The brand that made the soaps, shampoos and bath products that defined the “smell of vacation” at Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line has closed up shop. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we have an update as of Late 2023, and the ‘scent spirit’ of H2O will live on.
During the December 2023 Disney Vacation Club Condominium Association Meeting, Vice President of Resort Operations, Alison Armor, shared that Disney had acquired the rights to the formula for the H2O bath products and would continue to produce them under their own private-label Disney resorts brand, according to DVC News.
This is not a complete surprise. There were rumors that Disney’s deal with H2O lasted through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Those also indicated that Disney had enough inventory on hand (approximately) to get through that date, after which they’d stop using the H2O branding and switch over to a different bath products provider.
That date came and went without fanfare. It’s possible that the rumor was simply wrong. Honestly, I did nothing to vet what I heard. It could’ve been Cast Member chatter or gossip, which is often like a bad game of telephone. But the stakes were pretty low here, so I just went with what it.
We did notice that some new and reimagined resorts that debuted around that time stopped using the H2O branding. Notably, the Villas at Disneyland Hotel dropped the H2O name from its dispensers while still using the same products–just brandless.
There were similar reports from Disney Cruise Line and other resorts, where Disney stickers were placed over the H2O label. However, this was pretty hit or miss and far from across the board. Here’s our photo from the new rooms at Boulder Ridge Villas:
I have similar images of the dispensers and individual products at both Disney’s Contemporary Resort and BoardWalk Inn from the last couple months.
Regardless of the label, every hotel continued using H2O products. It’s difficult to fathom that Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruise Line would’ve been sitting on an 18+ month supply of shampoo and soap. The more logical explanation was that they had an agreement with the parent company of H2O to either continue producing the products for Disney despite retiring the label, or allow Disney to somehow continue using them.
Despite the explanation from the VP of Resort Operations, we’re still guessing the former is what happened–H2O’s parent company (which did not go out of business) is still making these products for Disney, minus the branding. That’s much more logical than Disney suddenly becoming a soap manufacturer, especially given how much Disney already outsources.
It’s also slightly more logical than Disney buying the formula and taking it to a competitor to produce. That scenario is certainly plausible, but why would the parent company of H2O pass up the opportunity to keep a colossal client? Seems like a win-win for them–retire a brand that wasn’t doing so well, but retain the Disney contract.
Anyway, we’re just speculating–regardless of the reason or mechanics, the outcome for guests is still the same: Disney’s bath brand has ended, but it doesn’t much matter, because its spirit will linger on…in scent form!
What follows is the original announcement about the bath brand ending and our commentary from last year…
H2O+ posted on its official website thanking customers for 33 years, along with this: “After 30+ amazing years of innovation, we have made the very difficult decision to retire the brand at the end of the year.” H2O+ also indicated that you customers can “shop your favorites on Amazon while supplies last.”
Frequent visitors of Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or Disney Cruise Line will instantly recognize the H2O+ name. It’s the company that makes all of those bath and body products–from shampoo and conditioner to foot scrub–that are provided in resort rooms and staterooms.
Featured items at Walt Disney World and beyond include the H2O Plus premium Sea Salt and Sea Marine SPA lines, signature blue Bath Aquatics collection, and bath and body care products in Blushing Orange and Grapefruit Bergamot scents. H2O Plus products are also available in resort gift shops and online at shopDisney.com.
H2O Plus is a subsidiary of Pola Orbis Holdings, based out of Tokyo, Japan. In a press release, the Pola Orbis group stated that it has positioned the expansion of its business portfolio as “the new pillar of its strategies, while aiming to further enhance profitability by pursuing reforms of its brand portfolio in the existing cosmetics business” for Vision 2029, which is its 100th Anniversary plan.
With that, Pola is eliminating H2O Plus Holdings Inc. Since joining the group, H2O Plus has been engaged in the manufacture and sale of cosmetics primarily in the US. However, the business environment surrounding the beauty brand has become “extremely difficult,” with sales falling short of expectations. Pola acquired H2O Plus in 2010. At the time of the acquisition, Pola said it would expand the brand in Asia.
According to the company, H2O Plus will fulfill its contractual obligations to supply products in accordance with agreements with its business partners, and proceed with dissolution procedures during the second half of 2023. Subsequently, the liquidation will be concluded upon the completion of the necessary procedures.
Given that, it’s likely that H2O+ products will be available in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and DCL rooms through at least the end of 2022. No word yet from the Walt Disney Company on what brand will replace H2O, but our “vote” goes to another Japanese brand: Kao Corporation, sponsor of Tokyo Disney Resort and producer of the iconic Mickey Mouse head soap dispensers (which smell great).
The Walt Disney Company and H2O Plus have had a fruitful relationship for over 15 years. The two began working together in 2006, when Walt Disney World teamed with H2O Plus to “provide our guests with high-quality, in-room amenities such as shampoos, conditioners and body lotions,” said Michael Cohen, vice president, Disney Corporate Alliances.
If I recall correctly, H2O products were only offered at Deluxe Resorts and Disney Vacation Club properties initially. Someone feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I could swear we still received the old school Mickey Mouse stuff at the All Stars and Port Orleans Resorts in 2007.
Back in 2013, the two partners announced a multi-year strategic relationship that took that even further. At the time, Cohen said that Disney was “excited to expand upon this relationship and look forward to introducing H2O Plus products to Disney guests around the globe.”
Then, H2O+ went from the primary in-room amenities provider for Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club properties, to extend the H2O Plus presence internationally.
Through that deal, H2O Plus products were added to Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Disneyland Paris, and Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii. In addition, H2O Plus became sponsor of multiple runDisney races at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.
“We’ve enjoyed a wonderful, long-standing relationship with Disney and we are pleased with the opportunity to further collaborate with one of the most beloved companies in the world” said H2O Plus CEO, Rick Ruffolo at the time. “This expanded agreement will enable us to provide H2O Plus to an even broader Disney audience who can now enjoy the best in marine-based skincare products.”
While that partnership was significant news at the time, the biggest story involving H2O Plus and Walt Disney World was, naturally, a controversy. A minor change that garnered disproportionate backlash.
Back in 2017, Walt Disney World began replacing individually-packaged soaps and shampoos with larger, refillable dispensers in the shower. This was one of several unpopular changes made at the resorts in 2017-2018, overshadowed only by the addition of hotel parking fees and pet-friendly resorts. (Parking fees are still a big deal, but the other two “issues” seem downright quaint as compared to the changes of the last couple years.)
These refillable dispensers were first added at Value and Moderate Resorts and eventually extended to Disney Vacation Club Resorts and beyond.
For those keeping score at home, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser officially became the most expensive “hotel” to have the refillable dispensers when it debuted earlier this year.
This has been a bit hit or miss, though. Some Deluxe and Villa resorts have the refillable shampoo, conditioner, and body wash dispensers, whereas others do not.
During our stay in the Grand New Rooms at Walt Disney World’s Flagship Resort, we were surprised to find individual toiletries. (Not that any of you actually care–but I find it fascinating to see which new rooms do and don’t do things like this and bed runners.)
I’ve been of two minds about this. On the one hand, this is more environmentally-friendly, and is a trend in the larger hotel industry far beyond Disney. It’s especially popular in Europe (we’ve experienced this even at high end and boutique hotels there), but has been standard practice in U.S. National Park lodges for a while, too.
The flip side to that is it’s another cut at hotels with ever-increasing prices. It’s one of those things that just feels like a cost-savings measure being implemented under the guise of environmentality. It’d be one thing if this savings were passed along to guests or used to improve another amenity, but I think we all know that’s not how it has played out.
Whenever we stay in a resort at Walt Disney World, we stock up on H2O+ products.
A while back, I admitted in our Top 10 Scents of Walt Disney World that I hadn’t bought shampoo in years. While that’s no longer true, it’s not due to the refillable dispenser switch–I still have enough H2O Plus products to last a lifetime.
As firm believers in scent-evoked nostalgia, that’s why we continue to collect the little bottles and have quite the stockpile.
We use various H2O+ bath products on “special occasions” or when wanting to start our day off on the right foot. Certain discontinued scents or bath products from specific hotels still conjure up memories and emotion from past trips, and it’s nice to revisit those from time to time.
Sarah and I began visiting Walt Disney World together in 2006, just before H2O Plus began its relationship with Disney. (I assume–our first trip featured the old school black and red Mickey Mouse toiletries.)
Ever since then, H2O Plus products have been a defining scent of our vacations. The “turquoise flavor” still instantly transports me to staying at Saratoga Springs in 2007-2009, the “green flavor” is associated with our first stay at the Grand Californian. And so on. This is probably very inconsequential news to most normal people or even casual visitors, but it’s huge to us. Calling it the end of an era might seem hyperbolic–and probably is–but that’s a bit how this feels for us.
Ultimately, that’s precisely why the news of Walt Disney World’s bath products brand being retired is such “big” news despite being relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It’s why so many other fans also stockpile these toiletries (if you thought it was frugality, you’ve missed the point–no one who can afford a $200+ hotel room can’t afford a $2 bottle of Suave). It’s also why it was such a big deal for so many when the switch was made to refillable dispensers.
The good news is that Walt Disney World and the other destinations will replace H2O Plus with different bath products (presumably–probably shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves with that assumption given recent penny-pinching) and that brand will have its own distinct smells (also presumably). It’ll take some time before nostalgia is formed around those new scents, but it will happen eventually. Here’s hoping they’re as good as the ones made by H2O Plus. Truly the end of an era…and hopefully the beginning of another!
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Will you miss the nostalgic scents of H2O+ bath products at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or Disney Cruise Line? Is this the ‘end of an era’ for you…or is this inconsequential news? Are you a fan of H2O Plus, or ready for something different? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!