So, you're getting ready to go to Disney with your kids. Whether you're going to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida or Disneyland in California, the adventure you're about to embark on will be truly magical for your family.
And, let's be real: A lot of work and planning on your part.
What you pack (and don't pack) is important. Here are some tips from yours truly and the most experienced Disney traveler I know, Sandy from Instant Impressions Travel.
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1. Glow sticks and other light-up toys
If you're in the parks after dark – and you SHOULD be because Disney's nighttime entertainment is not to be missed – you're going to see all kinds of vendors peddling light-up toys, necklaces and other fun glow-in-the-dark trinkets that will delight your kids and lighten your wallet.
You can save yourself a ton of money by purchasing these items in advance of your trip and taking them with you. Put them in your daypack or backpack and pull them out at dusk. No standing in line. No spending extra money. Happy kids. Everyone wins.
You can get these items at any dollar store and of course, on Amazon. Here are some of my favorite picks from Amazon:
2. Water flavor drops (ones with electrolytes for summer)
You'll need to make sure you stay hydrated, especially in the summer. Quick service food locations at Walt Disney World and at Disneyland will give you a free cup of ice water if you ask and you can also carry a water bottle into the park. I find the water flavor drops or packets makes it easier for me to get my kids to drink the amount of water they need. See also it cuts down on the whining for sodas.
3. Ponchos from the dollar store
If you're visiting central Florida, chances are you are going to experience rain at some point during your stay. You can purchase cute Mickey ponchos in the park but you'll pay mucho bucks and you'll be in line with everyone else who needs last-minute rain gear, too.
You can sometimes find cute ponchos in the Dollar Spot in Target or on Amazon. Amazon has everything, don't they?
I like the really cheap (as in disposable) ponchos. If you're a mom taking her kids to a theme park, that translates into pack mule, that translates into carrying around a backpack full of wet plastic after a typical Florida afternoon rain shower.
4. Pre-purchased souvenirs
Your kids will want Disney souvenirs. So will you, probably. I find it helpful to set a budget for souvenirs. Something like telling each kid they're allowed to choose one thing per trip or give them a modest spending cap (usually around $25) that will allow them to pick out a trinket that will serve as a memento of their time in the parks.
Consider buying some of your Disney souvenirs before you leave and take them with you. While the parks do have some unique items, a lot of the things your kids will be asking you to buy can be bought off the Disney property and for less. You can buy tee-shirts, plush toys, ears, and pretty much anything you could imagine online or at an off-property outlet before you travel. You will save money and gain valuable time to have fun and enjoy the parks.
If you want to take your souvenir game to the next level try leaving a note and making your child's gift be from one of the characters. Sandy and her daughter had breakfast with the princesses and when they returned to their resort hotel, she found Cinderella had left her a note and a gift:
It's a personal choice, of course, whether you want to make the gifts from the character or take full credit, but this could add some extra magic for younger guests.
5. Comfortable Walking Shoes
As in not new shoes. Yes, you want cute pictures of your family in the parks and for a lot of us, that includes making sure your kids (and maybe you!) are wearing cute, Disney-themed outfits.
Do. Not. Pack. New. Shoes.
I'm not saying pack old ratty shoes but definitely take shoes that have been broken in. Nothing is going to tank your day at Disney more than blisters or a child who whines that their shoes pinch their feet. And, always have a back-up pair of shoes, even on a short trip. My family seems to attract shoe drama – my son hurled his only pair of shoes off of a hotel balcony (they landed on the roof and had to be retrieved by maintenance and my son had to go to breakfast barefoot) and then we had another child accidentally take my kid's shoes in the kids club on Castaway Cay, which is Disney's private island in the Bahamas and a popular stop for Disney cruises.
Pack shoes you know are broken in (for everyone) and have a spare pair (also for everyone.)
6. Autograph Books
You'll want to have an autograph book for character meet and greets. This is an inexpensive souvenir and it increases interaction with the characters when you have something for them to sign. You can purchase autograph books in the parks, in the resorts or on board Disney Cruise ships but like most things, you'll save money if you purchase off property and bring them with you.
You definitely don't have to go with the traditional Disney autograph book. Any small notebook will do, and if you like to do crafts with your child, you can get a nice journal and personalize it to your taste.
If it's not your first trip, consider a unique autograph item versus the traditional autograph book, such as a pillowcase, a pair of canvas sneakers, a hat or a plain picture frame mat. Get creative! (Note, your items for signature cannot have any visible product endorsement duvh as the Nike swoosh or characters are not supposed to sign them.)
7. Character Gifts
The character photos are one of my favorite parts of visiting the Disney parks. Meeting their favorite Disney characters is just magical for the younger kids and these meet and greets make such cute photo opportunities.
Have you ever thought about taking honey for Pooh, some dog biscuits for Pluto and Goofy, acorns for Chip and Dale or an apple for Snow White? You can take the real thing or make cardboard cutouts using a pattern, a cricut machine or drawing freehand. Think photo booth style props. This Pinterest pin can give you some ideas.
Not only does this add some depth and uniqueness to your pictures, it also increases character interaction. Of course Pooh is going to engage with you a little bit more if you take him a jar of his beloved Hunny.
8. Cheap Toys
I'm talking about the toys that come in your kids' Happy Meal or the junky things in birthday party goody bags. Take a good supply of these on your trip and use them to keep your kids entertained while you're standing in line. You can also hand these toys out to the annoying, whiny kid in line behind you. It will give you some good karma points and just maybe 60 seconds of peacefulness. Maybe. These cheap toys are great because you don't really care if they get left behind or broken.
9. Space saver bags or packing cubes
I love these space saver bags from Amazon for all travel.
I also find packing cubes especially handy for family travel because you can keep everyone's belongings separate. You can also use these bags to keep clean clothes and dirty clothes separated. We color code in our family and it keeps us (relatively) organized in our hotel room.
Make sure you have snacks your kids are familiar with on hand. Disney will allow you to carry snack-food in to the parks. Even if you plan on eating in the parks, always carry some snacks with you. Sometimes, that packet of fruit snacks will mean the difference between a meltdown and a (relatively) happy child as you wait in line to ride rides or meet with characters.
I like to take a crossbody bag or a small backpack. You can't not schlep a bunch of stuff into the park with you if you visit with kids…if you figure out a way to avoid that, you'll have to tell me your secrets.
How big my bag in depends on how close to the park our resort hotel is and how many other adults are going into the park with me. You can't get around taking a well-stocked daypack into the Disney parks when you're going with kids. It might make sense to divide the load with your partner or to divvy up the carrying stuff/kid-minding duties some other way. Whatever works for you!
12. Hats, sunscreen and sunnies and stuff
If you're visiting Walt Disney World, know that it will be hot and humid (or probably at least warm) for most of the year. Sandy recommends these fun, Disney-inspired neck wraps to keep cool. They have non-toxic, water-absorbing crystals inside and all you have to do is soak them in cold water prior to wearing and they'll keep you nice and cool while you enjoy the parks.
And don't forget the sunscreen. We are a family of four and we go through one spray bottle per summer day in a theme park.
13. Don't overpack!
It's Disney, not the moon or a third-world country. You're in Florida or California. Two beautiful words: Amazon Prime.
If you're looking for expert Disney vacation planning advice, contact Instant Impressions Travel. They are experts at all aspects of Disney vacation planning – to include answering all of your questions about Disney dining and making your Fast Pass reservations. It's free to use their services (their commissions are paid by Disney) and they are always on alert for the best prices for you…even after your trip has been booked. You can't go wrong with using their service and they will give you the best-all around vacation advice…these packing tips just scratch the surface. To learn more, visit their website.
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