Florida Travel

Why water is the heart of this Disney project

In Town Center, the last piece of Downtown Disney's transformation into Disney Springs, Frontera Cocina by celebrity chef Rick Bayless has patio dining that overlooks the manmade springs that create the "story" of the town.
In Town Center, the last piece of Downtown Disney's transformation into Disney Springs, Frontera Cocina by celebrity chef Rick Bayless has patio dining that overlooks the manmade springs that create the "story" of the town. Miami Herald Staff

Some of the last pieces of the transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs have moved into place, and although a few parts are not completed, the flavor of the redesigned and expanded dining/shopping/entertainment complex and its new emphasis on its waterfronts are apparent.

Town Center, the heart of the redesigned complex, opened May 15 with about 30 new businesses along broad walkways. Overall, Disney Springs will have more than double the number of shops and restaurants as Downtown Disney when the makeover is complete. The emphasis in Town Center is on retail. Some shops haven’t opened yet, but everything is supposed to be complete by the end of the year.

According to the story on which the makeover was built, Disney Springs is a small, early-1900s Florida town built around natural springs. Although Town Center is the newest section, built on what used to be a parking lot, the story says it is where the community began. Three other sections — The Landing, Marketplace and West Side — developed later according to the story, but in real life have been there for years.

The story required springs, and new, vivid blue manmade springs run through Town Center. Between the springs and the opening up of the Lake Buena Vista waterfront, water views play a much bigger role than they did in Downtown Disney.

The Landing, once called Pleasure Island and populated by nightclubs, has developed into a mostly upscale restaurant row, where many establishments have outdoor seating and water views.

The Landing, once called Pleasure Island and populated by nightclubs, has developed into a mostly upscale restaurant row, where many establishments have outdoor seating and water views. New restaurants have also opened on the opposite side of the springs in Town Center.

Newest in The Landing is STK, the largest of 11 restaurants in the steakhouse chain (including one open in Miami Beach plus another planned in Miami) with a deejay, an indoor lounge and dining rooms, and outdoor dining on a second-floor terrace with partial views of the springs.

On the Town Center side, Frontera Cocina, serving contemporary Mexican food by Chicago’s celebrity chef Rick Bayless, opened last month with outdoor seating next to the springs.

Other newly opened eateries in Town Center include Amorette’s Patisserie, a pastry shop by Disney; Daily Poutine, a kiosk selling the Quebec specialty of french fries, gravy and cheese curds (try the Latin poutine with fried yuca, black beans, pulled pork and queso fresco); Sprinkles, a dessert shop that also has a 24-hour cupcake ATM for those late-night sugar cravings; and D-Luxe burger, serving Disney’s gourmet burgers by the springs.

The best feature of Disney Springs? Two new high-tech parking garages that tell drivers how many spaces are open and where the spaces are located. The garages are connected to Interstate 4 by their own flyover ramp. Parking is free.

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