By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Ready to drive the kids into the lake?
No, I’m not crazy. All you have to do is book a $125 vintage Amphicar ride for the gang at the new Boathouse Restaurant at the newly imagined Disney Springs, which used to be Downtown Disney before its multi-year transformation.
You can tool around the lake, take selfies (who is going to believe you were driving in a lake on purpose?) and then opt for lunch in the Boathouse where you can feast on fish tacos, crab cakes or filet mignon sliders, among other choices, and the kids can order salmon, grilled chicken or a burger that comes in — what else — a plate fashioned to look like a brightly colored vintage car.
You can opt for a food truck or Morimoto Asia (the kids will love the food and the glittering, soaring chandeliers) — or family-friendly pasta at Portobello Country Italian Trattoria where my young cousins happily chowed down on Fettuccine Alfredo. There’s even a vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free place for treats — Bakery NY.
TIP: If you come to Orlando in May and early June, you’ll find some of the best values of the year and fewer crowds. (At VisitOrlando.com/deals, guests can find even more savings on hotels, attractions, restaurants and shopping. Save an additional 5 percent on already discounted attraction tickets at VisitOrlando.com/tickets with the promo code: NFS2016. Offer available until June 15, 2016.)
And remember that beyond Disney Springs, Orlando offers scores of other dining options, whether you want to visit a farmer’s market (every Sunday) fine dining in Winter Park, a haven for foodies or sample Burgushi (a fusion of burger and sushi) at The Cowfish on Universal’s CityWalk. (Kids love the kids’ bento boxes and PB and J sushi rolls.)
You have your pick of shopping, too — from Mouse Ears and a Harry Potter wand to two outlet malls and designer duds at luxury malls, which are some of the highest grossing in the country.
Certainly these days, dining and shopping are tops on travelers’ to-do lists, especially younger travelers and families, according to the just-released MMGY Portrait of American Travelers. They found that significantly more millennials (72 percent) than Xers (66 percent), boomers (60 percent) or Matures (66 percent) find fine dining desirable on vacation these days.
Clearly, Disney has gotten that message loud and clear. And this being Disney, the experience is intricately themed around the story of early Florida — the bubbling springs and natural beauty that first brought settlers who then built the turn-of-the century waterfront towns. Jock’s was the airplane hangar, for example
The Starbucks here serves wine and you can browse the largest Disney Store in the world. No worries if they don’t have your size — use the new Shop Disney Parks app to locate what you want and you can have it delivered to your hotel.
The whole area is eminently walkable (and stroller and wheelchair friendly) from the Town Center to The Landing (How about a gelato at Vivoli Gelataria, only the second location outside of Florence? Or a dim sum at Morimoto Asia. The pork bao steamed bun with pork belly was amazing!)
The West Side offers new elevated spaces with both shade and a vantage point to all the action. This is where you will find Cirque du Soleil with new acts (B-Boy — acrobatic tricks set to music), food trucks and Splitsville, which may be the fanciest bowling alley you’ve ever seen.
You may recall Pleasure Island, which was designed for adults. That’s gone. It has been replaced by the kid-friendly Market Place with all kinds of themed restaurant and bar options. You’ll find themed dining and drinking options wherever you are in Disney Springs. Think sipping a drink at Dockside Margaritas while the kids dance to live music or a specialty cocktail while the kids have mocktails and sliders at Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, themed to Indiana Jones, or Sprinkles with its cupcake ATM machines. Watch the chocolatiers at work at The Ganachery.
Ready to shop till you drop? The kids can make their own Mr. Potato Head or a droid at Once Upon a Toy, customize a T-shirt at Disney Design-a-Tee or create a personalized phone case. Let’s not forget the chance to browse at the Super Hero headquarters and Star Wars Galactic Outpost or for the kids to play at the Lego Store where there is an entire wall to choose bricks in all different shapes and colors. Perhaps personalized flip-flops from Hats or personalized flip-flops at Havaianas. By this summer, there will be more than 60 third-party retailers in the Town Center neighborhood — everyone from Lilly Pulitzer to Uniglo.
There are live performances during the day and evening at the Waterside Stage, a carousel and even the chance to lift off in a tethered balloon. Characters in Flight rises from the banks of Village Lake for 360-degree views (on a clear day you can see Florida’s east coast).
Book your little princess the new “Frozen” package at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique where people make reservations months in advance.
There are plenty of new Orlando attractions this summer — Frozen Ever After at Epcot, Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal Orlando Resort and Mako at SeaWorld Orlando. Disney’s Animal Kingdom will show off its attractions this summer for the first time at night.
But as much as you may love the parks, everyone needs a break. And you may stave off the kids from wanting souvenirs everywhere they go, if you promise plenty of time shopping, followed by a fun dinner at Disney Springs.
That’s assuming you can decide on a restaurant. If not, there are always food trucks!
If you’re going to Orlando, check out Eileen’s Kid’s Guide to Orlando. And for more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and follow @takingthekids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
© 2016 EILEEN OGINTZ
DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.