SeaWorld drops plastic shopping bags (and we use that as an excuse to offer our souvenir shopping tips)
Published: April 25, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Close-up of a SeaWorld paper shopping bag. Photo courtesy SeaWorld.
Bag bans are becoming more common across the country, as states and communities look to reduce waste. In my part of Los Angeles County, for example, local groceries and pharmacies don't give out any free bags - plastic or paper. You have to bring your own. (SeaWorld will be using 100% recycled paper bags in its shops, as well as selling reusable bags.)
SeaWorld's policy shift provides a handy excuse to review some of our tips for souvenir shopping at theme parks.
Don't buy any non-food item inside a theme park that you can buy outside the park
The mark-up for medicine, sunscreen, pens to collect autographs and other staples will drain your bank account. So bring what you know you'll need with you, keeping it in the car if you must. Save your in-park purchases for food and unique items that you can't get anywhere else.
Visit the online store before you visit the theme park
Many parks have online stores where you can buy park souvenirs at home. Click to the online store for the park you're visiting before you go, if for no other reason than just to find out what is available online, and for how much. With that information in hand, you can restrict your in-park purchases to items you can't get online, or that are less expensive in the park.
Here are a few theme park online stores:
Save your shopping for just before you leave the park
Minimize the amount of time you'll be carrying around the items you purchase by waiting to shop until just before you leave the park. Here's the one exception to this rule, though. Don't wait until closing time to shop at the store nearest the park's exit/entrance. It'll be slammed at that hour.
Better to shop just before you leave the park for a mid-day break. (Theme Park Insider's advice is to arrive at the park before opening, ride the most popular attractions before lines build up, then leave the park for a mid-day break at the hotel - to nap or swim, or just relax - before returning in the evening, when the lines are getting smaller again.)
If you must shop during the day, use the park's package delivery/pick-up service
If you find some unique item you must have in a store near the back of the park, and you don't want to run back at closing time to get it, you don't have to do that. Ask about the park's package pick-up or delivery options. Many times, you can make your purchase right away, and the park will hold the item for you. If you're staying at an on-site hotel, you often can arrange to have the park deliver the item to your room! Whatever option is available, if it's free and keeps you from having to carry your purchases around the park all day, it's worth it.
Use your own bag, if you can
If package delivery isn't an option, and you don't want to run back to the store later to make your purchase, you usually don't have to take an extra, wasted bag if you can fit the item into your backpack, or into a bag you've already collected from a previous purchase. Just tell the cashier "I already have a bag," and ask for just the receipt instead.
A final tip for parents
To save on whining and arguments over souvenirs with your children, either give - or better yet, have them earn - a shopping allowance before you go. That way, anything they want to buy during the trip is coming out of their wallet. (Or their money that you keep in your wallet.) It's a great way to give a child a real-world lesson in budgeting and money management, as well as to avoid the begging that too often happens when you walk by a theme park souvenir shop.