Money Saving Packing Tips For Disney

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Our next Walt Disney World vacation is less than two months away and when you’re as (what’s a more pleasant word for “neurotic”?) detail-oriented as us, that means it’s time to start getting ready for your trip. As we begin this crazy process that marks the unofficial start to our traveling, I thought it might be useful to share some of our money-saving Disney packing tips.

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Pack The Things You Need - A no-brainer, right? Well, you’d be surprised how often we hear stories of “other” people forgetting to bring their toothpaste, blow-dryer (you know, if you have long hair and the in-room dryer isn’t “powerful” enough), or proper clothing for the weather on their trip. Okay, so each of those things happened to Sarah and me in 2010. On our trips this year, we’ve downloaded basic packing lists from other Disney sites and modified them for our own uses, and have made our own unique Disney packing list so we’re sure not to forget anything. Toothpaste at the resort may only cost a couple bucks more than at home, but having to buy multiple sweatshirts from the Emporium because Florida didn’t adhere to your requirement that it always be warm can cost a pretty penny. Plus, even the little expenses all add up. Of course, no packing list is complete without The Unofficial Guide. Even if you have read it so many times you know it backwards and forwards, it still makes a nice cushion while waiting for the parade, or a nice pillow while waiting for your spouse to take their thousandth photo of the day. (Sorry, Sarah!)

Take Your Own Food – Another patently obvious one. We all know that bringing your own food will save money versus buying food in the parks. That said, there are some tips that may not be so obvious. For example, it’s not a good idea to go to Sam’s Club before your vacation to stock up on Extra-Jumbo Size peanut butter for your checked luggage. If you do, it’s entirely likely that when you finally receive your luggage, it will be torn up after being ravaged by 15 TSA agents of the German Shepherd variety. (Okay, maybe this isn’t exactly how TSA searches luggage containing dense food, but packing peanut butter is one of the best ways to ensure that your luggage will be searched and/or delayed.)

Rather than taking the risk that the contents of your luggage will become canine TSA agent treats, have food shipped to your resort in advance of your trip. You can ship these items yourself and spend $10-15 on shipping costs in the process, but the best option in my experience is to simply purchase the food items you need from Amazon.com, and have them ship the items for free! If you (or Amazon) are going to ship to a Disney resort, here’s how you should address the package:

Hold for guest: (the name of the guest who made the reservation, exactly as it appears on the reservation)
Check in date:
Hotel’s name and address:

We are worriers, so we recommend calling your resort to notify them that a package will be arriving for you so they can make a note on your reservation. Disney is probably well-experienced in receiving these packages, so this is probably unnecessary, but it puts us at ease. From our experience, most Disney resorts don’t charge a fee for holding a package. However, Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, for some reason, charged us a $5 fee last year, so don’t be surprised if you get hit with a fee there or elsewhere.

Of course, shipping a package to save money doesn’t exactly save money if you just fill it with Pogs or ALF Season 1 DVDs (although you should never leave home without either of those things), so what should you ship? When we’re on vacation, the last thing we want to do is prepare full meals, so we only ship snack-items. Some of our favorites include the following:

  • Beef Jerky – Necessary protein if you want to complete that Ultimate Touring Plan!
  • Starbucks VIA – Seriously, have you ever tasted Nescafe? Disney quick service restaurants will give you free hot water, so if you enjoy coffee that doesn’t taste like it was brewed three years ago, it’s a good idea to take VIA. (Plus, it’s the one time Starbucks will actually be a cheaper option for coffee!)
  • Energy Bars – Same idea as the beef jerky. These are great snacks that will give you the energy you need to power through that Dumbo-or-Die Touring Plan!
  • Pop Tarts – I’m not a big fan of Pop Tarts myself, but they’re one of the few breakfast items on Amazon that you (generally) don’t have to order in large quantities.

Disneyland's Sword in the Stone

On the large quantities note, be mindful of the prices of items on Amazon.com. Sometimes, they only sell in bulk or their prices are much higher than you’d find in a B&M store. Often, grocery items there will be sold be third parties charging shipping (it’s a good idea to filter out these items by checking the Shipping Option > Free Super Saver Shipping filter on the left menu), thus negating the benefit of having Amazon.com ship the items for you.

Food isn’t the only thing you can buy in advance of your trip. By buying tickets (using our Ticket Calculator) and souvenirs prior to your trip and bringing them with you, you can also save a good amount of money!

Maximize Your Carry-On Space – While it’s true that some airlines don’t charge directly for checked bags, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Often, the costs are simply shifted elsewhere. It’s thus a good idea to compare cost in terms of total fares (baggage you’d check plus airfare). We’ve found that often, even after paying a checked bag fee, we still save money by flying with airlines that charge for checked bags. To save even more money, we attempt to avoid checking bags by maximizing our carry-ons. This may require shipping some liquid toiletries or purchasing travel-size ones appropriate for carry-on bags from Wal-Mart (they have a great travel-size toiletry selection!). It’s also important to know what size carry-on bag is permissible, and more importantly, what size personal item is permissible. You might be surprised to learn that your personal item can actually be quite large. My largest camera bag is the maximum personal item size on most airlines, and I can easily fit the rest of my luggage into my carry-on. Just don’t get too over-zealous with this and attempt to go slightly too large. The size parameters are there for a reason. Don’t be “that guy” trying desperately to stuff your bagĀ  that “just barely” doesn’t fit into an overhead bin.

Invariably, even as we start preparing for the trip now, I know the night before we leave we will still be rushing around, trying to accomplish things we forgot at the last minute. It always happens! Maybe we need to start packing three months in advance?!

These are only a few of the packing tips to help you save money on your Disney vacation. How do you save money on your vacation? Let us know in the comments!

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Posted on August 12, 2011

34 Responses to “Money Saving Packing Tips For Disney”

  • Great ideas! Starting to think about packing for our trip in 71 days and I am always looking for new ideas! I had no idea that Amazon even sold food, I am definitely going to look at that option and see if is cost effective for us!

    We are planning to bring a variety of breakfast items to have on hand in the room so we can get up and go in the mornings. Thanks for the heads up on the peanut butter, I was actually thinking of bringing some of the Jif individual serving cups. I had read a tip on All Ears Facebook page about packing food in a Ziplock container in your checked bag. It keeps things from getting crushed and may keep the scent of packed food at a minimum from the 4 legged TSA officers. We are planning on doing this in one of our checked bags. On our return, we’ll have an empty bag for packing our souvenirs. The cost of shipping items home is about the same cost as a checked bag.

    Speaking of which, it is a good idea to check all factors when it comes to booking airline tickets. In our search, it was more expensive to book Southwest with NO bag fees than it was to book Airtran WITH bag fees. Of course, that may change once the merge with Southwest and Airtran is completed.

    • The problem with jars of peanut butter is their density. If you’re taking individual serving cups, you should be fine, since they’re smaller.

      Your final sentences touch on one of the points that worries me about the merger. We often can get a cheaper flight on AirTran even after baggage fees than anywhere else, AND it’s usually a direct flight.

  • I am sure Amazon is much cheaper, but we have used goodingsdelivers.com twice now and loved it. You can go on to the Goodings website and have food delivered right to your hotel the day of your arrival. It arrives between 4 and 7pm and bell services will hold it for you, including refrigerated items that are kept cool. Perfect for my 2 year old son that needs Lactaid Milk, not sold on property.

    • I’ve heard about some of the local grocers that deliver, but their prices seem high. We aren’t looking to get a bunch of food (or cold food), plus we’re Amazon Prime members, so it’s the easiest way for us to go.

      I’m sure the grocers are a great option if you need the items they offer!

  • If you are using Happy Limo (or another car service) to get from the airport to your destination they generally will offer you a grocery stop on your way. We do this every time and it works great – less stuff to pack and carry in your luggage and you can procure “bigger” items (like a case of bottled water).

  • Tom, so many of your tips are things that Matt and I do before/during our Walt Disney World trips. Some other things we have tried out is using Garden Grocer. On our trip to the Polynesian last fall we had our moms with us and we figured that we’d need some essentials in the room so we placed an order with Garden Grocer and our food was ready for us when we checked into the resort. The resort even put our items that needed kept cold in a fridge for us. This was a way for us to not have to pack boxes of granola bars and Pop-Tars in our bags.

    Some airlines now are charging for CARRY ON bags even! Make sure that you check that out while investigating a new airline you’ve never used before. I had this issue with Spirit when I went to book a flight a few months ago.

    Though you may be packing Season One of ALF (a fine choice, indeed) we prefer Fraggle Rock and Doogie Howser, M.D. I can’t get enough of that darn Vinnie Delpino…

    • I’ve heard some of the outrage over carry-on fees. That type of thing doesn’t really bother me, honestly. Total cost is all that matters to me. If the fare is $50+ $20 checked bag fee + $20 carry-on fee and Southwest’s fare is $100, I’ll book the former. I think airlines charging baggage fees have created some PR problems for themselves (and Southwest is clearly exploiting this with their marketing), but eventually, fliers will be re-conditioned to expect baggage fees.

      Fraggle Rock and Doogie Howser, NICE! I wonder how many people clicked the “Pogs” and “Alf” links wondering what the heck they were.

  • Great tips! We haven’t gotten into the habit of the food packing/shipping yet, (not having kids yet gives us that luxury). But we do always bring any kind of first-aid or medicine we may need: Pepto, Advil, Band-aids, etc. It’s amazing how much money that can save versus having to buy it at the resort!

  • I LOVE your tips on shipping snack foods to your hotel! That is a great idea and will help us on our next family trip!

  • Just be careful not to ship to your hotel with a c/o (care of) address through USPS because they will lose your package. We learned this the hard way after shipping the Orlando Entertainment coupon book to our hotel and never got it. We will only use UPS or Fedex from now on!!!!

  • Great tips! We shipped a care epackage to Coronado Springs in April. They will also charge you a $5 fee to pick up your package. All of the packages will have to be picked up at the business center in the convention center.

  • After reading this article I am so very thankful we live close enough to drive to WDW…we can pack as much or as little as we want (or at least as much as will fit in the car)…we still use a list and try to eliminate any unnecessary items, but it’s easier to pack for a road trip than for a flight. Thank goodness my husband is a ‘thinks of everything’ kind of guy – he told me to pack my ski jacket when we visited WDW in December of 2010 and I had to wear it 3 days in a row – without it I would have had to buy those sweatshirts you reference (that can add up quickly)! Thanks for the post!

    • That’s definitely a pro to driving. The con: driving!

      You couldn’t pay me enough to make the drive from Indy to Florida!

      • Tom, you’re in Indy?! I’m in Ft. Wayne! Detroit had better prices on Airtran for our trip. We are about the same distance from Indy or Detroit, Detroit is a little further.

    • We were there for our honeymoon in April 2008 and had to purchase sweatshirts. Fortunately, we found some from last season on sale. Of course, we are wearing the same outfit in every picture!

      We are going in December this year with our two year old and will definitely remember our jackets. Coming from Virginia, we will have them on anyway heading to the airport ;)

      • Sarah R, Looks like we live parallel lives. We were also there April 2008 for our honeymoon (although we didn’t require sweatshirts), and we are returning in Nov/Dec this year with our two year old.

  • I agree with the Pop Tarts idea. While I do like them, I don’t allow myself to eat them on a normal basis (kind of like McDonalds for Tom), but we throw a box in the suitcase for our trip. Now Pop Tarts are yet another thing I associate with a Disney trip!

    We also brought along disposable coffee cups with lids. If staying in a Moderate or Deluxe, this way you can brew coffee in your room, but drink it at the bus stop. They also came in handy staying at Pop in February. We had ‘Free’ dining that came with refillable mugs. Instead of having to lug around a refillable mug in the park all day after finishing coffee within the first 5 minutes of a bus ride to MK (we’re not backpack people, so we had no place to stash it), we just poured the coffee into a disposable cup and could throw it away when we were done!

    • Great idea with the refillable mug/disposable cups. I wonder if Disney would give you a disposable cup at the food courts to do this?

      • I was at the Dolphin in January and they gave us to go cups for the coffee we were drinking in the quick service restaurant and filled them up also.

  • How timely! I am right now packing for a drive to Disney (from Massachusetts, I know we’re crazy). I love the packing list. It has a few items I had completely blanked on. Aloe Vera. I always forget that one.

  • We have used “WeGoShop” in the past and it was great you send them your grocery list, let them know what time you expect to be at the resort. Then once you are at WDW and have your room number you let them know and they will deliver it right to your room.

  • Excellent info as always. Pogs! Indeed!

  • This post gets five stars for a POG reference. ;-)

  • Even better, you could bring ALF Pogs! ALF is back, but in Pog form. http://youtu.be/-CCbnpMCdds

  • by Eric Raymond on August 12, 2011, at 6:30 pm EDT

    We use an edited for our needs version Mousesavers Ultimate Packing List you link to. Wealso started using the Starbucks Via on our last two trips (both the hot and iced coffee) and it is WAAAAY better then that dirty sock water called Nescafe. You can also get some grocery items at the Hess gas station across the street from DTD. It’s in walking distance from there. We bought water, juice, milk and granola bars there that are the same brand they serve in the resorts but cheaper. They also have beer and I think wine there. Just take the bus to Westside DTD, walk across the street and then back to the bus stop. It sounds time consuming but if your going to DTD your first night there like we usually do then your half way there.

  • I had a case of bottled water shipped to myself at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in July, for the paltry price of $6.95, with free shipping. The water was waiting for me at the front desk when I checked in, with no charge from the resort to claim it. You do have to be a Sam’s Club member. http://www.samsclub.com/sams/shop/product.jsp?productId=182653 This worked great for us, as we put the water in our room fridge, and took two bottles with us to the parks each morning, and had cold ones waiting for us upon our return.

    • John, about how far ahead do you need to make your order for the water from Sam’s Club to ensure a timely delivery to the resort? What a great, inexpensive idea! Thanks for the tip!

      • Great question. AKL specifically asked that “care packages” arrive no more than 10 days prior to my visit. I placed my online order 5 or 6 days prior to my arrival.

        • Thanks, John!

          • John, I’m getting close to departure, had one more question. When you ordered the water from Sam’s, did you order it via your local Sam’s club on the website or choose one of the Orlando locations? I guess it doesn’t matter, as long as you have the address of your hotel? Thanks in advance!

  • Just stumbled upon your page and so thankful I am not the only over-zealous/overly-neurotic person out there when it comes to getting prepared months or weeks in advance. We just booked our trip to Legoland and Disneyland and don’t leave for almost 7 weeks, but I have already started (as you are witnessing this very moment) looking for tips on what to pack and what I can and cannot take into the parks to keep us hydrated and energized for hours of fun and walking/running to each attraction.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and tips!