Inside the Reimagined World of Disney Stores

We’ve had a chance to visit the re-imagined World of Disney stores at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and thought we’d share some thoughts on the presentation and style of these retail environments, along with photos of new Christmas merchandise and other assorted souvenirs that caught our eyes.

I’m not sure if I posted criticism of the design when Disney released concept art earlier this year (probably, because that’s not the type of thing I generally just keep to myself), but I definitely was not a fan. However, I’ll be the first to admit when I’m wrong or rush to judgment, and that was at least partially the case here.

In California, I’d say the new look is more or less a lateral move. I suppose the argument could be made that the store previously had an early aughts datedness, but I’d counter that the store had charm and personality, carrying over some of the Arts & Crafts style found in the Grand Californian and the rest of Downtown Disney.

The Arts & Crafts style is slowly being stripped from Downtown Disney, replaced with location-specific looks, and that’s true with World of Disney, too.

The California store definitely could’ve used better organization and a bit less of a chaotic floor plan pre-refurbishment, but I’m not convinced a top to bottom redo was necessary. Reasonable minds could differ on that one, though.

Walt Disney World is a different story, and the re-imagined World of Disney in Florida is a marked improvement. The old incarnation of the store was claustrophobic, drab, and difficult to navigate. I had been in there countless times, but always found myself getting frustrated trying to find this or that. Quite often, I would ultimately end up leaving prematurely, not wanting to deal with it.

The new layout addresses pretty much everything that led to this frustration. The design itself is lighter and airier, the floor plan is not as jam-packed, and when you first enter the store it’s relatively easy to get a quick lay of the land thanks to giant wall marquees. The color choices, skylights, and the brickwork also make it feel a bit warmer and more inviting.

My initial complaints about the design revolved around it being yet another ‘repurposed warehouse’ style, which has led to me questioning whether Imagineering has hired a posse of rustic hipsters to create its restaurants and retail spaces, as about 50% of the recent work in those areas has embraced this same design.

The final World of Disney product, in both California and Florida, does nothing to address those complaints. Disneyland and Walt Disney World (especially) both have a surplus of ‘repurposed warehouse’ locations. Not only are these all boring and interchangeable, but this as an aesthetic that’s “in” right now, and not ‘distinctly Disney’ in even a remote sense of the term.

Moreover, since this look is so trendy, there’s also going to be a time in the not-so-distant future when it falls out of favor, and the World of Disney stores, along with pretty much every store and restaurant at Disney Springs and a good number at Disneyland will look dated. To put it bluntly, there’s nothing unique or timeless about the underlying designs here.

The good news is that there’s more substance here than just the core repurposed, industrial design. On top of the warehouse, there are numerous homages to the legacy of Disney animation. You can find references to the Nine Old Men, ink & paint, and the animation process in general.

Displays abound, and are prominent behind cash registers and in alcoves throughout the store. Many of these bring the animation process to life in cool and fun ways. There are also fun, oversized props of iconic things from the parks, such as the Mickey Ice Cream Bar above (and Dole Whip, just out of frame). In other cases, screens are used to showcase featured merchandise.

The screens are something of a mixed bag. There’s something about their brightness, or perhaps the tech itself, that feels slightly at odds with the surrounding decor, but this feels nit-picky. In general, I think these vibrant screen displays are eye-catching and help highlight some of the selections of merchandise available in the area.

Let’s take a look at some of the new Christmas (and other) merchandise that was just released at World of Disney:

There are some really solid Christmas sweaters, both of the traditional and (intentionally) ugly variety.

Do people buy these nutcrackers? I see them every year at the outlets, but since Disney keeps making them, I’m guessing they are selling at least some.

Obligatory Christmas spirit jerseys.

Overall, the selection of Christmas merchandise (namely, attire) that has been released thus far is very good.

There are a bunch of cool ornaments, including a few featuring Haunted Mansion.

Then there’s this ornament, which probably is not supposed to feature one of the Haunted Mansion portrait characters holding hands with Mickey Mouse, but that’s exactly what it looks like to me. Just look at that ghoulish face!

It’s honestly a bit surprising that Disney chose to make its own Partners ornament the same year Hallmark released one that is markedly better–and cheaper!

Moving along, we have the spirit jerseys, which are getting more ambitious with their designs–a definite plus.

I had no clue these things cost $65. I cannot fathom spending that much on a long sleeve shirt as an adult; it’s surprising that 50% of the teens and college students in the parks at any given moment are all sporting such expensive shirts.

These fluffy fleece ones are $75, but at least 50% cooler.

I have a Disney “Mickey Stands” fluffy fleece shirt that I bought last year from UNIQLO. It was $20 and came with pajama pants.

Nightmare Before Christmas is also not my thing, but these are among the cooler NBC items I’ve ever seen.

Disney is crushing it on the t-shirt front, with a diverse selection and pretty much something for everyone. Tremendous strides have been made in this area over the course of the last decade or so.

As much as I hate some of these designs (and think they cheapen the brand), the ones that I think are good far outnumber the bad ones.

Overall, the big upside of the newly redone World of Disney locations is that they are far more functional. The shopping experience is considerably more pleasant on both coasts. In the end, that’s probably the most important and telling commentary that can be offered. It’s unfortunate that there’s no real theme to speak of to either store, but nods to classic Disney animation are nice, and to be perfectly honest, the utilitarian approach is probably a sensible one, as I don’t think many people are visiting these busy stores to be immersed in themed environments.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of the re-imagined World of Disney stores? Do you like the industrial look of the repurposed warehouse? Would you like to see Imagineering try something (anything) different in terms of its current go-to style? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

25 Responses to “Inside the Reimagined World of Disney Stores”
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