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Lani Teshima, editor

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 postcards—yet 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 back home.

Other things, like your used admission media and your hotel room key card are great little reminders of your trip and require no additional cost.

Personalized souvenirs

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 small—consider choosing items such as pressed pennies, postcards, or pens.

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 ago—this 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. Cost: free.
  • 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 hotel.
  • Disneyland Hotel or WDW Resort hotel pen. Cost: free with a stay at the hotel.

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 postcards).

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 get home!

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, Alex—our MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinator—attend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).


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