If you’ve ever seen a TV commercial or promotional video for Walt Disney World, then you’ve certainly seen images of young girls wearing Disney princess dresses in the theme parks. This iconography is so prevalent that it’s easy to get the impression that ball gown attire is mandatory for every elementary-school-age child entering the Magic Kingdom.
While many girls do choose to wear princess dresses for some of their time at Walt Disney World, this is certainly not a requirement for any activity at the parks. Your daughter might love to dress up, or she might be completely uncomfortable in princess attire. Both opinions are perfectly OK. You should follow your child’s lead on whether to consider princess dresses as part of your vacation plan.
Here’s the complete scoop on how to navigate the princess dress situation in a way that makes sense for your family.
Do most girls wear princess dresses at Walt Disney World?
When you’re just walking around the park, you’ll see just a small percentage of girls ages about 3 to 8 wearing princess costumes, maybe 5%. However, there are some places at the parks where the percentage of girls in princess attire will be much higher.
My non-scientific, personal observation is that something along the lines of 50-60% of the preschool and elementary age girls at the princess-themed character meals will be wearing princess dresses. Note that this also means that 40-50% of the girls there will NOT be wearing gowns. Very few girls older than age 8 or 9 will be wearing princess dresses at meals, or anywhere else.
Something on the order of 80% of the girls getting makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) will be sporting some form of princess attire. Similarly, something on the order of 80-90% of the children attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party will be wearing costumes. These might be princess gowns, but could just as easily be something else entirely.
My own three daughters did lots of princess dress-up at home, but never chose to wear gowns while at Walt Disney World, not even at the princess meals or the BBB. That was their choice. They never felt uncomfortable that other girls were wearing dresses at character meals while they were not. You should use your judgment about your own child’s personality about whether you think she would feel left out or sad if other girls are dressed in gowns while she is not.
If my daughter wants to wear a princess dress at the parks, do I have to buy the dress at Walt Disney World?
There is absolutely no requirement that princess dresses worn at Disney World must be purchased at Disney World. You can buy Disney-branded costumes at DisneyStore.com, from brick-and-mortor Disney Stores, from online costume vendors such as buycostumes.com, from general online vendors such as Amazon.com, or from big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target. You can also buy or make costumes from Disney patterned fabric (try Etsy.com for some great options).
You could also buy or make a non-Disney princess costume for your daughter to wear at the parks.
All of these options are equally acceptable. Really, I mean it.
Where can I buy princess dresses at Walt Disney World?
Practically everywhere. Nearly every gift shop in the parks and resorts has at least a few princess dresses on display. You’ll find the largest selection at Mouse Gear at Epcot, the World of Disney at Downtown Disney, and the Emporium and Castle Couture at the Magic Kingdom. They are also sold as part of several makeover packages at both BBB locations.
Are the dresses the same at Walt Disney World and Disneyland?
Yes. There has recently been a real push toward the standardization of merchandise at the Disney theme parks. Generally, you will find the same dresses at Disney World and Disneyland.
Which princess dresses are available at the parks?
The exact mix of princess dresses changes from time to time. As of autumn 2012, the following princess costumes were available in stores throughout Walt Disney World:
- Snow White
- Sleeping Beauty (Aurora)
- Jasmine (a two-piece pants suit, not a gown)
- Tinker Bell
- Merida (from Brave)
- Minnie Mouse
I don’t see my daughter’s favorite princess listed. Does this mean there are no costumes for her sold at Walt Disney World?
As I said, the exact range of costumes does vary. From time to time, there are other Disney princess costumes sold. And when new princess movies are released, more costumes are added to the mix. I have occasionally seen Mulan and Pocahantas costumes available. But if your daughter’s favorite is not listed above, you should be prepared with other alternatives.
What costume sizes are available at the parks?
Not every store will have every costume in every size, but generally the princess costumes are available from size Youth XXS to Youth XL.
What does that mean?
Here are the sizing details:
- XXS (2/3) fits H 33-39 in (84-99 cm), W 26-32 lbs (12-15 kg)
- XS (4/5) fits H 39-45 in (99-114 cm), W 32-41 lbs (15-19 kg)
- S (6/6X) fits H 45-47 in (114-119 cm), W 41-46 lbs (19-21 kg)
- M (7/8) fits H 47-53 in (119-135 cm), W 46-68 lbs (21-31 kg)
- L (10-12) fits H 53-59 in (135-150 cm), W 68-87 lbs (31-39 kg)
- XL (14/16) fits H 59-64 in (150-163 cm), W 87-115 lbs (39-59 kg)
Are there baby costumes?
A few of the costumes, often Minnie Mouse, come in infant sizes, but these can be challenging to find.
Are the costumes true to size?
In my personal experience, they tend to run a little small. If your child is on the rounder side, the dresses may be tight.
Can we try the dress on before we buy it?
Some, but certainly not all, gift shops at Walt Disney World have fitting rooms. Those that do include World of Disney at Downtown Disney, Mouse Gear at Epcot, and Castle Couture at the Magic Kingdom. If the shop has a fitting room, you’re certainly welcome to try it on there before you buy.
If you’re in a shop that doesn’t have a fitting room, you can slip the dress on over a light tee or tank top to get a feel for sizing.
My daughter is an unusual size. What are my options?
As noted above, there is no requirement that your princess dress must be purchased on site. If you absolutely want your daughter to wear a princess dress at WDW, but think she might be challenging to fit, I encourage you to purchase your dress in advance from another source. Go to the Disney Store at your local mall and try on dresses in many sizes. Or perhaps consider having a dress made specifically for her. If you don’t have a favorite local seamstress, trying search on Etsy. A quick search there for “custom princess dress” brings up dozens of options with prices starting at about $30.
What is the fabric like on the official Disney Parks dresses?
It’s pretty nice. In my opinion the fabrics are generally quite soft and sturdy. You don’t touch them and go “Ick!” the way you might with some off-brand Halloween costumes.
While my three daughters did not wear these dresses in the parks, we did purchase several over the years. They stood up to dozens of at-home “tea parties” and dress-up play dates. You should be able to get substantial dress up use out of them after your Disney vacation.
As for specifics, the fabric and trim vary by princess. The inner tag of the Sleeping Beauty dress currently sold at WDW reads: “Body 96% Polyester, 4% Spandex; Collar 89% Polyester, 11% Metallic; Sleeves 100% Polyester; Lower portion overlay outer 100% Nylon; Lower portion overlay inner 89% Polyester, 11% Metallic; Shell 100% Nylon; Interlining 100% Polyester; Lining 100% Polyester.” I really have no idea at all what any of that means, but I thought I’d share.
To me, the Tiana and Merida dresses feel the nicest, but that’s just my personal preference.
Is the fabric quality different than the Disney Store costume fabric?
Yes. In my opinion, the fabrics and embellishments on the Disney parks dresses are of slightly higher quality than those on the Disney Store dresses. This may or may not make a difference to you. If you know your daughter will only be wearing the dress for one character meal, then a less expensive dress of slightly lower quality may be perfectly sufficient.
Both the Disney parks and Disney Store dresses are more substantial and better made than the dresses found at other vendors such as Target or buycostumes.com. But again, if you’re only going to use the dress once, a “throw away” dress may be just what you need.
Are the dresses comfortable?
The perception of comfort really lies with the individual child. The Disney parks dresses are of high quality. The seams are generally finished, so there’s not too much extraneous wear against the skin. However, depending on the costume, there may be lace, sequins or other possibly itch-inducing embellishments next to the skin. If your child is sensitive, you’ll likely want her to wear a tank or cami underneath the gown.
Another thing to consider is that these are primarily long dresses, with many layers of fabric.
Depending on when you choose to visit Walt Disney World, the temperatures can easily be well into the 90s with 100% humidity. Your daughter might think her dress is perfectly comfy if she wears it to the parks in January, while the exact same dress would be perceived as stifling in July.
Also, long skirts can make getting in and out of ride vehicles challenging for even the most coordinated child. Given this, I strongly suggest bringing a change of clothing for any child heading into the parks in costume. This may be one of the circumstances where renting a locker at the park makes sense.
And now the big question … How much do these dresses cost?
As you can see in the photos at the right, the princess dresses are currently priced at a uniform $64.95, plus tax, each (prices are obviously subject to change). The price is the same regardless of size or princess. The only exception to this is Tinker Bell. The Tink costumes are a few dollars less expensive, but if you want wings (And really, can you be Tinker Bell without wings?), then there is an additional fee to buy these separately.
Is that the real cost total cost? Are there any other expenses I should know about?
The $65 dresses are displayed with a multitude of add-on accessories including wigs, gloves, shoes, tiaras, handbags, jewelry, wands, capes, and more. Some items are princess-specific, while others are just sort of generally sparkly. Prices for these items range from about $10-$25, depending on the item. Many of these accoutrements are displayed at a six-year-old’s eye level. Good luck with buying just a dress. If you’re trying to budget, I’d plan about $100 for each child who will be getting her princess on.
Any tips for saving money?
Again, the princess costumes at Target are going to be cheaper than costumes sold in the parks. If you’re looking to economize, bring your own from home. The same thing is true for the princess accessories. You can find a tiara for two or three dollars at any party supply store. It might not have an illustration of the proper princess on it, but you will likely save several dollars over a tiara purchased at the Magic Kingdom.
Similarly, you can get the “princess effect” without springing for a full gown. Wearing a tiara and holding a wand will give your daughter the air of royalty, without having to buy a pesky dress.
If you know you have a Disney trip coming up, try shopping at the after-Halloween sales at party stores and other retailers. I’ve often seen significant markdowns.
I’d like to get my daughter a Disney parks princess dress, but I want to have it in advance of my trip. Is there any way to get these other than going to the parks?
Yes. Disney can mail parks merchandise to your home. Note that this is not the same as ordering Disney Store merchandise to be sent to your home.
Are the dresses the same throughout Walt Disney World?
During my most recent WDW visit, I was in heavy princess dress investigation mode. The vast majority of dresses for each princess were identical at every shop, in all the parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney. There’s no need to run from shop to shop searching for something different.
I did run into two or three situations where, for example, a short-sleeved Belle dress was in one shop and spaghetti-strap Belle dress was in another shop. This was rare, likely due to an incomplete merchandise turnover at that particular shop. For the most part, you should expect the dresses to be the same everywhere in the parks.
My daughter likes to dress up, but is not into the princesses. Are there any options for her?
Nearly all the costumes for girls sold at Walt Disney World are princess gowns. As an alternative, there are a few items of pirate costuming that are available near the exit to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the Magic Kingdom and at the Pirate’s League boutique.
You could also opt to have your daughter’s face painted like a pirate, cat, or any of several dozen other choices. Face painting stations are located in all four theme parks. Prices vary, but generally range from about $10 to $20.
Is there a princess dress equivalent for boys?
The emphasis is very much on costuming for girls.
There are pirate costumes at the locations I just mentioned. I have sometimes seen Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, and Woody costumes sold in the parks, but these may not be available at all times and can be much harder to locate.
If you have a boy and would like him to wear a costume of anything other than a pirate, then you should plan to bring that costume from home.
Can adults wear princess costumes at the parks?
No, sorry. There’s no specific age cut-off, but once a child stops looking like a child and starts looking like a teen, then they may no longer wear costumes at Walt Disney World other than during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
Bummer! I really wanted to dress up.
Adults are welcome to wear certain elements of princess costuming, but not the full regal attire. I have several adult friends that regularly wear tiaras to the park, carry boas with them, or sport a tutu over their shorts for special occasions, but wearing a full dress as a grown-up is off limits.
Is that the official word?
Yep. The WDW website includes the following language – “Attire that is not appropriate for the theme parks (and which may result in refusal of admittance) includes but is not limited to:
- Adult costumes or clothing that can be viewed as representative of an actual Disney character.
- Masks (unless you are dressing up for a particular event).
- Clothing with objectionable material, including obscene language or graphics.
- Excessively torn clothing.
- Clothing which, by nature, exposes excessive portions of the skin that may be viewed as inappropriate for a family environment.
- Objectionable tattoos.
A Guest is allowed into the parks if her or his hair (or make-up, if applicable) has been made to resemble a Disney Princess or character (for example, after a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover) provided the Guest is not also wearing a costume or clothed to look like the character.”
So my royal subjects, is there anything else you’d like to know about the princess dress situation at Walt Disney World? Have you purchased a dress for your daughter? What was your experience like? Did you elect not to buy a dress for your little girl? Was this an issue or a non-event? Let us know in the comments below.
UPDATE: There is a new version of this post with 2014 photos and information on Frozen costumes HERE.