Disney Parks Must-Havesby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
Any self-respecting guest who stays at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel knows our friend Stacy, who appears on that endless loop on the Disney resort hotel TV screens talking about Disney theme park must-do's—those activities that all visitor must do (I think for a few years, she even danced the must-do). As we begin the busy summer tourist season, I thought it would be fun to go through a must-do list of Disney theme park shopping, or more accurately, must-haves.
Let's take a look at some of those must-have items in a variety of different categories and for a variety of different people, from the person who may be there under duress (which I just don't get) to the ultimate disnerd (Disney nerd), like yours truly. So like Stacy does the must-do, we're going to talk about those Disney Parks must haves and the best place to find them.
Must-have item for under $5.00 – the pressed penny
This one was tough. Mickey likes to entertain and thrill us, but he also likes money, so finding something under $5.00 wasn't easy, but there is a great must-have item in this category: the pressed penny. Walt Disney World has pressed penny machines all over the resort. For a mere 51 cents (a penny, to be pressed, and two quarters), you can crank one of these machines and have your penny squeezed, twisted, and pressed to feature a Disney design relevant to the location of the machine.
Whether in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of designs to choose from, all featuring different Disney characters and attractions. These are great collectibles for kids and adults due to their variety and the fact they're inexpensive (though if you want them all, I'm sure it adds up quickly—stock up on your quarters). Whether you want them all, just a keepsake of your current trip or to collect certain characters or a park, these are terrific.
Best place to find: All over the resort. Check out Walt Disney World's official guide to pressed penny locations link.
Must-have item for over $30,000 – the crystal castle
I had to throw this one in, just in case. You might know about my obsession with the Arribas Brothers crystal Cinderella's Castle. It's huge and a beauty to behold (and would look great in my living room). Priced at $37,500, it's a little out of the price range for most, but worth seeing just for the spectacle. The crystals sparkle, and it's actually a remarkable representation of the iconic castle.
Best place to find: Arribas Brothers store at the Disney Springs Marketplace.
Must-have item that screams Disney World – the ball cap
My original intent was to make fun of this one, but now, I think I must have one. If you want that one item you can wear that announces to the world your favorite vacation destination, this it it. This great baseball cap has a large red signature D on the front and features WDW park icons all over the cap. These icons include not only the biggies like Cinderella's Castle and the monorail, but also other forms of Disney transportation and representations of Epcot World Showcase pavilions. It's a really neat hat that'll put a smile on your face. It sells for $24.95.
Best place to find: World of Disney at the Disney Springs Marketplace.
Must-have that doesn't scream Disney World – a plant
If you are a Disney Parks fan, but don't want Mouse ears all over whatever you bring home, there's a unique item available at Epcot that doesn't scream "I went to Disney World". Mitsukoshi department store in the Japan pavilion sells actual bonsai trees. These miniature trees are not only beautiful, but real, and come with easy-care instructions. They are inexpensive (generally around $29.95) and come boxed to either carry or ship home.
Best place to find: Mitsukoshi Department Store, Japan Pavilion, Epcot.
Must-have collectibles for adults – magnets
If you're looking for something cool to collect that won't break the bank, I suggest refrigerator magnets. These are available all over the resort, and while they don't have the variety of their pin brethren, there have been some fun designs added to the line-up in recent years. There are magnets for almost every character, every attraction and every resort, so feel free to go nuts in any category for your collection. They're also a fun thing to pick up in "I'll buy a new one every trip" fashion. They range in price from as little as $3.95 up to about $19.95.
My favorites, and therefore must-haves, are the larger ones that are basically plastic versions of Disney food icons. I have a Mickey Mouse crispy rice treat, my favorite Disney snack, on my fridge at home.
Best place to find: Emporium, Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA.
Must-have collectibles for kids – Tsum Tsum
A new must-have for kids has come over from Japan and invaded. It is the now-ubiquitous Tsum Tsum. Pins will always be a kids staple, but these plush creatures come in all shapes and even a few different sizes, and are great for kids' collecting. These plush toys range in size from the smallest three inch to giant ones an average sized child can lay across. Their unique characteristic is they are flattish on the top and bottom, so they're stackable (my niece has pyramids of them in her room).
They started out with the Fab 5 (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto) and have since branched out across the Disney universe. They are constantly coming out with new sets. There a groupings of characters now from virtually every Disney animated film and, of course, sets from Star Wars. I have indeed spotted Darth Vader and Stormtrooper Tsum Tsum.
The parks, the Disney store, and even Target, are constantly rotating their stock as new sets come in and old ones are retired, so as with the Beanie Babies of old, if you see one you want, grab it, because it might not be there next time.
Prices range from $4.95 for the smallest Tsum to approximately $99.95 for the largest. Your kids will love them.
Best place to find: Emporium, Magic Kingdom on Main Street and Mousegear at Epcot (your local Disney Store also has some, if you want to supplement the collection while at home).
Must-have clothing – pajamas
Pajamas anyone? For both adults and children, Disney has some great PJs. For men, these can come in the form of pajama sets (tops and bottoms) that have huge images of your favorite Disney characters, or—what I like to wear myself—lounge pants that generally have more subtle patterns (I have a great navy blue pair that has the logos of attractions and lands from the Magic Kingdom). For women, it's pretty much the same idea, though a little more colorful.
Whether you want Mickey and Minnie, something more subtle representing the parks or just a nice set of sleep wear, you'll find something you love. While there are tons for the kids, I'm happy to say the variety for adults has definitely expanded.
Speaking of the little ones, there are hundreds of designs for children. In fact, there are more like Halloween costumes. You child can go to sleep dressed up as Donald Duck, Ariel, or Chewbacca.
The must-have in this category is for the whole family. They have matching sets of PJs for mom, dad, and kids. While you may not necessarily want to dress up for the neighbors this way, it's a great way to remember your trip—and if you buy them early on in your visit, you can all have Disney dreams one night at your resort hotel.
Best place to find: There a wide selection on the Disney Store website, but it's always more fun to buy them at the parks, and the best place is the Emporium, Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA.
Must-have item for the Disney fanatic – art
Artwork, artwork, artwork. Sadly, original production artwork is hard to come by, and while original paintings by Disney artists do exist, they generally run in the $2,000-and-up range (again these would look great in my living room). That said, if you are a disnerd, or have one in your life that you love, some great artwork can be yours for a reasonable price through Art on Demand.
The system is very simple. You go up to an Art on Demand kiosk and select what you want. You can search by film, character, theme park attraction or any number of other criteria. The kiosk makes it easy to browse through various images until you find the perfect one. You then pick the size you'd like and the medium (such as paper or canvas), and whether you'd like it framed or not. You hit a button, pay, then the cast member will print and frame, mount, and wrap your artwork.
There are thousands of images to choose from—enough to make any Disney fanatic happy. Because of the large number of options, the prices vary greatly. But you can pick up a small image for as little as $29.95. For a large, framed canvas image, you could spend up to several hundred dollars.
Best place to find: Art of Disney, Disney Springs Marketplace.
Must--have item for the non-fan – a spa trip
What to get for the park visitor who'd rather be in the Caribbean (or anywhere else) but is dragged along on a Disney vacation? Like many of you, I have one of these at home, and over the years, have found a sure-fire way to sweeten the pot of any Disney trip. For this one, I'm going to veer back into must-do territory and recommend the Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian (Donna Fesel recently wrote a great article on the spa). While they do have wonderful items for sale, the stars here are the massages and other relaxing spa treatments, perfect for any spouse or partner who's just spent four days being dragged through all manners of attractions, shows, and character meals. Coming here and slowing down the pace for a few hours is also the best way to guarantee a return trip to the World.
Best place to find: There are several spa locations at Walt Disney World, but Senses is the crown jewel and the only one accessible by monorail.
I hope this has given you some ideas on what to pick up during your next Disney vacation. The bottom line? What constitutes a must-have is in the eye of the beholder, so to borrow a line from the Mouse's marketing machine, get the must-haves that show your Disney side.
Thanks as always for reading and see you real soon.
Shopping tip of the month
I'm going to plagiarize myself for this weeks tip. In my humble view, it's always more fun to shop and buy things at the parks. But if you don't or can't for whatever reason, it's good to know that you can still get a lot of these must-haves once you return home. I wrote an article a couple of months ago that acts as a guide to online shopping and the best places to get those must-haves from the comfort of your own home. So fear not if you forgot to get those pajamas that you can't live without or just couldn't bring yourself to walk all the way to the back of the Magic Kingdom yet again to get the refrigerator magnet of your dreams. You can still get these and bring a little magic home after your trip comes to an end.