Following is an open letter sent to Walt Disney World Guest Communications, asking for a return to the quality and variety that we once enjoyed in regards to Disney World park merchandise.
Will it matter? Who knows?
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Once upon a time, the Disney brand meant something. When you saw Disney merchandise, you knew that you were purchasing a quality item that would likely outperform most items of a comparable price.
Once upon a time, there was a reason to explore all of the various little gift shops in Disney World - you never knew quite what you were going to find. Sometimes, it could be a pain... if you didn't buy an item when you saw it, you did run the risk of never seeing it again during your trip. Even so, it was a wonderful incentive to visit those gift shops, and it made each one seem like a unique treasure.
Once upon a time, you could commemorate your stay at a Walt Disney World resort hotel with tee shirts, hats, sweatshirts, keychains... you name it, you could find it.
Sadly, these "once upon a times" are like most fairly tales - they no longer have any place in the real world.
Today, Disney gift shops carry very similar lines of generic, inferior quality merchandise. Why should I go into both the Splash Mountain and Space Mountain gift shops? Odds are, a large portion of the merchandise will be identical. I might be able to find a "Magic Kingdom" shirt, but most likely, I'll be stuck with the generic "Disney Parks" fare.
In 2003, I purchased a Walt Disney World tee shirt with a sort of "pop art" background to it, featuring the Partners statues cut out as a silhouette in the design. The shirt was sturdy, and did not shrink. I wore the shirt dozens of times, and did not treat it kindly - for several years, it was both washed and machine dried time and time again. Eventually, I started hanging my tee shirts up in an effort to help preserve the designs.
Today, in 2011, my shirt is finally showing serious wear to the point that it's not really nice enough to wear in public anymore. even so, I love the shirt.
In 2010, I purchased a tie-dyed "Four Parks, One World" tee shirt. This was possibly the thickest shirt that I could find. I have worn it considerably less often than I might have, and have been careful to hang it up to dry every single time. Nevertheless, the design is showing signs of cracking already. Sadly, this shirt is better than most I have seen - so many of the offerings now are of fabric so thin that you can practically see through them - and this is when they are new.
Where did the quality go? Disney has certainly not been shy about raising prices on merchandise. This I could stand, as long as the quality standards were kept, but prices have steadily increased, while quality has steadily decreased.
As for diversity of items - there are still some park specific items. Every now and then, if you are persistent, you can find one shirt for your resort hotel. The selection, however, is a pale shadow of what it once was.
Take, for instance, the Villains store in Hollywood Studios. Once, you could find a wonderful selection of merchandise here that would be hard to locate almost anywhere else. Now, the store is populated almost exclusively with Jack Sparrow and Jack Skellington merchandise that can be found in many other locations. While I suppose that I should be grateful that any theming at all is going on, it's hard to overlook the fact that neither Jack Sparrow nor Jack Skellington are actually villains. What happened to the Maleficient? Jafar? Ursula? Scar? Dr. Felicier was a wonderful villain.. why is there nothing really for him?
Consider resort specific refillable mugs. In 2003, we purchased mugs from the Mara, that were decorated with an animal themed design. We kept them for years.
In 2010, we were glad to have three handle colors available as choices. Of course, our mugs looked like every other resort mug.
Can Disney be getting so much of a price break that they can no longer afford resort specific mugs? Seriously? Wouldn't it make sense to mark each mug up another dime or so to offset the difference? Surely the thousands upon thousands of mugs sold could pay off this difference?
I have personally gone on three trips to Disney World - April of 2003, December of 2006, and January of 2010. Even though my family is larger now (four kids in 2010 as opposed to two in 2003), we purchased fewer souvenirs. Why? There simply wasn't the selection to tempt us that once had been.
I take long trips - ten or eleven days - and estimate that I have spent almost thirty thousand dollars as Disney so far. We are currently planning a trip back for this fall, but despite that fact that I am now up to five kids, I expect that we will spend the least yet on souvenirs from WDW - I have read far too many reports that tell me that the quality and diversity of the merchandise continues to plummet.
Please, Disney, return to the old days of unique, quality merchandise. My family WANTS to give you money for it. There are many others who feel the same way!
Once upon a time, Disney World was different because they went the extra mile to ensure that they were the best.
How much longer will it be before that last line is a fairy tale, as well?