Long before I was a Disney cast member, I was a Disney pin trader.
During every family vacation to Disney World or Disneyland, I would trade or buy as many Disney pins as I could afford. I especially like collecting holiday pins.
Yesterday, right before I went on my break, a young girl came up to me and asked to see the trading pins that I was wearing. Not all roles can wear trading pins (more on that later), but if you can, cast members get to choose between wearing them on a neck lanyard or a hip lanyard that Disney provides. I like to wear my trading pins on a hip lanyard so guests don’t have to lean in so close to me. I hadn’t refreshed my pins since I arrived at work that morning and the guest didn’t see anything that she wanted to trade.
She asked to see the trading pins on the large Outpost pin board. When I got out the pin board, I was surprised to see a pretty Belle pin from 2002. It was the best pin on the board. Any serious pin trader would snap it up pronto.
As my guest was slowly contemplating the pin selection, I kept thinking to myself, “Any pin but Belle, any pin but Belle.” Of course, she said, “I think I want the Princess Belle pin”. *Sigh*
Three days later, I was with my friends over at the Yacht and Beach Club Resort for some dessert. I stopped in at the front desk to check out their pin book. Guess what pin was on the very first page of the pin book? Yup, it was the Belle pin! The little guest must be staying there this week and traded the Belle pin for one she liked better.
Every day, tens of thousands of pins get bought and traded by guests all across the Disney World property. The odds of me finding that same Belle pin three days later over by Epcot are infinitesimal! Literally like finding a needle in a haystack!
Later on that night, I checked eBay and there she was, the 2002 Belle pin in her blue country outfit, selling for $10.
Guests ask me if it’s easy for cast members to tell “real” Disney pins from scrappers. Just like jewelers can tell a real diamond from a cubic zirconium at a glance, it only takes a day or two on the job to immediately tell the difference.
But, here’s the truth: To most guests, especially the little ones, it doesn’t matter! They’re pin trading for fun and most times are interested in only certain pins, like Disney princess pins. They don’t like any of the pins on their newly purchased My First Lanyard with Pins, and can’t wait to trade them away for something they like.
And, here’s another truth: All Disney pins are made in China. The difference between “real” trading pins that cost $8 at the parks and much cheaper scrappers, which were probably made at the same factory, usually is a subtle variation in color or a slightly different (cheaper) metal. Again, most casual pin collectors don’t care.
Dealing with the serious pin collectors is another matter. They go to the parks early and interrupt cast members helping other guests demanding to see the pins. If it’s later on in the day and my pins aren’t very “good”, i.e., special/rare, woe to me! They act like they are personally insulted that my pins are so common or boring.
Pin Trading Tips
Pin trading is big at Disney’s parks and resorts. While the simple act of trading pins with a cast member is easy, I have some tips for guests wanting to start a collection.
- Look beyond the lanyards
Cast member lanyards are the most obvious place to look for Disney pins, but they’re not the only option. You can find pins at resorts, merchandise locations, and Disney Vacation Club kiosks. In some locations, pin boards and pin books are sitting out nearly all the time. At others, you have to ask to see these extra pins, but they’re nearly always available.
Every Walt Disney World resort (with the exception of the Swan and Dolphin) does pin trading somewhere. Just ask at the front desk or concierge, and they can direct you to the resort’s pin board or pin book.
Some other good pin trading locations to look for include:
- Pin boards at park stroller rental locations (me!)
- The Pin Drum at the photo purchase area of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Pin Oven Mitt at Main Street Confectionary in Magic Kingdom
- The D-Street Vinylmation pin book at Downtown Disney
- The Frontier Trading Post pin board at Magic Kingdom
- Popcorn trading pins at Big Top Store in Magic Kingdom
- Pin boards at the Magic Kingdom bus area
- Pin trading book at African Outpost in Epcot
- Pin Tree of Life at The Outpost outside Disney’s Animal Kingdom
You can also find pin boards behind many merchandise registers.
- Know where the best lanyards are
Many cast members – but not all – wear pin lanyards. Merchandise cast members wear them most often, followed by custodial and guest relations. For safety reasons, cast members working attractions generally do not wear trading pins.
Pins are refreshed most often for merchandise lanyards because these get the most trading action. This is great if you’re lucky enough to spot a lanyard just after it’s gotten fresh pins. However, merchandise cast members often have a poor pin collection simply because guests trade with them so often.
Custodial cast members get fewer trades, so it’s always worth taking a look at their lanyards. If you spot a manager or coordinator wearing pins, you’ll want to get a look at those, too. They probably trade the least because they are so busy running around all the time. But, you never know with cast members, you just might come across some spectacular pin finds.
- Visit Disney Pin Traders at Downtown Disney
Disney Pin Traders at Downtown Disney has the best pin trading. When their pin wall is open, you can check out dozens and dozens of pins. The wall is refreshed often, too, so this is a good place to find special pins. Unfortunately, the pin wall isn’t always open but you can ask any cast member working there for information on the next trading time.
- Know your pins
Serious pin traders know the value of a special pin when they see it. If you’re serious about pin trading, do some research before you arrive at WDW to identify pins or pin sets that you’re particularly interested in collecting.
- Guests can pin trade with other guests
Not all guests who wear pins in the parks are looking to trade with other guests. Many just want to show off their pins. We once traded pins with two wonderful Japanese guests while sailing aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship. All their trading pins were from Disneyland Tokyo and all our pins were from Disney World. It was so much fun and we got several very special pins!
- Observe proper pin trading etiquette
All pin traders should know how to approach cast members correctly and politely conduct a pin trade. Always ask to see a CMs pins rather than leering at them from a distance. Cast members wearing pins are always happy to show them to you, but it can get uncomfortable when guests are staring at your lanyard from 5 feet away without saying anything. You can trade two pins per cast member per day.
- Trading for mystery pins
This is one of my favorite things! Backward pins are mystery pins that you must trade for without knowing what they are first. You can’t trade a mystery pin right back to the cast member if you don’t like it.
When a guest traded a “good” pin (in my opinion), I sometimes would put it on my lanyard backwards as a mystery pin. Young guests would quiz me about it, trying to get some hints if it was worth trading for or not. I never turned around a common pin as I think that’s kind of mean, but some cast members do, so be warned! Keep some pins on hand that you don’t care about to trade for mystery pins and keep in mind that you can always trade them away to the next CM you see.
Two Girls and a Mouse Tale
by Elly Collins & Caroline Collins
Ever wonder what it’s like to work for Disney???
We worked at WDW for a year in the Disney College Program (Fall 2013/Spring 2014) and have written a book about what it’s like to be a cast member working for Disney.
We’ve included advice on how to successfully get into the DCP program, including some of the actual phone interview questions, how to have a successful internship, and how not self-term before your program ends. Our book is filled with lots of behind-the-scene stories of the magic of Disney.
Available now at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats. Published by Theme Park Press.