I returned to Orlando, Florida and its theme parks and attractions after 20 years for a holiday. Going to Florida on holiday is a big thing for Britons and requires much saving and lots of effort (and lots of sitting watching whatever Virgin Atlantic put on their little screens). Letter From America is the blog-based fallout from this, we left the day before Hurricane Matthew hit and these posts are not meant in any way as a middle finger to those were killed, injured or even inconvenienced by the hurricane, we at AFB send our deepest sympathies to you all.
I’m back from America and of course I bought a ton of crap, in fact I bought so much crap I had to buy another suitcase to accommodate it all! Sure it wasn’t a huge suitcase (and will be today’s backdrop) but I’ve never had to purchase a new piece of luggage just to accommodate all the merchandise I’d bought before so for that reason alone I ned to write a bumper edition of Examples of Crap I Waste My Money On.
I saved a lot of money up for this trip and fully intended to blow a good portion of it on merch, so in order to force myself to have a least a modicum of control I decided to only by park exclusive merchandise (when at parks), it didn’t always work because I don’t know every item the Disney Store stocks and Pigmy Puffs are so damn cute but even with that, well, even with that I had to buy another suitcase:
I don’t think I’ve taken a haul photo that was this big before, feel free to play Spot the Grinch, even I couldn’t find him at first. I’m not going to put the prices I paid for the items in this post because a) I’ve forgotten a lot of that information and b) you’d be ashamed of me. So without further ado, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin:
Ride Specific Merchandise!
This is my favourite thing to buy at Theme Parks, items – especially toys – that are directly based on the rides themselves, no one does enough of them, they do even less of them nowadays and there is no excuse for this, especially not when it comes to Disney, who has characters in their rides who are more well-known than some of the stars of their cartoons. I was very disappointed with the complete lack of ride-specific merchandise for The Jungle River Cruise – I so want a Trader Sam figurine, actually on that note Disney: make a figurine of the redhead from Pirates of the Caribbean because we wants the redhead dammit! Anyway here are six things of various levels of breakability I did find, representing Soarin’, Mission to Mars, Journey into Imagination, Great Moments With Mr Lincoln, America Sings and Expedition Everest WHICH IS A POINT: the Yeti in Expedition Everest is brown, I know this because I saw him, seeing him is the whole point of the fucking ride – your cart goes so close to him you could stroke him! Every rider – who I presume is the main target audience for Expedition Everest merchandise – sees the yeti very clearly; so why is all the yeti merchandise in Animal Kingdom of a white yeti? Not that this really makes the pull back ‘n go Mickey & Yeti toy any less awesome because it’s Mickey Mouse being menaced by yeti but it’s just so baffling. Also that Figment is unbreakable, it came back in my case, how are you not broken?
Because of course I bought an old vinyl doll of the mascot from a Minneapolis company while on a theme park based holiday in Florida. It actually gets even odder when I reveal that I bought him from a store that was meant to specialise in Disney merchandise, just to clarify there isn’t some amazing connection I’m about to reveal here, the Pillsbury Doughboy has absolutely fuck all to do with Disney. The shop I found him in was excellent, it’s part of one of the many Tesco sized gift shops that you can’t move for in the area surrounding the Disney and Universal properties; their biggest congregation is on Celebration Avenue and I THINK this one was there. What sets this excellent store apart from the others though is that they buy and sell vintage Disney and Disney World merchandise – cabinet after cabinet full of old statues and snowglobes, shit loads of old soft toys and a huge rack of old toys. This was is here I got the two Vinyl figures from the previous section and if you want to go back to my haul photo where I got that Marx Mickey Mouse in the centre, Frankegoofy, the TMNT sports ball and the small figurines on top of the Hitchhiking Ghosts’ box. But the first thing I grabbed after entering, the first thing I had to have, was the Pillsbury Doughboy because of course I did because my actions never make any sense and my priorities are not normal priorities.
Shamu Xtreme Machines Adventure Truck!
Going to SeaWorld was… morally troublesome, even if I didn’t know about the behind-the-scenes issues or hadn’t visited SeaWorld of Hurt.com or wherever, within a minute or two of watching their Shamu show all I could see was chimps in hats having tea parties. These out of date shows are really off-putting Sea World, your rides are good and your water park is fantastic but I think it’s time you gave up doing anything with live animals. So I was reluctant to give SeaWorld any more money than was necessary, this was helped by the fact that most of their merchandise is rack toy level crap, made to look even more cheap and generic by the quality of Disney and Universal’s merch and I hate to break it to ya SeaWorld but the only people coming to your park that haven’t been to Disney and/or Universal the same week are PETA protestors. But then there was this, this is a shark monster truck and I couldn’t not buy it, because it’s a FUCKING SHARK MONSTER TRUCK. I feel very dirty, but that feeling is slightly anesthetised by the fact that this thing goes really fast on lino.
Make Your Own Souvenirs!
This was so exciting; in fact it was a legitimate highlight of the holiday. These figurines – whom I have named Lolly Pop Lion, Motherfucking Gorilla and Ear Wax Giraffe – are pressed by special vending machines dotted around Busch Gardens for $3 apiece and you can see the machine doing this! I took a picture of the machine for you because it looks like something from a 1985 holiday camp and I love them:
When I first went to Florida as a ten year old, Gatorland had these and I still have the ones I pressed there but I never thought anything like this would still be around, they looked out of date then, but holy shit Busch Gardens still had at least four (the elephant one was broken) dotted around their park. The first I spotted was the gorilla machine and those vacationing with me were understandably confused by how excited this made me, but I like to think that by the time we left (and I’d made two more) they understood at least how fascinating the process is even if they didn’t share my nostalgia, enthusiasm for park exclusive merch (and you really can’t get a better example of park exclusive merch than a toy you make at the park that has the location’s name on it) or need to buy anything that looks like a knock-off of King Kong, and Motherfucking Gorilla sure falls into that category doesn’t he? He’s so great.
Jasmine Deluxe Dress Up Set!
I include this not because it has allowed me to achieve the goal of having an action figure of Jasmine (my favourite princess) in her red outfit (the sexiest outfit for any princess) but because, and I’m not joking here, Aladdin is included as her accessory, check out the box:
This is clearly a Disney Princess toy and a Jasmine toy, not a Jasmine and Aladdin toy or an Aladdin tie-in. Aladdin is not mentioned anywhere on the packaging, he – the man whom the film is named after – is not mentioned anywhere. He’s an accessory. This is true of all of these sets; the Disney Princes are literally put on the same level as snap on clothes. I’m not sure if I like this or if I think it’s incredibly sexist, but if it is sexist do I still kind of like it because for once it's Disney Princess related but can only be accused of being sexist to men? I'm not having an existential crisis over Aladdin action figures, let's move on.
No that’s not a typo, it’s not Monster Poppers, these are actually called Monster Poopers. They’re part of a line called Treat Street and I got them from CVS and they’re just brilliant. You fill up the back with balls of candy (they’re about the size of Astros), wind ‘em up and then they walk along as shit the candy out in their wake. I dunno maybe these things are standards in America, just something that always comes out for Halloween but these do not exist in the UK, we do and have had animals that lay or shit chocolate (I have a Cadbury’s chicken somewhere and the reindeers are wheeled out every year to crap chocolate raisins at Christmas) but monsters who walk along and casually crap sweets aren’t a thing here and I so wish they were. I don’t know if this is the whole set, I bought one of each model the shop had but I can’t believe there isn’t a Frankenstein and Wolf Man out there somewhere, my favourite is the mummy by the way, because I think cartoon mummies are adorable and comical in equal measure and this is only increased by watching little edible neon balls spring from its backside as it waddles towards the edge of the dining table.
This was weird, even weirder than pooping zombies; I went into a toy shop in the Florida Mall – A-2 Toys I think – and they just randomly had a bunch of 1990s action figures, still carded and up on pegs like they were the newest offerings from NECA. They had Spawn, Warriors of Virtue, the 2000s Masters of the Universe line, that 90’s Flash Gordon cartoon, is this a thing that toy shops all toy shops in America have? Just a random vintage section? If so how do they get them? This figure came out in 1997 – where are they getting near-20 year old carded action figures from for a price where they can knock them out for $7.99 each? And can they give me their number so I can get the rest of the Earthworm Jim figures I need and all the apes from Congo? Surely they can’t have had these since 1997 right? Mind you this is Warriors of Virtue…
This really isn’t here so I can talk about flasks, though I did need a new flask for general use (I think it’ll be the Halloween Horror Nights one, though the Country Bears jug is very cool to drink from) and the biggest challenge we all had when packing was our new collections of souvenir drinking receptacles. Firstly Wet ‘n Wild is closing this year, it’s going to be replaced by some new water park Universal (who own Wet ‘n Wild now) are building over the road from it; they’re making a big deal out of it – putting up special retrospective posters and adding ‘The Last Splash’ to their logos and just generally making a visit there feel like you’re giving the park the send of you want to give it. When we left I felt genuinely choked up to know that this was the last time I’d ever be there. Secondly I went to Universal’s 2016 Halloween Horror Nights event (more than once), I was going to do a separate post on it but I didn’t do enough mazes. This has made me realise, and begin to get comfortable with the fact, that I really don’t like these things – I’m just so easily immersed and these things are really immersive, I was so unbearably tense the whole time, even out of the ‘scare zones’ (which were all awesome, Vamp ’55 was probably my favourite, though the Dead Man’s Warf was easily the best done) and I just don’t like paying to make myself THAT uncomfortable. I was so pleased with myself the first night: I did a maze and wasn’t rude to, and didn’t hit, any of the Scareactors, I let myself down a little the second night, wussing out of the Lunatic’s Playground maze (I was having a panic attack at the time and doing the thing I do where I go and have a panic attack in private so as to not worry anyone but still) and just stopping myself from giving one poor vampire a forearm smash (I stopped my arm mere centimetres from the poor bloke’s face, it was a natural reaction but I still feel bad about it), I feel weak and ashamed. I did however completely fall for this year’s icon Chance – the very obvious Harley Quinn to Jack the Clown’s Joker, here’s a picture of her, the woman playing her was so fast and witty, you can see her on the right of this paragraph, I want her to do disgusting things to me.
All the Haunted Mansion Stuff I Could Carry!
I bought A LOT of things in Memento Mori and that shop AIN’T cheap. The Haunted Mansion is one of my favourite things and I knew damn well that I would do this but I still spent the following day convalescing from open wallet surgery. The candelabra was the only thing to get broken in transit during my journey home, I’ve fixed it since then and that’s why it wasn’t in the haul photo, the Gorilla Glue was drying. Even though it was the second most expensive thing I bought while on holiday I’m not in any way bothered, it was the only thing I was OK with getting damaged – after all it’s from the Haunted Mansion, a derelict building bursting at the seams with 999 happy haunts (but with room for one more if you’re interested), and any cracks, lumps or bumps only make it look and feel that little bit more authentic, I won’t be dusting it very often. In retrospect I suppose I would have also have been ok with Motherfucking Gorilla getting damaged because then I could have used Gorilla Glue to stick an actual gorilla but I appear to be digressing in a post that’s already bloody long. That book’s fantastic by the way, it’s a scene by scene trip through the ride to the lyrics from Grim Grinning Ghosts with stylised but accurate artwork of loads of characters and objects from the mansion you rarely see drawn, and yes the Hatbox Ghost is in it.
Yeah I actually bought something from Art of Disney, that very expensive statue and picture shop in EPCOT and Disney Springs. Their clientele seems to consist solely of middle-aged to elderly couples who all dress, talk and act exactly like how you imagine Flordians to and hardcore Disniacs draped in vintage park apparel and pins so the staff was genuinely confused when I wanted to buy something, but really who else is a 14 inch Maleficent aimed at than people like me? I can’t believe that a shop that sells shit like this and Haunted Mansion statues has never sold anything to someone in all black and New Rock boots before. Maleficent is my favourite Disney villain and one of my favourite villains period and this statue is amazing but two observations: her green fire - which is the perfect choice for a base for her – looks like jelly sweets and her headdress is shiny, I think this is correct to the intentions to the design but when something is just shiny when everything else around it is isn’t it just sticks out. Finally I got this home without even a chip or paint scuff; it just further proves that my army backpack, which I bought for the first time I went to Florida and has been serving me faithfully for 20 years since, is the best. Thanks army backpack, you make owning expensive Disneyana possible.
And because I can’t top a sexy witch commanding a lake of jelly and because I’m tired and can’t be bothered to write anything else about shit I bought at Walt Disney World I’m going to end this here. Thanks for reading, and hurry baaaaack, hurry baaaack.