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Downtown Disney is a large shopping, dining, and entertainment area at the Walt Disney World resort, made up of three distinct parts. It has the Disney Village Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and Downtown Disney West side, with movie theaters, a Cirque du Soleil show, eateries, boat rentals, and stores.
Description and Location
Downtown Disney is a shopping and entertainment district located on Walt Disney World property near State Road 535 and I-4. There's no admission charge to visit Downtown Disney, which has a large, free parking lot to accommodate guests who drive. Those who stay at Disney hotels get complimentary bus or boat transportation to Downtown Disney. Those who stay at certain hotels near Disney in the Lake Buena Vista area can easily walk. The name "Downtown Disney" refers collectively to the Disney Village Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and Downtown Disney West Side areas, which are all adjacent to each other.
Downtown Disney was originally known as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village when in opened in 1975 as part of the Disney Empire that began with the debut of the Magic Kingdom in 1971. Its name changed to the Walt Disney World Shopping Village in 1977, although its focus as a popular Orlando shopping area remained the same. In that same year, Downtown Disney got the Empress Lilly, a non-working replica of a paddle wheel riverboat. It was built especially for Disney, and it currently houses the Fulton's Crab House seafood restaurant, a good place for upscale dining among Orlando restaurants.
An expansion known as Pleasure Island was opened in 1989 to bring nightclubs to the area, and the overall complex got another name change, to the Disney Villlage Marketplace. Three of Pleasure Island's most popular offerings were a dance club called Mannequins, the Comedy Warehouse improv comedy club, and the richly-themed Adventurers Club. The original clubs closed 2008, and that section of Downtown Disney remains in flux.
The Downtown Disney West Side added more shopping and entertainment options, like a complex of AMC movie theaters, the Disney Quest indoor amusement park with virtual reality experiences, the Cirque du Soleil show "La Nouba," and the Characters in Flight tethered balloon that takes passengers up 400 feet. The movie theaters are unique because you can watch shows in the traditional manner or pay extra to sit in a special section with food service at your seat.
There are a couple of rides geared to small kids that they can pay to ride, and Downtown Disney also rents boats at its marina.
Shopping is one of the main draws of Downtown Disney. Its known as a place to buy Orlando souvenirs, particularly those featuring the Disney characters. Mickey Mouse t-shirts are a classic Orlando souvenir, and the World of Disney store features character shirts and just about any other Disney-related merchandise you can imagine. There's also a Lego Imagination Center with a free play area for kids, Once Upon a Toy, Ridemakerz, Team Mickey, a Disney pin shop, and a Trend-D store with Dooney and Bourke merchandise.
Downtown Disney is a popular place for eating in Orlando, since it features a wide variety of restaurants. These include theme restaurants in Orlando like Planet Hollywood, House of Blues, and the T-Rex Cafe, both of which feature animatronic animals and themed environments, and ethnic cuisine like Bongo's Cuban Cafe, Irish food at Raglan Road and Italian food at Portobello.
Downtown Disney also has plenty of fast food, like El Pollo Loco, which features chicken as its main offering, and the Earl of Sandwich, which serves a wide variety of sandwiches as its name implies.
Downtown Disney hosts special events throughout the year. Perhaps the most popular is the Festival of the Masters, which is held in early November, It's a celebration of art in all its forms, from chalk drawings on the sidewalks to animation to paintings. It's a great example of an Orlando kid friendly activity because youngsters can create their own artwork and take part in other hands-on activities, like creating custom picture frames. Downtown Disney also has the Festival of the Seasons around Christmas and special festivities on New Years Eve.