The Vacation Kingdom of the World: A Few of Our Favorite Things

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
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Souvenir shopping is one way to capture a bit of the fun of the Walt Disney World Resort and bring a little of that Disney magic to your own castle. The Vacation Kingdom of the World is, of course, populated by more than a few shops stocking everything from magnets to dinnerware, sweatshirts to toy sets.

One recent trend of Disney merchandising is the homogenization of merchandise; the sad result is that more and more Disney merchandise locations offer the same wares. Luckily, there are still a few locations that retain a sense of individuality—maybe not in their merchandise offerings, but in the look and feel of the stores. What follows are a few of out favorite little places to shop at Walt Disney World.

Sir Mickey's in Fantasyland at The Magic Kingdom

Located in Fantasyland between Cinderella Castle and the new Princess Fairytale Hall, this charming shop offers the usual Magic Kingdom fare. However, the atmosphere is anything but usual. Beautifully themed to blend in with the nearby castle, the exterior of the shop features turrets, thickly paned windows, and plaster and wood facades that give this deceptively large shop a cozy, storybook feeling.

The theme of this shop is based on the 1938 Disney short "The Brave Little Tailor" starring Mickey Mouse in one of his most popular roles. The window displays reflect this setting, featuring Donald, Daisy, and Donald's three nephews in appropriate costumes. Winding its way around, over, and through the exterior is a most remarkable beanstalk. It weaves in and out of windows, over doorways, and across the roof.

Inside the shop, the fairytale theme continues with intricately carved moldings, cross beams, and display shelves. The wood carvings and pastel tones of the color accents are reminiscent of the Seven Dwarfs' cottage in Snow White as well as Gepetto's workshop in Pinocchio. The ceiling is low, adding to the coziness of the surroundings.

If you look carefully, you might spot Mickey himself, dressed in his Brave Little Tailor garb, perched on part of the beanstalk that finds its way inside the shop. There's also a giant—Willie, to be exact—lifting part of the ceiling with his huge hands. He seems to be peering into the shop looking for Mickey Mouse. This gag—a giant lifting the roof to peer inside—is taken directly from the "Mickey and the Beanstalk" portion of the Disney film Fun and Fancy Free (1947) not "The Brave Little Tailor." A similar gag is featured in "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983). It's interesting how the Imagineers blended two fairytales—Jack and the Beanstalk and the Brave Little Tailor—successfully here.

The next time you are in Fantasyland, take a moment to visit this quaint shop and enjoy its theming.

The Carthay Circle Theater on Sunset Blvd. at Disney's Hollywood Studios

The shops that line this very atmospheric boulevard are among the prettiest found on Walt Disney World property. The Sunset Blvd. Shops and Mouse About Town capture the look, feel, and style of 1940s Hollywood in marvelous detail. The colors, brushed chrome, and Art Deco patterns help do what Disney does best: transport guests to another time and place.

At the end of Sunset Blvd, not far from the Tower of Terror or the Beauty and the Beast show, sits the Carthay Circle Theater. Disney buffs will no doubt remember that Walt Disney's first feature-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered at the real Carthay Circle in 1938. The Walt Disney World version is a lovely California-mission style building, and the interior is just as stunning as the exterior. Lined with Disney antiques high above the merchandise shelves, this outlet offers the usual Walt Disney World kitchen accessories as well as other items for the home. It's the lighting, the tile work, and the grandeur of the design, however, that are the real stars here.

This is not the only place to find references to the Carthay Circle Theater; it is featured in the huge mural that adorns the Art Deco-designed Hollywood and Vine restaurant near Echo Lake on the other side of Disney's Hollywood Studios. The Carthay Circle is also the centerpiece of the new entrance to Disney's California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

The Puffin's Roost at Norway, World Showcase, Epcot

An invitingly calm place after the excitement of the nearby Maelstrom attraction, this little shop offers a variety of Norwegian wares (and sadly now a plethora of Frozen-themed toys and clothes as well). While the shop no longer features the large assortment of troll books, Norwegian pewter, or Norwegian Christmas ornaments it once did, the Puffin's Roost is always worth a visit.

The shop is really a cleverly designed series of smaller shops linked together, but each are retains its unique decorating style. The first area looks and feels like an upscale clothing store with cool wood tones and Norwegian sweaters. The troll room, in contrast, is rustic and woody. The bigger-than-life-size wooden troll is a popular spot for a photo opportunity, and more than a few guests don the nearby Viking hats for the photo opt. The final sections of this establishment, which carry perfume and the Frozen merchandise, are delicate and airy. The Puffin's Roost is located near the Kringla Bakeri og Kafe, a delightful spot for coffee, pastries, and a surprisingly good variety of hot and cold sandwiches. There's a delightfully intimate outdoor dining area to enjoy the food and the views of World Showcase visitors strolling the promenade.

Mombasa Marketplace and Ziwani Traders at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The Harambe Village area of Disney's Animal Kingdom is by far its most atmospheric and is home to the best attraction at the park: the Kilimanjaro Safaris. It is also home to one of the best shops in this particular theme park. The Mombasa Marketplace and Ziwani Traders offer a plethora of authentic, hand-painted animal figurines, wooden boxes of all shapes and sizes, and decorative plates from Africa.

The selection here is unmatched in all of Walt Disney World for these types of unique items; the shop located in the Jambo House Animal Kingdom Lodge is the only one that comes close to the variety offered here. There are also numerous options for children at these two shops. There are, of course, the usual Animal Kingdom toys, but there are also small, relatively affordable toy versions of the elephants, rhinos, alligators, snakes, giraffes, zebras, tigers, and lions seen on the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction. The building itself feels as if it has been here for years and years; the plaster work, wooden accents, and interesting colors (all appropriately faded with "age") allow guests to suspend their disbelief and image that they are, in fact, visiting the real Africa.

"Merchantainment"

The Disney team created the word "merchantainment" to reflect the philosophy that shops at Disney parks are part of the "show" that is Walt Disney World. The shops reviewed here adhere to that particular way of thinking and always enhance our vacations. What are your favorite places at Walt Disney World to pick up a few of your favorite things?

Comments

  1. By DisneyGator

    I with you that the stores are quite lacking now that everyone carries nearly the same thing everywhere you go. For instance, the shops on Hollywood Blvd used to have some really unique Disney-MGM clothes items - shirts, sweaters, even boxers. You don't find that flashy "Hollywood" stuff there anymore. In fact, you don't find much "Disney Hollywood Studio" stuff at all. Make me wonder if another name change is on it's way. The only place that's really unique is the one you mention in the AK. We love that place because there's so much different stuff.

    The one thing I wish WDW would do is bring back more park-specific items. I want to buy more Epcot stuff and AK items and DHS clothing - but it's just not there like it used to be.

  2. By MyTwoCents

    Great article! Well-researched and fun to read. Thanks!
    Ever since the switchover to most items available in most shops we've just concentrated on attractions and shows and save our shopping for a last day, World of Disney visit and the few shops (as you mentioned) that are still unique venues.

  3. By CSaks

    We rarely go in any stores in the parks or Resorts now. Whomever the brainless Executive was that decided to just sell the same stuff, in all stores, I thank you. Our souvenir spending has dropped greatly. We have older resort and park specific merchandise from our early 2000 trips, now instead of getting stuff from 5 places we are down to one. Quality has dropped too, a sweatshirt I bought in Pleasure Island back in 2001 is still in great shape. T-shirts from the last trip in 2010 are dying already.

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