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If you haven’t figured it out already, I LOVE Disney World! Fortunately, I married a man who loves it just as much as I do! We cannot visit the Happiest Place on Earth enough. I also LOVE planning my trips almost as much as I love our time there. I start months in advance with books, notes, and spreadsheets and really NERD IT OUT. If several blogs or books have noted that bringing a certain something is an absolute must, you can bet we’ve probably tried it. Some ideas we have loved and thought were brilliant, others were not our cup of tea. So here is our list of must-haves for your Disney World vacation!
It’s no secret, planning for Disney World can be overwhelming. While I like to get into the details, I have also learned that taking it over the top and over-thinking it causes more frustrations in the park. There are a few go-to planning tools that I buy every year and use for every trip! First is the “Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” Yall, this thing is Bible-sized! I didn’t use to buy it yearly but since something new has been introduced almost annually for the past 5+ years, getting a new book is totally necessary. I don’t read this cover to cover (every time), but I trust their reviews of hotels, dining, and attractions so I flip from section to section depending on what I need info on. What I really like is that they also have a website that
The boys also like to get in on the planning action, and over the years have become very opinionated about where we stay and where we eat! Each has their favorites and not so favorites. If I’m not surprising them with the trip, I buy them a planning book that they love too! This book is very picture heavy for Luke but also has the details for Landry to read.
The next planning must-haves really depend on you and how you plan. For years I’d get a pretty notebook, and chart out my plans (one day per page), compare crowd calendars, rank dining & fast passes from 1-10 in case my first choice wasn’t available when I booked, and then would eventually transfer it all to an excel sheet to print and bring with us so we had our detailed schedule in hand. Now, with the magic of google & mydisneyexperience.com, I don’t have to do all that! I still get my pretty notebook (mostly because I love office supplies) but now it’s just to jot down new restaurants I want to try or the random tip I hear before I’m ready to book dining or fast pass reservations.
Don’t want to mess with all that? I don’t blame you! Who has time? You know who does? I do! I am an authorized Vacation Planner with Kingdom Destinations and will happily do the nerd work for you! More on that later though.
The internet is full of thousands of theories on what exactly you should reserve or buy ahead of time. After several trips with overspending and overpacking, I’ve pared my list down quite a bit. You can dump a whole lot of money into supplies if you’re not careful. Once you know your travel dates you’ll want to make sure to schedule out time to book your dining reservations and fast passes! While you’re planning out your days, take a moment to also book your stroller rental and in-room groceries. Booking them early is never a bad thing! I find if I don’t book them when I’m booking dining, I risk forgetting altogether.
Strollers: We have been to Disney World many times, and every time have rented our stroller from Kingdom Strollers. They provide high-quality strollers for a very affordable price. The right stroller can make or break little legs, and even some bigger sized legs! On our last trip, Matt insisted Landry was too big for a stroller and if we bothered with one, it should just be a single. I rented a double anyway, and I’m so glad we did. He did great for most of the day but once we hit that mid-afternoon slump he would need a ride! Our family does not go back to the hotel unless we are park hopping, or we have a nicer dinner we want to clean up for. We fully know that will mean a long day, but the stroller has allowed us to power through! Usually one of the boys (or both) will take a quick afternoon nap in the stroller, and I use this time to browse a shop I normally couldn’t, rest on a bench, or enjoy an adult beverage in Epcot’s World Showcase!
Groceries: Some of you may be thinking “Groceries on Vacation???” Hear me out! Whether you get a hotel with a full kitchen and plan to cook meals or just a mini-fridge for snacks, there are some things that are nice to have on hand, and buying those things in the World will cost you a pretty penny. In our case, Luke is not Luke until he has started his day with chocolate milk! He holds it in his little hands like coffee and stares blankly at a wall or the tv while the rest of us get pulled together for the day.
We are avid fans of the Disney Dining Plan. We have traveled once without it and never will again! But I refuse to use snack credits on bottled water, apples, granola bars, or other things like that. Snack credits are for School Bread! We have always used Garden Grocer for our grocery needs.
Garden Grocer has consistently delivered quality groceries to our resort. Bell services will deliver our groceries to our room, even if we aren’t there! Best of all, the further out you can reserve your groceries, the better off you’ll be! If you book more than 6- days out, you’ll save 10%.
Pro Tip: We always order 3-4 cases of bottled water through Garden Grocer. Each night we freeze 4-5 bottles and put them in a cooler with nonfrozen bottles between. The nonfrozen bottles stay cool, and by the time we are finished with them, the frozen bottles have melted leaving cold water for the end of the day!
Photography: Disney is a magical place, and naturally you want to capture all of the magic possible! Before you invest in any camera, make sure you have added the Memory Maker to your Disney World package! Some of my favorite pictures ever have been captured by Disney’s Memory Maker Photographers! The beautiful part is that the entire family can be in the picture without having to ask strangers. Not to mention the fact that they always get the lighting right!
While they’re handy, there aren’t photographers on every corner so sometimes you need to take your own pics. Whether you’re catching the perfect sunset, or a candid family moment, having the right camera handy is essential. My phone takes great pictures, and while I’m not any kind of a photographer, I do like to use a real camera!
For a quick grab, I love my Canon PowerShot (although my mom stole it before her last big trip to Germany and never gave it back). It is a fantastic camera for a beginner and fits perfectly in your day bag in the parks without being bulky! I’ve taken some amazing pictures using this, like the one of the Boardwalk above!
If you’re looking for something more advanced, I love my Canon Rebel T7i. I used to have the T4 and upgraded when the new one came out. I know it has a steep price tag, but if you treat it right, it will last you a long time and your quality of photos will be well worth it. With the cameras, I always bring extra batteries or buy the extra wall charger, that way if forget it in the hotel (which I have done before) I still have one when I get home.
If you’re using your phone for pictures, be sure to bring one or two charging sticks with you into the park. You’ll be using your phone in the park all day for your fast passes, maps and other great features from the MyDisneyEperience app, so don’t let it die right before catching the perfect moment of your kids meeting some new friends or enjoying a special treat.
I’ve read all kinds of posts where people suggest buying souvenirs ahead of time, packing them, and bringing them with them to give to the kids to save money. Yall…that’s not my jam. If you’re looking to save money, by all means, go for it, but I love a good gift shop and I love picking out my special Christmas ornament from our trip at the actual destination. However, I do pick up a few things prior to going just for a little extra touch of magic.
Matching Shirts: Matt’s not a huge fan of the matchy shirts but he will humor me (to an extent) at Disney World. These shirts were made by the wife of an old school friend of mine who owns the shop Paisley Laine. She made a couple of shirts for us for our trips. While we don’t match every day during our trips, I will try to coordinate at least the boys (and us if I can pull it off) with themes. A few months before our trip I’ll start watching the Disney Store, Target, and Amazon for sales and pick up Star Wars shirts for us all to wear to Hollywood Studios, and classic characters for the Magic Kingdom. It also helps my packing because I know “Monday is the Magic Kingdom, four Mickey shirts & shorts, check!” I also hit up my favorite Lularoe lady for ridiculously comfortable leggings (which are super important around day 3 when you’ve been eating about 5000 more calories daily than you normally do), and even some Disney themed tops & leggings!
Park Bags: When you’re packing, you also need to think about your park bag. We take two into the parks: Matt carries a big North Face Backpack, and I like to carry this small cross body bag from Michael Kors! This thing is perfect for me in the parks. I put the bulky stuff like the camera and raincoats in the backpack, and then my essentials in my bag: my phone, stick charger, a little bit of cash, my Disney Rewards Visa, my id, and chapstick, then clip my hand sanitizer to the strap. The bag never has to come off my body. I can wear it onto most rides, and when if we get separated or I inevitably wander off with one of the kids, I have my money handy for a treat if we find something we have to have before we find Matt with the backpack.
Good Shoes: Foot care is ESSENTIAL for a Disney World trip. One blister can ruin your entire day (trust me). I recommend bringing a few with you: 1-2 pairs of good tennis shoes that have been broken in (do not try wearing a brand new pair), a pair of walking sandals, and a pair of flip-flops. Unless you’re going to a nice dinner, don’t bother with cute shoes. No one is looking at your feet! My feet are really temperamental and blister really easily so I can’t wear the same shoe all day. Normally, I’ll start the day in tennis shoes, switch around lunch to my Keens, then maybe back to my tennis shoes after dinner if my feet get cold. I love Keens because they give us the right support, dry quickly if they get wet, and are super easy to slip on and off.
Autographs: If you’ve never been, one of the best Disney souvenirs are the autographs that you get for free! Well, essentially for free but you still have to buy something to collect them in. The standard book (like the one above) can be purchased in every gift shop in Disney World. For our next trip, we are going to up the ante a little bit, and get a nice, collectible character book like one of these below and have characters sign their pictures. Regardless, you’ll want to make sure you bring a pack of CLICKABLE SHARPIES with you! Regular pens are fine for our friend, Peter Pan, but they’re really hard for characters like our best Pal, Mickey Mouse! The clickable sharpies are much easier for their big hands to use.
Inside Your Park Bag: I really do put a lot of effort into not overstuffing our park bag. There are few things more miserable than being in Disney with achy feet AND an achy back! I see people lugging in actual personal fans and just think about how it is one more thing to keep up with.
The one thing I do overpack is sunscreen. Luke & I both have very sensitive skin, and there are few brands that don’t make us break out into a fiery crash. The last thing I want is to run out before our trip is over and then have to buy a brand that will cause skin irritation. My favorite is Neutrogena and I buy multiple tubs and face sticks on Amazon before our trip (cheaper than in the grocery store). I only throw one or two in the day bag though!
I have also found myself midway through our Disney World trip with MAJOR BLISTERS. The pain is unreal and really can ruin your fun. While Disney has blister care in many of the stores, it comes at a hefty price, and may not be the best brand. When I order my sunscreen, I go ahead and order a bulk pack of Band-Aid Blister Protection to have in case we need it.
The final thing I always throw in our bag are a couple of Cooling Towels. Disney World is HOT all year long. I actually don’t put them in the backpack, but instead, put them in the cooler. That way they’re ready to go when we need them.
Pro Tip: Speaking of towels, grab a towel or two from your room and bring them with you in the backpack or in the bottom of the stroller. At some point of your trip, it will probably rain, and you’ll probably want to sit down somewhere after it rains so having a dry towel to put down on a bench or the ground to sit on is really nice. It also comes in handy when your child eats like mine!!!
What do you think? Have I missed anything that you always bring? Let me know in the comments! And if planning your trip seems like a lot of work to you, I would love to help you do it! Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be happy to provide you with your free quote, and to work with you on planning your magical vacation.Follow Our Story