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When you wish upon a star . . . !

What child (and adult) does not dream of living in the fantasy world of the Disneyland castle where frogs turn into princes, Cinderella arrives at the ball wearing glass slippers, Snow White is awoken by her prince with a kiss and budding Jack Sparrows can buckle and swash to their heart's content?

And now Disney has come to Dublin. The big guns of the Disney Stores Corporation, including Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide, were all in town to launch the Disney Store 10 days ago, and walked into a controversy.

Teresa Tideman, joint managing director of Disney Stores Europe, said they in Disney are delighted to be opening their first store in the Republic, particularly as they have been waiting some considerable time to find the right premises on Grafton Street, which they consider a premier shopping location, to drive the right commercial return.

"We do believe that with the love there is for Disney, with the love the Irish have for children and families and with the way our characters and stories resonate, it will be very welcome here in Ireland," she said.

The new concept is about "trying to create the best 30 minutes of a child's day", which prompted the question as to whether you got moved on after 30 minutes -- you don't -- though it is something some parents might wish for as the walls are lined from floor to ceiling with all your favourite characters, dolls, costumes, games, mugs and memorabilia.

Little Kathleen and Daithi will have no problem helping you empty your wallet into the Disney coffers so be prepared to follow the sprinkle-dust path and use the 30-minute excuse if you need to.

There has been some controversy over the fact that prices for some items in Dublin are higher than in Belfast or the UK. Disney says "the pricing in the Dublin store is the same for 99 per cent of products as all eurozone countries" and blames exchange rates and sterling. We have all heard that before.

Located at 60 Grafton Street, formerly occupied by the Laura Ashley store, the 4,750-sq ft store covers two floors and brings to life Disney's most beloved characters and stories. The Dublin store features the award-winning concept Disney Store design, which took more than two years of planning and involved over 500 people from around the world. It took 16 weeks to build here and whilst there are 104 Disney Stores in Europe, there are only 20 of this type worldwide, nine in Europe, the first of which was launched in Madrid last year.

There is a unique 'opening ceremony' every morning. One lucky child is chosen to officially 'Unlock Imagination' with a giant key. Tinker Bell makes a special appearance, spreading her magical pixie dust on a giant clock which counts down to the opening moment by revealing 12 Disney characters before bringing the store to life as the child turns the key in the 'Imagination Lock' to officially open the store. Every child who opens the store receives a gift of a scaled replica of the 'Imagination Key'.

The sparkling pixie dust path on the ground floor, where you start your tour, is lined with eight white high-tech trees, featuring Disney animation that changes throughout the day, and for the seasons. Disney characters make fleeting appearances in the trees to captivate the eyes of a child.

Likewise, as Jonathan Storey, marketing and guest experiences director of Disney Stores, points out, high up around the walls is a 'Disney Skyline', which gives the illusion that you are in the centre of a bigger, more magical world as it features landmarks from around the globe such as London's Big Ben, which featured in Peter Pan, as well as Dumbo and Peter Pan flying past during the day.

The new Dublin store features the first ever 'Disney Princess Room', which is bound to be popular with all the little Irish princesses. There are six Disney princesses, who, when you wave a 'magic wand', appear in the Magic Mirror -- Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Tiana. Each princess has her own story to tell when she is brought to life by little princesses in the store choosing the wand for their favourite character.

The store is sectioned into 'characters' and there is also a section for small children with a brilliant, well-nigh indestructible house through which toddlers can tumble and be amazed by the sounds and sights. Upstairs there is a mini 'theatre' area where children can sit around a table and watch some of their favourite clips from Disney movies. It is a bit like an old-fashioned juke box. The child can choose from over 50 clips on the 'Imagination Station', which then joins the play list.

Ongoing free events will take place on most days in the store and will be billed on a screen in the window to draw you in. These events include animation classes, story-telling experiences, trivia quizzes and 'showtime' -- in which children can learn to sing and dance like their favourite characters, the Hot Dog Song from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse a firm favourite. There is also an Imagination Parade through the store.

Special occasions such as birthdays will also be celebrated. The child's name will appear on the giant screen with store-wide celebrations including music and firework animation in the trees. The child also gets a keepsake of a badge or certificate.

Walt Disney started bringing joy into the lives of children almost 80 years ago. Isn't this just the perfect time to bring some joy, fun and escapism into our lives -- though some might say we have all been living in Dreamland for the last dozen years!

Whatever about the differential in prices -- and we must press them to do something about this -- it is great to have Disney on Grafton Street, and neighbouring traders are thrilled as there will be a huge spin-off all round -- and it won't be just another empty shop premises.


Sunday Independent