Comparing Disney World’s Disney Springs and Disneyland’s Downtown Disney

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Entrances to Disney Springs and Downtown Disney_feature image

Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort both play host to their own lively Disney downtown shopping/dining districts.

In addition to versatile theme parks and optimal onsite accommodations, Guests visiting Disney World (Orlando, Florida) and Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) may experience additional shopping, dining, and live entertainment happenings via each destination’s own onsite social district. Disney World is home to Disney Springs, whereas Disneyland is where you will find the Downtown Disney District. Each offering has its own unique callouts while also sharing a couple of similarities. But which one is better? You decide as we at Inside the Magic present the highlights and attributes of each one.

Related: Disney Springs Vs. Downtown Disney District

How They Both Got Started

First, let’s take a closer look at the unique history behind each district’s founding. Disney Springs in Disney World is the older of the two, opening on the scene in 1975 as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. Two years later, the name was changed to Walt Disney World Village before receiving a third name change in 1989 to Disney Village Marketplace. It was renamed again as the “original” Downtown Disney in 1997 and remained as such until its transformation into Disney Springs in 2015. Each renaming marked an initiative for rebranding, making needed updates, and performing groundbreaking developments onsite. Throughout its tenure, Disney Springs has seen many changes in commerce, entertainment, and dining offerings, but its popularity with Guests has remained intact.

Downtown Disney is much younger, opening in 2001 in conjunction with a Disneyland Resort expansion that also included the establishment of Disney California Adventure Park and the addition of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. When it debuted, its Walt Disney World Resort predecessor was still operating under the Downtown Disney name too.

Side-by-side images showing each Disney district's premiers

Related: Is Disney Springs Just Downtown Disney With a New Name?


Both districts are open to the public, free of charge. No tickets or special reservations need ever be made in advance.

Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort can rely on trusty, complimentary shuttle services to take them to Disney Springs. Another viable option for those staying in hotels near Disney Springs (including Disney Resorts like Old Key West and Saratoga Springs) is to walk here on foot. There’s also an alternative boat option available to Guests at the aforementioned locations and Disney’s two Port Orleans Resorts. For those arriving by vehicle, Disney Springs offers plenty of complimentary parking in various surface lots and garages.

Downtown Disney can be easily ventured to on foot by those staying at any of the three Disneyland Resorts. It’s also walkable from both theme parks. Those arriving by vehicle take note of the various Downtown Disney parking options, including the convenient Simba Parking lot between West Katella Avenue and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Parking here costs $10 for the first hour, with validations applying every additional hour. Again, since everything is within walking distance, you have several other possibilities for where you may want to park.

Two images showing Disney Springs garade parking option and Downtown Disney's Simba parking lot

Related: A Comprehensive Guide to Parking Costs at Disney World

Size Comparisons

You need only look at an extensive Disney Springs map or some excellent aerial photos of Disney Springs to know of the massive area it comprises. In total, it is made up of 120 acres and divided into four separate subsections—the Marketplace, Town Center, West Side, and the Landing.

Downtown Disney, on the other hand, doesn’t even compare to Disney Springs regarding the total area it encompasses. It is much smaller, more intimate, far easier to navigate, and more reliable for finding everything you’re searching for quickly and easily.

Aerial views of Disney Springs and Downtown Disney

Shopping and Dining

As you’d probably expect based on its size, the lineup of Disney Springs shops is about five times greater than the collection of Downtown Disney Stores, which only boasts 20 options. Of course, both locations offer exceptional retail selections, including some of the most renowned high-end chain stores and novelty one-of-a-kind shops. And there are some areas of overlap regarding the standout stores in Disney Springs and Downtown Disney, if we’re honest.

As expected, when comparing the Disney Springs restaurant scene to what Downtown Disney restaurants have to offer, there are, of course, far more Disney Springs dining designations—roughly 70 or so to Downtown Disney’s 20. But both locations offer exceptional table-service establishments and favored quick-service venues—plenty to keep visitors of all tastes satisfied with the selections presented to them.

Side-by-side images of each Disney district's directories

Related: Ultimate Guide to Downtown Disney at Disneyland

Unique Callouts

Both locations also play host to their own onsite callouts and specific attractions of sorts. Because live music offerings are popular across the board with so many folks, it’s worth mentioning that Disney Springs and Downtown Disney each feature open-stage acts live and right onsite. You can always count on great performances from the Downtown Disney LIVE! Stage, for instance. At Disney Springs, you’ll be entertained at all four sub-districts, including the AdventHealth Waterside Stage (Marketplace), Springs Overlook (Town Center), and Waterview Park (Landing). Many restaurant venues have in-house performances taking place, too, like House of Blues (West Side) and Raglan Road (Landing).

Example's of each Disney district's stage performances

Disney Springs also has two underrated kiddie rides at its Marketplace location —a train and a carousel. Additional entertainment interests include Aerophile tethered balloon flights and Drawn to Life: Cirque du Soleil performances. And let’s not forget about those Vintage Amphicar sightseeing tours you can take out on the surrounding water! Then there’s always the AMC Theater on location. Downtown Disney also featured an onsite movie theater just a few years ago, but no longer does.

Three Disney Springs diversions--hot air balloon, Cirque du Soleil, and Vintage Amphicar tours

How Are They Similar?

We already mentioned the overlap between some existing stores in Disney Springs and those at Downtown Disney. While each location remains its own unique entity, we can’t help giving a shoutout to at least some of the most favored establishments that can be found at both locations. First, there’s Earl of Sandwich—arguably the best chain for specialty sandwiches. Each is also home to novelty ice cream concoctions via Salt & Straw establishments. The best bowling/dining and all-in-one family entertainment experience provided via Splitsville Luxury Lanes can also be enjoyed at both Disney districts. Each also has an impressive LEGO Store location. And it goes without saying that Disney Springs and Downtown Disney would feature World of Disney megastores.

Each Disney district's World of Disney shops

Which One is Better?

The answer to which location is better varies and depends on what a visitor is looking for in the way of experiences. Disney Springs is admittedly larger and offers much more to see and do quantitatively. However, not everyone agrees that bigger is better—especially for those looking to do less walking and more comprehensive and concise navigating. It’s also worth mentioning that Downtown Disney, being smaller and in much closer range to Parks and Resorts, boasts conveniences that Disney Springs cannot match. There are even sections where you can view Park fireworks. But again, Disney Springs outnumbers Downtown Disney in shops, dining, and onsite activities.

Do you think Disney Springs or Downtown Disney is better? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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