Like many retail outlets, Downtown Disney has been in flux in recent years.
Along with a changing lineup of tenants, Disney World's entertainment complex has slogged through its intention to increase its shopping and dining options. Some of this came at the cost of the nightclubs that once populated Pleasure Island, the center segment of Downtown Disney.
What will replace the clubs, which closed in 2008, is still not clear. So what can folks — even Florida residents — do there today? I walked it from end to end, looking for new stores or tucked-away establishments under my radar.
It turns out, there's loads of shopping at Downtown Disney — more than 40 outlets are listed on the guide map — and it's easy to get sucked in.
"This is where I saw that frog I liked," I overheard a woman say. "It was $900."
Yikes. But I shouldn't judge because I was soon staring at a Dr. Seuss-inspired statue at Pop Gallery. Where in my house would I put a mounted head of a "Goo-Goo-Eyed Tasmanian Wolghost." Its price tag reads $2,895. Step away from the Seuss, Dewayne.
At the nearby Sunglasses Icon store, I am tempted by a $165 pair of hand-painted Ray-Bans, which is crazy talk because I'm happy with the $12 knockoffs on my head. I escape, only to have my cheap pair break on my head the next day. If you're one of the people who believe that Disney somehow controls the weather, then you must believe it's the overlord of sunglasses as well.
These stores, on what's called the West Side of Downtown Disney, are representative of the new guard there. Gone are the more budget-friendly magic shop and longstanding magnet store. The Hollywood memorabilia spot is now home to Orlando Harley-Davidson.
Also newish are the AMC Dine-In Theatres, where food is served with your film. Coming this fall is Spiltsville, a bowling attraction in the former Virgin Mega Store building.
North of all this is Pleasure Island, which might bring tears to the eyes of die-hard fans of nightclubs such as the Adventurers Club and Comedy Warehouse. The buildings' entrances are blocked by temporary landscaping as if to say "move along, nothing to see here." The trademark sign for Mannequins Dance Palace has been stripped and the signage for 8 TRAX was painted over long ago.
But the lakeside view from the patio of Paradiso 37 restaurant is nice. You also can see over a low construction wall into the grassy area that was set to be an amphitheater/meeting place, which was announced in 2010. The guide map now says "for future enjoyment." (Remember the Hyperion Wharf plan?)
My spirits picked up entering the Downtown Disney's Marketplace section, which is practically built for rapid-fire browsing. It's fun to wander the newly expanded Lego Imagination Center and to maneuver carefully through Arribas Brothers, which features crystal figurines, tiaras and a sparkly replica of Cinderella Castle (Price tag: a cool $37,500).
Shopping is a matter of taste and need, I guess. Although I glaze over in some of Downtown Disney's women-driven retailers (Apricot Lane, Blink by Wet Seal), I like Tren-D, which presents Disney clothing and accessories with an imaginative, but low-key, twist. It's borderline Hidden Mickey.
My true Marketplace discovery: Fun Finds, which features Disney merchandise for $20 and less. It's not exactly an outlet store, but the reasonable rates are attractive. Next time I'll start there and work my way up to $900 frog.
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