LAKE BUENA VISTA — Avid travelers of the roads leading to Walt Disney World knew a change was imminent, as those iconic purple signs that signal you are on Disney property suddenly contained a new name. On Tuesday, it became official: Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs.
The shopping and dining destination, created in the mid-'70s as a marketplace for those on Disney property, is more than halfway through its largest expansion ever, set to be completed in 2016. And Tuesday night, in the new Landing neighborhood of the sprawling entertainment complex, Disney employees and media gathered to seal the deal.
Senior Vice President of Disney Springs Maribeth Bisienere spoke about the many changes that have already happened, and the more that are to come, saying "We're still working to make the dream come true." George Kalogridis, president of Walt Disney World Resort, thanked the central Florida community for its support during the expansion. After the remarks, some sign-flipping magic revealed the new name.
Also on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times got a peek at Morimoto Asia, a new 36-foot tall, two-story pan-Asian restaurant from chef Masaharu Morimoto ('Iron Chef') that opens Wednesday. Morimoto himself was at the preview, talking about how his wife is a huge Mickey Mouse fan (they share the same birthday) before bursting into song and leading a sake toast. Later, he carved a giant tuna in front of the crowd then rolled a 60-foot sushi roll.
The restaurant, one of Disney Springs' dining tentpoles housed in the building with the giant "Springs Bottling Co." marquee on top, has open terraces, private rooms and waterside seating. The interior, a large and inviting space that feels more chic than touristy, is gorgeous, with decadent beaded light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, an entirely open kitchen on the first level and an immaculate sushi bar upstairs.
When the expansion is complete, Disney Springs, which is free and does not require a ticket, will have doubled the number of shops and restaurants to more than 150 venues (and added a much-needed five-level parking garage that tracks available spots via sensors over each space). There will be four outdoor neighborhoods connected by a flowing spring and lake; gorgeous waterfront views are indeed a priority in the new space.
Already open are the Boathouse and Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar. Still to come is STK, a sleek steakhouse that will offer nightly DJ music and the only rooftop dining in Disney Springs. It's one of the largest STK locations in the world, and is expected to open also in the Landing neighborhood sometime this year. And high-concept restaurant and bar the Edison will join the lineup in 2016, featuring nightly entertainment like contortionists, palm readers and DJs.
New shopping includes the Art of Shaving, a boutique store that sells high-end shaving supplies and grooming products; Erin McKenna Bakery NYC, which offers donuts, cupcakes, cookies, bagels on an all-vegan and gluten-free menu; Super Hero Headquarters, a shop themed around Marvel characters; and Vivoli Gelateria, a family-run gelato shop that uses local products and ingredients imported from Italy — it's Vivoli's only location outside of Italy.