I was a little skeptical the first time I heard about D23 – the official Disney fan club. I figured it was just another way for Disney to make money of its dedicated fan base. When they announced the first D23 Expo, it became an instant bucket-list item for me.
The D23 Expo happens every two years in Anaheim, California. It started in 2009, right around the time Disney bought Marvel. Thousands of dedicated Disney fans cram into the Anaheim Convention Center to learn more about everything Disney has planned for the next two years at the movies and in its parks and resorts.
For first-timers like me, walking onto the convention floor at the D23 Expo is an experience unlike any other. But there are still some things that no one tells you about D23. The seasoned veterans know it, but I guess they don’t think it is important knowledge to pass on. I disagree.
So here are the little talked about things you should probably know before going to the D23 Expo. You can listen to a much deeper conversation on our podcast below.
1. The lines have lines
Without a doubt, the D23 Expo has the worst lines I’ve ever seen. I assume you already know about the line to get in and the line for the main presentations in Hall D23. Those are the “epic lines” you hear about where people camp overnight or come at 4am to get a good spot. That’s just the beginning.
You’ll wait in line to see new Disney Parks displays, like Star Wars land. You’ll wait in line to get food. There is a line to take pictures with statues of animated characters. You will wait at least 45 minutes to get any type of official merchandise from the event. Sometimes, you’ll wait in two separate lines to shop, like in the case of Mickey’s of Glendale where there is a line to shop the store and a separate line to shop for pins. (Check out the Gallery for Star Wars Land)
What’s worse is that it’s “okay” to cut in these lines. People will regularly save spaces for friends and family members who are waiting in lines for other things. Around noon, it became common for people
The Good Part About Lines
The best thing about the lines is that it is a great way to meet fans. I got to the Expo at 4am, which means that I sat and stood in line for about 5 hours under the Anaheim Convention Center. That gave me five hours to take pictures of cosplay, look at pin collections, talk about the economics of the Disney Vacation Club, and just generally share our love for Disney.
Waiting in line is where the Expo lives up to the D23 tagline of the official Disney fan club. We are different races and religions. We have different political beliefs and families, but we all bond over Disney. And we do it in very long lines.
2. Being in line guarantees absolutely squat
I was at the Anaheim convention center at 4am. There were roughly 200 people ahead of me in line. The doors to the convention were supposed to open at 9am, but we didn’t get in until 9:30. Just because you’re in the first couple hundred of people in line, it doesn’t mean you’re getting in when the door opens. In fact, some people waited in line for panels and didn’t make the cut.
Complicating matters is the much coveted “Sorcerer Package.” At $2250 per ticket, the package offers a true VIP experience to anyone who holds the ticket. They get exclusive collectibles, tours, seating, meet and greets, and receptions. They don’t wait in line because their seats are always reserved. Sorcerers get into the event early on Thursday, and then get early entry for each day of the expo. They even get special meet and greets and a free appointment with an on-site massage therapist.
Disney sold out of these passes within minutes.
For their part, Disney does try to be extremely honest about what you are and are not likely to get. The one exception I found was when they advertised a “Black Panther” cast signing that required a special band. It was the first thing I tried to get once I got in the doors and was disappointed to discover they only had 100 bands which a cast member told me had been “gone for a while.” Again, there couldn’t have been more than 200 people in front of me and I doubt they were all Black Panther fans. I’m a little bitter about the Sorcerer’s package.
3. This is a shopping event
Speaking of things in limited supply, there is amazing merchandise at the D23 Expo. Most of the official merchandise is limited edition, but there are also several “Disney Partners” that bring cool things and exhibitor booths with even more. I’m a little skeptical about Disney’s ability to pass up profit and keep certain items truly limited, but I certainly bought into the magic while I was there. I busted my budget on a few limited edition pins that I would not be surprised to see in the parks at some point.
Even more disappointing than that is the staggering amount of D23 Expo merchandise that I’ve seen on eBay less than a week after the convention. If these pieces truly are in limited supply, Disney has done a great job creating things that fans would love. The problem is that some people are seeing this as a money-making opportunity.
I’m not sure there is anything Disney can really do about this. They already limit the amount of pieces each customer can buy. Usually that limit is one or two. That doesn’t stop customers from walking around the convention with bags full of merchandise, which is great if people are true fans. But seeing all the merchandise on eBay has left me a little disillusioned.
4. The only panels that matter are the big panels in Hall D23
At the end of the D23 Expo, 90 percent of the conversation is based on things that happened in Hall D23. This is expected since most of the major announcements come from the Legends, Animation, Live Action, and Parks and Resorts presentations. (Who knew that a Star Wars hotel was coming?!)
What I didn’t expect was that the smaller panels aren’t in closed rooms. They don’t even really get their own space. It’s something that’s difficult to describe and you’d probably just be better served by watching the video below. And while you watch, remember that this stage is where I listened to the Heads of Animation on Moana talk about their movie. Seems a little off right?
Many of the “smaller panels” are on the main expo floor, which makes them easy to pop in and out of. But it also means that the presenters are forced to compete with the noise of the crowd, other presentations, and movie clips. I also think this setup contributes to the long lines.
Imagine if Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park put its most popular rides – Everest, Kilimanjaro Safari, Festival of the Lion King, and Flight of Passage – all in one area of the park. The lines in that area would be unbearable because the crowds would be concentrated in that area. The expo show floor is the one area of the convention center where Disney places its most popular stuff, so the crowds concentrate there.
5. I would not skip a Disney World trip to go to D23 Expo
The D23 Expo is a good event, but I wouldn’t skip a trip to Disney World. This is especially true considering that in the next five years Star Wars land will open and Disney World will celebrate its 50th anniversary. To me, it’s just not worth it to spend the money to cross the country and take the time off work. I only went for one day and by the end of it, I was pretty through with waiting in lines.
Despite the faults, I would definitely go back. My first time at the D23 Expo I went by myself, went for one day and didn’t make it into any of the Hall D23 Panels. Next time I will go with at least one other person and stay for all three days. Then I’ll be able to choose to wait for some of the bigger panels and get more of the D23 experience under my belt.
Overall, the experience was positive. I loved meeting so many other fans and sharing our love of Disney. There are a LOT of ways Disney can improve the event and make it better for the guests. Still, for once I wasn’t the Disney nerd in the room. I was surrounded by my people. It was glorious.