The Halloween decorations have barely been put away and the Thanksgiving turkey isn’t defrosted yet, which can only mean one thing: Welcome to the holiday shopping season! At this rate, Black Friday will soon come before Ash Wednesday, but rather than resist the accelerating creep of Christmas I’m just going to run with it. Last weekend, the Orlando Sentinel’s wishbook-stuffed Sunday advertising circulars were magically deposited on my driveway, despite the fact that I canceled my subscription years ago. If that isn’t a divine sign to cheerfully embrace Yuletide consumerism, I don’t know what is. So here are some holiday gift ideas – ranging from affordable to extravagant – sure to please any theme park-loving geeks (like myself) on your holiday shopping list.
Theme park books
My go-to gift is always a good book, and there are plenty of recently printed volumes that provide vicarious theme park visits. My favorite Disney historian, Jim Korkis, has a third volume in his Vault of Walt series, plus a new book of Animation Anecdotes. Jeff Heimbuch’s Main Street Windows: A Complete Guide to Disney’s Whimsical Tributes spills the secrets behind every famed fenestra from Anaheim to Tokyo. Issue 2 of Ward Dizzley’s 100% True Life Action Adventure Comics, by Dave Ensign, features Hoot Gibson’s further four-color (and off-color) adventures backstage at WDW. And Sam Gennawey’s Universal vs. Disney: The Unofficial Guide to American Theme Parks’ Greatest Rivalry dishes dirt on Orlando’s cutthroat crosstown competition.
Ghostly portrait from Memento Mori
Merchandise selection inside WDW parks had become decidedly meh, with generic “Disney Parks” souvenirs duplicated across the Kingdom, but the newly excavated Memento Mori is turning the tide with memorable Haunted Mansion must-haves that transcend the typical “exit through the” gift shop. Top of the list here is a lenticular portrait that will turn you into a ghoul; getting the picture taken and printed is only $20, but you’re gonna want the matching $25 frame. Give it to a loved one and haunt their home when you’re gone.
Annual pass to Fun Spot
Of all my theme park annual passes, I may have gotten the most benefit on a thrills-per-dollar basis from my tickets to the Fun Spots on I-Drive and 192. White Lightning is still my favorite recent roller coaster in town (sorry, Gringotts and Seven Dwarfs), and with the Air Race spin & puke ride (I encountered it at IAAPA and barely lived to tell the tale), the Orlando location just got even huge-er. Season passes go on sale this year on Black Friday, at an even lower price than last year.
iPhone 6 Plus
My iPhone 6 Plus finally arrived almost two months after I pre-ordered, but after my first day with it at Universal I knew it was worth the wait; it’s the iOS-addicted theme-park junkie’s new best friend. The camera captures the best flash-free low-light images I’ve seen from a phone; the ginormous screen is more readable in daylight; and after a brief adjustment period, the larger size feels great in my average-sized hands. Best of all, I left the park with 30 percent battery life left, where I would previously kill my 5S and its external battery in the same amount of time. And yes, it fits in my pocket without bending. Just don’t try to take it on the Incredible Hulk or Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coasters, as attendants recently started strictly enforcing usage of their free lockers.
($Lots and lots; disneycruise.com)
Ask a diehard old-school Walt Disney World fan what they’d really like for Christmas, and they’ll probably say a time machine so they could travel back 20 years to the resort’s golden age. For a no-expenses-spared surprise, do the next best thing and take them on a Disney Cruise. I was lukewarm on cruises after a couple with another brand, but my recent seven-day sojourn on the Disney Magic completely changed my tune. Boarding their boats is like warping to an earlier era of WDW, when meeting Mickey didn’t require a FastPass, dinner reservations didn’t need to be made six months in advance, and everything was kept immaculately clean. There’s no Horizons or Mr. Toad to ride (though there was a breathtaking outboard drop slide) but otherwise it’s like all the best parts of a vintage Disney vacation, down to unlimited Mickey ice cream and turkey legs.