Image: Disney

A Disney parks vacation can be expensive—to have the best trip possible, you’ll want to make sure every dollar counts.

One of the quickest ways to lose money at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World is impulse buys. I’m not even talking about souvenirs like Mickey ears or that lightsaber you totally didn’t budget for— I mean basic necessities that easily get overlooked during packing or popular items we just assume we’ll buy in the parks. Disney is fully aware of guests’ top impulse buys, and in the midst of a fast-paced parks excursion, most families are willing to pay extra just to meet these basic needs. These are funds any family could put to better use on a trip, from enjoying an extra meal to upgrading a resort room, to even being able to afford that sweet lightsaber!

Want to save some money before you even get to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Here are the top ten items we found that you should definitely buy before your next vacation…

1. Sunscreen

Lilo and Stitch with happy kids by poolside
Image: Disney

Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World share a common trait: both are located in states that get a lot of sun. Especially on last minute trips, it’s easy to forget the importance of sunscreen until you’re standing in the middle of a Disney park slowly feeling your neck sizzle and your ears crisp into chicharrons.

It’s actually surprisingly difficult to get ahold of sunscreen in some Disney parks. We are huge fans of Disney’s First Aid stations—along with basic medical services, they offer a wide selection of over-the-counter medications and convenience items guests might need in a pinch completely for free. We’ve gotten everything from mosquito repellant to blister treatments there, but the one thing they don’t have for free is sunscreen. We actually ended up looking all over Epcot before finding a store that sold sunscreen at a considerable markup.

Whether you pick it up from your local convenience store or grab a value pack online, you will definitely save by purchasing sunscreen ahead of time instead of waiting until you’re in the parks.

2. Ponchos / Rain gear

Disney rain poncho
Image: Mingo Hagen, Flickr (license)

While bright and sunny Disney trips are great, rain can seem an inevitability on many Disney vacations, especially in Florida. The Sunshine State’s weather can prove uniquely volatile, and a gentle 3pm drizzle can quickly turn into bucketing rain that can send guests sprinting for the nearest shop for rain protection.

We’ve powered through our share of Walt Disney World downpours (“Bright suns, travelers!”), but some sort of rain gear is honestly a necessity for every Disney visitor, especially if the forecast looks soggy. I personally don’t recommend umbrellas for Disney parks since they can limit your mobility in crowds or potentially injure someone when hundreds of people use them at the same time.

The best alternative are lightweight plastic ponchos. Disney is fully aware guests want to continue with their Disney days without interruption, and so they conveniently sell ponchos in the parks—again, at a crazy markup of something around $10 a piece.

Yeah, that’s a lot of school breads you could be enjoying instead.

Instead of getting suckered into wasting money on Disney’s ponchos, pick up a set for much cheaper anywhere that sells camping supplies, or even better, just buy a set of five on Amazon for the same price you’d spend on one in the parks. They also have family packs that include kid-sized versions. Even if it doesn’t rain, they’re great to have on hand for water rides like Kali River Rapids and Splash Mountain!

One note on ponchos: it’s important for parents to be aware that some kids don’t like them. It’s actually a weirdly common scenario for small children to not want to use them. If you’re concerned about your little one turning squirmy about putting a poncho on, consider getting an inexpensive kids raincoat. It will definitely be cheaper than anything you’ll find in the parks.

3. Pins for trading (and backings!)

Disney Pin Trading

If treasure hunting is your thing, you’ve got to try Disney pin trading.

Disney pin trading is one of the most fun activities in the parks many guests have never heard of. It’s pretty straightforward: guests can purchase Disney-themed pins and trade them with cast members to build a mega-pin collection that is all your own. It is seriously addicting once you get the hang of it.

The only problem is pin trading can prove pretty brutal on the wallet if you don’t plan ahead. On average, a starter pack of pins in Disney parks range from $25-$35, with only 4-6 pins to show for it. Yikes!

The good news is that Disney pin trading doesn’t require guests to buy pins in the parks—any Disney themed metal pin (that isn’t a button) generally works. Many guests choose to buy pins online ahead of their trip for much lower prices. There’s just one catch.

Unfortunately, Disney pins are big business both for casual guests and collectors, and that has resulted in mass production of knockoff Disney pins called scrappers. These pins almost look like the real thing but are actually fakes. They can show up anywhere, but they are especially prevalent from vendors on Amazon and eBay who sell pins in bulk.

Tigger looking at trading pins

Now, you can absolutely still do pin trading with scrapper pins—cast members don’t check—but they do produce an ethical dilemma for those looking to get pins for cheap. Scrappers throw off the pin-trading economy, both for guests hoping to get pins worth their value and for collectors.  The problem is so prevalent that we honestly couldn’t track down any Amazon sellers with a squeaky clean record, and you can’t necessarily trust reviews either.

If you want to get trading pins for cheap but make sure they’re authentic, your best option is to buy from reputable dealers on eBay who have a good reputation with the pin trading community. You can also buy sealed starter pin packs online that are still cheaper than buying in the parks.

Oh, and don’t forget to purchase some locking pin backings ahead of time—the rubber ones Disney offers are a surefire recipe for lost pins, and you’ll save money buy not having to impulse buy lockable-backings in the parks. No tiny hex key necessary!

4. Water bottle

Bobble water bottle
Image: Amazon

Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World can get pretty warm most of the year—to the point that it’s rather dangerous not to stay hydrated throughout a Disney day. Cups of water are free at any vendor with a soda fountain throughout the parks, but these freebie cups are often tiny. All too often in the midst of a sweltering day, it just ends up being easier to buy a bottle of water for $3.50. While one bottle of water may not make a big dent in a trip budget, if you have a family to keep hydrated and repeat the process multiple times a day, the costs for water can add up quickly.

Some families solve this issue by buying massive crates of water at local stores, but this isn’t ideal—after all, you’ll need to carry an average of 2-3 bottles per family member with you. Instead of loading up on water bottles, get yourself an extra-portable water bottle for your trip. I’m particularly a big fan of collapsible versions that only take up a tiny space in your bag,  especially those with leak-proof features. You can fill up your bottle at water fountains and refill stations throughout the parks and save both time and money.

Don’t like the taste of Florida’s swampy water? Get yourself a small portable water bottle with a filter. We’ve had good luck with Bobble as an option for this (just make sure your filter doesn’t leak). Fill up anywhere in the parks for clean, tasty water!

5. Pens and autograph books

Launchpad McQuack posing with kids
Image: Disney

Pens and autograph books are one of those odd souvenir items many families never think of until they’re already inside Disney parks. Many kids quickly catch on that others in line are getting character autographs and end up wanting autograph books of their own, leading to an inevitable impulse buy. Buying a book also usually means buying one of Disney’s large autograph pens as well since characters tend to do better with massive pens due to their gloves.

You can save some money and end up with a cooler autograph kit by purchasing some materials ahead of time. For pens, many Disney regulars swear by clickable fine-tip Sharpies which are super easy for characters to use. As for autograph books, any sketch book will do (DIYers can easily Disney-fy one) but you can also get autograph books on Amazon as well. If you don’t mind carrying a slight larger book than the ones Disney offers, guests have reported some characters will even draw pictures if they have the space to do so!


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