The lowdown on Downtown Disney

Festival of Masters returns to Downtown Disney

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If you need "alone time" this weekend, don't venture near Walt Disney World. It's about to experience a perfect storm of activities that will populate the resorts with artists, runners, gourmands and cheerful folks saying "Happy Holidays!"

On tap are the Festival of the Masters at Downtown Disney, the sold-out Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon, the final weekend of the popular Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and the first round of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom.

Festival of the Masters, which runs from today through Sunday, features hundreds of artists displaying their talents in tents across the shopping district. The Disney Artist Village — an area tucked between the Cirque du Soleil theater and House of Blues — spotlights folks who are Imagineers or part of the company's Yellow Shoes Creative Group, plus artists who use Disney characters and scenes as inspiration for original works.

Edibles are increasingly a part of the festival mix. Two of Disney's four new food trucks will be on the premises. Select restaurants will sell specialty drinks as part of a "Mixers and Masters" promotion. There will be short "Art of Mixology" seminars at the Waterside Stage.

"It's a fun take on cocktails," says Keith Bradford, vice president for Downtown Disney.

But before drinking comes parking. The hunt for a spot may be more challenging this year because construction work on parking garages has begun. Fences block previous prime slots. Surface parking remains on the south end of the lot and behind the Cirque building. Parking also will be available across the street at Team Disney and the SunTrust bank building.

Disney recently added valet parking at Downtown Disney. The drop-off is next to Cirque du Soleil. (Use Entrance 4 from Lake Buena Vista Drive.) The service costs $15.

Some drivers are frustrated about the blocked lots, which have appeared to be abandoned. But vertical construction has started, Bradford assures.

"They just can't see it over the fence at the moment," he says.

The parking garages are part of Downtown Disney's transformation into Disney Springs, which will have the theme of an early 1900s Florida town. The entire project is scheduled to be complete in 2016.

In the meantime, additional construction may ease foot traffic. A new boardwalk stretches from the Characters in Flight balloon launch, out over the water and then back to the Paradiso 37 restaurant.

"We needed that for guests to be able to move from Marketplace to West Side and vice versa as the construction continues on Pleasure Island," Bradford says. This shortcut is temporary.

Of course, having loads of people show up is Disney's goal. So why not extend the festival to four or five or 75 days, like Epcot events?

"Three-day seems to be the sweet spot," Bradford says. "Artists come from all over the Southeast, and they usually need to head out and go to the next show."

Downtown Disney notes

The House of Blues box office is being remodeled to become a barbecue outlet for the restaurant, which also is expanding its patio. … A Starbucks will open in the former home of Wetzel's Pretzels. … A Fit2Run store, which sells athletic goods, opened next to the Curl outlet on Monday.

dbevil@tribune.com or 407-420-5477

Festival of the Masters

Where: Off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando

When: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Free

Phone: 407-939-6244

Online: DisneyFestivaloftheMasters.com

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