LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Makeovers are supposed to be fun. So the look of nervous concentration painted on most of the pint-sized customers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Disney's Magic Kingdom comes as somewhat of a surprise.
Who could have guessed that getting transformed from regular little girl to Disney princess would be so stressful?
The costumed Fairy Godmothers-in-training responsible for working the salon's particular brand of magic do their best to soothe the girls' nerves, some of whom are so tiny that their feet dangle a good two feet off the floor.
But small talk goes only so far, especially when Mom and Dad are hovering nearby with a video camera. The real smiles don't come until after their young charges are sprinkled with pixie dust (literally) and spun around in their chairs -- hands and feet neatly crossed in front of them -- for the big reveal in front of the Magic Mirror.
"It's serious business," explains Disney spokesman Gary Buchanan. "Being a princess is something little girls don't take lightly."
"They get a little scared when they're in here, so we try to do as much interacting with them as we can," agrees veteran Fairy Godmother Melanie Aguirre, 23.
But once the transformation is complete? It's going to take a lot more than soap and water to wash the look of pleasure off these little princesses' faces. Just ask 7-year-old Katie Lea of Parker, Colo., who kicked off a five-day Disney vacation with one of the half-hour makeovers.
Even though Sleeping Beauty is her favorite princess, she ended up choosing Belle's red-velvet holiday dress because she liked the swirling roses on its sleeves.
"I love it!" the second-grader whispered upon studying her reflection in the giant oval mirror, her eyes almost as bright as the star-shaped "gem" on her cheek and dusting of glitter on her hair.
"It's been a great day for her," agreed her father, Jeff, who learned about the boutique from friends. They called it, he says, the "absolute highlight" of their Disney stay.
It used to be that the mouse with the big black ears got all the attention at the Magic Kingdom. But no more. Mixed in among all the miniature Mickeys and Minnies is a growing number of Cinderellas, Ariels, Belles and Sleeping Beauties. And a fair share of them are being churned out by the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which opened for business inside the park's iconic Cinderella Castle in September and has been a runaway hit ever since.
Business is so good, in fact, that the 11-seat salon sells out its 200 or so appointments every day. So does the original Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which debuted in April 2006 at Downtown Disney, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex.
"It's what Disney and the park are all about -- telling stories, " says Mr. Buchanan. "And there's nothing better than a fairy tale."
In a way, Cinderella had it easy. Her transformation from ho-hum cinder maid to alluring princess was the work of a fairy godmother who -- poof! -- with a wave of a wand turned her dirty rags into a beautiful blue ball gown. Not so at the Disney boutique, where it takes both big bucks and patience to make that dream a reality.
While some lucky youngsters like Katie are able to snag a walk-in appointment on the day of their visit, the smart ones heed Disney's advice and reserve a spot weeks, and even months, in advance. (When guaranteed with a credit card, reservations are accepted up to six months prior to arrival.) But beware: You'll be charged a $10 penalty fee if you cancel within 24 hours of the set-aside time.
The Coach Package, which includes one of three hairstyles, sparkly makeup and a pink satin princess sash, runs $44.95, while the press-on nails and nail polish included in the upgraded Crown Package tacks on an additional $5. It's the head-to-toe Castle Package, however, which features a choice of princess gown, crown, wand, shoes and a picture package, that will most magically gobble up your vacation dollars. It runs anywhere from $179.95 to $229.95, depending on the dress and slippers, which are displayed in an ornate wardrobe in the salon's stone waiting area.
And don't forget the tax.
But what the heck. Chances are your little princess will play dress-up in the outfit for years to come, so consider it an investment.
Channeling the boutique's location in Cinderella's castle, and its decidedly royal decor (an upholstered bench in the middle of the room displays the six rhinestone crowns worn by Disney's most famous princesses), many of its customers opt for the "fairy tale" princess look, which involves one's hair being brushed, gelled and hairsprayed into a high bun and encircled with a glittering tiara. But they can also choose the pony-tailed Disney "Diva" look or -- if they enjoy being the center of attention -- the "Pop" Princess look, which includes a spiky, peacock-like hairpiece in shades of pink, purple or the entire rainbow.
There's also a "cool dude" look for the little Prince Charmings in the family that includes colored hair gel and confetti, and a hidden Mickey stencil on the back of his head. Cost: $10.
The only restrictions are that children be at least 3 years old, be accompanied by an adult and provide their own combs and brushes. And if you forget amid all the excitement? You're sure to find a spare around the corner at Tinker Bell's Treasures, where Belle's ruffled marigold ball gown runs $65 and a pair of plastic "glass" slippers will put you back $18.
Building on the popularity of the Disney Channel TV show and concert tour, the boutique last month added one new look at its Downtown Disney boutique: Hannah Montana. For $109.95 plus tax, would-be pop stars receive the teen's long blond wig, microphone headset, Hannah Montana purse, choice of T-shirt and a backstage pass. And because you're not really famous until your picture is plastered on the cover of a magazine, the makeover also includes a photo session with Hannah's guitar.
Hannah might not be your traditional princess, but she's certainly the stuff of fantasy.
As Katie Lea's mother, Jennifer, so happily pointed out, "This is what Disney is about. Making dreams come true."
Disney's Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique has two locations in Orlando: in the Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom Park (park admission required) and in the World of Disney store at Downtown Disney. Both are open daily and reservations can be made up to six months in advance by calling 1-407-939-7895. For more information, visit www.disneyworld.com/style.
Gretchen McKay can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1419. First Published March 16, 2008 4:00 AM