While the new Disney Store in Times Square will have its grand opening on Tuesday, November 9, it's had a soft opening in the days preceding it. Today featured a special D23 event (which literally sold out of tickets in 5 minutes) from 7:30 to 9:00 in which D23 members could visit the store early, and check out the new interactive features along with the themed areas of the stores. In addition, they had an opportunity to buy a limited edition print of one of five princesses (Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, or Tiana). There were only 10 prints each for Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, and Tiana, and 100 prints for Ariel. The reason? Jodi Benson (Ariel, Tour Guide Barbie, Robert's secretary) would be on hand to personally sign the Ariel prints.
Kram Nebuer and I went to the special event with several friends and had a blast. Due to the NYC Marathon, we opted to take a train up to the city rather than drive, as traffic would be a nightmare. The train we planned to take was scheduled to depart at 5 am, meaning we'd have to start driving to the station at 4 am. But we knew it would be worth it. As Kram and I got on our 5 am train, we eventually met up with Mike and his wife Anna, as they were a couple stops after us. On the way to Penn Station, the four of us chatted about Disney and our excitement for the store. One stop before Penn Station, we saw Becky and her mother Linda, but they didn't board our train because they were on the wrong platform! Luckily, another train followed ten minutes later, and while we waited for them at Penn Station, we stopped at Starbucks to get some coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to energize us for the morning. Becky and her mother soon joined us, and the six of us took a subway to Times Square, where we saw Melissa outside the store taking pictures. The group of us took several pictures, Kram ran like a cartoon character across the street, and I imitated him to show him what he was doing. He'll deny it if he ever reads this, but he was running like a cartoon character.
Anyway, by 7:30 the doors finally opened, we all streamed in and got our wristbands from Donna, and proceeded to take a group shot of all our wrists. Early on in our browsing, a cast member named Jacob was giving out complimentary Mickey Ears with a special Disney Store emblem on it. These were the very first Mickey Ears for Becky and me, making them rather special. The whole group of us then decided we'd take pictures with our ears. Donna took our pictures with all four of our cameras, and we finally got around to browsing the store. Immediately, I saw a mini Holiday Mickey shaped like those overstuffed Disney characters (you know, they look like a puffball version of the character), and immediately fell in love with it. I carried it around the store with me, and nearly every picture taken with me has him somewhere in it. He was in a coffee mug, he was holding the Disney Store Key, he even was on the Ariel print that I held up for a picture since I knew I wouldn't pay the $129.95 for it.
We all took a gander at the plush dolls and the Vinylmations and various other things on the first floor, including the Mary Poppins section complete with Parrot Head umbrellas. I kept debating whether or not I should get one. I need a new umbrella, and having a Parrot Head umbrella would be awesome. But the $40 price tag was a bit steep, though the D23 event 20% discount did make it more tempting. Throughout the whole time we were in the store, I kept contemplating if I should buy it or not.
By 8:00 we were finally allowed to go up to the second floor, which is where all the fun really began. They set up various tables with orange juice, water, coffee, donuts, fruits, bagels, and other odds and ends related to breakfast. As we were in line for orange juice, a jovial cast member named Kreon gave us a vibrant "Hello" and we gave a vibrant "Hello" back. Somehow through our conversation, our group and Kreon ended up singing along with the Disney instrumental music playing in the background ("Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah", "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", "Chim-Chim-Cheree", etc.) and even just singing various bars of other Disney songs in an informal "Name that Tune" game. Kreon then had to go mingle with other guests, and we resumed our breakfast. In line for breakfast, I saw a cast member named Anthony, who looked exactly like Brian, a friend of mine. I asked if they were related, and they weren't, but we agreed that he must be the long-lost twin or parallel version of Brian. He even had the same voice, it was rather freaky.
Soon the official event began, as Jim Fielding (president of Disney Stores Worldwide) began talking about Disney Stores Worldwide's master plan of turning all their existing stores into experiences just like this one. He explained all the new interactive features and what the focus on the store will be (basically, fun for kids and family, a place to play as well as shop). He then introduced Jodi Benson, who was shown the print she would be signing (she hadn't seen it until the unveiling). She would only be available to sign the print until 9:00 (when the store opened to the rest of the public), and so we had to buy our prints sooner rather than later. Melissa bought a print but we gradually stalled on her signing it until it was nearing 9:00. Thus, Melissa turned out to be one of the last guests to get her to sign their print, and afterwards, Mike and Anna asked if they could take a picture with Jodi, while I asked her to sign my book Screenplay by Disney
(which I got Don Hahn, Pete Schneider, and Marge Champion to sign back in March). Throughout the rest of the morning, Jodi Benson perused through the store with her husband and would shop around whilst also signing Ariel dolls or whatnot that a guest would buy for her to sign.
All this talk and I hadn't even gotten to the new interactive features. First off, and my favorite, is the Imagination Station. It's a gazebo-structured area with a large screen on which guests can watch various clips and trailers from the different Disney franchises. However, the Imagination Station also has a very special opening ceremony in which a castmember walks along the pixie dust trail holding the Key to the Disney Store, and they pick a special guest (usually a child), to unlock the Imagination station. It's a lot of pomp and circumstance and fanfare, and was a lot of fun seeing the kid put the key into the lock and unlocking the Station for us.
As mentioned before, the Station has a large video screen to watch various Disney clips. What's great is there are two smaller screens off to the side, where guests can peruse through the clips and create a jukebox playlist, then watch those clips. More often than not, Hannah Montana's "Hoedown Throwdown" was added by a guest, and the very first time it played, a whole group of cast members and guests commandeered the Imagination Station to dance to it. Some of us were among those dancing - Melissa, Kram, me, Becky - although Becky and I were just clapping along and swaying every so often. Subsequently throughout the rest of the afternoon, whenever "Hoedown Throwdown" came on, there was certain to be a couple guests and cast members who'd just walk over, dance to it, then go back to their business. Say what you will about Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana, but the "Hoedown Throwdown" was fun more for the interactivity among the guests and cast members rather than any merits towards the movie or singer it came from.
In addition, the Imagination Station also features magical events headed by a cast member throughout the day, today's cast member was Meme. One event was summoning Tinker Bell, which would happen if enough guests created pixie dust (by either rubbing their hands together or clapping because they believe in fairies). Tinker Bell would then fly around the store, you'd see her in the skyline, you'd see her on the trees, and she'd fly into the gazebo. Twas a lot of fun, especially seeing some of the kids amazed at how they created pixie dust and Tinker Bell did indeed fly to them. There are other events in the Imagination Station, like a table for children to color in Disney pictures, and trivia games (which they didn't do, but we saw the trivia certificates and other things inside a bench that was also used for storage).
Another interactive feature is the Magic Mirror inside the castle. Yes, there is a CASTLE inside this new Disney Store. It's actually just a castle facade, behind which is the princess area, but the magic mirror is still fun. A guest would take a magic wand/scepter or tiara that belonged to a princess, wave it in front of the mirror and say "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!" They then get a video clip of that particular princess telling her story (about 15-30 seconds). It doesn't do much else (aside from also being a mirror), but really delighted some of the kids. This one little girl kept waving the Ariel tiara in front to watch her clip over and over again. While we were there, a cast member named Christa was showing us how it works. And Christa looked EXACTLY like Snow White. The hair, the bow, the lipstick, the high voice (though much more tolerable, IMO). She was bright and perky and we all had a lot of fun talking with her about the mirror.
And there's even more beyond the Imagination Station and Magic Mirror! While we couldn't spend much time in the area, there is a Ridemakerz station in which you can custom design your very own car, and make it RC or pullback. It's themed to Cars
(obviously), and while I'm not particularly fond of the movie, the prospect of making my own Lightning or Mater does seem appealing. Every time a car gets completed, it's announced to the rest of the store, as the creator is given the car keys, almost like a rite of passage. We watched at least three car keys being given out, and each kid looked very excited at having their own car.
For little kids, there was even a small recreation of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, in which they could crawl into, push various buttons, and hear different noises or make different lights blink on and off. Kram and I were the only ones willing to crawl into the clubhouse, and it was a lot of fun even though we were easily over 20 years above the preferred age range.
There's also the Marvel section (which had a LOT of TRON Legacy
merch too), which featured this rather cool round screen (imagine the warp core from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" or the 2005-2010 TARDIS console from "Doctor Who") that played various clips from Marvel or action-oriented Disney properties. I didn't get a chance to peruse that section (Melissa, Kram, and I were having too much fun at Imagination Station making playlists and singing along or acting along to them), but I plan on checking it out again next time I'm in NYC, simply because I want some TRON Legacy
merch before the film comes out.
Anyway, that's pretty much all that I can remember of the Times Square Disney store. As I said earlier, at various times we'd see Jodi Benson shopping, leading to a running joke among our group that we were stalking her. We even saw her OUTSIDE the store a few minutes after we left! Throughout the rest of the day (which was spent at the M&M's store, Pop Tarts World, a great restaurant called Havana Central, and taking pictures with the flying Mary Poppins at New Amsterdam Theatre), we'd pretend to be on the lookout for Jodi, changing the joke from us stalking her to her stalking us. Alas, we didn't see her the rest of the day, but we still had fun. At the M&M's store, Melissa took a picture of a "Jesus" coffee mug, and a few of us who were daring tried the Pop Tarts Sushi. During our lunch at Havana Central, Kram got a birthday flan from the staff, and we had a Walt Disney World trivia contest, headed by Mike. Both Becky and I won, while Kram got a prize since it was his birthday. We even called Melissa's sister who lives in Hawaii, and greeted her with a loud "ALOOOOHA!" that probably freaked out the rest of the restaurant. In lieu of dessert (we were all quite stuffed from the great food), everyone ate the Mickey-shaped chocolate-dipped shortbread cookies that Kram and I made the night before. Each one had everyone's name on it, including a "Mandi", who turned out to be a no-show. And before we all went our separate ways to go home, everyone had a lot of fun taking pictures with the Mary Poppins display, especially since we each took a picture holding that Parrot Head umbrella, which I did buy after all.