D23 Expo — Is It Worth It?

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By Carol Garcia

As someone who spends more than her share of time talking about Disney, I’m often asked about various dining locations, resorts, or attractions. Inevitably, the question, “Is it worth it?” comes up. The answer to this question is very subjective. Even within my own family, we may answer the question differently about the same experience that we had at the same time.

So in talking about the D23 Expo, I’ve actually wondered myself “Was it worth it?”

I was lucky enough to attend the first-ever D23 Expo held September 10-14, 2009 in the Anaheim Convention Center. I’ve attended Mousefest over the past few years, and thought it might be interesting to attend a Disney-sponsored fan experience. In the interest of full disclosure, I spent a great deal of my Expo time at table with The Magic For Less Travel. I wasn’t attending purely for the experience. But I was able to spend some time seeing the sights and attending the various events. I was also able to help update Magically Speaking’s and TheMouseForLess’ Facebook pages for those who couldn’t attend.

It’s everything Disney!
My Disney interests focus more on the parks than other aspects of the company. Of course I know the movies and TV shows, and have heard about (and use some of) the products and services with the Disney name on them. I used the Expo to expand my Disney horizons…and one of my first impressions was that the Expo was certainly large enough to expand many horizons! It was massive compared with an event like Mousfest.

The floor was devoted to the many varied aspects of the Disney Company. Upon entering the center, there was much devoted to Disney’s volunteer efforts. A great way to make a nice first impression. Guests didn’t just hear about it, though, but actually participated in projects to make a difference. Beyond that was an amazing show featuring what’s new in the Disney destinations. Continuing on, there were kiosk highlighting a myriad of new and exciting Disney products, from paint and home goods, to food and art. The sounds of Radio Disney provided the background to it all.

Then the collectors, various websites, and even a few travel agencies were able to highlight their goods and commitment to the Disney product. If that wasn’t enough, there were special presentations, autograph sessions, interactive displays, and more.

If I wasn’t sure that Disney touched many aspects of people’s lives before, I sure know now. Was this a pro or a con? I’m sure their marketing people are thrilled, and my kids loved the free samples of some things I was able to bring home, so overall, I’m sure Disney’s brand dominance is a positive influence, if overwhelming at times.

It’s at Disneyland!
Well, really, the Expo was held at the Anaheim Convention Center, which is across the street from Disneyland, but it’s close enough. I’m admittedly much more familiar with the Florida parks. So this location was exiting, and a bit unfamiliar to me.

There are a lot of locals from the Southern California area who were able to attend the Expo. Of course, there were some of us who traveled much greater distances, but many people we spoke with during the four days were local. I think that gave Disney a built in audience.

There were also a number of special guests and Disney celebrities who made appearances throughout the weekend. Some were in the special shows, and some were out on the floor. My hunch is that the Southern California location provided easier access to many of these people as well.

While I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time at the parks, I did get to sneak some park time in at Disneyland Park. It was great to see some things I’ve never seen before (yes, the new dragon was working during Fantasmic!), and some old favorites (I saw the original Tiki Room in honor of one of our Magically Speaking editors).

Overall, is the Expo’s location a pro or a con? I liked it, and think the location is great. It’s novel for a Disney World person like me to actually be able to walk to everything I needed for the weekend. No buses (although they were available), no rental car, just my two feet. I liked that aspect. It’s great to see something less familiar, and I like Southern California. So for me, it’s a pro. I do secretly hope that the Expo would eventually alternate between various Disney locations, just to add variety, though.

It’s Four Days Long!
I wasn’t sure what to make of the length of the Expo. Would there be enough to fill four days of activities? After we traveled the floors, what would be left?

I don’t think the average guest would need to spend four solid days in attendance. The special appearances and presentations each day certainly give something new to see each day, but I would suggest choosing the presentations you most want to see ahead of time, and going just for those days. One day a presentation featured Disney legends, one day Johnny Depp (and whoever else was in that presentation), one day Jay Rasulo, one day John Lasseter. Those alone could have kept me coming back each day, and there was plenty to see on the floor over more than one day. Sometimes the lines were long at a particular exhibit, so I could go back later to check it out. There were also unique Disney trading pins available each day.

So, is the Expo’s length a pro or a con? I was certainly able to fill my time at the Expo. I was also at the booth meeting-and-greeting, so that filled my time as well. I could have easily spent time each day on my favorite highlights and the rest of the time at the parks. That being said, by the fourth day, I was getting tired. I did wonder why it wasn’t three days at times. I think Expo visitors who attend just to explore the Expo (and not spend time staffing a booth) would be happy with attending only for the amount of days that contain their must-see presentations.

It’s Not Free!
As I said, I was an exhibitor, so my payment status was different than most. But to attend all four days of the exhibit, it would have cost $111 for an adult or $90 for an adult who is a D23 member. Overall, this isn’t cheap. But there was an amazing amount of things to see.

Many things I wouldn’t have been able to do any other way. John Lasseter doesn’t come to my neighborhood to update me on upcoming projects very often. Jay Rasulo doesn’t send me e-mails to verify internet rumors on expanding Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom (although it would make this editor job much easier if he did!). So the price I paid was not only to see Disney products in one place, but see presentations I couldn’t anywhere else.

When evaluating the price, the aspect that sticks out in my mind is definitely the special presentations. I enjoyed them and would have paid to see them. I also didn’t bring a family of four with me to see them. If I had, my feeling of value may have changed. This isn’t something you take your antsy toddler to for four days. This event is really for more grown-up Disney fans. If you are one, then you will likely pay the money.

Hey, I’m a D23 Member!
While anyone could attend the Expo, there were some perks for D23 members. We got a whopping $11 off of a four day ticket. We also got to get into the Expo one hour early (that’s 8 a.m. for those of you who want to sleep in). Those were the major member benefits. Discounts were available to Expo attendees at select Downtown Disney locations, but that didn’t require membership.

Pro or Con? Unless you are planning on getting more out of your membership than the Expo, save your $75. If you enjoy the D23 Magazine, or are able to attend one of the many D23 member-exclusive events around the country, then go for it. But membership isn’t necessary to enjoy the Expo. From our booth’s prime vantage point overlooking the queue, close to everyone got into the events in the D23 Arena, so standing in line at 8 a.m. for an 11 a.m. presentation wasn’t necessary (although getting in the queue early is definitely needed). The Expo floor was crowded at times, but mid-afternoon gave guests some elbow room. Probably the only thing that required early admission is an opportunity to purchase some of the exclusive pins. I like pins, but not that much. I do know that is much more important to some people than it is to me.

So, Is It Worth It?
Looking at my list of pros and cons, my answer is yes. I really enjoyed the Expo. It was the first year, and not without its quirks, but I liked it. I also attended on my own. While I have contemplated spending the time and money to fly my family out for the next one, I’m not sure about the expense. Nor am I sure that my kids would have the patience to attend an Expo with Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure just across the street. In fact, overall, there weren’t a whole lot of kids around, with the possible exception the day the gang from Wizards of Waverly Place was around. Of course there were kids, just not in the numbers you would see in the parks.

The Expo is definitely worth the time for the Disney fan. Even if you can only attend one day, I would pick a day that sounds most interesting and make it happen. But rest assured knowing that if the Expo isn’t in the cards for you, some of us will still be around next year Tweeting and updating Facebook to keep everyone in touch. One way or another, you can be a part of the D23 Expo.

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