Disney parks draw a truly eclectic variety of fans—thrill-seekers, nature lovers, classic attraction purists, families, Disney adults… These are some of the better known examples, but sometimes fandom ascends to another level entirely.
Over the decades, Disney parks have given rise to several surprising subcultures that have become part of the very fabric of the Most Magical and Happiest Places on Earth. These fans don’t just love visiting Disney parks—they actually contribute towards making Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort more vibrant places. These aren’t just guests with broad similar interests—these fan communities rally around specific niches tied to Disney parks… and they know how to make those interests FUN!
Curious? Here are six surprising fan subcultures birthed right out of Disney parks.
This first one will come as no surprise to Disney regulars, as it has become one of the more popular expressions of Disney fandom.
Disneybounding is a bit like cosplay’s stealthy cousin—a clever way of dressing up at Disney parks without violating Disney’s costume guidelines. For those unfamiliar, Disney actually has pretty strict rules forbidding guests over the age of fourteen from visiting the parks in a costume. The rule exists to prevent other guests, and especially children, from confusing someone as a cast member who isn’t one. The exceptions to the rule are rare, such as during certain special events and within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (more on that shortly).
Disneybounding officially hit the spotlight in 2011, first appearing on the blog of Leslie Kay, Disneybound. The concept is simple: create an outfit using vintage or contemporary clothes that pays tribute to a known Disney character without actually being a costume. The hints can be as subtle as just wearing the same color scheme as a character or involve elaborate custom tailored outfits. Since exploding on social media, the practice has become more commonplace, with more people jumping on the Disneybound train. It can even happen accidentally—my first Disneybound was entirely unintentional. My go to Disney gear back in my late 20s reminded multiple children I encountered of Mary Poppins.
If you decide to take a crack at Disneybounding, do a search online for outfit inspiration and take a moment to review Disney’s costume rules. Also, never forget—if someone asks if you’re a cast member, clarify that you aren’t, and be very careful agreeing to take pictures. This is technically against the rules, though in most cases, Disney won’t fault you if you’ve just made a new friend and want a selfie to remember the occasion.
2. Sabers, cosplayers, and droids – Oh my!
Star Wars has held a special place at Disney parks since the opening of Star Tours in 1987, but its role has increased exponentially after the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019. Despite a rocky start at Disneyland, the Black Spire Outpost gained a strong following of loyal Star Wars fans from opening day at Walt Disney World onward, with popularity exploding after the debut of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
Star Wars fandom already has its own strong set of subcultures, and many of these have found a home within Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Lightsaber meet-ups are one popular example—periodically, lightsaber-wielding Star Wars fans will connect on social media and arrange unofficial meet-ups, filling the Black Spire Outpost from end to end with sabers of every color imaginable.
Droid enthusiasts also plan regular meet-ups at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Most of these individuals are fans who purchased a custom droid from the Droid Depot, but then take that customization to new levels. Many droids feature detailed paint-jobs, special props, and unique personalities. Droid builders will regularly meet-up in approved areas of the park to show off their little durasteel companions and get pictures.
The most unique expression of Star Wars fandom at Disney parks, however, is probably Batuu-bounding.
Batuu-bounding is a subset of Disneybounding entirely unique to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. While Star Wars-themed Disneybounding is allowed at Galaxy’s Edge, Disney recognized that full cosplay is a major tradition within Star Wars fandom. To give fans an outlet, they created what fans have come to call Batuu-bounding. Guests visiting Galaxy’s Edge can dress up as a local from the Star Wars galaxy, someone who looks like they belong in the Black Spire Outpost of Batuu. The boundaries are surprisingly broad, with the only items forbidden generally being things like helmets, full armor sets, cloaks that drag on the floor, and face paint.
The end result is an entire fan subculture you can spot just about any time you visit Batuu—guests in simple and elaborate homemade costumes that add to the atmosphere of the Black Spire Outpost just by being there. Wearing a costume is a great way to get more interaction from cast members, by the way (particularly at Batuu West, aka Disneyland).
Oh, and if you’re perusing social media and come across photos of fans in full costume at Galaxy’s Edge, be aware those fans likely were guests of the soon-to-be-defunct Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser (who were permitted a broader set of costuming rules).
3. Pin Traders
Pin trading is one of Disney’s older subcultures, but it remains a major one. Guests who secure some Disney-themed collectible pins can trade them with cast members throughout the parks for other pins found on lanyards, boards, and hip-patches. The hobby is astonishingly addicting and can feel like quite the scavenger hunt.
Most fans get their initial starter kit of pins within the parks, but these are pretty expensive. An alternative is to purchase pins online before your trip. Collectors generally just ask that guests be mindful of who you buy from as knock-off pins are a point of frustration for collectors (cast members will still trade them, but it's more of an ethical issue). Building a personal pin lanyard is a fun way to build a keepsake to remember your trip for years to come.
Pin trading lost momentum in 2020 due to COVID prevention rules, but it has started to make a comeback with pin boards slowly returning to the parks. We haven’t seen a return of cast members with lanyards yet, but it is possible these could return in the coming year since collectible pins remain a big seller for Disney.