Back in 2013, it was announced one of Walt Disney World’s premier locations, Downtown Disney, would undergo a massive change, and be transformed into Disney Springs. The project would take three years and be completed in 2016. Well, we are now in 2016, and it appears as if the transformation into Disney Springs is practically complete.
And having been down there this summer, I had one major takeaway: Disney Springs simply does not have that true Disney feel. For anyone who is a true fan of Disney World, you know when something has that “Disney feel” or “Disney magic.” After walking around the nearly finished product, I can say Disney Springs does not have it.
Downtown Disney used to embody the feel of the term Disney magic. It was filled with fun restaurants, family activities, colorful and Disney inspired shops and more. It was broken up into three areas: the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and the West Side. The Marketplace was filled with fun themed restaurants such as the Rainforest Cafe, and stores like the massive Disney Store. Pleasure Island was the spot for the younger crowd to hang out at night, featuring places to eat, drink and be entertained. Finally, the West Side features more shops, restaurants and home to some family-friendly activities such as a movie theater and bowling alley.
Now there was one common thing that every shop, restaurant, and building had in common during this time: They were fun. They were meant to be attractions, and there was nothing boring about them. It all just felt like it belonged. From the Lego Store to Ghirardelli’s, to T-REX and so on, they nothing felt out of place and helped add to the Disney feel of Downtown Disney.
And then came the announcement of Disney Springs. With it came two parking garages as well as a changing around of the land areas. Now I will admit, the parking garages are a good idea as the parking situation prior had been a bit of a nightmare. It is a plus as the addition of the garages allows for some extra parking, but the downside is they take away from that Disney feel. Nowhere else on Disney property do they have a parking garage like these two, making them seem out of place.
Now the addition of added parking was necessary, as the expansion of the lands cut into some of the old parking lots. The West Side and the Marketplace remained relatively untouched, but the area formally known as Pleasure Island is now called The Landing. The significant addition comes in the form of Town Center, which is home to many big name retailers, and serves as the business district of sorts.
Now my biggest knock on Disney Springs comes in the form of the aforementioned Town Center. It is filled with nothing but higher end shops such as Pandora, UGG, Oakley, and LACOSTE to name a few. Walking through it felt like walking through shopping outlets, not Disney.
When I go to Disney, I am not there to go shopping at big name shops. When I walk through a store at Disney, I want it to be somewhere that I feel like I cannot get anywhere else, or somewhere that has a theme to it. The Worl of Disney is the prime example of this. The LEGO Store, while you can find in other major cities, has that fun feel to it that makes it fit in. Then there are stores like Goofy’s Candy Co. and Disney’s Days of Christmas that have the obvious Disney theme to them.
These are the types of stores that Downtown Disney was built upon. They were what made Downtown Disney what it was. But now, while we still have those places, we also have Kate Spade and Under Armour. I’m sorry, but those just do not fit with Goofy’s Candy Co.
One addition I do approve of is the Coca-Cola Store, as that is a fun and different kind of building. When you look at the building, you see the ramps that line inside to go up the floors as the siding is made of large windows that allow you to see out as you walk up. On the top floor is a Coca Cola Bar.
But one addition does not make up for the rest. Sure some people will enjoy walking through these shops, but it just feels too commercial. I know Disney is a large corporation and at the end of the day it is all about money, but this just makes that point too evident. These stores do not fit. They are commercialized, not fun. Even the introduction of several Starbucks on the property adds to this point.
At the end of the day, Disney Springs still contains many of the things that made Downtown Disney what it was. The problem comes in the form of the additions, and the message and feel they portray. We have gone from a place that was all about fun to a place that has elements of both fun and being commercialized. And this is what takes away that true Disney feel from Disney Springs. So while I will still go to Disney Springs, it will never have that Disney magic of Downtown Disney I grew used to as a kid growing up.