Frugal, unplugged gifts for the theme-park fiend in your life

In these holy days of Advent leading up to Christmas, our thoughts naturally turn to that most sacred of subjects: presents! The post-Black Friday body count suggests that Xmas 2013 will be remembered as the season of Xbox One, PS4 and iPad Air, adding up to an expensively electrified Yuletide. But what if you’re trying to unplug and find frugal gifts for a hopeless theme-park fanatic (like yours truly)? Any attractions fiends on your list would appreciate an annual pass to their favorite resort, especially with Magic Kingdom’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Universal’s Harry Potter expansion arriving in 2014. But even after Florida resident discounts, the price of an annual pass often approaches that of a next-gen gaming console; Fun Spot’s two-park pass (on sale for only $120 until Dec. 24 at is a notable exception.

To blow a wad of cash on your favorite Disney freak, visit Theme Park Connection, which recently relocated from Winter Garden to an industrial park off South Orange Blossom Trail. This massive warehouse (2160 Premier Row, 407-284-1934, is packed from floor to ceiling with a treasure trove of Mickey’s castoffs, from cast member costumes and extinct attraction salvage to construction signs and used hotel decor. If there’s a particular souvenir from your childhood you want to recapture, the park-obsessed staff can probably help you track it down … for a price. I scored at their grand reopening with a signed John Hench print of early Epcot artwork for $40, but don’t count on escaping as inexpensively.

The ideal unplugged attraction-inspired gift is a good book. Unfortunately, many theme park coffee table classics are out of print or otherwise hard to acquire, which requires creativity. For example, the holy grail of Disney tomes is Bruce Gordon’s Disneyland, The Nickel Tour: A Postcard Journey Through a Half Century of the Happiest Place on Earth, which starts at $350 for a used copy on Amazon. Instead, substitute and save by finding the vintage postcards documented in the book at flea markets, like Renninger’s collectibles fairs (20651 U.S. Highway 441, Mount Dora; Used bookstore owners also rarely appreciate the value of attractions ephemera; last week in Manhattan’s delightfully claustrophobic Westsider Books, I uncovered Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s The Illusion of Life, the bible of classic Disney animation, for half the original cover price. Even cheaper, the nifty new Disney Animated iPad app reproduces a key chapter with interactive illustrations.

Of course, if you’re not into theme-park thrifting, there are plenty of brand-new books available to appease attractions fans. The gift I’m most looking forward to getting this holiday is one I ordered for myself: An English-language edition of Alain Littaye’s Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality, with 750 images of the world’s most beautiful Magic Kingdom, is available in limited quantities direct from the author at If a 55-euro mental flight to France is still too steep, try taking a trip to the past with historian Jim Korkis as tour guide instead. Korkis’ Vault of Walt: Volume 2 is a fine follow-up to his first invaluable collection of uncensored Disney anecdotes (including the real story behind the new Oscar-bait Tom Hanks film, Saving Mr. Banks), and his newly released Book of Mouse documents everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the world’s most famous cartoon vermin, but were afraid to ask.

Finally, if you enjoy putting the cruelty into Christmas, I recommend teasing your less-fortunate theme park fan friends with guidebooks to the attractions they can’t afford to visit. Obviously, it would be completely unethical for me to promote either of the two new books I co-authored this year (The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2014 and Intrepid Traveler’s Universal Orlando 2014: The Ultimate Guide to the Ultimate Theme Park Adventure, both available online), so I won’t do that. But I can encourage you to check out Sam Gennawey’s The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream, a companion to my Disneyland book that I have no involvement with. Gennawey’s Walt and the Promise of Progress City is the best introduction available to urban planning in themed entertainment, and his newest title is an in-depth biography of the first, best example of the art form. Closer to home, Robert Niles’ Theme Park Insider: Orlando 2014 is a succinct primer to all the major Orlando parks, with crowd-sourced ratings and backstage stories. And for the most surreal, satirical theme park trip this season, try the decidedly unauthorized first issue of Ward Dizzley’s True Life Action Adventure Comics Digest, starring Hoot Gibson and Chief, the former Disney employees infamous for YouTube videos “exploring” Epcot’s much-missed Horizons ride. This is the perfect gift for anyone who’s had the urge to jump off the Jungle Cruise and see the view from the back of a plastic pachyderm.


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