This week’s SATURDAY SIX looks at Town Center in Disney Springs. The great Jim Hill often says about Disney Cruise Line, “You start building a new ship in one economy, and you finish it in a completely different economy.” The same can be said about building things at Walt Disney World except for one thing, it takes even longer. Years ago Downtown Disney was – to be kind – a mess. The parking situation was the absolute worst in Orlando. The two main areas (West Side and The Marketplace) were bookends to a ghost town once Pleasure Island closed in 2008. Finally, in 2013 Disney bit the bullet and announced the area would be completely refurbished and rebranded as Disney Springs.
Disney Springs had some growing pains during the first couple years, but it finally turned the corner in 2015 when the first of two parking garages opened along with The Landing (which includes The BOATHOUSE, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, and Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC among other venues.) On May 15, 2016 the final phase of Disney Springs began to open with the launch of Town Center. Many guests gave up going to Downtown Disney during the construction and they will not recognize the place once they come back. In the words of Tony Stark in the recent smash hit Civil War, “You’re in dire need of an upgrade, systemic, top to bottom, 100 point restoration” and that’s exactly what Disney fans got. Today we’re going to look at our favorite parts of Town Center, along with some things that could be a bit better. Let’s start our countdown with…
# 6 – The Area Looks Beautiful at Night
Downtown Disney was many things over the years, but you’re probably not going to find too many people who thought that it was “pretty.” With the opening of Town Center, Disney Springs is now aesthetically pleasing to the eye, both during the day and night. The water features and lighting package of Town Center make it a wonderful place to spend time in as the actual springs are gorgeous.
# 5 – The Parking Situation is Finally FIXED
The opening of the Orange garage in 2015 helped alleviate a lot of Disney Springs’ parking woes, but the new Lime garage makes getting to the area easier than ever. Both the Orange and Lime garages are what we here at the SATURDAY SIX refer to as E-Ticket parking garages. Everything about this is what you’ve always wanted. Before you even enter the garage there are signs telling you how many spots are open. Once you enter, there is a sign on each floor alerting drivers to how many parking spaces are open on that floor and then once inside the floor each row has a sign telling how many spots are available. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. Above each spot is a light which will tell you exactly where the open spaces are. This is something you didn’t know you needed but now wonder where it has been all your life.
Besides the actual garages themselves, there are dedicated ramps coming off I-4 and from Buena Vista Drive. That’s right, no longer do you have to exit onto SR535 and make your way up Hotel Plaza Blvd. This was one of the most frustrating one mile stretches of road in all of Florida. There have also been several pedestrian bridges built allowing guests (and Cast Members) to walk from Hotel Plaza Blvd and Buena Vista Drive without traffic having to stop. Everything is absolutely fantastic and makes the experience for everyone involved much better.
# 4 – No Longer Do Guests Need To Risk Lives Traveling To The Other Orlando Outlet Malls
One of the biggest complaints by Orlando locals is that the Town Center resembles “a glorified Florida Outlet Mall.” I say Nay Nay. I write this as a person who travels to the Orlando Premium Outlets each and every month. I go to the knock off outlet malls. I go to the Mall at Millenia and Artegon. Town Center does contain some of the elements of those malls, but it also has Disney features and theming that you won’t find at any of the others. You also won’t feel like you’re walking down the Las Vegas strip being constantly hounded by vendors trying to sell you vape cigarettes, remote control helicopters, or luggage as you pass by. Certainly the area was designed to keep out of state and international visitors from leaving Disney property to shop at the other malls, but Town Center’s dining and atmosphere set it apart from its competition. Waaaaaay apart. For those old school Downtown Disney fans who miss the road-rage inducing parking situation, the other Orlando outlets are more than happy to fulfill your dreams in that regard.
# 3 – Amorette’s Patisserie
A nice part of Town Center, is that Disney actually runs some of the dining venues, which – outside of the candy shops – is all done by third parties in The Marketplace and West Side. Amorette’s Patisserie is an upscale bakery which creates items that resemble tiny works of art. The Patisserie has a show kitchen, so guests are able to see these chefs/artists make the edible creations. The items look almost too good to eat, but we have even better news: they taste incredible. The Strawberry Fields of OC is heavenly. Made with lemon curd, strawberry mousse and basil sugar, this strawberry tart was a true delight. Garnished with an edible hibiscus, this immediately became one of our favorite treats on property. Amorette’s also specializes in dome cakes – named after the Fab Five characters of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto – which you can have delivered to WDW hotels and restaurants for special occasions. Also available are smaller versions of these cakes including their signature Amorette’s Petit Cake. Featuring 11 layers (red velvet cake, chocolate cake, cherry mousse, chocolate mousse, raspberry pate de fruit jelly and Italian buttercream) this is a cake for people who love cake.
Keep your eyes open throughout Town Center, but especially in Amorette’s as you may see inspiration for their colorful creations. Here is a piece of concept art from the Festival of Fantasy parade in the Magic Kingdom hanging on their wall.
# 2 – D-Luxe Burger
While Disney Springs has a fantastic selection of table service restaurants (including the completely underrated Splitsville), one of its weaknesses was good quick service options. D-Luxe Burger is a huge step in the right direction. Like Amorette’s, D-Luxe is run by Disney and neither hits you over the head with that fact. Both Amorette’s and D-Luxe have insanely elaborate backstories that would make fans of soap operas and professional wrestling jealous, but all you need to know is that the food is good. There is both indoor and outdoor seating, with a picturesque view of the springs. The menu mainly consists of burgers, fries, and milkshakes. There is no denying everything is pricey. The burgers range from $9.99 to $12.99 and do not include fries. The fries are $4.99 and $7.49. The regular milkshakes are $7.00 with alcohol versions ranging from $9-$14. The burgers are very flavorful and the house-made buns are terrific. We may still be in the honeymoon phase, but we’ll go on record saying it has the best veggie burger on property. While the only french fries in the world worth $7.50 would be the truffle fries at Crews Cup, these thick-cut fries are very reminiscent of British “chips” and you have a choice of six different dipping sauces to go with them. Walt Disney World is in a golden era right now with milkshakes and the version at D-Luxe are going to bring a smile to many faces during these warm summer days. Highest recommendations go to the S’mores shake for general goodness and the Smoked Bourbon for those that would like a spiked version. Sitting outside on the patio of D-Luxe with a burger, fries and milkshake is just what the doctor ordered.
A while back Disney began taking the backs of many chairs at quick service locations at the parks with the idea that guests wouldn’t stay as long in the restaurant because they wouldn’t be comfortable. D-Luxe Burgers took that line of thinking to the next level with these bar stools in which your knees are above the actual counter your food is on. There are plenty of great tables in D-Luxe, but this bar area is bonkers.
# 1 – Sprinkles
This was a true surprise because when it comes to cupcakes, we’ve eaten our fair share in Walt Disney World and it takes a lot to show us something. Sprinkles claim to fame is being the first “cupcake bakery” in the world. Sprinkles has generated some of the longest lines at Town Center since its debut, and normally we would considered waiting in a line deeper than five people for cupcakes would be a waste of your time. That’s normally. Sprinkles is worth waiting for. Not only do they have great cupcakes and cookies, but the Sprinkles Sundae – which essentially puts ice cream in between a cupcake – is worth dropping what you are doing and going to Disney Springs as fast as you can.
On top of the tasty treats, Sprinkles brought along a gimmick that became an instant sensation. The Cupcake ATM is one of those things that you just have to do. This will make you feel like a kid again. Using a bank-like ATM set-up, guests first choose what type of cupcake they want. Then a live video comes on the screen showing you the automated arm pulling the cupcake out of inventory and bringing it to the ATM. The door opens, and your magical cupcake arrives. It’s simple, it’s ridiculous, and it’s a Must Do that Stacy Aswad needs to have on her next video.
HONORABLE MENTION – The Daily Poutine and Yesake
A couple more quick service options opened in the Town Center, both providing items you don’t usually come across on your WDW vacation. The first is at The Daily Poutine. First, a little backstory. Your Humble Author is originally from New Hampshire. We border Canada and, in my city, had a large French Canadian population. Poutine is a popular Canadian dish that consists of french fries and cheese curds covered in gravy. It wasn’t until I left New Hampshire that I realized most cities don’t have places that serve poutine. Most likely because the dish is next level bananas. Poutine now has a presence at Disney Springs in The Daily Poutine kiosk.
Located across from Amorette’s Patisserie, The Daily Poutine offers four types of poutine: Classic, Italian, French, and Latin (which uses fried yucca instead of French fries). Poutine is not for everyone, but it is something easy to grab and go. What was a great surprise is some of the drinks offered including Unibroue on draft along with a terrific watermelon lemonade.
Yesake is a quick service location featuring Asian wraps. The best snacks on vacation are ones you can eat while still walking around and enjoying the atmosphere and these do the trick. We got the Great Wall, which features Chinese style pulled pork, pickled jalapeno, hoisin sriracha, green leaf lettuce and white rice. The kiosk also specializes in sake slushes, and for that we tried the Blue Coconut & Sake Frozen Punch (sake, blue curacao, rum with pineapple juice, coconut syrup and banana syrup.) Loved both.
DOUBLE SECRET HONORABLE MENTION – Maybe Disney could have waited an extra couple days before opening the Town Center…
There are still some stores and food venues that will open later this year to complete Town Center. While on the whole the area looks terrific, upon close inspection you’ll see some things that were done quickly to get the area open to guests.
So there you have it: A Look at TOWN CENTER in Disney Springs. See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan)
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Special Thanks to crack staff photographer Brandon Glover, the most popular personality in theme park history Banks Lee, official documentarian of Disney Springs and Universal’s Sappghire Falls @bioreconstruct, runDisney Twitter icon @GooberMonkey78, and blogger to the stars Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. Be sure to also check out Brandon on The Park Blogger podcast with co-hosts Aengus Mackenzie and Brian Carey and Meg’s Yeti To Be Named Disney Podcast.