Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Behind-the-Scenes experience

First off, a warning- settle in for a long read. There was no way I could make this post any shorter without taking out some good stuff, so it's long. Deal with it :)

I recently had one of the most amazing experiences I could have ever imagined- a Behind-the-Scenes look of the new Times Square Disney Store! I was able to have this wonderful experience courtesy of the Disney Store President (Jim Fielding) and a contest he had on Twitter. The event was a pre-opening behind-the-scenes look of the new store that included a continental breakfast, remarks by Jim Fielding, and the chance to meet Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. It was everything, and more, that you would expect.

I had entered the contest on Twitter, never expecting to win. When I got the Direct Message from Jim Fielding, I literally squealed with delight. I was on the phone with my mom, who doesn’t completely understand my Disney obsession. I replied to the DM with my email address, as requested, so his team could be in contact with me.

Very soon after that, I got the first of several emails. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the efficiency of the team. The emails contained information about the event, making me even MORE excited. Then, a little bit later that evening, I got a phone call from Mark congratulating me again and discussing a little bit more about the event. I didn’t know who Mark was, but I assumed he was an administrative assistant or someone along those lines. When I got home, I Googled Mark (oh come on- you would do it too….) and my jaw dropped when I realized he is in charge of Experiential Marketing and Guest Experience at The Disney Store. Wow- Disney does this right!

I couldn’t keep the grin off my face that whole evening. I was so excited I was ready to burst- I finally called up my friend Lea, who I knew would understand and share my level of giddiness.

When it dawned on Mike and I that the NYC Marathon would be going on that Sunday morning, we decided not to hassle with trying to get into the city on Sunday, so we booked a hotel room and went into the city on Saturday (that experience will be a whole other blog post!).

We arrived at The Disney Store about 7:20 in the morning. Check-in started at 7:30- luckily we were able to wait in the small lobby of the store, and not outside. It wasn’t the warmest day in NYC. Promptly at 7:30, they opened the doors and let us in. When I told them my name, the person checking me in exclaimed “Hey- you’re the Twitter winner. Congratulations!” I have to admit- that was pretty cool. We got our wristbands and entered in.

Matthew showing off his wristband

We had about a half hour to explore the lower level of the store. We made a bee-line for the special vinyls- we got the Statue of Liberty 3” vinyl, one 9” Taxi vinyl, and one 9”graffiti vinyl.

What stands out the most about the shopping experience was how helpful the Cast Members were- it was like having a personal shopper in the Disney Store. They were getting merchandise for you, escorting you places, carrying bags… Really- could it get any better than that??? We also picked up one of the limited edition prints of Ariel that were created just for this event.

The Limited Edition Ariel print

Somehow, with all the time and looking around we did on the first floor, we totally missed that they had pins. Mike was bummed when he found out, because they have some really cool NYC pins. They had some new t-shirts and such that were really cool! People who know me, know that I don’t wear much Disney apparel, but even I couldn’t pass up this cool Cinderella shirt!

My Cinderella shirt- the headband is sparkly :)

I believe they let in about 150 people for the event, and seems that they had about 75 Cast Members on hand to help. We felt totally pampered and special!

At 8:00 we were allowed to go upstairs into the “Imagination Park” section of the store. My first thought upon going upstairs was simply “Wow”. There was a ton of merchandise, but the store had a nice wide-open feel. All above were cute murals of various Disney scenes and characters- there was one scene with Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, and the Darling children flying above a London skyline that featured Mary Poppins. There was another section of wall that featured Winnie the Pooh floating above a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

They also have three trees located throughout the second floor- each tree has a Hidden Mickey on it somewhere.

Can you find the Hidden Mickeys?

And no, I never did find any of them. Of course, I didn’t really spend the time to look either- there was just so much going on! I was amazed at all the different merchandise in the store - a whole wall for Tangled, an entire alcove devoted to Marvel Superheroes, and sections for Toy Story, Cars (complete with RideMakerz experience), and even Phineas and Ferb.

Some of the Phineas and Ferb merchandise

A Tor Story plush- where's @JimGarth?

As we walked around the upstairs, I just went around with my mouth open. We grabbed a little bit of breakfast, and grabbed a spot to listen to Jim Fielding say a few words.

I have followed Jim on Twitter for a while (and if you are a Disney fan and not following him at @disneystoreprez- shame on you!!!) and he is an absolute genuine, down-to-earth person. He spoke about the history of the store and what the expectations of the store are. It was really interesting hearing about the back story of the store, why they wanted that particular Times Square space, and what it takes to keep that store going- there are Cast Members working 24 hours a day! He also surprised me when he noticed me standing there and called me out as the winner of his Twitter contest. And even more surprising, he did this unprompted and without having met me in person yet- he really does value his Twitter experience.

After Jim spoke, we were introduced to Jodi Benson- the voice of Ariel. At this point, Mike just glazed over and became focused on meeting her. His favorite princess has always been Ariel (I think it’s because of the sea-shells), and he was so excited to get a chance to meet her and have his picture taken with her.

Meeting Jodi Benson. Notice where Mike is...

She also signed our print that we bought.

After this, we continued to walk around the store and just marvel at everything that was there. One focal point of the second floor of the store is Imagination Theater. This is a small theater section where they have a video screen that plays Disney videos and clips.
Imagination Theater

What makes this different than other Disney stores is that it’s interactive- using a touch screen, you can select what you want to see. Well, every day, they pick a child to “Unlock Imagination” in the morning. One of the Cast Members that we met was Suzanne, the general manager. She asked Matthew if he wanted to be the child who “Unlocked Imagination”. Matthew jumped on this chance and was beyond excited to be able to do this. The employees made a big deal of walking the huge key out to him and then making an announcement for everyone to come and watch.

Unlocking Imagination

After Matthew unlocked Imagination, he was able to go in and pick what he wanted to see on the screen (the “Squirrel in my Pants” music video).

The Cast Members then gave him his own, smaller, replica key.

My son also experienced the RideMakerz car-building experience. He picked out his own car parts and got to put them together.

Picking out parts

He picked out the black Mater (because he looks like we went though a fire- the mind of a 6 year old) and found wheels with his favorite colors.

Putting Mater together

He then put various number decals on him. When he was done making his car, the Cast Member made a big deal about presenting him with the key to his very own car. I don’t think I have ever seen my son with a grin so big!

Getting the key to his car

This was such an unbelievable experience for us all. We were in the store about 2 hours, and barely scratched the surface. The Cast Members are some of the best we have ever met and really represent some of Disney’s best. We came away remembering that Disney is more than just princesses and a castle- it’s something you hold deep inside of you. But I think the whole experience can best be summed up by Matthew’s words as we were leaving- “This was too amazing to be real.”


  1. Wow! what an amazing opportunity! Thanks for sharing - looks like y'all had an great time!

  2. Do you have Steve Barrett's Hidden Mickeys books? They won't help you in the stores, but in the parks they're great fun for everyone in your party.


  3. SO COOL!!!! Yall looked ( and sounded on twitter) like you had so much fun!!!!! Love you guys to bits but the picture of Matty and the Key made me cry!!!!!!!! oooooffff I love you guys!!!!