Pins, Vinylmation, and Tsum Tsum, oh my!

by Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
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Hello Disney shoppers! To date in this space, we've looked at some of Walt Disney World's great merchandising areas and some awesome items, some of which were kind of on the expensive side (yes, I'm talking about my $37,000 crystal Cinderella's Castle again). Today, we're going to run to the other end of the spectrum and take a look at some terrific things you can purchase more affordably or collect en masse.

Pins, Pins and More Pins

Let's start in the obvious place: Pins, pins, and more pins. The Disney pin craze has been with us since the beginning of the parks, but really started in earnest during the Millennium Celebration back in 1999, when Disney introduced formal pin trading to the parks. Rumor has it that Michael Eisner, CEO of The Walt Disney Company at the time, saw all the pin trading going on at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and wanted to duplicate that experience at the Disney parks. He did that in a big way.

There are tens of thousands of different pins. I'm not going to even begin to try to lay them all out for you. Instead, let me give you a few tips to make the experience easier and more enjoyable.

If there's a part of the Disney universe that you are interested in, there's a pin or two (or 423) for you. They come in all shapes, sizes, and price points, ranging from a relatively inexpensive starter set with a lanyard (a ribbon that goes around your neck that you can put your pins on) that you can get for $9.95, to large pin sets, sold framed and arranged in the image of an icon, such as Cinderella's Castle. These can go for several hundred dollars.

The pins come in may different forms, and come both individually and in sets. Most pins are what are called "open edition." That means Disney can make as many of them as they want. These will be easier to find around the parks and will likely be there next time you visit. Some are "limited edition," produced in a certain quantity—typically 2,500 or 5,000. The edition size will be stamped on the back of the pin so you'll know the number of pins that were made. You'll want to grab these because they won't last long.

There are also pins that are only available to certain individuals, such as annual passholders, members of the Disney Vacation Club (Disney's "timeshare" program), cast members, or attendees of a certain event. To buy these, you'll have to provide proof that you fall into these categories.

Again, pin prices can range greatly depending on how elaborate or how limited they are. Most Disney pin racks will have color-coded price guides. The guide will be at the top of the rack and tell you which color tags go for how much (for example, blue is $9.99).


Pin pricing guides are on many pin racks, such as this one at Hollywood Studios. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

The most exciting part of the pin experience is trading. While pins are meant to be bought, they are also intended to be traded. This can be with cast members, off large pin boards, or with fellow guests. This is not only allowed, but encouraged by Disney.

Many cast member will have lanyards full of pins hanging around their necks. Upon request, they will hold out their lanyard to you and let you look at what they have. If they have a pin you want to trade for, you simply offer them one of your pins and they will give you the pin you choose. There is no restriction the size or value of the pins traded; they need not be an even swap, though you are unlikely to find that very rare 2004 pin selling on eBay for $5,000. A lot of the shops and resorts also have large pin boards that you can also trade from. A friendly cast member will help you with these much the same way as with cast member lanyards.


Port Orleans French Quarter has a big pin trading board. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

Your kids will love pin trading. I have five nieces and nephews, and they have all been obsessed with pin trading at one point or another (except for the 18-month-old, who only wants to eat his big sister's pins). Buy a cheap lanyard set or even load up with cheap pins from eBay before you leave home (though beware, those lacking rubber Mickey head-shaped pin backing may not be accepted for trading). Your kids will absolutely love taking these and going up to cast members to trade for pins of their favorite characters. They may not even care what they get. They will just love trading.

As far as trading with fellow guests, there are some who are trying to collect every pin in existence, and who will wait at pin trading stations with books of thousands of pins looking to make trades. In all likelihood, they will know more about a pin's value than you will.

If your kids are just having a blast trading and you don't really care about relative pin values, then go for it. If you're a collector and are serious about what you want, just make sure you do your homework before you get there so you'll know you're getting a good deal.

As for where to buy Disney pins, a better question to ask may be where can you not buy them. There are pins in virtually every shop on property and pin carts in every park, Disney Springs, and most of the resort hotels. The biggest and best places to buy and trade, however, are:

  • Magic Kingdom Frontierland Mercantile – the Emporium also has tons of pins, but this is almost a dedicated pin shop, with great collectible pins.
  • Epcot Pin Central – right behind Spaceship Earth, it has many many pins and tables for trading with fellow guests.
  • Sunset Ranch Pins and Souvenirs– located on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood Studios, this is the closest thing to pin central in that park since the big Sorcerer's hat went away.
  • Disney's Pin Traders in the Marketplace section of Disney Springs –probably the biggest pin shop at Walt Disney World, it will have everything you might want.

The official Disney pin trading website is here.

My overall advice about pins is to get what you love. I generally buy one pin each visit as a reminder of something I did on that trip. For example, I love my pin commemorating the last showing of Osborne Lights last year. You may decide to collect a certain character or certain movie, or want to be a pin monster and own every pin ever made. These are just fun and relatively inexpensive collectibles for you and your kids to help enhance the Disney experience.

Vinylmation

Vinylmation joined the Disney merchandise universe in 2008. The name is derived from the words "vinyl" and "animation," which pretty much describes what they are: small vinyl figures, generally in the shape of Mickey Mouse, with images of your favorite Disney properties. They come in several sizes, though the most common is the three-inch-tall variety.

From its humble beginnings eight years ago, Vinylmation has exploded to include entries from virtually every corner of the Disney pantheon. Disney classic characters lead the way, but you can get Vinylmation figures for Disney/Pixar films, Disney theme parks, Disney food (yes, there is a Mickey waffle Vinylmation figure), general themes such as the circus and medieval knights, and to commemorate Disney events, such as the D23 Expo and runDisney. As with pins, there are also exclusive Vinylmation figures for annual passholders and DVC members. They come as individual figures and in different series (theme parks, a certain film, and so on).


Statue of Liberty Minnie is one of the many special Vinylmation figures available for purchase. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

The purchasing method for the figures generally falls into one of two categories. The first is a straight-up purchase. Usually in clear packaging, you can see exactly what you're buying. The second is in a "blind pack," similar to how you buy baseball cards. The box is sealed and the figure is in a opaque wrapper. With these, you know what series you are buying, but not the specific figure. The idea is you keep buying (or trading) until you have every figure in a series, and you are likely to get duplicates along the way. There is also one figure in each series called a "chaser". There are not as many of these made, and they are hard to come by. The quest to get an entire series can be fun, but also challenging.

They have also branched out from the standard Mickey Mouse shape. The series now includes keychains, charms, and smaller and larger figures. Two recent fun series include Beauty and the Beast, in which each figure is a character from the classic film, and a second featuring Star Wars legion helmets; these come in different colors and are actually in the shape of Stormtrooper helmets.

There are also blank "create your own" figures so you can paint, draw or apply stencils and make one that is truly one of a kind.

Prices vary from $8.95 to up to hundreds of dollars for some sets. You can visit Disney's official Vinylmation website.

Tsum Tsum

The next big (or small) group of collectibles are known as Tsum Tsum. The name comes from the Japanese work "tsumu", which means "to stack." They are named very appropriately, as they are plush toys shaped like a cylindrical pillow designed to stack on top of each other. They come in a variety of sizes that range from "mini" to "mega" size and in an increasingly wide array of Disney characters.


Tsum Tsum have branched out into the Star Wars universe. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

Much like Vinylmation figures or pins, you can approach these with aeither  "gotta get them all" mentality or just grab what you like. If you like the Fab 5, there are already several series that have Mickey and friends. There are also Tsum Tsum with depictions of Star Wars and Marvel characters, as well as characters from your favorite Disney films. These are sold individually (small ones can be as low as $5) and also come in special sets. As your collection grows, it's fun to watch as your Tsum Tsum pyramid grows.


There's a set of "Nightmare Before Christmas" Tsum Tsum that sells for $49.95. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.

These are available at the parks, pretty much in any general store, online, and at the Disney Store (though they have less variety). You can even find Disney Tsum Tsum at other retail outlets, like Target.

Shopping Tip of the Month

These are just some examples of these great collectibles. There are many more. A few favorites are keychains, holiday ornaments, snow globes, T-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

The fun part of these smaller items is it's very easy to build a collection, both from a space and dollar standpoint. One approach is to grab one each time you take a Disney vacation. Maybe grab a refrigerator magnet from each Disney resort at which you stay. Each time you do a runDisney event, buy a vinylmation figure to remember it by. Take advantage of being an annual passholder and get a special pin with the year that's not available to everyone.

One thing I've done in recent years is get a holiday ornament from anywhere I travel. That includes my Disney trips. I hang them every year and to see a personal travelogue. It's a great way to bring back memories of where I've been.

The key is to have fun. Whether you just want to grab a quick keepsake of a great vacation or start a collection, these items are a great way bring home memories of your Disney experience.