Monday, March 27, 2017

A Weekend at Walt Disney World without Visiting the Parks: A Quick Trip Report

Last weekend, I spent 3 days at the Walt Disney World Resort and I never stepped foot in a theme park. However, I still had a full and eventful weekend, including some significant Disney events, so I decided to write a quick trip report to share some thoughts.

If you follow me on Twitter (and you should!), I tweeted all weekend about what I was doing, so this is going to be an expansion of that.

So if I wasn't there for the theme parks, what was I there for? Well it actually happened to be a complete coincidence. Aside from my interest in theme parks, I am also a baseball fan, specifically the Braves. And the Braves just happen to play their Spring Training games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. And it worked out that this year, I could go spend a weekend watching some Spring Training Games. So that led me to a weekend in Orlando with no plans to go into the parks, because my days were all busy at the games.

But the two nights I had in Orlando let me do a few cool Disney things that I want to mention and share some thoughts about.

So this quick trip report/thoughts from places comes in 4 parts: ESPN Wide World of Sports, Disney Springs, the Polynesian, and Celebration Florida.

I start with ESPN Wide World of Sports (which I will now call EWWoS since its shorter) since it was the real reason to be there for the weekend. I've been to WDW 6 or 7 times before this and never visited EWWoS before because, well, if your not there for a sports event, there's not much of a draw. However, it is much nicer that I anticipated and really enjoyed the days spent there. So some thoughts below.

First, it is a surprisingly huge complex. I already knew that since I love looking at maps, but it was still impressive to be there. The vista of full soccer fields made EPCOT look small in comparison. Ok not really, but you get the idea. And its only getting bigger with the addition of the huge multisport gym they are building. That thing looks massive, which is has to be if it is in fact going to replace the Indy Arena for Cheer leading events. That place is only going to bring more youth groups in. Which is my next point.

For a place that previously I and most Disney fans have never visited, it was pretty crowded. Yes, it was a weekend in the Spring Break period and each day had a Spring Training game, but I was impressed with the draw. A lot of youth teams, a lot of fans, a good diversity of types of guests that I didn't exactly expect for EWWoS. In trips in my youth, we always stayed at the All Stars, where a lot of the youth teams stayed, but this definitely looked like even more of them. They could probably do a whole hotel for youth teams at this point to be honest. (Side thought: why have they not actually done that and placed it on the EWWoS grounds? I'm positive that place would be popular.)

And it makes sense because my last point is that EWWoS is actually a really nice and well maintained place that is obviously top tier for organized sports complexes. Where the function of the complex could have existed without any kind of style or theme, the existing buildings all shared a nice coastal Floridian/Spanish style that unified it clearly. Spanish tile roofs, tile accents, open breezeways, and a lot of yellow stucco. Design wise, the entry corridor into the central square of the complex had a great symmetry and sequence that I really appreciated. The three major buildings have similarly structured facades with the fourth side open to the vista over the fields so it really feels like the heart of the complex. Everything is happening here. It's obvious standing in the center that similar levels of thought as the theme parks were put into the design of this complex. I have doubts looking at the rendering of the new arena that it will match, but its a ways outside of the center, so that may be ok. The one restaurant was passable for Disney and conveniently used the the puck ordering and deliver to table method, which was cool. Also, it was incredibly impressive how many cast members were staffed here. Remind you that Disney is a huge place past the parks.

Overall, EWWoS is a nice place. I wouldn't visit if I wasn't there for an event, but if you have a reason to go, do it and experience a bit of outside the park Disney.

Next is the main thing to discuss. This was my first visit to Disney Springs. Last time I was there was before construction had started and before it was even going to be Hyperion Wharf I think. So I was excited to see so much change. Overall, just like EWWoS, I loved it.

There were so many more people than I ever saw at Downtown Disney and so much outdoor activity. Again, it was Spring Break time, but this was obviously the place to be, and the place I would come to regularly if I was a nearby local. It was so crowded that the garages were even full, so we had to park at the post modern icon that is Team Disney and cross the bridge. Immediately entering, we saw a group performing and saw 4 or 5 more over the night, which added a lot to the environment.

The goal of the night was mainly to explore all the additions that I had never seen and eat dinner. Out of the dozens of options, we went with Homecoming (or Homecomin' but that name just seems weird). Recommend the fried chicken sandwich or the Hamilton burger. Definitely enjoyed the meal and I have a list of 4 or 5 more places that I wish I could have tried.

With respect to the design, there were some positives and some things I was confused about. I'll go district by district.

On the West Side, I really liked the look of the "highline" elements, but really really really wished they were more expansive and accessible. That corridor was packed and a second level could have done so much, plus the views would be awesome. The food truck park looks to be a much better use of that area than just grass, so I like that addition. And it was just a little sad to see Disney Quest basically abandoned down at the end of the street. Good memories from that place, but it should have closed a while ago. Replacing it with NBA City makes no sense to me. Its a large area, and with the expansion areas past the Cirque theater, I could imagine this would be the prime area for a final phase of expansion. Just seems like something better could go there. Overall, the brightness and compactness of this area gives it a pretty consistent urban character that contrasts nicely with the other districts, but I think it could use more to refine this character. Still, good area.

The Landing I think is the best and most consistent area. The design is eclectic and includes a lot of different kinds of locations, but it makes sense as a put together urban district that organically grew around the spring. This area also has the strongest collection of food locations on the entire property I think, so that is impressive. This would be the area I would spend time in. 

The Town Center however is the area I was most confused by, but that might just be because it reminds me a lot of a mall back in my home town. I understand the Spanish revival inspired architecture ties into the story, but the generic European architecture is kind of the trend in mall style right now, and the corridors seemed so overly formal and planned compared to the organic Landing, so it definitely felt like a fake mall. This makes sense though. The Landing was built around a lot of existing buildings and the Town Center was all new. It is still a super nice mall, but feels like a mall. In comparison, the market hall entrance area by Planet Hollywood seemed much more organic and real. Speaking of Planet Hollywood. I don't hate it, but really wish it could look more like a planetarium. It needs more than a grey dome and a lot of lights. I think it could be a super cool icon of the whole Springs if a little more exterior theme was applied. Like add something to the tower. Hope that happens eventually.

One thought about the combined area of the Landing and Town Center. It was totally confusing to walk around and stay oriented. I have a good sense or direction and knew the expansion already, but I could get lost momentarily, so I'm sure new visitors would get completely lost. Compare it to the other two districts. Both are really just a single path, with stores on either side and there is no way to get lost. At first, approaching this from the theme park design ideology, it doesn't make any sense. In a park, you want people to be able to find their way around. But if you think about encouraging shopping and spending, this actually makes sense, so I'll go with it. And it seemed to distribute crowds much better than the single path districts, which were packed. Interesting planning theory really.

Anyway, to complete the Springs, the Marketplace seemed to me to be basically the same as last time I was there, though I appreciated the new bridge that completed the loop. The architecture in this area always was pretty consistent to start, so it still works well. 

Here, I stop for my only comment about the actual shopping at Disney Springs. The favorite shop was the Marketplace Co-op and Twenty Eight and Main because of their awesome collection of parks related products that are actually understated and wearable. So much of the mainstream stuff is so loud and overtly Disney, so I loved all the shirts and home goods that are subtly based on the parks. Though I almost bought a bunch of things, I left with just one purchase: the monorail socks. Couldn't pass up Disney selling nostalgia. Also, I can't believe they managed to make World of Disney bigger than it already was. How is that store possible. 

Anyway, overall I think Disney Springs is an infinite improvement over Downtown Disney and its the kind of place I would definitely visit repeatedly. 

Next is a shorter part. Even though we were not going to the parks, there was a suggestion if we could find a way to see fireworks. I realized that the perfect option was to go watch Wishes at the Polynesian. My point here is just to let you know how cool of an option this is. The beach ended up being pretty packed with people, and the music is played and the view is pretty great. Nice to see Wishes one last time after years and years of seeing it at the parks. 

Also, about the Polynesian interior, since that is such as big subject. I don't think I ever saw the original, so I can't compare, but I like what is there now. Yeah the statue could be a bit bigger I guess but its nice. And I really like the light fixtures above. Those are perfect for the theme. 

I like the Polynesian. Nice place to visit to relax and see fireworks, regardless of what your doing in Orlando. 

And last, Celebration Florida. If you do not know what that is, Celebration is a planned community originally built by the Disney Company just south of the resort, during the time that Michael Eisner was a major patron of modern and experimental architecture. Now it is not connected to Disney in any way but is still a large and active little planned community. Another place I had never been, but it is actually a slightly frequently mentioned design in the architecture and planning industry, so I wanted to see it.

I was impressed by the small town idealism. It seriously reminded me of the Truman Show but in a good way because its obvious that this would be a great place to live if you could afford it. The downtown district by the lake is a great place to walk around if you have some free time. Look at the architecture, stop by one of the restaurants, like the Market Street Cafe, which looked like a diner inside, and appreciate just how sophisticated (and expensive) all the houses must be.

So I had a nice weekend at Walt Disney World without the parks but still had some cool Disney experiences. And those were just a few of the many similar things there at the resort, like all the other hotels, all the other restaurants, and the other outdoor recreation places. Really reminds you how big the resort really is. 

And that's the end. But let me know your thoughts about any of those 3 topics, or if you've done some other cool thing in the resort outside the parks. And follow on twitter so you can keep up with any other trips or events. 

Next post, next month, will be back to a design post, specifically a land and attraction in my version of Disneyland. Going to be a good one. Check back soon! 


  1. Remember when you said about more new international Disney Parks & Resorts you might put in London, Singapore, Dubai, somewhere in New England, and/or somewhere in South America, well after park plans for 2017 can you make 4 new international Disney Parks & Resorts in United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore and Dubai in your 2018 Future Projects please.

    1. Super Mario Network- I definitely appreciate you reading and your interest, but I've got to ask that you slow down with the requests. I see what you are asking for, so please no need to repeat it on every post. I've put it on the list, but there's a lot of other things on the list too that I want to make for myself. I am just one person doing this in my free time, so it takes time to make new content for you. A single new park for instance can take me 6 months at least!

      So again, thanks for being here and I have seen your requests, so no need to keep on asking! Hope you enjoy what I post.

  2. i know i am slow down with my request but i just saying about 4 disney parks from United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore and Dubai from your 2018 Future Projects that all i am just not rushing.

  3. Hey TRF i love seeing all of your Disney Theme Park Projects and here is the 2018 Future Projects you may do or not, and so here a list of them:

    New international Disney Parks & Resorts in United Kingdom, Singapore, Dubai and Canada.

    Tokyo Disneyland/DisneySea Future Expansions

    Hong Kong Disneyland Second Gate Park maybe like Disney's Hollywood Adventure, or even Hong Kong DisneySea

    Disney's America Park

    Walt Disney World Resort's Fifth Gate Park maybe like an DisneySea Type Theme Park

    Shanghai Disneyland

    That's All for now TRF i Hope you love it and also post me in the comments to tell how that might be for 2018 because you did'n put an Shanghai Disneyland plan and an Tokyo DisneySEA plan yet i just saying because i am not angry i am just saying that to tell what parks your missing Shanghai & Tokyo Disney Parks.