Looking for the perfect souvenir from your Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation? This post offers tips for finding something you’ll cherish for years to come, with our favorite unique categories of merchandise available at the Disney Parks. Obviously, merchandise is a matter of taste, which is entirely subjective, but I’ll point you towards some of my favorite types of merchandise with recommendations that are practical, memorable, and a bit different than the same things that appear again and again at The Emporium, World of Disney, and every generic gift shop in between.
With that said, let’s start with some basic tips for purchasing souvenirs at Walt Disney World (or other parks–same idea everywhere). With all of our recommendations, don’t wait to buy these things until the end of your trip. Items on this list tend to be of the “rarer” variety, meaning some of them won’t be in World of Disney. The majority of merchandise is, though, so if there’s a common item you want, you can safely wait until your Disney Springs day to purchase that.
If you’re staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you can have merchandise packages/bags delivered to your hotel for free so you don’t have to haul everything around with you all day like a theme park sherpa. Next, before buying items like books, CDs, toys, etc., check Amazon prices. Items like this are frequently sold there for significantly less (this doesn’t apply to t-shirts and that sort of thing). Finally, you can determine what is sold online via the Shop Disney Parks App by scanning bar codes, which also helps you figure out what you “need” to buy on vacation, and what you can wait to order until you get home, saving luggage space.
I’ll admit that as far as Disney fans go, I’m not huge on merchandise. I appreciate a lot of designs and keep track of what’s being released, but I stopped collecting Disney pins a while ago, never got into the Vinylmation craze, don’t buy into the hype surrounding anything “limited edition.” I still buy a decent amount of souvenirs, but try to follow the philosophy of ‘collecting memories, not things.’ With that said, I am hopelessly addicted to eBay, and still end up with plenty of things (the struggle is real), so that’s hardly some high and mighty perspective on souvenirs.
Anyway, let’s take a look at my favorite types of Walt Disney World and Disneyland merchandise…
I enjoy reppin’ my favorite attractions, and recommend attraction specific merchandise as a way to hone in on a favorite aspect of a vacation that you enjoyed. Obscure attractions are also great as an “inside” reference for fellow fans while somewhat camouflaging your fandom to the uninitiated. In the last couple of years, I’ve started wearing a lot more Disney shirts in public. It seems far more socially acceptable out here, presumably because Disneyland is embedded in the culture. Picking up current and vintage attraction shirts to wear out and about has been a priority for me. (A bit of an aside, but I had an amusing encounter last year when I wore my Grizzly River Run sweatshirt and Yosemite National Park hat one day last year, and someone told me he had “been to Grizzly River in Yosemite and it was stunning.”)
Along those same lines, I’m a big fan of the resort-specific Walt Disney World merchandise lines that have expanded dramatically in recent years. For a while, it was difficult to find anything with the name of resort hotels on it. Now, many hotels have a ton of different options (I think Fort Wilderness has the greatest variety, which is probably due to its cult following). As a Disney veteran, the most distinct aspect of any trip that differentiates it from other trips years after the fact is the hotel at which we stayed. Because of this, when we have a fun hotel stay, I like to pick up a piece of resort-specific merchandise to ‘commemorate’ the trip. Now, whenever I grab my Beach Club shirt, it reminds me of my last stay there, floating around the lazy river for hours before heading to Epcot for the evening (and makes me want to go back).
If you saw My Figment Christmas Ornament Collection post, you know I have a lot of these. They’re not the only type of ornament we have, though. We also tend to purchase a new ornament each year, with our first Walt Disney World ornament being a personalized blue Mickey ornament commemorating our engagement (I can’t believe I don’t have a photo of this!). If it’s your first trip, or otherwise a special occasion, I’d highly recommend getting a personalized ornament at Magic Kingdom’s Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe or Disney’s Days of Christmas in Disney Springs. Their artists personalize the ornaments while you wait, and do a beautiful job.
Art of Disney
Proceed with caution before entering these shops. Years ago, Sarah bought me the Figment and Dreamfinder “Imaginary Friends” Walt Disney Classics Collection figurine as a Christmas present. The next year, a new Figment figure came out, and I decided to buy that. Later, I decided I liked the (now defunct) “Big Figs” despite us living in a small apartment at the time. If you’re able to exercise restraint, I highly recommend Art of Disney. While the items here are expensive, they can become treasured keepsakes…just don’t go nuts and end up with an army of Big Figs. 😉
Mickey ears are the quintessential Disney souvenir. These ears are like Disney’s version of the Snuggie: highly fashionable, and you’re not really sure why, but you’re compelled to buy them. You need them. In recent years, Disney has released a ton of different styles of ears (and third party sellers have released their own styles) that incorporate the look of other characters and attractions. Some of those are pretty cool, but for a first-visitor, the iconic all black-years with your name embroidered on the back are the way to go. Classy and low-key (to the extent that mouse ears can be), they add an element of whimsy to any outfit and just look good.
Clearance Disney Parks Online
A lot of great stuff ends up in the clearance section of the Disney Parks online store. Especially during their Twice Upon a Year Sale (usually January and June) when you can get items for 50-70% off. The items here are not typically the truly unique park items, but often there are cool Haunted Mansion items, Christmas ornaments, kitchen goods, and even the occasional Figment item. It’s also where I purchased my Song of the South Big Fig (while not technically parks merch, since the movie isn’t available, it’s a Splash Mountain figure to most).
Merchandise that doubles as in-park entertainment and a way to interact with Cast Members, I think pins can make a great souvenir. The upside here is that there are hundreds of options, so you can be very specific in what you want purchase. The number of choices can be overwhelming, or can mean you find numerous designs you want. In our Disney Pin Trading 101 Tips post, we recommend people purchase pins before their trips to save money, and then trade for designs they really want (or that are meaningful to them) with Cast Members during the trip, and maybe buying 1-2 really special pins during the trip.
I love souvenir books. If you’ve ever looked at My Disney Theme Park Library, this much is apparent from the number of them I have (when we last moved, I had more boxes of books than anything else). While the souvenir books that simply offer pretty pictures and basic descriptions of the parks aren’t what they once were, the good news is that there are now numerous, specific titles. From books covering the Poster Art of the Disney Parks to a Behind the Dreams Look at Walt Disney Imagineering, there are some really awesome books available in the parks (the same titles are generally also sold on Amazon at a discount).
Music & CDs
My infatuation with Walt Disney World music started with the SpectroMagic and Magic Kingdom Events Party CDs that I purchased after the Pirate and Princess Party (anyone remember that?!). Since, my Disney Parks music collection has grown and measures nearly 1 TB in iTunes, and I regularly pick up new releases and scour the internet for background music. CDs are a great option because they take you back to a memorable moment or experience you had in the park each time you’re driving, working out, in the bathtub (I don’t really know where people listen to music these days), so you get to “use” the souvenir a lot, and also evoke a positive emotion when you do.
I like the idea of pressed pennies more than the souvenir itself. I like them because they are cheap, don’t take up much space, and it can be fun for a first-time trip to hunt for the different machines. If you get a pressed penny book, that’s great, especially if it’s something kids will enjoy after the trip. Personally, I’ve never bought one of those, and always just end up losing the pennies in my luggage. Nonetheless, I think it’s a very cool–and inexpensive–idea.
Extinct Attraction Merch
This is one about which I tend to have mixed feelings. On the one hand, there are some awesome designs of extinct attractions that are no longer with us. On the other hand, it seems disingenuous for Disney to sell these “tributes” while gutting attractions that are beloved among fans for replacements with more mass appeal. Sort of like wanting their cake and eating it, too. Many designs are still undeniably cool, so definitely something to consider…if you’ll be able to sleep with yourself after making this purchase! 😉
Water Park Mugs
Really, anything water park related, but other unique merch for the water parks seems to be disappearing, so the refillable mug will have to suffice. Even though they are now over $10, I justify it because the mugs are unique (and large), grant you unlimited free refills for the day of your visit, and I can drink a lot of soda while lounging around at the water parks. I’ve even purchased old Typhoon Lagoon mugs off of eBay with Lagoona Gator on them.
The “mystery” element of the best Vinylmation sets is why I have tried to steer clear of this addictive hobby, buying only a couple here and there online. With that said, I think the Vinylmation designs in the park series are generally excellent, the prices are fair, and it can be fun for kids (and adults) to roll the dice and see what they can score. The downside here is that it can get expensive quickly if there’s a “must have” Vinylmation and you keep buying until you get it. (Rather than doing that, use eBay.)
There’s definite appeal in being able to see a piece of merchandise being made right in front of you, by hand. That’s probably why Arribas Brothers has grown from a single location at Disneyland in the 1960s to 19 locations in the Disney parks around the world. We have a couple of Arribas Brothers items, but even when we have no intent in purchasing anything, we drop in to watch them work.
My recent policy has been to try focusing on merchandise that is both unique and has utility. I came to this “earth-shattering” conclusion after realizing I used the same (honestly, sorta ugly) Disneyland Paris mug almost every day because it was the perfect size for my Kuerig machine. I was using a piece of merchandise I didn’t really like regularly, while stuff I loved just sat in storage. Since, I’ve made an effort to buy more (large) coffee cups and other glassware, as those are things I tend to use.
I can’t speak to this one personally, but I know those Disney Dooney & Bourke purses are all the rage. Some of the designs are admittedly pretty cool (especially that Figment one!), the quality is high, and it seems like a lot of effort goes into the styles. Dang, though, that’s a lot of money to spend on a purse. Especially if you collect the things. I only have one wallet, and I think I bought it for like $10 longer ago than I can even remember. Plus, who knows when purses will stop being fashionable, and fanny packs will be en vogue.
I am a total sucker for anything that celebrates milestone anniversaries. In recent years, Walt Disney World had a lot of good 40th Anniversary merchandise and Disneyland has had great 60th Anniversary merchandise. Fresh takes on classic designs that (usually) aren’t gaudy or over-the-top. One thing I like about anniversary merchandise is that it usually pays homage to the past, without blatantly cashing in on nostalgia for things that are gone. It’s both retrospective and celebratory. Another huge distinction I make is between anniversary merchandise and the next category…
The last one is what you should not buy. This is generally the most prominent type of merchandise on the shelves for a good chunk of the year, and given the space it takes up, these products must be selling. That boggles my mind. (Impulse buys? Lost bets? Bad drinking around the World Showcase decisions?) For one thing, these designs are generally hideous. The year merch always follows the same pattern, with a large graphic of the year and Mickey Mouse or the entire Fab Five (if the design team is feeling generous) mixed around the year. This merch is eye-burningly over-the-top, and without any thoughtful design. It’s also something you’ll look at when you get home and wonder, “what was I thinking?!” because it’s not something that can be worn out in public, especially after that year ends (until another decade passes, at which point it’ll be cool and retro). Basically, this is the Ed Hardy shirt of Disney merchandise.
With all of that said…I will totally admit that I’m guilty of falling into the trap of obnoxious merchandise. For a while, I’ve been trying to justify the tie-dyed classic logo Walt Disney World shirt (or its Disneyland counterpart). The retro tie-dyed look works at the beach or at a Pink Floyd Laser Light Show, but that’s pretty much it. Maybe that’s the explanation: park-goers need something to wear to Laser Floyd, and Disney Parks are the last bastion of rad tie-dye.
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Any other categories of Disney Parks merchandise that you really like or dislike? Do you agree or disagree with take on any of these types of souvenirs? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!