Downtown Disney Marketplace
Although most of the shops, restaurants and attractions open by mid-morning, when the sun goes down, Downtown Disney really comes alive. The trickle of daytime visitors becomes more of a nighttime crowd, but there is plenty of room to move in this spacious setting along the lagoon. The abundance of unique themed restaurants set Downtown Disney apart from other tourist areas that are often populated by oh-so-familiar chain restaurants. Granted, some of these restaurants can be found in other parts of the country, but you can’t find them in other parts of Orlando—or even Florida, in some cases.
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Visitors seeking live musical entertainment—and some New Orleans style food—can catch a great meal and a concert at the House of Blues. Latin music is also on the menu at Bongos Cuban Café, which was created by the legendary recording artist Gloria Estefan and her producer husband Emilio. In keeping with the celebrity theme, guests can expect to be star-struck at the outrageous Planet Hollywood, which is decorated with movie memorabilia and props from some of today’s hottest films and TV shows.
From celebrity actors to celebrity chefs—Wolfgang Puck’s Café serves up West Coast cuisine (by an Austrian chef) on Downtown Disney’s West Side. The signature dishes at Wolfgang Puck Café include vegetarian dishes, pasta, hand-tossed salads and luscious desserts, and the restaurant is best known for its wood-fired gourmet pizzas.
Wolfgang Puck’s Café is one of the smaller dining establishments in Downtown Disney that takes reservations, but most walk-in customers can be seated within a reasonable amount of time, especially in the Wolfgang Puck Express area. The Irish-themed Raglan Road restaurant, which straddles the border of Pleasure Island and Disney’s Marketplace, also has a more “fast food” version of the restaurant attached to the main building, but if you are able to get a seat inside the main dining area and catch a live Irish band while enjoying your fish and chips (plus a pint of Guinness beer) you will get the full Raglan Road experience.
As with other areas of Walt Disney World, the more elaborate the restaurant is, the more likely it is that you will need a reservation to get a table. Reservations can be made online or by calling 407-WDW-DINE up to 180 days in advance. Large parties might be advised that the venue cannot guarantee that everyone will sit together, although Disney cast members usually find a way to make it happen. Also keep in mind that everyone in the dining party has to be present in order to be seated at the table—so don’t lose your reservation because someone is running late.
Some of the most popular, gotta-have-a-reservation restaurants at Downtown Disney include Fulton’s Crab House, which truly lives up to its name. From locally caught fish to freshly flown in Alaskan king crab legs, this is the place to go for seafood lovers. Kids will enjoy the jungle theme of the Rainforest Café (which also has a location at Disney’s Animal Kingdom) as well as the adjacent gift shop, which is brimming with stuffed animal souvenirs. In the same vein as the Rainforest Café, there is T-REX Prehistoric Family Adventure, featuring platters of food that are large enough to feed a dinosaur. Kids can dig for fossils just outside of the T-REX gift shop, which sells everything from geodes to Build-a-Dino stuffed toys (parents, you’ve been warned).
Of course, there are a number of less expensive quick service dining establishments, such the Earl of Sandwich, Pollo Campero (a Latin American chain specializing in chicken dishes) and Wetzel’s Pretzels/Haagen-Dazs, just to name a few. After a satisfying meal, many Downtown Disney visitors like to check out the stores such as the Cirque du Soleil Boutique next to the main Cirque theatre, the self-explanatory Disney’s Pin Traders and Disney’s Design-A-Tee, the bath shop known as Basin, the urban-inspired D Street and the tasty treats at Goofy’s Candy Company.
Two of the most popular places to shop are the Lego Imagination Center and the World of Disney gift shop, which are conveniently located right next to each other. The Lego Imagination Center is frequently packed with young children playing with Lego blocks, racing Lego cars, or playing Lego video games while their parents stock up on the latest Lego sets. There is even a small playground and several life size models surrounding the store.
If the parents are successful in peeling their kids away from the Lego Imagination Center, the 50,000 square foot World of Disney holds even more wonders for a Disney-loving child. From jewelry to clothing to antenna toppers to plush toys, this is the world’s largest Disney gift shop. There is an entire wing of the building dedicated to the Disney Princesses, and it includes the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for little girls who want to tap into their inner princess with a complete makeover and optional photographs.
For those who enjoy a little more room to move about, there is more abundant parking on Downtown Disney’s West Side, on the other side of Pleasure Island. This area of Downtown Disney is where most of the entertainment venues are centered, including the indoor interactive theme park known as DisneyQuest. This attraction includes the latest simulation rides and gaming technologies, as well as classic arcade and pinball games. For those who enjoy live theatre, Cirque du Soleil’s performances of La Nouba are a sight to behold, and Downtown Disney is the only place in Orlando to offer this internationally acclaimed performance troupe. Only interested in a movie? Check out the AMC Theaters for the latest releases.
And finally, to cap off your day—or night—at Downtown Disney’s Marketplace, be sure to check out the Characters in Flight attraction, which lifts guests 400 feet above Downtown Disney for up to 10 minutes for an aerial view of the entire Walt Disney World Resort. The French-designed Aéro30 is the world’s largest tethered gas balloon and is attached to a gondola that holds up to 30 people at a time. Weather permitting, the hours of operation are every day from 9 a.m. to midnight and the cost is $18 per adult (tax included) for guests ages 10 and up and $12 for children (tax included) for guests ages 3 – 9. Riders 2 and under are free.
Even though Downtown Disney tends to be a place where people go after they have spent the day at one of Disney World’s theme parks or water parks, there are more than enough entertainment, dining and shopping options for the entire family to enjoy.
Downtown Disney Marketplace
1780 Buena Vista Drive
PO BOX 10150
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830