Whew! We did it! My husband and I survived a trip to Disney with our 6 and 3 year olds. This “vacation” was equal parts magical and exhausting. Normally I’d get home and get right to work on pictures but I haven’t even touched half of them because we’ve had the stomach flu and lots of other stuff to catch up on. I could seriously use another week of vacation to recover from this vacation.
I plan on blogging lots of details about our trip but I wanted to follow up on my saving and planning post I wrote several weeks ago. I’ve been told a great way to save money on your vacation is to purchase certain items outside of the parks. I wasn’t sure what to expect once we got there, I mean how much could Disney really mark up sun screen and glow sticks? A lot friends. The answer to that question is A LOT.
Most of these tips were passed down from my Disney loving friends that know basically EVERYTHING. I’m so grateful for all their help (you know who you are!):
What Not to Buy at Disney
- Any drug store item– Pack your entire medicine closet guys. Allergy medicine, cough medicine, pain medicine, sun screen, lotion, contact solution…etc. Don’t forget stuff for the kids! It isn’t easy to get access to this stuff without a car so unless you like paying a nice chunk of change for a taxi, you’ll be purchasing those items at a mouse ear premium price. Yikes.
- Dress up stuff– The dress up clothing and accessories in the Disney gift shops are adorable, but so are the dress up items on Amazon… for like half the price. If you MUST buy a dress up item and you have a car or another way to get there- check out the Disney outlet store. My mother in law scored this adorable light up Cinderella dress there for $12.99, down from Disney’s price at $49.99 and Amazon’s around $31.
- Shirts– I think my favorite part of planning this trip was creating these custom shirts for the kids. My mother in law used her creative super powers and, with the help of her Cricut, made all my Disney shirt dreams come true. We got a ton of compliments on their shirts, the cast members loved seeing something new and unique. Plus I didn’t feel the need to purchase Disney souvenir shirts- they wore a different souvenir every day! If you don’t have a Grandma with a vinyl cutting machine (so sorry, you really need one of those) then just make a trip to Target or Walmart for shirts. I picked up a couple of back up Star Wars and Princess shirts for our kids for less than $5 a piece on clearance.
- Pens and autograph books– I honestly didn’t think the kids would want to do character autographs so I didn’t even plan on bringing them until the last minute. It was literally the last thing we packed but the first thing Layla wanted to grab when it was time to meet someone new. I just used her Melissa and Doug mini sketch pad (it already had her drawings in it so several characters mentioned she drew like Rapunzel…that made her day!) and a cute feather pen. The pen was a HUGE hit- every single character commented about it and played with it. They’d tickle the kids’ noses or their partners- Russel and Dug we so funny about it. The notepad ended up being the perfect size, I did see several characters struggle with some of the smaller notebooks kids were bringing up.
- Pins and lanyards– Another thing I wasn’t sure the kids would be into that ended up being a HUGE hit. Every time Layla saw someone with pins, she wanted to run right up and trade. She even traded on her own with a kid in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground. I bought their lanyards and scored 25 pins for under $20 on Amazon. Who would have thought?
- Glow sticks/light up items– Do yourself a favor and stock up on dollar store glow sticks before your trip. I also purchased these light up necklaces but didn’t bust them out until the kids started whining about wanting a $20 strobe light bubble wand from the main street vendors before the light parade. Quick note on the necklaces- they were a little more expensive than glow stick jewelry but are battery operated and have an on/off switch so I’m sure we’ll get lots of use out of them outside of our trip. That said, a simple glow stick can give hours of fun and keep crabby kids entertained the long lines, plus doubles as a prop for them to wave around during the fireworks and night time parades.
- Stroller rental– the parks offer on site stroller rentals which might be convenient if you are only going for a day, but if you are actually vacationing with Disney you should look into a rental company. We used Orlando Stroller Rentals and I was SO impressed by the cleanliness and quality of the stroller. Plus they give you a soft sided, zip close cooler that we used every day of our trip. I debated just bringing our single stroller but I’m so glad we rented a double- Layla needed lots of breaks from walking/standing plus the stroller was a great spot to put our water bottles, cooler, book bag etc.
- Food and water– packing our own water bottles was helpful and saved us money by skipping bottled water in the parks. My Mom customized CamelBak bottles with their names and adorable Disney art. We got several compliments on them, they fit perfectly in our stroller and were easy for the kids to carry. We also packed our own food and got groceries off site the day we arrived in Florida saving us a T-O-N of money on food. That could be a whole new blog in itself but really it was simple- we bought apple juice boxes, bread, peanut butter, popcorn, fruit snacks, apple sauce, breakfast bars, yogurts, trail mix and granola bars. For breakfast we all ate either yogurt or a granola bar (with the exception of our 2 character meals which were both breakfast), we packed the kids peanut butter sandwiches and sides for lunch while my husband and I split a meal purchased in the parks (Disney gives you a ton of food, splitting meals was do able almost every place we ate!), we snacked on trail mix and popcorn between meals and for dinner the kids would split a meal and my husband and I would split a meal with dessert or just buy two meals depending on how hungry we were. I was a little nervous about this plan but really guys, the food at Disney is excessive in price AND portions. We ended up spending around $700 on food but keep in mind that budget includes the groceries, 2 pricey character meals, a lunch at Rainforest Cafe and a dinner at House of Blues (both at Disney Springs) and all our other dinners/lunches that were purchased at the parks. Not bad for a family of 4 for an entire week, especially when you consider the pricey meals we sprinkled in there! Note- if you don’t have the ability to run to the store in Orlando (there is super Target just down the street from the Disney property) then look into a grocery delivery place. There are tons of options and you’ll still save money even with the delivery fee!
- Ponchos/rain gear– I’ve been told there is one thing that is guaranteed to happen when you go to Disney- rain. And rain it did while we were there. Although most people warned us against the light and quick moving Florida rain systems, we got a day’s worth of total down pour. I am so glad we packed these adult ponchos for my husband and I. The Disney ponchos are not only over priced but they are thin and tear easily. I originally bought the kids these ponchos but my mother in law gave them little plastic rain jackets like these for Christmas. The jackets worked SO much better for the kids, their upper bodies were bone dry. Our lower bodies? Not so much which brings me too….
- Extra/cheap shoes– Our shoes were soaking wet and I mean down right dripping when we got back to our hotel after a day in the rain. I didn’t pack any extra shoes because I didn’t want to waste the space in our bags. I regretted that decision as my husband and I spent an hour blow drying them so we could go eat dinner. Pack a cheap pair of flip flops for emergencies only- if you need them great! If you don’t, they won’t take up much room and can just stay in yours bags.
- Custom items– I already talked about our shirts and water bottles but we did have a few other items that we customized for our trip. My Mom made the kids cute art for their magic bands. Disney has lots of covers and accessories for their bands, but these little vinyl icons were enough for our kids. Also, the kids got Disney fuzzy jackets for Christmas this year that had their names on them. Unfortunately we wore those jackets a lot (Orlando was a bit chilly) but the kids thought it was so cool that the cast members would call them by name. Almost every time we walked on a ride the attendant would say “have fun Jack!” or “I love your shoes Princess Layla!”. Customized Disney anything is much cheaper outside the parks.
That’s a long list of things not to buy in the parks. So what should you spent your money on? Anything that you can’t find outside the parks or something that will help you remember your magical vacation.
What We Did Purchase at Disney
- Sweet treats– Although we packed most of their meals, I wanted to make sure the kids didn’t miss out on the great food Disney has to offer. Unfortunately our kids are extremely picky so they weren’t itching to try a famous turkey leg from Magic Kingdom or drink hot tea in China at Epcot. To make up for it we bought a few sweets during our trip- the iconic Mickey ice cream bar (what a freaking mess guys…but they were SO good) and cake pops from the confectionery on main street.
- Mouse ears– I was really looking forward to taking the kids into a shop and pick out some ears. I knew that was a souvenir that we couldn’t get outside the park- those ears are a right of passage, a way to remember our vacation for years! Jack choose ears that were 110% made for him and got to watch as they embroidered his name on the back. Layla picked out a double sided Frozen hat so she could be Anna some days and Elsa others. Ear shopping was a great way to get away from the chaos of the park and really take a minute to spend with each of the kids in the most magical place on earth.
- Ok just ONE pin– We would have skipped this had Layla not been so into the pin trading, but we did end up buying each of the kids a pin to commemorate the trip. I love traditions so I’m hoping this can be one of our “must dos” when we go and something the kids won’t grow out of (unlike gathering autographs although there were plenty of adults in line for characters). I do have one rule- no trading the pins we buy from our trips…those are ours to keep!
- Character meals– We purposely planned our character meals for breakfast because that is the meal our kids eat best. Our first breakfast was at Cinderella’s Castle- it was the first thing we did when we arrived at Disney. The kids were both kind of a mess from our travels and the excitement of the park, but once things calmed down we had the best time. Our second breakfast was at Chef Mickey’s. The food at both breakfasts was amazing and it was so awesome to get some quality character time with some of our favorites. Layla LOVED both meals but I think her favorite was Cinderella’s castle. Jack just kind of sat and ate at the castle and was scared of some of the characters at Chef Mickeys until Donald Duck came along. One of my favorite moments from our trip was him meeting Donald (his favorite) and talking a million miles an hour to him about the monorail. The character meals were a splurge for us but it was nice to not wait in line and to be able to meet a lot of characters at once.
I can’t wait to share more stories and photos from our trip. Stay tuned for more! In the mean time, let me know what I missed- what are YOUR Disney does and don’ts when it comes to shopping?