Money MattersUniversal Orlando ResortWalt Disney World (FL)

Don’t Bust Your Budget: Don’t Buy These at Theme Parks!

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Budgeting for a trip, be it to Walt Disney World or Universal Studios Orlando, is hard whether you live down the street, or you’re flying down for a week with the whole family. Between gas, hotels, meals, transportation, not to mention the tickets themselves (and don’t even pretend you ain’t all about a pair of those mouse ears), a trip of any length is already expensive. So why make it harder on your budget by buying the things in the theme parks that will gouge you the worst? Today we’re going to talk about some of the things you should never buy in a theme park or an on-property hotel if you value your wallet, and no, we’re not talking about souveniers or turkey legs… we’re talking about the necessities you might not think of, or might be thinking you can just pick up inside the park itself. And just because they don’t get enough love, let’s bring Lilo and Stitch along for the ride.

Lilo and Stitch belong to Disney
Remember, a creepy smile costs nothing. Photo © Disney


I want you to imagine this item strung from the ceiling above you with streamers, confetti, and a couple big neon Las Vegas arrows pointing at it for good measure. If you’re not from Florida, you might be underestimating just how abysmally evil that great big daystar is no matter what the season, and when you or your family starts turning pink, it’s usually far too late. (One poor British woman stopped me outside the lady’s room to ask me if her back was “as bad as it felt”. I think my face melted off like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when I saw it. It’s okay… I got better.) While most stores in the parks will carry some sort of sunscreen, not only are the types and SPF factor going to be extremely limited, but you’re going to pay upwards of $12.00 USD or more for a tiny bottle! You definitely shouldn’t mess around with sun protection, but you should definitely bring your own!


Lilo and Stitch belong to Disney
Studies show a cute button nose increases sunglasses effectiveness 50 percent. Photo © Disney.

These arguably aren’t as vital as sunscreen, but they tend to wind up an impulse purchase for most people after their first day spent squinting at their travel companions over a Dole Whip. The problem is, in addition to being expensive, at least if you don’t want one of those little plastic pairs that won’t withstand its first sweet kiss with the sidewalk (it will happen), sunglasses are one of those things that kids and adults tend to play with the most at the stores, posing for photos or just trying them on for fun. This means they wind up getting grunged up and scratched up before they’re bought. Save your money and buy something flattering before you leave home!

Last Minute Food and Drinks

Lilo and Stitch are owned by Disney
Inhalation counts as chewing, right? Photo © Disney

My husband and I will both tell you that there are times we have stumbled out of a theme park at the end of the day and been willing to do terrible, unspeakable things for a) something to eat and/or b) a simple drink of water. Both Universal Studios Orlando and Disney World allow you to bring certain food and beverage items with you, and while nobody really wants to be the one to have to carry it or (worse!) suffer through the bag check line, picking up snacks and drinks in the parks are one of the worst ways you can eat into your budget without realizing it! If you aren’t willing or able to bring some inside with you, leave some in your hotel or car in a cheap cooler… your tummy and your budget will thank you.

Extra Clothes

Lilo and Stitch belong to Disney
I AM THE NIGHT. Photo © Disney

I’m not saying I’ve ever sent a cascade of condiments down the front of my blouse while at a theme park, because I am a lady and anyway that hamburger was improperly wrapped, but what I am saying is that there are all sorts of reasons you could find yourself wanting to buy more clothes than you brought. Embarrassing stains are one, of course, as are rips and other annoyances, but bathing suits, shorts, and tank tops, are some of the most common items you’ll hear singing you their siren song when the Florida sun is beating down on you. And on the other side of things, hey, do you know how you can spot a tourist in the Winter down here? There’s the ones looking disgruntled and forking over $40.00 USD or more for a branded sweatshirt from a smug shop owner who just finished pushing racks of them out to the sidewalk, or those trudging resolutely with their arms crossed and shivering with bare legs and arms. Believe it or not, Florida’s Winters can get very chilly, especially with wind and cloud cover, so do yourself a favour and pack pants and some long sleeves whether you think you can handle a little nip or not.

Charging Cables and Other Smartphone Accessories

It’s no use pretending anymore… all of us are hopelessly attached to our gadgets, and if we don’t have the ability to check our Tumbletwitfaces every thirty seconds, we get a little crazy. If something happens and you realize you don’t have a charging cable for the hotel, car, or, well, anywhere you need it, you can find them in both theme parks most likely, but it’s going to be an even worse deal than that redhead with the purple clams got from the sea witch. Extra charging cables and entire chargers of all sorts can be ridiculously cheap when picked up online, and they take up next to no space, making there very few good reasons not to ever be packing a spare or three. While we’re at it, add screen protectors and styli to the list!

Makeup and Hair Care

Look, I promise you, unless you’re staying at one of the more expensive on-property hotels, washing your no doubt lustrous locks with the stuff room service provides you with is going to feel a lot like washing your hair with dish soap. And, hey, if that’s not important to you, praise! For the rest of us, even if we can stand it, the Barbie-sized bottles don’t go far, and it’s easy to start eyeballing the nicer, higher-end shampoo and conditioner most of the hotels and some of the parks will sell you. Save your money and bring your own instead, provided you can get it in a size to be acceptable if you’re getting on a plane, of course. This goes double for any of the things you might want for your daily routine… I do not know a female friend who has not lost their favourite lip balm/eyeliner/hairbrush/dead sea soak at least once and then gone to great lengths to replace it. This is especially true if you have any sort of sensitivities that would mean you can’t just throw on any old product anyway. Keep your face, and your budget, safe… one is your money maker, the other is, well… money.

Medicine of Any Kind

Lilo and Stitch belong to Disney
Lucy Van Pelt is gonna be maaaaad Lilo is muscling in. Photo © Disney

Look, you don’t want to get sick or hurt, I don’t want you to get sick or hurt, but, well, it happens, and whether it’s aspirin for a headache, feminine products, cough drops, or more, these things can take a small but painful nibble from your budget if you’re unprepared. Theme parks and hotels will sell you all of them, of course, but do you really want to pay four bucks for a single dose of Advil? Things like Ibuprofen can be carried for a day in your pocket in a simple twist of saran wrap, but if you’re staying longer, keeping a kit of the basics in your hotel room is easily the way to go, especially if you have any allergies or sensitives, or if you just have a specific brand you prefer. (Ladies, lets not pretend we don’t have our preferences between Midol and Pamprin and other brands, psychosomatic or not.) Things like those wonderful Band-Aid Blister Pods, throat lozenges, and so forth can keep a trip on track, so they’re important to have… just stock up before you get in the car!

Ponchos and Umbrellas

Lilo and Stitch belong to Disney
Admittedly, rain is much more useful for Man, Alanis should have sung about this instead. Photo © Disney

Do you really need to pay eight bucks for a piece of sheet plastic with a cartoon mouse or Minion on it? No, not as long as Dollar Stores and their wonderful ilk exist. Florida is rainy. Depending on the time of year, really, really rainy. While there’s nothing to be done for the soul-crushing mugginess this often brings, you can and should stock up on any rain gear you need elsewhere rather than breaking your budget for cheap branded merchandise when the skies open up and you feel like you have no other choice. My husband and I keep a stockpile of one-size-fits-all rain ponchos around the house… they cost a buck at your average Dollar Store, they fit in your pocket, and the ones in the park really are no better… sturdier, I suppose, but hey, you’re just sprinting to your dinner reservation, not fighting off the Fire Nation. Don’t be suckered in by the expensive rainy weather items both Universal and Disney World will try to sell you, and pack your own!

These are just a few very important things you should take into consideration when you’re packing and making up a budget for your trip, and we’d love to see a few of your own personal recommendations of things you always make sure to bring with you. There are a lot of expensive things you’ll want to buy on your trip, and items like this that you can pack ahead of time for much, much cheaper shouldn’t be some of them, freeing up even more of your budget to spend on what really matters… souvenirs.

Lilo and Stitch belong to Disney
Thank you, thank you very much. ©Disney

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Originally from the Canadian wilds, where I rode a polar bear to work every day and had to fend off moose to get to my daily ration of Nanaimo Bars and maple syrup (all true), I immigrated to Florida in 2007 when my husband and I got married at Epcot. A professional video game reviewer and editor since 2008, I use theme parks to help me unwind and fulfill my sass/shenanigan requirements, with passes to Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, and Disney World, all within an hour's drive. If you want the scoop on Halloween Horror Nights, or on how many molten lava cakes you should stuff into your face hole at Food and Wine (SO MANY), or anything in between, I'm your gal.

14 thoughts on “Don’t Bust Your Budget: Don’t Buy These at Theme Parks!

  • I think the ponchos from the parks are actually a pretty decent purchase. We wore our Universal ones on several days and they will live to see another trip too. The fact that they’re reusable is a lot better for the environment, which is something I rarely see mentioned when talking about disposable ponchos. That’s a lot of plastic!

  • We buy dollar store ponchos and take one each day to the parks – use them once and throw them away. If we don’t use them we take them the following day and so on. They are so compact in the bags before use and take up so much more space after use!! We once wore them on the Kali River Rapids on a cool November day. People in the queue were asking us if we would give them to them when we got off so we donated them!

  • I have, unfortunately, had to spend money on more than one of these items… Lessons learned! And I echo Ann’s sentiment: I enjoyed your article, but I Really enjoyed the Lilo & Stitch pictures!

  • I always bring a Brita water bottle into the parks with me. You can get a cup of free ice water at any counter service restaurant and fill up the bottle or fill at a water fountain. The filter removes that funny chemical taste and saves us a lot of money on buying drinks.

  • I brought dollar store ponchos last july and ended up buying the Disney ponchos anyway. The cheap ponchos ripped and leaked before we even made it all the way down main street.

    • Agreed. The price is enough to make an airport store blush, but I’ve had my WDW and Universal ponchos for a long time whereas the cheap ones I pretty much have to get rid of after one use. It’s hard talking “quality” when it comes to ponchos, but the stuff in the parks is much MUCH better than almost anything you can get at home.

    • Quick tip, Disney will always swap out a ripped poncho with a fresh one. Just hit another shop that sells them and ask the cashier. Last time we were at AK I bought, wore, and ripped one and traded it in when it stopped raining. It was dry the rest of the day, so it’s still brand new sitting in my closet.

    • agree that I hate the dollar store ponchos and happily shell out for the wdw versions. Much better quality.

  • Once dropped the family off at AK before checking in at the hotel. Parking attendant asked for the money. I explained that I hadn’t gotten my windshield pass yet, but I promise we will spend at least $20 in the park on something we should have bought at home.
    Sure enough, DD5 forgot her sunglasses in the luggage and Mom bought her a new pair at the park.
    When I went back to pick them up after checking in, I went to the same attendant and showed him my windshield pass and a picture of the receipt for the sunglasses on my phone. 🙂

  • Great suggestions! I once had my sunglasses break at the parks and caved for a new pair. That was 3 years ago, and I still use them for recess (I’m a teacher). If I can keep sunglasses for more than a year I consider them a good purchase. I hope I never have to do it again at the Parks, but I’m glad they held out for so long!

  • All great advice but the most important part is you used Lilo and Stitch. They get a lot more love in Florida than they do in California but it’s still not enough. My motto is “Everything needs more Stitch!”

  • As far as charging cords go, people leave them behind in their rooms all the time. The front desk will often have a box of leftover charging cords, so check with them if you get in a pinch.

  • As for medicine, you can get more than you think at First Aid in the parks for free. I was sick with a cold and the nurses there were very helpful- they have all kinds of over the counter meds like ibuprofen, aspirin, allergy meds, etc. Didn’t have to buy anything last minute for my cold!
    You can also get a cup of water anywhere that has fountain drinks for free.


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