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Disney raises stink over teen's Tinker Bell outfit

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 04:46 PM
TAMPA -

Fifteen-year-old April Spielman's flight of fancy to a magical kingdom over the weekend did not have a fairy-tale ending.

That's not to say there wasn't plenty of drama, though.

The long awaited trip to Walt Disney World on Sunday started out calmly enough for the Tampa teen. She and her family, along with her 15-year-old boyfriend, had been planning the trip for months.

April would wear the Tinker Bell costume she had bought online; boyfriend Clayton Covey would dress up as Peter Pan.

April's father, Rich Spielman, said his daughter and her boyfriend "had been saving money to go to Disney World for a year and a half.''

"She finally got enough and decided to wear a costume to the park," he said.

That's where the problems started.

April's wings, hair and makeup were perfect. So perfect, patrons of Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom may have mistaken her for the real Tinker Bell, or at least the one hired to portray Peter Pan's fairy pal. Some park-goers asked her to pose with them for photos.

Things came to a head at the Animal Kingdom.

"We walked to the first ride and looked behind us and there were a lot of people following us," Rich Spielman said. "One came up and said, 'You can't be wearing that.' "

Spielman said other park patrons, some of them teenagers, wore costumes, too. "There were Snow Whites and Cinderellas, all the same age as my daughter," he said.

"They escorted us with a full security detail; it was like escorting out a murderer," he said. "My daughter was bawling. It was like a parade coming through.''

Spielman said the family was taken to guest relations and a back room.

"The guy in charge, he started laying into us, like we committed a crime," he said.

The Tinker Bell costume was too good, the family was told, and that could create confusion with other park patrons who may have thought the teen worked for Disney.

"I asked, 'If her wings were on crooked, would that make it better?' They said, 'Yeah, possibly.'

Three and a half hours passed, Spielman said.

"My daughter wanted to go home," he said. "Then they told us we couldn't leave with the costume on and told us to go to the gift shop and pick out T-shirt and shorts."

The family returned to the park with the two costumed teenagers wearing covering T-shirts and shorts. Disney officials gave them handfuls of passes that allowed the family to go to the front of ride lines.

"I think they could have handled it nicer," Spielman said. "They were so mean."

Park officials point to a dress code policy that lays out what is acceptable attire for the parks and what is not.

Among the prohibited attire, as posted on the Disney website: "Adult costumes or clothing that can be viewed as a costume … Children under age 10 are excluded."

"The guests were asked to change because costumes that could be viewed as representative of an actual Disney character are not appropriate attire for our theme parks," said Kathleen Prihoda, Disney World's manager of media relations.

"The costumes were disruptive to our operation and possibly confusing to our other guests, as children were asking to take photos with them," Prihoda said. "To make up for any inconvenience, we provided them with replacement clothing and assisted them with the rest of their visit in our parks."

Dennis Speigel, president of Cincinnati-based consulting firm International Theme Park Services, said most theme parks have similar dress codes.

"It is a common policy because, No. 1, they don't want people mocking the characters," he said.

And secondly, the dress codes are "for the preservation and integrity of the character itself, and rightly so. The industry as a whole, where character representation is prevalent, wants to protect that intellectual property."


kmorelli@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7760

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