Disney Springs vs. Universal CityWalk: Who's winning now?
In the ongoing Disney vs. Universal war of improvements in Orlando, it's not just the theme parks that are benefitting. Their respective dining/shopping centers have also undergone some major upgrades over the last few years. Of course the real winner of this brawl is you and me. And my stomach. The only real loser so far is my wallet.
Now that Disney Springs has finally unveiled the final piece of its Springs puzzle, the Town Center, it seemed like a great time to visit and compare and contrast the two competitors for your dollar.
If you had visited the former Downtown Disney over the last year or so, the overall experience during construction phase was tantamount to driving I-4 during rush hour with no air conditioning, two screaming kids, your flatulent Uncle Arvind, and a motion sick dog. Only less fun. Surrounded by construction walls that packed you in like mice in a maze, unable to get your bearings, and driving around for hours trying to find a parking spot within a 5K distance of Downtown was a meeska mooska Mickey mess.
But I am happy to report that the walls have come down, a whole lot of new stores and restaurants are open, and with the addition of the Lime Parking Garage to the pre-existing Orange one, parking is a breeze.
Disney has done a great job with the new architectural features here. I particularly enjoyed the Old Florida feel of the Town Center with its country-style Welcome Center, many fountains, and the beautiful blue springs from which Disney Springs derives its name. TIP: Take a moment to let the kids (or yourself) hand-crank the wheel to draw some water up from the spring via the giant Archimedes screw, it's very cool.
Okay, so the place looks cool, but its purpose is to thicken your stomach at its eateries and thin out our purse or wallet at its shops. Does Disney Springs achieve that goal?
That's a resounding yes from me on both counts. We arrived at 10am as the Springs opened for business and our first stop was Sprinkles for some cupcake snacks. While a bit pricey (a dozen cupcakes will set you back $52), they are good. While the cake part of the cup was extremely tasty, I thought the icing was a bit on the overly sweet and thick side.
Next up was some shopping. We checked out new stores like Kate Spade, Tommy Bahama, Under Armour Brand House, Na Hoko Hawaiian Jewelry, and old standbys like the Lego Store where I may as well direct deposit my paycheck thanks to my little builder. There are a LOT of shops now, around 80+ with more scheduled to open in the coming months. TIP: Pop into the Under Armour Brand House for two great photo ops, a giant (and I mean giant) Under Armour Tee in the entry and a (slightly) smaller Hulk on the second floor.
Whereas in the old Downtown Disney, the emphasis was more on hawking Disneyana and Disney-branded merchandise, the wider selection of shops now making their home at Disney Springs has opened up the shopping appeal which in turn will open up tourist wallets even wider. Trust me. It's not hard to spend a fortune here.
Carrying around all those shopping bags for my wife is hard work, so she periodically feeds me to keep my energy up. Lunch was at the new D-Luxe Burger, and let me tell you this place is good.
I would strongly argue it is the best burger I have had on WDW property, though it might be hard to comprehend my argument as I stuff a Southern Classic Burger in my mouth. The fries are really good too, not greasy at all. TIP: Get here EARLY! We rolled up for lunch at a respectable 11:40 and the line was literally out the door.
The smell inside is torture as you wait for your meal which leads me to TIP #2: The burgers here are served pink in the middle, so if you like well done make sure you order it that way, but it does take quite a few mouth-watering minutes longer.
After another round of shopping, dinner was reserved at Morimoto Asia. The food here is simply amazing, the décor is beautiful, and the service was on point. (I would say on fleek, but that would earn an eye-roll from my teenager.) We loved the Orange Chicken, Chicken Fried Rice, Chicken Dumplings, and Vegetable Egg Rolls. I can also recommend the citrus salad and the Miso Soup.
We have also eaten at The Boathouse which was really fresh and tasty seafood, but be prepared for sticker shock at the end of the meal. Even the kids menu is pricey. Raglan Road is always fantastic, and if you go for dinner you get to see a spectacular live dance performance as well.
And there are still a bunch of little snackeries we never got to sample that we want to try such as The Daily Poutine, Aristocrepes, and B.B. Wolf's Sausage Co.
But how does the new Springs stack up to Universal CityWalk? While Disney was undergoing its transformation from Downtown to Springs, we certainly had been visiting CityWalk more often, particularly for the restaurants.
Some of our CityWalk favorites include: Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville (you can't go wrong with beer and burgers), Antojito's (good Mexican and a great Mariachi show on certain nights), and Vivo Italian Kitchen (surprisingly affordable yet excellent Italian eatery), and the NBC Sports Grill (sit at one of the combo food/foosball table, it's awesome!)
So for awhile, CityWalk held the edge, but now I would say Disney Springs takes the top foodie honors especially with the recent opening of STK Orlando and more great restaurants on the way. Although I am very eager to check out the fabulous-looking creations at CityWalk's Toothsome Chocolate Emporium when it opens later this year.
As for the shopping at CityWalk, I think Disney Springs now holds the edge there too. Universal just doesn't have that many great retailers at City Walk, and even their own Studio Store is fairly lackluster especially compared to the World of Disney.
I think Disney has really created something special with the new Disney Springs. The theming is up to Disney top-notch standards, there are a surprising amount of new locations here in which to shop and visit and dine in addition to the old favorites, and they're not even done.
When the parks are packed, Disney Springs just makes a great getaway. Park yourself in one of the rocking chairs on the Welcome Center porch overlooking the crystal blue springs, grab a snack of your choice in hand, tuck your shopping bags at your feet and enjoy!
Disney springs looks the part but every item on sale there is way overpriced.
'...it seemed like a great time to visit and compare and contrast the two competitors for your dollar.'
First it was Disney Village to capture some more tourist dollars. Then it became Downtown Disney to crush Church Street Station. Now it is Disney Springs, and trying to crush CityWalk. One wonders what it will be in another ten years.
I like how your experience differed so greatly from mine, it makes an interesting read. I found the new Disney Springs to be awful, it feels like I'm at the outlet mall across the street, with the same level of poor customer service. Most of the staff seemed to not want to be there and even the front door woman at Sprinkles was incredibly rude (I ended up not trying the cupcakes because her attitude ruined my experience.) it doesn't feel like a fun Disney trip anymore, it just feels like spending the day with someone who wants me to know they are better than me. City Walk is more accessible and keeps more with the spirit that Universal provides so for me it wins by a long shot.
And don't forget that Universal charges you to Park (excluding FL residents after 6 PM) while Disney Springs' parking is all free. And I love the system that tells you how many spots on each floor and row are open.
We always very much enjoyed Downtown Disney, but Disney Springs is a far, far superior experience. WE love all the shopping and dining of course, but very much enjoy the architecture, the live evening entertainment, the food trucks, Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar (a lot!) and are looking forward to the opening of The Edison. It is a place we'll visit 2 or 3 times during each trip, and spend sevearal hours each time.
Love the Disney Springs atmosphere but disappointed that every shop and most eateries cater to those with beaucoup money. Hard for a middle class family to enjoy anything more than the atmosphere and a burger when every other offering is centered around fancy designers and expensive concept restaurants. I feel CW offers better value and affordability even if it doesn't have as much "stuff". But DS is gorgeous for sure!
Great article, totally agree that the changes to springs were necessary and worth it. Surprised you never mentioned Cowfish.
Don't forget about parking cost - unless you are an APH to Universal, you have to pay to park... I think even after 6 it has a price now too but I might be wrong.
Who's winning? Not your wallet. It looks expensive. Good for window shopping and not much else. Most of these retailers are likely at other malls and outlet centers. You can find knockoffs or private label brands at Walmart or Target. Locals might like the evening entertainment.
Folks, please stop calling it an outlet mall unless you can document that the offerings inside the stores at DS are identical to the stuff you would find at an outlet center.
Why identical? Similar is close enough. Do you know that outlet centers have many high end retailers?
Having been to both over many years and seeing both change many times I think they both have there good points and bad, for me city walk is a little hard to get to find out what shop is where there is so many ups and downs to different areas that makes it feel a little disjointed but come nighttime and the party atomospher starts your just can not beat citywalk, Disney springs has evolved massively over time and it has gone away from the days when you could buy a cheap burger at McDonald's, yes back in the day for those who do not know Disney springs had a McDonald's, now it's more like a upmarket place to eat, drink and shop which is great as a special treat but runs into being very expensive if you eat there every night of your vacation, the shops I find easier to find and get around but I do not like the choices so much it's mainly high cost shopping and for me when I go on vacation I like a bargain and I do not think Disney springs will offer this type of shopping experince, it may become more attractive to locals but only time will tell.
Disney Springs workers should be issued masks because prices are so high they could be considered robbery.
Wow, JK, that was one long sentence!
The problem with the evolution of Disney Springs is that it has gone away from the entertainment concept Imagineers initially envisioned. It has essentially become a glorified outlet mall with the Cirque theater, movie theater, and themed dining.
I 100% agree with Mr. Meyer.
I don't know why a Disney vacationer would want to shop at Kate Spade or Under Armour. They have those at home - or online.
disclaimer: I have not visited Disney Springs yet. When I go on vacation, shopping is not really high on my list of things to do. I want to be entertained & see things I can't see at my local mall/shopping center. Admittedly I really liked pleasure island, although I can understand wanting to update things. I suspect Disney Springs will provide more profit. The only thing I want to see at DS is Jock Lindsey's bar, but then I'm an Indiana Jones fanatic.
Went to DS twice in the past week while on vacation. Parking is so much easier now. Atmosphere is great. Felt like a fun place to spend time. Saw some very good live entertainers each night. Biggest concern is the price of restaurants. $50+ for a steak at STK. $15+ for a burger at most places. $22 for spaghetti at the Italian restaurant. Just my wife and I, but wondering how most families can handle spending $100 to $250 for one meal.
As someone from New Jersey who looks to spend time at WDW to get away from the real world, the new addition brought me...right back to New Jersey. Aside from the restaurants, the whole shopping center IS a mall, no different from the tons we have in Jersey. And IMO has no Disney touch whatsoever. The best thing about it is the restaurants (esp the Boathouse) and the fact that it brings some of the crowds away from the Marketplace where true Disney still resides. Btw: when we were there a few weeks ago, the mall area was a ghost town.
One stark difference between the two venues is Disney is moving a lot more to third parties in Springs while Universal is moving away from that, creating more in house experiences over at Citywalk. They are going two different directions.
Well, the Boathouse is owned by a Chicago Company. Why should I go there?
I'm jealous of the people who call Disney Springs just a glorified outlet mall. Because clearly whatever towns they live in must have some pretty sweet malls. All of the malls here in Tampa are just a sprawl of really small retail stores and restaurants, and maybe a movie theater and maybe one or two little play sets to keep the kids from whining. They wish they could be as impressive as Disney Springs!
I have to agree completely with Russell Meyer
The problem I have with Disney Springs vs. City Walk is the same problem that I have with Anaheim's Downtown Disney vs. Hollywood's City Walk - City Walk has better theming and a more exciting, hipper vibe. Disney Springs looks like a nice generic mall, but no big Disney theming. You could almost call it Disney's Florida Adventure.
As someone who just got back from visiting there twice I can understand why Disney did these upgrades to DTD but I can't understand "why" they would do them.
Disney is smart in offering more upscale restaurants and shops. Universal caters more to the shrinking middle class and, when it isn't a side trip from a day at a Disney park, Universal offers more affordable eating plans, bargains, and the like. The problem? This market is shrinking and fickle.
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