A Look Inside the Princess Diana Exhibit at Downtown Disney (Updated)
Please note that this review is based on the soft opening of the exhibit. All information is subject to change prior to official opening and this should be considered when reading the following article.
With the exception to a couple of hours for a Cast Member preview the day before, Diana: The People’s Princess officially soft opened its doors on July 4, with a scheduled grand opening/media event for Tuesday, July 7. Because of a computer-related issue, the doors opened approximately 20 minutes later than the scheduled opening time of 11 am.
The exhibit is located on the West Side of Downtown Disney, in the building formerly occupied by the Virgin Megastore, sandwiched between the AMC 24 theater and DisneyQuest. Reportedly due to issues with exposure to the exhibit from the sun/weather elements, the main doors are currently not being used (they are closed, but remained unlocked that day, causing confusion for several guests). Instead, the small door all the way to the left of the front is being used as the entrance.
Despite the policy posted on the building window (which prohibits flash photography), photography is not permitted at all so I have nothing from the exhibit to share with you. I was told the confusion with the policy was in error and that it will soon be corrected. The printed tickets do specify No Photography however.
The first item you encounter is a dress of Princess Diana’s and a tiara, arranged in what strikes me as a funeral parlor-esque display (grey faux granite columns topped with large bouquets of white flowers surround the display). With the tiara, you run into the first major issue with the exhibit, which will soon be corrected with any luck: lack of signage. In the extreme majority of the cases, there is absolutely no placard or any time of information associated with the objects on display that give you any indication as to what they are or what they mean to the exhibit. The best example of this is a small, bright orange chair placed directly in the middle of the Charles area with much ado. I also lost a considerable amount of time trying to read a 2 page letter hand-written by Diana trying to identify its content, finally coming to the conclusion that it was just a letter and there wasn’t much more to it than that.
Before getting into the meat of an exhibit, a short video on the exhibit plays in a continuous loop. Amonth the intent of the exhibit, it also explains that a portion of the proceeds go to the Pink Ribbons Crusade, but does not specify how much. It also appears through Google that not much information is available on the charity other than its association with the exhibit.
The exhibit itself methodically takes you around the space, broken down smartly into sections of key chapters in Diana’s life: Her youth, her engagement/marriage to Prince Charles, motherhood, Kensington Palace, fashion, her life as a humanitarian and her death.
There are literally hundreds of objects of all sorts and sizes to explore here, most of which are in mirrored cases. One of the highlights of the exhibit has to be the Royal Doulton porcelain doll of Diana wearing an exact replica of her wedding dress, complete with an immense train in an impressive glass case in the middle of the exhibit floor. There are several other items that one is sure to enjoy across the entire spectrum. A couple of my favorite items are an invitation from Diana to Prince Harry’s fourth birthday (on a store-bought birthday invite card featuring a cartoon dog) and a joke birthday card which reads along the lines of ‘Not everyone can receive a birthday card signed by Princess Diana’ (front) and ‘..see, I was right’ (inside), only, of course, this one was.
With all of the items and personal affects filling the space (again, without much explanation save for the occasional transcribed letter), there are occasional items that seem to have little relevance to the exhibit other than their affiliation with Diana by implication. For example, in the wedding section of the exhibit, I came across a couple of signed photo cards from wedding dress designer David Emanuel, offering a note of support to John. And although it’s a nice image, I found a photo of what appears to be a very young Queen Elizabeth with her family in the motherhood section. Had the photo, which really has no direct relevance to the exhibit, not been in the display case, it wouldn’t be missed. There really is enough on display here that does have to do with Diana and her immediate family directly.
There are monitors playing relevant videos throughout the exhibit – I count five in my head. The videos are nicely put together, but the space doesn’t lend itself to this pseudo-replacement of placards. In fact, it’s very hard to be in a location where you don’t have multiple monitors speaking to you at once. While trying to read an actual display sign in front of the wedding section, I had three videos playing within a 20 foot radius all talking at once. I also came across one from the last section, speaking to me through the fabric curtain separating the two sections and found myself spending time trying to concentrate on what it was saying even though it had zero relevance to where I was in the exhibit.
I was told that the hope is that when the exhibit is crowded, it will deafen the videos to the point where they won’t be overlapping and fighting with each other. While I hope this is true for the exhibit’s sake, the exhibit won’t always be packed and guests will be bound to notice it, affecting word-of-mouth. The volume may be a consideration as well, as I did find one video that was so loud, the audio was actually being distorted. Fortunately for myself, I found two of the monitors weren’t even on initially, so it would have been even worse in this respect.
At the end of the exhibit is the only area I’m told that can be photographed: one of Diana’s dresses along side a red telephone box of all things. What does the telephone box have to do with Princess Diana? It might have some significance had an information card be available, but best I can tell, it’s only purpose is to attempt to hide the large Virgin logo tile conspicuously displayed on the photo. Incidentally, when I suggested that a rug would go far to hide the logo which will live on in photos as part of my solicited feedback, I was repeatedly told by the president of the foundation that [as a paying guest], I had no place to make such calls of judgment.
They say the exhibit takes about 40 minutes to go through, but it probably helps that you don’t know what you’re looking at most of the time with so little information offered. At $14.50 per adult, my perception of value was greatly reduced by the time spent wondering what objects were and what some objects had to even do with the subject of the exhibit.
On the plus side, it appears that the foundation has an immense respect and a large affinity for Diana and the exhibit as a whole. It does a great job reminding us all of what a true hero she was in life, much less beyond that. On that note, it’s Diana herself that sells the exhibit and people who love Diana are probably bound to enjoy it regardless. There’s another bright shining aspect of the exhibit in the form of its newly acquired manager whom I spent a great deal of time with going through and talking about the exhibit (when he wasn’t otherwise busy attending to more important matters, having only been with the exhibit for two days prior to the soft opening).
My advice: If you bought the beanie baby and absolutely love (love) Princess Diana or the royal family in general, go ahead and check it out.
UPDATE: Through GuideStar, which maintains a database of nearly 2 million not-for-profit groups, including IRS filings, I was able to learn a little more about Pink Ribbons Crusade. In a four year period, they reported income of almost $600,000 dollars with the only donations going to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation ($10,000) and the McClure-Brooks Healthcare Foundation ($50,000), an organization for which I can find no proof of existence at all. While I am no tax expert and would welcome someone to correct me, it appears that beyond passing on only 10% of its income to charities (with one being extremely questionable), Pink Ribbons seems to provide loans to its founders and to write-off the value of several dress cases. You can read what GuideStar has to offer on the charity here.