Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Look Back at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village

By Keith Mahne

Before Disney Springs, Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island, there was once a quaint little village nestled at the southern end of Walt Disney World called the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village. Back in 1975, shopping took on a whole new meaning at Walt Disney World when the area opened with shops such as the Toys Fantastique, The Flower Garden and The Pottery Chalet. Wouldn't you love to take a trip back in time and see what the Disney Springs area was like originally? Well, let's do just that in today's new article as we take a look back at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village...

There's so much I love about the old Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village I don't know where to start. Before we walk around, let's talk a little about it's history...

What most guests know as Downtown Disney or Disney Springs today originally opened as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village in March of 1975. The concept of the shopping area was to cater to the planned residential areas of Lake Buena Vista. The eventual construction of hotels in the area quickly changed it's purpose to just a shopping venue for guests. In 1977 it became the Walt Disney World Village...

From its inception, Lake Buena Vista, chartered in 1967, was to be a kind of “new town”. The town was to accommodate “transient residents” and welcome millions of visitors to its wide array of recreational facilities. The best part of the original plan was that people would be getting around via PeopleMovers and Monorails! Could you image?!? Just think if those plans had been put in place and today, spending a nice evening in Downtown Disney, would include a pleasant Monorail ride and jumping aboard a PeopleMover to do a little shopping and people watching...

Unfortunately, Lake Buena Vista's full realization ended up being delayed in early 1976 as Disney made a full commitment to move forward on what was then known as the EPCOT Theme Center and World Showcase projects. When EPCOT Center was complete in 1982, Disney was in a uncertain financial situation. Although EPCOT Center was a success with fans, the media wasn't so sure. Later that year, ideas began to swirl about a new direction for the Village area. Get this! Disney was thinking about bringing a New Orleans Square area to the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village, now called the Walt Disney World Village...

In May of 1982, Dick Nunis, then the head of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in an interview...
“But what [Walt Disney] really wanted to do [in Florida] was develop an area where all types of corporations, governments, and academia could come together to really try and solve some of the problems that exist in the world today. We started with the recreation area, and then began the community, which is Walt Disney World Village, and now we’re building the center … Epcot Center, and we’re going to connect it all with the monorail system. […] In addition, we have some dreams for the Walt Disney World Village. From the Empress Lilly, we’re going into a New Orleans street, and you’ll walk right into a beautiful New Orleans hotel.”

Dick Nunis

Although they are poor quality, have a look at these concept renderings of what Dick Nunis' New Orleans street may have looked like had it been built in the Village...

This area was going to be called "Royale Circle".

Entrance area with the Empress Lilly and her original circular drop-off area still visible in the back.

Shops were to line the bottom floor of all the buildings and courtyards.

Near the back of the complex, guests could explore the Rue Royale and Crafts Alley area.

This is what the area above the shops would have looked like. Possibly a hotel or restaurant.

A Preservation Hall Jazz Lounge mimicking the one located in the real French Quarter.

A view along the waterfront featuring a "Cafe Orleans" and views similar to Disneyland.

This was going to be the "Garden Restaurant"

The restaurant overlooking the Village Lagoon would have been quite the showplace.

Here we see the the facade of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean! Just when you thought it couldn't get any better.

Being from New Orleans and knowing that Disneyland's New Orleans Square remains the most beautiful area of the Park, I have no doubt this concept would have been a tremendous hit with guests and something to look forward to on Disney World trips.

Now that we've seen what the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village could have looked like, let's take a look back at how it actually did...

Isn't it nice to reminisce? I can't get enough of the ol' Village. As we know, 1986 issued in a new era for this quaint little get-a-way. This is the year the area became Pleasure Island and the shopping area was renamed Disney Village Marketplace. Then, in 1995, it was announced each area would be combined into one new location called Downtown Disney. Next, in 1997 the shopping village officially became a mix of it's former names, Downtown Disney Marketplace up until today where it's morphed into Disney Springs.

Although I do enjoy Disney Springs and have always looked forward to spending time in this updated area of WDW, I'll always keep in mind where it came from and what could have been. But I must say, knowing now that we could have hopped on a Monorail, took the PeopleMover over to the World of Disney store, and had a delicious meal in New Orleans Square East sort of dilutes anything the new Disney Springs area has unveiled. But gosh am I a sucker for vintage Walt Disney World and the nostalgia of the old Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village.

Source: Passport to Dreams Old & New and Widen Your World


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.


  1. It was a wonderful, peaceful place. Great restaurants, a few terrific shops (one where you could get amazingly vintage Disney posters and cels). No clutter. Fond memories.

  2. Awesomeness!I remember this calm and classy vibe well. Thanks for the very interesting post!

  3. Keith, I remember the Haberdashery (before I even knew what a haberdashery was), the book and stationery store: Readin' & Writin' (I apologize if I spelled that wrong) and even a toy store (which had a loft that had a small section of magic tricks (very important for a budding young magician like myself back in the early 1970's). Thanks for a great article and for bringing back some great memories. I lost both my Mom and Dad recently. This was a very pleasant way to tap back into the many wonderful memories of Lake Buena Vista from our visits as a family to Disney World from 1970 (just the preview center back then) until my senior year of high school (1979). Thanks again and God bless.

  4. What a wonderful piece, I have very strong memories of it being this way from my childhood :)

  5. Wow Keith, you really brought some serious memories rolling in with this one! Thanks so much for the candid respect you always have for the origins of the WED projects. I always enjoy when you dive into the history with pictures and plans and had always hoped you would showcase Lake Buena Vista Village. This area (for some reason) holds so many profound memories for me since it was such a relaxing, open atmosphere that captured Disney's "homey" side and actually felt like a village. I've searched around YouTube trying to find old footage of a walk-thru, but never seem to come up with anything. Thanks so much for the pictures and for sharing the info in New Orleans Square. Having grown up in New Orleans, I too agree that this would been a major destination to hang out in (without the smell of the original French Quarter). The renderings were amazing and I believe they could have still blended this idea in with Disney Springs. I'm psyched at the inspiration behind Disney Springs as it feels like a new birth of the Village, but will always reminisce about taking the Disney shuttle to Lake Buena Vista Village and shopping there after a day at the park and admiring all the beautiful glassware at Arribas Bros., waiting in the crowd of people to eat on the Empress Lilly and seeing the stacks of Disney plush dolls filling up the storefronts. Big thanks to you for your love of Disney and the time and research you do for these articles!!!

    1. Thanks for commenting. I also grew up in New Orleans and think this would have been a great addition to the area.

  6. I used to work there. Really miss the wonderful old feeling of being home.

  7. What a wonderful article for morning reading with my cup of coffee. I was there in 1974 and attended the character breakfast on the Empress Lilly. I remember how pleasant is was walking around the village after breakfast. It was quiet and peaceful. While I recall walking through the shops, the one I recall the most was the jewelry store, where you could have custom pieces made. I had a neckless made with a butterfly and my initials worked into the stone with gold thread. I was born and raised in NOLA and it is nice to see that wonderful city represented.

  8. Thanks Keith, I was assistant lead in Posh Pets in ‘77, we sold dogs and hand raised parrots from Discovery Island, they closed that and I went to Pipe Dreams and over to shipping and receiving. Saw the Empress Lily built and so much more. Original toy store was a small part of the now Christmas Shoppe. So many great memories and great castmembers then. Doc