If you can dream it, you can do it.
Just look at these Disney obsessives, who have taken their fandom from theme-park visits to a way of life — spending shocking amounts of time and money hand-sewing character costumes for themselves and decorating their homes like a Disney World resort.
Disney is notoriously stingy with data on guest habits from its venues, but in the third quarter of 2018, revenue from the parks and resorts increased 6 percent to $5.2 billion. And while most of those people don’t make their Disney love an integral part of their identities, it’s worth noting that about 1,500 couples get married at the parks each year, and more than 25,000 compete in the annual princess-themed half-marathon.
Here are four locals for whom child’s play is every day.
Each February, tens of thousands of runners — most of them women — take part in the Disney Princess Half-Marathon in Orlando, racing 13.1 miles through Epcot and the Magic Kingdom as the sun rises over Cinderella’s castle.
In 2015, Lauren Passell won, and the 34-year-old East Village resident considers the victory a Disney miracle. “In February of 2014, walking to work, I fell and my hips just shattered,” Passell said. “[Doctors] told me I probably wouldn’t be able to run again.”
But she came back — and, to celebrate, dressed as her favorite character, Tinker Bell, for the race. “She’s not perfect. She has a personality. She’s kind of sassy,” said the social-media strategist of Tink. “I feel like we’d be friends.”
Though her family wasn’t able to afford many visits to the theme park when she was growing up, Passell now tries to visit four times a year, often with her mom. Beyond a Disney cruise and trip to the Disney resort in Hawaii, her love of the characters extends to everyday touches, including workout wear and Ariel-themed sneakers. “I have Disney underwear. I’m going to sound like a crazy person, but it makes me so happy,” Passell said.
As for overcoming her injury to win, Passel — who crossed the finish line with a wand in her hand — said: “I do feel like there was some sort of magic . . . in me that day. It’s [about] believing, and that’s a huge tenet of Disney. You know, ‘A dream is a wish your heart makes.’”
Some 1,500 couples get married at Disney parks every year. On July 13, 2015, Nicole and Rick Nunnari joined them, tying the knot at the Beach Club Resort in Orlando, Fla., two years after he popped the question at Disney World.
“When Rick proposed, he asked me to be his Disney princess,” Nicole, now 36, said. She had never actually been to the park before meeting Rick, 38, but the life-changing event made her fall in love with the place. The couple even commissioned a professional, $950 photo shoot at Epcot for their one-year anniversary: dressing in formal wear and posing at international pavilions including Italy (his background), France (her background) and Germany (“Snow White” is said to take place there, and that story’s signature red apple was one of Nicole’s props).
The couple’s new home in Annadale, Staten Island, is inspired by the place where they wed. Said Nicole, “We are transforming the inside into a Martha’s Vineyard beach cottage, which reflects the style of the Disney Beach Club Resort” — right down to the scented room spray. “I know it’s kind of psychotic.”
Both Rick and Nicole are teachers, and she also sells custom illustrations (about $135 apiece) she creates of couples at Disney, typically for weddings.
“I wear [Mickey Mouse] ears to work sometimes,” said Nicole, who teaches first grade at the Hellenic Classical Charter School. “My classroom is Disney [inspired], I play Disney music. I don’t think I could ever live without it.”
As a child, Sinead Atkinson was sure she was royalty.
“I was very annoying, I suppose, since I insisted that my preschool teachers address me as ‘Princess’ and I wouldn’t answer them if they called me the character I was [the day before],” said the Hauppauge, LI-based actress.
Now 26, Atkinson is regularly hired to dress up as various characters from the Disney canon — including Belle, Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella and Anna from “Frozen” — for kids’ parties. She also dons costumes, which can cost as much as $1,000, for ComicCon and cosplay conventions.
(Disney is incredibly protective of its trademarked looks, and the rule of thumb is that costumes worn at non-sanctioned, paid performances can only resemble official outfits by about 70 percent.)
“As an adult, I’m still drawn to [the princesses’] strength of heart and kindness — especially Snow White,” said Atkinson. “In spite of everything she’s been through, she remains kind, optimistic, forgiving and friendly, even to those who have wronged her in the past.”
Atkinson is also a “Disneybounder” — someone who works subtle, princess-inspired sartorial touches into her day-to-day-wardrobe. Brands like Hot Topic and Her Universe manufacture clothes specifically for this.
“They sold a purple and pink ombré dress,” she said. “If you know ‘Tangled,’ you know that’s Rapunzel, but if you don’t, then it’s just a cool dress.”
I think women are more vocal about their love of Disney,” admitted Kohl Lewis. “But [the number of male fans] is probably equal.”
In fact, hardly anyone can beat his devotion. The 25-year-old, who is a supervisor at Sugar Factory on the Upper West Side, spends up to 400 hours creating his hand-sewn getups for villainous characters such as Cruella de Vil from “101 Dalmatians” and Maleficent, which he wears — complete with size 15, 5-inch-high heels — to ComicCon.
He’s lucky, however: Lewis’ late mom worked as an event coordinator for Parsons School of Design, leaving piles of fabric stacked in the basement of the Fort Greene brownstone he shares with his sisters. The money he saves on materials goes to buy collectibles, from old VHS tapes of movies to a replica of the sewing book that Cinderella consults when making her ball gown.
Lewis is also part of a local MeetUp group, Disney Fanatics, which has more than 350 members and hosts about four events a month, from trivia nights to movie outings.
He dresses up when the group goes to see The Little Mermen, an energetic Disney cover band.
One place he doesn’t wear his elaborate outfits? To Disney World.
The parks, he explained, “have a strict rule [against] people over 14 wearing costumes…because Disney doesn’t want children to confuse another guest for an official park character.”
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