When visiting Walt Disney World Resort and Theme Parks in Orlando Florida, there is no loss for things to do, especially for geeks. One could ride Pirates of the Caribbean for the five hundredth time, memorize every line to the Star Wars: Star Tours attraction, or have the highest score on every arcade game in the Polynesian’s game room. However, there is but one place of interest that is a must-see for toy collectors, and that is the Once Upon A Toy store located in Downtown Disney.
Downtown Disney is an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment section dedicated to consumerism and adult nightlife. Its open to the public, parking is free, and there is no cost for admission! In addition to Once Upon A Toy there are numerous other retailers and boutiques selling all things Disney related from clothing, kitchenware, commissioned art, and enough pins to fill a hundred lanyards. If you’ve had enough of Magic Kingdom, you can leave the kids with the in-laws, and head down to Pleasure Island where you can drink till the song from “Its A Small World” is actually kind of catchy. Best of all, one of the complimentary Disney Resort shuttle busses will take you back to your hotel so you can get up at 6am to take the kids to a Disney Character breakfast!
Anyways, back to toys. Once Upon A Toy strikes a decent balance between all-things-Disney and everything else. Disney partnered up with Hasbro for this store, so Star Wars, Transformers, My Little Pony, etc all have their own dedicated sections. Don’t show up here expecting to find G.I. Joe or Marvel Legends though, and I didn’t spy a single Mattel or NECA product. They also sell pretty much everything toy-wise you might (or might not) find in the parks, such as Pirates of the Caribbean swag and Disney themed classic boardgames like Pirates of the Caribbean Game of Life or Princess Monopoly, etc. There are large sections for boys and girls toys, so think Toys R Us, but minus the diapers, bicycles, and video games. Their prices were fair, but you are on Disney ground after all, so expect to pay a premium. That Transformers Voyager Bludgeon you bought at Wal-Mart for $19.99 was going for nearly twenty-five dollars!
There are a couple attractions within this store for shoppers to create their own products. One such is a build-your-own lightsaber, where you can select your own hilt, and pick out parts for the telescoping blade. They have various colors, blue, red, purple, green, and you can choose all one color or make one with all different colors. There is another station to customize and accessorize your own My Little Pony.
My favorite part of Once Upon A Toy is the Build Your Own Mr. Potato Head station. In fact, besides my friend’s wedding, this was one of the main selling points for me to return to Disney. BYO MPH works like this, you can pay twenty dollars to fill a box with as many Potato Head parts and accessories as you can, many of them are Disney themed and exclusive to Disney, which means your only other option is eBay. Each box is 4″ x 5″ x 7″, and the rules state that you can stuff as much in there as long as the top can close down.
As you walk into the main entrance to the store there is one main island with large containers filled with hundreds of Potato Head parts and pieces. Kids can have the “excitement” of designing their own Mr. Potato Head on a touch-screen computer, and then print out their design to go collect their pieces. There are also several satellite racks containing additional pieces like parts to build your own Darth Tater or Spud Trooper.
It took me about fifteen minutes to select my parts (inspecting each one for imperfections and making sure they didn’t have any grubby finger prints on them), and another five or ten minutes to, urm, “rearrange” my box to make sure I got my money’s worth. The sides of my box seemed like they were about to burst, but I made sure I got just about every last piece in there. The the top wouldn’t quite close, but since the store was about to close, oh, about twenty minutes before I went to cash out, the cashier went with what I had and called it “shut”. I had a few remaining pieces leftover which were some of the larger ones, pirate legs, Cruella De Vil’s hair, and I was able to purchase them separately for $2.45 each, not too shabby.
I already had learned from my last experience there five years ago, so I completely skipped the Potato Head body. However, if you’re in dire need of a few extra spuds for all your new parts, you can purchase them separately, again for $2.45. But if you’re not willing to go over twenty bucks, just make sure to fill him up on the inside as well as on the outside.
Some of the Disney World exclusive parts include the aforementioned Cruella De Vil hair, as well as her high heel shoes, and fur handbag. Boys can make a Captain Jack Sparrow with a Pirates of the Caribbean pirate hat and legs, or Buzz LightSpud with Peter Pans hat and Mr. Incredible’s arms. Girls can make Ariel, with hair and a fish tail stand to mount the spud body on. There are dozens of little other accessories, such as Mickey ears, Disney ice cream bars, autograph books, glasses, and Goofy ears.
Twenty bucks may seem like a lot of money, but if you’re even a casual fan of Mr. Potato Head, with the going rate of a movie themed spud (Tony Starch, Spider Spud, Optimash Prime) around $12, and a standard Mr. Potato Head going for around $8 at most Wal-Marts, if you play your cards right know how to get creative with filling your box you can get the biggest bang for your buck here and a pretty unique souvenir too. As for me, I made sure to grab enough parts to make a bride & groom Mickey & Minnie to give to my friends as a wedding souvenir!