Hello, Sunday! It is so nice to see the sun again this morning. I hope you’re all having a great weekend. I feel like I’m finally caught up on sleep and getting my sea legs under me again, so to speak.
I was super excited to be invited by Walt Disney World Resort to travel to Florida earlier this week and experience the new and improved Disney Springs with its world class shopping, dining, and entertainment along with a select group of bloggers and social media influencers.
You don’t have to say “shopping and dining” to me twice, so I happily accepted their invitation and started figuring out logistics and planning what to wear. (Naturally!)
I didn’t know if I’d know anyone, but that has never stopped me from going on one of these trips before. Plus I knew I’d be with Cyndi, and we can always make our own party, ha! As it turned out, we knew no one, but of course everyone was friendly, and we quickly made some new friends.
Cyndi and I arrived exhausted but excited on Monday morning after two verrrry early morning flights. Somehow I managed to sweet talk the gentleman at the registration desk into getting into our room early so we could rest and change. They put us up at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. Ironically, my parents are DVC members, and Saratoga Springs is their home resort, so I have actually stayed there before.
Saratoga Springs is one of their luxury resorts so everything is very nice and upscale. It’s a Victorian-style resort hotel that is modeled after the historic Saratoga Springs, New York. This was a retreat famous for its spas and horse racing so the equestrian theme is prominent throughout the resort. It is also the largest of all the Disney resort properties, so Cyndi and I spent much of our time trying to find our way around. At least we got a lot of exercise!
We spent our first afternoon by the pool near our hotel building (there are 5 different pools on the Saratoga Springs property) and then that evening we walked over to The Turf Club Bar & Grill for a wonderful dinner on their outdoor patio with a view of the golf course. Disney World hasn’t always been known for great dining, but they are improving in this area, and The Turf Club is definitely one of their better offerings.
We spent every morning on our balcony with coffee and our computers, overlooking the peaceful pond in the back of our building. It was so peaceful and serene, a great way to start the day.
Tuesday morning, we got up and hopped a bus over to Disney Springs for a day of programming. I will hand it to Disney; as usual, they planned everything impeccably. I’ve been on trips like this where they absolutely wear you out with an overpacked schedule, but this event was planned very efficiently. They managed to give us a complete tour of the property along with a few special experiences not many have at Disney World, and then they gave us adequate free time to explore on our own.
For those somewhat familiar with the Disney parks, Disney Springs is Downtown Disney renamed and reinvented. I’ve been to Disney World quite a few times over the past 10 years both with my family and with various social media/blogging trips, but I think I only went to Downtown Disney once. I remember a few cute shops that they don’t have anywhere else on Disney property, but otherwise it isn’t a place I made a priority to visit when I was down there. Well, that has changed!
Disney Springs is now home to over 150 offerings ranging from Disney-themed shops to intimate boutiques to stunning flagship locations for big name brands. Many of their shops offer exclusive products only available at Disney Springs. They also expanded their World of Disney store, making it the largest Disney character store in the world.
Disney Springs now houses shops like Zara, Anthropologie, Lucky Brand, Kate Spade, Vince Camuto, Francesca’s, Lilly Pulitzer, Sephora, and many more familiar brands (the full list of new shopping is listed above) and all in an absolutely stunning Town Center modeled after an early 20th century Florida town. Even if you don’t care for the shopping, it is simply a beautiful spot to walk around and soak in the Florida sun.
If the shopping additions weren’t enough, they also updated their food and beverage options to include the likes of Morimoto and Chef Art Smith (personal chef to Oprah Winfrey.)
We had lunch at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’, a restaurant serving up traditional southern cuisine with the vast majority of ingredients sourced from local farms, ranches or fisheries. It was absolutely amazing (and I am persnickety when it comes to food.) This puts Disney dining at a whole new level.
In addition to the shopping and dining, Disney Springs boasts a huge AMC 24 movie theater (called Fork & Screen because you can order food and drink to be delivered to your seat while you watch), a bowling alley, and it is still the location for Cirque de Soleil.
They also have a photo studio located right beside the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique, and in addition to getting your child’s picture taken after she is transformed into a Disney princess, you can bring your family or friends and have your picture superimposed over your favorite Disney movie background. We were each given the opportunity to try it out, and Cyndi and I picked Muana. It’s kind of cute!
One of the highlights of the event was meeting one of Disney’s brilliant Imagineers, where we heard all about how Disney Springs came to be. As with everything at Walt Disney World Resorts, there is a story to be told here, and the attention to detail is mind-boggling.
Disney Springs is inspired by Old Florida’s turn-of-the-century riverfront towns that popped up around the natural freshwater springs, and the story goes that this welcoming waterfront town grew over time into four neighborhoods: Town Center, The Landing, The West Side and The Marketplace. The West Side is the oldest section with Cirque de Soleil, the movie theater, bowling alley, etc. The Landing is where many of the finer restaurants are located overlooking Lake Buena Vista, The Marketplace is where many of the larger stores are located, like The Lego Store, Marketplace Co-op, and World of Disney. And Town Center is the newest addition, housing the majority of the shopping.
After an afternoon of shopping and exploring Disney Springs on our own, we all gathered for a closing Happy Hour on the deck at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, a restaurant inspired by the 1940s airplane hangar turned dive bar and ex-home of Indiana Jones’ sidekick and pilot. Once again, Disney’s theming was on point. The details of this venue were impeccable, and the drinks weren’t half bad either. (I recommend The Scottish Professor.)
After the wrapping up the event and saying our thank yous and good-byes, Cyndi and I grabbed cold drinks and nachos and sat outside at Dockside Margaritas overlooking Lake Buena Vista and enjoyed the live music while decompressing and hashing over the day. After resting our weary feet for an hour or so, we bypassed the bus and the boat and trekked back to our room at Saratoga Springs. I wish I’d brought my Fitbit. I would LOVE to know how many miles I walked on Tuesday!
While our event ended Tuesday night, Cyndi and I opted to stay an additional day so we could shoot a few outfits with a local photographer and visit the theme parks.
We made reservations at Monsieur Paul in Epcot for dinner on Wednesday night, and I made sure to get a FastPass for Soarin’. We stopped on the way into the park to say hello to Daisy Duck, and we also rode the Spaceship Earth, which is always fun albeit on the slower side as far as rides go.
After Soarin’, we made a run through the park and over to the Monorail, switched at the Transportation and Ticket Center, and then headed over to the Magic Kingdom in an attempt to catch their new Happily Ever After fireworks show. We barely caught the second half, and our view wasn’t great, but it was fun at least to be there.
Of course, the park was mobbed, and it took us quite a while to make it back to our hotel, but I’m glad I got to at least walk down Main Street and see Cinderella’s castle. No trip to Disney World is complete without that.
While experiencing the new Disney Springs was cool, and I’m glad I got a few hours at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, the best part of the trip was definitely spending it with this lady.
I could have never known at that blogging conference 6 or 7 years ago, when Cyndi came up and introduced herself to me, that we would one day be come such good friends and have so many amazing experiences together. This is just one example of the many ways blogging has blessed my life over the years, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Big thanks to Walt Disney World Resorts for hosting us this week!