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'Frozen' frenzy: Hours-long lines to meet Disney princesses, merchandise shortages

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - For the Calder family, the "Frozen" frenzy began when the Disney movie came out in late 2013 and they took their 7-year-old daughter Caroline to see it in the theatre.

Caroline then saw it again, with a grandparent. Then with the other set of grandparents. Then came the Disney cruise to the Caribbean with the "Frozen" sing-along, the purchase of "Frozen"-themed pyjamas — instead of "Frozen" dolls, which were sold out — and waiting in line at a Disney store to obtain a raffle ticket for a chance to purchase a "Frozen" dress.

"We've become the 'Frozen' family," said Caroline's mom Kristin, 41, who says the "Frozen" CD or DVD plays daily in her vehicle or home in Boynton Beach, Florida. "It is part of our everyday life."

Her daughter Caroline describes her love of the movie like this: "I really like Elsa because of her frozen power. And I really like Anna because she's really nice a lot."

Caroline added that the ice blue dress worn by Elsa when she sings the song "Let it Go" is her favourite part of the movie.

Recently, the family had a "Frozen"-themed birthday party for Caroline with life-sized cutouts of the animated film stars, a plush toy depicting the movie's snowman, Olaf, and "Frozen"- themed invitations downloaded from the craft site Etsy. For $350, the Calders even hired performers to portray Anna and Elsa, the sisters from the movie, to sing and play with the kids for an hour. It was the performers' sixth "Frozen"-themed birthday party that day.

For the uninitiated, "Frozen" — which tells the story of how Anna and Elsa overcome Elsa's terrible power to turn everything into ice and snow — has become the fifth-highest grossing film of all time, raking in $1.2 billion in box office earnings worldwide.

The huge demand for anything "Frozen" has created a shortage of merchandise on Disney Store shelves all over North America. It's also led to hours-long waits to see the princesses at Disney parks in Florida and California.

It's even become an international phenomenon. The tour company Adventures by Disney added Geirangerfjord, Norway, to a new itinerary this year inspired by the movie. The film's fantasy kingdom of Arendelle was based on the fjord. Calder looked into Disney's Norway cruise for 2015, but shelved the idea over cost — $15,000 for her family plus airfare.

She also figured hiring the princess performers for her daughter's party was cheaper and easier than taking the whole family to Walt Disney World Resort. One day last week, the wait to meet the sisters at the Magic Kingdom's Princess Fairytale Hall was listed on a park sign as 300 minutes — five hours — by 9:30 a.m., a half-hour after the park opened, according to Deborah Bowen, a Tampa resident and long-time Disney park-goer.

"I've never seen anything like this, the fury, the popularity that these two princesses have had," Bowen said.

Bowen, a member of Disney Parks Mom Panel, which provides vacation advice, says a saner strategy for seeing the princesses is to use the My Disney Experience mobile app to book a FastPass appointment, which assures access within a designated time window.

But Jessica Becak, 33, of Long Island, New York, wasn't able to reserve a visit using the FastPass system — other visitors had snagged the appointments before she booked a June trip to Disney with her 3-year-old daughter. So she's downplaying the possibility of seeing Anna and Elsa at the park because she knows it might not be realistic. Waiting in the standby line just isn't an option, she said.

"My daughter's not going to be able to stand in line for two to five hours in the heat," she said. "So right now, we're glossing over it. If we walk by and it doesn't look too traumatic, we might try it."

She's thankful that Anna and Elsa have been added to Disney's Festival of Fantasy Parade, so her daughter will likely be able to at least spot the princesses while in the park.

But Becak was persistent enough to snare a hard-to-find Elsa toddler doll earlier this year — though she had to spend an entire day literally calling every Disney Store in the U.S. to get one. Finally, a store in Pittsburgh came through. No luck with any other "Frozen" merchandise, though: "We haven't been able to find anything since," she said.

"Frozen" has boosted Disney's bottom line; in May it posted second-quarter earnings that beat Wall Street forecasts.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company's consumer products revenue grew 16 per cent to $885 million, lifted by "Frozen," whose merchandise accounted for nine of the top 10 bestselling items in Disney Stores. Iger said "Frozen" had become one of Disney's best franchises. The company plans to increase the film's characters in its parks, develop a Broadway show and is working on books and interactive products.

He said he expects the effect of the hit to last for at least the next five years.

Note to parents: If your kids want "Frozen" gifts for Christmas, better start hunting now.

___

Follow Tamara Lush on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tamaralush .

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