Disney World Fun For Free, Part 1 of 3: Downtown Disney

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Downtown Disney, aka Disney Springs
Downtown Disney At Sunset

On our recent venture to Central Florida’s vacation land to visit family and shop for houses, we got to spend a little time at Disney World. Through the years, we’ve discovered and refined a few ways of having free fun at Disney, so thought we’d share our three favorites in this and the next two blogs.

“Free”, of course, is relative. What we mean by “free Disney World fun” is that you can enjoy some time somewhere on Disney property without having to pay just to be where you are. What you define as “fun”, though, might entail paying for things like ice cream sundaes, popcorn, or margaritas. The point is, like we pointed out in this blog a year ago, that not all Disney World fun is to be found in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or either of Disney World’s water parks.

For the time being, it’s called “Downtown Disney”, but soon it will be called “Disney Springs”. It’s an original part of Disney World, but back then it was called “Disney Village”. Then (in the 70’s) it was just a handful of Disney souvenir stores along the signature lake in which a paddle-wheeler turned restaurant (now called Fulton’s Crabhouse) was docked. That paddle-wheeler is still there, and is still as interesting as it was then. The Village became Downtown Disney, the Pleasure Island nightclub complex has come and gone (alas, the Adventurer’s Club is no more, though we have long thought of starting a letter-writing campaign to Disney to have it brought back), and the whole complex has more than doubled in size.

Downtown Disney is like a great outdoor mall stretching along that same lake that the Disney Village started with. It doesn’t cost anything to visit Downtown Disney, and (for the time being, anyway) it doesn’t even cost anything to park (unless you valet). The shiny new parking garage is even interesting, with it’s high tech ability to guide you to open parking spaces.

If you’re going to Disney World for a several-day vacation, we recommend hitting Downtown Disney the evening of your arrival. Start on the west side, near the giant Cirque du Soleil building that sorta looks like a tent, and work your way back in time to the original buildings of the village. If you like Cuban food, you’ll pass Bongo’s Cuban Cafe (owned in part by Gloria Estafan): if you’re lucky, you can walk in, but call ahead to make reservations to ensure a seating time. If you like fish and chips and fancy a pint o’ Guinness, check out Raglan Road. Or if you prefer a great sandwich, continue all the way to Earl of Sandwich. There are also now some food trucks, Disney-style of course (4 of them, to be precise, each offering fare inspired by the 4 major Disney World parks).

For libations, drink carts magically appear in the evenings (thanks to pixie dust); you’ll find margaritas, beer and wine, and more. Our favorite shops (those not packed with Disney souvenirs, anyway) are the Harley Davidson store and the new hats-only store right around the corner. If you absolutely insist on riding something, then hop on a boat at one of the two docks (one behind Paradiso 37, the other behind Rainforest Cafe) and make the circuit up the river to the Port Orleans resort and back: along the way, look for the old “tree houses” that also date from Disney World’s earliest days.

Chuck and Lori's Travel Blog - Chuck and Lori Enjoying a Giant Margarita at Downtown Disney
Your Intrepid Hosts at Downtown Disney


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