Time is Money: Saving Time on Shopping in the Worldby Margie Binder, contributing writer
In parks, hotels, and the mecca of all shopping experiences, Downtown Disney, the Disney marketing machine spares no angle or usable space to sell its wares. Without a strong sense of budget and a heavy dose of discipline, money and time will disappear quickly. This article presents strategies to avoid spending too much of the latter while shopping your way through Walt Disney World, particularly when traveling with children.
Most adults travel to Walt Disney World with some sense of how much disposable income is available for souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses, but not necessarily an idea of the amount of time they can take to pursue these extras. Pre-trip planning and discussion can help establish shopping expectations. This is critical if accompanied by children, but also important for adult companions.
Much like running across a character signing autographs, the level of distraction for the 3 to 12-year-old set created by bright character displays and colorful kiosks can cause touring plans to grind to a halt. The first step prior to the trip is to set age-appropriate expectations on the souvenir budget and general shopping logistics by answering such questions as:
- We will set aside time to shop in each park, or will shopping be more spontaneous?
- Is Downtown Disney on the itinerary? If so, when?
- Are there certain items, such as a special pin or specific character merchandise, that someone is searching for?
- We will have time later in the trip to return to a park or to Downtown Disney for a particular item?
- Who pays for the souvenirs?
- What is our souvenir budget?
Older children should save and carry their own money. My kids (12, 11 and 9) usually bring $20 to $30 each from their chore money and I supplement that with about $20 before we leave for Orlando. If they don’t spend the extra money, they are allowed to keep it, and they are not allowed to plead for more during the trip. An unlimited budget can lead to unlimited shopping—or worse, unlimited whining—wasting precious time in the process. Children who understand they only have a certain amount of their own money to spend will usually demonstrate more disciplined shopping, and might even bring money home.
Shopping with my family during the first few days of vacation is usually in reconnaisance mode. We might spend 10 to 15 minutes browsing in a store that catches someone’s eye, but we rarely make purchases during those first couple of days; we’re just checking things out. There is little merchandise unavailable at other parks or Downtown Disney, either identical or similar. We save our park shopping for early afternoon when the weather is hot, or we make quick shopping excursions while waiting for a Fastpass return window or meeting a family member. I encourage patience if I sense an impulsive purchase, with the assurance of returning to buy the item at another time. I am careful not to promise we can go back to a store or park to purchase something unless I am absolutely certain, barring emergency, that we can make a return trip. Ultimately, since my kids spend their own money and carry what they buy, if they feel strongly about the purchase, I step out of the way.
If you are staying at a Disney resort with at least two days before checkout, You can have your park or Downtown Disney purchases delivered to your hotel free of charge. Otherwise, shop later in the day to avoid carrying purchases through the parks.
If you enjoy shopping, nothing beats Downtown Disney, home to the world’s largest Disney Store and more than a dozen other Disney-themed specialty stores. Downtown Disney also houses a large, centrally located amphitheater for the less-inclined shopper to avoid the retail hubbub, and if the timing is right, enjoy family-friendly entertainment. Unfortunately, the bus service to and from the resorts to Downtown Disney is usually very slow due to inconvenient stops and the multitude of traffic lights in the area. I either plan a short stop in Downtown Disney on the afternoon of my Animal Kingdom park day or on the morning of a rest day. I have also skipped a trip to Downtown Disney during a Walt Disney World vacation since there is more than enough merchandise to choose from at the parks and resorts.
There are several alternatives to the shop-‘til-you-drop Walt Disney World experience, including ordering online before or after the trip, shopping at Orlando area outlets, or shopping at one of the many Disney stores sprinkled throughout the country. Ordering online prior to a trip and giving items to younger children at intervals helps avoid the "gimmes" at the parks. While this strategy saves time—provided you are not also spending a lot of time shopping during your vacation—it’s not liable to save money.
You can purchase pins and other items on eBay or Craig’s List, which will save both time and money, and is a particularly good strategy to cheaply acquire pins to trade once on vacation. If you have a car, there are Disney outlets within easy driving distance, including the Character Warehouse in the Orlando Premium Outlets near Downtown Disney. This and other outlets typically carry overstocks or out-of-date Disney merchandise at significant savings.
The objective for a vacation in Walt Disney World should be about the memories, not the memorabilia. Make sure your shopping habits mirror your words. Spend time before the trip to consider the relative priority of picking up Disney trinkets, and also establish time and money limits with your family. Don’t plan the spontaneity out of your vacation, but don’t waste time arguing with a child about buying more stuff or waiting long periods for an adult companion bent on acquiring that perfect gift. The investment of time on the front end will help create the discipline needed to walk past all of those shiny Disney objects, giving you more time to create lasting memories of your magical vacation.
I think it's important to mention that attractions souvenir are usually only available at the attraction store. On our first visit I wanted the Mickey Soarin' mug and thouht I would buy it Downtown Disney on our last day when we were leaving. Our park passes were expired by then since we were leaving and I realized I could not purchase that mug Downtown...I was really disapointed. Got it the next year!
Keep in mind that in situations like that, you can always call Walt Disney World Mail Order and have the item shipped to you at home. =) That may be a good option if you're not sure the item will still be available on your next trip.
I never make a point of shopping unless I have free time and there is plenty of free time. The expectations that you set is NO SHOPPING since you already have plenty of souvenirs at home. Don't tell me you don't already have lots of Disney merchandise. I know I do.
I have 3 opportunities to shop while on a trip. In the beginning to get needed supplies like water and food. In the middle to replenish my water and get some snacks. In the end when waiting for the plane. There are also lots of quicky shopping opportunities when going on rides and such, but they are really for browsing.
I think its funny that you have a system where you let your kids handle their allowance money and you give them an extra $20. If they do have to go beyond $50, how is that "unlimited"? When I spend hardly any money on souvenirs, anything might seem like unlimited, but usually it means spending something.
Orlando has lots of outlet stores. I do make a trip to them to get needed clothing and necessities. I can easily spend $200 for the entire family. I suppose this doesn't count as souvenir shopping. It should be pointed out that many of these outlet stores might sell Disney items at reduced cost. There might even be a Disney outlet store that sells outdated merchandise. I highly advise you to check them out.
Buying souvenirs no longer interests me. I will buy an occasional new sweat shirt that says WDW or DL, but other than that I haven't bought anything in several years. I used to like resort specific clothing, but much of that is gone now.
I think browsing and shopping is part of the fun. My son does too. He saved his allowance money and the money he gets from neighbors for caring for their chickens when they're on vacation for months before our trip in May. I gave him a gift card for Valentine's Day too, and my sister sent him a gift card as an early birthday present. He had about $150 when we arrived. I told him that I had to approve any purchase, but overall he made very good choices. And it was a good lesson for him to learn to save money for a specific trip. He spent part of his money to purchase a gift for me and a gift for my husband, but he also got several nice keepsakes that will remind him of our special trip.
Just a note on the Character Warehouse. I've never been to the one near Orlando, but have been to the ones in Fullerton and Las Vegas often. I know those are now "The Character Spot" and are no longer Disney specific (per promotional emails I've received).
When I was at the one in Las Vegas about a month ago, the quality of the merchandise had gone down. There were other characters (my dad bought a Spongebob nightlight), but a lot of the Disney stuff was no longer Parks merchandise but was general licensed Disney stuff. There was still Parks merchandise, but the average t shirt on a rack was a Disney shirt, not a Disney Parks shirt.
Again, I am not sure if this is the same in Florida, but I definitely felt like this store was not the great value and fun experience that is used to be.
It's been a little while since I've been to the outlets in Orlando too, but keep in mind that the outlets at Prime Outlets (near Universal) and Orlando Premium outlets (near Downtown Disney) are operated by Disney, where the former Disney's Character Warehouses in Fullerton and Las Vegas are operated by a third party. That makes it less likely that the Orlando outlets will carry non-Parks stuff, but it also means you have to be careful what you buy there, because both locations have been known to sell merchandise for the same price you'd pay on property.
Just to go off on a tangent here: I wonder if AMS (the operator of the California outlets) is re-tooling their merchandise selection because Disney's holding back to set up their own outlet operation in California, or take to advantage of the Disney Store outlets to unload Parks merchandise (Disney Store has an outlet about 2 hours away from the DLR parks, at the Camarillo Premium Outlets in Ventura County). I've noticed the lack of Parks mechandise that makes it to the AMS outlets, but there always seems to be plenty of it at Company D (the outlet for DLR cast members) in Anaheim. Considering everything else about Parks merch is run based on how Orlando wants it done, it's not hard to imagine that Orlando would prefer that outlet shopping for Disneyland also be run in-house...
I suspect that it's a little of column A, a little of column B, and a lot of column C - e-commerce. In years prior when a company found themselves with a large lot of unsold product, they would sell the bulk lots to consolidators (Big Lots, Odd Lots, Dollar General, Mars, etc.). (Heck I remember when there would be a voice over on local WWE [then-WWF] broadcasts announcing their semi-annual warehouse sales where they would mark down all the shirts and posters for the guys that had left the company.) Now companies just drop the price on their website to clearance levels and sell them out to the consumer directly. If it doesn't sell that way, then they'll go to the consolidation stores.