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in By Lake, Florida, near Orlando, Florida has been undergoing a million changes the last few years as many parts have been transformed, and lots of new things added. The complex opened on March 22, 1975 as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village and has been expanded and renamed several times over the years. The name officially changed from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs on Sept. 29, 2015. The inspiration came from coastal towns found throughout Florida and according to the towns fictional history, Disney Springs was settled in the mid-1800s by a cattle rancher who discovered the town’s namesake springs.
The complex includes four distinct areas: Marketplace, The Landing, Town Center and West Side. Buses and water taxis operated by Disney Transport provide transportation between Disney Springs and other areas of Walt Disney World. Town Center opened in 2016 and is a mini shopping mall. It features many well-known retailers. A highlight for me is the World of Disney Store – I understand the world’s largest Disney store – so this is where Carol spends a lot of time searching for me and questioning some of my planned purchases.
If driving, you will be impressed with the new parking lots. First of all they are free. This is a big deal since it costs so much to park at the Disney parks. Second, the lots are “smart.” Sensors tell you how many free spaces are open and where they are located, and there is a green light above the free spaces.
Once you start walking around Downtown Disney there is lots to see … also for free. Amongst the free stuff is people watching, window shopping and live music in several outdoor areas where crowds gather to watch. Most people visit Disney Springs at night when temperatures cool off.
There are many entertainment options! At the AMC 24 movie theaters you can order food and drinks that are served at your seat. I am a big Cirque du Soleil fan, and you can find their La Nouba production in Disney Springs. This show has become one of their classics and is very family-oriented. Be warned however, like most Disney activities, it is expensive and kids’ tickets start at over $50. Another one of our favorites is the “The Living Statues.” If you watch closely enough you will see a quick blink of the eyes and a smile for the camera. Many of the restaurants offer entertainment including the Sunday Gospel Brunch at House of Blues.
Dining: There are over 50 dining choices ranging from fast food to fine dining to food trucks. There are many well-known options including Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe, House of Blues and a Starbucks that serves wine. Below are a few of our favorites.
For those that miss their Springfield horseshoe, visit The Daily Poutine (kiosk). The Canadian classic is available here with hot, thick cut French fries loaded with tasty toppings such as cheddar cheese curds and beef gravy. You will find four varieties along with an assortment of specialty sips.
Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant Raglan Road is not your average Irish Pub. It is truly authentic Ireland. Family friendly, it is a good value for Disney. It was built entirely in Ireland and then shipped, lock, stock and beer barrel to Disney Springs. The food is great and of course they offer a full line of Irish beers including Guinness, Smithwicks Irish Ale, Harp Irish Lager and Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale. One of the favorite dishes is the Scallop Forest consisting of Georges Bank scallops in a golden batter served with citrus lime dipping sauce and sweet chili jam. They have an eclectic Irish menu with delicious tastes of Ireland – don’t expect traditional corn beef and cabbage. What would an Irish Pub be without entertainment? Every night, whether you dine inside or out, you are treated to a variety of Irish entertainers including dancers, troubadours and bands playing jigs and reels.
Paddlefish Paddlefish is simultaneously one of Disney Springs’ oldest and newest stops. Paddlefish was most recently known as Fulton’s Crab House and before that, the Empress Lilly, originally opened in 1977 and named for Walt Disney’s beloved wife. The structure is a static full-size replica of a paddle steamer riverboat on Village Lake. It is 220 feet long and 62 feet wide. Though it resembles a boat, it is actually a boat-shaped building on a submerged concrete foundation. The real showcase of this restaurant for us is the top deck. This area has expansive outdoor seating and offers impressive views of nearly all of Disney Springs, including Marketplace, The Landing and all of Lake Buena Vista.
Pucks The Grand Café Colorful mosaics and modern lighting complement the chef’s signature classics and contemporary Asian-Californian fusion, including wood-fired pizzas, hearty pastas and fresh salads, plus favorites like oven-roasted salmon and flat iron steak. Start your meal with mouthwatering sushi, crispy calamari and seasonal soup selections, and be sure to save room for such signature desserts as apple strudel, carrot cake and chocolate lava cake! Above the Grand Café is the Dining Room. Here you can delight in an elegant white tablecloth dining room as you imbibe on views of the tranquil lake and a bustling onstage kitchen. Showcasing more sophisticated fusion of Asian and Californian cuisine, the menu features such signature dishes as miso glazed salmon and wild mushroom ravioli.
For all my gluten-free and food allergy-challenged friends, Disney Springs has you covered.
Cookes of Dublin is what you would expect from a quick service fish and chips shop. It’s not particularly large, but does have some indoor seating and outdoor seating, along with a small outdoor bar. Gluten free and dairy free options include onion rings, fish and chips, and a battered burger. The burger is served on a gluten-free and dairy-free bun with fresh French fries.
Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC At this bakery you can Indulge in a expansive menu of vegan and gluten-free treats from the founder of the renowned bakery BabyCakes NYC, including a selection of award-winning donuts, cupcakes, cookies, bagels and savory specials—prepared on-site and available daily!
New this year is Edison, an “industrial gothic”-style restaurant, bar and nighttime destination themed to a 1920s-period power plant. In addition to classic American food and cocktails, Edison features nightly entertainment including contortionists, palm readers, DJs and more.
Polite Pig Here you will find wood-fired smoke and grilled items as well as an innovative beverage program that serves all drinks on tap.
A couple of must stops for me are the Coca Cola and Lego Land stores. The Coca Cola Store is modeled after a 1920s Coca Cola bottling plant. Inside, guests are welcomed by a 30-foot-wide blown-glass chandelier crafted from repurposed Coca Cola bottles. The store features a broad assortment of Coca-Cola branded merchandise. Guests can visit the refreshing rooftop beverage bar and taste an ice-cold Coca Cola while taking in the sights of Disney Springs. For the ultimate Coke experience, guests can choose from a variety of Coca Cola brands from around the world such as Beverly from Italy and Thums Up from India, frozen beverages and over 100 drink choices via Coca Cola Freestyle. A selection of specialty adult beverages is available in the evenings. You can share a moment with the famous Coca Cola Polar Bear. Bear hugs, high fives and photos are all welcome.
At the Lego store you can (adults and kids) express your creativity brick-by-brick as you explore this colossal LEGO dream world. Special features include an eye-catching Pick-A-Brick Wall, hands-on play tables and larger-than-life Disney models. Both inside and outside the store, we were dazzled by life-sized Disney characters lovingly rendered in LEGO, from a fire-breathing Maleficent to Belle and the Beast preparing to take the dance floor.
For complete information on Disney Springs visit their official site disneysprings.com.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”