One of the major things that originally set Disney apart from other theme parks is their creation of their themes. It’s not just about a fun ride or a funny stage show. It’s about a story being told. Disney’s Hollywood Studios (or MGM Studios if you are like me have a hard time letting go) is about Hollywood in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Tomorrowland was originally themed on what they imagined the year 1986 to be like. Each and every part of each and every park was meant to transport you to a new place and a new time.
But what about the things that weren’t quite a park, but were another part of Disney’s entertainment? When Walt Disney World introduced two water parks, which are not listed as two of the major parks that constitute the world, they set a new precedent. Blizzard Beach was built on the fun, but silly theme that there was a blizzard in Florida and a gator tried to build a ski resort. When it all started to melt, he turned it into a water park instead. Typhoon Lagoon was created around the boat “Miss Tilly” and a little village. According to it’s story, a storm caused the boat to become shipwrecked and tore the village apart. What was left behind was an incredible series of waterfalls, rapids, and pools.
There was one sort-of park that the Imagineers were forgetting, though, and that’s because it was listed as entertainment, but had no connection to anything that could be considered a park. Downtown Disney was divided in three sections: the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and West Side. Before 1997, all these things were separate and it was just Disney Village Marketplace. Before that, it was just Walt Disney World Village and before that, it was Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. Basically, before 1997, it was mainly just a shopping center. It didn’t need much branding or a theme if it was just billed as a place for stores.
In 1997, it seemed that Disney had halfway realized their mistake. Going shopping was not the major draw to going on vacation. When it combined with Pleasure Island, it added a place that was billed “just for adults,” which was a unique draw for a vacation destination that had always been about family and kids. West Side added more attention to Downtown Disney by introducing the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba and the indoor, interactive theme park DisneyQuest. The added entertainment was a great way to draw in crowds and get more people going to the stores.
But they were still lacking. From the outside, it still just looked like a marketplace, with a few other buildings and a couple of restaurants. They realized that when people go to Disney parks, they expect something all the time and that something is a story.
Another thing that the Imagineers did for Disney Springs that was very smart is that they made it Florida based. They realized that many Floridians visit Downtown Disney as a place to shop or go to dinner. It’s a way for them to experience Disney as often as they want. Vacationers to Florida would not just go to Downtown Disney and not go to the other parks, but Floridians can use Downtown Disney as their own personal entertainment complex.
The story of Disney Springs, like many of the other parks in Disney, has a specific timeline. It’s about the story of a spring being found in the 1800’s, which led to the settlers building cabins and then building an entire town. It’s a Disney story as much as it is a Florida story. It’s no longer marketplace or an entertainment complex. It’s a town and, for Floridians, it can feel like a home away from home.