SeaWorld drops plastic shopping bags (and we use that as an excuse to offer our souvenir shopping tips)

April 25, 2012, 12:37 PM · SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment announced today that it is getting rid of plastic shopping bags at all of its theme parks. SeaWorld San Diego's been under the plastic bag ban since last year, but today's move will extend that policy to all of the chain's theme parks, including SeaWorld Orlando, the Busch Gardens parks and Sesame Place.

SeaWorld paper shopping bag
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.

Replies (11)

April 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Believe it or not, plastic bags are more environmentally friendly. You can fit at least 100 plastic bags in a one inch stack, but only about a ten paper ones. The amount of space is takes to ship paper bags is exponentially greater than that of plastic bags. The extra greenhouse gases produced from the shipping of the paper bags does more harm than improper disposal of plastic ones.
April 25, 2012 at 12:51 PM · I have to offer my Disney shopping tip of the century...

My wife and I play the credit card rewards game. The Disney Visa from Chase just evolved to a new "premier" card that gives 2% cash back on gas, grocery, restaurants, and on pretty much anything purchased at a Disney theme park.

Although Robert's rule is "pay in advance" for your vacation (one that I firmly agree with), one can purchase a Disney vacation on their card and get 6 months interest free to pay it off.

Also, the card give you a whopping 5% back on your first three billing cycles for the categories I listed above.

You will also get on site savings as well because if you spend at least $50 in the World of Disney store at DTD you get a 10% discount on the spot!

One caveat: The new version of the card comes with a $49 annual fee, but for the savings I get throughout the year I do not mind this for this particular card only. Never pay an annual fee on a card otherwise!

Unlike other cards, the Disney Visa allows you to bank up Disney Dollars for future use and although the dollars expire, they don't do so for several years. Once you transfer them to your Disney Reward Redemption Card however, you must use them by the end of the calendar year or they are lost.

BTW, I don't work for Disney or Chase or Visa. I'm just a cardholder that enjoys this great perk. We have actually paid for our annual passes by saving up the rewards.

Sorry for being so long winded! Great article Robert!

April 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM · First getting rid of Pepsi (though Sprite is the best soda out there), now plastic bags. WTG Busch Company. As the anonymous person said, paper is worse then plastic (not to mention how oversized they are!).
April 25, 2012 at 2:06 PM · I think the idea behind the plastic ban is about what it does to animals when not properly disposed. A plastic bag is far more dangerous float in the sea or left to be blown into the wild than a paper bag. Shipping volume only concerns air pollution and the global warming train of thought. There is the volume of landfills to consider when the bags are disposed. Both plastic and paper bags are often made with recycled materials (like Disney park's bags) but the idea is that plastic fills space and practically does not break down. Paper dissolves and returns to the earth. There is also the consideration that plastic is often a petroleum based product, which is a messy process. Paper comes from trees, which by itself is not a great thing but many paper sources are farmed now, kind of like how Christmas trees are. On top of that, paper is easier to recycle and uses less energy that plastic, which makes the shipping argument moot.

I end up with a lot of plastic bags from Disney, that and Mickey Mouse stickers. I cut the bags up and use them as wrapping paper (plastic). I even trim the white tops off the bags and make bows and tie it all together using the leftover Mickey stickers from work. It's kinda nerdy but it actually looks nice.

April 25, 2012 at 2:31 PM · If you have kids, you can buy generic sealife souvenirs like stuffed dolphins or sea lions at a local Target or Walmart and bring them with you. If you intend to stay for fireworks, bring some glow sticks and the lighted spinning wheels. You could find generic sea stars, shells, and sea creatures in any cheap store. If you're an adult, bring your own snacks and bottled sodas. I saved a ton of money by doing this. Even if you eventually have to buy a souvenir or eat at the restaurant, you don't need to buy much.

I don't get the point of buying things online. The shopping experience is an impulse purchase at a theme park. The displays are particularly tempting.

April 25, 2012 at 3:01 PM · You should add something to your shopping comment. Most parts offer a package drop off, package valet, etc., that people can use for free while they roam the park. So instead of waiting to shop at the exit, they can shop throughout the day and have their purchases sent to the exit to be picked up at a later time.
April 26, 2012 at 4:23 AM · To the anonymous poster above:

Try reading it again, and this time pay attention to the words. Robert covered that.

April 26, 2012 at 7:21 AM · "Believe it or not, plastic bags are more environmentally friendly."
----I don't believe it.

"You can fit at least 100 plastic bags in a one inch stack, but only about a ten paper ones."
----So you are saying that with one inch irresponsible people can kill 100 turtles, birds and other wildlife? That does not sound friendly to me.

I applaud SeaWorld for practicing what they preach. It might not be as easy- but it certainly is better.

BTW while Disney still uses plastic bags, they do recycle some of them into decorative beads- and then charges guests money for them (smart business move).

Hey Universal- it is your turn to step up!

April 26, 2012 at 9:40 AM · Plastic bags are more environmentally friendly because they require less resources to manufacture. They no longer use petroleum products. They use vegetable oils to make. A little oil makes a lot of bags. Of course, they might not biodegrade like paper bags, but they are starting to develop biodegradable plastic bags, thus it is premature to discontinue selling plastic bags. I do think SeaWorld has every right to ban the plastic bag in favor of paper ones, but they should reconsider in the future if technology improves. Nonetheless, most products sold in their gift stores and restaurants come in plastic wrap or containers. Who are we kidding?

Don't be fooled into thinking paper bags will solve the problem. Many trees will be cut to make paper bags. Certainly, recycled paper products is the way to go; however, if you really want to help the environment, don't ask for a bag.

April 27, 2012 at 4:53 AM · To call plastic bags more ecofriendly simply based on their production is only looking at half of the picture. Yes their production requires less energy, however only some plastic bags can be recycled- and the ones that are recycled can not be done very efficiently.

The other part of the picture to consider is what happens to each product after they are used. Significantly more paper bags are recycled vs plastic- and obviously paper is biodegradable. Sure a single plastic bag occupies less space in a land fill vs a paper bag--- however a month later the paper bag would have biodegraded where the plastic bag will take 100s of years to break down (but not biodegrade). Over time plastic bags will occupy more space at a landfill as a whole.

For some people when looking at the whole picture it could be considered a wash- both have pros and cons. Personally I find the fact that plastic bags directly impact (kill) wildlife the deciding factor making plastic bags less eco-friendly.

April 27, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Trash in landfills are not allowed to biodegrade. What's why when landfills get filled up, they need to look for a new site. They don't go back a few years later to see if the trash has settled and then add more trash on top. Biodegrade is for marketing only. Certainly, if the plastic bags are lost in the wild, they will be hazardous to the animals, but most plastic and paper items that end up in landfills last to perpetuity. That's why recycling is the way to go. If plastic and paper are intercepted before they get sent to the landfill, they can be re-purposed or disposed of properly. Plastic bags takes up much less space in a landfill.

Plastic can be recycled efficiently, but let's be clear that each bag has very little material. It takes a lot of bags to change it into a plastic key chain, but it can be done.

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