The Walt Disney World resort complex is enormous. Many first time visitors are stunned to discover just how much there is to see and do without even setting foot inside one of the four gated theme parks. From water sports to rock climbing, almost anything you can imagine is available somewhere within the Walt Disney World property.
For many guests, shopping is a very important part of their stay. After all, who doesn’t love buying gifts for loved ones back home? Walt Disney World is chock full of merchandise, ranging from the expected (Mickey T-shirts and stuffed animals) to the unusual (one of a kind blown glass pieces and high-end bath products).
While shopping abounds throughout the Walt Disney World property, those who wish to devote an entire day or two to the habit may want to head over to Downtown Disney. The Downtown Disney complex encompasses Downtown Disney Marketplace (the old Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village), Pleasure Island (which is now free to enter except on holidays, although a fee is charged to visit the nightclubs), and Downtown Disney West Side. Shops and restaurants are generally open from 10 am to 11 pm on weekdays, midnight on weekends, although hours may vary depending on season. You can take Disney transportation to Downtown Disney from any of the four gated parks, or simply take your car. The parking lots are free and quite large, though on busy days you may have to park quite a distance from the Downtown Disney entrances.
Although a complete listing of shops and restaurants would be impractical, a newcomers guide to the major spots in each section is presented here. Be sure to take your time and look around, as even those stores not listed here are well worth visiting.
Downtown Disney Marketplace
World of Disney — At 50,000 square feet, this is the largest Disney character merchandise store. World of Disney is subdivided into individual rooms or areas based on the type of merchandise featured, but the real fun is simply wandering through and discovering areas for yourself. Be sure not to miss the Villains Room and the Pirates Room. Little girls will love the Bibbidi, Bobbidi Boutique, a salon in which they can be transformed into Disney Princesses. Package prices vary, but are relatively reasonable.
*Warning* Be sure to keep your party together or use cell phones or walkie talkies. I have gotten lost on more than one occasion in the World of Disney, and I am frequently separated from my party. There are multiple entrances and exits and the layout is somewhat confusing. Keep an especially close eye on children, who can be distracted by merchandise and lost in the crowd in seconds.
*Tip* If you are in search of character merchandise of any type, try here first. If you have something specific in mind, discuss your thoughts with a World of Disney Cast Member. If it is not in stock, it can likely be ordered.
Disney’s Days of Christmas — This fabulous Christmas store is a must-visit no matter the time of year. Some of the items are quite collectible, and the decorated trees inside are breathtaking.
EuroSpain/Arribas Brothers — This shop is a bit hard to find, located between Basin and Team Mickey. It’s worth the search, however. Intricate crystal pieces, most hand blown by Disney artisans in full view of guests, dominate. The shop also features a small collection of decorative swords and other Renaissance decorative weaponry.
The Art of Disney/Wonderful World of Memories — These two shops, though separate, are connected. Between the two, expect a large collection of rare and collectible sericels, lithographs, figurines, reprints of attraction posters, and sculptures, as well as a wide variety of Disney history books, cookbooks, stationery, and scrapbooking supplies.
Lego Imagination Center/Once Upon a Toy — These incredible toy stores are worth a visit even for adults, if for no other reason than to gaze at the amazing displays. Virtually every Lego or Disney related toy or game imaginable can be found in one of these shops, including reprints of very early Disney games. Plan to spend some time and money here.
Earl of Sandwich — Truly one of Disney best-kept secrets, this gourmet sandwich shop is surprisingly inexpensive. The food is excellent and the menu extensive. Plan to wait in a long line if you visit during a meal time.
Downtown Disney West Side
West Side has long been considered hipper and edgier than its Marketplace counterpart. Must-see shopping stops include:
Virgin Megastore — Even larger than Marketplace’s World of Disney is the Virgin Megastore, at 55,000 square feet. Shop here for hard to find imports, box sets, and music collectibles of all types.
Pop Gallery — This hip art gallery features a wide variety of original artworks, mostly works of modern art.
Starabilia’s — The place to go for celebrity autographed merchandise. Although much of the inventory is outside the price range of the average Disney guest, there are some finds to be had. Even if you don’t purchase, some of the rare memorabilia is rather amazing.
Bongo’s/Wolfgang Puck’s/House of Blues/etc — Dining options abound here, and some restaurants offer a choice of fine dining, café-style, or fast food.