Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!

Well, it's definitely shaping up to be a white Christmas here in Maine.  We have about five inches of new snow...and plenty of wind to blow it all around.  I hope we keep our power!

There's a circus of activity inside the house, too.  The large poodle is wearing bright blue (slightly baggy) underpants to keep him from licking a wound.  This same dog is inexplicably drawn to my son's new pink blob fish slippers and keeps chasing his feet around.  Absorb that visual for a moment.  Meanwhile, the small poodle is trying to starve herself while also gassing everyone in the vicinity with her astonishing flatulence.  I think she's suffering a bout of inflammatory bowl disease, poor thing.  The third dog, afraid of seeming normal, has taken to toppling over every time he barks too loudly--which is often.

On top of all that, my youngest is frantically trying to finish college applications, the pandemonium of which seems to create large piles of stuff around the house.  The other kid has brought all of his belongings back into the house for his month-long break from things are a bit messy and out of control.  Mostly in a good way.

I'm going to share a really quick review with you today because if I don't, Christmas will be over and this cover shot will seem passé:

Decoration on a TOPS Malibu Christmas cracker.
In my last L.O.L. Surprise doll review, I promised that I'd be back with a few more old-fashioned surprise balls from Tops Malibu.  Right after I wrote that review, I ordered three of this company's tempting surprise offerings--a Christmas cracker, a deluxe head-shaped ball, and a deluxe surprise box.  I spent over $60 on this collection of treats, which was a mistake.

But I'm getting ahead of myself!  

Let's take a look at the Christmas cracker first.  It's really beautiful to look at and would make an excellent (and decadent) tree decoration or Secret Santa gift:

This style of cracker is sold individually and costs about $19 (gasp!).

The outer wrapping has a sticker label with the Tops Malibu company information and a brief description of the concept:

We should expect twelve surprises inside!  Yippee!

This cracker is about the same size as a regular Christmas cracker--roughly the width of my hand:

In fact, I happen to have a regular Christmas cracker on hand today, since our wonderful relatives send them to the kids every year:

This cracker is from a gorgeous Williams Sonoma set of twelve that costs about $30.

I bet you want to know what's inside the Williams Sonoma cracker (I do!) and I also think it will serve as an interesting comparison to whatever is inside the Tops Malibu equivalent.

I popped it open and found these three treats:

There's a paper hat (those are really fun at parties, plus, they remind me of Bridget Jones), a warped plastic pirate eye patch:

And a few bad jokes (also fun at parties):

But let's get back to the Tops Malibu cracker.  

It came wrapped in several layers of red crepe paper, with white and green streamers peeking out at each end:

The ends were tied with green ribbon bows:

Inside the outer wrapping, there was a smaller blue capsule:

The combination of bright colors that emerge as these crackers are unwrapped is one of the best things about them.  They can be really pretty to look at!

The outer wrapping was also concealing the first surprise–a fortune:

No kidding.
The blue layer was wrapped with thin strips of crepe paper streamer, and after just a bit of unwinding, I could see the next surprise! 

This is a longer section of text...

Let's zoom in:

It's a nice Wordsworth quote.  Although, why do little acts of kindness have to be unremembered?  That bums me out a little.

I continued unwrapping the blue paper and found another surprise right away:

It's a temporary tattoo of Santa!

Temporary tattoos are fun, but I should probably use this one today before the opportunity passes!

As I finished unwrapping the blue layer, one last surprise popped out:

It's a Fortune Teller Fish.  These are good for a few laughs, especially if you've never seen one before.  

They're made out of very thin cellophane, and you place them in the palm of your hand to reveal a fortune.  Here's how mine went:

At first, it seemed like only the head was going to move, which means I was feeling jealous.  Maybe I was?  But then the tail started moving, too, which was a relief.  I guess I'm just in love...

...or my hand was really hot.

The next layer was a bright shade of yellow:

This layer very quickly revealed another slip of paper:

Oh good!  This one's a riddle, so I can blank out the answer and let you all guess:

Wait for it...

Yeah.  That's pretty good, but (as with the L.O.L. secret messages) I wish they'd hide the answers a bit better.

This yellow wrapping was also hiding one of the best treats...

A cute little snowman charm!

It's made out of metal and could be used on an actual necklace.

Underneath the yellow wraps was another surprise and a plain white cylinder:

The surprise is a packet of fairy dust:

This is actually ultra-fine golden glitter that you're supposed to blow all over the place:

What a terrible idea.

The white layer is a little bland.  Kinda makes me think of toilet paper.  I could see the next treat sticking out at one edge, though...

In addition to the mysterious silver thing sticking out of the paper, there was also a polished pale pink stone that plopped onto the table as I manipulated the package:

Polished stones are fun, but this one's a little plain:

The mysterious silver thing was much more interesting to me.  What could it be?

As I peeked further inside, a square of folded white plastic gave it away:

Can you guess?
It's another parachute toy!

This one is a silver bug (or a bug alien?):

He's poorly painted but pretty cute:

What is he holding, though?

Is it some kind of blaster?  A microphone?

A baby alien?  A pet?  Your guess is as good as mine.

As I finished unwrapping the white layer, it reminded me even more of toilet paper:

In fact, that might even be an actual toilet paper roll in the very center.

The roll was filled with a few last treats, though!

It looks like a package of Smarties...

A colorful and collapsible top:

And what is this..?

A party popper!  No, spell check, not a party pooper.

I'm actually one of those people who's not terribly fond of loud noises, so I'll probably pass this popper on to someone else.

That's it!  Empty tube:

So, here's everything that was in the cracker:

There are twelve items in total, just as advertised.  The Fortune Teller Fish, parachute alien, spinning top, Smarties, and Santa tattoo are good for some short-term fun.  The party popper is in this category for anyone who likes loud noises and the smell of things burning.  The pink rock is a bit dismissible, and the fairy glitter is bad.  The snowman charm is quite nice, though, and is likely the only thing in the mix that will be kept over time.

Let's look at another one!  I was very curious to see what kind of variety might be available, especially if I bumped up the price and splurged for a deluxe $30 ball (double gasp!).

I ordered the dog head, but it was sold out.  I asked to replace it with the princess head...and I got the prince.  That's fine.  He's pretty funny.  He looks really stressed out:

Wh-wh-what are you going to do to me??
He should be.  I'm about to unravel his head.

The prince came with a sparkling gold paper crown and black paper sideburn hair:

He had a gold collar to prevent him from rolling around, with a sticker label concealed underneath:

This guy also has 12 surprises inside.

I wasn't sure how to delicately remove the prince's face, so I just ripped right in:

My hair!
Removing all of the facial features and hair left behind a pretty ragged pink ball:

But under only a few scraggly layers of this pink color, I found a brilliant orange ball...and the first surprise!

It's another good fortune:

You fed what to the little dog??
I love the color of this ball:

I liked the color even more when it mixed with the deep, true red underneath!

The Fortune Teller Fish was not as exciting:

The next ball was a bright yellow--I love the color sequence of this ball!

With the yellow came this profound quote by Epicurus (a Greek philosopher):

Good college essay topic...
That's not the greatest quote to read while ripping into an expensive short-term gratification surprise toy, though.  But I do greatly enjoy surprises!

The yellow wrappings also hid another temporary tattoo...

...a frog this time:

Bow-legged Billy Bullfrog.
That's a strange frog.  He looks like he should be riding a horse or something.

Underneath the yellow was another gorgeous red ball, but this one had some white paper plastered to one side:

The white was clearly holding something in place...

It's another pencil topper!

Oh--and another barely-pink polished stone:

This pencil topper is another cow/giraffe type thing.  I think this one is a cow:

I had to do a lot of unwinding before I glimpsed the next surprise:

And some flashes of purple and blue!

This surprise was squashed up against the surface of the ball and looked like it'd had been badly wrinkled:

Luckily, it didn't matter because the surprise was not something that could be wrinkled.  

It's a mini crystal ball!

Which is actually just a clear, slightly iridescent marble:

I love marbles.  I used to have a collection of them when I was younger, and the clear ones always felt special.  This is a good treat, but it's not quite as fun as the snowman charm from the cracker.

The next layer was composed of a section of purple tissue paper and a section of light blue tissue paper.

The purple side held a small toy...

It's a little plastic frog that's supposed to jump when his bottom is pressed:

It doesn't work.
 Here's the blue section of the inner ball:

This had another wad of yellow inside...

Which I think must be the final layer.

I unwrapped this ball and found Smarties...

I'm getting really smart!
And, what is this?

Oh! It's a trio of things!  The party popper that scares me...

And a plastic (beak-less?) bird whistle:

This doesn't work, either.
And an alien parachute guy:

This one is different from the other two I've gotten, though:

Happy fellow.
Here's everything that was in the prince's head:

This ball also delivered on its promised number of surprises, but I feel like the quality is not quite as good.  Maybe it's because there were several repeats (the rock, the fish, the popper, the Smarties, the tattoo) or maybe it's because both the frog and the bird whistle don't work.  It might also be that there's no one prize (like the snowman charm) that I feel has some staying power.  It certainly doesn't feel like the ball is worth $10 more than the cracker.

I bought one last item from Tops Malibu--the fancy surprise box--but I was loosing some enthusiasm at this point.  I'll show it to you very quickly.

The box itself is very pretty and tantalizing:

This one only promises 11 prizes, and it costs around $20.

Ok, let's do a speed-unwrapping of this beast.

The black layer was hiding a note...

Another good fortune:

And a little cowrie shell:

The shell is pretty...

...but also a little sandy.  

There were two little stickers:

Which--cynic that I can be--have messages that just make me think of superficial friend exchanges.

Kisses!  Thanks!  Buh bye!
And the Ubiquitous Fish:

A Christmas miracle.
The purple layer hid a really long quote:

By Mark Twain:

And a ticket with no expiration date...

Which is either a ticket for "one good time when you need it most" (read into that what you will...), or a ticket for one wish:

I wish for normal, healthy dogs!
A turquoise tissue paper layer interrupted the crepe paper wrappings...

And hid a small square packet:

Is it the crystal ball?  The horrible fairy dust glitter?
 It's a little copper heart and a circlet of thread:

I don't understand what this is supposed to do:

A wish is supposed to come true when the string breaks, but is the charm supposed to go on the string?  Does the charm break the string?  Should I break the string?  Will the charm be lost when the string breaks?  Is it like a goat sacrifice?

The heart is made of metal, but it's really thin and small.

The heart might be a metal charm, but it's nowhere near as nice or substantial as the snowman from that first cracker.

The yellow crepe paper was hiding its own secret...

Something with cardboard on the back...

Oh, excellent!  It's a stick-on rogue mustache!

You MUST pay the rent!*
*Totally obscure reference from my childhood.

The inner framework of the box was wrapped in white tissue paper and decorated with more Smarties:

And, hidden within a bundle of yellow tissue paper were the final treats!

A red plastic ring:

And two more things...

Another party pooper and...

A squirt ring!  These are fun, but what is the shape on this ring supposed to be?

I think it's a highly simplified frog...who squirts water out of his butt:

That's actually more accurate than you might want to know about.  Frogs, when stressed, will pee on you in the hopes that you'll drop them and run away.  Simple, but usually effective.

That's it!  This is everything that was in the surprise box:

I'm rushing to finish now, since Christmas dinner will soon be upon me.  I think it's fair to say that these surprise balls are overpriced, but they're really beautiful to look at and unwrap, and the treats are equivalent--occasionally better--than standard Christmas cracker fare.

Although I originally recommended these toys as an alternative to the plastic L.O.L. Surprise balls, I think I'll modify my recommendation.  The L.O.L. balls yield an actual play-worthy toy at the end, and their relatively low price makes them additionally appealing.  I just wish that they produced less waste.

Perhaps the best surprise ball option of all would be to take $20 or $30 and make your own.  The high price of Tops Malibu's offerings has to be due to the work involved in hand-wrapping all of that crepe paper.  But wrapping one or two balls for kids or friends would be pretty easy (fun, even?) and you could purchase some really nice little trinkets for $20.  I'm already planing on trying it myself.

Anyway, that's a wrap.  Pun intended.  I hope all of you are having a wonderful Christmas, had a lovely Hanukkah, or are enjoying the holidays in your own fantastic way.  See you next year!


  1. Merry Christmas Emily!! (Lol my name is Emily too :-D)

  2. Those pink stones you got are rose quartz. Just FYI.

    1. I have to say, that makes them a bit more appealing. I have always loved the modest brilliance of quartz.

  3. Replies
    1. YES!!! I knew somebody would understand!! :D

  4. I think you're supposed to pour water to around its feet height & blow to make the bird whistle chirp. Also, merry christmas! :D

    1. Oh, gosh. I never even thought of that! Thank you!

  5. To explain the copper heart with the string better; you're supposed to tie the string with the charm around your arm like a bracelet and when you tie the knot, you make a wish. Then you keep wearing it until the string wears out and breaks and when that happens, your wish will come true. Carefull though, breaking the string on purpose counts as cheating and your wish doesn't come true.
    Heh, I remember these sort of presents (The bracelet in particular, he had similar ones from India, just without the charm. I'm a bit unsure if they originate from there, though.) from Christmass with my Dad. Ah, memories.

  6. I'll pay the rent!

    Thanks for another fun review, Emily. Merry Christmas!

    1. Yay!!! You got it, too! This makes me unreasonably happy. :)

  7. When I saw the wish bracelet I was immediately reminded of American Girl GOTY 2016 Lea. Towards the beginning of her 1st book after she arrives in Brazil, she’s given a wish bracelet. She’s told to pick a color (she picks orange for courage) and tie it on. As she makes the knot she’s suppose to wish for courage and then she has to wait for the bracelet to fall off naturally. She’s told not to cut it or take it off herself or she won’t get her wish. Of course by the end of the book she’s realized that she has had courage and faced her fears and then she discovers that the bracelet fell off and she didn’t even know it was gone!

    1. This is a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it. The wish bracelet is much more precious (and understandable) to me now--especially because the thread is orange!

  8. "why do little acts of kindness have to be unremembered?"

    This has to do with the everyday things that most of us don't even notice. Someone holding the door open. Someone giving a compliment in passing. Your spouse wanting the last slice of cheesecake, but leaving it for you and saying nothing. Things like that.

    1. Well, that definitely makes sense, and there is a power to the acts of kindness that only subconsciously improve someone's the gentle driver who lets me merge onto the highway without hassle or the grocery checkout employee who's willing to listen to yet another spacey ramble from a customer. My spouse leaving the last slice of cheesecake, though? That's a total fantasy. ;D

  9. The whistle works filling it with water

    1. Thank you!! :) I had no idea that this is what I was supposed to do!

  10. Merry Christmas to you as well! I have never heard of "Christmas crackers" before, but now I'm intrigued! I agree that making your own seems like it would be more fun and meaningful to give as a gift. I might try it as well next year for my daughters. Thanks for sharing! Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you, Farrah! I'm thrilled to have introduced you to Christmas crackers! They're a blast for people who like little surprises, and we've had a few sets that have really brightened a holiday party. I remember one themed set from Williams Sonoma that had us all wearing paper hats and playing little whistles while a friend conducted the music! Good times. Happy New Year! :D

  11. Hi Emily! Hope you're enjoying the holidays. I wish you a Happy New Year!

    1. Hi D7ana! Thank you. I'm having a great holiday, save for the unescapable dog farts. I hope you're having some 1:6 scale fun, too, and that you have a great start to the new year!

  12. That wouldn't happen to be a reference to Dudley Do-Right, would it?

    1. Pretty much. It's a weird pantomime that we used to do with any bow-shaped object. If the bow is on your upper lip, you pretend it's a mustache and say, "you MUST pay the rent!" (evil villain). Then, you move the bow to your hair (damsel in distress) and say, "But I CAN'T pay the rent!" This goes back and forth and back and forth until you position the bow on your neck (like a bowtie) and say..."I'LL pay the rent!" (Dudley Do-Right guy). It's totally sexist and simple, but that's the way it was back in the day. And it made us giggle. ;D

  13. Hi Emily can you do another kids n cats doll review

    1. I can...and I should. I have a mini doll and a full sized doll from a few years ago. I am very much hoping to find time for this review!! Thank you for the reminder.

  14. Merry Christmas, Emily!

    I've never seen the fortune teller fish before, but all the other little trinkets are toys I remember from my childhood. Others have explained the bird water whistle and wish bracelet.

  15. I love all of the surprise reviews that you've done, although I'm sorry most of the prizes were only so-so. I think you're right, the hand-made stuff is probably better if you make it yourself as a gift for others. It does certainly put the L.O.L. prices into perspective... although their semi-awkward clothes still makes me feel iffy about getting one (plus I don't want the glitter and I don't know which series is available currently... probably just those.)

    I think, as a bonus event when you take some of the bigger dolls outside again, they should bring all of the parachute toys along and see which one reaches the ground first! That might be pretty hard to do for real but it could be a cute staging idea. Haha, you could even see if one of the L.O.L. dolls is brave enough to try a home-made parachute and attempt to win (as long as the landing is soft enough.) XD

  16. Happy holidays!! I don't comment much but I had to ask if you've seen the next American Girl GOTY doll - she's entirely STEM themed with focuses on space travel and robotics! I'm psyched for her and I thought she might be up your alley. Her name is Luciana Vega 💖

  17. Those are really neat! Merry Christmas!

  18. Hi Emily, I'm glad you had an enjoyable Christmas and wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year!
    You're going to laugh but Christmas crackers aren't something I've ever gotten. I assumed they were just a fancy way to give...crackers :)

    Your idea of making your own surprise balls to give is so clever and sweet.I can see this would be particularly perfect for fellow doll collectors both big and small: so often you find/make cute little things but have no idea how to give them other than in a little box or envelope.

    Thanks yet again for all your reviews, they're always a treat.:D