One thing that will eat up your spending money fast is souvenirs. As a kid I went to Walt Disney World yearly. In those days Epcot was new and your only other option was Magic Kingdom. I remember two Disney souvenirs I had as a kid.
One was a Daisy hat (complete with duck bill and giant eyelashes). I LOVED that hat, mostly because it was the only thing I had ever purchased there. The other was a hand me down pineapple from the beloved Kitchen Kabaret at Epcot, so it wasn’t even mine officially. When we took my daughter there the first time she was 4. I found myself buying almost everything she laid her big blue eyes on. At one point I was alone in the hotel gift shop and I said to myself, “I want to buy her something special here so she remembers the hotel!” Then I realized I’d bought her so much stuff that none of it was truly special anymore.
After that trip we limited things in various ways, 1 (reasonable) thing per park, as she got older I gave her a budget to use as she pleased. The boys will do the same when they are old enough to know math a bit better. The bonus for me is they don’t like stores or shopping, so they don’t get a chance to ask for much. I’ve learned as my kids grow- if I don’t offer things they usually won’t ask for them. Luckily my daughter who had everything handed to her didn’t get used to it and still appreciates what is given to her.
I’ve also learned to make any gift exciting-which is where all the frees souvenirs come in! Kids love getting things from cast members (adults too!). It’s a bonus surprise when they least expect it.
I’m assuming everyone knows autographs from characters are free. Bring an autograph book, pillowcase, t-shirt or anything else you can think of to sign. Photos are the best souvenir I can imagine. If you don’t have Memory Maker, Photopass Cast Members are still happy to take your picture, even with your camera. So don’t skip the photographer because you feel like you’ll have to pay for a picture later.
Here’s my list of free stuff you may not even know about…
Transportation Cards– Almost every Cast Member who works for Disney Transportation has trading cards with them. You can ask anyone from a ferry boat captain to a monorail attendant to a bus driver for a card. Each one features a different “vehicle” in the WDW fleet. My kids have rarely gotten a repeat card and most of the time they learn something new about a part of the WDW team. You can only get bus cards from bus drivers, monorail cards from the monorail cast members and so on. Every few years they come out with a new series for cards, so even if you think you collected them all it’s worth asking.
Celebration Pins– Many people go to Disney to celebrate an occasion of some sort. Disney has you covered for almost everything. They have “Happily Ever After,” “1st Visit,” Happy Birthday,” and “I’m Celebrating….”I saw people that had “I’m celebrating dad’s new job!” as well as a college graduation or retirement. Pins are available at any hotel check in, guest services and most retail locations. Cast members will constantly give you good wishes for whatever you are celebrating, often other guests will too. It makes WDW and even cheerier place.
On our first family trip we were celebrating my daughter’s birthday. A man stopped us in line at dinner to say happy birthday. He told me he had come the year before on his birthday and had been having a very rough year. It meant so much to him that people would go out of their way to say happy birthday so he always stops anyone he sees with the pin as well.
Sorcerer’s and Magic cards– Stop by the Firehouse near the entrance to Magic Kingdom and pick up a set of Sorcerer’s Magic Playing cards. They are used for playing an interactive game that will take you all around the Magic Kingdom, often to places you might not have noticed before. Half the fun is making “magic” appear and seeing other guests wondering what the heck is happening. But even if you don’t finish you have a set of character cards for free!
Lego mini figure– They aren’t Disney specific but check out the Lego Store’s events. Each month they offer an in store mini figure building event. You leave with a Lego mini model that is only available at the event,you can’t purchase it anywhere. You must register for the events and must build it in store.
Check out https://www.lego.com/stores/en-US/stores/us/orlando/ for more information.
Kidcot Duffy– At any country in World Showcase at Epcot you’ll find a KidCot station. Duffy characters are available to color and travel “the World.” Each station has a representative from their country who will write something on the wood handle of Duffy. Most write a greeting in their respective languages, but on slow days I’ve had people write my kid’s names in their language and other phrases. The kids love coloring them and it gives parents a minute to sit and relax.
Wilderness Explorer Field Journal– I don’t know about you but we always plan to spend the least amount of our park time at Animal Kingdom. And every time we are leaving we say “why don’t we spend more time here!?!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen the whole park, we always discover new Treks and animal habitats we didn’t notice before. We started using the Wilderness Explorer Field Journal to encounter new things at AK. Honestly we happened upon these by chance. My husband saw a cast member in the bat area of the Maharajah Jungle Trek and was asking him all sorts of questions. He shared where to get a Wilderness Explorer Field Journal and we were off and ready to go. We were led to all sorts of spots we never would have discovered otherwise and the adults learned as much as the kids.
And lastly, Pixie Dust– Who doesn’t need a little sprinkle of Pixie Dust? You can get a free dusting at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or at the Barbershop on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom.