The Introvert’s Guide to Orlando V: Disney Springs

I’ll get off of Disney property, I promise. Today, however, is not that day.

Disney Springs is one of three places I walk around for exercise regularly. This is because it’s got a circle route with a few optional branches I can take for extra distance or extra quiet. Said walk starts by parking in the back corner of the Cirque du Soleil parking lot (what the street signs in the Disney Springs area now call “Surface Parking”). From there, I can walk in one of two directions on the path that borders the south side of the parking lot: along the Sassagoula River toward Cirque, House of Blues, DisneyQuest, and the rest of the West Side.

Usually, however, I head in the other direction, toward the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course.

Golfing

Speaking of which, do you golf? If not, consider it. Disney has three very nice courses: the Palm, Magnolia, and Lake Buena Vista Golf Courses. Don’t do it just for the physical activity–I personally know very few people who actually enjoy golf–but because you’re guaranteed three hours or so of relative quiet, walking or driving a cart over grassy hills, wooded fairways, and unpopulated scenery. If you want to golf or go to the driving range and just smack the heck out of a bucket of balls, the clubhouse for the LBV course is across the bridge on the other side of the Sassagoula River. If you have your own clubs, you’re better off parking at Saratoga Springs Resort.

Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and Other Walks

If you’re not into golfing, you can still cross that bridge to Saratoga Springs. From there you have a couple of options. If you’ve got a lot of time and strong legs, you can walk around the Saratoga Springs Resort campus, which is quite extensive (grab a map from the front desk, or consult one of the many public kiosks they have spread around to help the clueless tourist).

My personal favorite walk is along the water, so I’ll walk along the perimeter of the golf course parking lot or through the Saratoga Springs commercial buildings until I get to Golf Drive. From Golf Drive I walk to Broadway, hang a right, and cross a bridge before making my next right and keeping the water in sight. This takes me around the Congress Park lodge buildings and onto the other side of the Sassagoula River. Saratoga Springs has a nice paved walkway that runs all the way to a pedestrian bridge that takes you to east side of Disney Springs (still called the Marketplace, for those of us old enough to remember when the whole area was called Disney Village Marketplace).

Saratoga Springs’ walkway has plenty of benches and a nice view of Disney Springs across the water. (They used to have some rocking chairs on a nice stone terrace that features a fountain, but those seem to have vanished. Why??? Curses!) What I like best about it, however, is that unlike Disney Springs, there is no background music. I’m not precisely certain why commercial entities like Disney insist on having music everywhere in public spaces. Perhaps it’s for theming. Personally, I believe it’s because they know that background music subliminally annoys people, and so they get up and start walking, talking, or shopping just to get away from it. So, fair warning: there aren’t a lot of actual quiet places in Disney Springs, just places with fewer people in them.

Disney Springs Marketplace

There are some sidewalks that go between the stores and what used to be the bus depot. There aren’t any entrances on that side, but there’s less traffic.

The first relatively quiet place you might find is the Lava Lounge, which is attached to and slightly below the Rainforest Cafe. I say “relatively” because it’s a saloon, and those places can get crowded when afternoon thunderstorms or dinnertime arrive.

From there, you can check out the performance stage in the Marketplace. There’s plenty of seating if they don’t have a band or choir performing. My introverted mother also likes the planter in front of World of Disney, looking toward the stage. “Great for people watching” was her exact quote.

Detours

Before I get too far afield, I should mention another option when you reach the LBV Golf Course. Instead of crossing the bridge to Saratoga Springs, you can continue on the path that follows the Sassagoula River all the way up to Disney’s Old Key West Resort, which is the first Disney Vacation Club property. Again, depending on how vigorous you’re feeling, you can also walk around Old Key West, understanding that while it is more or less circular in its layout, finding the paths that get you all the way around the circle can be hard to find. If you’re looking for a quick/quiet beverage, the Gurgling Suitcase at OKW is worth a stop.

Another detour you can take away from the crowds at Disney Springs is up Hotel Plaza Boulevard. Disney recently installed some very nice pedestrian bridges with stairs and elevators on each side of the road. I’ve walked up to the TraveLodge, crossed the street, and come back.

An additional detour is to keep walking on the sidewalk across from Disney Springs along Buena Vista Drive. You’ll pass the SunTrust Bank, the Walt Disney World Casting building, and a gas station before you come to Team Disney, the WDW administrative building. There’s a pedestrian bridge there that will take you to the Disney Springs Landing and West Side.

The Landing

There’s a stage area between the Boathouse Restaurant and Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, which is an Indiana Jones-themed saloon (“There’s a big snake in the plane, Jock!” “Oh, that’s just my pet snake, Reggie!” “I hate snakes, Jock! I hate ’em!” “Come on, show a little backbone, will ya?”). I don’t see that seating area used very often and there isn’t a lot of shade, but there are some benches for resting and getting out of the traffic flow.

Jock Lindsey’s and Paradiso 37 both have nice outside seating areas and they’re usually pretty quiet between noon and 4:30 (or until the afternoon thunderstorms start).

There’s a walkway behind Raglan Road and Morimoto Asia that’s not as high-traffic–at least it is now, until they open a new restaurant there soon.

Town Center

This is the new section of Disney Springs, which is chock-full of air-conditioned upscale shops. Not a bookstore to be found. However, they do have a Tommy Bahama and a Sprinkles cupcake place where you can get cupcakes out of an ATM. A lot of the stores you see there you could find at your closest upscale mall at home. It is relatively quiet before 10:30 or 11 a.m. and does have one “street” that is roofed over and seems to be air conditioned.

One fun thing I like in the middle of the Town Center is an Archimedean screw that you can turn yourself to bring up water from a water to a higher-level reservoir to keep the waterfall going.

West Side

If you can’t stand the crowds anymore, there is an AMC Theater at West Side. One side has a dine-in theater, with waiters, much more personal space per seat, and a fairly diverse menu. Catch a matinee. My biggest gripe with the place is the smell of the carpet, which has probably seen plenty of hard messes over the years.

The courtyard (“Exposition Park”) between Starbucks and Bongos Cuban Cafe has Disney food trucks stationed there. It’s usually not too crowded mid-afternoon. From there you can reach the walkway that leads along the Sassagoula River and behind most of the restaurants.

Do you like open-air heights? Do you want to get above the crowds? They have a massive balloon at West Side that’ll help you get above it all. The “Characters in Flight” balloon will take you up to 400 feet for sightseeing, weather permitting. Good luck with that.

Several of the saloons on the West Side can be reasonably crowd-free between noon and 4:30: Bongos Cuban Cafe, the upper-floor patio at Splitsville, and the sushi bar inside the Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe.

If you just need somewhere to sit and get clear of the traffic, the outside seating area by House of Blues is good and reasonably well shaded. It is somewhat less convenient when there is a concert about to happen or when the afternoon thunderstorms pop up. You have been warned.

The last places I’ve identified for resting are the benches on the west side of House of Blues and the south side of Cirque du Soleil. From there, you can find the pathway to (and around) the surface parking…and your car, if you’ve parked it in the back corner.

Awhile back, someone asked me, “How can you deal with all those crowds on your walks?” My answer was simple: “I’m just walking. I’m not talking to them.”

Until next time…

An Introvert’s Guide to Orlando, Part I: Epcot

I admit it, I’m a bit of an oddity: an introvert who lives in one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. I even visit Walt Disney World (and have a Florida Resident Annual Pass for same) on a regular basis. Am I lying about my disposition, or have I found ways to make the place “where the magic happens” suitable to my people-avoiding habits? The latter, I assure you. The fact that I’m a local and an Annual Passholder, however, means that I have more time to scout for potential quiet spots.

What follows are my general and specific thoughts on visiting my favorite part of WDW, Epcot (formerly EPCOT Center or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). I’m not going to lie to you and say that Disney is for everybody. I have friends in some parts of the country who are inordinately proud of the fact that they have never visited WDW. So to each their own. This blog is written for those of you realize your introverted tendencies but still have Disney on your “bucket list.” There are ways to enjoy the place and still have fun. No, really. Allow me to ‘splain…

Overall Thoughts for the Introvert Who Might Want to Visit Epcot

Let’s start with the basics, in case you have a bigger aversion to crowds than I do:

  • If you’re allergic to large groups of people in one place, Disney is not for you.
  • If you don’t like standing in long lines (or even moderate lines) with groups of strangers, Disney is not for you.
  • If your idea of “fun” is actively against boisterous socializing and general warm-and-fuzzy attitudes derived from a lot of the sanitized fairy tales The Walt Disney Company has turned into movies, the Disney parks are not for you.

For those of you who are still curious, keep reading.

It’s important to understand that Disney equates loud and busy with “happy” guests. Walt Disney himself was pretty much an extrovert, and he seems to have inspired a generation or two of marketing people with the same ethos. A quiet area or time in the theme parks is considered a problem and an opportunity to fill the space with a new show, event, character greetings, or attraction. Quiet at Disney is apparently a bad thing. So the quiet places I’ve identified here might disappear at some point.

An Introvert’s Approach to the Epcot Theme Park

Rather than talk about the things to avoid, I will concentrate primarily on things you can do so you can keep your vacation time focused.

Let’s start with the best times to visit, which keep shrinking because (as I noted above) a “quiet” time at the parks is considered a BAD THING).

  • Early January (after New Year’s week/weekend) through President’s Day weekend
  • Late February until the start of Flower & Garden Festival
  • Labor Day until the start of the Food & Wine Festival
  • After Thanksgiving weekend until approximately December 18

Note that the Flower & Garden Festival and Food & Wine Festival were events conjured up to draw local visitors during down times, thereby shrinking the potential quiet times. Darn them.

epcot-map

General Note on Restaurants: People with small/young children generally but not always avoid the more formal table-service restaurants because they know how impatient/squirrelly young children get. If your choice is a counter-service restaurant or a table-service restaurant, your odds for a quiet meal are somewhat better at the table-service place. On the flip side of this, counter-service places can be gotten through more quickly, reducing the time spent with a potentially ornery infant/toddler/youth in the restaurant. Where possible, I asked cast members in particular areas for the most quiet or least noisy dining location in their area.

Entertainment

Disney and Epcot are all about providing experiences, so it’s not unusual to see multiple moments of entertainment in the World Showcase pavilions throughout the day. (Remember: quiet is a bad thing. Disney wants you to get your money’s worth, which means as much stimulation as you can handle.) If that’s too much for you–mind you, a lot of the performances are quite good–you might want to pick up an entertainment schedule when you enter the park so you know what’s happening when. If the performances themselves aren’t making noise, they’re at least attracting crowds.

International Gateway/World Showcase

Epcot is divided into two areas: Future World and World Showcase. Most guests enter through the Main Gate, which opens into Future World at 9 a.m. Guests staying at the Epcot Resorts (the Yacht & Beach Club Resorts, BoardWalk Resort, Swan, and Dolphin) enter through the International Gateway situated between the United Kingdom and France pavilions. World Showcase attractions, stores, and restaurants generally open at 11 a.m. Guests might be directed to Future World until 11, but World Showcase really doesn’t get rolling with operations and traffic until after Noon. Traffic from Future World starts to filter back into World Showcase until after 2 p.m. Again, these are generalizations; on busy days, such as during the Food & Wine Festival, World Showcase can be busy as soon as it opens.

Main Gate/Innoventions

Let’s start with the main entrance. There are going to be lines–they’re unavoidable. And once you get through the gate to show your ticket, you find yourself confronted by several planters/benches and beyond those, an array of marble monoliths that I’ve likened to Klingon architecture. They have little one-inch-square etched “Leave a Legacy” images of people that are numbered so the owners can find them later. Regardless, the planters are meant to funnel the crowd forward down a center aisle; however, you can stroll through the monoliths and avoid the butt funnel.

Source: Disney-Pal.com
Source: Disney-Pal.com

Once you get past Spaceship Earth (the big golf ball-looking thing), you have a couple of “escape areas,” on the inner ring of Innoventions: by the Coca-Cola Ice Station Cool on the right and the Electric Umbrella on the left. These are outdoor seating areas away from the traffic flow.

Another set of “quiet areas” you can find–if you either smoke or don’t get outraged by cigarettes–are the smoking areas by Mission: Space, Journey to Imagination, The Land, World Showcase Plaza, International Gateway, between Morocco and Japan, Italy, China, and between World Showcase Plaza and Odyssey Center. I’ve probably been to most of these areas because I have an introverted father who smokes. Disney puts them out of the way for health/aesthetic reasons, but as a side benefit of this out-of-the-way-ness, they’re also relatively quiet.

Much of Innoventions West is pretty quiet, possibly because they’re in the process of refurbishing the area.

The Land

The Living with the Land attraction is pretty low-key and air-conditioned most of the time. It isn’t always quiet, as I discovered today, as a pair of ladies behind me chattered quite loudly behind me most of the time. I’ve also taken the Behind the Seeds tour twice (okay, yes, I’m a geek) to learn more about what they are actually doing agriculturally at The Land pavilion. It’s a nice way to spend an hour or so, and it gets you out of the usual traffic flow for an hour or so.

The Living Seas

By adding a “Finding Nemo” theme to this attraction, Disney has made it louder, more accessible to kids, and thus busier (their goal, if not mine). The upper level, where you’re looking at the fish, is still pretty quiet. And watching fish can be relaxing, yes? Another great place for fish-watching, dining, and enjoying relative quiet is the Coral Reef restaurant. I’ve only eaten once there, however, (sometime in the ’90s), and prices were pretty high. I imagine they’ve gone up since then.

Mexico

The San Angel Inn (table-service restaurant) isn’t too bad, though they do pack ’em in. The rest of the Mexico pavilion is pretty noisy, including La Cava del Tequila, which should be a quiet, intimate nook of a place but very quickly became a place for adults to hide away from the kids and get a beverage or three. On the plus side, they do have a very large selection of tequila and decent chips and salsa/guac/queso. You can either sit there and deal with the crowds or get a drink at the bar and take it to go.

Norway

The Akershus Royal Banquet Hall used to have a pretty nice, understated Scandinavian vibe, though I understand they’ve since added a character breakfast. They’ve also taken out the fun, low-key Maelstrom attraction and are in the process of adding a Frozen-themed attraction. Expect madness when that opens.

China

The waiting area for the Reflections of China 360 film is usually pretty quiet until 5-10 minutes before a show, as is the museum display featuring the Xian terracotta warriors. The Nine Dragons should be a bit quieter than the counter-service restaurant.

Germany

Not going to kid you: like Mexico, much of Germany is loud, especially the restaurant, which includes a lot of participatory singing and a buffet. The wine shop in the back corner of the pavilion isn’t too bad most days, however.

Italy

Disney added a wine/cocktail/tapas bar to the back corner of Italy called Tutto Gusto. It can get loud in there, but Mondays and Tuesdays aren’t too bad. There are two table-service restaurants in Italy; of the two, Tutto Italia is the more formal and quieter of the two (per a cast member I asked at Tutto Gusto).

United States

Most of the U.S. area is loud. The American Adventure attraction waiting area is well air-conditioned and can be quiet much of the time, with some quite good paintings on display. However, Disney decided that this was too quiet, so occasionally you’ll find a choir singing American songs from the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. On the plus side, the choir is usually good and stately. The attraction itself is all AnimaTronics and a nice patriotic pick-me-up that gets you out of the crowds for ~40 minutes.

Japan

Last week I asked a Japan cast member if the Japanese culture was loud or quiet. She replied that “It’s a little bit of both. We have some that’s crazy and some that’s quiet.” So you can find some nice bonsai gardens and a decent museum display, but the bonsai has been cut back (so to speak) from years previous and the museum display has tied historical Japanese culture to Anime and other cartoons to get the kids interested…which, of course, means more kids and more noise. Of the two table-service restaurants, the Tokyo Dining place upstairs is slightly quieter than the Teppan Edo place, which is more of a show kitchen/participatory experience. Tokyo Dining is a sushi place, with both a bar and individual tables, some with a view of the lagoon.

Morocco

The shopping areas in Morocco don’t get nearly as much traffic as some areas, and are also well-shaded. I have heard that the Marrakesh had belly dancers as part of the dining experience. Haven’t been there, not sure if that’s still a thing. However, they have added a new outdoor tapas restaurant, Spice Road Table, outside by the lagoon. The food’s decent, and there is shade, but you’re at the mercy of the elements (humidity).

France

My favorite attraction/film in World Showcase is Impressions de France, which is now terribly dated, having been there since the park opened in 1982, but it features a lot of gorgeous scenery and soothing symphonic music. The Chefs de France restaurant was quite good, but pretty noisy. There is another restaurant upstairs, Monsieur Paul, which I have not visited yet, but which I am guessing is more upscale, quieter, and expensive. If anyone has info on the place, I’d love to know. There’s also a fun ice cream/gelato bar in France that allows adults to throw in a shot of Gran Marnier or other adult beverage into their dessert…the place is not quiet, however, nor is much of the rest of the pavilion. The gardens in back are well tended and can be quiet, but only when the park attendance is low overall.

United Kingdom

If there’s no Beatles or other knockoff band performing out back, the gardens in the UK area are nice and quiet. Also, the Rose & Crown restaurant area (not the bar) is comparatively quiet. The R&C bar can go from quiet to loud very quickly.

Canada

The stairs/ramp leading to the Canada 360 film are pretty quiet. They’ve replaced the original (again, it was vintage 1982) Canada film with a new version featuring Martin Short. I think they could have done better with another Canadian export–William Shatner, Alanis Morrisette–someone besides Martin Short. But hey, that’s me.

If you get burned out by the number of people at Epcot–and it was inexplicably quiet today, a day in what has been considered peak season–you can always escape through the back door at International Gateway and visit one of the Epcot Resorts. I’ll cover them in another entry.