Photo copyright Disney
I cannot imagine that anyone who loves Disney doesn't understand that thrill of magic, that spark of joy at receiving a gift. Amplify that to receiving a gift as a child. While I've been blessed as a child to never not have gifts at Christmas, I know there are many children who do not have gifts.
Gifts for children at Christmas is something I feel strongly about. I help provide toys to local children, but also donate to Toys for Tots, who use that money nationwide to donate toys.
But what does Walt Disney have to do with Toys for Tots? Years ago, I made a blog post about Disney and philanthropy, but I wanted to expand on that a bit this year and focus, as 'tis the season, exclusively on Toys for Tots and Disney.
I bet you are familiar with this logo. Changes are, you've even seen it since you were a young child!
Looks familiar, doesn't it? That logo has been used for more than 70 years! And it was created by none other than Walt Disney and his animators. They also created the first Toys for Tots poster.
I love the story and the idea behind toys for tots, which you can read about here.
This holiday season, I'd encourage each of you, should you see a toy donation box, a tree filled with children's wishes, or a packet in the mail from a place like Toys for Tots, that you donate. Even just a few dollars can make a child's Christmas brighter.
A few days ago, this came in the mail: A small double sided coin and a magnet.
I was thrilled to get them, and sent off a check to help Toys for Tots. If you'd like to help make a child's holiday brighter, without even leaving your house, you can also go to their website and donate. Just like Walt, we can each bring a smile to a child's face. For just a little longer, Disney is also partnering to make your donation go a little further. If you'd like to buy a toy instead of donating money, you can go here to do that. The main link for donations is on the website, too.
I wish each of you the happiest of holiday seasons. One where you experience the wonder and magic of the season, the joy of togetherness, and health and happiness in the new year.
Who remembers the old Disney Stores? The ones in mall that made you feel as if you were stepping into a Disney Park? Between the huge sculptures, endless toys and Mickey Merch, and those amazing displays that often moved running along the near ceiling of the store? I loved those.
But slowly they vanished. Soon, the Disney Store was a memory of the past. It's gotten worse as over the last few years, Disney has done a massive closing of their stores. As of a September 2021 article by USA TODAY, only around 2 dozen stores exist outside of the parks!
If you are lucky enough to stumble across one of these stores, what can you expect? Is there as much Disney magic as at a park store? What will you see for sale? Are the prices cheaper? Is everything retail? Why are some of the tags not in English?
I'm going to give you a quick visual of what you can expect, as well as answer those questions!
While the front of a Disney Store looks pretty blah, the insides are great! Stepping inside, you're greeted with Disney music, smiling faces, and Disney loot everywhere! Toys, clothes, plush friends, and even some park essentials like pins, lanyards, and other trinkets. There's also a big section of light up toys, in case you want to buy now and save.
Just like on ShopDisney, you'll find stuffed animals, but the great thing is getting to pick them out and hold them first, to make sure it's what you want!
Depending on the time of year, you'll also find seasonal merchandise. Right now, expect to see ornaments.
Now, the question is there as much Disney magic as at a park store? Sort of. Expect a greeting and a magical goodbye. But there's no pixie dust being sprinkled around, no one jumping in with a sticker for a crying kiddo.
You will find some unusual items you WON'T find in the park stores. Like, adult size Spiderman PJs. (I tried...my 14 year old wouldn't get them)
When you look at the clothing tags, you will often find that some aren't in English. These are items that come from Tokyo Disney, and Shanghai Disney and Hong Kong Disney, so watch those sizes! We've bought a few things we thought would fit, but were tight in the chest and long in the torso.
On the racks, you'll find lots of clothes. There is something for everyone from baby to adult.
This is a pretty great place to get gifts! But your next question... Are the prices cheaper? Is everything retail? The Disney Outlets participate in the same sales that ShopDisney does.
So if it's 30% off online, and the store has it, it's 30% off there too.
You are going to find favorites like Disney Princess gear, but also the latest kid show goodies!
There's also my favorite section...the clearance! Usually you'll find several shelves and a clothing rack with items marked down. It can vary as to how much. Usually 30-50% is common, but sometimes you'll really luck out! You'll find both Disney Store and Disney Park merchandise here.
It varries from visit to visit. We live around 3 1/2 hours away from our closes Disney Outlet, so we don't visit too often. In the summer, we bought a TON. We must have hit it just right. Our recent visit, we got almost nothing.
While pins are for sale, there is NO pin trading in the store.
You will be able to purchase the deal of the day though, like you can on ShopDisney.
One great thing about the Disney Store Outlets, is if you have a Disney Visa card, you get 10% off! And you are earning points to spend at Disney!
Hopefully this little tour of the largest Disney Store Outlet I've ever been in tides you over til the day you can get back to your favorite place on Earth!
Several years ago I was packing for my children before we left on a trip to see Thomas the Tank Engine at North Carolina. The toddler at the time wanted to help and kept giggling and bouncing around as we loaded the suitcases with all the essentials. When we got to the hotel the next night, I dug frantically through the kids' suitcase, in a near panic. How in the world could I have forgotten to pack my kids pants, socks, underwear...how?! Why was it only filled with pajamas (Thomas of course!) and t shirts? (Also Thomas!)
I remembered laying the outfits together, putting them in the suitcase, and...uhoh. The giggling. The smiles. The...helper.
It had been a really long day already. When we'd gotten to the hotel late afternoon, their housekeeping didn't have the rooms ready. We waited until nearly seven that evening before we could get into our room. I wasn't a happy camper. We were also in nearly the middle of nowhere, and now...with no pants, no socks, no extra undies...
Thankfully, about a half hour away was a Walmart. The most picked over and tiny Walmart I've ever seen, but it was a life saver. They had shorts, socks, undies...not much to choose from, but they had them!
Fast toward about seven years, my kids are much better at helping, and we've never had a pants-less vacation again. But boy oh boy...we've forgotten other things! I bet you have too!
Luckily, Kissimmee and Orlando isn't a dead zone. Even better, so much can be delivered, but what to do when it's super late at night, you don't have transportation, and you are in desperate need?
Hit your Disney Resort gift shop! That's what!
Not only will you find endless munchies, but Disney Resort shops also carry the essentials. While not a huge selection, you'll find clothes, shoes, batteries, hygiene and medicine products, along with those for baby.
Not all items are on the shelves! Sometimes you might need to ask for a particular item, but each resort has a surprisingly large inventory, better than you'd think! It's at least enough to get you through until you can hit a larger store.
Some of the best places to get apparel are at Disney Springs. With such a variety of stores, you'll find something for everyone. For medicines, baby needs, or hygiene products, there are multiple pharmacies (some that even deliver!) as well as Walmart and Target, right near by! Walmart also delivers, as do several of the local grocery stores.
Luckily, if you do forget something at Disney, it's fairly easily replaced! But a helpful tip...don't let the toddlers help pack unless it's their toys! Save yourself that 10pm trip to Walmart as you frantically dash through the aisles! What's not a fun way to start a trip!
I love games, and there isn't anything I can think of that's better than a Disney game, but one thing I don't love? How much space they take up! We have a skinny little hallway closet that is for board games and towels for one bathroom. And the games are always spilled out.
The ones that never get lost, are easily portable, and we seem to reach for time and time again? The card games! And Disney is just killing it as of late with new games, but card and board.
If you've got the trouble we do, with wanting games but no more space, and you hate trying to pick up all those little pieces, this might be for you! A lot of these even work if a few cards wander off! Best of all? They don't cost much! If you click the photo, it will take you to Amazon.
There are just so many Disney card games, but I want to share my top 5!
My favorite one, first!
I love this game! I liked the older cover better, but this one is cute too! Everyone starts with cards, and searches their hand to find the item. First player to discard their hand by finding those items wins! It's a short game but so fun!
UNO is a classic, and Disney has a TON of different UNO sets! Mix and match or play as it. Cars, Princess, Pixar and more!
I've never played these...but they are pretty inexpensive, there are tons of the sets, come with a cute figure, and supposedly, the sets can be combined! Click on Toy Story for the link!
This series of games might have the neatest case I've ever seen! If you like Disney and trivia, this is for you!
Munchkin makes such a high quality game. For the longest time, they were THE card game company.
As I said, there are so many more Disney card games out there! Do you have a favorite?
It's time for the final installment in the differences between Disney World, Dollywood, and Hershey Park. If you've been following along, and need a reminder of what's already been covered, or if you are just joining, here's the links to get caught up!
Part 1 An overview of each park.
Part 2 Entry methods, fast passes, staff and maps
Part 3 The Rides, games, and app
Part 4 The Food
Part 5 A Comparison between the three for an overall opinion (You are here!)
As I've thought about each park carefully, one thing strikes me. Each park has it's strengths, and it's weaknesses. Each of the three parks is unique in different ways. I'm not sure there is a winner.
Disney World and Dollywood seemed the most family friendly. Their rides were designed where they were an experience, not just a county fair style, like most of the not coasters were at Hershey Park.
The clear winner when it comes to entry method and staff is Disney. It's always easy to get the help you need when you need it, the lines are well managed and not chaotic, where no one knows where to stand, and they move easily. By comparison, we felt like Dollywood was similar, but Hershey Park, there were no staff members around at all. While it's possible that's a covid staffing problem, it's hard to say.
When it comes to food, Hershey Park and Disney knocked it out of the park for counter service treats of all kinds. It's kind of hard NOT to fall in love with a bucket of French fries, but the food was pretty blah and basic tasting. Meanwhile, Dollywood, they sure do have their home cookin down pat! Our meals were tasty and the service was great. We never felt rushed, a contrast to Disney and Hershey Park.
One thing Magic Kingdom didn't have that we really enjoyed at Dollywood and Hershey Park were the midway games. We loved the games where kids win every time, and Hershey Park was our favorite for the games, midway and arcade.
At all three parks, parking is ample. If staying at the park owned resort, transportation is offered.
As you see, pros and cons for each. So, who won?
Planning a trip to one of these parks might need to go a little deeper based on these questions.
1. Do you need to drive out of your way to get there?
2. How epensive is it?
3. Is there enough to do for several days?
For us, Dollywood was fun, because we happened to be nearby. I don't think we'd ever go out of our way to go there again. Hershey Park is pretty close by, and their cost is fairly reasonable. It's likely we will go again, but oddly enough...not really for the rides. We didn't enjoy the ride choices, and the problems with it being at the ride operator's discretion who got on. We would return for the games, and the Disney Outlet nearby, plus the fact it's just a few hours away. Disney...now Disney, we make that 13 hour drive for. We are always excited to plan and go. There's that sparkle of magic that we got there, we just didn't feel elsewhere. Not just because Tinkerbell is flying around, but because they really do make you feel welcome and valued at Disney.
As I think back over our last trip to each park, I realized I only rode three rides at Hershey Park. My youngest was either too scared or too big to ride wat he wanted, so the ones he could do, I spent the two days standing out so he could enjoy himself. At Dollywood, I rode maybe a half dozen. At Magic Kingdom, I don't do the coasters, but you have to pull me off of some of the others! I love them so much!
Dollywood and Disney are similar in pricing, and Hershey Park offers discounts that make the tickets quite reasonable. You've followed along and seen my thoughts...but the best way for you to decide is to visit yourself!
If you've been to all three, which did you like best? Or, like me, did you feel like each had good things and bad?