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What's new at Disney Springs? Cabaret, virtual reality and a hidden speakeasy

When four new Disney Springs restaurants opened in January at their storybook locales — including a space built to look like an abandoned power plant, another that was supposed to be an abandoned air terminal, and a tunnel once used by rum runners — the last pieces of the plans for Disney Springs, unveiled in 2013, fell into place.

The four restaurants are in a complex built in the old Pleasure Island nightclub area where the Adventurers Club and BET Soundstage once stood. The complex is anchored by the Edison, a restaurant with live entertainment in a setting as creative and detailed as a new ride in one of Disney’s parks.

The building was the final piece of the original plans for the massive makeover that transformed Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. Even before the five-year makeover was finished, though, new changes had begun, with an emphasis on new entertainment.

A Star Wars-themed virtual reality experience opened in January, Cirque du Soleil performances are in hiatus while a new show is written and the theater is rebuilt, and DisneyQuest has been closed to make way for an NBA-themed restaurant and entertainment establishment. Even the Edison, with its late-night cabaret, brings back some of the nightlife that was lost when Disney closed Pleasure Island’s clubs a decade ago.

In addition, new restaurants are coming, several with celebrity chefs or James Beard Award winners, that will continue the trend of upscaling Disney Springs dining.

Here’s a rundown:

▪ The VOID, which opened in January, has a full-body Star Wars virtual reality adventure called Secrets of the Empire. Full body means the experience isn’t just goggles. Players wearing virtual reality headsets and high-tech vests that track their movements and transmit sensations move around in spaces that appear to be a spaceship and the planet Mustafar. They infiltrate an Imperial base, fight stormtroopers and other creatures as they try to steal intelligence. Located next to Once Upon a Toy.

▪ DisneyQuest, which was filled with video games, simulators and other interactive entertainment, closed last summer, 19 years after it opened. The building on Disney Springs’ West Side was torn down and is being replaced with the NBA Experience. The new business will consist of a restaurant, virtual reality theaters, games and a retail shop — all NBA-themed. Opening is scheduled in summer 2019.

▪ The long-running Cirque du Soleil show “La Nouba” closed in December after almost 9,000 performances over 19 years. The theater is being rebuilt to house a new show, not yet written, inspired by Disney’s animated storytelling. An opening date has not been announced.

Meanwhile, new restaurants have recently opened or are coming soon.

The Edison opened more than a year behind schedule due to construction delays. It is located in an abandoned power plant, according to the Disney story line.

Those roots are echoed in its industrial-goth design, the theming of its three bars (Breaker Bar, Boiler Bar, Upstairs Bar) and the giant clockworks that stand at the entrance. A family venue serving classic American dishes during the day and early evening, it offers dancing and live entertainment at night and admits only adults after 10 p.m.

Next to the Edison is a trio of Italian eateries, all under the same management. The three are anchored by Mario and Enzo’s Ristorante, a travel-themed trattoria set — again, according to the requisite Disney story line — in the abandoned airline terminal for the town of Disney Springs, with Art Deco decor, views of Lake Buena Vista, and a host’s station at a former airline check-in counter. Downstairs is Enzo’s Hideaway Tunnel Bar, a Disney-style speakeasy located in a tunnel that the story says was once used by rum runners. A fast-casual eatery, Pizza Ponte, serving Sicilian-style pizza, Italian sandwiches and pastries, is themed as an old-fashioned Italian bakery at the airport.

Other restaurants scheduled to open this year:

▪ Wine Bar George at The Landing, an “Old World,” 210-seat wine bar, selling small plates and wine by the glass or the bottle, with about 100 wines to choose from. The venture is by George Miliotes, a master sommelier who was part of the opening team at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Set to open this spring, it will be in a new building next to Raglan Road.

▪ Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant (plus a grab-n-go outlet) by Chef José Andrés, a James Beard honoree, on the West Side where Wolfgang Puck Grand Café closed last summer. It is scheduled to open this fall. Andrés already has five Jaleo restaurants in the U.S. and Mexico.

▪ Terralina Italian restaurant, opening this spring, will replace Portobello, an Italian trattoria that closed last year. Tony Mantuano, chef at Portobello and also a James Beard Award winner, will continue as chef in the new restaurant.

▪ Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill, which will open this fall in the Town Center wing of Disney Springs across from Planet Hollywood Observatory, “will capture the essence of laid-back California dining” with Mediterranean influences and innovative takes on comfort food classics, according to Disney.


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