Wednesday

Orlando Family Travel Guide 2015 Day 1 - Downtown Disney Tips & Review *Currently Being Renovated*


orlando family travel downtown disney special needs review
On the Disney bus heading to
Downtown Disney!
We typically schedule our trips so that the first full day is fairly calm and relaxed--especially when we're heading to attractions and/or cities that are on the busier side. This gives our little ADHDers a chance to settle in before a busy 2nd day. Due to yet another snowstorm, we flew to Orlando a bit earlier than originally planned and got to our hotel by 8pm. The little guys were pretty excited and we got to bed a bit later than I would have liked, but everyone was up and ready to go Monday morning (day 1).

We knew we wanted to head to Downtown Disney on our first day, which is what we did last year. Downtown Disney (which will be referred to as Disney Springs from what I understand once renovations are done) is a combination of shopping and dining. There are some of the same quick service options you see in other parts of Disney along with some unique restaurants. Shops vary from Disney-themed to luxury brands. Last year when we went to Downtown Disney construction had not yet begun and it was fairly busy. This year, while the majority of shops near the Marketplace entrance were the same, construction started about midway in around Pleasure Island. The construction areas had high walls around their perimeters to prevent visitors from having to look directly on the construction for the most part. It did feel a bit claustrophobic at times and it made the flow of traffic a bit more congested, but we look forward to seeing what another year brings. 

Date Visited: March 2, 2015

Crowd Levels: low to moderate

Age Range Appeal: little ADHDers to adults depending on areas visited and purpose

Special Note: Construction made some aspects a little less picturesque and convenient, but as it didn't affect the Marketplace, if you're going with young children you may not spend much time in the affected areas. If you have a sensory-avoiding child, the Marketplace is probably the best area to visit on a slow day (though some of the stores get very crowded) and the West Side is a bit more spacious near the end with Cirque du Soleil. Pleasure Island is more cramped, loud and crowded right now due to the ongoing construction.


Downtown Disney Family Travel Day 1 - Currently Being Renovated

We've included some pictures, reviews and tips below from our first day at Downtown Disney. With all of the construction, we took less pictures than we originally planned, but you'll get an idea of some of what they have to offer your ADHD family. We also went to Downtown Disney on our last day, so we'll mention some additional info in our Day 5 post, too. 

We tend to visit Disney during a time of year when crowds are somewhat smaller, which is really beneficial for our little ADHDers. The walking can be intense regardless, so plan accordingly if you have little guys with stamina or strength issues. Our little guys both have low tone and stamina issues, but they tend to do well on walking trips. However, we did find that the heat was uncharacteristically hot this year (high 80s on some days) and there was a little dehydration and cramping on our second day at one point.

The 3 Areas of Downtown Disney

Keep in mind, Downtown Disney is technically split into 3 areas...

Downtown Disney Marketplace
Most of the food options near the Marketplace (the area with the majority of the Disney/kid-focused shops) are themed and/or quick service. 

Downtown Disney Pleasure Island
The restaurants are focused more towards sophisticated dining vs kid themes and are located primarily on the second stretch of Downtown Disney and near or in the middle of the construction.

Downtown Disney West Side
This area is primarily shopping and not so much Disney-specific. There were sunglass shops, clothing shops, food trucks, a second Wolfgang Puck Express, Haagen Dazs, movie theater, Cirque du Soleil, etc. 

It's really up to you whether you choose to do quick service, themed dining or more sophisticated dining. We've done quick service and mid to high range dining and found there are good options at both ends of the spectrum.


Downtown Disney Marketplace

Definitely the most appealing area for young ADHDers! Chock full of kid-appealing stores, quick service dining and some kid-friendly themed dining.

orlando family travel downtown disney special needs review
Inside World of Disney, one of several Disney toy and souvenir shops. Prices are identical across these stores throughout the Disney parks and resorts. If you hunt around a bit you can generally find smaller items under $10 if you're looking for budget-friendly souvenirs for little ones.

orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
Part of the exterior of Once Upon A Toy. To the left is a giant circle with holes in the pavement that shoot out water.
orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
This is a shot of the same area from another side of the big circle. I suggest clicking it for a larger view! Here you can see Once Upon A Toy to the left, Earl of Sandwich in front and the water spouts in the circle in the center. 
orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
Earl of Sandwich, water spouts in the ground and a giant Tinker Toy structure! Earl of Sandwich was actually one of our favorite quick service dining options last year. They offer soups, salads and of course--sandwiches. Prices are very reasonable and while it's definitely quick service, we found the quality good for the price. We actually didn't eat here this trip as we wanted to try other options, but we will definitely be back there next year!

Tip: If you plan on going when the weather is fairly warm (it was in the 80s the week we were there) I do suggest putting your little guys in swimsuits/trunks if you think you'll allow them to play in this area. They get pretty wet here and dry off as they walk around, but swimwear dries quicker and better! Bring a change of clothes if you're going someplace other than your resort after going to Downtown Disney
orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
The Maleficent dragon LEGO statue was very cool and quite large! It's located near the main entrance of the LEGO store in Downtown Disney. The store never seems to have any sets we can't get elsewhere, but the kids always want to go in.

orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
This giant Lock Ness style dragon is across fro the LEGO store. It's quite large and fun for a family pic!

orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
The 7 dwarfs LEGO scene was to the right of the main entrance. With all of the hype around the 7 dwarfs mine train ride (which we'll mention on Day 2) and the 7D cartoon show, the kids were pretty excited to take a look at this!
disney world downtown disney lego store review
This giant Hulk LEGO guy was really fun for photo ops! There were a couple Toy Story characters on the other side along with a LEGO girl to the left.

orlando family travel downtown disney travel blog review
The inside of the LEGO store is very open and quite large. This is just a portion of the interior. They have a number of different LEGO sets, though I didn't see anything I hadn't seen at an actual LEGO store at home. Prices are comparable to retail LEGO store prices. There are several areas where kids can just play with LEGO as well.

Tip: If you need a break or want to get something small, head to this store and let your little ADHDers play inside or out at one of the LEGO play stations. Items such as LEGO figure key chains, Mixels, etc. are priced under or around $10 for many of them.
orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
T-Rex restaurant is one that always looks fun, but do to its sub-par food reviews vs the price we've never given it a shot. The theme inside is supposed to be very fun, however, especially if you have a dino-loving ADHDer!
orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
This is 1 of 2 Wolfgang Puck Express quick service restaurants in Downtown Disney. The second is on the West Side. We didn't check out the other one, but the Marketplace Wolfgang Puck Express has an area for ordering along with both indoor and outdoor dining tables. It was air conditioned inside and the tables outside were somewhat shaded. Prices are a bit on the higher end for quick service.

Tip: There are actually bathrooms directly to the left of the entrance to the restaurant including one for families/companions!

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
You order at the counter, then sit down and they bring you your food. Our line wasn't too bad, but it quickly went out the door by the time we sat down. The menu wasn't super impressive as far as options went. They offered a few sandwiches, salads, etc.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
Once you order you're given these markers to place on your table so that they can bring your food out to you once it's done. They also clear your table for you.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
Chicken Caesar Salad--minus the chicken :(
I ordered a chicken caesar salad with no croutons. Unfortunately, they forgot the chicken and they put diced tomatoes on it for some reason. The lettuce was "meh" and along the lines of what you'd expect in a cafeteria salad bar. I let our server know that mine had come without chicken and she brought a small plate of deli-style chicken, not chunks, but slices of the same chicken used on the Hubs' sandwich. Super disappointing and not tasty. 

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
The Hubs ordered a chicken sandwich, which came with homemade chips on the side. The sandwich had a decent portion of deli-style chicken and veg on one side, but nearly nothing on the other. Overall, he felt it was not that great, especially for the price and compared to that offered at Earl of Sandwich nearby.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
Kid's Pepperoni Pizza
This was ordered by our older guy. He enjoyed it, but I was a bit surprised by how greasy it was. The price wasn't horrible, but it wasn't anything special.

Our younger guy has a lot of eating issues and had a bowl of cereal, which we didn't photograph.
Overall, we would not suggest Wolfgang Puck Express in the Marketplace for quick service. While the a.c. was nice, that was pretty much where our satisfaction ended with our meal. Nothing was very good, everything was bland and had a very "cheaply made" feel to it.


Downtown Disney Pleasure Island

Pleasure Island is not super appealing to very young ADHDers with short attention spans in our opinions. It's primarily restaurants and fairly affected by the ongoing construction. It is the location of our favorite Downtown Disney mid- to high-end restaurant--Raglan Road--which we'll discuss on Day 5.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
This is one view on the bridge heading towards the restaurant/shopping area in Pleasure Island. Beyond this area a bit is where the construction began. The end of the bridge is lined with carts offering different little things for sale. We didn't purchase anything there as nothing caught our eyes.
orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
The Rainforest Cafe is near the entrance of the bridge closer to the Marketplace. The volcano goes off in a roar of flames every so often, which our little guys always find exciting. We haven't eaten here yet.
orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
Fulton's Crab House is near the entrance of the bridge on the Pleasure Island end by the construction. We haven't eaten here as we're from an area that is big on fresh seafood, but it always looks fun! I believe prices here are in the moderate to high range.
 We didn't take many pictures in the Pleasure Island area due to all the constructions and narrow walking areas, which were considerably more crowded than the Marketplace. I believe construction will be complete in 2016 or 2017--I believe it's being done in phases.

Tip: Check out the newer bakery named NYC Bakery, which is actually Babycakes, close to Raglan Road (another restaurant we suggest, which we'll mention on Day 5). Babycakes offers vegan and gluten-free cupcakes and they are divine! We purchased some our first day and brought them back to our resort--everyone loved them! Really great if you or your little ADHDers are on modified diets.


Downtown Disney West Side

The West Side feels less like Disney than any other part of the Disney property we've visited. The stores aren't super Disney specific for the most part and neither is the dining. There's a theater, Cirque du Soleil "tent"and other attractions. 

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
One of the most Disney-focused stores on the West Side, Candy Cauldron is a smaller candy shop that's cute, but offers less options than the Goofy themed candy store in the Marketplace.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
Candy Cauldron offers a moderate selection of prepackaged candies as well as some Disney-themed baked goods, fudge, etc. They didn't really offer too many gluten-free options and we'd already visited the Goofy candy store in the Marketplace, so we didn't grab anything here.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
Haagen Dazs!
We are a huge Haagen Dazs family so we stopped here and got a cold treat. It was super refreshing after walking around all day. This is located directly across from the Cirque du Soleil structure at the furthest end of the West Side area. It's near the entrance where parking is, which is something we'll discuss on Day 5 as we took a Disney bus on Day 1 and drove ourselves on Day 5.

Note: If you're from New England and you order a frappe here, don't expect a suck-on-your-straw-til-you're-blue-because-it's-so-thick frappe like we have up here. They make their frappes with tonic water and while they're refreshing, they're thinner than a regular milkshake (let alone a real frappe) and not quite as sweet. Still good though!


Disney Ferry

Disney offers ferry rides to and from a number of on-water locations such a Magic Kingdom, Polynesian Resort, Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Downtown Disney Marketplace, Downtown Disney West Side, Downtown Disney Pleasure Island, etc. 

Even if you don't necessarily have someplace to be, if you need a little break and want a nice, peaceful change of scenery consider taking your little ADHDers on a ride or two. They come fairly frequently to the docks. We actually took a ride just for kicks to the Grand Floridian and walked around. It's definitely not a resort we'd choose for ourselves as it's more golf and spa focused, but it's nice.

At the end of our Downtown Disney visit on Day 1 we actually went to the Polynesian Resort to eat at the counter service-style Kona Island, which serves the same menu as the reservation-only Kona Cafe next door. We didn't take pics inside because we were too tired, but they've done some modifications to the interior of the Polynesian Resort since we were there a year ago and were doing construction on areas of the exterior. I do miss the large water pool they had in the lobby, which has been replaced with more seating areas.

Unfortunately, we originally planned on taking the monorail back to Magic Kingdom then hopping on a bus to our resort, but the monorail shut down temporarily, so we took a ferry instead, then hopped on a bus. 

If your little ADHDers have high anxiety they may be a bit concerned on the ferry. They make a point of telling you not to allow children in the outer seats along with some other warnings and this gave our guys some anxiety. We insured them it would be safe and the rides we took were generally very smooth--only one was slightly choppy at one point. Definitely discuss it beforehand to gauge your little ADHDers' comfort levels prior to riding as I'm not sure what the protocol would be if you had a child that couldn't handle being on the ferry mid-trip. 

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
We took one of our ferry rides during sunset and it was absolutely beautiful! The little guys loved it as well.

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review

orlando family vacation downtown disney travel blog review
We got a quick view of the Magic Kingdom entrance when we left the Polynesian Resort to catch a bus to our resort. The little guys were excited to know this was our destination the next day!


Final Thoughts

Overall, our visit to Downtown Disney on Day 1 was fun and a nice change of pace while working on settling our little ADHDers into a new location. If you do all 3 areas of Downtown Disney it is a decent amount of walking, so plan accordingly. There are plenty of areas to sit down if it's not too busy, which is great. 

Don't forget to check out all of our features from our 2015 Orlando Family Travel Guide:
Note: This trip was in no way sponsored. All opinions mentioned above are our own based on our experiences.

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