Disney Springs is one of the most popular destinations at the Walt Disney World Resort for shopping, dining, entertainment, and more, and the area is home to a rich back story that is both factual and fictional. With many different versions over the years and a current immersive theme rich in detail, Disney Springs has an interesting story that many Guests might be unaware of.
The Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village originally opened in March 1972 and offered up several shopping and dining locations around Lake Buena Vista for Guests to enjoy. Over time, the location continued to change and expand and was renamed the Walt Disney World Village and Disney Village Marketplace before landing on Downtown Disney in 1997.
Downtown Disney was an expansive area comprised of the Marketplace, West Side, and Pleasure Island which was an adults-only area with several immersive clubs and dance halls including the famous Adventurer’s Club where Guests could let loose after long days in the Disney Parks. In 2013, it was announced that Downtown Disney would begin the transformation into Disney Springs, and the rich backstory and theming began to emerge.
While many Guests think of the current Disney Springs as simply a place to shop and dine, there is an incredibly detailed and immersive backstory that is reflected in every single corner of the popular location. The backstory begins with the fact that Florida is known for being full of natural springs where many settlers decided to relocate to in the 1800s.
The story goes that Disney Springs was discovered in 1850 by Martin Sinclair and his wife Clara. Martin was a cattle rancher and he found the area to be a charming and practical location for his family and business to settle into. Ever the illustrious businessman, Martin grew Glowing Oak Ranch until a visit to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 changed everything.
While at the World’s Fair, Martin discovered hamburgers and his entire business approach shifted into what would eventually be the Disney Springs that Guests know and love today. In a postcard Clara from 1904 on display in D-Luxe Burger, Martin shared how the new food would help them continue to grow their business and local springs.
Upon his return to the springs, Martin opened the Glowing Oak Ranch Restaurant, which was renamed the Glowing Oak Restaurant in 1921, and the business thrived. Passed down from generation to generation, the restaurant is now known as D-Luxe Burger and run by Martin Sinclair VI. The walls of the dining area are lined with postcards and letters from Martin, photos of the family, and even photos of fictional cattle ranches from the area such as Reedy Creek Ranch and Buena Vista Ranch.
While Martin and others were settling in Disney Springs, another company helped to bring business and revenue to the area in the location where Blaze Pizza can currently be found. The Buena Vista Timber Company, established in 1868, was a lumber mill and Guests who dine at the current quick service location can spot photos, machinery, and history leftover from its past.
Disney Springs continued to expand with the Town Center being constructed in the 1920’s, and popular Mediterranean architectural elements including stucco and terracotta can be found throughout the area. As the area grew, so did the business and commerce and a farmer’s market was created where The Polite Pig is, a bottling company was opened in what is now Morimoto Asia, and an ice business was established where Guests can now find Sprinkles.
As these businesses continued to grow, the Town Center area evolved to its current state where Guests can find popular locations like Sprinkles, Frontera Cocina, the Disney Springs Welcome Center, and more. As businesses began to show growth, it became apparent that a transportation hub would be necessary to help with the growth, and the town delivered.
The Landing originated as the transportation hub of Disney Springs where settlers and goods could arrive, and remnants of that era still exist with nods to air travel at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, water travel at The Boathouse and Paddlefish, and rail travel at STK Orlando which is housed in the former railroad station. Guests who stop to truly look around will notice very subtle nods to transportation throughout the area including the Amphicars that cruise Lake Buena Vista from The Boathouse.
The Ganachery was formerly the apothecary for Disney Springs until it was taken over by a couple from South Africa with a love for cocoa beans. They transformed the business into a specialty chocolate shop, but nods to the former business still exist with small shelving for bottles and ingredients inside as well as signs reading “chocolate is good medicine” and “the cure for common chocolate.”
Expansion continued on Disney Springs with the addition of the Marketplace in the 1930s which incorporated the popular American Craftsman architectural style and brought in new businesses and settlers. The continued growth and popularity of Disney Springs over its first century led to one of the biggest moments in the town’s history which left a lasting mark on the area Guests enjoy today.
The 1950 Springs Centennial Expo was a major celebration that brought the construction and addition of the West Side. Set up like a traditional World’s Fair, various inventions and items were showcased and bold new experiences and buildings were crafted including an elevated train line with remnants that can still be seen, a hot air balloon that is currently the Aerophile and a modern building that now hosts Cirque du Soleil.
Posters advertising the Expo can be found in several locations throughout including Guest Relations and D-Luxe Burger and the current is dedicated to entertainment and dining. who visit can enjoy time at Splitsville Luxury Lanes, AMC Disney Springs, , and more.
Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort is visited by thousands of Guests each day, but many are completely unaware of the incredible backstory that has been crafted by the Imagineers. It’s definitely worth taking the time on any visit to slow down and check out the unique architecture and theming of each area as well as the small historical details that can be found in each establishment.