Many little girls go through a princess phase and every princess needs a castle, right? My extremely generous in-laws gave my two daughters this Disney Princess Total Fairytale Castle by Mattel for Christmas (which retails for $175!). Sadly, this castle has been a HUGE disappointment, literally and figuratively.
About the Castle
First, let's talk dimensions. This is the largest toy castle I have ever seen. It is just under 3 feet tall at 30 (L) x 7.5 (W) x 32 (H) per Amazon, though the lengthy description claims it's over 3 feet tall (maybe if you measure the tallest spire?).
Rather than paraphrase all the various features and special areas of this castle, I pasted the description here from Amazon:
The Disney Princess Total Fairy Tale Castle is the quintessential princess castle that every little girl will want. This castle is 3 stories tall and features iconic rooms themed to each of the princesses and has more than 50 different play pieces to bring the fairytales to life. Features and areas of play include: Tiana's kitchen, where she can whip up a pot of gumbo for all her princess friends; Belle's dining room where Mrs. Potts and Chip glide and Lumiere and the napkins dance on the table, just like in the Be Our Guest Scene from Beauty and the Beast; Jasmine's magic carpet elevator can transport the princesses to all the different floors; Ariel's under the sea bathroom lets princesses shower in the seashell tub that even has real bubble sounds; Snow White's vanity room is an area where princesses can get ready for the ball or gaze into the magic mirror and see her future with her Prince Charming; Sleeping Beauty's bedroom is where beauty rest takes place, of course, featuring an armoire where the princesses can store their ball gowns and fairy godmothers fly above the bed; at the top of the castle, Tiana can wish upon a star and dance the night away as music plays; and when the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella can glide down the staircase to reveal her lost glass slipper.
The castle is also different colors so it's not solid pink: there are also sea green, pale blue, and purple accents. The castle front (which faces the outside world) is actually mostly purple, which was a nice change of pace!
The furniture and little accent pieces also come in a range of colors and shades, with a nod to the respective movies (e.g., the golden tea cart from Beauty and the Beast).
You can add AA batteries if you want to hear bubbles when you flush the toilet, but frankly, I didn't want to encourage my girls to flush the toilet all day so I left the batteries out. If they had the option to play the appropriate movie's music in each room, THAT would be worth putting in the batteries.
About our Experience
Sounds great, right? Despite being wary of this plastic monstrosity, I was cautiously optimistic. First, I set about putting this all together. It was quite straightforward, but I immediately found that some pieces didn't fit together well. For example, the most frustrating feature is Cinderella's sweeping staircase. It just would not stay put. The railing is a separate piece from the steps, and it's not just one railing piece but two. Frankly, after trying to put it back for the 10th or 11th time, I stopped fixing it. Now, almost 6 months later, I can tell you that we have a floating staircase (the bottom piece won't stay snapped on so the staircase ends mid-air).
That's a poor design issue, but quality of construction is another issue. Another feature is the spinning dance floor, which one of my daughters accidentally broke the first week we had it. You are supposed to place a doll on the support and then slide a thumbwheel (I actually had to google to figure out what that thing is called!) on the side to spin it. While the floor is spinning, two fairies from Sleeping Beauty (stickers on the "chandelier" in Sleeping Beauty's room below the floor) will spin as well. Sadly, the spinning mechanism broke so that no matter how much you try to slide the thumbwheel or even turn the chandelier, the floor no longer spins.
My daughters are not rough with their toys generally and haven't broken any other toys so I don't know how much of this can be blamed on them. One of them also broke Jasmine's "magic carpet" platform that moves between the floors. Sigh.
It's not just shoddy construction of the main castle--the accessories were also poorly designed. Ariel's towel hanger doesn't stay together, as the rods are either too small or the holes are too big so the whole thing falls apart when you try to put the "towel" (a flimsy piece of cloth).
Even some of the pieces that don't come apart are problematic. For example, Sleeping Beauty's bed doesn't fit in her room, so it's constantly hanging precariously over the edge. They should have made it smaller by a 0.25" and that would have solved the problem. Or, even better, smaller by 1/2" so you could place it anywhere in her room. Sleeping Beauty's wardrobe closet doesn't fit well either, as it falls over if you try to put dresses in it (which only really fit if they're the non-ballgowns).
In addition, the kitchen refrigerator and the wardrobe closet also don't stay up for long. You're supposed to just stand them up in the appropriate room but it would have been better if there had been some clasp or something to hook the items into the wall to keep them upright.
Other furniture, like the chairs and tables, come apart so easily because they don't click together so when you lift something to move it to another room, it sometimes comes apart.
Finally, in terms of the castle quality, the purple spires don't click in either, so they sometimes fall off when you bump into the castle. I don't understand why they didn't make some features click in more permanently, as these aren't intended to be moved frequently.
Putting aside all these quality control issues, I could potentially overlook them if my girls somehow still had fun with the castle. The problem is that the dolls (which are sold separately) don't fit well in here. Someone more than talented than my girls or me staged the dolls in the castle for the retail photos, as I can't get any of our dolls to sit in a chair or on the bed without falling over.
Thus, our various Disney Princess dolls do NOT live in this castle. They are just too big to fit nicely. We also have some Disney Princess mini figurines, but those are too small. The Tinkerbell figurine (which is smaller than the typical Disney Princess doll but larger than the mini figurines--maybe 6-8 inches?) is probably the most appropriate size.
Since my youngest was not yet 3 at Christmas and I caught her with a piece in her mouth while I was assembling the castle, I removed all the small pieces (e.g., the tea set, Snow White's cosmetics, Mrs. Potts and Chip,). I'm sure it would be more fun with these TINY pieces (many pieces are smaller than a fingernail) but they remain tucked away and I'm reluctant to bring them out even now.
If this hadn't been a gift from my in-laws, I would have Freecycled it long ago. I'm sure I'd be more positive if I didn't feel so badly that my in-laws paid a lot of money for this castle. If it had been only $20, I'd consider it worthwhile because two children can play at the same time (an invaluable feature of any toy when you have 2 kids). As it is, I have this purple monstrosity for at least another year until I can possibly slip it out of sight.
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Amount Paid (US$): gift
Type of Toy: Playscene
Age Range of Child: 3 to 5 Years