When people come to Walt Disney World, many come for the wonderful attractions or the great theme and some for the variety of food options and there are still some who come to Walt Disney World to do some shopping. It's hard not to find a few souvenirs on your trip that wouldn't look great either at your house or as a gift for that special someone. While shopping may be a bit further down on the priority list for most, shopping at Disney's Hollywood Studios is still an adventure in the various options you can find and this week we take a look at some of the best places at Hollywood Studios to spend a few extra dollars at.
What makes a good store in my opinion, is a store that has some unique gifts that you can't find easily in the park or at Walt Disney World. Unfortunately the variety of merchandise at Walt Disney World as a whole has diminished in recent years (explain to me how there is Pirates of the Caribbean merchandise in Hollywood Studios!) but that's another column for another day. Despite these changes, there's still some unique gift shops to be found. My favorite among them all has to be the gift shop at the Tower of Terror attraction named "Tower Hotel Gifts". What makes this gift shop so unique is that it offers many household items with a Hollywood Tower Hotel theme. Bathrobes, towels, key ornaments, slippers and more are all embroidered as if they came straight out of the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel and there's something spooky and awesome about having that. Who hasn't seen these items on their way through the shop and stopped to wonder what a great idea it'd be to have one of the bathrooms in their house be filled with these gifts. Sure the Tower of Terror t-shirts are neat, but the faux hotel merchandise really stands out as a truly smart merchandise idea. The kind of idea you can rationalize buying since it actually will serve a practical purpose!
The next store on my list will take us clear across Hollywood Studios to the Stage One Company Store. Well, that's the official name of the store anyway. To the rest of us, it's "the Muppets store". This store is exactly what you would think of when you think of Disney and a gift shop. It's not just some hole in the wall selling shirts and toys. Rather, this store has two distinct themes. First, is the contemporary Muppets part that has themes from two of the Muppet feature films. As you walk in, you'll notice the lockers the Muppets called home in the Muppets Take Manhattan film. Once inside, you'll see a motif right out of the Happiness Hotel from the Great Muppet Caper. You can easily spend an hour or more just walking around and taking in all the detail (I know I have!). And oh yea, there's also some great things to buy here as well. While it might be easy to overlook what's for sale given the luscious surroundings, there are some fun things to buy here.
If you're looking for something to buy that is practical in the real world, then you ought to stop by Keystone Clothiers on Hollywood Boulevard. I'm sure we've all bought a few theme park souvenirs over the years that seemed like a great idea at the time, but once you get home it becomes abundantly clear that Goofy hats get you weird looks in your hometown. Keystone Clothiers has a great blend of clothing with Disney branding that actually is acceptable in "the real world". This is the first store my wife stops in to look for something to buy because it has some great clothing to buy. It's never easy spending $20-30 on a tshirt, but when it comes to the clothes here, I know that she or I will actually wear what we buy when we're home and in front of other non-Disney geeks so it's okay to splurge on what we see here. The clothing here has Disneyana on it, but it's more subtle than that Goofy hat and frankly, a lot of it looks good.
Beverly Sunset, home to Sweet Spells on Sunset Boulevard, is kind of a shop and kind of a counter service restaurant but technically it's a shop so that's enough for me and it's one of my favorite places on all of Walt Disney World property to grab a freshly made treat. In addition to the delectable treats such as candied apples, fudge, chocolate covered everything, there's also a window that allows you to watch the Cast Members make these wonderful desserts. Generally I don't find the making of food all that interesting, but there's something about how someone makes a vat of fudge or get's those vanilla swirls to come out just right to be really intriguing to watch...although it's best viewed while you're consuming one of the tasty treats they just made. The only thing that could make this store better would be a sign that could come on to let guests know something fresh is now available for sale.
Finally, the Animation Gallery shop, which is the gift store at the end of the Magic of Disney Animation, is somewhere I always end up stopping to look around. It might be the immense amount of air conditioning they have here, but I know it's because of the great art work for sale that I can't keep away. Many of the pieces found here are unique works of art and would look great in my home. While the prices can be up there, it's still fun to look at everything they have and all the different styles, motifs and designs here to really appreciate good art. It's one of those places in the Studios that I can loose track of time because there's so many different paintings that I'd love to have. And because I'm a huge geek, it's also a great place to take photos of the art with my camera phone and it becomes instant awesome cell phone wallpaper.
Well, there you have the best list of places in my opinion to stop when you have a few extra dollars (and even when you don't but you still go) to buy something to bring home with you to remember your trip. If there's a common trait among them all, it's that I find practicality from them all. It's not to say those Goofy hats don't serve some purpose (like looking cute on little kids), but to me it makes some sense to buy things when I'm at the parks knowing that they won't just end up in the closet with a lot of other things I've never looked at again.