Downtown Disney

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” -Walt Disney

If the trees weren’t still in leafless hibernation, I’d swear we’d skipped winter altogether and entered March early! The weather in Orlando certainly didn’t disappoint our January vacation, and after a brilliant kick-start in Magic Kingdom the day before, we headed straight to Downtown Disney bright and early in the morning.

Downtown Disney

First stop, the LEGO Imagination Center! This wasn’t the first time I’d been to a LEGO Store… my first encounter was when I was a kid, seeing the larger-than-life models at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. I even got to visit a smaller one at Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee, around my old college stomping grounds. But this was the first one that featured Disney-themed models (…surprise surprise…), and my fairy-tale fanatical heart was more than satisfied.

LEGO-Store-OrlandoColorful-BricksAndrew and the Loch Ness Monster

Never ever ever EVER let anyone tell you you’re too old for LEGOs.

Dream BuildersDowntown Disney was undergoing a lot of construction while we were there. I didn’t wonder much about it at first because, after all, we were visiting during the least busy season. I was surprised at the great extent of construction, though. Everywhere we wandered downtown, turquoise colored walls blocked off many areas, often featuring these Dream Builders quotes. I love quotes enjoyed reading each one as we passed, but the construction racket on the other side of the walls was certainly going strong! It wasn’t until I did a little research later at night that I found out what all the extensive construction was for.

Did you know that the Downtown Disney Marketplace was first named “The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village” back when it opened March 22, 1975? The name didn’t last long and changed to Walt Disney World Village in 1977, and it changed again in 1997 to what we now know as Downtown Disney when the area was expanded and combined with Pleasure Island.

I guess that, with a major expansion happening again, Downtown Disney will soon be renamed “Disney Springs” when the construction overhauls are completed in 2016. In the meantime, visitors will just have to “pardon the pixie dust” for another year.

IMG_1335My family spent the entire day in the Marketplace, enjoying a much needed relaxing day right in the middle of our vacation. For lunch, we decided to kick back and take a break with food from Cookes of Dublin (a east-facing side restaurant that’s part of the Raglan Road restaurant), and we ate out on the patio next to The Hole In The Wall bar. I ordered the “Chicken and Field Mushroom Pie” (chicken, leeks, and potatoes in a rich creamy sauce, baked in a croissant-like crust and served with chips…ahem, fries), and I also had a Rekorderlig Lime Pear Cider since I can’t drink beer. Oh, it was so tasty!

Normally, you should be able to see the Pleasure Island area from the patio, but those turquoise walls completely obscured our view. Honestly, the construction noise was the only downside to eating there, but since the restaurant had no bearing on the construction happening in their backyard, I wouldn’t hold it against them. Plus, if you decide to step it up a notch and experience the full menu and service of Raglan Road, the interior of the building is beautiful and thoroughly sound proof to the outside noises. There’s also a little Irish-style gift shop on the south side of the building. The most pleasant aspect was that every staff member I encountered was enormously friendly and helpful in answering any questions I had about the restaurant setup and the best places to check out in the Downtown Disney area.

Disney Quest

IMG_1347Late afternoon gave us the chance to explore Disney Quest and all the arcade games, which did require our Disney admission passes to get access. To me, the best parts were getting to play “Fix-It Felix” from the movie “Wreck-It Ralph”, trying my hand at the oldest classic arcade games and a real pinball machine, and learning to draw Pluto down in the children’s section.

I had hoped to do most of my souvenir shopping while in Downtown Disney, and I must say that it’s the only thing I was disappointed in. The World of Disney store supposedly holds the largest selection of Disney character merchandise in the world, but I had the worst time trying to find suitable gifts for my friends. I’m partial to small, travel-sized gifts that are good quality, preferably break-resistant, and not completely out of my budget. This isn’t to say that the store didn’t host a good selection, because it did. Rather, I found it had an extensive supply of classic Disney movie characters, but many of them were missing. I was hard-pressed to find anything “Lilo and Stitch” related that wasn’t a plush toy, despite a giant Stitch’s massive presence on top of the entryway door. I also wish they’d had merchandise from “Mulan”, “101 Dalmations”, “Robin Hood”, “Hercules”, or even “Peter Pan”. Even most of the “Frozen” characters weren’t there, although if you wandered down to the Christmas Store in a different section of Downtown Disney, all your “Frozen” souvenir needs will be more than met. I did get a few small things, but it took more time than I wanted and it wasn’t the variety I had hoped to find. Ah well! I should just take heed Baloo’s advice next time (see quote at the end of this post).

Dad and GhirardelliI knew from the minute we entered Downtown Disney that my dad had his heart set on visiting the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. My dad has more of a sweet tooth than the rest of us, and I’m glad he got to satisfy it to his heart’s content with a brownie and ice cream hot fudge sundae at the end of the day! The shop was divided up into two sections: one showcased the variety of take-home chocolates, gift packages, and hot beverages; the other side hosted a small eating area for the in-house ice cream and dessert treats. I was tempted to try the drinking chocolate, but we hadn’t eaten dinner yet and I was in no mood to endure a sugar rush and crash on an empty stomach. My dad didn’t want to tackle his sundae all on his own, so a bite was plenty to tide me over until dinner.

Overall we had a great time at Downtown Disney Marketplace, and it was fun to enjoy a quality space that didn’t require admission to access all the shops and restaurants (except for Disney Quest). The ongoing construction was everywhere and blocked off many sections, but I’m excited to find out how the improvements turn out in 2016!

Have you been to Downtown Disney in Orlando? What were some of your favorite things to explore? Were the LEGO larger-than-life models different when you were there? I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.

Note to self when you can’t find the right souvenir in a particular shop:

“Don’t spend your time lookin’ around for something you want that can’t be found.” –Baloo, The Jungle Book

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