Downtown Disney could be on a roll again. Splitsville Luxury Lanes brings a spark of activity that's both retro and modern to the West End of the shopping and entertainment complex. The bowling alley/eatery stays lively through the day and into the evening and late night.
Splitsville opened last month in the space that formerly held the Virgin Mega Store, which closed in 2009. The big, two-story building has been mostly empty since then, with limited tenants including an exhibit devoted to Princess Diana and the Ridemakerz build-a-car establishment, which later moved to a smaller spot over in the Marketplace section of Downtown Disney.
Splitsville operates 30 bowling lanes surrounded by dining tables, bars, billiards tables, a gift shop and a sushi bar. Knock the usual bowling-alley arrangement out of your mind. The lanes are not all side-by-side, firing-range style. Instead there are clusters of four and six lanes on both floors.
There's a lot going on.
Your party and bowling shoes are escorted from the check-in counter to the assigned lane by a Splitsville worker. When you arrive, everyone's names are on the overhead screen, where scoring is done automatically. Each lane has a long, padded bench and tables. The decor is built on a red-and-black scheme, and it looks like a 1950s ad.
Bowling balls are nearby, and a server takes drink and food orders. But beware, you're on the clock. Splitsville, unlike old-school bowling alleys, sells blocks of time on the lanes. You don't pay per game. Each party gets an hour and a half to roll as much as they can. (Time can be added for larger groups.)
When you're down to the last 15 minutes, the scoring screen changes to a bright yellow as a warning signal. A neighboring lane with two children went bonkers during the final countdown, getting in as many tosses as possible. It was good family fun for a Monday afternoon.
The vibe was a bit different during my late-night visit last weekend. Upstairs, a DJ spins, and the five bars were packed, standing-room only. After 11 p.m., there weren't many kids around, but the lanes remained active.
The downstairs bar outside was jammed with NFL fans, spilling into the streets of Downtown Disney. I had a flashback. Isn't this situation what fearful, double-stroller-pushing parents hated about the Pleasure Island nightclubs before they were shuttered four years ago? What do the complainers think now? I think I like it.
Other Splitsville notes:
•There are tables for customers who want to eat but not bowl.
•Televisions are mounted between the scoring screens. This made sense during a football game, less so during the day when ESPN analysts drone on.
•If there is a line — wait times up to three hours have been reported — your party is assigned a beeper than allows you to wander the West End.
•Although some bowling balls have Mickey and Minnie etched into them, the decor isn't Mouse-infested. Postcard-inspired murals depict Cinderella Castle but also the Lake Eola fountain in downtown Orlando. Costumed characters do not parade through.
•We requested an upstairs lane. The first four lanes downstairs were too on display for my taste. A window runs the length of those lanes. It's a great visual — and living advertisement — from the outside, but I don't need passers-by gawking at my poor form. In addition, an interior walkway along aisle 4 leads to the restrooms, which is distracting, and it's awkward for, shall we say, the users.
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When: 10 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Where: Downtown Disney's West Side, off Interstate 4, southwest of Orlando
Cost: $15 per person for 90 minutes of bowling before 5 p.m. daily and after 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; $20 per person for 90 minutes of bowling from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Sunday (includes shoe rental)