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As construction continues on WDW's Downtown Disney redo, the Imagineers stitch together a backstory for Disney Springs

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As construction continues on WDW's Downtown Disney redo, the Imagineers stitch together a backstory for Disney Springs

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As you've probably already heard, Disney Springs' first two shops -- APEX, which sells  high-end sunglass brands like Maui Jim, Oakley and Ray-Ban ...


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... and Chapel Hats ...


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... which features a fun assortment of hats and funky headwear -- ...


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... both recently opened in The Landing Section of this radically reimagined version of Downtown Disney, WDW's retail, entertainment and dining district (FYI: March 22nd of this year marks the 40th anniversary of the official opening of this waterfront complex).

And while construction is now basically complete on the West Side's 5 story, 4000 car parking garage ...


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... the Downtown-Disney / Disney-Springs conversion team is now focusing its attention on widening Buena Vista Drive to 10 lanes ...


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... not to mention building an elevated ramp that will allow WDW visitors to exit I-4 and then drive straight into the West Side parking garage. Thereby eliminating these drivers needing to get on Buena Vista Drive and gumming up traffic flow between Hotel Plaza Boulevard and the entrance to Typhoon Lagoon. And then when you factor in the projected capacity of Disney Springs' second parking garage (which just began construction last month), we're talking about a total of 6000 enclosed parking spots. Which is roughly half the capacity of the Magic Kingdom's parking lot.

During a visit late last month to this multi-million redo of Downtown Disney, the project managers that I spoke with assured me that they were still on track to have Disney Springs completed by the late Spring / early Summer of 2016. But as I walked around this 120 acre construction site, you know what I liked best? It wasn't just that the Imagineers had made an effort to address the mistakes of the past (EX: WDW visitors who were entering Pleasure Island from the Marketplace side of things often complained about how steep Hill Street was. Which is why -- as WDI was turning that nightclub complex into The Landing -- they adjusted the grade of this street, giving it a much less steep slope as it sent Guests down towards the Boathouse) ...


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... but rather that they were already making an effort to try and give Disney Springs some storytelling connective tissue. Take -- for example -- how the long abandoned trolley turntable at the top of what-used-to-be-Pleasure-Island's-Hill-Street ...


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... manages to line up with those recently-added-to-the-West-Side section of elevated track.


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Which then helps reinforce the idea that Disney Springs once really was this small Florida waterfront town which gradually, over time, eventually became this retail, dining and entertainment district.

You'll find a similar sort of storytelling going on over at The Boathouse (Which -- FYI -- is still on track for an early April opening).


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According to the mythology that Schussler Creative & WDI cooked up for this eatery, The Boathouse was originally Disney Springs' general store. This primo piece of waterfront property was eventually purchased by someone who wanted to turn the general store into their private home. And then -- as their family grew -- this person kept adding additional rooms & out-buildings until The Boathouse eventually became the sprawling complex that it is today.


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When I ducked behind its construction fence and went on a hardhat tour of The Boathouse last Tuesday afternoon, this soon-to-open restaurant was a beehive of activity. There were woodworkers installing decking out along the Lake Buena Vista side of the property ...


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... electricians wiring up the five dining rooms and three bars to be found inside of this waterfront restaurant.


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Not to mention construction workers busily installing the control system for that turntable which will be used to properly position those amphicars that will soon begin taking WDW visitors out onto Lake Buena Vista for a tour of the sights.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, The Boathouse should not be confused with The Hangar, a Disney owned-and-operated eatery which is being built right next door. Given that the Hangar features an outdoor bar which is actually shaped like a boat, there are those who have assumed that this quonset hut-shaped structure is somehow an extension of The Boathouse. But that's honestly not the case.


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And once you factor in all of the "Disney Springs" -related signage that's now going up in and around The Landing ...


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... it's clear that the Imagineers are trying to do something genuinely ambitious here. Turn Downtown Disney into a shopping, dining and entertainment district that's easy both for Orlando area locals as well as WDW visitors to get into as well as exit from. But at the same time, give Disney Springs the sort of atmosphere / level of detail that will make shoppers and diners linger.


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Of course, until Disney Spring's Town Center entrance complex is completed in 2016, it's hard to get a real sense of the overall story that WDI is trying to tell here. But with the first pieces of this multi-million dollar puzzle now clicked into place, I have to admit that I like what I saw last week and will continue keep a close eye on this project over the next 17 months.


Photo by Jim Hill

EDITOR'S NOTE: And speaking of months ... I guess I have to apologize of the light amount of content that I've posted on JHM over the past month or so. Long story short: My daughter Alice wanted to spend her college break up here in New Hampshire experiencing what an authentic New England winter was like. And given that Alice is now 20 / soon to be 21 years-old ... Well, I'm fairly certain that -- in the years ahead -- I'm not going to be able to get another 40 solid days of Daddy / Daughter time. Which is why I decided to put my writing on hold for a little while and make the most of her winter break.

Mind you, I wasn't totally off-the-clock while Alice and I were together. The above photos and info came from a trip that my daughter and I made down to Orlando in late January / early February. And over the coming week, I'll be sharing some shots that I took / some info that I gathered while visiting Disney's Polynesian Village Resort as well as attending Universal Orlando's "Celebration of Harry Potter."

Anyway, thanks for all your kind notes / e-mails of concern in regards to the lack of new content on JHM. Don't worry, though. This site will be getting back up to speed shortly with all manner of stories about what the Mouse has been up to lately. So please hang in there, okay?

j

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  • If there is a good reason to slow down work for a few weeks, that is certainly one Jim. Hope you enjoyed the family time.

  • The Boathouse backstory is a bit ridiculous and not believable. The size of it is more like a Boatmansion, yet who would want to do something of that size unless they have 10 kids or more and extremely rich. The painfully convoluted backstories is unnecessary and hurts the potential of Downtown Disney. Instead, we need a proper backstory of how Downtown Disney became Disney Springs.

    Once upon a time, Disney created Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney became Disney Springs because the once edgy aesthetic of an urban entertainment, nightclub, and restaurant zone was a big bore to the public and now it wants a new timeless look that should last 20 years.

    "give Disney Springs the sort of atmosphere / level of detail that will make shoppers and diners linger."

    Disney might have the atmosphere, but for customers to linger, it needs more shady and air conditioned spots, which would shelter the guests from the sun, rain, and humid air. I just don't see it apart from the shopping and restaurants. It needs more staging areas for outdoor entertainment.

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