Arribas Brothers and Disney Crystalby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
The history of the Arribas Brothers' relationship with Disney goes back to Walt Disney, himself. The story is that Walt was exploring the New York World's Fair in 1964–1965. The intricate glassblowing work of Alfonso and Tomas Arribas at the Spain pavillion caught Walt's attention, so he offered them a spot in Disneyland's Fantasyland to sell their wares.
Brother Manuel joined them a few years later to open a second location at Disneyland in New Orleans Square. They then expanded across the continent and joined the opening day Walt Disney World lineup in 1971. They continue to be successful and now have 9 different locations at Disney Parks all over the world.
Why have they done so well in their partnership with Disney and have been beloved by Disney fans for more than 50 years? It's a combination of beautiful handmade craftsmanship and and unqiue gifts that have broad appeal. Let's take a look at what they have to offer.
The classic Arribas Brothers collectibles are etched mugs and glasses. They generally have etched images of the Disney Parks and characters, and the best part is that they can all be personalized.
You can add a name of a child, a whole family and/or the date of your visit for a great keepsake. The personalization is only a few dollars, depending on what you select, and can be done fairly quickly depending on how crowded it is. These are the most popular items, so they're generally located in conspicous spots at most Arribas Brothers locations.
I got a personalized mug as a child way back in, ahem, 1972 right after Walt Dishey World opened. It was Mickey Mouse with my name. I spell my first name with 2 Gs at the end, so having something with my actual name on it was a rarely. It sat in a prominent spot for many years until an unfortunate accident saw it broken as an adult (eventually, I'll speak to my little cousin again!). I need to replace that one day. The point of this story is that if you buy one for your smallish or not so smallish child, they will treasure it for years.
The glass theme continues through Arribas's selection of hand-blown glass items. These could come in the form of Disney characters, flowers, vases or even jewelry.
There are figurines in a wide range of sizes and styles, mostly depicting Disney characters or scenes from Disney films. There are also "objects" that bring back memories of classic Disney moments. A favorite—and obvious choice—is an actual glass slipper, reminicent of Cinderella.
Readers of my articles know that I love it when artists take familiar Disney images and repurpose them in unique ways. A great Arribas example of this is a collection of vases. These come in abstract shapes and have the colors and some attributes of Mickey and Minnie Mouse ,as well as Donald Duck and others. For example. there's a great vase in Donald blue and white, with a familiar bow tie in front.
If you prefer your glassware to be a little less Mickey and a little more formal, you're still covered. There are tons of gifts here that would be at home in a fine glass or crystal shop anywhere. They have blown glass animals, glass flowers and christmas ornaments. These are all handmade and unique.
I hesitate to give prices on the glass items because there's such a wide range, but they have gifts for as little as $10 and as much as $10,000. If you just want a pretty figurine or flower, you can definitely find something on very low end of that range. The Mickey and Minnie figurine in the above picture goes for $45.
My own favorite similar items are the "jeweled" characters. These are typically Disney characters or scenes from films, immortalized in figurines covered in genuine Swarovski crystals. Like the glass figurines, these range in size from an inch or so high to extremely large. The prices range accordingly, from approximately $125 to thousands of dolllars.
They generally always have the classic characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Pluto (who now sits in my display case at home). Beyond that, repeated visits are warranted, because the lineup changes. During my last visit, I saw Aladdin and Jasmine from Aladdin, and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The time before that, it was Ariel from The LIttle Mermaid. If you see something you love, my advice is to grab it, because the selection of jeweled characters is constantly changing, and what you see this time likely won't be there on your next visit.
While best known for their glassware and crystal, they have a variety of other goods available as well. Foremost among these are some great wood products. These include picture frames, photo albums, and charm boxes. As with the glassware, these all can be personalized.
The picture frames are particularly nice. They can be personalized with text and a variety of designs. With the right family photo, these become a great souvenir of any vacation for prices ranging from $19.95 to $65 plus personalization costs. Along the same lines, there's a photo album (in several different designs) with a wooden cover and back and 100 photo pages. It runs for $65, plus engraving.
A great thing about Arribas shops is that they're all different and themed to their location. At the Arribas spot within Epcot's Germany pavillion, Kunstarbeit in Kristall ("Art Work in Crystal" in English), they not only have the mainstay Arribas merchandise, but also related items that originate from Germany (you can say the same thing about the Mexico pavillion location). I'm going to give a shout out to Chris Barry, my fellow Mouseplanet writer (make sure to catch his great current top 5 series on the best of Epcot's World Showcase). In his stories, he often talks about the blue German crystal that his wife collects and how sentimental it is for their family.
Chris' wife purchases a piece on every Disney trip (if Chris and the kids don't sneak in to the shop ahead of time and surprise her with a gift first). It reminds her of her German heritage and has become on important part of each Barry family vacation. I can tell you upon seeing it in person at the shop that the set is beautiful. I've purchased similar crystal in Prague in the Czech Republic and haven't seen it anywhere else in the U.S., so this is great chance to buy something authentic here. Again, I'll drive the point home that Disney shopping is about more than just mugs and T-shirts. You can get some great and hard-to-get merchandise, some of which can have a real emotional connection.
Even if you're not there to buy anything, it's worth visitng the various locations just to see the artists at work. You can catch demonstrations of artists hand-blowing glass at all Arribas Brothers locations, but for this article, will focus on Magic Kingdom's Crystal Arts. At the front of the shop, there's generally an artist with a hand blow torch shaping glass.
The day I was there, the artist was working on a beautiful unicorn figurine that he showed the crowd as it was in process and completed. There's a pane of glass separating the artist from the crowd (they are using a blow torch after all), but a fairly large number of people can gather around and watch. At the back of the shop, there are large ovens where larger pieces can be made. There are shows scheduled there on the hour, but there's generally a friendly cast member available at all times, happy to discuss their work and answer questions. I got to watch a vase in Mickey Mouse colors being made.
One new Arribas item I discovered by happenstance is the Arribas Brothers Collectors Club. For an annual membership fee of $19.50, you get a variety of benefits:
- An introductory membership kit, which this year includes a crystal-filled pen, a commemorative scroll, and membership card.
- A 15 percent discount on all Arribas Brothers purchases, as well as free personalization.
- Exclusive access to pieces open only to members, and priority access to other limited-edition pieces.
- Notification of special events, such as showings and artist demonstrations.
- Membership in the Greenback program, which provides discounts at over 350,000 merchants, and which donates part of the proceeds to selected special causes.
If you're a big Arribas Brothers fan, the club may be for you. The discounts are great, as is the free personalization, and I'd be curious about the special members-only pieces and events. I'm personally not a member yet (shocking), so if anyone is or joins, I'd would love to hear what you think (access the club website for more information).
If you're interesting in visiting Arribas Brothers, check out these locations at Walt Disney World:
- Crystal Arts on Magic Kingdom's Main Street USA
- The Arribas Brothers shop at Disney Springs
- Kunstarbeit in Kristall within Epcot's Germany Pavillion
- La Princesa de Cristal inside the Mexico Pavillion pyramid)
- Crystal Arts on Main Street USA
- Cristal d'Orleans in New Orleans Square
If you're traveling afar, they also have locations at Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Shanghai Disney Resort (where I may be heading later this year—hopefully you'll be reading all about it this summer). You can also shop online or use the Shop Disney Parks smartphone application.
Arribas Brothers makes great collectibles and provides a connection to Disney history that goes back to Walt, himself. Even if you're not a buyer, go ahead and visit the various Arribas shops at the Disney theme parks. You'll see (and purchase) some great pieces of art ,and get to watch some great artisans work at their craft.