Souvenirs on a Shoestring
Taking home affordable mementos from your Disney trip
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
by Lani Teshima, staff writer
While a vacation to a Disney resort can be exciting, not everyone
has the time, the desire, or the budget to spend a lot of time shopping
for souvenirs. Whether you have a list of friends and relatives who need
souvenirs, or you are on a budget and need to carefully decide what to
take home, the Disney resorts can offer quite a lot of shoestring selections.
Decide who gets a souvenir
Before you even go on your trip, take a moment to think about the people
for whom you want to buy souvenirs. The easiest way to do this is to write
down a list so you don't inadvertently omit anyone. In addition to any
family members who stay behind, consider close friends, close relatives
who live nearby (whom you might see soon after you return), office coworkers,
babysitters, housesitters, and so on. Don't forget to list members of
your travel party (including yourself)!
Priced at $4 each and with some unique designs not available in the Disney
Stores, resort antenna toppers make great souvenirs. Photo by Lani Teshima.
If the list starts to get long, consider placing groups of people into
separate tiers, starting with those who fall into the must-purchase group.
This way, you prioritize your souvenir-buying and make sure you don't
skip anyone important.
Once you have completed your list, determine the maximum amount that
you are willing to spend on each person, or group. Unless the primary
purpose of your trip is to bring home expensive souvenirs for everyone,
try to be conservative. The longer your list, the more expensive the total
will come out to. For example, you might consider $200 to be a reasonable
total amount for your travel party, but no more than $5 per person for
the rest of your list. On the other hand, after spending your precious
savings on the trip itself, you might have trouble imagining spending
more than $100 on souvenirs for everyone put together.
Who are the souvenirs for?
Consider the purpose of your souvenirs. Do you just want to pass out
small gifts for simply having gone on vacation, or are you giving tokens
of appreciation for their assistance in your absence (for example, your
neighbor who picks up your newspaper in the morning so it looks like your
home is occupied)?
Not all souvenirs need to be memorable or expensive, but for most people,
smaller mementos are just fine. Not only do you not have to worry about
people's clothing sizes or tastes in fashion style, but the recipients
are less likely to feel bad if what you give them isn't what they would
have chosen for themselves.
What is the purpose of your souvenirs?
If the souvenirs are for yourself, a small trinket may be all that you
need to remind yourself of your trip. Is it absolutely necessary to spend
$80 on a windbreaker? Certainly not when you're on a budget. A Mickey
ear hat with your name embroidered on the back is likely to hold more
meaning and memories for you, and it will even look nice on display on
a bookshelf or cabinet at home. At only $7.50, it's a bargain compared
to regular hats or caps from the parks.
The options are pretty limitless for obtaining cheap souvenirs
for yourself, in the form of digital photos. Keep in mind, however, that
photos of pretty scenery or attractions can be easily purchased as postcardsyet
another inexpensive souvenir. You can even write your impressions of the
day and mail them to yourself (or save the postage and just take them
home with you). Instead, think of a theme for your photos to make them
more memorable. Examples can include taking photos only of the
back of your family's heads in all shots, having your family spell out
letters with their bodies, each member making a different facial expression,
creating your own forced perspective so your family members appear to
be holding a Dumbo ride unit in their hand, and so on.
The souvenir mug at White Water Snacks at the Grand Californian Hotel
provides free refills, while you can get free coffee refills with the
plastic mug you purchase at the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street. Not
extraordinarily cheap, but the mug portion is free and provides
a daily reminder of your trip when you use it for your daily coffee consumption
Other things, like your used admission media and your hotel room key
card are great little reminders of your trip and require no additional
Regardless of whether the souvenirs are for yourself or for others, having
them personalized adds a special touch. Two cheapest examples are Guest
of Honor badges and keychains ($5), and Mickey ear hats. Although they
are not the cheapest souvenirs on our list, the personalization adds extra
value to make these worth serious consideration. For the ladies who prefer
everything in pink, Disneyland now sells Princess Guest of Honor badges
and keychains for the same price.
Guest of Honor badges (including the traditional Mickey and the newer
pink Princess styles) are available at select locations at most Disney
parks. Pick up one with a pre-inscribed name, or have one custom-made.
Photo by Lani Teshima.
Shoestring souvenirs for kids
According to our own Parenting
in the Parks editor Adrienne Krock, the concepts of money are
a bit difficult for children 5 to 7 to understand. At those ages, she
recommends having a souvenir budget in mind. For example, you might decide
to buy one T-shirt and one toy item. When you find a couple of T-shirts
in your budget, ask the child, Which one do you like better?
This provides the child with some control, while you still control the
cost of the souvenir.
For older children, Adrienne recommends choosing a daily souvenir budget
and letting them use it for whatever souvenir they want. If you are visiting
Walt Disney World and you allow your daughter a budget of $10 to spend
at Epcot on Day 1, she can use it or save it. If she saves it (or uses
just a portion), she can add that to her $10 allocation for MGM Studios
on Day 2, allowing her to purchase a more expensive item, and so on. Adrienne
does note, however, that the money should stay in the parents' wallet
at this age.
Make Your Own baby-bead necklaces are popular with girls, and can be made
for under $10 (depending on the number of beads used). The Disneyland
Resort carries many beads with Disney characters and shapes, making these
a particularly cute bauble to take home. Photo by Lani Teshima.
One of the big problems is trying to control the desire for impulse shopping
by the kids. When attractions exit right into gift shops and your children
start asking you to purchase everything in sight, Adrienne suggests quickly
whisking them off and out of the gift shop. And if your being in the shops
causes your children to go into "gimme" fits, consider shopping solo while
another adult in your party takes the kids on some rides.
If you want to allow your children to have a lot of souvenirs, it helps
to plan smallconsider choosing items such as pressed pennies, postcards,
A couple of affordable souvenirs that children can carry throughout their
trip is the autograph book and thick autograph pen. This will allow them
to seek characters for autographs during their visit, and give them a
fun memento to enjoy when they return home. For those with really tight
budgets, consider purchasing these items outside of the resorts. A bound
book of 4-by-6 unruled index cards and a thick ballpoint pen will work
well, especially if you add some cute stickers to the cover (but make
sure both the pages and the pen are thick).
Shoestring souvenirs for kids of all ages
Do you know if those on your list collect certain types of trinkets for
souvenirs? Popular collections include pressed pennies, shot glasses,
and refrigerator magnets. These tend to be readily available in most tourist
destinations, not excluding the Disney parks. And they also happen to
be pretty inexpensive.
Sold as Fastpass holders, ID badge holders are the perfect souvenir for
the co-worker who must wear an ID badge. Photo by Lani Teshima.
Many people are now required to wear ID badges at work; for them, a Mickey
ID badge holder ($6) would make an unusual gift. Other Disney park-specific,
recipient-generic souvenirs that won't bust your wallet include antenna
toppers ($4 and up), as well as pens and pencils.
The most convenient souvenirs of all
There exists one single category of souvenir that can take care of most
of your souvenir shopping needs for the neighbors, coworkers, and friends:
Food. What you end up buying depends wholly on how much you want to spend
for each person, but they can range from the absurdly cheap (Mickey lollipops
for 50 cents or a bouquet of long-stemmed lollipops shaped as Mickey or
Pooh for $2.5 for 5), to a one-pound bag of ground coffee for $9. Prices
run the gamut, from Mickey Mouse-shaped pretzels (79 cents for a small
snack bag), Disneyland taffy ($2 for a small bag), tins of Mickey mints
($5), Mickey Roni pasta (approx. $3), to a set of 8 mini cans of Mickey
coffee ($22; $2.75 each).
Mickey Mouse Peppermints are small tins of mint similar to Altoids. At
$5, they are affordable souvenirs for your office... and you don't have
to worry about breakage during transport. Photo by Lani Teshima.
At these prices, you can easily purchase souvenirs for everyone on your
list with barely a dent in your wallet.
Ultimate cheapskate souvenirs
There is a special class of souvenirs that I reserve for the ultimate
in frugal, and those are souvenirs that are free, almost free, or retain
their value exactly (the list is so good I originally published
this over three years agothis list has been revised). They include:
- Guide to the Magic park map and venue brochures. The two parks
in the Disneyland Resort now publish their own different maps, while
Walt Disney World offers a huge smorgasbord. Extras include brochures
for Downtown Disney and other venues. Cost: free.
- Autopia driver's license card. Cost: free.
- A Disney dollar. If you buy multiples, ask for a separate Disney dollar
holder for each one. They are sized specifically for Disney dollars,
and have a little round window in the front so you can see its contents.
Cost: $1, but redeemable for future use.
- Menus from the places you ate. Many restaurants have menus you can
take with you. If not, ask. Cost: free.
- Kid's menus, especially if your child worked on an activity sheet
on the back. Cost: free.
- Kid's meal cup. Many sit-down restaurants provide the child's drink
in a plastic cup. If it's customized for Disney or the restaurant, these
make great take-homes. Cost: free for the price of the drink.
- Kid's Munch, Inc. lunchbox. These replaced the popular mouse-eared
Mouseketeer meal plates, which were phased out earlier this year. The
boxes make great pencil cases. Cost: free for the price of lunch.
- Stickers. Many places within the park give out free stickers. Examples:
City Hall, if it's your birthday. Mickey and Minnie's house, to say
you met them. The I took the dare stickers they give out
at Tower of Terror in Disney's California Adventure park. If you peel
these off your clothing carefully, you can put them in your photo album.
- Mardi Gras beads from New Orleans Square. These are hit and miss,
but if you happen to catch one being thrown out, great! In the past,
beads thrown out during the holiday season even included a plastic charm
on it that said Disneyland. Cost: free.
- Plastic popcorn bucket with lid: Great for keeping snacks, candy,
crayons or pens in at home. Cost: free for the price of the popcorn.
- Your used admission tickets. Cost: free.
- Any unused Fastpass ticket. Cost: free.
- Park-specific napkins. For years, this has been my favorite to take
home. Disneyland and DCA currently have two different designs printed
on their brown paper napkins. I take a small handful each time to use
at home to remind myself of the parks. Cost: free
- Everybody Neat & Pretty? Mickey Mouse toiletries (shampoo,
lotion, soap). Cost: free with a stay at a Disneyland or WDW Resort
- Disneyland Hotel or WDW Resort hotel pen. Cost: free with a stay at
The shoestring souvenir gift bag
If you have a large group of people to give souvenir gifts to, consider
putting together a goodie bag for each person, and include in each:
- Park maps, including separate show schedule handouts (free)
- A Disney dollar in its own envelope ($1)
- A couple of Park-specific napkins (free)
- A pressed penny depicting the recipient's favorite Disney character
or attraction (51 cents)
- A postcard with a personalized message to the person (approx. 75 cents)
- A lollipop Mickey sucker lollipop or a single long-stemmed
one from a bouquet (approx 50 cents)
- One Mickey Mouse toiletry item (free)
- A bag of Mickey pretzels (79 cents)
Depending on the combination, each goodie bag can cost just a few dollars
each, and will provide far more amusement than a single souvenir item.
When you make a purchase at a store, ask for individual small shopping
bags for each item purchased (for example, 10 bags if you purchase 10
As your budget allows, you can add attraction-specific buttons, pins
or magnets, Mickey mint tins, Mickey-head shaped pens, antenna toppers,
keychains, or Guest of Honor badges.
For an added touch, add a bit of ribbon on the top of each bag when you
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.
Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.
A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.
When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.
In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alexour MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinatorattend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).