What’s the Strangest Thing Sold at Epcot?

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There’s plenty to love about shopping at Epcot’s World Showcase. I can’t get enough of the cheery Japanese candy, friendly German Christmas ornaments, or cheeky British tee shirts. And then there are the World Showcase merchandise items that leave me scratching my head. These are the things that leave me thinking, “Who approved that addition to the merchandise list?” “What is the demographic profile of the typical buyer?” and “Has anyone actually ever purchased this item at Epcot before?”

So that you can be as perplexed as I am, here’s a tour of just a few of Epcot’s oddities.

MEXICO

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with vanilla extract. I have several bottles in my pantry standing ready to be called into service for holiday baking. But who goes to a theme park and decides that’s what they’re going to bring home?

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My Mexico runner up is the classic giant sombrero. I love these and have posed for many a photo with them. The kitsch value cannot be underestimated. However, these are actual items for sale. I’ve heard that people buy them, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

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NORWAY

Most of the Norway merchandise makes sense to me. I’ve even been know to buy a jar of lingonberry jam or two when I knew that I wouldn’t be getting to Ikea for a while to replenish my stock. (Swedish Ikea and Epcot Norway being the primary purveyors of all things lingonberry.) The one item that most puzzles me is deodorant in Norway’s signature Laila scent. Perfume = fine. Deodorant = extra fine. Combining the two and selling it for $22 = hmmmmmm?

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CHINA

At first glance, China seems like it might be a full scale vendor of unusual items, but most of the merchandise there is either on point (silk robes) or innocuously inexpensive (plastic toys). The category that most gives me pause is the huge selection of statuary, some of which is strangely large, some which is strangely expensive, and some of which is vaguely offensive.

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I do happen to enjoy the pet clothing sold in the China pavilion. If you’ve even had the yen to dress your dog as a panda for Halloween (or any other occasion), then you can find what you need here. On a meta level, the I HEART DOG socks for dogs do not disappoint. Who is loving “DOG”? The dog? The owner? If it’s the owner, then why is the dog wearing the socks? Is the proclamation of love for all dogs, or one in particular? So many questions.

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GERMANY

Not surprisingly, the Germany pavilion is replete with drinking paraphernalia. The shelves are filled with an astonishing assortment of wines and steins. So while the stein below makes perfect thematic sense, it’s a bit confusing from a brand perspective. One usually sees Mickey’s smiling mug adorning juice boxes, not vessels designed to hold Meister Bräu. I’m not sure Disney really thought this one through.

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ITALY

I’m giving Italy a pass. The Italians appear to be too classy to sell embarrassing merchandise. The Italy pavilion is the land of Prada perfume and Fendi bags. While a theme park wouldn’t be the first place most folks would think to buy these items, I certainly wouldn’t turn down either if I were given them as a gift. The most unique items sold in Italy are the handmade Comedia dell’Arte masks. While these are not my personal style, I can see where a collection of them would make a nice display in a certain style of home.

Ben fatto, Italia. Ben fatto.

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USA

Most the merchandise in the America pavilion is somewhat generically “Yay America.” You’ve got your Old Glory based pillows, tees, and jewelry. And then there’s the bottled tomato sauce. Again, I use this near commodity item on the regular, but who goes on vacation thinking that the one thing they’ve got to bring home to grandma is a jar of the same pasta sauce they could buy at Wegmans. Do cast members buy it on their way home when they realize they don’t have anything planned for dinner for the kiddos?

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Another odd foodstuff sold at the American pavilion (as well as at a few other WDW locations) is moonshine. If you want to enjoy your firewater, who am I to judge, but it does seem a bit stereotypically yokum to sell moonshine in the USA while France, Italy, and even Germany sell lovely selections of fine wines. They couldn’t find a California vineyard to promote?

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JAPAN

Japan is the true epicenter of Epcot oddities. The entire store is filled with things that practically guaranteed to make the TSA detain you. (I’m talking to you giant swords and exotic weaponry.) On the tamer side, you have bonsai trees. They’re perfectly lovely, but how do you get it home? Forget trying to take it on a plane without destroying it, even an Orlando local would likely find it annoying to shlep back to his car parked in the Discover lot.

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Bonus item #1: Cellulite waist wraps. Maybe people buy these after eating one too many kaki goris?

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Bonus item #2: Ramen noodles. For the tourist on a budget?

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Bonus item #3: Totes bags of ennui. This bag seems like a cute way to transport little Susie’s tap shoes to dance class, but what’s up with the depressing text?

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MOROCCO

Like many of the countries, Morocco sells a selection of what once may have been exotic grocery items, most of which are now found in my local Stop & Shop. Are there places in America where you can’t buy a dented box of cous cous, making the Epcot purchase a necessity?

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Bonus item #1: Coconut hair cream.

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Bonus item #2: Rugs. Clearly there’s nothing peculiar about buying a rug. But in a theme park?

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FRANCE

France almost gets the same pass as Italy. Most of the French merchandise consists of tasteful kitchenware, luxury cosmetics, and obligatory replica Eiffel Towers. France does, however, let a few questionable items on their shelves, chief among them a collectible Napolean (not the edible kind). Perhaps these are purchased by European history teachers looking to decorate their classrooms?

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UNITED KINGDOM

The Brits can proudly take their place among the countries offering oddball grocery items. I enjoy a pickled onion in my Gibson, but I can’t picture the guest who’s buying pickled onions at Epcot, particularly when you can get them at virtually every supermarket in America. Is there are true difference among brands? And kippers … because you never know when you’ll need some tinned fish to fuel your journey around the park.

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CANADA

Canada shows remarkable restraint in its merchandising. Maple syrup and Tim Horton’s coffee play prominent roles here (but again, who buys this stuff in a theme park?). Their only real nod to odd is shown in their selection of Goat Mountain brand bath products. This Canadian company (also strangely featured in the American Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom) sells soaps, lotions, and lip balms with “humorously” icky names like Sasquatch Sweat, Moose Spit, and Beaver Butt. I guess I don’t have the right funny bone for this.

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Have you ever purchased any of these items? What are you favorite oddball Epcot merchandise finds? Would you buy groceries at a theme park? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

40 thoughts on “What’s the Strangest Thing Sold at Epcot?

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:23 am
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    The beer stein probably could get a pass, largely because many people collect them for decoration rather than drink from them.

    I have always wondered about the grocery items. Maybe a throwback to the days when ethnic food was less prevalent in grocery stores? Apparently it sells though, since they’ve been stocking the stuff for as long as I can remember.

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:25 am
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    I can tell you without doubt or hesitation that there is a tremendous difference in quality and flavor between brands of ramen noodles. If you do not have a Japanese or Hong Kong market in your community, you simply can’t get the best Japanese-made varieties.

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:34 am
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    Good article! I have wondered about some of these before — like the rugs or the tomato sauce. And I have never seen someone carrying around a sombrero around the World Showcase, but maybe people ship them back to the hotel. I can see the Napoleon being a good joke gift, or like you said, for the history teacher.

    • December 9, 2014 at 7:03 pm
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      Just this fall, I saw someone not just carrying but wearing a giant sombrero around World Showcase. I can only attribute that to over-imbibing at Food & Wine. I can only imagine the buyer’s remorse one would feel when it came time to transport it home. That said, at our resident theme park here near Toronto, I see people buying and wearing ridiculous, over-priced hats all the time and it’s quite baffling to me.

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:45 am
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    I speak subject to correction, but I believe Mexican vanilla (*good* Mexican vanilla) is highly prized. I can see them selling that to people who will get a little whiff of nostalgia about their WDW when they use it.

    The pasta sauce, not so much.

    Enjoyable post!

    • December 9, 2014 at 12:41 pm
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      I always bring back a bottle of vanilla when we travel to Mexico. It is much better than that sold in the states, and a better price too. I did not know they sold it at Epcot…. we just did a cruise this summer and I bought some while we were in Cozumel. Just in time too as I was beginning to run low.

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:45 am
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    I will admit to owning a fairly large collection of tote bags of ennui from the Japanese Pavilion. I always wonder if something was lost in translation.

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:49 am
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    They DO sell vanilla in Mexico! When I looked for it, I did not find any when we were there. I would have bought it if I could have found it! Not strange to me! 🙂

    • December 9, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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      As nvarnum said, good Mexican vanilla is highly prized and can be hard to find.

      • December 22, 2014 at 7:38 pm
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        But is the vanilla sold in EPCOT actually a good quality? The fact it is from Mexico doesn’t automatically mean it is the good stuff. In fact, Mexico and other SA countries don’t require the label to state that it is imitation if it is (as required in US). While I would hope that WDW is careful about what they sell, the vanilla from Mexico might not be what it is claimed to be(even including additives that are banned in US food products).

        You are probably better off getting a premium US made extract that is made with Mexican vanilla beans.

    • December 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm
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      I definitely know people who buy vanilla at the Mexico pavilion when they’re there. They say it is one of the only reliable places to get it!

  • December 9, 2014 at 11:52 am
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    Which statues in the China pavilion are “borderline offensive?” All I see there are Buddhas.

    • December 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm
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      I’m fine with Buddha, but there were several joke Buddhas in the mix. A “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” collection, for example. My though was that a sassy Buddha icon might irk someone particularly reverent. But I may be wrong.

        • December 9, 2014 at 1:49 pm
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          Clearly I was clueless on this one. My apologies.

          • December 9, 2014 at 2:10 pm
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            I can’t help but agree with DisneyDad’s criticism of “ethnocentrism.”

            And I’ll admit I don’t really see the point of this article. It seems to boil down to what you say in the morocco list “Clearly there’s nothing peculiar about buying a rug. But in a theme park?”

            But Epcot isn’t a normal theme park. It’s supposed to a celebration of different cultures where you can buy stuff from that country. It shouldn’t have “normal” theme park stuff and the fact that it does have things that are odd to us as Americans shouldn’t be cause for criticism.

          • December 9, 2014 at 2:25 pm
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            Also, though I am sure you didn’t intend to be this way, calling cultural items “weird” can be offensive to people from that culture. I like Touring Plans, but I don’t like seeing Asian cultures mocked as “weird” by someone who does not understand them, and I wish Len and everyone else here would not allow this type of thing, even if it’s done without intentional malice.

  • December 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm
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    I don’t get what is offensive about Buddha statues in China?

    And the Mexican vanilla is a real thing. I’m sure they sell lots of it.

    • December 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm
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      Again, I’m all good with Buddha statues. It was the joke Buddhas that I thought were a bit odd.

      • December 9, 2014 at 2:20 pm
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        They sell those all over Asia. No need to be offended by them when Buddhists aren’t.

        One awesome thing about Buddhism as its practiced in much of Asia is the humor evident in Buddhist holy sites.

        • December 9, 2014 at 11:59 pm
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          There’s also no need to be such a douche. There was nothing wrong with the article. She is correct…most of these items would be unusual purchases at at theme park. For you to be so hypersensitive is absurd.

          • December 10, 2014 at 9:53 am
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            1. Epcot is truly not a typical theme park. These items are for sale in the “World Showcase.”
            2. You call the person a feminine hygiene product and decide she is “hypersensitive” when her culture and religion are called “strange” by someone in posession of a computer with a search engine postingon a site that Exists to provide useful information.
            3. Would Epcot be so popular if it only sold plush and plastic trinkets?
            4. Defending ignorance is reveals more about you than you comprehend.

  • December 9, 2014 at 12:53 pm
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    When Derek writes about the leftover kitsch sold in the outlets he does it with a self-deprecating sense of humor. He includes clever pop culture references and admits to buying some of the same stuff he lovingky pokes fun at.
    This column comes across as shrill, snarky and a lot more ethnocentric than its author realizes. I’ve asked CMs from respective countries to talk with me about merchandise or theming and learned so much in the process of discovery. And I always try to remember all of Disney isn’t there for only me.

    • December 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm
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      “Shrill” is a criticism uniquely lobbed at women.

      Erin, I thought your piece was amusing — many’s the time I’ve wondered similar about items I’ve seen at WDW. But I also agree, some of the oddball stuff makes shopping fun. Long live the oddball items!

  • December 9, 2014 at 1:10 pm
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    Before I wrote the article, I took a look at Amazon, just to make sure that I wasn’t missing something about Mexican vanilla. It’s readily available there, at prices cheaper than Epcot.

    • December 9, 2014 at 1:53 pm
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      Hmmm, I hadn’t thought to look on Amazon. But it is also a good excuse to plan a trip/cruise to Mexico too! 🙂

  • December 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm
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    My apologies if this came across as insensitive. I don’t believe I called any of these items weird. I mentioned that I myself buy many of them on a regular basis. Vanilla extract, pasta sauce, Ramen noodles, cous cous, and pickled onions are all in my pantry right now. I have deodorant and hair cream in my medicine chest. These are all great items. What I do think is odd is buying them in a theme park when they are almost guaranteed to be overpriced and possibly difficult to transport. I think the Bonsai trees are beautiful. But I really can’t figure out how people get them home.

    I do apologize for my misinterpretation of the Buddha statues. I was clearly misinformed, taking offense where none way intended. I’ve learned something. Thank you.

    • December 10, 2014 at 1:23 pm
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      I commend you for handling the negative criticism of this article with grace and appreciation. It can’t have been easy.

      • December 11, 2014 at 2:27 pm
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        An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Susan. If I’m standing next to a CM and I have my smart phone (computer) in hand, I can ask a question and get the answer, or I can parade my ethnocentrism on a blog. This was an easily-avoidable situation. We can celebrate our differences and choose to educate ourselves, or label the unfamiliar as strange and pat ourselves on the back.

        • December 12, 2014 at 11:14 am
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          Dear Disney Dad,
          I was merely showing my admiration for the way in which this author handled being labeled as ignorant, shrill, and ethnocentric, among other things. I was not offering a comment or opinion upon the nature of the article itself, and do not intend to do so. You may have your opinion. I am not attacking it, nor am I attacking you. It is easy to criticize others, whether negatively or constructively. It is much more difficult to embrace it, learn from it, or rise above it.

          • December 12, 2014 at 3:16 pm
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            “It is easy to criticize others, whether negatively or constructively. It is much more difficult to embrace it, learn from it, or rise above it.”

            But the point I think we’re trying to make is that the author of this piece hasn’t done any of that. She’s simply said she apologizes for being “misinformed” about the Buddha statue (which isn’t even true as that means someone else told her they were offensive), when a minor amount of research before writing this article would’ve done that.

            She just threw down her opinions of items from other cultures based on her own gut reactions (for example moonshine = yokum) and labelled a bunch of items from other cultures “strange.” I’m not sure she even realizes she did it, as she wrote in the comments “I don’t believe I called any of these items weird” in an article that is called “What’s the Strangest Thing Sold at Epcot?” (Erin, Strange = Weird)

  • December 9, 2014 at 7:19 pm
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    The Bonsai Trees at Japan are normally shipped. You choose the tree you like, and they’ll ship it to your home at a certain date.

    The SO got me a bonsai tree after I commented on one particular one I liked. He excused himself the restaurant upstairs ‘for a bit’ and had them ship it to the house to arrive on my birthday. I would think the rugs and stuff would have the same option.

    It arrived on my birthday very well packed and 2 day shipping.
    /this was mid 90’s…I think they offered a delayed shipping thing so it would arrive when you got back from vacation.

  • December 9, 2014 at 8:47 pm
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    Many of these items are what you would find as a tourist in those countries. Those masks are all over the place in Venice. Mexican vanilla is amazing….I’ve taken cruises just to buy it 😉 Morocco has amazing rugs for sale! You get the picture…I love that I can see those things and be reminded of my travels.

  • December 9, 2014 at 8:52 pm
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    Mental note- keep my husband our of Canada. He’ll probably come home with a case of Sasquatch Sweat soap…

  • December 9, 2014 at 10:10 pm
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    Over thanksgiving hubby bought gooseberry jam in Epcot…. Tastes like grape jelly to me …

  • December 10, 2014 at 5:35 am
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    Erin, this is awesome. I love it. We have those same picked onions here in the UK and are a big hit with fish and chips and at Christmas too! I also remember those Mexican hats and to be fair to Disney they were as cheap as we saw them in the port at Cozumel. Of course Kieran and I bought them.

    Alex xx

  • December 10, 2014 at 5:12 pm
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    I now want a shirt that says ‘i love human’! As far as the american pavilion, it makes me a little sad that the american pavilion doesn’t show off our best, but just a little. After all, people visiting that pavilion are already experiencing ‘america’ throughout the rest ofDisney World… I always love your articles

  • December 10, 2014 at 10:18 pm
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    the interesting looking massager is back in the spa section of Japan I see. I always see guests laughing and taking pictures of it.

  • December 11, 2014 at 10:09 am
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    “…If you want to enjoy your firewater, who am I to judge, but it does seem a bit stereotypically yokum to sell moonshine in the USA while France, Italy, and even Germany sell lovely selections of fine wines. They couldn’t find a California vineyard to promote?…”

    “Moonshine” is more directly tied to the founding of the US than wine. Especially California wine, which is a comparatively quite recent product.

    Moonshine dates to before the founding of the country.

    Also, the Whiskey Rebellion is an arguably more important event in the history of the US than the founding of wineries in CA.

    • December 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm
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      A little online research–or simply asking CMs–would have answered all of the author’s questions, and saved a usually talented writer from looking uninformed, if not foolish.

Comments are closed.