Monday, October 17, 2011

Dreaming Disney – A New Disney Store

When I was in college my girlfriend, who is now my wife, and I would occasionally visit the closest Disney Store.  Now, this was before I was Between Disney and I did not have the bug yet.  Still, I would walk through that store and know I was somewhere special.  I was in an experience to be enjoyed, an experience that had been crafted for my pleasure.  The Disney Store was more than shopping.  Years later, and after years of not having access to a Disney Store, I moved and the Mall of America Disney Store in Bloomington, Minnesota, became my closest store.  And what I found after all those years was a mall store.  There were Disney decorations, friendly cast members and merchandise that I wanted to buy.  But it was no longer the great experience I remembered when I was younger.  Though it was still the only store I would always shop through every time when visiting the Mall of America.

Recently, the Between Disney family saw that all change.  We received invitations to a pre-opening event of the new Disney Store at the Mall of America.  And I can happily say that at the Mall of America there has been planted a piece of the Disney experience.

The evening began with an opening ceremony.  Cast members brought a large green key to the door of the store.  They had a young girl, place the key into a lock officially opening the store.   
Opening Ceremony

The crowd entered into a store of earthy colors, greens and browns, that was warm and inviting.  Wood was everywhere throughout the store.  The store was decorated with white trees on which Disney characters were projected.  High on the walls were murals in green showing the silhouettes of characters like Pongo and Mickey Mouse.   On these murals were projecting videos of Disney characters.  My favorite was Carl Fredricksen being carried up into the air by balloons.  The cast members can control these projections, as they called for Buzz Lightyear to visit for my son.  After shouting for Buzz, the Space Ranger appeared on two walls of the store.   

The Checkout Area Highlights the Use of Wood

A child sized castle is at the front of the store.  When a child walks through the drawbridge, they enter into an area with a magic mirror.  When a child, or cast member, waves the proper princess branded toy in front of the mirror an image of that Princess emerges on mirror.  Laughter and smiles always followed this projection.  
The Castle
Magic Mirror

In the back of the store was a round display of plush characters.  There are wheels on the side of the display that when turned spin the display.  Additionally there are buttons on the wheels that make noises when pushed.  In the middle of the display was a small tunnel that kids can climb through.  The plush display was a huge hit with the under 5 crowd in the store between the movement and the ability to climb under it.  
Plush Display

Towards the middle of the store was a theater with a massive curved television screen.  The screen was constantly playing scenes from Disney productions.  In front of the screen was a child size table with coloring pages and crayons.  In the theater there were also activities led by cast members for both kids and adults.  First was “Mike’s Trivia Challenge” a ten question game using the video screen to present the questions and answers.  I played with my daughter, getting all of the questions correct.  Eight of the ten were easy enough for a child to answer and my daughter easily got them, one multiple choice was more difficult and required knowledge of film production not plot or characters, and one semi-difficult true and false question about Walt Disney.  All of the participants received a certificate touting their trivia expertise.  Later, the theater was the location for a group “Hot Dog Dance” for which the children received a foam microphone as a prize.  A prize the kids loved.  Next, the theater was the staging area for a parade through the store with children sporting Disney character masks.  Finally as we left, the theater was used for a drawing lesson on the video screen using store supplied paper, crayons and clipboards.  These activities were all hits with the children and were led by enthusiastic cast members. 
Hot Dog Dance Instruction
The Theater

The store may have changed, but the cast members have not.  And it was clear they were enjoying this opening of the new store.  I saw some tearing up as they watched customers enjoying the new store.  And they enjoyed every activity they led the children in.  And they often asked our children friendly questions about their favorite Disney characters and if they had found their desired merchandise.  They were very helpful, friendly and everything you would expect from a Disney cast member. 
The Disney Store website and cast members claim that these interactive stores will be “The Best 30 minutes of a Child’s Day.”  This may be a cliché or marketing phrase, but it is also a reality.  The merchandise was mostly focused on children’s items, so both our youngest and oldest shopped till they dropped.  I took two children to the store and they laughed, smiled, danced, paraded, played and even shopped for 90 minutes.  It was not until minute 95 that a short afternoon nap kicked in and ended the day.  I often say one should under promise and over deliver; in this case the Disney Store gave us 60 minutes more than promised of greatness in my children’s day.  And as I spoke to new friends about the store opening and our Disney moments, for a time I forgot I was Between Disney. 

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