In case you haven’t been to Disney World lately, there has been a major renovation and rebranding of the former Downtown Disney area. Now open and renamed “Disney Springs” the shopping/dining/entertainment and strolling area offers something for everyone, and is a nice alternative to a busy day in the theme parks if you have some extra time to visit.The former Downtown Disney site has been under reconstruction for what seems like years (probably just a couple) but we have avoided this area like the plaque due to traffic delays and construction. We took a day trip this this weekend from our staycation hotel, the Hyatt Regency Cypress Creek, which is a very short drive to Disney Springs; in fact you can see the EPCOT and Magic Kingdom fireworks from the hotel, as well as some of the taller hotels such as the Buena Vista Palace. We entered Disney World from the hotel plaza entrance; i.e. by the Doubletree Hotel at Disney.
We’re happy to report Disney has done an amazing job with this ‘free’ area of Disney and with the massive garages (free parking!) it’s easily accessible. The ‘smart’ parking garages show how many spaces are left per level, which alleviates driving around aimlessly looking for a space; simply go to the next open level and you’ll find X amount of spaces left.
Steve’s tip: Take a photo of where you parked for easy access when you return – the parking garage is massive!
The one big traffic change we noticed was by the
Downtown Disney Springs hotels – right across from the Hilton is a major cross street where you had to go left or right. Now coming from the Doubletree/Holiday Inn/Buena Vista Palace etc, you go straight across in multiple lanes (stay towards the right lane for the garages). It was quite an orderly traffic flow, and if you don’t like the garages, you can still park on the west end on ground level, down by Cirque du Soleil.
We stayed the weekend at the Hyatt Grand Cypress, immediately next to Disney Springs, although not easily walking distance due to the gated and tree-bordered property, yet from the upper floors you have a birds eye view of the fireworks from both EPCOT and Magic Kingdom. We love the Hyatt Grand Cypress; while not a Disney hotel, this 1,500 acre property is set in a prime location literally touching the borders of Downtown Disney, ooops Disney Springs.
Steve (DOS) and I met my good friend Sherrie and her step mom Terri visiting from Virginia and North Carolina, for a fun Disney World weekend. While we didn’t tour the theme parks with them (they were planning on doing that during the week) we toured Disney Springs in the daytime, followed by mono-railing around the fancy Disney resorts, and then returning to Disney Springs in the evening, where it took on a magical night of lights.
Our first impressions of Disney Springs after exiting the parking garage down to the property, where WOW – what a nice upgrade! While Downtown Disney was nice before, in it’s new life as Disney Springs, it has a more upscale, almost ‘Beverly Hills – Rodeo Drive’ type feel with is fancy stores, landscaping, and wide walkways. Some of the previous restaurants and shops are still there such as the Rain Forest Cafe, Earl of Sandwich, and the Ghirardelli Chocolates, and of course the huge World of Disney and their Christmas shops, but many more have been added and/or expanded, such as the huge river boat which was still being renovated.
We had a nice lunch at Rainforest Cafe, and even Thanksgiving week, we only had a short 20 minute wait; helped by the fact they text your cell phone when your table is ready. You could of course use the Disney app and reserve via the complimentary Disney wi-fi, but this was a spur of the moment trip for us, as we meandered around the Springs surveying the many dining choices.
We had a nice lunch and enjoyed the elephant, gorillas, fish tanks, and storm-like entertainment while we were there. It was a nice sit down place to relax, and we weren’t rushed at all, which was nice after walking around quite a bit.
We next took the
Downtown (sorry) I’m so used to saying that, ‘Disney Springs’ bus to the Ft. Wilderness lodge, where we walked around the property admiring the Christmas decorations. I love the rustic yet elegant feel of the Wilderness Lodge Resort, and always enjoy sitting in the rocking chairs by the huge fireplace there. The massive tree is decorated with huge ‘Tee-pee’ like ornaments and lights, and forms the centerpiece of the lobby there.
After a walk around the pool area, we took the boat over to the Contemporary Resort. In what was a first for us in all our years going to Disney, we had a singing boat driver – really impressive, singing everything from Disney songs, to Christmas carols! We and the other passengers gave him a roaring around of appluase!
We walked around the Contemporary a bit admiring the staff-made Gingerbread display and other decorations. We then took the monorail a couple stops to the Polynesian Resort, which had also gone thru a massive lobby renovation since we were there last.
The two level lobby area of the Polynesian Resort has been completely renovated as shown here. If we hadn’t been so hungry, we would have waited until we got to the Polynesian to have lunch at one of my favorite Disney fast food places – Captain Cook’s Hideout, which has also been updated, and fortunately has actual people to take your counter-service order vs the impersonal self-service kiosks they implemented a while back. We did stop for a drink at the tiki bar by the pool, and then took a leisurely walk over to the Grand Floridian.
Along the way we stopped at the Disney wedding chapel, and as it was open, we took a quick peek inside. Quite impressive with a view of Cinderella Castle out the rear window, it truly offers a fairy tale wedding – for a price. While we were there, we met a bride-to-be, that was getting married there next year, and was plotting here wedding planning. Me being a bit nosy, but more inquisitive, had to inquire about the price, apologizing of course for being so blunt. She said it was in the neighborhood of $25 – $30 K for the wedding and reception. She didn’t get a full blown wedding with the horses and carriage though, which would have added a few more grand to the total. Awe – fairy tale weddings for sure, but hopefully they live happily after after. (Me would rather use it on a down payment for a house – just saying!)
One of the things we love about the Christmas holidays at Disney World, are the plentiful and beautiful decorations. While the Grand Floridian was decorated with its massive Gingerbread House, the centerpiece lobby try had yet to be erected. I asked a cast member, and they said it was schedule to be put up on Monday night, and by Tuesday everything at the Grand Floridian would be decorated. I would love to see them put that massive tree together (and so quickly!) but will have to do that another day.
The bus ride to Disney Springs was not to crowded, and we got a seat in the back of the bus. By the time we got to Disney Springs, it was dark outside (6pm), and although bit tired from the day, we walked around the Springs at night for a different, and more magical perspective.
We saw the Christmas Tree Village sign in the daytime, but opted to see this when we came back in the evening, when it was lit – each tree highlighting a different Disney theme – i.e. Beauty and the Beast, etc.
After touring for the day, we went back to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. stopping for dinner at Talk of the Town, which is a sister property to FishBones in Lake Mary, FL; a nice and casually upscale steak and seafood restaurant. We liked it so much, we are planning on going there New Year;s Eve, Eve, i.e. Dec 30 as I’m sure it will be way to busy on actual New Year’s Eve. We are staying again at the Hyatt for three nights over the New Year’s weekend, and are already looking forward to it!