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The Past, Present, and Future of Disney Springs



As fans know, it was Walt Disney’s vision that the Walt Disney World Resort “keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things.” Over the near 30 years that the resort has been open to the public, there have been many expansions and changes.

When was the last time you visited Disney Springs? Whether your most recent visit was three years or three weeks ago, Walt Disney World’s re-imagined waterfront district is continuously evolving with new and creative entertainment experiences for guests.

Similar to other theme park locations in Walt Disney World, Disney Springs has an extensive history. Let’s start at the beginning!

The Beginning

On March 22, 1975, Walt Disney World officially opened the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. Envisioned as an outdoor shopping mall, the Village featured a diverse collection of shops, such as The Gourmet Pantry and the It’s a Small World After All store.

Over its 40-plus-year history, the district has been renamed several times with the first change in 1977 to Walt Disney World Village. When Michael Eisner came on board as CEO, Walt Disney World started a plan to infuse the company with a new brand of creativity. At a brainstorming session in the 1980s, Disney top brass discussed existing conditions and future opportunities. Among the numerous outcomes of that meeting was a plan to expand Walt Disney World Village.

In 1989, a re-invented Disney Village Marketplace opened, featuring a gated attraction called Pleasure Island. The idea was to offer Guests options that could compete with entertainment found off Disney property. Pleasure Island showcased several nightclubs based on an Imagineered storyline—a fictitious owner, Merriweather Adam Pleasure.

The 1990 boom years offered Walt Disney World the potential for further expansion at the district. A 66-acre shopping, entertainment, and restaurant district named Downtown Disney West Side joined Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island under the umbrella title, Downtown Disney. The expansion included the World of Disney store, DisneyQuest, the Virgin Megastore, and Cirque du Soleil.

The Present

In 2013, Walt Disney World announced a bold re-imagineering plan for Downtown Disney and a new name. Disney Springs is composed of four districts—the Marketplace, the Landing, Town Center, and West Side.

With the creation of Disney Springs, Imagineers referred to the elements of placemaking, creating a unique backstory of a vintage yet evolving Florida community. The area features upscale restaurants and retailers, live music, food trucks, and two high-tech parking garages—a total of 120 acres and more than 150 venues.

If munching on Tempura Shrimp at Morimoto or trying out the cupcake ATM at Sprinkles is not your thing, you can still head to the Marketplace. Your old friends, the Earl of Sandwich, the Days of Christmas, and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop, to name a few, are still there!

If you think the transformation of Disney Springs is nearing completion, guess again! A quick-service restaurant by celebrity chef, Guy Fieri, Chicken Guy, has just opened next door to Planet Hollywood. In the coming months, an expanded Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill will open in Town Center. On the waterfront, Jaleo will feature Spanish cuisine by Chef José Andrés. And last but not least, the NBA Experience will include a restaurant and a retail store in immersive, high-tech fashion.

The Future

Throughout Walt Disney World, Imagineers have carefully woven stories into every facet of the Resort. At Disney Springs, the element of storytelling has set the stage for Guests to experience traditional leisure activities (shopping, dining, entertainment) in a unique setting on Walt Disney World property.

It is highly unlikely we will see a significant update at Disney Springs within the next 10 years. But, we might see changes in retailers, dining options, entertainment, and the addition of other experiences. When thinking about the future of Disney Springs, I researched two things—the changes expected in the theme park and shopping mall industries. Many unpredictable factors, such as a shift in the economy, could affect any ideas I suggest but in a perfect world here are some “pie in the sky” possibilities.

What about a mega Disney cosplay store where you could purchase costumes for children AND adults? The emerging interest in cosplay and associated Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney events has created a need for places to shop. Costumes are available throughout Walt Disney World, but wouldn’t it be great to have a centralized location for all your costume needs?

The recent updates to Disney Springs included an emphasis on world-class restaurants and renowned chefs, such as Morimoto, Guy Fieri, and José Andrés. These additions are in line with theme park industry predictions that food is and will be an integral part of the experience and not just a stop on the way. At Walt Disney World, we may see further unique dining experiences, healthier dining options, craft beers, and wines. Might we see a food festival at Disney Springs? Or a craft beer event? Or a wine event? What about a food festival just for kids?

Many innovative malls are now offering value-added services and experiences for Guests. You can visit the library, spa, or fitness center and stop by the GAP on your way home. What about the addition of a Disney-themed museum at Disney Springs? There could be a permanent exhibit focused on Disney history and a rotating display, such as the Magic of Pixar exhibit currently on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

In the 1980s, a state of the art industrial and commercial park was on the list of ideas for the Walt Disney World property. The concept was in support of Disney’s EPCOT and known as “the technology center of the future.” This idea never came to fruition. But with Disney Spring’s open-air concept and town center atmosphere, it creates a unique residential opportunity. Golden Oaks is Disney’s new community of luxury homes, but what about something for the rest of us? What about mid-priced housing located on or near Disney Springs?  What about senior housing?


The possibilities are endless, and now it’s your turn. What ideas do you have for the future of Disney Springs?


(Photos from the personal collection of Kathy Wicks.)


To learn more about K.S. Wicks and read some of her other posts on the WDW Radio Blog, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name above.