Leave the high-anxiety Walt Disney World theme parks to the daytime portion of your visit in Orlando, Florida and take a short shuttle ride to the bustling night life of Downtown Disney for a carefree evening of food, entertainment, and shopping! Oh, and lots and lots of people, too.
After you’ve had your fill of standing in long lines under the sweltering sun of central Florida at one of the Walt Disney World theme parks, it’s time to reward yourself with a relaxed evening of food, music — and, wait for it — shopping. Yup, in classic Disney fashion, you’re going to have the “night of your life,” whether you like it or not.
Sitting in your armchair at home reading this article, it’s tough to imagine how elbow-to-elbow writhing throngs of people, attempting to “dance” to Salsa-Irish Riverdance-rock-n-roll music while waiting 2+ hours for a noisy table at a crowded “theme” restaurant could be anything short of insanity, but all of this works. Really, it does. Disney wants you to know that you can relax and enjoy yourself, because you’ve just arrived at Downtown Disney .
Unlike the main theme parks, Downtown Disney is a no-charge oasis plopped down right in amongst the lavish Walt Disney World resort hotels. In fact, some of the closest resorts feature a “water taxi” that will freely transport you back and forth between your hotel and Downtown Disney. The rest of us, however, must wait for the numerous scheduled bus shuttles that run to Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney is divided into three major “attractions:” West Side, Pleasure Island, and Marketplace; when the shuttle drops you off, make sure that you have your walking shoes on and it’s laced up tight.
Cracking the code for these three attractions translates into the West Side featuring most of the big event type entertainment like a Cirque du Soleil show. Next, on Pleasure Island, you will find the bulk of the restaurants and open-air musical experiences. Finally, over at Marketplace you can shop-til-you-drop for just about anything from fancy cigars to LEGO building kits.
Once you enter any one of the attractions, you’ll be absorbed by the “living” and moving sea of humanity that courses back and forth through Downtown Disney. So, don’t even think about adjusting your shoes or changing a roll of film until you’re safely planted against a concrete wall. Then, make your actions quick and jump back into the human sea.
Dodging through these crowds, you will probably be glad that you left your Lomography Belair X 6-12 back in the hotel room. Something more petite, like the Diana Baby 110, is ideal for taking photographs on the run. Also, trying to change a roll of 120 film in Downtown Disney would be a real test of your analogue nerves. It’s mush easier to just drop in a cartridge of 110 format film, spin the advance wheel, and keep on shooting without even losing one mouse photo-op shot.
The diversity of stores, shops, attractions, and restaurants encapsulated inside Downtown Disney is mind-boggling. In order to truly enjoy the whole experience, you should plan on several trips during your stay at Walt Disney World.
In fact, savvy Disney travelers will tell you that you should plan to eat your evening meals at a different restaurant inside Downtown Disney every night. While this plan sounds simple, it’s the execution that will drive you bonkers.
Basically, run like crazy to the restaurant of your choice and make a “reservation.” Typically, your table will be ready between 1 to 2 hours after your reservation. And that’s good. Now, you have a chance to hit the Marketplace and craft your own personalized T-shirt, grab that princess makeover you’ve always dreamed about, or build a soft dinosaur plush toy (please tell me that somewhere in this world, this is an oxymoron). Regardless, what you do while you wait, just make sure you return at the appointed time for your reservation or you might miss dinner.
Likewise, remember what time the return shuttle bus is scheduled to pick you up. Luckily, someone in my party kept her eye on her wristwatch and told us that we had exactly two minutes to cross the West Side and reach the bus before the final departure for the evening. Oh, and if you miss that final shuttle departure, you will have one very long dark walk back to your hotel. Oddly enough, Walt Disney World is devoid of sidewalks, too.
After our frantic dash, we made it to the shuttle just in time. And, come to think of it, we did have the night of our lives.