Before our first trip to Disney with the kids, I was advised to pre-purchase some Disney items to give to the kids while we were on vacation. Best. idea. ever. And let me tell you why.
I am cheap. Some like to say frugal, but I will readily admit that I’m just plain old cheap. I refuse to pay stupid prices for things. (Yes, I said stupid. And prices do sometimes qualify as stupid.) But like everyone else, I want my kids to have an awesome experience at Disney, and I want them to have fun things. So, though our budget was going to be tight, I had to find a way to make it work.
I’ve already touched on our souvenir strategy and Disney Dollars. You know what there wasn’t room in our budget for? Super expensive light-up toys during evening parades and fireworks. New park t-shirts, hats, and toys every time we turned around. And? I didn’t want to have all of that stuff either, to be honest. I wanted my kids to have things that would be useful and fun at the same time. I wanted them to enjoy the experience without thinking so much about the stuff they wanted. (This also goes back to the souvenir strategy.) Waking up to a surprise each morning was a bonus. Honestly? I was going to give them some of this stuff anyway, so why not make it daily surprises? Bonus! (See? Cheap.)
So, while I was planning for our trip, I wrote down some things that I wanted to purchase – autograph books, glow sticks, Disney t-shirts, etc. and I actually shopped around for things during the several months leading up to our trip. That way, I had plenty of time to find things on sale or things that I thought my kids would really enjoy, and would be fun/useful for the trip as well.
Here’s how it went down: I decided what I wanted to give them each day, and added it to my daily spreadsheet/list. Then, I divided the items up by day and put each day’s surprises into labeled grocery sacks so I could keep them separate and easy to grab. I also packed a small gift bag for each kid, which we used each day for their surprises, and to carry their surprises home.
- Travel Day (12 hour drive): The kids were each met in the car (at 5 a.m.!) by a new stuffed friend. These were purchased from DisneyStore.com when they were running a “2 for …” special. I also used an Amazon gift card for a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse DVD and Phineas and Ferb DVD for the trip, and surprised them during the car ride. I also bought a play set (like these) for each kid and surprised them with a new character now and then while we drove (I saved some for the trip home). These were also purchased during a “2 for…” special from DisneyStore.com. This was definitely our biggest surprise day (in dollars and items), but for 12 hours in the car, it was worth it.
- Park Day 1: This was the only day our family wore matching shirts, so their surprise was their Mickey shirt, autograph books (from DisneyStore.com) to use in the parks, and glow sticks (from the $1 Spot at Target) for the fireworks that night.
- Park Day 2: Disney Pez dispenser and Disney storybook (Pez dispensers were from Walmart, and the storybooks were from the $1 Spot at Target.)
- Park Day 3: New t-shirts to wear to the park that day. (Found on sale at local stores.)
- Park Day 4: New t-shirts to wear to the park that day. (Found on sale at local stores.)
- Park Day 5: Avengers/Minnie plastic cups, bowls, and mini activity books (All from the $1 Spot at Target.)
- Travel Day: No surprises today except for leftover characters from the play sets, but they could use their loot from previous days in the car.
Spreading the shopping out allowed me to space out the purchases, and even work some things into my regular budget. I was also able to get some great deals because I had plenty of time to shop around and decide what I really wanted/needed. I spent less than $100 on everything for both kids. That included their t-shirts and autograph books! Every item (that wasn’t specifically for the park) has been used and enjoyed long after we came home from our vacation, so I feel like it was money well spent.
I’ll confess I’ve already started shopping for things for our fall trip. Caedmon has specifically requested a Donald Duck shirt for our upcoming trip. Since Donald is not the easiest character to find, I took advantage of a sale at DisneyStore.com and got a shirt for both kids. They’ll serve double duty as a surprise and a Disney shirt to wear in the parks. Some other things I've had my eye out for are stickers/activity books, coloring books/sketch pad and markers, glow sticks and/or necklaces/bracelets. I was able to score quite a few things at the Target $1 Spot last week, and I’ll watch for clearance sales on t-shirts and other fun items over the next few months.
Daily surprises are not something everyone does, and that’s completely fine. I do it because it’s fun for me, it adds to the magic for my kids, and I’m able to use things I’m going to buy anyway and they’ll enjoy using for a long time. What’s your favorite “extra” for Disney trips?