Holiday Matsuri 2021 Florida Anime Convention

The Florida sun will take away your winter blues
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Located in Orlando Florida, Holiday Matsuri is an anime convention and vacation destination wrapped up in a convenient package. With two world class theme park resorts nearby (Walt Disney World and Universal Studios) it’s easy to combine two vacations into one. I can’t think of a better place to be in the month of December than smothered in the balmy subtropical weather.

The Convention

The warm weather and attractions are enough of a reason to attend, but the convention has much to offer as well. Vendors and artists sell their unique wares. Numerous panels, contests and cosplay meetups offer as much opportunity for fun and entertainment as you can find at any anime convention. The people behind the convention strive to offer all of the fun and they don’t shield themselves from public display like most conventions do. They hold live video streams throughout the year to keep fans informed about guests, hotel room blocks, registration, and other important events. You can see their names and faces and ask questions live. Compared to some conventions whose staff members remain mostly anonymous, this is refreshing and something that I'll argue produces a better attendee experience.
Food trucks line the convention center entrance.
Food trucks line the convention center entrance.
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As usual I didn't spend very much time in the convention center. I perused the vendor hall and artist alley, which were more spread out this year. There was a nice display of cosplays from cosplayers of various levels of fame, but I failed to take a photo of them 😅. Otherwise it was a pretty normal layout. I spent most of my time outdoors filming cosplayers, of course. The lighting and decor inside the hotel is not as nice looking and I'm becoming more of a stickler about it. I always appreciate a convention that has food trucks. Who doesn't like to eat, right? Holiday Matsuri has one of the largest gatherings of food trucks that I've seen at any convention. This year they were conveniently located right outside the convention center lobby. I caught them on Friday when it wasn't too busy, but I heard that they were very crowded on Saturday.
Traffic control
Traffic control
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The Holiday Matsuri mascots are always fun designs.
The Holiday Matsuri mascots are always fun designs.
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The Venue

Fun fact: the Orlando World Center Marriott has the largest pool in Orlando.
Fun fact: the Orlando World Center Marriott has the largest pool in Orlando.
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Holiday Matsuri is held at the Orlando World Center Marriott, which is the largest Marriott resort in the world. With that kind of claim it had better be impressive. While it certainly has a lot of guest rooms (2,008), lots of convention space (450,000 square feet), and large grounds (200 acres), it somehow isn't overwhelming. It doesn't have a massive atrium like the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta or the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Maryland. The lobby is relatively modest in size and aesthetic. The hallways are appropriately sized for large conventions, but don't feel cavernous like a civic convention center.
The hotel lobby.
The hotel lobby.
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Sunset over the convention center.
Sunset over the convention center.
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The convention center lobby.
The convention center lobby.
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An empty hallway in the convention center.
An empty hallway in the convention center.
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A glimpse of the new waterpark under construction.
A glimpse of the new waterpark under construction.
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Despite having one of the largest pools in Orlando, it has just one modest hot tub. The pool area went through an entire rebuild in 2021 after a large crack formed at the bottom. As part of the remodel the former hot tub grotto area was removed. That left the one hot tub on the upper part of the pool area which seems odd given the size of the resort. The pool area is very nice, especially since it's newly remodeled. It has plenty of lounge seating and you can order drinks from the nearby cafe and bar. There's a waterslide just around the corner, but the resort is in the process of building a proper waterpark. Construction was underway and will probably be finished by the next Holiday Matsuri.

COVID Concerns

Holiday Matsuri wasn’t the first anime convention to be held during the pandemic, but it was one that many people looked forward to with great anticipation. As we all know, the pandemic has been a difficult time and it hit conventions and attendees especially hard. For many attendees a convention is the only time they are able to see long distance friends. It's a special time to reconnect, share unique experiences and build long-lasting memories. Holiday Matsuri is a convention that brings people together.
Attendees fill the convention center lobby.
Attendees fill the convention center lobby.
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If you're reading this article post-COVID, try to recall the ever-changing situation that was the pandemic. Mandates were constantly in flux and fears and anxieties both real and imagined were rampant. This variant is over, but look out for the next one. Lock down. Wear a mask. Get a shot. Flatten the curve. Florida was among the states with the least restrictive measures throughout the pandemic. For some there is something attractive about going to a convention where there are less COVID restrictions. Wearing a mask gets uncomfortable and isn't ideal for photoshoots. At the same time, not wearing masks makes some people uncomfortable and afraid that such events would cause the virus to spread. Judging by how busy the convention was, there were plenty of people willing to take the risk. I have it on good authority that Holiday Matsuri staff were not particularly worried about COVID, but they needed to satisfy the concerns of domestic and international guests. Thusly, masks were required while indoors. While some people did contract COVID-19 at the convention, it wasn't a super spreader event (and neither was Anime NYC).
A CDC report finding that Anime NYC was not a super spreader event.
A CDC report finding that Anime NYC was not a super spreader event.
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Enough about the pandemic, though. A convention like this is all about fun and it seemed like everyone came out to Holiday Matsuri like it was a family reunion. I recognized so many people and met even more for the first time. The weather was great and everyone was in good spirits. The bitter delays and cancellations made the coming together again all that much sweeter.

Getting There and Cost

It seemed as though everyone in the US was looking at Florida as not only a vacation getaway, but a getaway from the pandemic. Flights were scarce and expensive if you waited until November. Fortunately I bought mine before then and was able to use airline miles, otherwise they would've been over $500. I visited Universal Studios on the Thursday before the convention and while it wasn't too busy that day, I know it was busier closer to Christmas. I left the following Monday but kinda wished I had stuck around and did the Disney parks. Despite the crowds it would have been nice to go since I haven't been there for years.
I split a room with some fellow photographers, so that helped keep the costs down. It was still expensive because I stayed four nights and I indulged in the amazing breakfast buffet a few times. It's one of the best I've seen anywhere.
The breakfast buffet features a wide variety of items including made-to-order omelets and prosciutto.
The breakfast buffet features a wide variety of items including made-to-order omelets and prosciutto.
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Any kind of Uber rides to and from the airport can be expensive given the distance to the resort and the presence of toll roads. I was fortunate that my family travelled to Florida with me and we had a rental car. If you want to park a car at the resort be sure to book a room under the Holiday Matsuri room block since you get a special $12/day rate and a guaranteed parking spot. Otherwise the parking garage fills up and there's really no where else to park. The resort is a solitary destination with no public parking areas, no convenience stores, or anything like that. You can't even walk to it since the surrounding roads are basically all highways with no sidewalks. Plan ahead. Although I could have applied for a press badge, I bought a regular 3 day pass. Sometimes it's just easier to buy one instead of having to meet certain requirements as press. I don't recall specifically what the requirements for Holiday Matsuri are, but I believe you have to cover at least one event. I covered zero events 😄.
Cost
Flights $11.20 (I used airline miles)
Transportation $76.46
Hotel $428.86
Meals $95.13
Registration $68.47
$680.12

The Cosplayers

Holiday Matsuri has a nice mix of festive holiday themed cosplay, swimsuit cosplay, and just really good normal cosplay 😄. This year's event drew people from all over the country including some of the most famous cosplayers in the industry such as Alyson Tabbitha, Kate Sarkissian, and Danielle Denicola. I don't make it a point to shoot high profile cosplayers. I was just in the right place at the right time. Shout out to Kate who was very friendly and remembered my name the next day.
<a href="https://instagram.com/yusufdaza" target="_blank">yusufdaza</a> Hideo Kojima from Metal Gear Solid
yusufdaza Hideo Kojima from Metal Gear Solid
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<a href="https://instagram.com/foggyknight14" target="_blank">foggyknight14</a> Knightmare Batman
foggyknight14 Knightmare Batman
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<a href="https://instagram.com/sierra__cosplays_570" target="_blank">sierra__cosplays_570</a> Rem from Re: Zero
sierra__cosplays_570 Rem from Re: Zero
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<a href="https://instagram.com/sayakatcosplay" target="_blank">sayakatcosplay</a> Fish Speaker from Dune
sayakatcosplay Fish Speaker from Dune
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<a href="https://instagram.com/veena.cos" target="_blank">veena.cos</a> Jinx from League of Legends
veena.cos Jinx from League of Legends
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<a href="https://instagram.com/lava_salmon" target="_blank">lava_salmon</a> Dio from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
lava_salmon Dio from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
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<a href="https://instagram.com/candescent_cosplay" target="_blank">candescent_cosplay</a> Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter
candescent_cosplay Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter
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<a href="https://instagram.com/nonbinatecosplay" target="_blank">nonbinatecosplay</a> Catra from She-Ra
nonbinatecosplay Catra from She-Ra
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<a href="https://instagram.com/thegirlwithagreatsmile" target="_blank">thegirlwithagreatsmile</a> Midnight from My Hero Academia
thegirlwithagreatsmile Midnight from My Hero Academia
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<a href="https://instagram.com/susie_creates_cosplay" target="_blank">susie_creates_cosplay</a> Antiope
<a href="https://instagram.com/luxsteezcosplay" target="_blank">luxsteezcosplay</a> Amazonian
<a href="https://instagram.com/alysontabbitha" target="_blank">alysontabbitha</a> Wonder Woman
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<a href="https://instagram.com/jamboreecosplay" target="_blank">jamboreecosplay</a> Nobara Kugisaki from Jujutsu Kaisen
jamboreecosplay Nobara Kugisaki from Jujutsu Kaisen
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<a href="https://instagram.com/dazed_senpai" target="_blank">dazed_senpai</a> Jinx from League of Legends
dazed_senpai Jinx from League of Legends
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Starcraft
<a href="https://instagram.com/siashicat" target="_blank">siashicat</a> Sarah Kerrigan
<a href="https://instagram.com/dark.lady.cosplay" target="_blank">dark.lady.cosplay</a> Nova
Starcraft siashicat Sarah Kerrigan dark.lady.cosplay Nova
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<a href="https://instagram.com/k8sarkissian" target="_blank">k8sarkissian</a> Roadhog Overwatch
k8sarkissian Roadhog Overwatch
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Santa's Reindeer
<a href="https://instagram.com/elphiemonstercosplay" target="_blank">elphiemonstercosplay</a> Blitzen
<a href="https://instagram.com/kainosaurus_" target="_blank">kainosaurus_</a> Comet
<a href="https://instagram.com/khainsaw" target="_blank">khainsaw</a> Emo Rudolph
<a href="https://instagram.com/feisty_vee" target="_blank">feisty_vee</a> Vixen
<a href="https://instagram.com/caught_red_headed" target="_blank">caught_red_headed</a> Dancer
Santa's Reindeer elphiemonstercosplay Blitzen kainosaurus_ Comet khainsaw Emo Rudolph feisty_vee Vixen caught_red_headed Dancer
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<a href="https://instagram.com/hollowrosewood" target="_blank">hollowrosewood</a> She-Ra
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<a href="https://instagram.com/sirahcos" target="_blank">sirahcos</a> Benten from Zone 00
sirahcos Benten from Zone 00
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<a href="https://instagram.com/kitpupzz" target="_blank">kitpupzz</a> Tiger Lily from Cookie Run
kitpupzz Tiger Lily from Cookie Run
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<a href="https://instagram.com/ayame.hime" target="_blank">ayame.hime</a> Tinker Bell
<a href="https://instagram.com/therovingthief" target="_blank">therovingthief</a> Peter Pan
ayame.hime Tinker Bell therovingthief Peter Pan
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<a href="https://instagram.com/vickybunnyangel" target="_blank">vickybunnyangel</a> Chun Li
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Final Fantasy XIV
<a href="https://instagram.com/malinda_chan" target="_blank">malinda_chan</a> Alisaie
<a href="https://instagram.com/ex_shadow" target="_blank">ex_shadow</a> Godbert
Final Fantasy XIV malinda_chan Alisaie ex_shadow Godbert
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<a href="https://instagram.com/suteroozu" target="_blank">suteroozu</a> Cami from My Hero Academia
suteroozu Cami from My Hero Academia
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<a href="https://instagram.com/skymuted" target="_blank">skymuted</a> UMP45 from Girls Frontline
skymuted UMP45 from Girls Frontline
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<a href="https://instagram.com/zoevolf" target="_blank">zoevolf</a> 2B from Nier: Automata
zoevolf 2B from Nier: Automata
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<a href="https://instagram.com/k8sarkissian" target="_blank">k8sarkissian</a> Dark Magician Girl from Yu-Gi-Oh!
k8sarkissian Dark Magician Girl from Yu-Gi-Oh!
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<a href="https://instagram.com/dueling_pisces" target="_blank">dueling_pisces</a> Tentacle from Pokémon
dueling_pisces Tentacle from Pokémon
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<a href="https://instagram.com/aquajoestar13" target="_blank">aquajoestar13</a> Luffy from One Piece
aquajoestar13 Luffy from One Piece
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<a href="https://instagram.com/dannydoitcosplays" target="_blank">dannydoitcosplays</a> Franky from One Piece
dannydoitcosplays Franky from One Piece
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<a href="https://instagram.com/pashavixen" target="_blank">pashavixen</a> Krampus
pashavixen Krampus
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<a href="https://instagram.com/ashuri_senpapi" target="_blank">ashuri_senpapi</a> Yamato from One Piece
ashuri_senpapi Yamato from One Piece
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<a href="https://instagram.com/heyblugeek" target="_blank">heyblugeek</a> Spider-man
heyblugeek Spider-man
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World of Warcraft
<a href="https://instagram.com/siashicat" target="_blank">siashicat</a> Astral Warden Druid
<a href="https://instagram.com/dark.lady.cosplay" target="_blank">dark.lady.cosplay</a> Sylvanas Windrunner
World of Warcraft siashicat Astral Warden Druid dark.lady.cosplay Sylvanas Windrunner
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<a href="https://instagram.com/ethericacosplay" target="_blank">ethericacosplay</a> Princess Peach
ethericacosplay Princess Peach
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<a href="https://instagram.com/suteroozu" target="_blank">suteroozu</a> Inosuke from Demon Slayer
suteroozu Inosuke from Demon Slayer
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<a href="https://instagram.com/bindismalls" target="_blank">bindismalls</a> Noelle from Genshin Impact
bindismalls Noelle from Genshin Impact
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<a href="https://instagram.com/ottiemottie" target="_blank">ottiemottie</a> Quetzalcoatl from Fate Grand Order
ottiemottie Quetzalcoatl from Fate Grand Order
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<a href="https://instagram.com/sayakatcosplay" target="_blank">sayakatcosplay</a> Shagaru Magara from Monster Hunter 4
sayakatcosplay Shagaru Magara from Monster Hunter 4
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Genshin Impact
<a href="https://instagram.com/loveamiibo" target="_blank">loveamiibo</a> Barbara
<a href="https://instagram.com/camiicatcosplay" target="_blank">camiicatcosplay</a> Venti
Genshin Impact loveamiibo Barbara camiicatcosplay Venti
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Sesame Street
<a href="https://instagram.com/cassdevilcos" target="_blank">cassdevilcos</a> Oscar the Grouch
<a href="https://instagram.com/pbpuffs_cosplay" target="_blank">pbpuffs_cosplay</a> Cookie Monster
<a href="https://instagram.com/kittykattgigglescosplay" target="_blank">kittykattgigglescosplay</a> Burlesque Big Bird
Sesame Street cassdevilcos Oscar the Grouch pbpuffs_cosplay Cookie Monster kittykattgigglescosplay Burlesque Big Bird
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<a href="https://instagram.com/kxeru" target="_blank">kxeru</a> Hinoa from Monster Hunter
kxeru Hinoa from Monster Hunter
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<a href="https://instagram.com/imaginationbycat" target="_blank">imaginationbycat</a> Diamond from Land of the Lustrous
imaginationbycat Diamond from Land of the Lustrous
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<a href="https://instagram.com/candescent_cosplay" target="_blank">candescent_cosplay</a> Ganyu from Genshin Impact
candescent_cosplay Ganyu from Genshin Impact
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Genshin Impact
<a href="https://instagram.com/ayame.hime" target="_blank">ayame.hime</a> NingGuang
<a href="https://instagram.com/tianxiacosplay" target="_blank">tianxiacosplay</a> ZhongLi
Genshin Impact ayame.hime NingGuang tianxiacosplay ZhongLi
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<a href="https://instagram.com/goodoldfashioncos" target="_blank">goodoldfashioncos</a> Tiana
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<a href="https://instagram.com/celestica.cos" target="_blank">celestica.cos</a> Elizabeth Báthory (Halloween version) from Fate
celestica.cos Elizabeth Báthory (Halloween version) from Fate
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<a href="https://instagram.com/blodvydawn" target="_blank">blodvydawn</a> Hatsune Miku from Vocaloid
blodvydawn Hatsune Miku from Vocaloid
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One Piece
<a href="https://instagram.com/aestheticallydorky" target="_blank">aestheticallydorky</a> Nico Robin
<a href="https://instagram.com/sakurabrii" target="_blank">sakurabrii</a> Nani
One Piece aestheticallydorky Nico Robin sakurabrii Nani
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<a href="https://instagram.com/sakurabrii" target="_blank">atarashiraven</a> Deku from My Hero Academia
atarashiraven Deku from My Hero Academia
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<a href="https://instagram.com/ayame.hime" target="_blank">ayame.hime</a> Coconut from Nekopara
ayame.hime Coconut from Nekopara
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<a href="https://instagram.com/danielledenicola" target="_blank">danielledenicola</a> Mai Valentine Yu-Gi-Oh!
danielledenicola Mai Valentine Yu-Gi-Oh!
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<a href="https://instagram.com/clockwork_angel" target="_blank">clockwork_angel</a> 2B Nier: Automata
clockwork_angel 2B Nier: Automata
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<a href="https://instagram.com/ethericacosplay" target="_blank">ethericacosplay</a> Link
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<a href="https://instagram.com/itskristinamaria" target="_blank">itskristinamaria</a> Elle Woods from Legally Blonde
itskristinamaria Elle Woods from Legally Blonde
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<a href="https://instagram.com/kpoptrashcosplay" target="_blank">kpoptrashcosplay</a> Zero Two from Darling in the FranXX
kpoptrashcosplay Zero Two from Darling in the FranXX
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<a href="https://instagram.com/rose.alter_" target="_blank">rose.alter_</a> Atilla from Fate Grand Order
rose.alter_ Atilla from Fate Grand Order
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<a href="https://instagram.com/mana_knight" target="_blank">mana_knight</a> Snow Miku from Vocaloid
mana_knight Snow Miku from Vocaloid
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<a href="https://instagram.com/pinkuperfect" target="_blank">pinkuperfect</a> Rapunzel
pinkuperfect Rapunzel
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