Disney Springs Grand Opening Celebration
The Grand Opening Celebration of the newly redesigned Disney Springs is in full swing. It takes place during July and August of this year. You might remember this newly expanded entertainment and shopping complex by its former name: Downtown Disney.
Change doesn’t come easy for me. I’m the type of person who holds so tightly to my comfort zone I have to be pried away from it with a crowbar. So, I was definitely not a happy camper when Disney announced the complete overhaul of Downtown Disney, a place I had become quite fond of. I liked it just the way it was. After all, I had been attending the complex since 1976, one year after its inception. Then I remembered the multiple rebrandings I had lived through over the past 40 years. It began in 1975 as Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village but 2 years later was renamed Walt Disney World Village. Then in 1989 it transformed into Disney Village Marketplace, only to become Downtown Disney 8 years later. Through every dramatic change in appearance its landscape had become better. Much better. So then… change is good! At least that’s how my analytical mind tried to reason this latest metamorphosis.
Know Before You Go: Disney Springs Has Parking Garages, Parking Lots, and Valet Parking
It was the final day of a certain movie that I really wanted to see, and since the AMC Movie Theatres in Disney Springs had an afternoon showing, it was the perfect opportunity for hubby and I to see a movie and check out the changes to this iconic Disney property.
***TIP: When attending the AMC Theatres at Disney Springs, be advised there are 24 different theaters, with an entire section for the Dine-in Theatres (featuring in-theatre dining, full bar, and premium seats). You cannot get from one section to the other without going outside and walking around the perimeter of the [very large] building. Yes, we found out by experience, and it almost caused us to miss the start of the movie. There seemed to be ample Disney employees around, so it’s best to ask one of them to direct you to the proper AMC entrance.
***TIP: There are 2 new multi-level parking garages at Disney Springs. One is called the “Orange Garage” and the other is the “Lime Garage.” If attending the AMC Theatres, you want to choose the “Orange Garage” since it’s the closest one. Another option would be the Parking Lots named Watermelon, Grapefruit, and Mango, which are a short distance away from the AMC Theatres. All parking is complimentary with the exception of the 3 Valet Parking areas surrounding Disney Springs. Giving consideration to your parking choices in advance will save valuable time upon your arrival.
***TIP: Disney Resort Hotel Guests have access to free bus transportation to Disney Springs from all Disney hotels. A few of them like Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, Old Key West Resort, and Port Orleans Resort can also get to Disney Springs by boat.
Progress is impossible without change
~ Walt Disney
So, What’s New At Disney Springs?
All of my fears about losing my beloved Downtown Disney were unfounded. In fact, for me, the new Disney Springs was ‘love at first sight!’ My eyes bore witness that the extreme makeover was something good and positive, a real game changer. There was nothing about the redesign that I didn’t like. It was pure awesomeness. Here are some of the impressive improvements…
There are now 51 dining options at Disney Springs — literally something for everyone! Whether you’re looking to mingle with Celebrity Chefs or simply grab a gourmet cupcake, it’s all here. From Asian to Cuban to Japanese to Irish and Italian, and every cuisine in between, the choices are truly global. I’ve always liked the authentic Old Havana-style atmosphere of Gloria Estefan’s Bongos Cuban Cafe™ and frequented The Dining Room At Wolfgang Puck® Grand Cafe for its creative Californian cuisine, but now Disney has added even more famous Chefs to the melting pot.
Japanese master chef Masaharu Morimoto (widely known from the Food Network’s Iron Chef America) has chosen Disney Springs as the venue for his very first “Pan-Asian” restaurant. Not only is the food outstanding and visually appealing, but wait until you see the interior of this 2-story dining experience with its 20-foot-long glittering chandeliers and private dining spaces. The second level is a sushi bar and lounge. For a light bite or snack try Morimoto Asia™ Street Food — it’s ‘fast food’ that is flat-out good!
Chef Morimoto showed his playful side when he joined Chef Mickey Mouse at the restaurant’s grand opening to create a 60-foot sushi roll!
Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Southern Shine
Another new addition to the Celebrity Chef line-up is Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming. If you’re a fan of Southern feel-good favorites like I am, you’ve got to try this one. It features farm-to-fork cuisine with some of my all-time favorite comfort foods like Church Lady Deviled Eggs, Bee Haven Bay Fried Green Tomatoes, Addie Mae’s Chicken & Dumpling Soup, Shrimp & Grits, and Fried Chicken & Doughnuts. Wash it all down with Sweet Tea Shine (sweet tea, fresh-squeezed lemon, and moonshine!), then save room for an authentic homespun treat for dessert… the Shine Cake, a slice of Chef Art’s irresistible moonshine cake!
Chef Art has worked for Florida governors and big names like Oprah Winfrey. He is a native Floridian (hence the name of the restaurant, Homecoming) and a 2-time James Beard Foundation winner. The eatery not only serves up classic Florida fare, but much of the interior was constructed using elements from Florida like cypress, camphor, and eucalyptus. Even the zinc tabletops were made in the Sunshine State and the murals (inside and out) were painted by a local Tampa artist, Matt Callahan.
Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs™
If it’s Guacamole, Carnitas, and Fried Plantains that you’re craving you’ve come to the right place. Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs™ is the brainchild of Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless. You may remember him from the TV show ‘Mexico: One Plate at a Time’ on PBS. Here at Disney Springs his gourmet Mexican dishes are served in an upbeat, contemporary atmosphere and the outdoor patio showcases stunning water views of the blue/green “springs.” Right next to the patio is a walk-up window which is a great place to try some Beef or Pork Tacos or a Blood Orange Jalapeño Margarita without taking in a full sit-down meal.
Another up-scale newbie to Disney Springs is STK Orlando®. Yes, I’ve heard that ‘The Mouse’ has been munching on those mouth-watering steaks! STK is certainly not new to the steakhouse scene, only to Central Florida. With locations in places like New York City (3 of them), Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, London and Milan, tourists from across the nation and around the world will recognize this remarkable eatery. It’s not your Daddy’s traditional American steakhouse with dreary dark wood and stuffy atmosphere. STK Orlando® is a swanky, high-energy, chic steakhouse where you’ll find yourself compulsively shooting scores of selfies to share on all your social media outlets. Did I mention swanky? — Yep, by every definition of the word, stylishly modern and expensive. You don’t have to dress up to impress your date, simply show up!
Paradiso 37, Taste of the Americas
Another high-energy-vibe restaurant addition to Disney Springs is Paradiso 37, Taste of the Americas. The chefs here have managed to create a menu that is as diverse as the Americas themselves, representing the culinary differences found in North, Central, and South America. If you’re not into a fun nightlife vibe with live, loud music, you’ll want to try this one during the day. Although they offer full course entrees, the appetizers (tapas) seem to steal the show here. Don’t be afraid to order several in lieu of an entree. Paradiso 37 is a popular beverage spot as well. Beverage, as in adult beverages. Probably the floor-to-ceiling tequila bar with 50+ kinds is a sure giveaway for that! It’s pretty impressive, actually, even for a tea-toddler like me. They also boast “the world’s coldest draft beer” — a cool 29° or slightly below. Twenty-nine degrees with anything in Florida is a fantastic thing. Although the newly redesigned Disney Springs is extremely family-friendly (like most things Disney), it’s best for the kiddos to experience this hotspot during afternoon hours.
The BOATHOUSE® specializes in steak and seafood in an upscale waterfront prime location. The nautical-themed restaurant also features a more casual outdoor menu with an emphasis on sandwiches, burgers, and of course lobster rolls! Save room for their famous key lime pie in a mason jar or the gigantic Gibsons s’mores baked Alaska for 4. After dinner set sail in one of the Amphicar vintage vehicles for a 20-minute tour of Disney Springs. If classic cars from the 30s, 40s, and 50s don’t float your boat, splurge for a romantic guided tour aboard the Captain’s Italian Water Taxi or the 19th-century steamboat Lady Rose where you’ll enjoy a champagne toast and chocolate-covered strawberries ($75 per adult for a 30-minute cruise). It’s kinda like the exclamation point to an outstanding day at Disney Springs!