Surviving the Disney Souvenir Gimmes

You know the drill.  We’ve all been there.  You’ve saved for a couple of years to take your family on the dream vacation of a lifetime, and five minutes into the first day at least one of your children is in tears because you won’t let him have a six inch tall stuffed animal that costs $39.99.  Walt Disney World has such amazing shopping opportunities, that I have known locals to visit the parks simply to shop!  Clearly the deck is stacked against you when you head into Disney’s four theme parks…someone is going to want to buy something.

Before I share my tips on surviving the souvenir gimmes, I need to disclose something. I am that mom who – with a very straight face – can look into the eyes of her beautiful little children and speak the words that strike fear in every child’s heart: This trip IS your souvenir. I am not a shopper myself, so we have worked very hard to not raise tiny consumers.  They are fascinated by products and love to look at them, compare them, talk about them (oh my gravy, how they love to talk about them), but they understand completely that they cannot have them.  But of course you want to purchase something for your kids to remember their amazing vacation.  Here are some tips to get you through the whining and fighting.

1. Disney Dollars: A few months prior to our first Disney vacation, we printed out fake money with Mickey Mouse and Cinderella instead of our fabulous founding fathers.  The kids knew that they could earn those Disney Dollars by helping out around the house above and beyond what is expected of them, committing random acts of kindness, and being a good family citizen.  When we headed to the World, each child knew exactly what they had to spend on souvenirs, and this helped them make careful choices.  They both waited until the end of the vacation to spend those precious dollars!

2. Encourage Them to Wait: One thing that you’ll find when you get to Walt Disney World is that, unlike the people working the stores on Black Friday, the cast members are actually incredibly knowledgeable.  If your child happens to see the perfect souvenir within moments of setting foot in the parks, simply talk to a cast member in the store to find out if that item is available in other parks and stores or even at your resort.  Knowing that he or she may have that item but just not at that moment will help them look at all future product puppy loves more carefully.  At the end of the vacation, if that first item is still the top choice, now is the time to buy!

3. Take Your Own Souvenirs: When we went on our first vacation in December of 2008, we went armed with our own products ranging from t-shirts for the princesses and characters to sign, to home-made autograph books, to glow sticks for the parks at night, all of them infinitely less expensive than what we would have purchased in the parks.  Did this mean we got through the vacation without spending money?  Of course not.  But it kept us from buying those $20 light up toys and other items that would lose their luster once we returned home.

4. Buy Everything at Once: By locating some of the larger stores such as Mouse Gear in EPCOT and The Emporium in the Magic Kingdom, you’ll be able to take care of all of your purchases at once.  These stores have big ticket items for that amazing family member who deserves something special as well as small items for your friends who checked in on your cat while you were out of town.  By purchasing all of your items at once, you will also rack up a big enough charge to qualify for some great promotional items.  We generally allow the  kids to pick out any one souvenir within reason, and then my souvenir is the promotional tote bag available at a discount due to their purchases.

Happy shopping….er, I mean, happy vacationing!

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  • When we took our boys to Disney we made it clear before we left that we would only purchase souvenirs the last day of the trip. And we told them how much they had to spend.
    This really helped make the other days more enjoyable.

  • I can’t wait to take my boy to Disney. We’ve been talking about it since he was born. It was something I always wanted to do as a kid, and never did. Of course I want to do it for him (and Me too!) This was great advice on how to not get trapped into overspending. My favorite was the play Disney money – I’m sooooo going to use that in multiple ways as he gets older.


  • Disney Dollars – you’re a genius! Love this!

  • Nichelle Clemons

    I visited Disney April 2010 and we did most of puchases at a Walmart right outside of the parks. They have a mega Disney department with official merchandise for fraction of the cost.

  • Great ideas! Another one is to hit the Premium Outlets (located right outside of Disney World) and check out the Disney store. I shop there weekly and grab tons of bargains for my entire family.

    Last week I purchased my son a light up Mickey spinning gadget for $7 (similar ones sell at the parks for $20). I also scored a Disney/Pixar Cars lego set for $9.99 – the same one at the Marketplace Lego store sells for $25! Their merchandise is constantly changing.

    I always recommend friends and family members to hit the Disney outlet store during their visit. I also volunteer to be their personal shopper. 🙂

  • We always bring light sticks from the Dollar Tree as well as Disney themed bubbles for waiting in line. I however, did not know they had a Disney Store at the local outlets…..I am out the door now!

  • We went to Disney World for the first time as a family this year and I went the “bring your own souvenirs” route. I bought a decent amount of Disney Related items from the Dollar Store, Christmas Tree Shop and Five Below and hid them away in my suitcase. If the boys were good during the day, Tinkerbell would leave gifts for them hidden in the hotel. The boys loved it! We did buy a couple of souvenirs, but not many at all!

  • Buying the souvenirs last is a great idea. We do the same thing with the games at any amusement park. Last thing you want to be do is carrying around a giant stuffed animal the whole day. 🙂

  • anne hill

    i think “Disney Dollars” is a brilliant idea! very clever

  • And how wonderful that all this involves math! Learning the value of something and anticipating it gives lots of opportunity to talk about the math.

    “It’s $29 – and today is only the first day. What if you find something else that you LOVE for $20 tomorrow? Since you only earned $35 Disney Dollars, would you still be able to get that thing tomorrow for $20?”

    Absolutely brilliant!

  • This very thing happened to me, so my wife and I thought up a very effective system to EMPOWER our kids to stop begging…. so effective that after years of my other parenting friends using the technique, I WROTE A CHILDREN’S BOOK ABOUT IT…

    The Knot String. True Story (cross my heart)

    See it here:

    It works. I swear 🙂

  • Karen Z

    When our children were below high school age, we visited Disneyworld virtually every year. One thing that saved money was having them carry water bottles which they could fill in the parks. A second was that I shopped for snacks (granola bars, nuts, some candy, sugarless gum, crackers) in the weeks leading to the trip, opened up the boxes and sprinkled the snacks over the tops of the clothing, then put all the snacks in a carrier bag at the hotel. The kids wore fanny packs and filled their packs with snacks from the bag each day, with no input or criticism from Mom or Dad. There were no snacks purchased in the parks. Third, on the day we got to Disney, which typically was too early to check in to our hotel, we would go directly to the Character Warehouse and/or Character Premiere to buy tee shirts at a major discount, some on rock bottom clearance…..none purchased in the parks.
    Fourth, the kids had their own money to spend which was minimally supplemented, at the parks on the first day, by a modest Disney gift card for each child (purchased in advance at our local Disney Store) and when that was gone, it was gone. We did encourage them to wait, but if they didn’t….all part of the learning experience. My daughter, then 7, wanted a Kanga/Roo stuffed animal with little Roo in the pouch, very cute, it was quite expensive at about $30. I encouraged her to wait, she did, and found the same item at Character Warehouse the next day for $5. Wide eyed, she internalized the whole thing and is now a great shopper! Enjoy your family time at Disney!