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Walt Disney World has changed A LOT Over the Past Twenty Years...

9. The many faces of Disney Springs

World of Disney Store

Image: Disney

There is possibly no portion of Walt Disney World that has gone through more changes than Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, formerly Pleasure Island/Disney West Side, formerly the Disney Village Marketplace, formerly the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village… you get the point.

By 1999, the-shopping-district-that-would-become-Disney-Springs had already gone through four major rebrandings. Throughout its life, the district had been a shopping village, an entertainment hub, and a nightclub district all trying to maintain a vague sense of Disney connection. It remained known as Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island until 2006, when the Pleasure Island nightclubs closed.

Downtown Disney suffered from a severely floundering sense of identity until it was rebranded (again) in 2013 as Disney Springs. Rather than trying to completely bury the remnants of its teeter-tottering past, Disney Springs was unified as a shopping superhub with four sections—the marketplace (home of the old Disney Village Marketplace), the Landing (which replaced Pleasure Island), the West Side, and a new Town Center section full of upscale shops from both unique and well-known retailers.

Disney Springs isn’t perfect, and we still aren’t sure its fully found its identity yet. However, the curious conglomeration of its past selves into what it is now has produced a very nice getaway both for Disney guests and for locals. The district, overall, feels more unified and charming, and doesn’t seem like quite the Frankenstein of ideas it was before. We can certainly raise a “Kungaloosh!” to that.

10. Changes to attractions

Redhead leading pirate auction

Image: Disney

Changes to classic attractions are an unfortunate reality in all theme parks. Over the past two decades, we saw Maelstrom make way for Frozen Ever After, Horizons become Mission: Space, The Magic of Disney Animation become Star Wars Launch Bay, and even The Great Movie Ride wasn’t spared to make way for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad.

The changes we’ve explored all had dramatic effect on Disney’s attractions, especially the still-growing emphasis on intellectual properties and immersion. For one thing, more and more properties that purists wouldn’t consider “Disney” have quickly become mainstays in the parks, like those from Avatar, Star Wars, and Marvel. Star Wars alone has completely altered the face of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney has used every chance they can to squeeze Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy into the parks—one of the few MCU properties they are allowed to use in Orlando.

Some of the most significant changes to attractions the past twenty years have also been due to changes in the culture. For example, while many fans might have bemoaned the change of the wenches auction in the Pirates of the Caribbean to a goods auction manned by a Grace-O’-Malley like pirate redhead, there is some merit to the way those changes echoed the changing values of our culture. Indeed, for Pirates of the Caribbean, this wasn’t a particularly new song and dance as similar renovations were made in 1997 to transform the lusty pirates chasing frightened maids into nervous pirates being chased by angry women with brooms. The more digitally connected we’ve grown in our world, the more the horrors of things like human trafficking and the abuse of women has been brought into the public eye and reflected on afresh. For many, the scene was no longer iconic—just a disturbing reminder of real darkness in the world. Disney shifted with the tides.

These changes certainly aren’t all bad, even if there is much we miss about the Walt Disney World of yesteryear (especially the prices!). The good news is that even if the Most Magical Place on Earth has undergone a lot of changes, there are many signs that the best might be yet to come, and we can’t wait to see it!

What are some other changes you’ve noticed in Walt Disney World over the last twenty years?



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