Building a Disney Park at Homeby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
If you're like me, you often wish you were at the Disney Parks while you're at home. You envision strolling past Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, eating a Mickey-shaped pretzel. You fantasize staring at Epcot's Spaceship Earth, on your way to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. You picture a monorail whirring by or even standing in front of your favorite Walt Disney World resort. Well, you may not know this, but you can do these things in the comfort of your own home—at least sort of.
Disney and other fine sellers have been making representations of Walt Disney World and Disneyland park icons for years (and continue to make them). Whether it be the castles, ride buildings and vehicles, or even hotels, you can find a collectible in the image of that icon to bring home. These come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, and if you look hard enough (and have a big enough wallet), you can even bring home the real deal. We're going to look at a few of these.
We're going to start small. By that, I mean if you want to keep your collection small scale and inexpensive, there are some great options.
Disney Parks has long produced some great die-cast merchandise, mainly vehicles in the Matchbox car mode, that provide great reminders of the parks. These range from representations of the classic monorail, to parking lot trams, to Disney buses, to a version of the hearse that sits in front of the Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion. If you're a fan of ride vehicles, one great item currently available is a miniature version of the cars from Epcot's Test Track. Only $6.95, it's available at the After Market Shop at Test Track or on the Shop Disney Parks app.
Tsum Tsum are also all the rage, and you can get some great items from this collection as well. Fans of these know they range in size from 3.5-inch minis to large 19-inch plush toys. These tend to come and go, but they have had many park icons amongst the cute characters. I have seen Cinderella Castle, the monorail, and many others. Again, the merchandise tends to rotate frequently, so your best bet is to keep an eagle eye as you go through the displays to find your favorites.
Moving up to larger items, Disney has had a great partnership with LEGO, so you know it was only a matter of time before LEGO got in on this game. The LEGO sets I admire in general are the ones that duplicate famous architectural sites, such as the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sydney Opera House. These are all large elaborate models, and what better icon to join the club than Walt Disney World's Cinderella Castle? LEGO has come out with a beautiful and elaborate set. Made up of over 4,000 pieces, it comes with mini-figurines and is open at the back to reveal castle rooms, so it also acts as a great play set.
Again, it's incredibly detailed and an excellent representation of the castle. It retails for $349.99 and is available at the parks, at the Disney Store online, and at LEGO stores across the country. That said, you should move quickly. LEGO is infamous for only producing limited amounts of these sets (it's listed as a limited release on the Disney Store website) and they really mean it. The Taj Mahal I mentioned earlier is long sold out and sells on eBay for as much as $1,500.
If you like models of park icons, there's another long time player that has started getting involved with Disney lately. These are Metal Earth 3D model kits. Like LEGO, the company is known for kits that allow you to build models of recognizable world sites. They tend to cost $16.99, are several inches to a foot high when completed, and are available at the parks or at the Disney Store online. They come in flat packages and advertise that no tools are needed for completion (though I read online that having a set of pliers and tin snips on hand is a good idea).
The results are beautiful gray metallic icons of some of your park favorites. These include both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty Castle, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Mickey's Fun Wheel from Disney California Adventure, and even Rex from the original incarnation of Star Tours. Star Wars fans will also be happy at the variety of what's available.
I will now insert a confession. The original idea for this week's article was to center on myself triumphantly buying and building a Cinderella Castle Metal Earth 3D model kit, and then talking about what else was available in the series. Well, I gave you the bit about all that's available, and I did in fact buy Cinderella Castle. In terms of the building, not so much. It proved to be a bit more complicated than I expected. There are many parts that come in flat sheets with the consistency of slightly thicker aluminum foil. These need to be carefully removed and bent and put together in intricate ways. In a nutshell, there was no way I was going to get it built and documented in time for publication.
I will admit that I have little to no mechanical interest or ability, but my sister (the master of all crafts) does, and her response when I tried to con her into doing it was, "that does not look like fun." The point of this story is not to necessarily dissuade you from buying one of these sets, because someone who enjoys doing this type of thing will have a great time and the end result is beautiful. I just want you to be aware that if you do choose to take one of these on, it may be a more formidable project than you thought, and they're definitely not for small kids. If you do dive in and get stuck, be aware that there are a myriad of You Tube videos to help you along the way.
Moving on, I've said in this space many times that my favorite Disney merchandise is produced when Disney teams up with another vendor and produces something unexpected. I'll avoid my umpteenth mention of the Arribas Brothers $37,500 Swarovski Crystal Cinderella Castle (I managed to casually drop that in there, didn't I?), but will share a favorite from my own collection. Way back when, during the 2000 millennium celebration at Epcot, I was able to buy a representation of Spaceship Earth made out of Waterford crystal. I have a friend who loves Waterford and laughs to this day when we talk about this. It cost approximately $300 and remains one of my favorite examples of this trend.
The Art of Disney Stores all over property sell terrific collectibles bearing park icons. There are figurines in all shapes and sizes. Many of these are made by Disney, but Precious Moments, Olszewski, and many others are represented as well. These shops are located on Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom, Future World at Epcot, and Disney Springs. For some great park collectibles that'll let you bring the parks into your home, I'd highly encourage a visit. You can also find many of these items on the Shop Disney Parks app.
As an example of what's available, one of my favorite park fixtures that brings a tear to my eye on every visit is the Partners statue, depicting Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse hand in hand, looking at all that Walt built (if you want a great Magic Kingdom picture, plant yourself right in front of the partners statue and snap away, with the castle rising in the background). There are reproductions of the Partner statues in all sizes and materials. I got one as a gift from a close friend. It's metal, stands about 18 inches high, and brings back great memories.
This brings us to what might be the best and easiest way to reproduce the Disney resorts in your home, the Monorail Play Set, a large way to bring the parks into your home that's a lot of fun.
The current set, available at the parks and at shopdisney.com, consists of four basic elements: Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth, Disney's Contemporary Resort, and either the Walt Disney World or Disneyland monorail. Each of these is to be purchased separately (a fun thing to buy a different piece each park visit).
The monorail set includes a five-car monorail train, eight miniature character figures (the fab five plus Daisy, Lilo and Stitch) that can sit out front or ride inside, and fourteen feet of track that allows you to building a four-foot wide circular setup and a four-foot by five-foot oval (if you want to make an even bigger set, you can buy extra track separately). The train lights-up and makes what Disney calls "monorail sounds". It really is a pretty cool set, and I like that you can either the Walt Disney World or Disneyland Monorail. Each set sells for $89.95 (though don't forget your DVC, Disney Visa and Passholder discounts people!).
Another cool feature comes if you buy the Contemporary Resort play set accessory, which sells for $49.95. You can actually build the track through the middle of the hotel, so the train passes through, just as it does at the real Contemporary in Florida.
Now just one minor gripe and gentle knock at Disney, the accessories used to be larger (and roughly the same price as now), more elaborate, and more plentiful. Cinderella's Castle used to be much larger and actually swung open to be used as a play set itself. It also came with characters you could place in the castle. The overall set also used to have more accessories, such as Disney's Polynesian Village Resort, and Disney's Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life. Don't get me wrong, the set is still terrific and a lot of fun. It's just an example of a decline I don't like to see.
If you buy it all, the entire set with run you $329.75 plus tax; it's not a small amount, but this is a great way to bring a large duplicate of the parks into your home. The set is fun to play with and not difficult to assemble, so even little ones can help mom and dad build Walt Disney World in their bedroom or basement.
For years, I bought these pieces for my nieces and nephews. I'd do a couple per year and before long, they had Walt Disney World in their basement. The huge monorail track went past Cinderella Castle, through the Contemporary, by Spaceship Earth, and near Disney's Polynesian Village Resort. Whenever anyone in the family needed a quick Disney fix, down the stairs they'd go and a large vision of their favorite place stood before them.
Shopping Tip of the Month
In the past, it was a lot easier to actually own a piece of the magic. By that, I mean there were ways Disney would allow actual park artifacts to be sold to the public. At the Disneyana conventions held in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they had a forum called Mickey's Attic as well as a grand auction. Here, they would sell actual park items to ConventionEars. These ranged from glassware used at the restaurants to props from the rides.
There was also a great shop called Mouse Surplus about 30 minutes from Walt Disney World. The owners would buy all kinds used of items from Disney and re-sell them to the public. I visited once and my jaw hit the floor. To give an example, they had an actual monorail car displayed in their huge warehouse (if memory serves, you could buy it for $30,000. Sadly my house isn't that big).
One of my favorite purchases at a Disneyana Convention was a wooden piece of concept art for the Grizzly River Run at Disney California Adventure. It hung in a preview center at Disneyland for a time before it wound up in my home.
The top gets from these venues were used vehicles from actual rides. At the conventions, they auctioned off cars from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, flying Dumbos from, well Dumbo, vehicles from Snow White's Scary Adventures, and so on. These typically went from about $4,000 to $6,000. I spoke to someone who bought one of the cars from Dumbo, who planned to use it as a planter in her garden.
Sadly, Mouse Surplus and the Disneyana conventions are gone, but if you really want to own a piece of the magic, there are still ways. The biggest and best of which is our old friend, eBay. I periodically will just surf eBay and am often amazed at what turns up. There are also online auction houses such as Van Eaton Galleries, that periodically hold auctions of these genuine items. Flea markets and tag sales can also be your friend.
The point is if you do really love these, take the time and look. These items are often pricey and hard to find, though not always, so my advice is to take advantage of modern technology and always keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find.
Thanks as always for reading. The next few months, my topics are going to steer back towards Orlando and the goings on down there, so until then happy reading and happy Disney shopping.