Any fan of Walt Disney World will remember the names – Disney Village, Disney Marketplace, Pleasure Island, The Landing, West Side… and Downtown Disney. One of the most recent and extensive changes at WDW has been the reimaging and redevelopment of the three separate sections into a single story, venue, and entertainment center called… Disney Springs.
The Imagineers started from scratch and drew from the history of Florida and dreamed up a new story to paint the backdrop for this new and improved destination. According the story, Disney Springs is a small town that grew up around a natural spring. Florida is bubbling with them, as a matter of fact, Florida has one of the largest concentration of springs that can be found anywhere on the planet. Much of Florida history is the real story of towns that “sprung up” around such water sources.
As the new old story goes, a cattle rancher discovered a natural spring here in the 1800s. The area that the cattle rancher settled, Disney Springs, is now Town Center. Look closely and you will see it is a modernized version of a storied Spanish settlement with 1920’s architecture. The building in which D-Luxe Burger is now housed used to be a settler’s cabin. Detail watchers will find that some of the old machinery is still in the area adding to the story and history of this area.
The settlement developed into a small town and then expanded and became a larger community. So with the expansion, more areas were added. The Landing (formerly Pleasure Island) was the community’s transportation hub where a passenger train once serviced residents. Detail hunters will see that rails left behind serve as evidence of the once popular railroad. STK is in the former train station, and the boat that used to be Fulton’s is now Paddlefish. Boathouse, is not only a fun nautical restaurant but also an attraction in itself with amphicars!
The original shopping area maintains some of the original theming as it is called The Marketplace. The you add the West Side, as the new story goes, was built in the 1950s as a town expo. Many of the attractions, including Splitsville, Cirque du Soleil, AMC Movie Theater, and House Of Blues are familiar, but now this section is woven into the rest of the area.
The Imagineers had a huge task and they literally went into the water to create a new shoreline that looked like a real spring, they added some elements that gave the area a natural look like exposed tree roots, and the built around the cypress trees, oak trees, and plant life that were abundant in the area.
They drew from the real life storyline of Walt’s parents – Elias and Flora, who met in a now gone area of Florida known as Kismet. Some stories say that Kismet was part of the inspiration of Disney Springs due to its nearness to Alexander Springs, on the edge of the Ocala National Forest. That may or may not be true, but readers of the Key to the Kingdom series will remember how we unpacked Walt and Roy’s family tree and gave a detailed account of the real history of the area where they met, and for years the Disney family frequented and were a part of the community. The real history reveals that one of the reasons that Central Florida was so appealing is that Walt and Roy were much more familiar with it than most people realized. In Unlocking the Kingdom, there are some unusual details about this area that were dropped into the world of fiction and formed the backdrop for some thrilling scenes. A unique gravestone
Theron Skees, who was the lead Imagineer for the Disney Springs project and also inspired a character in the Key to the Kingdom series, developed the story that Walt and Roy looked at the Central Florida property and drew inspiration from their parents stories of the area. So in the storyline, as Walt Disney World was purchased, the springs were central to the idea and development and Disney Springs, as it would become, was an essential part of the deal.
The end result is the new Disney Springs, a new destination for Disney guests. They have managed to create the feel of an old fashioned small town, loaded with warmth, community, but with a very modern vibe. As always, the Imagineers set out to immerse the guest into the walking, shopping, and dining experience… and they have done just that. Restaurants, shops, and distinct areas are loaded with details and all of it weaves together to tell a background story that adds a level of creativity and fun that is unlike any other shopping experience you can find anywhere.
Disney Springs is a powerful reminder of how Disney is always developing and moving toward the future. Each of us as individuals have a choice to make each day. Do we stay in the past, looking back at the way things were, or do we realize that we are always moving through time and into the future? As Walt was so richly described, he was a man with one foot anchored in the nostalgia of the past with the other firmly stepping into the future… and so each of us must be as well.
At the time of this article, there is a brand new release that we are excited about. It is called Terror in the Kingdom. It is set against the very real backdrop of Walt Disney World. The story is an adventure, mystery, thrilled, along with a blend of parody and fun that will transport readers into the ultimate Disney fan experience. It is the latest installment in a series that illustrates the way a story is always moving forward, just like our lives, and if we are willing to do so – we can change the world and make it a better place.
This article is compiled by author Jeff Dixon. Jeff has written a series of novels set in and around Walt Disney World entitled, The Key to the Kingdom, Unlocking the Kingdom, Storming the Kingdom, and as mentioned and linked above Terror in the Kingdom. He is also the author of The Disney Driven Life. The book that draws life lessons and leadership principles from the history and life of Walt Disney. Some know Jeff as Dixon On Disney – and he resources and comments on Disney history, attractions, and news. He is a researcher that draws heavily on the incredible works of Disney historians and biographers with an attempt to understand and apply the life lessons that are uncovered. He is also a storyteller that transports readers into a world beyond their imagination.