"Lake Buena Vista / Walt Disney World" Lake Buena Vista by noidiotsplease
Lake Buena Vista Travel Guide: 24 reviews and 91 photos
Located along I-4 just southwest of Orlando is a gigantic tract of real estate that the Walt Disney Company has magically brought to life over recent decades. Dubbed Lake Buena Vista, the place is not actually "home" to many people (it has an official population of 16 residents), yet there are countless thousands of people who call this their "home away from home" or "home base" for exploring the theme parks of Disney. Typically, Lake Buena Vista is identified as the area around Downtown Disney and its surrounding hotels. Hotel Plaza Blvd. is the town's front door, lined with high rise hotels and near perfect landscaping. Closer to the I-4 interchange are numerous restaurants and strip malls catering to the tourist set. In the woods and along the shores of the lakes that surround this touristy nucleus have been carved several whimsical yet luxurious Disney resorts, water parks, golf courses, the Disney Institute, Disney's Wide World of Sports stadium complex and, of course, Disney's four destination theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT Center, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
As a native resident of Jacksonville, just about a 2.5 hour drive away, I have been to Lake Buena Vista many times over the years. I've seen what is now known as Downtown Disney expand to from the original lakeside Marketplace to a complex about three times its original size thanks to the dining and nightlife hotspots of Pleasure Island and West Side. The Marketplace is still the most kid-oriented part, with awesome stores like World of Disney, Team Mickey Athletic Club, and LEGO Imagination Center, along with Rainforest Cafe and T-Rex Cafe, two must-see theme restaurants that feature animatronic animals and dinosaurs, respectively. This is also still my favorite part of Downtown Disney too.
Pleasure Island is a place that I really enjoyed visiting at night when I was in college, as it is packed with nightclubs featuring a wide range of music genres and entertainers. While it does boast a few more grown-up stores, like a Hollywood memorabilia store, and a few upscale restaurants, this mid-section of Downtown Disney is not as interesting during daylight hours. Beyond Pleasure Island though, on the other side of Planet Hollywood, is the West Side, home to a variety of more stores with merchandise that is generally a bit more grown-up and expensive than the fare found in the Marketplace. Here, Planet Hollywood is joined by other recognizable national chains like House of Blues, AMC Theaters, and Virgin Megastore, unique upscale restaurants, an assortment of specialty stores, and even a couple of attractions: Disney Quest and Cirque du Soleil. I'm sure many visitors with disposable vacation cash could find a lot to enjoy about West Side. I would still recommend spending more time in the Marketplace area though, strolling along the scenic lakefront and through stores that bring out the kid in you.
It is important to point out that parking and admission to Downtown Disney is free, though the attractions of Disney Quest and Cirque du Soleil and night admission to Pleasure Island do require paying admissions. The fact that Downtown Disney and its parking areas are free is a bit surprising when you consider how high ticket prices to the major parks have become. It now costs nearly $100 per person, per day, to visit the major parks. Consequently, it has been over a decade since my wife and I have visited the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center, and I still have never visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. With prices being what they are, a Florida family like us can actually get more bang for the buck going elsewhere on vacation, even to places multiple states away, so Disney's theme parks have not really been on the must-see list now that we have kids. That hasn't stopped us, however, from visiting Downtown Disney in conjunction with trips to Sea World and Legoland -- nearby theme parks that offer free admission to Florida teachers and discounted rates for homeschooled children on certain days.
For more information about the area near Lake Buena Vista see my Orlando home page!
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