ByJeremy Howard, writer at
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Jeremy Howard

Walt Disney World in Orlando is in the middle of a multi-phase re-theming of its district of restaurants, shopping, and entertainment into Disney Springs.

The concept is a massive enhancement that has already brought the crowds back and is sure to be a huge success. When we look at the current offerings at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, there are notable deficiencies that Disney Springs has clearly addressed at its location.

The timing of things is very interesting right now in Anaheim. House of Blues, which occupies a large footprint right in the heart of Downtown Disney, is scheduled to close this summer and relocate to the Anaheim Gardenwalk.

Construction starts this month on Star Wars Land, and along with that, an influx of crowds, and that’s a lot of money that can potentially get spent in a shopping district filled with new restaurants and other offerings.

Disney Springs seems like an obvious testing ground for a similar Anaheim conversion.

Let’s look at the Orlando makeover more closely and see if Anaheim can take note as it looks to its own hopeful transformation.

Themed Dining

This seems to be the biggest priority, and largest mindset shift within Disney’s brain trust. It’s a fantastic way to attract the paying customer. Point in case…

Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar at Disney Springs.

The concept is a 1940’s airplane hangar turned dive bar, and was the previous home of Indiana Jones‘s pilot from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A restaurant and bar…with a story…as it goes on Disney’s web site…

“The two globetrotters stumbled on Disney Springs in 1938…attracted to the town’s natural springs and lush terrain, Jock bought some waterfront property and eventually settled down…”

The location offers unique food and beverage concoctions.

Seeing a concept like this, we’re reminded that Downtown Disney Anaheim has very little by way of immersive storytelling dining experiences. The closest is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, occupying a small spot out of the way at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s great fun. You’re compelled to want to hang out there, probably for too long, instead of going on rides, and isn’t that another coincidental built-in benefit with a Downtown Disney revitalization? The parks are already insanely crowded, and while Star Wars Land will add an additional 14 acres, it still won’t be enough to soak up the onslaught of visitors.

Throw a Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar and a handful of other themed dining experiences inside a new Disney Springs Anaheim, and you have a greater opportunity to disperse the crowds when the parks get filled to capacity.

A Park Outside the Park

“Downtown Disney” gives off an urban vibe. It’s a more abrasive experience, devoid of any real warmth and charm. “Disney Springs” offers a sense of “vacation,” a place to mellow out and de-stress. In Orlando, the design is cheerful and inviting, with lush trees, waterways, bridges, and interesting architecture.

They have cleverly created an area with “lands” outside the parks. Jock Lindsey’s is located inside The Landing area of Disney Springs. There is also Town Center, Marketplace, and West Side, all described as being unique “neighborhoods” inside Disney Springs.

This is a far cry from Anaheim, which is basically a corridor of concrete with a relatively bland color palette and a mishmash of random shops and dining. There’s a Sephora, but you can find Sephora just about anywhere. With Anaheim GardenWalk right around the corner and Irvine Spectrum a few miles down the 5, aside from being adjacent to the parks, what is offered at Downtown Disney that compels us to want to go there specifically? Rainforest Cafe? Those are everywhere as well.

Anaheim could use a dose of Disney Springs with its uniquely Disney dining experiences, it’s sense of wonder, of exploration, of purpose, of wanting to be there.

Diverse Food Offerings

It seems hard to believe, but at the Disneyland Resort right now you can’t even find a decent hamburger. You can find burgers, sure. But everywhere outside the resort, there are gourmet establishments, like an Umami Burger at Irvine Spectrum or a Holsteins Shakes & Buns at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. These are places where you can grab an awesome burger, have a beer on tap, kick back, and enjoy the atmosphere. If Downtown Disney doesn’t have a place to get a good burger, something needs to be re-thought.

Disney Springs offers a variety of food genres to choose from: Cuban, Irish, American, Mexican, Seafood, Sushi, Barbecue. There are food carts for on-the-go meals, quick common eateries for a sandwich or a snack, and fine dining.

There’s a little something for everyone with a presentation that is fun and clean.

Upscale Dining

Here’s an area Anaheim could also use some vast improvements with. I’m not necessarily implying the $65 bone-in filet restaurant and a price point that may be a turn-off to the average park-goer. The Napa Rose and Steakhouse 55 already address this.

The bulk of Downtown Disney’s current restaurant offerings are on the generic side. They feel “touristy” not “classy.” I’m thinking of something like Tortilla Jo’s, which has been at Downtown Disney since the beginning. The food is all right, the margaritas are all right, the service is all right.

Or Naples Ristorante for an Italian flavor, which has been around forever now as well. I wouldn’t call the food bad or anything like that. Like Tortilla Jo’s, it’s all right. The pizza is all right. The atmosphere is all right. The wine selection is all right.

That’s really the vibe across the board for the sit-down restaurants at Downtown Disney. Just all right.

Disney Springs recently opened Morimoto Asia. What a fantastic-looking restaurant! The architecture is stunning and inviting. Morimoto’s name gives it an instant recognition. The Modern Pan-Asian food offerings are both familiar and unique. The price point is upscale, but not unreasonable. This is a destination.

The Boathouse looks amazing as well! Waterfront dining, a pristine presentation, upbeat, cheerful, affordable.

These are experiences the tourists and locals alike seem more than willing to pay for.

A new Disney Springs Anaheim, with a seasoning of “upscale” with its dining options, will attract a clientele more willing to make this spot an evening destination, without ever feeling the need to set foot in the parks.

Disney Springs offers a perfect blend of these four categories, creating a true destination, a place to share great fun with friends and family. It offers a spot for the tourists to kick back and relax after a long day at the parks and gives locals a unique experience to venture out to and enjoy. With the Disneyland Resort expansion about to get underway, now is the perfect time to explore this concept in Anaheim. Let’s hope it happens!


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