Downtown Disney is a shopping, dining and entertainment district outside of the Disney World parks in the Lake Buena Vista area of the Disney World Resort. It’s right by our hotel so we’ll be spending a few evenings here after retiring from the parks for the day. So what is there to do?
There is a hugemongous (like, 51,000 sq ft hugemongous) World of Disney store, the largest Disney merchandise space in the world offering all kinds of super cool gifts plus some interesting niche stores like art, sports, pins and sweets specialists. Last time we were here I bought a zillion Christmas decorations from the stand-alone Disney’s Days of Christmas shop. I ended up buying an extra tree the following Christmas. I think I’m going to need another extra tree. Er… that’ll make four. Oops.
What is there to eat at Downtown Disney?
Downtown has a much better variety of places to eat than the parks including familiar names like Rainforest Cafe [menu] which recently opened its Lava Lounge Bar in a lovely outdoors spot overlooking the water. The place now boasts an erupting volcano on top of the building. The Sparkling Volcano dessert looks so ridiculous I may just have to try it.
A Fulton’s Crab House [menu] sits within the Empress Lilly – a full-sized replica of a paddle steamer riverboat, named after Walt DIsney’s wife, which remains permanently moored on the Village Lake.
The House of Blues hosts live music most nights and some big names gig there on tour. The venue hosts a gospel choir Sunday brunch [menu] which, as a Sister Act fanatic (not even kidding), I am rather keen to go to but I’m not sure I can convince the rest of my family it’s a real must-do for us all.
Wolfgang Puck – he was on Saturday Kitchen that one time remember? – has two restaurants here, a cafe [menu] with a formal dining room upstairs [menu] and a separate counter-service ‘Express’ [menu] eatery.
Did you know Gloria Estfan has a chain of restaurants? Me neither. There’s one here, Bongos [menu] , serving Cuban food and drinks. There’s a two-storey tall pineapple out front to guide you.
Raglan Road is a very popular Irish bar and restaurant (stay with me, its not terrible McIrish stuff) with a pretty extensive, pun-heavy menu of Dad-Grub cuisine. I’ll be checking in here if I get withdrawal symptoms of not enough bangers & mash.
What is likely to be the most popular dining establishment we frequent will be Ghirardelli’s Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop [menu] which sells totally knock-out sundaes and shakes made with awesome Ghirardelli’s chocolate. Butter pecan ice cream with peanut butter and hot fudge sauce sounds amazing. Actually salivating now.
So we’ve stuffed ourselves silly, now what?
Splitsville opened up December 2012, taking over the former Virgin Megastore building – which makes this the biggest bowling alley I’ve ever known. There are 30 lanes spread over two floors, plus five(!) bars, a Classic American-style restaurant and a sushi joint. The menu looks like there’s something for everyone and the drinks list has an decent selection of beers and cocktails to try out. The birthday cake martini looks awesome.
See Cirque du Soleil: La Nouba
I’ve never seen a Cirque show before and really wanted to catch this last time we were at The Mouse back in 2008 but we ran out of time to squeeze it in. It’s a bit of indulgence at $70-$160 a ticket, but the show looks absolutely jaw-dropping and is a definite must-see on this trip.
Destroy the aliens at Disney Quest
There’s a giant box positioned on the west side of Downtown Disney which houses Disney Quest – a huge indoor gaming complex offering all kinds of interactive games and arcades including Virtual Reality headsets, full-body joystick controls and souped-up bumper cars. It all feels a bit retro round here and I’m not entirely sure we’ll get the time to visit but a possibility if there’s lightning forecast (it seems a lot of stuff is closed down in the parks if lightning is in the area).
Go Up with Characters in Flight
The beacon of Downtown Disney is the Characters in Flight balloon which you can see ascending from afar as you approach the WDW resort area. On a clear day you can see 10 miles around, apparently, although I expect a cloud-dappled sunset would be spectacular. The balloon is stationed on the Westside jetty and ascends/descends to and from a fixed point over the lake. Each “flight” lasts 10-15 minutes and is priced at $18 per adult.
So, in short, there are stacks of places to eat, some interesting gift shops and a lot of fun to be had in Downtown Disney. Arrive with an empty stomach and a full wallet, and watch them trade places by the end of the night!
- PDF map or interactive map
- List of all dining options at DTD
- easyWDW Splitsville food & drink review
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