Every time I get together with friends in the DC area and we talk family vacations, the conversation always turns to Walt Disney World. All of us are angling to get back there as soon as we can with our kids, and we are constantly comparing notes. Where should we stay? When should we go? How should we plan our days? It’s hard not to become a bit obsessed with Disney after you realize how enjoyable and memorable it is for everyone in the family. (And those $48-64 non-stop tickets from BWI-MCO on Southwest are tough to beat…especially to escape DC in winter!).
I love that there is a Walt Disney World destination that always gets my kids excited and does not require a park ticket: Disney Springs.
The newly reimagined Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney, but it’s completely redone, updated and different!) is a Walt Disney World family vacation must-do. Whether you are looking for world-class shopping, exciting entertainment, a ticket-less Disney destination on your arrival/departure day or fabulous dining, Disney Springs will blow you away. Our entire family enjoyed exploring the kid-friendly entertainment, activities and restaurants.
HOLIDAY FUN AT DISNEY SPRINGS
The all-new Disney Springs Christmas Tree Trail is filled with the most creative Disney-themed trees! Snow machines add to the magic of a winter wonderland as you admire Little Mermaid, Tangled, Alice in Wonderland, 101 Dalmations and more clever Christmas tree creations.
At Disney Springs every evening at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. through January 8, 300 Intel Shooting Star show drones take to the sky over Disney Springs in synchronized choreography to holiday music. This is the first time a drone show of this scale has ever been performed in the U.S.!
If you thought meeting Santa was special, try meeting him at Disney! You can take a picture with jolly old St. Nicholas and tell him what you want for Christmas through December 24 at Disney Springs, and with Santa Goofy December 25 through December 30, 2016.
You will be treated to live entertainment all throughout the holiday season. Toy solider and snowflake stilt walkers, pop carolers, acapella groups and more perform 6-11 p.m. through January 8. Performances specifically celebrating Kwanza happen on the Waterside Stage in the Marketplace on December 26 and December 27, and songs and stories in honor of Hanukkah happen at Waterview Park in The Landing, with evening performances from December 24 through January 1.
YEAR-ROUND FAMILY FUN AT DISNEY SPRINGS
Your kids will be able to spend tons of imaginative time at the many hands-on play tables and checking out the larger-than-life Disney models.
It’s a charming Venetian carousel in the heart of Disney Springs Marketplace, and it’s just $5 for two rides.
Near Once Upon a Toy are two crazy fun fountains for interactive play. Swimsuit clad kids can get soaked, and kids in regular clothes can time their dashes to avoid the spray.
Walt Disney World’s own in-residence Cirque du Soleil has been updated with new acts for 2016. Experience aerial bamboo artists — bold tricks performed while dangling from a pole-like apparatus suspended from the ceiling! — as well as the world-famous B-Boy breakdancers. There are also acrobats, singers, trapeze artists, jugglers and clowns, all performed to the inspiring music of the live orchestra. The performances take place most Tuesdays through Saturday evenings at 6 and 9 p.m. at the ivory circus tent-looking Le Théâtre, located at the West Side of Disney Springs.
Your child can receive the royal treatment at the Disney Springs location of the BBB, which you might find easier to obtain a reservation at than the Magic Kingdom outpost during your vacation. Here young princesses age 3-12 (accompanied by an adult) can choose a hairstyle, make-up, nail color, accessories and a Disney princess costume. Boys can join in on the fun too, and be transformed into heroic knights. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made up to 180 days in advance by calling (407) WDW-STYLE or (407) 939-7895.
This 10-minute hot air balloon ride provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of the entire WDW Resort area for 10 miles in every direction. The balloon is really filled with helium and can hold up to 29 people.
EATS, DRINKS AND TREATS
The dining at Disney Springs is spectacular. At every restaurant kids are welcome and kids’ menus are available. Here are some of the dining locations that my family particularly enjoys:
Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza: Customize your own fast-fire’d 11” artisanal pie by choosing from over 40 delicious toppings and sauces.
Coca-Cola Store Rooftop Beverage Bar: Come for the view, stay to recharge with one of the many refreshing bevvie choices.
Frontera Cocina: I am still dreaming about the haute Mexican cuisine presented by famous chef Rick Bayless and the Play With Fire spicy margaritas. The kids menu was particularly delicious and special.
Vivoli il Gelato: You’ll swear you’re in Florence when you taste the gelato, for this world-famous, family-run gelato shop from Florence, Italy has chosen to open its second storefront in its 85-year at Disney Springs.
Splitsville Dining Room: We had a decadent diner-style meal on the terrace of Splitsville and the kids loved the on-site balloon animal twisters and face painters, free to dining guests.
The array of shops at Disney Springs is of the parents shopper dreams, but the kids found their favorite stores, too!
Basin: Bath bomb and scented lotion nirvana.
Build-A-Dino by Build-A-Bear at T-Rex: Create your prehistoric pal.
Little Mismatched: Where the bright socks come in sets of three and polka dots go with everything.
Once Upon a Toy: Curate your custom Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head set and more Disney-themed toys.
Star Wars Galactic Outpost: All the Star Wars swag in the galaxy.
UNIQLO: Their Disney t-shirt and funky stuffed Mickey selection is as impressive as their affordable outfits for kids.
World of Disney: The biggest, best Disney store in the world!
Disclosure: I was hosted to attend the Unwrap the Magic press event at Walt Disney World. I flew my family down with me and they enjoyed the parks while I “worked.” We received perks. Additional days at the Walt Disney World Resort were covered by our family. All Disney Springs experiences, dining and purchases with my children were covered by our family. No compensation received. All opinions are mine.