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Trip Planning 101: Packing for Your Walt Disney World Vacation

by on October 26, 2011

You’re going to Walt Disney World! You’ve chosen your travel dates and made you reservations, but what should you bring with you? To help you with this issue, we’ve created a handy downloadable TOURINGPLANS PACKING CHECKLIST.

The checklist includes it all, but the rationale for many of the checklist items is broken down here. Packing for a Walt Disney World vacation involves gathering five types of basic items:

  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Documents/Money
  • Electronics
  • and Miscellaneous.

CLOTHING

My biggest suggestion when assessing your clothing needs is to check the Orlando weather forecast 2-3 days prior to your trip, particularly if you’re traveling at any time other than mid-summer. I have been to Walt Disney World in the winter when temperature lows were in the 20s (F). That means you’ll need jeans, sweaters, jackets, and gloves, not shorts and tank tops. Also winter trips tend to have greater temperature fluctuations. Bring layers that you can take on/off throughout the day.

All WDW resort hotels have laundry rooms for guest use.

I’m not a fan of chores while I’m on vacation, so I usually skip doing laundry on my trips, but you should know that coin-operated guest laundry rooms are available at every Walt Disney World resort hotel. This can come in handy if you have an accident-prone child or are trying to take a long trip with only carry-on luggage. If I won’t be doing laundry on my trip, I tend to pack at least one or two extra shirts and changes of underwear and socks for each person in my family. It’s amazing how much better fresh clothes can make you feel after a sweaty day in the parks.

If you’re checking bags, keep one change of clothing in a carry-on in case of delayed or lost luggage. I also recommend bringing clothing in a carry-on for your return flight. Don’t even get me started about the nine hour delay I had at Orlando International with a sick child, no stores open, and no extra clothes.

Shoes are big topic in Walt Disney World planning circles. The only footwear restrictions I’m aware of at Walt Disney World are that you must be wearing shoes in the theme parks and that Heelies (or similar) cannot be used in their wheeled form. I’ve seen guests sporting flipflops, sneakers, Crocs, sandals, boots, Uggs, ballet flats, and even stiletto heels while touring the parks. You should wear whatever makes you most comfortable. Be aware that you will be walking for MILES during your trip; blisters are a common complaint in the parks. This is not the time to try something new. If you’re traveling during the summer months, you may want to bring a second pair of walking shoes in case your feet get soaked in one of the frequent Florida downpours. Trekking in wet shoes can be quite unpleasant.

TOILETRIES

As I noted in the post Your Walt Disney World Hotel Gift Shop: What Did You Forget? Chances Are They Have It, the Walt Disney World resort gift shops are well stocked with any personal care items you may have forgotten. However, prices will be more than you’d pay at home, and you may not find the exact brand you’re looking for.

I’m going to give a quick shout-out to a favorite website of mine, minimus.biz. Minimus is a great source for travel-size items of all sorts including toiletries, baby care items, snacks, and even toys. As always, double check the TSA website for current carry-on rules.

Bring more prescription medication than you think you’ll need. Delays happen.

Several members of my family take daily prescription medications. Twice in the past year, we’ve had Disney-related vacations unexpectedly extended by several days due to weather issues. I had packed extra meds, but just barely enough. If there are any must-take prescriptions needed by your family, I encourage you to bring at least 3-4 days more than you think you’ll need. Having copies of your prescriptions can facilitate getting replacements if your travels are delayed even further. And of course, prescription medications should never be placed in checked luggage.

DOCUMENTS/MONEY

When I’m home, my wallet contains a few dozen items: grocery cards, frequent buyer cards, department store credit cards, etc. When I travel, I leave all that behind and just take the basics: driver’s license, basic credit cards, and health insurance ID cards. It’s easier to carry fewer items and it’s easier to replace fewer items if they become lost or stolen. If something unfortunate does occur, your recovery time will be much quicker if you have photocopies of each of the items you have with you.

It also truly pays to make copies of your Walt Disney World park tickets. On my most recent trip to the parks, my 12-year-old daughter’s ticket fell out of her bag – lost. Disaster (and a big replacement cost) was avoided because I had taken a cell phone photo of the ticket’s bar code. As soon as we realized the ticket was gone, I brought the photo to guest relations and the ticket was reissued within minutes.

For easy replacement, copy the back of your tickets.

I also encourage you to take your ID and health insurance cards with you into the Walt Disney World theme parks. ID is required to verify resort room charges over $50. Insurance cards may be necessary if you have the unfortunate circumstance of having to travel directly from a park to a medical care situation. (Yes, it’s happened to my family. Hey, if you visit enough, things are bound to happen.) There is a school of thought that suggests you can spend a day at Walt Disney World with only your ticket-encoded room key on your person. I strongly discourage this.

You won’t need large amounts of cash at Walt Disney World. Credit cards and room charges are accepted at almost all on-site locations. However keeping some on hand is always advisable. You may need to pay a taxi driver or tip your bellman. If you’re driving from the airport, there are several tolls along the way. Having dollar bills can speed your journey. There are ATMs in the Disney theme parks and resorts.

ELECTRONICS

Between phones, iPads, iPods, cameras, and computers, my five person family travels with a minimum of a dozen electronic gadgets. Before you leave home, make sure that you have all the required power cords and chargers. I routinely pack a power strip to facilitate the charging of all these items – much easier than tripping on cords all over the room or worrying whether your phone charging in the bathroom is in danger of falling into the sink. And needless to say, never pack eletronics or their chargers in checked luggage. There’s nothing more frustrating that having your flight delayed for hours and having no way to recharge your dying cellphone.

I’ve also become a big fan of portable external device chargers. I use a Mophie case for my iPhone, but there are similar, and less expensive, options for other devices. I find that when I’m in the parks, I’m checking Lines for ride updates, calling my kids, playing Where’s My Water (addictive, trust me) during waits, and taking photos of characters; a single battery charge barely makes it through the day.

Sleep-specific headphones can help keep the peace.

Speaking of cameras, there are PhotoPass photographers in the parks that will take shots of your family at some locations. However, the photographers are not everywhere and the PhotoPass prints/CDs get expensive quickly. I strongly encourage you to bring some sort of photographic equipment with you into the parks. I’m a sucker for Goofy and kids with big Goofy grins.

Two other plug-in items I like having are a booklight and sleep-specific headphones. The odds of a family all falling asleep at the same time in a hotel room is minimal, these items can help make everyone more comfortable.

MISCELLANEOUS

Here a few notes about “everything else:”

  • Gum – They don’t sell it in the Disney parks or resorts. And they don’t sell it at the Orlando airport. If you need gum to help with ear-popping on your flight, be sure to pack enough for your return trip as well.
  • Zip-top bags – The travel uses for these are endless: Save your child’s unfinished snack for later. Keep your wet bathing suit contained in your luggage. Contain your collectible pin collection. Throw a few in your bag and you’ll thank me later.
  • Ponchos or umbrellas – Rain showers are common in central Florida. The parks sell rain gear, but it’s much more expensive than what you’ll find at home.
  • Laundry bag – When I travel with the family, I pack a mesh laundry bag. This gives the kids a specific place to corral their sweaty duds at the end of the day.

Additionally, if you fall into one of the categories below, you’re going to need bring some additional gear:

  • Guests with babies/toddlers
  • Guests with elementary age children
  • Athletes
  • Guests traveling during special seasons
  • Guests with upscale dining plans
  • Pin/Vinylmation traders
  • Guests planning to eat in their hotel room
  • Guests driving to Walt Disney World

GUESTS WITH BABIES/TODDLERS

Walt Disney World hosts many, many thousands of pint-sized guests each year. The parks are well equipped for children. But they may not be well-equipped for YOUR child. When my kids were small, they had VERY specific preferences for things like pacifier and baby food brands. If your kids are choosy, bring supplies from home.

Disney rental strollers can be uncomfortable for small kids.

Diapers and related supplies are available at Walt Disney World, but they may not have exactly what you need. For the complete run-down, take a look at the post Disney and the Diaper: Managing Diaper and Potty-Training Issues at Walt Disney World.

Stroller-related questions are hot topic in Disney circles. Just check out the comments on Ryan Kilpatrick’s post The Great Stroller Conundrum. I personally always recommend that you bring your own when you’re traveling with babies or toddlers. Your mileage may vary.

TRAVEL WITH ELEMENTARY AGE CHILDREN

Costumes are NOT required for character meals, but many children (particularly girls) don’t feel like they’ve had the full Disney experience until they’ve had a meal at the parks in costume. Be aware that the most basic Disney princess dress sold in the parks costs nearly $70.00. Bring a $12.95 Wal-Mart dress with you and no-one will be the wiser.

ATHLETES

There are numerous sporting activities available at Walt Disney World. If you’re interested in working off the Dole Whip and churros you consume in the parks, then don’t forget your running shoes or tennis racket.

SEASONAL CONSIDERATIONS

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World in September or October, you might want to pack a costume for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Costumes are not required, but they can add a bit of festive flair to your experience.

Winter trips can be chilly if you’re not prepared. Some Walt Disney World visits in January and February are much more pleasant if you’re prepared with hats and gloves.

UPSCALE DINING

A few of Disney’s signature dining experiences have a minimal dress code. Or, if you’ll be dining at the posh Victoria & Albert’s in the Grand Floridian, you’ll need posh attire. Check the Walt Disney World website for current requirements.

TRADING

Pin trading and Vinylmation trading (my personal vice) are great ways to personalize your park experience and facilitate interaction with cast members. If trading is your thing, then don’t forget to bring your supplies with you.

Don’t forget your Vinylmation or pin traders.

BRING YOUR OWN FOOD

If you’re trying to economize, bringing breakfast items and snacks from home is a great way to keep on budget. Cereal boxes, granola bars, and nuts are easy to transport. Guests can bring food items into the parks (alcohol and glass containers are not permitted), but large coolers are not allowed. Bring a small soft-sided cooler with you if you’d have food items you’d like to keep cold.

DRIVING TO WALT DISNEY WORLD

If you’re driving to the parks, you have a bit more leeway in what you can bring. Don’t forget items to make the drive more comfortable for the kiddos, particularly if it’s a long one. Beach towels can be a great thing to have if you’re going to the water parks, and as an added bonus, they can do double duty as drive-time blankets.

WHAT TO ACTUALLY BRING INTO THE PARKS?

So you’ve hauled all your stuff to Orlando, but what do you actually bring into the parks with you? If you’re just traveling with adults, you may be able to get away with just pocket items: your cards and tickets, your phone, and a small tube of sunscreen. (Consult the checklist for necessary paperwork.)

If, like me, you’re more of a “be prepared” person, then a small backpack works perfectly for park touring. In addition to the above items, use the backpack to tote: your camera, first aid supplies, snacks, a water bottle, rain gear (umbrella or folded ponchos), a light sweater (chilly air-conditioned restaurants), tissues, Purell, and more sunscreen.

Contents of my in-park emergency pouch.

The first-aid stations in the parks do stock pretty much everything you’d need for minor scrapes or illness, but I find it MUCH more convenient to have these things with me. I have a four inch square fabric pouch that I always carry in the parks. It contains: 2 Purell wipes packs, 3 or 4 doses of Tylenol, single-use dental floss packs, 3-4 hair bands, Benedryl Quick Dissolve strips, 4-5 Band-Aids, 2 doses of Immodium or Pepto Bismol, safety pins, a folded zip-top bag, and an emergency panty liner. All this weighs only a few ounces, but something in the pouch has come into use nearly every time I’ve traveled to Walt Disney World. Your contents may be slightly different depending on your family’s needs.

Guests traveling with young children will need to tote even more gear into the parks. In addition to the pocket and backpack items I’ve noted, you’ll also need diapers, wipes, baby food, bottles, bibs, and a host of other childcare paraphernalia. My family liked to use our stroller as a “home base.” We packed the diaper bag with all the essentials for the day and left it in the stroller. When we went off on rides, we just took a smaller bag with us that contained valuables, 1 or 2 diapers and wipes, and some basic snacks. As we went back to the stroller, we replenished our “go bag” as needed. Obviously you’ll need to assess your own comfort level with leaving anything unattended in your stroller, as there is the very small possibility here of loss/theft. However, this is extremely rare, and if you make sure to take your camera/wallet with you, the potential damage is limited.

Emergency pouch packed up. My phone, in its Mophie charger case, for size reference.

Let me add that with small children, the amount of “stuff” you can convince yourself you need is nearly unlimited. (The downside of the “be prepared” syndrome.) Yes, you can bring a plastic stroller cover in case of rain and an extra stroller blanket in case of a chill. Or you can improvise with a poncho and towel. It’s impossible to plan for every situation; try to have a MacGyver attitude and enjoy the adventure.

My last tip is that I always pre-pack the bag that I’ll be bringing into the parks and place it into my main luggage. For me that usually means that I load up a backpack with the items listed above (minus liquids, which I add later) and drop it into my regular suitcase. I typically arrive at my Walt Disney World hotel mid-morning, before my room is ready. With a touring bag pre-packed for the parks, I can just pull it out of the suitcase, drop my luggage at bell services, and be on my way to the parks in minutes. No searching for the camera, ponchos, and sunglasses; it’s all right there, ready to go.

So folks, what are your packing strategies? What have I forgotten? What have you forgotten on your Disney trips? What’s missing from the checklist? Let us know in the comments below.

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