Newest Review: ... for the cartoons we did not spend much time in Marketplace Fun Finds where everything is $10 or under mainly because we had already bought ... more
Downtown Dismey the hub of Disney World, Orlando
Downtown Disney (Florida, USA)
Member Name: chrisc92
Downtown Disney (Florida, USA)
Advantages: Everything Disney in one area with a range of entertainment and food to suit everyone
Disadvantages: Lots of products available in many of the stores
To say that I never in my wildest dreams would be writing a review on anything vaguely Disney (apart from our local Plymouth store) is a real understatement especially as the furthest I had previously been was York (yes the one in the North and not the one pre-fixed by "New") and having a fear or heights and never flown there was plenty of scope for everything to go wrong on our 2 week vacation.
Booked through Virgin we stayed at the Port Orleans (French Quarter) area on the Disney Riverside resort (including Disney dining plan - free from Virgin) with 14 day ultimate tickets to Disney parks, 14 day tickets to Universal Studios (and parks), a day at the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral and a special treat for 2 of our party to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove (which was just not possible for all of us at £200+ each) it was certainly the best way of keeping the memory of my wife's mum alive from a fantastic stay that we would remember for a very long time. We had 2 rooms at the hotel with my wife and I and our 2 girls in one and her son and his partner in the other. It was certainly not a cheap holiday but it was full of fun, excitement and had a sense of purpose. Our visit was during early August 2012 with temperatures between 34 and 39 degrees and daily thunderstorms.
Downtown Disney is a vast area that is almost like a focal hub for all the Disney parks and resorts with a range of shops, restaurants, other eateries and a range of entertainment and certainly worth at least one visit. It is accessible by car from Buena Vista Drive which was only a short drive from our hotel. Disney offer a free bus service that goes to Downtown Disney and all the Disney parks. From our hotel, Disney also operate a free boat service taking you to Downtown Disney or to the main Riverside resort and from Downtown Disney it is very easy to use the free boat service to other resorts located on the lake - including Polynesian. There is no entry fee to get in to Downtown Disney but entertainment is not free.
Our first visit was on Disney's free boat service which was a rather uncomfortable affair on wooden seats that vibrated rather painfully in respect of our backsides! At Downtown Disney the quay is situated next to the shops (in area known as Marketplace) and the first temptations to hit you are Captain Jack's restaurant and the Rainforest Café. Captain Jack's definitely had a real appeal but as we'd only eaten an hour or so before at our resort we could only marvel at the crab cakes, clam chowder and other seafood dishes on offer, nor did we even consider their strawberry margaritas which the restaurant is famous for.
As we walked off the quay a small covered stall took our eye where they were displaying a range of name plates created by a group of cartoonists and for $15 each we had 2 made for the girls, one containing rabbits incorporated into the name and the other made with a bed and surrounded by chicken legs - rather odd but all we could think of at the time but they were both really good and now proudly displayed in their bedrooms. We could have chosen different designs that made the name stand out and were only $5 dearer but we were happy with our decision although we did regret not buying the frames! Before the cartoonists start work a form is given to you, which has to be taken to Mickey's Mart where the form is receipted and needs to be taken back to the stall. The work is completed relatively quickly although they do suggest an hour and a half or pick up when you leave. They cannot do any copyrighted / trademarks - so no KFC on the chicken!
There are several stalls around the area including one selling pin badges and another was selling products for left handed people - including a clock that goes backwards and mugs that have a hole in the side that made it impossible to use them right handed. But, as I didn't notice any Disney symbols on the products we didn't pay much interest to them.
Apart from paying for the cartoons we did not spend much time in Marketplace Fun Finds where everything is $10 or under mainly because we had already bought gifts at our resort and the parks we had already visited although I did buy a small Bolt badge for our youngest daughter for around $5. Many of the products were available at the resort and parks so didn't stand out as different, and as we later to find available in other stores around Downtown Disney.
From Fun Finds our next stop was in littlemissmatched which sells odd items - either as miss matched pairs (eg socks with different left and right patterns or colours) or in odd numbers. Items on sell included socks, underwear, t-shirts, coats and "designer" shoes (trainers and boots) and we bought the girls socks and underwear for around $15 that would certainly avoid our routine pairing exercise!
Feeling rather hot and thirsty (37 degrees) we went into Goofy's Candy Co, a rather wonderful sweet shop set to tempt us with candy apples, sweets and drinks. We bought frozen drinks for around $3 each that were paid for using snack credits available on our Disney Dining Plan and we bought frozen coke, banana and strawberry, coke and banana and orange and strawberry which you can mix. Frozen coke was a definite must whereas some of the other concoctions were more down to taste or madness and were certainly different! It was a place we could have spent a fortune and had nothing to show for it, but as one of the aims was to bring back goodies / pressies they would never have made it to the airport.
A short distance from Goofy's shop was Disney's Days of Christmas where you can buy a wide range of decorations, trimmings etc for your tree / house. We bought a few tree decorations for around $15 each that will be pride of place this year from early December. Being August however, the store had very few tree toppers available and Tinkerbell was not expected until October! This was not the first Christmas shop found on Disney - the first was in the Liberty Street area at The Magic Kingdom, and they do hand decorate some decorations viewable onsite. They are certainly very much in to Christmas although their designs all seemed to follow specific patterns. It was certainly wonderful seeing all the ways for making your next Christmas that little bit different.
Next to the Christmas Shop was The Art of Disney and Disney's Wonderful World of Memories that lead into each other. The first sells a range of paper, pens, pencils, photo albums, autograph books etc which were all reasonably priced - I bought some pens from the shop with the end of the pens shaped like Mickey's face and ears and were available in many designs including stars and stripes. The other end is more for camera use because apart from small artworks / designs in the region of $75-$100 they were way out of our price range and some paintings were in excess of $3000. There was loads of wonderful works including copies of original cartoon images of Mickey, Donald and other Disney characters and models of areas within the parks (such as the station at The Magic Kingdom and Cinderella's castle) - well worth a look even if you can't afford them! There is a carousel outside the shop which we didn't try. There are toilets (restrooms) in this area and is also the location of the bus station.
We had been at Downtown Disney for a number of hours and we were feeling more than a little hungry by this point so after consulting a list of food outlets that we had been given that detailed those that were part of the Disney dining plan we went to Wolfgang Puck Express. As part of the dining plan this was the only time we needed to give a tip at any of Disney's locations and without doubt this was the best eatery that we vacated. My wife and I chose salad - mine a chicken Caesar and my wife's was a volcano with chicken, walnuts and avocados and walnut bread - both immense and delicious. Our youngest daughter had a child's menu with chicken fillets and the other meal also included chicken. Our desserts were a crème brulee, cookie and brownie and our daughter also had a cookie although I can't recall it being included as part of her meal. The meals cost around $70, although they charged against the credits on our dining plan so we only had to give the tip. The menu was immense and main dishes included salads, pizzas, pasta dishes (spaghetti, macaroni), Mexican and rotisserie - the most expensive dish was about $15-$20 which in terms of quality was much better than Harvester or Beefeater or even a number of restaurant chains and for probably less.
Not far from Wolfgang Pucks was the Earl of Sandwich where you can buy various hot and cold sandwiches, cakes and drinks which again accepted the Disney dining plan and had we not already eaten a fabulous meal may well have had our custom. I did vaguely look at their menu after we came out of Wolfgang Pucks and decided we had made the better choice although it still appealed to us more than the choice available at our resort. Prices were for their main meals were about half the price of Wolfgang Pucks.
Mickey's Pantry where you buy a range of kitchen utensils, aprons, cutlery, crockery, kitchen gadgets etc all with the Disney touch. We did spend some time in the shop although the only item we wanted was a metal Mickey trivet which we had seen in all the parks and resorts and was eventually bought at The Magic Kingdom during our second visit to the park. It was certainly very tempting in the shop but even if we had bought items we would probably have struggled to bring them back to the UK due to space and weight limitations.
Once Upon a Toy was a fun shop with plenty of toys (of all types), dressing up clothes and a range of dvds (NTSC format - not PAL) and games for the WII and other consoles. There is an area where you can build your own Mr Potato Head from a range of parts to your own unique design and similarly you can fill Mr Potato Head with your own parts at a set price which you can do from a wide range of mouth, eye, nose and other parts - certainly a toy that would keep younger children amused for a while. There are also many cuddly toys that you wouldn't find in UK Disney shops including Scar from The Lion King - which seems a much more popular character in the USA. There were also various Star Wars items in various formats including Donald Maul and Mickey Skywalker figurines. Dresses in store went to XL which supposedly was age 15 and were in the region of $70 which we did careful consideration to. Outside is the perfect opportunity to take your won photos with Mr Potato Head or Buzz Lightyear.
There were a number of shops that we never looked in - Basin that was selling soaps etc which we could smell from some distance away and similar to ones you can find anywhere, Team Mickey Athletic Club selling sports clothes and items such as baseball bats and Tren-D a clothes shop that we found anything but!
Arribas Brothers was a shop we found very difficult to leave where you could buy glassware - magnificent sculptures in fact that range from under $20 to over $2000 and we would have loved to have brought one of them homes but we had neither the money nor the space. We took an awful lot of photos in the shop - which was the closest we would get to buying them!
At the Ghiradelli Soda and Chocolate Shop we were greeted by a member of staff offering small chocolate and almond bars that were available on sale in the shop in quantities of 30 of more at prices that we couldn't justify. We did however buy several chocolate milkshakes that were almost impossible to drink leaving McDonalds thickshakes a very poor second in terms of thickness. They were so rich that we found them extremely difficult to drink - even when we could suck anything up through the straws but certainly a must for any chocolate lover. In terms of price I believe they were around $5 each but it was the experience we were interested in and not the price.
Other shops listed in this area that we didn't visit included Sosa Family Cigars and Sunglass Icon which as the name suggest sell tobacco products and sunglasses.
Our final shop on day 1 was the Disney Store which was massive. I had been told it was the biggest in the world but I'm not sure if that's true or was meant as Downtown Disney as a whole. It's difficult to remember what they sold because most of it was sold in the other shops across Downtown Disney, the only difference being it was in one place. Certainly there were t-shirts, dresses, mugs, clothing and toys but not as memorable. Throughout the entire holiday we never bought any Kermit ears that were high on the shopping list! Certainly you could change the order of your visit and do this shop first and visit the others for they don't have.
Our second visit to Disney was merely a means to an end - we had to pick up the coach for our visit to the Kennedy Space Centre and this was closest to our resort, so we used the location purely for parking the car.
Downtown Disney was also the last place we visited before leaving for Orlando International Airport and the flight home . As Virgin Atlantic passengers they operate a free baggage service that takes your luggage to the airport leaving you to enjoy the last few hours of your holiday without worry - well that was the theory but when you get your bags weighed and they are less that ½ lb underweight (by our scales) we were a little worried we would have unnecessary charges to pay. The baggage service operates from about 8am until 11am from the main car park outside the Cirque du Soleil.
After dropping off the cases we drove out of the area for breakfast and returned a short time later to visit Disney Quest. On the way we looked briefly at a few boutiques and other shops where I noticed a few Star Wars t-shirts selling for $30 that I had not seen elsewhere throughout Disney.
Entry to Disney Quest is chargeable $38-$44 but was included as part of our 14 day ultimate tickets. We spent a good 3 hours within Disney Quest starting on floor 3 where we were met by Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters where the aim is to drive glorified dodgems picking up balls and firing them at all the other astroblasters - if you knew how to do it and not like us collecting the balls but not firing any! It was great fun and now that we realise how to play would love to do it again. Apart from food and the odd prize arcade machine everything else we saw was free. There were lots of car / motor bike arcade games and fun roller coaster rides simulations that you can do from the comfort of your own chair that included tracks that did amazing routes through trains, jumping from track to track and where the track disappears. There's also a great one to try where you drive in a car with mice around the kitchen floor and avoid the owners! It was also time for me to go back to my childhood and play all my favourite arcade games - Frogger, Galaxian, Space Invaders, PacMan - yes all of them and a handful of pinball machines. It was heaven, even if only for a few hours it was a chance to go back in time! There was too much to do and not enough time to do it.
Our last memories of Downtown Disney were of the Lego store where you could buy a Star Wars Star Destroyer, choose Lego landmarks including Big Ben and buy individual Lego bricks. Inside the store were lifelike models of Buzz Lightyear and Woody, and outside St George and the dragon, and among others a massive Lego dragon in the lake.
This was not all that was possible at Downtown Disney there were lots of restaurants (Including Planet Hollywood), more shops and entertainment including the Cirque du Soleil and AMC Downtown Disney 24 where you can watch a wide range of films.
I was sceptical before I went to Orlando, not about Disney but the travel and expecting to be spending most of the day on roller coasters which was not the case. It was a fabulous holiday that I would recommend to anybody and without doubt Downtown Disney is part of that.
Summary: A brilliant place to shop and spend time