Theme Park Insider

What's the story behind Disney Springs, and why does it matter?

August 19, 2014, 5:04 PM · Walt Disney Imagineering is doing its part to promote Disney Springs with a "behind the scenes" video where Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Creative Director Theron Skees talks about the story behind the new version of Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney shopping and dining area.

The TL;DW? Disney Springs is a town in Florida, and now it's gentrified. "What if there were a beautiful natural springs in Florida that a whole town was built on, and, over time, that town was converted into a retail, dining and entertainment venue?" Skees said in the video.

Disney Springs model
A scale model of Disney Springs, on display at the 2013 D23 Expo

Disney Springs is supposed to thematically unify the three areas of the now-Downtown Disney: The Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and the West Side. But this isn't Disney's first attempt to create a theme for this area.

Who remembers Merriweather Pleasure? Okay, put your hands down — we're all geeks here. Let's rephrase: What percentage of Walt Disney World Resort guests over the past 25 years ever realized that there was a backstory to Pleasure Island and that it involved a guy named Merriweather Pleasure?

If anyone recognized "Pleasure Island" from Disney canon, they likely thought it was that place where Pinocchio and his buddies got turned into donkeys after a night of booze, cigars and fighting. Disney tried to retcon the name with the Merriweather Pleasure stuff, but the negative association with the more well-known Pinocchio reference never helped. Not that many people cared — Pleasure Island lived and died by the quality and selection of its clubs. (And this is where we pour one out for the Adventurers' Club.)

Which is a long way of getting to the point that, ultimately, the backstory of Disney Springs doesn't matter as much as Disney's ability to create a coherent design for the entire area that helps make it a place people want to visit. Downtown Disney suffers from parking and capacity problems exacerbated by its design and placement within the Walt Disney World Resort. Ideally, Disney Springs will transforms this area into a more welcoming public space that can accommodate not just a better variety of shops and restaurants that people want to visit, but also the physical demands of those crowds.

New parking, access roads and other infrastructure improvements provide a foundation for the Disney Springs project. If creating a backstory for the place (as slight as this one appears to be, from the video) allows Disney's Imagineers to designate a specific visual style for the area, that can help in creating a more appealing and welcoming design on top of all that new infrastructure. The idea is to make people more likely to look forward to a visit to Disney Springs than they have to a visit to Downtown Disney — whether they know any of this new backstory or not.

Previously:

Replies (26)

August 19, 2014 at 5:19 PM · yawn city
August 19, 2014 at 5:54 PM · Robert,
First, poor planning in that Buena Vista Dr should have been moved closer to Downtown Disney and the parking garages built on the I4/Typhoon Lagoon side therefore not obstructing the view of Disney Springs. They then could then use moveable sidewalks ala Universal to get the guest up and over safely to Disney Springs. Second where in Florida did they have elevated subway tracks like NYC and Chicago that they are building at Westside?
August 19, 2014 at 6:01 PM · DTD was always packed with people on our visits, so I expect more of the same with Disney Springs. I just hope the venue handles crowds a lot better than DTD - and from what I have seen, I think it will.

The statement that at WDI "story comes first" is still good to hear. I hope it holds true throughout the project and that the bean counters fund whatever it is the Imagineers think they need to do to make Disney Springs into something that is thematically state of the art.

Some terrific changes and additions are coming from the talented people at WDI. I am very much looking forward to the next seven years at WDW as they build up to the 40th anniversary of the resort.

August 19, 2014 at 6:15 PM · This video is such baloney. Disney World accountaneers wanted a better, bigger mall and they are getting one. It's as bland (yet pretty) as any other mall in Florida. Only, WDW gets to pay a bunch of windbags to come up with a story to go with it.

Walt's theme parks were never about "story." They were about immersing you in a transportive experience. Movies, TV shows & Books are about story. The best theme park attractions (Pirates, Haunted Mansion, even the Harry Potter *lands*) are not about story in the narrative sense.

I wish WDI spent less money on pointless backstory, and more time doing decent work: no ruining the scale of New Orleans Square with oversize windows that add little to the inside, no dollhouses posing as "forced perspective" architecture, no blank walls on "premium" supposedly Victorian-era time shares that may be beautiful within but look like any other nice Radisson on the outside.

What a waste...

August 19, 2014 at 7:36 PM · The springs part is least interesting, but the design does remind me of Disney's Old Key West Resort that I stayed back in May. Old Key West is also based on the Florida style. They didn't make the connection to the nearby resorts like Saratoga Springs and Port Orleans either so it seems like a lost opportunity.

The guy seem so animated, but at the same time, trying very hard to sell it. It was a hard sell. I'm not convinced the backstory makes sense, but the design is nice yet a little too sedated. For instance, when I take the boat ride from Disney's Old Key West Resort to Downtown Disney, I expect Excitement, not more of the sleepy style from where I came from. Will people call it Disney Springs or Downtown Disney? Or people can call it Disney Springs Resort.

August 19, 2014 at 8:19 PM · Well, it Disney's defense, almost everything they touch has to has some kind of a story. I do not think this is any more far fetched than the Merriweather Pleasure story.

Not sure why there is such negative feelings about this plan. DTD needed major rehab and it has happened. If it is going to compete with Citywalk, it needs to upgrade. Heck, even Citywalk has upgraded this year.

August 19, 2014 at 8:26 PM · Anyone else feel like this is too much for an outdoor mall?

Just spent the day at Epcot. Place was packed but I don't know why. I'm kinda done with Disney until they start putting "story" into new attractions.

August 20, 2014 at 6:17 AM · In the same vein as not many people knowing of Merryweather Pleasure, how many people are going to actually watch this video? Just us TPI'ers?
All we need to really know is - the area will be unified (at last - that walk across a deceased Pleasure Island was so sad), and you won't have to spend 30 mins looking for a parking space! (She lives in hope)
It does look very pretty though!
August 20, 2014 at 6:38 AM · The Disney fans aren't satisfied with a lot of the changes but remember, Walt is dead and the corporation has to answer to the stockholders. Things change, it couldn't remain the same forever. I miss the 80s and 90s at WDW but a company that wants to remain relevant, get guests through the turnstiles and reap a profit needs to be progressive and move forward with what mainstream consumers want.

As far as the tracks: Miami-Dade (County) Transit runs an elevated rapid transit system with cars and tracks just like NYC and Chicago.

August 20, 2014 at 7:05 AM · Obviously the "backstory" is merely for the benefit of the uber-fans, and not the general guest heading over to grab a meal or a trunk load of souvenirs. The concept isn't bad, but perhaps they could take some of the enthusiasm and effort put into such a cursory project into making improvements that truly affect the bottom line. Does a backstory draw more people to Disney Springs? Highly unlikely, but a backstory and more richly developed concepts will draw more people into the parks that ultimately increase admissions/$$$. If the money/effort spent on this backstory is minimumal, then it doesn't bother me, but if valuable resources and talent are being tied up to create this that could instead be working on Star Wars, Avatar, or other future in-park attractions, then Disney needs to reassess their priorities.
August 20, 2014 at 8:17 AM · Personally, I see Downtown Disney as a site ripe for redevelopment. Walking around the area in years past, it always seemed like three distinct areas begging to be unified. Hopefully with the completion of this project you will be able to walk from one end to the other and feel like you are in the same space. As it has been, it feels like such a long walk from La Nouba to Rainforest Cafe not because of the physical distance, but because of the many themes passed through in between!

I have always thought that with some effort, Downtown Disney could really be a neat area, but it has never quite been 100% there. Maybe this full-on commitment to the area will make it more of a can't-miss destination.

August 20, 2014 at 9:09 AM · The "story" looks more to keep the imagineers focused on a unifying thematic experience and to avoid what happened with the current DTD. It brings the designers a source material to stick to, rather than just cramming in a spinning alligator statue because it can fit.
August 20, 2014 at 9:58 AM · Whenever I heard the name "Pleasure Island" in the past, I immediately thought of the location in Pinocchio and was always wondering if that is what Disney intended to associate that area with.

To me, the current iteration of Downtown Disney is sub-par in the area of good restaurants when compared to Universal's Citywalk (minus NBA City, why does this place still exist??). Disney really needs to bring in some better, quality choices for dining.

The TRex Cafe atmosphere is neat to see, but do I really want to pay $15 for a very average burger?

The one spot of D-Disney that impressed me during my trip this last January was the Irish pub. I walked by it at night and there was a great Irish-Celtic band playing outside. I probably stood there for a good 10-15 minutes listening to them play. I probably would have stayed and had a few drinks there if I wasn't driving by myself. If D-Disney could have more spots with talented bands playing various genres outside, it would be a lot better in my opinion.

I do like walking over to the area where the old paddle boat is because it reminds me when I was a wee young lad in the 80's and the place was called Walt Disney World Village. It has definitely grown since then.

August 20, 2014 at 10:43 AM · to 71.49.16.7,

The high-line style converted elevated thing is very big right now. In NY the project was a true conversion from an old elevated rail line, but if you've walked on it, you know that it's a great way to add a sense of place. I think the highline aspect of this Disney Springs project is the most interesting and potentially game-changing to the feel of the space. They were also competing with Citywalk, which is more compact and vertical than DTD. Even the new Diagon Alley adds a (non-functional) elevated train track, which is an essential feature to framing Gringott's, and providing a dense urban feel in the middle of a Florida theme park.

August 20, 2014 at 11:27 AM · I'm more excited about Artegon the remake of festivel bay then Disney Springs. They are going to have lots a small art sellers like glass blowers etc. It sounds like it might be like the old Village Marketplace at Disney where you could buy handmade items instead of easy to find mass produced junk.
August 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM · Re: elevated tracks. Disney has a history in this location of mimicking what is currently in vogue. The original Pleasure Island is a great example: inner cities were busy redeveloping industrial areas into entertainment/shopping districts in the late 80s, e.g., NYC's South Street Seaport, Cleveland's The Flats, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, etc. Those areas had mixed to poor success long-term, yet they were in style then.

Disney took that idea with the original PI, "let's make it look like old industrial warehouses--what a fun night club setting!" and came up with the Merriweather Pleasure backstory. While convoluted, at least it was a fun explanation for a bunch of warehouses, especially for those Dads standing outside a store reading a plaque while his wife shopped.

Yesterworld's faux warehouses are today's faux High Line.

August 20, 2014 at 2:23 PM · Can't really get excited about another outside mall, in fact I stay away from places like that while on vacation. As another poster said, Disney needs some Citi Walk like options. For the size of the resort Disney has very few entertainment options. At Universal we party nearly every night at CitiWalk. All of the places are next to each other, so it's convenient to hop from Pat O'Brien's to Margaritaville to Bob Marley's and so on. Disney has a handful of entertainment places strung out over the length & breadth of it's 20 some square miles. To me, Disney Springs is a non event.
August 20, 2014 at 6:09 PM · Without the original Pleasure Island clubs, this is just another Orlando shopping center. Ho hum.
August 20, 2014 at 7:31 PM · Personally, I am happy to see them revamping this space into a coherent "theme" and making it beautiful. It always seemed so disjointed, and parking was a mess. So in that sense, I think it's a good thing.

But a "story"? Please. It's still a freaking shopping mall/restaurant row. It doesn't need a "story". Stop it Disney- you're trying too hard.

August 21, 2014 at 5:16 AM · You would think the Disney would rethink the whole concept of an outdoor mall but then again, Walt dyed a long time ago and imagination is non existing at this resort.
How is this for a back story:

There once was a duck paddling in the pound. He envisioned a huge outdoor shopping and dining complex with overpriced made in china souvenirs and mediocre food for high prices for their hostages on WDW property. His name was Scrooge McDuck.

August 21, 2014 at 5:08 PM · I have taken the time to read all of these comments and frankly find it hard to see anything negative in this renovation. The magic of Disney is not the shopping, not the rides, not the transportation, not the clubs and not the bars....the Magic is the way you feel once you cross under the arch welcoming you to the the "Magic". As a Floridian, Disneyworld is an escape from reality, a place to go where attention to detail is not an imagination, but more of a part of the "magic". The fact that they put so much into the "shopping" area does not show that they are thinking of the $$$ it shows that they are continuing in the tradition of taking you away from your everyday life and placing you in a "dream world" as an escape. I have been to DTD on every visit to Orlando (7 to 10 times a year) and have spent very little each time....the music and the atmosphere is what entertains us and all of this will bring it to the next level. As for upgrades to parks....well they seem to do this too but they do it with class and timeless charm. The most recent changes at the Magic Kingdom blend in with the park as if it were there for years. The subtle changes and additions add to the charm of Disney. I tried Universal, after a day of overflowing trash cans, fowl mouthed employees, extended lines with poor at fudges of everyone who worked there, I found an realized why I loved Disney so much. Walt Disney wanted everyone who walked into his parks to feel as if they were walking in to opening day of the park. The time they take between the time the park closes till the opening the next day is worth every penny I have spent. Walt has done it and the immaginners has kept his wishes alive by making a place beyond the normal daily routine, the help to create a place where "Magic, Memories and More" can be created with the ones you love. Sit back, and wait till you see this magical "shopping center" and realize that it might not be for you, but for someone, it is the first time walking into a world of their own imagination.
August 21, 2014 at 7:24 PM · I have taken the time to read all of these comments and frankly find it hard to see anything negative in this renovation. The magic of Disney is not the shopping, not the rides, not the transportation, not the clubs and not the bars....the Magic is the way you feel once you cross under the arch welcoming you to the the "Magic". As a Floridian, Disneyworld is an escape from reality, a place to go where attention to detail is not an imagination, but more of a part of the "magic". The fact that they put so much into the "shopping" area does not show that they are thinking of the $$$ it shows that they are continuing in the tradition of taking you away from your everyday life and placing you in a "dream world" as an escape. I have been to DTD on every visit to Orlando (7 to 10 times a year) and have spent very little each time....the music and the atmosphere is what entertains us and all of this will bring it to the next level. As for upgrades to parks....well they seem to do this too but they do it with class and timeless charm. The most recent changes at the Magic Kingdom blend in with the park as if it were there for years. The subtle changes and additions add to the charm of Disney. I tried Universal, after a day of overflowing trash cans, fowl mouthed employees, extended lines with poor attitudes of everyone who worked there, I realized why I loved Disney so much. Walt Disney wanted everyone who walked into his parks to feel as if they were walking in to opening day of the park. The time they take between the time the park closes till the opening the next day is worth every penny I have spent. Walt has done it and the immaginners have kept his wishes alive by making a place beyond the normal daily routine, they help to create a place where "Magic, Memories and More" can be created with the ones you love. Sit back, and wait till you see this magical "shopping center" and realize that it might not be for you, but for someone, it is the first time walking into a world of their own imagination with the ones they love.
August 22, 2014 at 9:43 AM · ^^^^Fanboy Alert! Fanboy Alert!^^^^
August 22, 2014 at 3:42 PM · Was that for real? Wow! That was like the second part ET ride acid trip.
August 22, 2014 at 6:36 PM · This is what they have the imagineers doing while Universal is creating a new King Kong, Harry Potter and other attractions.

My grandkids are more and more Universal fans and even skipped Disney on the last trip. Why? Because Universal creates the old fashioned experience for your money. Disney seems to be just in it for the money--another gift shop where a ride used to be. I know let's imagine a whole mall....maybe like EPCOT they will even pay to eat.

Ever notice the wait time apps now show that the Universal lines are getting longer and Disney ones shorter.

Disney Springs...What a joke!

August 22, 2014 at 9:43 PM · Wow these comments make me sad. Sounds like a bunch of whiners... I think what they are doing with Disney Springs sounds very appealing for the area and much needed.

Sounds like a bunch of Universal employees. You do realize that families with small children don't go out and party at night at Margaritaville at City Walk, right?

Get a little perspective people.

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