It’s finally arrived! D23 Expo is ready to begin! While we weren’t ready to do the overnight lines for Day 1 we were ready to roll out of bed at the crack of dawn to join the masses of fans waiting to get in. Or more like wake up at 5am, realize this is the same time we’d normally wake up for work, laze around for a bit, then realize we really should just go downstairs and line up.
Just like we thought from scoping out the terrain the day before there was a massive queue forming in the central plaza between the Marriott and the Hilton. Staff members were directing people to go one way for Hall D23 and Mousequerade (the cosplay competition) and another for Show Floor. We’d decided to skip the Legends Ceremony and try for the Feature Animation/Pixar presentation later in the day, so we stood with the Show Floor folks. Staff members scanned the QR code on our convention credentials to admit us.
Despite the intimidating line of metal detectors not all of them were in use. The procedure is familiar to anyone who’s visited a Disney theme park recently: open your bag from inspection, walk through the detector, get a wand check if the detector goes off. Most guests were smart and removed any metal items such as jewelry, phones, and keys and placed them in their bags. The lines moved at a brisk pace so we were through in a matter of minutes. On the other side were lanyards to hold our credentials (sadly without a plastic protector this year), a souvenir program, schedule of events, and a reusable bag.
While we were not at the very front of the line we were situated quite well for arriving at 6:15am. The plaza had been taped off into “blocks.” We weren’t sure what the blocks were for other than emergency access paths. People were already set up in chairs or on blankets since we had about two and a half hours to go before the doors opened. We took the opportunity to read the program and schedule, review our plans on the D23 Expo app, and people watch. There were a lot of great costumes this year (Maid Marian from Robin Hood, the emotions from Inside Out, a complete Guardians of the Galaxy team with Yondu and Nebula, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, and so many more). There were even local news crews filming as we waited.
As we drew closer and closer to 9am it became hard to discern if something was actually happening or if the crowd was getting worked up for another reason as cheers would go up in one section without any apparent cause. While this kept us all excited it did make us anxious to be ready to move as soon as we were given the okay. About half an hour before we were ready to enter staff members dispersed to inform us on how the entrance process would work. We would be moving into the convention center by our “blocks.” Staff members would monitor the blocks to make sure no one rushed ahead, effectively cutting in line. This was all to prevent a stampede and keep the crowd organized in case of an emergency. We heard from a group ahead of us who knew someone working inside that the crowd was much larger than they expected. We were actually in the first group to go in. Several more queues had formed and were being held on various floors of the convention center since the outside areas were too crowded. It sounded like organizers were scrambling a little to find out how to contain us all.
The block-by-block set up actually worked pretty well. There was an instance were someone broke away from their block to try to join the block ahead of them. This caused a loud series of “boos” from the crowd followed shortly by cheers as staff members ejected the culprit(s). If there’s anything that’ll get your blood to boil early it’s someone cutting in a line we’ve all been waiting for hours in.
Adrenaline began to flow as we moved forward. We even got a clear view of two cars that had been kept under wraps the night before: L.O.L.A. from ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Ghost Rider’s car from the same show. Further ahead was Mater from Cars Land. Finally we got the green light and we speedwalked up to the main entrance.
The Show Floor is inside a hall within the building, so at first it doesn’t seem like much is going on in the convention center. Then you go through the doors. There’s a band playing onstage. To one side is the Pirates of the Caribbean Archives exhibit, to the other is Marvel Studios’ booth with costumes from Black Panther and art from Infinity Wars. Disney cameramen are running around filming your reactions as you enter. People already have shopping bags. It was almost too much!
Busy Bumble and I had agreed on a plan to start: get a StorePass for Mickey’s of Glendale, go to the Disney Dream Store, check out the Show Floor as we go along, get in line for the Feature Animation/Pixar presentation as soon as we’re finished with Mickey’s of Glendale. So our first task was to find the StorePass booth. Luckily some handy overhead signs and speedwalking got us to the line (which was already about 15 minutes long).
While we stood in line we saw Dr. Dan the Pancake Man (of YouTube fame) setting up his kitchen for his presentation in the Disney Consumer Products pavilion. We also passed by the Funko booth. They were promoting a subscription service themed around Disney: every month you’d get a box of Disney Funko toys themed for a special subject. For June and July they had already released Pirates Cove (complete with Jack Sparrow figure, Mr. Smee from Peter Pan, and more) and Festival of Friends (Pluto, Thumper, and the most adorable figurine of Dumbo and Timothy Mouse). We stood in line beside it long enough that I couldn’t resist. I signed up for a subscription (discounted for D23 Expo attendees!) and bought the Pirates Cove box (once a pirate, always a pirate).
Once we got towards the front of the line a staff member was directing parties to a line for each store. The way StorePass works is very similar to FastPass in the theme parks. It is a free service where your party is given a return time for entry to the store without waiting in line. You have 30 minutes from the time on your card to return before it expires. Once inside the store you can shop for as long as you want. These passes were only available for the three Disney-run retail outfits: the Disney Store (new merchandise, D23 Expo-only releases, collectibles, and Disney Store favorites), the Dream Store (D23 Expo merchandise, theme park merchandise, art reproductions, future release items, and Archives items), and Mickey’s of Glendale (apparel, gifts, tech, and more designed by and for Disney Imagineers). Since we were headed in the direction of the Dream Store anyways I opted for a Mickey’s of Glendale StorePass. There is a real Mickey’s of Glendale in the Glendale Imagineering campus. This store is usually open only to Imagineers (although in 2015 D23 held a member event for Christmas shopping). I knew the Disney Store line would be long and I hadn’t seen anything in advance that I wanted there. I had two must-have items on my shopping list: the special D23 Expo Mickey ears and the prototype changeable Minnie ears, both at the Dream Store. If I found something neat at Mickey’s of Glendale I’d add it on.
From getting our StorePass we headed towards the Dream Store, passing by many of the booths along the way. Lines were already getting long at some of the ones promising exclusive items. We also passed a booth for the upcoming film A Wrinkle in Time. At the moment it wasn’t staffed so we decided to check back in later. The Archives also has a number of props and exhibit items on display on the show floor. Our father loves trains so we had to take a look at the legendary Disneyland Combine Car, a car that guests could once ride but was taken off the Disneyland Railroad.
The Dream Store line wasn’t terribly long, maybe 30 minutes. While we waited staff took pictures for guests and some of Disney’s pin designers showed off the exclusive pins available inside the store. Most guests didn’t know that the ladies holding these pins were the actual designers, but a few did stop by after they made their purchases for autographs.
Inside the store is a treasure trove of exclusive items: a collection of items celebrating the anniversaries of Epcot Center, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Space Mountain, Jim Shore figurines, fine art and animation memorabilia, kitchen items, rare music, working lightsaber reproductions, and so much more. While I was disappointed not to find the D23 Expo ears I did find the Alex and Ani bangles exclusive to the expo. I actually purchased mine directly from Alex and Ani themselves! I’m sure they heard it from everyone but I had to tell them how much I love their cute little charms and how excited I was for the theme park charm sets they’re releasing.
I was able to find the prototype changeable Minnie ears and I met their creator as well! These ears are absolutely darling and I’m betting Disney will make bank on these. There’s a simple starter set headband with ears and a glittery black and silver bow. This bow detaches so that you can change it for special bows themed after Disney princesses and villains! All of them were adorable so I got them all (I might feel like Cruella de Vil on Tuesday, then Jasmine on Wednesday, you never know!). I think my favorites are the Queen of Hearts and Princess Jasmine.
Busy Bumble, animation geek she is, found a lovely pencil drawing of Belle that she wanted to bring home. We also found some yet-to-be released Miss Mindy figurines of Cogsworth and Lumiere. There was a lot more that we ended up buying. Checkout was actually where the long line was. There are two lines: one for people purchasing fine art, collectibles, and anything unique that needs to be catalogued as purchased, and another line for everyone else. Because of our purchases we ended up in the unique purchases line which was about 20 minutes long.
While we were waiting in line chatting with some other guests we heard a resounding SMASH and some gasps from the main store. One of the display walls had fallen over! No one was injured, thank goodness, but there was quite a mess to clean up. Staff responded quickly and they’re to be commended for setting things right so quickly and safely while keeping the crowd calm. Later in the day we came back to see if you could tell a disaster had nearly happened, but nothing looked out of place. It was a scary reminder that everything inside the convention center is a temporary construct surrounded by tens of thousands of people bumping into them, leaning on them, or otherwise leaving them potentially unstable.
Across from the Dream Store was an Archives exhibit on costumes from some of Disney’s live action films. As a costume designer I was fascinated by these dresses and the exquisite craftsmanship behind them. A few of the people cosplaying in these dresses stopped by for pictures.
Further to the center of the floor was the Animation and Pixar pavilion. We caught the tail end of some of Pixar’s engineers demonstrating their newest production: Box, a computer program that will teach students computer coding and S.T.E.M. principles. This will apparently be available for students in the San Francisco Bay Area to test drive before they expand.
Also in the pavilion were exhibits highlighting some of the most popular films from each studio as well as upcoming work.
There are a few concessions stands throughout the show floor. When we passed by the one next door to the Animation pavilion it was crowded, with a long line to order and no seats available. A good tip we heard from another guest was to avoid the Grill station. The food there is made to order, so it’s nice and fresh, but that means it takes a while to prepare and this is one of the more popular stations so the line is always long.
When we arrived at Mickey’s of Glendale for our StorePass window we were ushered right in. Much like the Dream Store there is a lot to choose from and all of it is exclusive. There were Hawaiian shirts for Disneyland attractions, tech kits, water bottles, notebooks, hoodies (for the true Disney fan some just say “WED Enterprises.” I got that one), concept art reproductions, and knick-knacks based on Disney’s technology and attractions. It was here that we realized we had too many shopping bags. American Tourister had a booth selling their Disney branded luggage, which was selling quite well. I’d joked that we’d need another bag to bring back all of our purchases, but it really looked like we’d need one. Luckily Mickey’s of Glendale had an Imagineering duffel that was a fraction of the cost of one of the American Tourister bags.
New purchases in our new bag we decided to grab some food and head to Hall E to line up nearly three hours early for the Feature Animation/Pixar panel.
In my next installment: Everything’s Been Going So Well. What Could Go Wrong? (Why Did You Have Tempt Fate and Ask That?)