How to do the Disney D23 Expo with Kids

d23 LittleGrayThread

It was our first time at the 2019 Disney D23 Expo, and we went on behalf of Howard Johnson Hotel and Waterpark.  While we were there, we were covering the convention on their Instagram channels.  Even though the next D23 Expo isn’t until 2021, I wanted to share our experience bringing kids to a convention.

Disney D23 Expo is “the ULTIMATE Disney Fan Experience”.  There are so many ways to experience D23:  panels, shopping, cosplaying, or just walking the expo floor.  Even though I was there at the exact same time as some of my friends, my D23 expo experience was vastly different from theirs.  Since I had my kids, we didn’t do any panels or stand in line for any shops.  We spent the majority of the day wandering the Expo Floor.

Why We Didn’t do Panels

d23 little mermaid

First of all, I wasn’t lucky enough to get advance reservations to any of the panels.  I would have LOVED to go to the Disney on Broadway panel that was at 3:30 on Saturday, but my friend told me that her husband had to line up by 10am in hopes to get a spot.  I couldn’t fathom having my kids stand in line for over 5 hours just to get into a large arena where they probably wouldn’t be able to see anything.

While I would have really enjoyed hearing all the latest Disneyland news Live, I knew that I could get the same information shortly after.  Many of the panels were livestreamed so you wouldn’t even need to attend D23 to hear the same news.  I thought that the panels would be also streamed at D23 and we would be able to watch in an overflow room of sorts, but they didn’t have anything like that this year.  Hopefully they will add screens to 2021.

Why We Didn’t Stand in Lines to Shop

If you weren’t headed straight to a panel line, you were probably beelining it to a store line.  There were a few exclusive stores to D23, the most popular stores being the Dream Store (selling official D23 merchandise) and the ShopDisney store that had items that could only be bought at D23.  Since these stores had limited edition merch (like LE Designer Dolls and pins), people literally camp out all night long to ensure that they are the first people in the store.  Luckily, my friends were doing live media coverage of the event so I was able to see a lot of what was being offered in the stores.  Nothing really caught my eye, which made my wallet very happy.

Instead of standing in lines to buy pins, we chose to find the free pins that were being given out on the expo floor.  We got 5 exclusive pins from the Frozen 2 photo spot and received a Marvel pin after completing the VoluntEARS booth.  We’re not avid pin collectors, but the kids proudly wore their pins all day long.  Bonus:  putting the pins on and off their lanyards kept them busy in lines!

The Expo Floor

The entire bottom main floor is “The Expo Floor”.  There were some big exhibits (like Marvel, VoluntEARS, Disney Brodway), a couple of stages with different presentations, and shopping (new and and antiques)

Main Exhibits

There were several large exhibits that offered a variety of activities.  Our first stop was the Marvel setup where we stood in line to scan our badge for a giveaway.  The kids won Funko Pops and I walked away with a Marvel tote bag.  Also nearby were Marvel costumes on display (Loki was our natural fav) and a fun photo video op where you could be a part of the Avengers: Endgame scene.

Our favorite was the Disney Broadway VR experience (we did this twice!).  Groups of about 20 people were able to don a VR headset which made it feel like you were literally on the stage of Frozen, Aladdin, and the Lion King.  Since we are huge Broadway fans, this was something we definitely appreciated.

Photo Ops

d23 portal

Some of the booths offered exclusive photo ops that were emailed to you when you scanned your badge.  As mentioned before, the Marvel photo op featured the final battle of Avengers: Endgame.  On the other side of the expo floor was the Frozen 2 setup where you could take a photo with a 3-D display of Anna and Elsa and Kristoff and Sven.  There was another room called “The Crystal Room” where you could take a photo to send to your badge.  A fun surprise was that we got buttons for free after each stop!

My biggest regret is that I didn’t stop by the Disney+ booth.  I just thought it was a stage for demonstrations and a place to sign up for the streaming program, but I later found out that you could film a mini video that was emailed to you.  The booths didn’t advertise any special features or giveaways, so I was relying on my friends’ previous experiences or asking cast members.

Shopping

There were 3 different types of shopping:  1) shopping in an official Disney Store location (meaning exclusive D23 merch which also means lots and lots of lines), 2) shopping for new items from “Disney Partners” or brands, and 3) antique or second hand items like pins, Funko pops, and antiques.  As mentioned before, we didn’t stand in line for the major official D23 stores, but we did shop around the booths and visited our favorite brands.  I was excited to see our friends from Sunstaches and picked up a few more pairs to bring home!  Many brands only released a certain design for the D23 Expo–Buy Happy Feet was only selling the D23 Sorcerer Mickey design which could only be bought at the Expo.  Other brands, like Buckle Down Products, had discounts on their items.

Shows

Throughout the day, there were different shows and presentations that took place on the smaller stages on the Expo Floor.  We saw things from a live designing of sneakers to a Disco Dance Party.  Our friend Jessica from The Healthy Mouse was also a guest speaker at one of the panels talking about Disneyland eats.

My favorite part of the day was the Mickey’s Street Party parade that snaked through the entire main floor twice a day.  We got to see Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy dressed in their finest gold clothes dance to the tunes from a live band.  Many of our favorite parade performers were also dancing so it was great to see some familiar faces!

The Cosplay Community

For many people, the D23 Expo is a chance to debut new costumes and to reunite with fellow cosplaying friends.  The costumes we saw at D23 were phenomenal!  I definitely recommend dressing up, especially kids!  Something to remember is that “cosplay does not equal consent”, which means to always ask permission before taking someone’s photo.  Also remember to ask if they have an instagram account or a different way they’d like to be credited if reposted somewhere on social media.  Pictured above is @accio_nerdery, @fairytalemindy and @mayel_lani.

What to do Without Waiting in Lines

d23 toy story cars

Even though D23 is infamous for waiting in line, here are my top picks for things that don’t require lines:

  • See shows on the Center Stage on the Expo Floor
  • Browse the sellers selling antiques, pins, pops, and new products
  • People watch and interact with Cosplayers
  • Walk through open concept exhibits like the Parks and Pixar which did not require lines to enter

Things to Know if you are Bringing Kids

My kids did great all day, even though we arrived at 7:30 in the morning and stayed until almost 8pm!  Here are some tips I learned along the way:

  • Don’t line up early to enter!  I was nervous about security and entering, so I ended up waiting almost 2 hours in the sun before we went in.  I later found out that our friends Chloe Mai arrived at 9:45am (20 minutes after we walked in the doors!) and they were able to enter with no lines.
  • Bring a Stroller!  I was on the fence about bringing mine because I heard that the Expo Floor could get crowded, but I’m so glad I did!  Since there was a lot of standing, my 4 year old wouldn’t have lasted as long if she didn’t have a place to sit.  Also, it gave us a place to store all the items we picked up from D23 along with our snacks and water bottles.
  • Bring Snacks!  You might find yourself standing in back to back lines with your kids getting hungry right in the middle.  I packed a few granola bars and their water bottles which came in handy since I didn’t see water stations set up.  There were several food choices–we ended up getting the Convention Center food since we didn’t see the huge line of food trucks that came in especially for the event.
  • Bring things to keep them occupied in lines.  I forgot to do this, but luckily we got a coloring book and the Funko Pops at our first stop!  After we got the pins, they enjoyed moving the pins to their lanyards to bypass the time standing in lines.
  • Encourage your kids to spread kindness and appreciation.  We saw a ton of really cool costumes, and I would encourage the kids to tell people if they liked their costume.  If they wanted to take a photo with them, I had them ask if it was okay to take a picture.  This turned out to be one of their favorite things to do!

Is it Worth Going in 2021?

d23 archives carriage

If you consider yourself a Disney fan, then YES!  This is like the Super Bowl of all that is Disney.  Whether you want to partake in the panels and be among the first people to hear about new and exciting Disney announcements, or take things easy and slow and just walk the floor like we did this year, there is something for everybody.  It’s a really unique feeling to be surrounded by fellow Disney fans.  I definitely recommend coming up with some sort of costume and submersing yourself in the cosplay community.  Even if you don’t feel like dressing up (I didn’t!), walk around and appreciate people’s hard work and creativity.  If you are a blogger or Disneygrammer, attending and reporting things from D23 is a must.  These things will be trending in the Disney community and it’s our responsibility to relay these tidbits of information to our own micro communities.  In short, if you love Disney like we do, definitely keep your eye out for when tickets go on sale for 2021!

d23 expo

For more of our theme park adventures, follow us on instagram @littlegraythread.

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