Princesses in queues getting coffee: Hanging out at Disney’s D23 Expo

Galaxy’s Edge is coming. This guy would know.

Over the weekend, Disney announced a variety of projects at its biennial, company-sanctioned D23 Expo, “the ultimate Disney fan event.” Seeing as the entertainment giant controls fully half of the current popular culture—Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm are all owned subsidiaries, as are broadcast entities ABC and ESPN—it wasn’t just Disney fans crowding the floor at the Anaheim Convention Center; there were aspiring Generals Leia, Captains America and whatever you call fans of Once Upon a Time.

I was there for three Disney-related reasons: Because I’ve never been to a D23 Expo, because they were kind enough to give me a press credential and because I care a lot—perhaps too much—about what happens to Disneyland, EPCOT and Disney’s other theme parks. That’s my fandom: I love Disneyland with all my heart. I’m a Disnerd; I’m a themepunk. And I was willing to put up with the crowds of cosplayers, Disneybounders and flat-out Disney geeks—some of whom reminded me so much of myself that I could hardly stand it—to learn in person What Is Up With Disneyland. As it turns out, there’s quite a bit.

A Star Wars-themed land, called Galaxy’s Edge, is currently being built in a former backstage area adjacent to Frontierland and Fantasyland, with an opening planned for 2019. It will have two major attractions—one that allows you to pilot the Millennium Falcon and one that puts you in the midst of a ground battle between the First Order and the Resistance—plus a variety of restaurants, shops and selfie opportunities peopled by cast members performing in character. (Supposedly, you’ll be able to generate a “reputation” within Galaxy’s Edge that follows you around all day; you could be targeted by bounty hunters, etc.)

Across the esplanade at Disney California Adventure, Disney is planning for a Marvel-themed set of attractions, though they were reluctant to provide details. (An Avengers-themed roller coaster is heavily rumored.) The park’s Paradise Pier area, a throwback to seaside carnivals, is being rethemed as “Pixar Pier,” with all that implies. And across the country at Walt Disney World, attractions based on Tron, Ratatouille and Guardians of the Galaxy are in the works. There’s much more to report, but I don’t want to test non-geek patience. Just getting the above information, which is now readily available elsewhere on the Internet, sorely tested mine.

Thing is, I don’t do well with crowds anymore, and D23 draws a massive crowd. That theme-parks panel, held in a 7,000-seat room, required a four-hour wait. (I missed the animation and live-action film panels for similar reasons.) There were lengthy queues for all the panels, for the exhibits (and there was a particularly nice one that detailed the 50-year history of Pirates of the Caribbean), and for the merchandise, which I resisted because I’ve already got too much stuff. More than once, I found myself waiting in a line that would only grant me a space in another line. And if not for the generosity of a family that held my space for that theme park panel—they even bought me lunch!—I wouldn’t have seen any of the major panels at all. It was all too much.

But the stuff I did see I completely enjoyed. I checked out panels on the forgotten Disney animated character Ludwig Von Drake and his voice actor, Paul Frees (Google both of them) and on Disney’s midcentury modern influences. I saw the model of Galaxy’s Edge—impressive is hardly the word—and footage from Disney/Pixar’s upcoming Dia de los Muertos movie Coco, which thoroughly charmed me even glimpsed in brief.

But most importantly, I got to see fans, lots of them. I saw millennials dressed up as Fantasia characters, a film that came out decades before even I was born. I saw princesses in frilly dresses, not all of which were worn by women. I saw older fans who’d transformed their motorized wheelchairs into pirate ships and starships. And I saw every nearly one of them smiling unconsciously, as if they’d gotten every single thing they’d ever wanted for Christmas. If I could have looked at myself, I probably would have had that look on my face, too.

As I’ve mentioned, the D23 Expo happens every two years, so I’ve got until 2019 to decide if I’d like to go back. By then Galaxy’s Edge will be open, and Walt Disney World will be well into planning its 50th anniversary celebration in 2021. I don’t know what I’ll see there, but I do know that if I go, I’m bringing three things: a friend, a costume and a damn cushion to sit on.

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