The Changing Face of Downtown Disney – Part Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some of the changes coming to Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort. At the time, these involved some stores closing to make way for new opportunities like the Star Wars VR experience expected to open in the coming months, as well as the planned opening of Splitsville restaurant and bowling alley.

While these were anticipated additions to the entertainment options in Downtown Disney (as Splitsville was announced as a venue for live performing acts as well), a major announcement from Disney this past week about Resort expansion will be changing the future of this area and removing other entertainment locations permanently.

The Walt Disney Company has revealed that a new luxury hotel will be built on the current west end of Downtown Disney just past the monorail station and in front of the Disneyland Hotel. Construction will begin by next spring. As a result, everything in between will be removed, including the AMC Theater, The ESPN Zone, The Rainforest Café and the Earl of Sandwich restaurants. It potentially also would lead to the closure of the Disney Vacation Club storefront along with the second Downtown Disney Starbucks location. It is, however, unclear if the current location of the Disney Pin Traders store just past the monorail stop will remain.

While much outrage was aimed at the potential loss of the wonderful Earl of Sandwich quick service location (count me in as one more voice desperately hoping they will be relocated elsewhere on property! The Earl serves great food at a great price point and would be sorely missed!), I want to focus for today on the impending removal of four entertainment locations.

While I cannot say I ever went to see a movie at this AMC Theater, it was a location regularly used to host premieres and other park promotions. So that’s one.

Then there is The ESPN Zone. Again, it wasn’t a venue that appealed greatly to me as I don’t follow sports, but it was still a terrific location for sports fans to gather on property to watch games on the large video screens here. So that’s two.

The entertainment spot that I personally will miss most is the stage located between the AMC and the ESPN Zone that I’ve spent a lot of nights rocking out to bands playing here. When we lost Tomorrowland Terrace in Disneyland Park as a regular venue, Downtown Disney stepped up their entertainment game and brought a lot of the most popular bands here to keep the fans happy and dancing to the sweet sounds of live music! So that’s three.

And finally, while not a show I often stopped to watch, it was nonetheless fun to watch an animal trainer bring a live bird – usually a parrot, I think – to teach the crowd something about these smart creatures on a small stage in front of The Rainforest Café. So that’s four.

I’ve no doubt that the new hotel will bring in more restaurants to make up for the loss of the current ones, but as I noted above, there is much more than food choices to be lost in this transition. I’ve heard rumors that the ESPN Zone may get relocated and reimagined in some form – we’ll see if that comes to fruition. And there are a lot of us rooting for Earl of Sandwich to reopen somewhere else locally as well. But the removal of the outdoor stage with live bands is a great loss, and even adding an indoor stage at Splitsville will not make up for the joy of walking through Downtown Disney in the evenings and hearing bands playing in the open air.

The smaller-production groups such as Faultlines that also perform in the space in front of the WonderGround Gallery will hopefully still remain there on a regular basis, but we won’t know what happens until it happens. I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for any changes in these other entertainment options and will address anything of note.

The bottom line is, however, that while changes were already coming to Downtown Disney, they are going to be far more radical than originally anticipated and the footprint of the entire Disneyland Resort will be changing as a result. It’s a particularly interesting decision to see the Anaheim Downtown Disney district being reduced in size, while the Disney Springs location in Orlando continues to grow and expand. Ultimately, each location must adhere to the space restraints (or lack thereof) they have and find the best solutions to serve their guests.  But I’m always sorry to lose places that add entertainment value to a Resort visit.

For now, some new temporary additions have come to Downtown Disney in the wake of various stores’ recent closures.  One of these is The Disney Dress Shop – containing much of the contents of the former Vault 28 location just across the way.  You can find it between the still expected to close soon Build-a-Bear Workshop and Ridemakerz:

And there’s also the Dream Boutique – which not only replaced Anna & Elsa’s Boutique in this same location, but dropped the makeovers formerly available here, leaving the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique inside Disneyland Park as the only place for young princes and princesses to get their royal transformations:

What do you think of the forthcoming changes to Downtown Disney? And which location that is closing soon will you miss the most?

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