Have you ever heard of Downtown Disney? Until a week ago, I never had. I have heard of Disney World or Disney Land; but I had never heard of Downtown Disney. I had no idea it existed or even what it was.
Downtown Disney has been around since 1975. When it was first created, it was known as The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. The original purpose was to serve the planned residences within the Walt Disney World property. As the residential units evolved, so did the purpose for The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. Eventually its focus was to try to keep vacationers on Disney properties longer and through successive re-brandings, The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village became Downtown Disney in 1997.
Downtown Disney is located at 1780 East Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL. The parking is free! You read that correctly. The parking is free! And the distance from the parking lot to the shops and restaurants is not very far at all. Downtown Disney is divided into different sections: The West Side, The Marketplace and Pleasure Island. You can download a printable guide map to show you the area and the attractions which include Disney Quest, La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil, The Lego Imagination Center, World of Disney and much, much more.
As we walked around, we noticed a great many wooden barriers with posters, Walt Disney quotes and Pardon Our Pixie Dust signs on them. It seems that they are doing a rather large expansion that is transforming an area of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs.
We ventured into the various shops at Downtown Disney, starting with World of Disney. Inside World of Disney you will find anything and everything relating to Disney and Disney characters. We meandered through the merchandise for Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Phineas and Ferb and even Star Wars; where you can make your own lightsaber!
After World of Disney, we ventured to the Lego Imagination Center. This place was simply awe-inspiring. Everything you saw was made of legos. They had a monster in the lake made of legos, life-sized versions of Hulk, Woody, Buzz and other characters and a huge dragon shooting fire display over the main entrance. This place had every kind of lego big and small. They even had a place in the middle for the kids and kid at heart to play and build in the middle of the building.
Downtown Disney has a 24 screen movie theater, shopping, various forms of entertainment and a plethora of restaurants; some were original to Disney and others were more recognizable restaurants like Bongos, The House of Blues, and Planet Hollywood. They even recently cashed in on the food truck fad and added food trucks that carry multiple types of food per truck.
One little tidbit I learned while we were there that they do not advertise, if you get a headache, stomach ache or some other kind of mild ailment, head over to Guest Relations. One of our Nomad Family members had a head ache. I visited Guest Services asking where I could purchase some pain reliever and the guest relations employee came out with three different kinds of sealed pain killers, absolutely free. Whether their intention is to provide full service all the way around or to keep you there spending money no matter what, it was a nice complementary service.
Downtown Disney is a place that allows you to view and explore the various Disney merchandise without the massive crowds or costs of the Theme Parks. Admittedly, they do not have the selection size of the Theme Parks. However, for most, Downtown Disney should be able cover most of your themed merchandise needs.