After eating, it may very well be my favorite activity (which is why grocery stores check off a lot of boxes for me). Finding the perfect doohickey or doodad can be the best way to mark or celebrate an occasion, and there are few better occasions than a visit to a Disney property.
But shopping at Disney can be quite the daunting task, especially with all of the other excitement a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth can bring along. What should you get? When should you get it? Should you get it at all?
It is with great pride, and deepest pleasure that I present my expertise on this matter… …and I offer my checking account history as my credentials.
Prepare Thy Wallet
As with any venture, proper planning is an absolute must. There’s something to be said for the joy in discovering the perfect thingamabob, but the more you can know about the shopping you and your party are planning on, the better.
Before you go to the parks, consider the following questions (and if you have children coming along, invite them to join in the process):
-How much, exactly, are you planning to spend (you may consider a “souvenir budget” for your little ones. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about budgeting!)?
-What types of things are you most interested in (specific characters, personalized items, vacation memorabilia)?
-If you are traveling to and from the parks, especially by plane, how much room do you have to bring things back with you (or are you willing to pay to ship them home ahead of you)?
-Is there anyone or anything you need to shop for (upcoming weddings/ birthdays, significant friends/ family members, etc.)?
With these questions answered, you can have a good frame of reference for what is to come, and an excellent tool for reminding yourself later. While I am all for creating a “tangible memory” to bring home with you, keep in mind the value of what you’ve already purchased: time in one of the most sought-after and joyful locations in the world. Things are nice, but experiences stick. A positive discussion before your arrival on the joys of being present isn’t a bad idea!
In All Things, Patience
It’s no small secret that the Walt Disney Company is good at product placement. It’s hard to be out of eyesight of a dozen cool things to buy at their resorts. They know you want their stuff, and they’re happy to give you the opportunity to purchase it.
But truly consider the timing of your purchases, especially when it comes to things too big to sit comfortably in your pocket. Disney parks have attractions, shows, activities, and lots and lots of walking. Even smaller things can become extremely cumbersome over the course of a Disney day, and there is a good chance you won’t have anywhere to stash it. Lockers are another expense, and often run out, and there’s usually not a lot of room to stow your purchases on a ride.
Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when looking at an item:
-Are you okay with lugging it around all day? If it can easily be tucked in a pocket, bag, or backpack, then it might be okay. Just keep that receipt with it!
-Is it an item you can easily get later? Many products are sold in multiple locations within each park, and can easily be found closer to the end of your day. Ask a cast member if you’re unsure where else it can be aquired.
-Will this item BE available later? Usually, the answer is yes, but some things, like limited edition pins, or hot new merch may be in short supply. If there’s a legitimate risk of you not getting it (again, a cast member’s opinion can be valuable), it might be worth going for it.
-Are you staying at a resort hotel? Often, you can have items purchased in the parks sent to your room at no cost to you. Ask about this service when you check in to your Disney hotel!
Venture Beyond the Gates
While there is a ton of stuff that can only be found at the Disney parks, there are some great things available elsewhere, occasionally for a lower price (though, truthfully, the “theme park markup” isn’t as prevalent as you might think. Most items available in a Disney park are priced decently, with the magic of their source included at no extra charge).
Some larger stores like Target carry an excellent selection of Disney products. Doing a bit of “pre-shopping” before your trip can save you some stress. Plus, you can surprise members of your party with a souvenir at the start of your stay (and leave the items in your room for enjoyment later). Just be sure that the products you’re acquiring are official Disney merch (often marked with a tag or logo). One of Disney’s secrets to longevity and success is quality, so it’s worth going after their standard.
And you shouldn’t limit your pre-shopping to products alone! Planning, coordinating, and/or “Disneybounding” your outfits might just make for the best souvenir of all in the form of a perfect picture to remember your trip (for more on dressing up and putting your best Disney foot forward, be sure to check out our resident fashion expert Caitie’s videos on the subject!). Take a stroll through your favorite clothing stores, and if you get new shoes BREAK THEM IN BEFORE YOU GO!
Lastly, there’s a great selection of products direct from the Disney parks available on their website! A peek before or after your trip might help you find that perfect bauble.
Enjoyment Over Time
There are some items at the parks made specifically to enhance your experience, so it is wise to know if you’d like to utilize them! Some things, like the Magic Bands in Walt Disney World, can be fantastic tools for your trip. Others, like the “Made with Magic” glow items, bring an extra element of fun.
One of the biggest, most interactive items in this type are Disney pins. There is a whole pin trading culture within the Disney parks, and with a bit of research, it can be an excellent (and affordable) enhancement to your trip. I’d recommend going straight to the source for knowledge on this activity, though I’ll offer you this piece of advice: If you’re buying pins to trade, DON’T buy pins you like! It seems a bit counterintuitive, I know, but the goal is to give them away for something you’ll really love.
And while I don’t like to recommend against anything, I do have one item I would caution you about purchasing: balloons. They’ve almost become synonymous with the Disney parks, but they can really get in the way, in more ways than one. If you get one early, then you have a floating leash to drag around. It can’t go on any attraction, so someone will have to stay with it all day. It ruins sight lines for parades and fireworks for those around you, so you won’t be making any friends. Getting it home in a car is difficult, and a plane is impossible. Again, if a balloon is the beat-all, end-all item for you or someone in your party, by all means, go for it. Just know what you’re committing to.
Take Back the Best
In the end, visiting one of these wonderful parks isn’t about what you can walk out with, but what you can set down before going. A purchase on your vacation should be more valuable than the money you spend on it, made so by the memories you embed with it. So, to everyone stepping away from the stresses of the world, in to the magic that is Disney, I wish you joy, excitement, and adventure.
Oh, and happy shopping.
Looking for the latest and best in Disney merch, deals, and seasonal offerings? Look no further than Caitlyn’s Disneyland Merchandise Round-up! See what’s happening in the world of Disney goodies, both at the parks and beyond. Check back every week for the most recent, unique look at Disney goods!