Families Shopping in the Parks

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer
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Disney fills their theme parks with plenty of shopping opportunities. There are so many colorful and fun options from which to choose, how are families to decide what souvenirs to select? This week we asked our Parenting Panel: What souvenirs do your families pick out on their Disney theme park vacations? Are there certain items you prefer to spend your money on, than others?

Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and a co-owner at EscapadeAdventures, who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary writes:

We used to have some hard rules about souvenirs when we’re at Disney parks for our kids when they were little:

  • Pick one thing
  • Wait until we were leaving on the last day to purchase the item, so they could consider all their options
  • We will not buy anything that causes whining, no matter what
  • We would not buy "weapons" (light sabers, toy guns, etc. but we did make an exception for a light-up bubble gun)
  • Buy something that’s unique to Disneyland, not something you can buy at Target.
  • We also tried to give them a budget that depended on their age.

There were times when we would buy merchandise that would work for all the kids to play together (such as a game or a play set of characters). We also used to buy dated Christmas ornaments when we visited the park, but we’ve stopped doing that because well, there’s only so much room on our Christmas tree and it’s a shame for ornaments to sit in the storage boxes year after year.

We like souvenirs that commemorate special events, such as the park anniversary, and don’t mind spending for something special that’s quality. For example, my husband has an etched beer mug from the 50th anniversary, and we have a special plate that shows how beautifully the castle was decorated that year. We will also splurge on a special piece of artwork or memorabilia, but it's a rare purchase for us.

Our ultimate weakness is food at Disneyland. We never miss the opportunity to stock up on English toffee and nuttles made at the candy shop on Main Street at Disneyland Park. That way, we can enjoy the magic for a little while more, once we are home again.

Chris Salata, also known as GusMan, is a Disney-inspired author and photographer, and loves to help people get the most out of their Disney vacation. Chris writes:

I have to admit, I don't shop all that much. However, when I am on vacation, I have a tendency to let shopping get out of hand. At the same time, my shopping habits tend to go beyond my own and spill over to the rest of my family. Maybe it is because we are on vacation and are in a good mood. Maybe it is because we tend not to shop much while at home. Maybe we see that must have item. In any case, here are some of the things that my family tends to bring home from a Disney trip.

My Daughter: She loves Goofy and anything shaped like him. It doesn't matter if it is a coffee mug or even a sweatshirt, if it is Goofy, she is drawn to it. At times, she would see someone carry a Goofy-branded item while at Disney and she would try to hunt it down for herself. She has since learned that if you see it and you want it, you better get it because you never know if you will find it later. Her favorite item: A Goofy watch that runs backward!

My Son: He is a LEGO maniac. Now, you might wonder why someone seeks out LEGOs while at Disney? Well, to him, its the one time we let him pick a larger set and it is also because we can get an AP discount. This is important since, in many cases, LEGOs tend to not be discounted anywhere. Additionally, we don't have a real LEGO store anywhere near our home, so this is his favorite place to shop. He still loves getting a cool Disney shirt or hat, but he always talked about his LEGO sets that he gets from Downtown Disney.

My Wife: This is a tougher description because her desires change from time to time. For a while, her go-to souvenir was Mickey-related kitchen items. After that, anything Minnie. Now, its Disney Pandora charms. To be fair, she tells me her collection is complete, but I know better. After all, she eyes a Dooney and Bourke bag once in a while, or that awesome Minnie sweatshirt nearly every time we go.

Me: My tastes tend to be milder now. In the past, I would look for different Disney watches and see what is new and different. I have several nice ones, as well as everyday timepieces, each with a bit of Mickey's flair. Nowadays, I am much simpler and affordable in my tastes and like to bring home a new hat or shirt that I can wear to work our out to dinner with my family. I also am a sucker for Disney music. Anything to relive my family vacation.

I think over the past several trips, our tastes tend to lean toward targeted purchases rather than impulse buying. I have a feeling this is because the more we vacation at Disney, the less we need to purchase as souvenirs. Sure, the cost per item tends to go up, but I also feel like there is more sentimental value in what we bring home.

Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 3 and 5. Jen writes:

We've been Disneyland regulars for years, but never quite appreciated how effective their merchandise displays could be until our first child was old enough to utter the sentence "I want one of those." After a few visits in a row where we had to attempt to explain that no, he wasn't getting a new Buzz Lightyear spinny toy or Mickey lollipop every weekend, we came up with a new strategy that's worked ever since: We allow the kids to earn Disney Dollars by doing chores or generally showing good behavior.

Disney Dollars can be purchased at several stores throughout the Disneyland Resort (off the top of my head, Star Traders and Rushin' River Outfitters both carry them) and come in denominations of $1, $5, and $10. They can be bought (and spent) at both the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. They don't seem to be the most popular item, as on more than one occasion I've had cast members tell me this was the first time they've ever seen them bought or spent, but in my opinion they are much better than a gift card for small children who are learning to count. Now, when we hear the inevitable "I want an Elsa dress with a cape" or "I want a Mack truck with all the cars," the kids can count their Disney Dollars and see if they have enough.

For local Disneyland day trips, with a few exceptions, we have the kids earn and spend their own Disney Dollars for new toys, but out of town vacations are different. When we go to Walt Disney World or take a Disney cruise, we do pick out a souvenir or two and we allow the kids to do the same. My husband and I usually choose a pin that's unique to the trip or location, as it's a relatively inexpensive souvenir that doesn't take up a ton of space. We also like the hand-drawn character sketches and have collected enough of those over the years to fill most of a wall. The kids, being 3 and 5, of course gravitate towards toys. While we'd rather they pick something that they can only get at the place we're visiting and isn't available in bulk at the local Disney Store, sometimes they use a trip to pick out that toy they've noticed a few times and finally get to take home.

Sheena also known as Mermaid, teaches first grade in Arizona where she lives with her husband and two children, Matthew (4) and Katie (3). She visits the Disneyland Resort as often as she can and has passed on her love of the parks to her little Mouseketeers. Sheena writes:

My husband and I have been known to blow our budget on souvenirs, so while our kids are young and we can control their souvenirs, my rule is I will but them one shirt, one hat, one pin and one toy. Honestly, this rule is as much for me as it is for them. How many $30 Mickey shirts does one child need? Some of our favorite things to pick out are:

Ear hats: The classic Disney theme park souvenir. I buy them a pair every other trip or so. On our last trip, my son picked out the Cars Land ears and my daughter got some bedazzled Ariel ears. Because her ears could not be embroidered, I chose not to embroider either one, saving a few dollars. But for the classic Mickey ones, you gotta get that name on the back!

T-Shirts: I mentioned I get each child one shirt. I never really got the dated shirts before I had kids. Why would I want everyone knowing I went to Disneyland in 2012? But after having kids, I realized the size only lasts a year or so, so the dated shirts are cute. I have a friend who saved all her kid's school shirts and made a banner for his graduation party with them. This would be a super cute idea for dated Disneyland shirts as well... if I had thought of it five years ago!

Pins: We are pin people. We have pin kids. I let them each pick one (which is SO hard to choose). I love that it represents their state of mind at the time. Last trip, my son picked Peter Pan and my daughter, of course, picked Elsa.

Stuffed Animals: Because I let them choose only one toy, I try to let them pick whatever they want, within a reasonable dollar amount, but so far, everything has been less than $25. My thought is they will learn to not ask for everything and choose carefully, which so far has been the case. My son is a hoarder of stuffed animals. This is not what I would pick, but he loves them and has quite a collection on his bed. I do try to get him to choose more unique ones, for example, he just returned from Disney's Aulani Resort with Chip and Dale wearing shirts with their Hawaiian names on them.

Princess Packs: Again, this is not my choice, but my daughter loves those plastic Princess figurine sets that come in the heart-shaped carrying cases. We have three of them (Ariel, Rapunzel, and Belle). They are really cute, you get the princess a few heads for different hairstyles, a bunch of dresses and accessories. But- the accessories are super small, think Ariel's dinglehopper when Ariel is 3-inches tall. The dresses are really hard to put on and she cannot do it herself. It is pretty gruesome to have princess heads floating around the house. But again, steer her away as I might, she loves these things and they are only about $20.

Those are some of our family's favorite things to buy on Disney vacations. I love to window shop, but do a lot less of it with the kids. Now we are more focused, but we all manage to come away with a little something to remember the trip.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!