Dueling Disney: Downtown Disney Smackdown

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Features, Walt Disney World

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Published on March 13, 2013 at 4:04 am with 21 Comments

Here we are, 5 columns into Dueling Disney! Don’t you think it’s time for a little break? I mean, we’ve been going at it for a while now. I think it’s high time that we kick back, relax, and maybe head on down to Downtown Disney to unwind a bit.

But wait! What’s this? There are TWO Downtown Disney locations we can choose from? Well, heck, it certainly looks like we’re not going to get the rest we’ve been looking for. Might as well jump right back into the fray, and fight to the death about which coast has the best Downtown Disney!

Representing the Disneyland Resort, Mr. Keith Gluck.  Representing Walt Disney World, Mr. Jeff Heimbuch.

 This week’s topic: Downtown Disney

Keith: Dude, have you ever experienced the awesomeness that is Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen? Great food, elegant theming, and nightly jazz performances ensure patrons will have a wonderful dining experience every time. And for dessert, be sure to order the beignets. They are not Mickey-shaped like the ones found over at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square, but they are just as delicious.

Jeff: Right off the bat, you’re talking about food? Man, you gotta ease into it. It’s way too early for me to be getting this hungry! You’re supposed to start off with a bit of history first! Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney opened in March 1975. Back then, it was known as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, and was intended as a one stop shopping location for everyone at Walt Disney World; both guests AND residents. But of course, most of the intended residential space was used for hotels over time, so it turned into a regular shopping complex. In the very beginnings of the idea of “keeping people on property,” Michael Eisner wanted to turn it into a full service entertainment location as well. So, come May 1989, Pleasure Island opened next to where the shopping district was, and the entire complex was renamed Disney Village Marketplace. It wasn’t long after, in 1995, that a third area was added after Pleasure Island to further everyone’s shopping & entertainment needs, and thus, Downtown Disney was born!

Keith: Well, in 2001, Disney plunked down about 1.4 billion dollars to add a second theme park and a shopping district to its modestly-sized property. Covering roughly 300,000 square feet, the shopping district was named Downtown Disney, and was designed with uniqueness in mind. To differentiate itself from your run-of-the-mill strip mall, four different types of architecture were used, and hard-to-find boutiques were added. Music fans could catch live acts put on by “street performers,” or enjoy ticketed performances at the House of Blues. Those dissatisfied with the Italian fare at Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port could now visit Naples Ristorante, which uses water from two East Coast wells along with imported Italian flour to create a more authentic dining experience. Sports lovers were given the ESPN Zone, a restaurant and entertainment center in its own right. Games and sporting events of all kinds could be viewed on over 120 HDTVs–one of them measuring 16 feet–throughout the facility, including (as Jeff Heimbuch shockingly only just found out), inside the restrooms!

Jeff: As any fan of Communicore Weekly knows, we’re into Bathroom Breaks. And admittedly, the bathrooms inside ESPN Zone are pretty awesome. Before I dive into my experience in there, though, I’m just going to move on to talk about Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney again.

One of the fantastic things about when they added Pleasure Island is that they added a whole back story to it. I will definitely give credit where credit is due, and while it wasn’t the best story in the world, Eisner really wanted to tie an overall theme into Pleasure Island. The story of the eccentric inventor and industrialist named Merriweather Adam Pleasure and his “First Family of Fun” that Imagineers crafted for this new area was a nice little touch (and a subject I will explore further for a future column!). Was it necessary? No, absolutely not. But again the importance of an overall story was evident here, even when just trying to tie together a string of nightclubs.

Pleasure Island was known for being the first “real” night-time hotspot meant strictly as a place for adults to spend their evenings. Chock full of nightclubs, dance halls, comedy clubs, and more, it really showed that Disney was trying to cater to the needs of the entire family. It also celebrated “New Year’s Eve” every single night for almost 15 years. That’s pretty awesome.

Don’t worry, Keith. I’m holding onto my trump card for this one still…

Keith: There was an episode of The Simpsons where the family went to Itchy and Scratchy Land, and one evening Homer and Marge went to a club called T.G.I. McScratchy’s. As Auld Lang Syne played, a waiter approached them with glasses of champagne. Marge said, “It must be wonderful to ring in the New Year over and over and over!” The waiter responded with, “Please kill me.”

Have I mentioned how much I love Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen? Like you guys, we have: a movie theater, art stores/galleries, and an Earl of Sandwich (ours is even shiny and new). Disneyland’s Downtown Disney is not only easily traversable, but it also functions as a liaison between destinations. On one side, there’s the original “on-property” resort, the Disneyland Hotel. On the other side, two theme parks. You guys do have DisneyQuest, however it’s not even close to living up to its potential.

I enjoyed what you wrote about Pleasure Island’s back story. Now I would like to request a little more information. Please tell us all about Pleasure Island’s current story. No worries. Take your time.

I have a hunch as to what your Trump Card is. And for your sake, bud, I hope I’m wrong, and it’s something that still exists.

Jeff: …I have words for you. Unfortunately, they are words that are not suitable or family friendly for this website. However, please check your text messages, and then come back.

Checked? OK, good.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand!

Listen, there are PLENTY of things that are celebrated every single night at ALL of the Disney Parks around the world; New Year’s Eve was just ONE of them. If they didn’t like it, they should get another job, am I right, guys?!

As totally cheesy as it is, I love the T-Rex Cafe at our Downtown Disney. Rainforest, in my mind, has overstayed its welcome, since they are everywhere. But T-Rex Cafe is one of my favorite eateries. It definitely immerses you in a cool theme. We do have a pretty awesome Earl of Sandwich, but this is the one time I would have to disagree with the famous philosopher Barney Stinson: Newer ISN’T always better. I think ours is better than yours. But that’s just me.

OK, so you’re right. My trump card ISN’T still in existence. However, it DID exist for a long time, and it’s something that was thoroughly enjoyed, loved, and currently missed, but many Walt Disney World visitors: The Adventurer’s Club. Say what you will about it being absent now, but in its heyday, it was one of the most amazing, interactive shows/restaurants/bars of its time. It was a feat of storytelling and Imagineering. I can close my eyes now and still hear a mighty roar of KUNGALOOSH! reverberating off the rafters.

Keith: I just checked them. We’ll talk later!

I am very sad to say that like quite a few former Walt Disney World gems, I was never able to visit the Adventurer’s Club. It was open during my first few visits, but unfortunately I wasn’t apprised of its awesomeness until after it closed. Since it no longer exists, however, I’m afraid I can’t allow the points (if we were allowed to actually use former attractions instead of just mentioning them, I would have kicked your patooty in the Tomorrowland installment). Now on to my Trump Card, which I am going to go back to a Simpson’s episode for assistance introducing: “Monoraaiill, Monoraaiill, Monoraaaiiilll!” Well sir, there’s nothing on earth like a genuine-bona fide-electrified-five-car Monorail! Sure taking a boat to Florida’s Downtown Disney is kind of romantic–provided there are no lovebugs in your teeth–but it can’t quite compare to the smooth ride of the “Highway in the Sky.” I’ll be the first to admit that I miss the days when the Monorail dropped you off at the entrance of the Disneyland Hotel, in plain view of The Monorail Cafe. That said, it’s still kind of cool to be in Downtown Disney one second, and get dropped off via Monorail inside the park the next. That’s something none of the parks in Walt Disney World can lay claim to, my friend.

Jeff: Ok, fine. I’ll give you that. While the Monorail at Walt Disney World doesn’t go to Downtown Disney, there are some lines that let you travel through the Park. But, that’s neither here nor there for this installment. I guess we’ll just have to leave it up to the readers to decide.

And that’s how Jeff and Keith see it. What do YOU think? Does Disneyland’s Downtown Disney win with its Monorail and Jazz Kitchen? Or does Walt Disney World’s Downtown Disney get the win based upon size and variety? Let us know in the comments and vote in the poll below!

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • daliseurat

    This is tough to debate, because WDW’s has been through so many changes lately and is much more of a work in progress these days. But I have to give this one to the Disneyland Resort. First….LOCATION. I can enjoy it by simply walking to it from either park or any of the resorts, or any of the very local hotels. Second…SIZE. It’s not all sprawled out and intimidating like WDW’s. I can easily scope out where I’d like to eat, shop and just sit and be entertained. Third…COMFORT. What? Yeah, comfort. because of it’s size and location, I am far more comfortable going more often just to hang out. I don’t have to make it a destination for the evening like I do at WDW. I can comfortably exit a park and go have dinner and go back to the park. And then leave the park at closing to go get a drink or shop. I can enjoy a stroll through it to go back to the hotel. At WDW you have to go to the hassle of getting there and then have a plan.

    Now, if you want to talk about WDW’s PAST…when Pleasure Island was in it’s heyday, WDW had the goods, but they’ve done a poor job keeping up with the times and I honestly haven’t cared to go back since they closed most of Pleasure Island.

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    With Pleasure Island, WDW would win hands down. However, now WDW’s Downtown Disney is just an outdoor mall located far away form the parks and hotels. Disneyland for the win!

  • Trumpet

    Great Article Guys

    Personally, none of them I think reserve the win. For WDW, the Pleasure island is closed and it is not known when it will come back. Also, the Lilly Belle Riverboat is ugly and disfigured by the removal of both steam wheel and the chimneys. WDW is also becoming stale and needs to change.

    However, on the flip side, I visited DL’s DTD and did not experience an emersive experience. There was hardly anyone there and most of the shops are over expensive. It is nice that there is a monorail and the Lego figures look great, but still a little dull. Becaue it is a small resort, there are not enough people that use it, and thus, many people think that everything is overpriced. The locals also do not use if because of the prices.

    I did visit City Walk at USH, and it was bristling with life. My opinion is that because the locals can visit the shopping area, it is full of life, with live music every night. This wins hands down.

    But if I have to choose, DL’s DTD wins becuase of the Monorail (and Keith’s use of the classic simpsons)

    Thanks Again Guys


    • danielz6

      only real reason citywalk is so full is because most visitors have to walk through it to get tothe park. not so at disneyland where both toy story and mickey parking lots bypass DTD and deliver you directly to the parks. I doubt it has anything to do with prices or offerings as citywalk offers nothing thats unavailable in the countless other malls in LA.

  • Malin

    I love the ease and layout of Disneyland’s DD. And some of the Restaurants are great. But WDW DD wins it on offerings. And with the upcoming announcement about Springs soon this area should be plussed up even more with lots of new offers.

  • QuiGonJ

    I’ve been to both, and I have to give it to WDW also. I like the sprawl and the huge lake and the magic store and the look of it. It feels like a destination, more so than Anaheim.

    And I agree that Universal CityWalk Hollywood kicks both their heinies.

  • eicarr

    The WDW one is fine, i avoid it at all costs at DL. In CA the win goes to 1993′s Universal studios Citiwalk which DL did a cheap knockoff of. This in no way was ment to replicate the WDW outdoor mall and should only be compared with Citiwalk. When I go on a trip to DL I go to outside venues like The Grove, 3rd st prominade, Hollywood and Melrose Ave. I think disney’s mall concept is better suited for the clientele and location at WDW. The Riverwalk ghost town can attest to the fact that there is too many attractions packed in each day at DL to have time to waste in a bland strip mall that doesn’t even rate with local offerings. The only DL win over WDW is that you don’t have to take a ghetto shuttle bus to get to it.

  • Mickey777

    IMO and even in it’s current incomplete (not for long) state, WDW’s Dowtown Disney wins. I like both don’t get me wrong, but the ambiance is greater there. We enjoy heading there in the evenings. Warm florida evenings with a light breeze. There’s Disney area music. There’s the moon reflecting off the lake and palm trees to overhead. The smell of Ghirardelli chocolate fresh made waffle cones in the air. No having to pay DCA admission for the experience either. And there’s more area to walk around and browse/window shop and take it all in. Not the mention the Christmas shop and Worlds biggest (World of) Disney store. No time limit on parking etc…WDW wins for me.

    Anaheim’s is aesthetically more pleasing from and architectural standpoint and the monorail is a very awesome feature but that was there way before DTD was even a thought.

  • tomjmoses

    Keith, sad to say, Jeff is hands-down right on this one–the WDW Downtown Disney wins this one by a country mile. Even if it may have backslid a bit from its glory days, the roster of present and former attractions is just amazing–Cirque de Soleil! DisneyQuest! Lego! And, of course, the best of them all, the Adventurer’s Club! A big KUNGALOOSH to you, Jeff, for bringing back fond memories of the many hours I spent downing sturdy alcoholic beverages amidst the zany revelry of the Club’s bizarre members. WDW was crazy to close the Club down–several hours and more than a couple of drinks there was always the highlight of my WDW visits. Bring back the Adventurer’s Club, I say! KUNGALOOSH forever!

  • Skimbob

    I am going to say DL is way better for it’s ease and convenience to the
    parks and hotels. Every time I have been there it is packed with people so I don’t know how anyone can say that it is not busy. There are things I like at WDW like Trex and of course Cirque Du Soleil. I still haven’t gone to Disney Quest so I can’t say anything about that. It is also much easier to get to the DL location. I love a lot of things at WDW but DL winds hands down on this one.

  • Illusion0fLife

    This is one time when I’m going to have to vote against my home resort. There’s a lot of nice and charming things about DLR’s Downtown Disney, but I think WDW gets the win here. It’s bigger, more elaborate, and has more to see and do.

  • Claybob

    OK guys…first off…Great article! OMG! Nice. But along with the kudos, comes the bad stuff too. Sorry, DL wins hands down! Why? Well, read on. I first arrived at Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in May of ’75. Fresh out of college in cold Chicago, into warm Florida sun, neat places to eat, great times at the Magic Kingdom…OMG, a total experience. As I continued to madee it to the park about every two years or so, I watched that area of discussion grow and develop into what would finally become Pleasure Island. Yes! I could party into the wee hours of the morning, have amazing drinks and still head to the parks in the morning for another full day of Disney fun! But,sadly, as my travels continued there, I watched it slowly decline into the sad state it currently is. There is nothing there any more other than another Florida strip mall. Sure, it has Cirque de Soleil and a really cool World of Disney store…but…that’s it! During my last trip down there, I sadly shook my head as I sat outside World of Disney eating an ice cream cone and gazed on an area that once was really cool. Tacky landscaping, blocked off stairways, vacant and boarded up store fronts. Once they stripped out all the clubs and theme related stuff, Disney shot itself in the foot. Sigh!…but wait…I saw a bronze plaque…and started reading all about the “new direction” the current site was to become…Hyperion Wharf! Now we’re talking…neat back story, total rehab…I was pumped! But, now I understand, that concept too has gone by the way side. That place needs someone who is willing to buck the current administration down there, dump money back into the “Disney Concept” of the “show” and put the place back on the map. Florida…take a look at California! They did it right! That place is fun to go to, fun to hang around…just plain FUN! Enough with your mind concept of “We can do it better” because, obviously you can’t! DL can…and did! You are quickly becoming a second rate park! Oh well, my next trip comes up in two years…Will I hit Downtown Disney…eh probably just to go to the Disney Store, snag a coffee and think about what that place once was and what could have been!

  • LeonardKinsey

    DL totally wins. The excellent street performers alone make it stand out. Plus, it’s laid out well, there are plenty of non-generic boutique stores and high-end restaurants, and I don’t feel like killing someone when trying to park.

    This is yet another example of how WDW used to blow DL out of the water, but now falls far short of its sister resort. The entire resort, with its abandoned buildings, lack of cohesive theming, and dumbed-down blandness, has become a literal shell of its former self. Whereas DL has gone in the exact opposite direction in recent years.

  • dolewhipdude

    DL = Bog Gurr monorail, staying in hotels so close they have rooms ABOVE the Downtown Disney shops, and it’s all within walking distance of both parks and the tram to your car. It’s a slam dunk win!

  • toonaspie

    In all honesty, I feel that neither DTD is that impressive. Most of the stores are of mall quality or are standard presence in my local malls. I will give WDW the slight advantage though since it has more room for one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants (plus I like the waterfront setting). But both DTDs could benefit from having more stuff you would never find in a standard city mall.

  • Susan Hughes

    I think those who give the win to Walt Disney World’s DTD are also those who don’t mind traversing 47 square miles by monorail, bus or boat to get from Point A to Point B. Going to WDW’s DTD does take a bit of time and hassle by bus.
    But I feel you get the same “Disney experience” at The Disneyland Resort that you do in Florida, only it’s all in one convenient package. Park once and never take transportation again. And that’s what makes Disneyland’s DTD better because it fits in with the overall convenience that is The Disneyland Resort.
    And even the Anaheim Gardenwalk, a mall, shopping, dining complex, is still conveniently located across the street. It’s not part of the Disneyland Resort, but still part of a park guest’s option.