Downtown Disney is the name of the area just outside the gates to the Happiest Place on Earth and it’s full of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars with live music happening at any given moment. And the best part is, it’s all free! You’ll find one of my favourite stores, Sephora for makeup from a huge range of brands (I just bought a teeny roller ball Flower Bomb perfume yesterday) and several kids stores that even make the barren among us go awwww.
One of the coolest restaurants to visit if you have kids is the Rainforest Cafe. In fact I don’t have kids and I still like it! Every half hour or so a thunderstorm breaks out and the animals standing still in the “wilderness” around the tables come to life, rain falls, thunder cracks and monkeys call. But once you get over that shock (tip: screaming the f-bomb when the gorilla beside you beats his chest is not appropriate in a family environment) be warned, the portion sizes are so huge that you will seriously only need one meal between two!
Fave drink: the CoronaRita – yes a margarita with a mini Corona bottle tipped upside down and served in it. It’s really good 🙂 There’s usually a queue so put your name down and they’ll page you when the table’s ready.
There’s a Lego store here with the iconic blocks about half the price you’d pay in New Zealand and Australia. I know this because there are several parents on this media trip to Disney’s Cars Land with me and they can’t get enough of it. Even Lord of the Rings is here and apparently that’s not available at home.
But two of the best shops at Downtown Disney that I think are waaay cool are RideMakerz and Build a Bear. These are 2 interactive stores for kids – which is the magic, I was told on our tour around here yesterday, when kids get to create something.
At RideMakerz kids get to build their own race car. You start with the shell of the car you’ve selected (it could be Lightening McQueen or Mater or any one of a number of cars, trucks, fire engines) then you select your wheels, decide if you’re going to add a remote control or not (and extra $25), pimp it up with hood ornaments and huge engines and exhaust, get a micro chip of sounds (about $4 extra), grab a sheet of stickers and then take it to the assembly station where the guy will screw the body together and you click the wheels on.
It’s veery easy to drop a hundy here if you don’t keep your little lad on a tight reign, but his face will be worth it!
Over at Build a Bear, the same principle applies. Select your deflated, unstuffed bear, sheep, frog, Miss Piggy, what-not, then take it to the lady at the stuffing machine. She will shove the metal pipe into an unstitched section on its back, while you watch. Then your little one is told to get a heart out of the box beside them and they do a little heart ceremony of kisses, rubbing the tummy so it’ll never be hungry and what ever else the creative seamstress can think of.
You can also choose a recorded sound of words or animal noises or the cutest one of all is, get them to record their own. One of my colleagues’ daughter did this 14 years ago and the bear still says, I love you mummy in her 5-year old voice, when she presses it. There’s also racks of bear costumes then drop a few more bucks on too.
There are 26 places in Downtown Disney to eat, drink, grab a snack ranging from fine dining, to House of Blues, to ESPN Zone sports bar, lots of Disneyesque shops and a few other randoms – like Little Miss Matched who sell socks in sets of oddly matched threes. That will do your head in if you are a person of order, but for those who love chaos on their feet, it’s cute.
Oh and if you don’t have tickets into Disneyland the night you arrive, come down here before 9.30 and book a “fireworks” view table upstairs on the balcony at Catal or stand anywhere around House of Blues to get the effect of the 20-minute firework show which happens each night.