Zero-wasters don’t have to visit The Most Magical Place On Earth and come home empty-handed. In this post, we’ll give you tips, tricks, and ideas for shopping, spending, and gift-giving in a sustainable way.
It’s inevitable that you’ll get sucked into a shopping trip while in Walt Disney World. In some cases, you’re forced to exit through the gift shop after a ride or show. If you’re with kids, you’ll also get the sad eyes look as Disney shops are chock full of toys and bright colors.
The pillars of zero-waste advise that you use what you have, borrow, rent, thrift/buy used, or create anything you need before buying something new. That’s not to say you can’t treat yourself from time-to-time or buy something that makes you happy, is useful, and will last a long time (does it spark joy in your life?).
If you’ve read our post with Packing Tips For a Zero-Waste Trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll know that Disney has now more-or-less banned single-use plastic shopping bags, replacing them with reusable ones available for purchase. These are similar bags as the ones you see being sold for 99¢ at your local grocer’s checkout counter. While we applaud this effort, we also fear that guests will start treating these bags as disposable, which would be a worse situation for our environment. We recommend bringing a bag that’s more versatile for your life and will be used outside of your vacation. Check out our Packing Tips post for more info on the bags we like to use.
We should point out that if you plan to use Disney’s package pick-up service, know that they are still packing items into disposable plastic bags and stapling them closed for transportation to the front gate or your hotel for pick-up. Hopefully, they’ll make the switch to reusables at some point.
Digital Gift Cards
If you’ve read our Zero-Waste Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide, then you have some ideas about the advantages of digital Disney gift cards. We like to use them because they’re easier to track, combine, and you don’t end up with stacks of unrecyclable plastic at the end of your trip.
Finding Digital Gift Cards
You can find Disney’s digital gift cards in a few different places online. These get e-mailed to you with a barcode, a 16-digit account number, and an 8-digit EAN security code.
The most obvious place to find them is at shopDisney.com starting at $25. These can be e-mailed to you or sent as a gift to others. Unfortunately, there’s no way to find discounts on these, so you might be spending too much if you’re stocking up for yourself.
We like to use sites like Raise.com that not only offers discounts on digital gift cards but will have awesome coupons available. Look for cards marked as Digital Delivery. We just purchased a $100 gift card for $85! You can also stack this with coupons found on sites like Rakuten.com (who will also give you a percentage of cash back for each purchase). You can earn even more discounts by using our sign-up bonus codes for Raise.com and Rakuten.com by clicking on the links provided.
If you use Disney’s Service Your Way program, these gift cards will also be e-mailed to you. Find more info on this in our post about Ways to Make Your Walt Disney World Hotel Stay More Eco-Friendly.
Loading Money on to Digital Gift Cards
The only way to add value to a gift card is in-person at card terminals around the Disney parks or at your local Disney Store. Unfortunately, it can’t be done online, so the only way to add money to an existing gift card from home would be to buy a new one then combine it with another. We walk you through combining cards in a section below.
Using Digital Gift Cards
Digital gift cards can be used exactly the same way as other gift cards in Walt Disney World. Use them to pay for food and drinks, your hotel reservation, tickets, etc. You can also use them to pay down items charged to your MagicBand during your hotel stay – just head to the front desk at any time before (or during) check-out and ask to pay off your charges.
Digital cards can be spent by pulling up the e-mail on your phone and showing the barcode at checkout or having the Cast Member scan the card from your phone’s digital wallet. If the barcode isn’t scannable, they can use the card number and security code to manually enter it. We find this to be a bit cumbersome to organize, especially heading to vacation with multiple gift cards, so we like to combine cards and load our primary one into Apple Pay.
Loading Digital Cards into Apple Pay and Google Pay (Android)
There are two ways that we know of to load your Disney Gift Card into Apple Pay or Google Pay. One is to use the Service Your Way program (read more about this in our post about Ways to Make Your Walt Disney World Hotel Stay More Eco-Friendly) – the gift card e-mailed to you will contain an option to load it on to your device. The other way is by sending yourself an eGift card directly from shopDisney.com – the e-mail containing the gift card will have a link to load it on your phone here as well. Unfortunately, there’s no way (at the moment) to load existing physical cards onto your digital wallets and this sadly isn’t an option when receiving an eGift card from other services like Raise.com.
After you receive the email with the gift card link, pull it up on your phone and scroll down below the barcode. You should see a button offering you to load it into Apple Pay or G-Pay (see screenshot on the right). Once it’s in your phone’s wallet, it can be scanned and used just like any other Apple or Google digital payment.
Note that once the card is in your phone’s wallet, the balance displayed will not update – it will always show the initial balance.
Combining Digital Gift Cards
Since we usually end up with upwards of 15 cards per trip, it tends to be a bit cumbersome trying to organize them all and keep track of balances. One way we’ve found to address this is to combine the balances of all cards onto one that’s considered our Primary Card for use.
In order to do this, you’ll need to create an account on DisneyGiftCard.com. From here, you can start loading your cards onto the site using the 16-digit account number and 8-digit EAN security code found in your emails or on the back of physical cards. Each card can be given a nickname so you can remember where it came from. The card’s last four digits and live balance will be displayed on the My Cards page.
To combine, either use the Transfer Balance page or click the Transfer Balance link on the My Cards page. This allows you to transfer money from one card to another. Cards can only be loaded to a maximum of $1,000 each, this is for your own safety as losing a card with more than that may be quite upsetting. Also, balances can only be transferred in whole – meaning you can’t choose a partial amount to transfer from one card to another. In that sense: once a balance is transferred, it can’t be undone, so make sure that the card you’re transferring to is in your possession.
Now just keep your money moving onto your primary card and you’ll be good to go! It’s as easy as that!
What to Buy
Our advice in this section is broken into a few parts: experiences, digital gifts, consumables, and items with long-term value that come minimally packaged. For each, we’ll talk about tips on where to find them in Walt Disney World and why they work from a zero-waste perspective.
In our zero-waste journey, we’ve started to buy ourselves and our loved ones gifts of experiences instead of gifts of things. With experiences, you make memories that will last a lifetime instead of things that may not make it through the day before it’s sent to landfill. Instead of shopping for things, here are some ideas for experiences you can buy for yourself or for loved ones as a special treat while visiting the parks.
- Fireworks dessert parties: These private parties offer an all you can eat and drink (sometimes alcohol is included!) spread along with premium, reserved viewing for fireworks/nighttime shows at all four parks. We did one in Epcot to celebrate our engagement in 2015 and it was a really magical time that we still talk about today. The food is served buffet-style on mostly reusables with certain sweet treats in disposable paper or plastic – BYO cup and container to be safe!
- Behind the scenes tours: Disney offers a wide variety of different tours around the resort, from educational, to informative, to fun! If you’re into nature and the environment, check out Epcot’s Behind the Seeds tour or Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek.
- If you’re traveling with kids, transform them into a princess or pirate by making an appointment at one of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques or The Pirates League. Just be sure to skip the pixie dust (glitter sprinkled onto their hair) and sash or save it for next Halloween.
- Pamper yourself with a massage, skin treatment, and more at one of the many luxurious spas in Walt Disney World.
- Surf lessons! Did you even know they offer this?? Check it out in the wave pool at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon.
- Try your hand at an interactive virtual reality game at The VOID or take in the views from a hot air balloon ride in Disney Springs.
- Upgrade your dining plans and try out one of Disney’s Signature Dining restaurants or a specialty experience like Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian.
- Upgrade your hotel room for a unique room like a balcony overlooking Disney’s BoardWalk Resort. We loved staying the pirate room at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort and one of our most memorable trips to Disney World was waking to a view of the savannah at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – definitely bucket-list worthy!
In lieu of spending money on physical things, give these digital gifts a try. Digital gifts are truly zero-waste, require no extra CO2 emissions from transportation and packaging, and won’t end up in a landfill when you’re done with them!
- Disney Gift Cards make perfect gifts for the Disney lover in your life. You can also give gift cards to kids as a special treat so they can pick out things like snacks or souvenirs while in the parks. In a section above, we gave you tips on how to find gift cards digitally. If you want to present someone with a physical card as a gift, we recommend printing the digital card out from an e-mail instead of purchasing a plastic card in the store.
- Keep your memories forever by adding a Memory Maker package to yours or a friends trip. Memory Maker gives you unlimited, high-resolution digital downloads of all PhotoPass pictures from your trip including one’s captured on-ride. You can also find photo booths around the resort that can send your photos directly to PhotoPass by scanning your MagicBand. There’s one on the BoardWalk and one in the shop at the exit to Space Mountain.
- Before you leave for vacation, hype your trip up with eBooks to help you plan, like the latest Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. You can also keep the party going when you get home by subscribing to digital publications like WDW Magazine which offers monthly editions with beautiful photos of our favorite vacation spot.
- We love to listen to Disney music at home. You can purchase a gift subscription to a digital music service to keep the Disney tunes going all year-round. Disney has a slew of public playlists available on Spotify and similar ones on Apple Music.
- Give yourself a refresher of your favorite Disney movie or watch one that you’ve never seen before by downloading a digital copy of the movie on sites like Amazon or iTunes. This is also great for kids who need to catch up on the classics!
If experiences or digital gifts aren’t cutting it, we can start talking about actual items. We’ll start with consumables which means that the item that will be used up instead of being thrown out. The one downside to consumables is the potential for packaging – but we’ve found some ways to beat this in Walt Disney World.
- Soaps and Candles: If you didn’t know there’s a store that sells things like soaps and candles without packaging – Basin has a location in Disney’s Grand Floridian and Disney Springs. Their specialty soaps make great gifts. Find them sold by weight and in unique Disney designs. In addition, there’s shampoo bars, bath bombs, candles and more. Just ask for any loose item without additional packaging or bring your own container to pack them up.
- Snacks: Certain treats may remind family and friends of the good times they’ve spent at the parks or help others look forward to future trips. For some reason, my mom thinks the buttered popcorn jellybean flavor is exclusive to Walt Disney World (it’s not). For this reason, I always bring her a huge bag of it when I visit her. Find tips on where to find this snack and many others with little or no packaging in our Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Eating and Drinking at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Sometimes you just want to have a physical memento from your trip or buy a tangible gift for friends back home. Armed with your digital gift cards, we’ll show you how to take on the World. Before buying anything though, ask yourself: do I or they really need it? How long will it be used before it’s thrown out? What will happen to it after it’s done being used? Can it be donated or will it end up in the landfill?
Here are some tips on what to look for when choosing a gift or souvenir:
- Look for items with little or no packaging instead of ones that are overpackaged or packed with non-recyclables like styrofoam or plastic.
- Be on the lookout for signs of good quality and durability – materials like thin plastic are culprits for breaking quickly. If it looks cheap, it likely is.
- If an item is fragile, ask the cast member if they can wrap it in tissue or corrugated paper instead of plastic bubble wrap – most shops can accommodate this request.
- Choose natural materials like wood and paper or durable materials like metal or glass over plastic.
Here are some souvenir and gift suggestions that will help you remember your zero-waste adventure to Walt Disney World:
- Artwork: Whether you’re decorating your home or giving a gift, Disney artwork can look great on any wall and will last a long time. Look for beautiful prints in stores like the Art of Disney in Epcot and Disney Springs. Prints can be packed in a cardboard tube and brought home for framing. You can also find elegant and personalized art like a hand-drawn silhouette portrait in the Magic Kingdom, in Epcot’s France pavilion, and in Disney Springs.
- Personalized Items: Speaking of personalized items, we find that items that are custom made or personalized tend to be held on to a little longer than generic items. Though, the downside is that they may be harder to find second-hand owners once you’re done with them. High-quality personalized items like glassware and jewelry can be found in stores like Arribas Bros in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney Springs. If you’re looking for personalized tech items like phone cases and MagicBands, find D-Tech On Demand kiosks in Disney Springs’ Marketplace Co-Op, Curtain Call Collectibles, and Tomorrowland Light & Power Co. Here you can choose your own custom designs to print on these items. The best part is that you can get them totally package-free! Great for when you need a new MagicBand but don’t want the waste from having one packaged and shipped to you!
- Postcards: Find loose, paper postcards in most shops and stamps in your hotel’s gift shop. Magic Kingdom’s City Hall will even add a special hand-stamped (faux) postmark to your card before sending them out. Postcards make a great surprise for friends and family back home and can be put into a scrapbook or recycled once they come off the fridge.
- Ceramic Mugs and Glassware: These are readily available in almost every Disney shop and are almost always package-free. We like items like this because they last a long time (as long as you don’t drop them) and will be used often. Just be sure to ask for paper wrapping if you don’t have anything to wrap them in to keep them safe for the ride home.
- Toys and Kids’ Items: Look for merchandise made of wood or paper. Puzzles and notebooks make great gifts and help kids learn logical and creative skills. These are much more fulfilling than those cheap light-up spinning things that most parents fall prey to.
- Zero-Waste Essentials: If you haven’t read our Packing Tips For a Zero-Waste Trip to Walt Disney World, be sure to check it out. We provide you with a list of zero-waste essentials that you should have on you at all times, especially on your Disney trip. Disney sells all of these items we mentioned in an effort to capitalize on the zero-waste and environmentalist movement. Remember to check for signs of good quality using our tips above before making your purchase.
- Anything Unpackaged: Containers and packing make up about a third of landfill waste. Companies more often use packaging to market items with flashy graphics rather than use the space efficiently to protect the product. A vast majority of Disney product are sold unpackaged, but it’s best to be aware of this while perusing the aisles.
What Not to Buy
We won’t ever tell you what you can or cannot do, but if we do see you with one of these items in your hand, we will judge you and judge you hard.
- Balloons: There are so many reasons to hate balloons. Besides the disposable plastic issue, balloons on strings are a choking and strangulation hazard to young children and even more detrimental to wildlife and the environment when released. Meanwhile, we’re facing a global helium shortage where vital medical equipment may be impacted. While Disney isn’t the major culprit here, selling balloons in the parks sure doesn’t help the situation. I’m surprised balloons are even still legal in America – expect them to be just as unfashionable as plastic straws in the coming years.
- Fad Items: Skip these fleeting items that may never make it to your shelf. Things like Vinylmation figurines, limited edition Starbucks cups, and Trader Sam’s tiki mugs. While these items may be cute or cool at the time, they’ll more likely than not end up in a box collecting dust or head straight to the landfill.