While Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort are ultimately very different places, they obviously have many things in common. Several attractions can be found on both coasts — Disneyland does some rides better and Disney World is better at others — so you only need to visit one place or the other to have those experiences. Both have wonderful themed resort hotels, though obviously Disney World has many more of them. Both have an outdoor pedestrian mall for shopping and dining -- Disney World has Disney Springs and Disneyland has Downtown Disney.
Like everything at Walt Disney World, Disney Springs is much larger than its Disneyland counterpart, so there are a lot of things you’ll find in Orlando that don’t exist in California. However, Downtown Disney is getting significantly redeveloped as we speak, and if the plans for Disneyland Forward ever move … forward then it will eventually get even larger. Downtown Disney is nice but on a recent visit to Disney Springs I realized how much Downtown Disney is really missing.
While I’m calling out specific locations at Disney Springs here, it’s really the ideas behind these places that are missing. In fact, Downtown Disney could easily do things that are similar without necessarily creating carbon copies of these locations.
Themed Dining - Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar
Disneyland coined the term theme park because what Walt Disney created was something quite different than a simple amusement park. Everything inside Disneyland is about making you feel like you’re someplace else, and that goes for the restaurants in the resort hotels and the parks as much as it does the rides.
However, that theming doesn’t exist at Downtown Disney. The restaurants you’ll find there, while largely good, are just restaurants. Disney Springs, however, has places like Jock Lindsey’s Hanger Bar. It’s the watering hole owned by Indiana Jones’ buddy Jock Lindsey and as such it’s a dose of Disney magic in a joint you don’t need to buy a ticket to get into.
Wine Bar - Wine Bar By George
My adult beverage of choice can vary greatly depending on mood, but generally speaking I always appreciate a good glass of wine. You can, of course, get a glass of wine just about anywhere at Downtown Disney, but what it doesn’t have is a true wine bar, and it could really use one.
When we go on vacation we all like to try things we can’t get at home. This is why vacation destinations all over the world will often feature California wine, even in California. But as somebody who has pretty easy access to that all the time, it’s nice when the choices are more varied. A real wine bar, like Disney Springs’ Wine Bar By George would be very welcome. It's got an incredible wine list and a setting that's the perfect blend of casual and formal, so you never feel out of place.
A Night Spot - The Edison
One location I had visited before my recent trip to Disney Springs, and one I try to go to basically every time I’m at Walt Disney World, is The Edison. If you’re more a cocktail drinker than a wine drinker it’s one of the better places to go in Disney Springs, and the food is also solid. But more importantly it’s just got the vibe of a place you want to hang out.
It’s got live music several nights a week and so it’s a place that you might not simply want to go to for dinner and/or drinks, but it’s a place you want to hang out in. Downtown Disney sometimes has live music of its own, but it could use a place that feels more like a nightclub to house it.
Fine Dining Restaurant - Paddlefish/Boathouse/STK
Downtown Disney is certainly not lacking for restaurants, and there are some places that have some great food, but if you’re looking for a true fine dining experience you’ll need to go to one of Disney’s hotels and find a spot like the Napa Rose and the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, or go to Carthay Circle at Disney California Adventure.
If you’re visiting Disneyland Resort for a very special occasion like a wedding or anniversary you might want to spend at least one night on a very special dinner, but Downtown Disney just doesn’t have an option at that level. Disney Springs, on the other hand has beautiful spots like Paddlefish or the Boathouse for seafood or STK as a high end steakhouse. Part of what makes spots like the Boathouse so great is the waterfront view, which Downtown Disney obviously won’t have, but you gotta start somewhere.
Live Entertainment - Cirque du Soleil/House of Blues
If live music at a bar or restaurant isn’t quite enough and you want some entertainment that you can focus on a bit more. Disney Springs has you covered there as well. There’s the House of Blues which of course has regular live music, sometimes from some pretty significant acts. There’s also an exclusive Disney-themed show put on by a Cirque du Soleil troupe.
Downtown Disney used to have a House of Blues, but it moved when Disney shut down a large portion of Downtown Disney to make way for a hotel that never happened. Nothing like it has ever come back, and there certainly isn’t a show like Cirque du Soleil. These sorts of options would greatly enhance Downtown Disney not only for the visiting vacationers but also Southern California locals that would likely enjoy more entertainment options.
A Movie Theater
Another place that used to exist at Downtown Disney but doesn’t anymore is a movie theater. The AMC theater, like the House of Blues, moved to the Anaheim Gardenwalk as part of Disneyland's ill-fated hotel plan, but having the movie theater available was a nice option if you were spending a lazy day at Disneyland or needed an option for how to spend your time during a rainstorm.
Seeing the AMC theater at Disney Springs, which includes dine-in options where full meals are available in the theater, reminded me just how much of a full service sort of experience Disney Springs is and Downtown Disney feels lesser without it.
We don’t really know what’s going to happen when the current renovation of Downtown Disney is done. It’s possible that some of these “missing” locations might find a home in the new and improved Downtown Disney. I for one hope they will.
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CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.