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Some Disney fans will visit parks and wait for hours just to purchase a souvenir. This is why.

Because Disney merchandise is intended to be part of the park experience, only a small portion of it is sold online.
Some fans make special trips or find someone who can help them obtain an item.

For some fans, the fear of missing out is real, and the costs can quickly add up.
It all began with a cup.

“I’m not sure what it was about that cup,” Shelley Cartee reflected.

The Beauty and the Beast mug in the shape of the Beast’s head was not valuable. She got it in a “Happy Meal or something” in the 1990s, but it sparked a lifelong obsession with Disney memorabilia, which now fills her Tampa-area home.

“I was one of those people who waited in line for six hours for a Figment popcorn bucket,” she said of the popular EPCOT souvenir, which sold out early this year. She also planned a family vacation to coincide with Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary and merchandise release. “It’s really bad,” she exclaimed, laughing.

Souvenirs have always been associated with travel, but for many Disney fans, collecting items such as popcorn buckets and pins is part of the park experience and, in some cases, the reason for a visit.

Splurge or save at Disney World? These moms show you how to do both.

What makes Disney so popular?
Many fans consider Disney parks to be their happy place and affectionately refer to them as their home.

“Honestly, it’s a little make-believe,” Cartee admitted. She may be a mom and wife with a long list of responsibilities on a daily basis, but “When I walk through the parks, it’s as if I leave my life behind. It’s just so happy and relaxing. It truly brings out your inner child.”

Many of the items she’s accumulated over the years have sentimental value, including a wall of Loungefly bags and more than 100 pairs of mouse ears. Other items she purchased simply because they looked cool. “Some of my possessions are inexplicable, but they make me happy,” she explained.

“I mean, anybody who goes out and buys stuff has had that feeling where they’re like, ‘I need to have that. That is just speaking directly to my soul.’ “AJ Wolfe, owner of DisneyFoodBlog.com, explained.

“It’s just like collecting anything else in the world, right?” said San Diego resident Mariko Nakawatase. “I mean, just let people have fun.”

Nakawatase collects Disney and Star Wars memorabilia such as popcorn buckets, sipper cups, “old school” toys, artwork, and books.

“When people come over, I’m like, ‘Hey, do you want to see my Star Wars room?'” she said, smiling.

How do I begin a collection?
“I would start with what you enjoy and look everywhere,” Cartee advised. “Take a look up. Look to the ground. I paid $2 for a Snow White snow globe at a thrift store.”

Starting small is a good idea.

Jason Bales, the founder of the Disney Popcorn Buckets Facebook group, now owns approximately 1,200 popcorn buckets, but he began collecting them in the 1990s, when he was dating his now-wife.

“We bought annual passes for $79 for the entire year, and our Wednesday nights were two rides and dinner at (Disneyland),” he explained. He’d always get a popcorn bucket. “It was the least expensive souvenir. It cost $1 more to hold twice as much popcorn.”

He didn’t start collecting and trading buckets seriously until the early 2000s, when he met other Disney fans from all over the world.

“”It started as a fun hobby, and it’s just grown into a passion now,” he explained. “I know I can’t have all of them… I simply adore the artistry.”

“They are genuine works of art,” Wolfe said, adding that she knows some of the artists who “poured their hearts into those.”

Is it possible to order merchandise from Disney World?
Some items are available on ShopDisney, but many more, such as popcorn buckets, are resort exclusives and must be purchased in person.

“You will never see all of our offerings online,” said Karen White, Disney World’s director of Merchandise Operations. “It’s a negligible percentage.”

“We really want to keep anything that is exclusive to the guest experience on-site,” she added, citing lightsabers from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as an example. “You really want to invest in the land because it completes your overall experience of being in the park and provides you with what we call your tangible memory, your memory that you can physically take home with you. That emotional connection is very compelling, and our guests appreciate it.”

The resort will ship home items purchased in-park for a fee, but fans cannot order park-exclusive items online or by phone.

Is it true that Disney restocks sold-out items?

“If it’s a food item, like a cupcake, we can get it back in stock relatively quickly,” White said. “A merch item, on the other hand, can take us up to a year to develop and put through all of our safety protocols before we can get it on site. So, with all of those long lead times, we’re a little less nimble to bring in a top-selling product at the last minute.”

She explained that orders are based on how similar items have sold in the past as well as best guess estimates of what consumers may be interested in.

“We always try to buy to meet our guests’ needs and demand,” White said, admitting that the Figment popcorn bucket frenzy caught them off guard. “We never intend for there to be a significant shortage, but it does happen from time to time.”

If a design does return, it is usually modified, such as this year’s Halloween popcorn buckets, which now glow in the dark.

How to Purchase Disney Merchandise
If Nakawatase desires something, she will travel to Disneyland to obtain it.

“It’s all about the hunt,” she explained.

If she doesn’t believe it will sell out, she can take her time, but Wolfe cautioned, “You never know what’s going to go viral, so just treat everything as if it might.”

“If you see something you really, really, really want, figure out what day it’s going to come out, figure out where it’s going to come out,” she added. “Arrive first thing in the morning. Consider it like going on a ride on its first day.”

Fans who are unable to visit the parks may seek assistance from third parties such as independent personal shoppers, buy/sell/trade groups on social media, or online marketplaces such as eBay or Poshmark, but do not expect to pay retail prices.

How do you manage collection?
McGarry has some words of wisdom for aspiring collectors.

“I would just take a step back and ask myself, ‘Am I doing this for the right reasons or am I doing it because I’m afraid of missing out?'” she explained. “It’s extremely expensive, time-consuming, and takes up a lot of space.”

She claims to have a “obscene amount” of Jim Shore figurines, which she intends to keep.

“I feel like they’re a statement piece, and they’re tailored to what I like,” she explained.

What can you do with souvenirs?

“A lot of people decorate with them,” Nakawatase said.

Bales’ popcorn buckets are displayed as works of art on shelves throughout his Fresno home. Cartee displays some pieces while storing others. Her coffee mugs, Disney clothing, and accessories are frequently used.

Souvenirs can serve a variety of functions, including their original purpose as a reminder of the past.

“They are aware that this is historical, correct? Because everything Disney becomes historical, “Wolfe stated.

She still has a set of paper popcorn boxes that her father purchased at Disneyland in 1965 and gave to her when she started her website.

“I had them framed, and they’re very important to me because they’re from my father,” Wolfe explained. “They’re out of date. They’re sentimental. They are the original Disneyland popcorn boxes. And I wonder if, in 40 years, people are going to be looking at that Figment popcorn bucket and say, ‘This was the original. This was the original.'”

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