Disney World: Buy before you Go! Save $, Create more Magic!
There is SO MUCH that goes into planning and packing for a Disney World trip! I feel like you could write a whole class on All Things Disney! After a TON of research and planning for our first trip and scouring the internet for all the packing tips and tricks and things to buy ahead of time to save money and create more magic, I found some fantastic ideas that were not only fun but some that were game changers for us, so I wanted to share to keep the magic alive!
NOTE: What works for us, may not be what's best for your family. These are just things that we found fun, helpful, and/or made our trip go much more smoothly.
One of the best tips is to get as organized as possible before you go and then while at Disney, get organized each night before you go to bed. Family trips are chaotic the way it is and mornings are always hectic for us, but getting up early to beat the crowds and making sure you have all the extras packed in the stroller (for little kids) adds another element, so the more you can do to get organized ahead of time, the better! Here are a few of my favorite travel organization hacks:
Lay out all your clothes, shoes, Mickey ears, etc. I made sure the stroller was packed and ready to go the night before with water in the water bottles, extra water bottles, magic bands, sun screen, bubble wands, sunglasses, snacks, Mickey ears, Air Tags, and ALL the other essentials, etc. This took me a good hour every night as I had a checklist of about 50 items for each day, but it was worth it to save time and avoid stress in the morning. Check out "Disney (MUST READ) Tips & Tricks" for even more Disney tips, tricks, hacks, and lessons learned!
PACKING CUBES: I'm a little OCD when it comes to wanting things organized when traveling and these Clear Packing Cubes are one of my FAVORITE things and use them for all our trips! I use a different stitching color for each kid (my son has the green set, my daughter has pink, I have white, and my husband has black) so we quickly can find our things. For each kid, I use a separate cube for pajamas, undies, socks, bows, etc. I also use a separate bag each for my makeup, kids medicines, toothbrushes, toiletries, bedtime bag, etc. You can also organize outfits by day and label them with a sticky note or masking tape. I also used one of these for the park day "ESSENTIALS" bag which included Advil, Dramamine, sunblock, Chapstick, Kleenex, Pedialyte, Blister Bandaids, regular band aids, $1 and $5 bills for the pressed penny machines, Neosporin, etc. The pic below is from a few years ago when I just used the white bags, but you can see on the left all the things I packed and then on the right, how much space it saved in the suitcase!
STROLLER ORGANIZER: We used this shoe organizer on the back of our stroller and it was pure gold. My hubs doubted me at first, but by day 1, he was a big fan. If you have little kids and want to avoid digging in a book bag every time, this is your ticket. For quick access, in the pockets we had extra diapers/wipes/diaper cream, sunblock, snacks, autograph/sharpies, sunglasses, kids' waters, etc. I found this at the Dollar Tree, and it was the perfect size. I tied (and double-knotted) big loops of fabric strips I had (or you could use rope, large carabineer hooks, sturdy ribbon, etc.) at the top so that I could easily take it on and off when/if we needed to break the stroller down (ex. To get on any buses or the Skyliner since we had a double stroller). We were able to just push our double stroller straight onto the ferries which was a huge win.
BUY AHEAD: We ordered all of our Disney shirts, princess dresses, Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle, comfy shoes, Ponchos, Minnie Mouse Ears, and other goodies from Amazon, Target, and Costco ahead of time to save a little money since you'll be paying a premium for these things at the park.
SWEETS & TREATS: You can go to Target or your local candy shop and get a few fun treats like lollipops, cotton candy, etc. ahead of time and save your money to spend on the classic Disney treats like Dole Whip, Disney Mickey pretzels, Mickey ice cream bars, cupcakes, etc.
MICKEY EARS: We bought ours online before we left (for $7 each!), but if you enjoy spending $40 per pair of ears, then by all means, wait until Disney! I bought this adorable Minnie Mouse Ears set for my daughter and me along with this traditional Minnie Mouse Ears set for us too!
SOUVENIRS: We let the kids pick out a souvenir at the end of the trip, but we bought and packed a few small things ahead of time that we gave them throughout the trip. We bought these Disney Bubble Wands (2+ for the price of 1 as the bubble wands at Disney are $35-$40). Our kids didn't know the difference and had a blast with them each day!
SNACKS: We have an extremely picky eater, so when we travel, we have to bring a lot of our own food. Bringing extra snacks and water bottles is an easy way to save money at Disney. You can let your kids pick out one fun Disney snack a day so they still get to try and enjoy some Disney classics but without breaking the bank. See the "Snack" section below for ideas.
PRINCESS DRESS: If your child does the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, you have the option to buy a dress with the princess package, but you'll be paying a premium of course. If you want to save money, you can bring your own dress with you though!
CHECK HOTEL/PARK DEALS: I highly recommend working with a Disney Travel Planner (we worked with Margy from Main Street Vacation Planners and she was amazing!) as they can find ways to save money. If you're not set on a specific time to visit Disney, go at a less popular time for lower prices and hotel/park day discounts.
DISNEY CLOTHES: We scoured the Internet for some fun Disney gear and found some adorable shirts from Amazon, Target, Carter's, and even Costco! Here are a few of my Favs: Dream is a Wish T-shirt, my fav Magic Vibes, adorable Tanks, and Magical. I made one "Family" set of shirts for our first day too with my awesome Silhouette Machine. See pic below. Again, another easy way to save a little as we preferred to spend $5-$22 per shirt instead of $40 per shirt at Disney, but do as you please! Also, plan to have an extra change of clothes in the stroller if you have little ones for extra messy eaters, blow outs, or if they get wet on a ride or splash park.
PONCHOS: We were lucky and didn't have any rain, but ponchos are always a good thing to have in your bag just in case. We bought 2 ponchos per person with this Poncho Family Pack as a back up in case one of them ripped.
PRINCESS DRESSES: If princess dresses are a must for your child, pack princess dresses (and crowns if desired) in Ziploc bags to avoid glitter getting on any and everything. My daughter wanted to wear a dress to meet certain princesses and for some of the character meals, but I knew she wouldn't want to wear it all day, so I packed them in a Ziploc bag to change into. We brought my daughter's princess dresses from home to save some money and then surprised her with one dress from the princesses when we arrived.
DISNEY PAJAMAS: Not a necessity of course, but a fun way to keep the magic going each night! We brought some of their Disney pajamas from home and then surprised the kids with 2 new sets of Disney pajamas when we arrived (from Mickey and friends). Since we all came down with the stomach flu at the start of our trip, we were glad to have the extra pajamas!
PREP FOR COOLER MORNINGS: If it's chilly in the morning, bring a sweatshirt, cardigan, or light jacket (especially for the kids). This also works well if your kids get cold in restaurants. We love this light, Compact Travel Blanket too as it folds up compactly (easily fit inside the stroller organizer) and worked perfectly for chilly mornings when the kids wore shorts, but the mornings were still chilly for 2 hours. It also was great for the kids to sit on while waiting for the parade and fireworks. This is another great Compact Travel Blanket option too!
COMFY SHOES: I decided to splurge on some Hoka Shoes ahead of time and can't tell you how much these saved my feet! I found a decent deal on these shoes so check them out on Zappos too. I was skeptical at first as I wasn't a big fan of wearing boats on my feet, but my feet and back always ache after being on my feet all day, and I felt fine all week in these! These are now my new favorite shoes! Worth it!!
DRAMAMINE: If there's even a chance you or someone in your family may get motion sickness, better to be safe than sorry! Pack Dramamine for adults and Dramamine for Kids because you just never know how those rides are going to treat the body. We like to be prepared Polly's and have them just in case we need them.
MOLESKIN BANDAIDS FOR BLISTERS: We packed these Blister Bandaids and didn't need them, but you'll be glad you have them if you need them. If you or your kids are not used to walking a lot or have newer shoes, these might just come in handy for you. They are useful even when we're at home for when we or the kids get blisters with new shoes too.
STROLLER FAN: This was also a MUST for us. We had 2 REALLY hot days so we took turns with the fan. When my kids fell asleep in the stroller, we angled it down on them which kept them cool. We LOVE and use this Battery Operated, 3 Speed Flexible Fan often and it's perfect for beach trips too!
PREP FOR COOLER MORNINGS: As noted above, if it's chilly in the morning, evening, or if kids get cold in restaurants, pack a light jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt. This light, Compact Travel Blanket works great as it folds up compactly (it fit inside our stroller organizer) and worked perfectly for chilly mornings. It also was great for the kids to sit on while waiting for the parade and fireworks. This is another great Compact Travel Blanket option too!
COOLING TOWELS: We used this Froggy Cooling Towel on 2 of our extra hot days as the Florida heat is no joke! If you're going to Disney during the summer (or even any hot day), this might be worth your money!
BED BUMPERS: If you have toddlers or little kids that aren't used to sleeping in a big bed without railings/bumpers, then these Inflatable Bed Bumpers are for you! They blow up easily so they don't take up much room in the suitcase and worked great for our kids age 2 and 4.
BABY WEARER: If you have a baby, bringing a baby wearer to the park (along with the stroller) will help everyone's sanity and free up your arms for other things!
GOOD THINGS TO HAVE:
Here are few things to make your life easier while at Disney!
FANNY PACK/MINI BAG: This was gold for me. I'm notorious for losing things and with my fanny pack, I lost NOTHING for once in my life! In my fanny pack, I kept my Phone, phone battery pack, hand sanitizer, mini sun block, chapstick, and sunglasses and all were super easy to access and put away on the rides. I LOVE this adorable, little Crossbody Sling Bag as it's super cute, functional, and the perfect size for the essentials! Plus it comes in a variety of colors and a few sizes.
PORTABLE PHONE BATTERY PACK: My phone is notorious for dying by around 11AM when I'm not even using it much, so I knew I would need a backup at Disney. Using the MyDisneyExperience app for the map, to book rides, pictures, etc. drains the battery fast, even if you have a decent phone to begin with. Charge ahead of time and bring a Portable Battery Charger - you'll thank me later!
EASY ACCESSIBLE HAND SANITIZER: This was nice to have nearby after the kids played at the Dumbo playground and also before snacks if we weren't close to a bathroom to wash hands.
ZIPLOCK BAGS: Bring some extra sandwich and quart-size bags for snacks at the park and also for Disney cookies/treats or other things they may want to finish later. These are also great for wet or dirty clothes.
TRAVEL CHARGING STATION: You'll have plenty of things to charge each night from your phones, to battery charging packs, to magic bands, etc., so keeping things organized and charged with this Travel Power Strip Charging Station makes life a little easier.
MONEY: If you have a Magic Band, you really shouldn't need money as you can pay for most things with your band, but you may want to bring some $1 and $5 bills if your kids like collecting the Disney pressed pennies and medallions. You can use a credit card too, but it usually will charge you for all of them if you use a credit card, and we didn't want all of them each time, so it was nice to have some spare bills for this. Magic bands don't work for these machines as of now. Also, even though you don't need to tip Disney staff, if someone goes out of your way, you can always offer a tip or give them a Cast Compliment (on the MyDisneyExperience app) as we all appreciate being recognized for a job well done!
COLLAPSIBLE LAUNDRY HAMPER: When we travel, we love bringing a compact Collapsible Laundry Hamper to easily throw our dirty laundry in and stay organized.
TRAVEL DETERGENT: Another useful tip is to pack a few Travel Detergent Packets in case you need to do a quick wash in the sink! These came in handy for us as we started the trip with the stomach flu. For the flu or messy eaters alike, these can help limit the set in stains for when you get back!
POPSOCKET: Since selfie sticks are not allowed at Disney, using a Popsocket helps to get a little more room for that selfie!
EXTRA SET OF KIDS' CLOTHES: Plan to have an extra change of clothes in the stroller if you have little ones for extra messy eaters, blow outs, or if they get wet on a ride or splash park.
AUTOGRAPH BOOKS: I made the kids autograph books ahead of time and brought a variety of Retractable Sharpies (which make it easier for the characters and also less likely for permanent marker stains on your clothes!) You can also buy basic Disney Autograph Books online, make your own, or buy them at the park! Another fun idea is to have the characters sign one of your kids' favorite Disney books.
FRAME MATS: One of my favorite things was our autographed picture frame. We had these White Picture Frame Mats autographed to use in picture frames and put one of our favorite pictures of all of us in it.
DISNEY ROOM SURPRISE: When the kids were swimming, I ran up to "go to the bathroom" so I could get the Disney surprises out while the kids were occupied. I laid out a Disney princess dress, crown, and pajamas with a note from the princesses on the bed my daughter would be sleeping on, and for my son, I included a Mickey shirt, Mickey pajamas, Mickey plush, and a note from Mickey and friends. They were thrilled and it started the trip on a fun, magical note!
SOUVENIRS: We told the kids they could each pick out one thing on their last day at Disney. This kept them from asking if they could have something every time we went into a store or saw a vendor. I've also seen people do Souvenir Vouchers which are a cute idea. Of course my daughter picked out the most expensive souvenir - a huge Disney castle, so next time we will be setting a price limit on their souvenir. ;) My son evened it out with a $15 sword though so it all worked out.
BUBBLE WANDS: I would say this is probably one of the better, more useful souvenirs for little kids at Disney. If you do 2 souvenirs for the kids, you could have them pick out 1 souvenir at the beginning and 1 at the end of the trip. The bubble wand is a good one to get at the beginning as they will use it all trip and entertain them while waiting in line. Bring extra bubbles from home or add them to your Grocery pick up order if needed. You can also plan ahead of time and buy some other Disney versions on Amazon such as these Disney Bubble Wands (2+ for the price of 1 as the bubble wands at Disney are $35-$40). We did this for our kids, and they didn't know the difference and had a blast with them each day!
DISNEY GOODY BAGS: Add a little magic before you go! I ordered a few things and stopped by the Dollar Tree, TJ Maxx, and Target dollar bins and found some fun Disney goodies and cheap thrills that I gave to our kids for the trip down to Disney. We brought the Leapfrogs as a backup for our 8-hour car ride, but with all the goodies, excitement, and books, our kids didn't even open up the screens on the way there or back (to be fair they also slept in the car for a few hours on the way home which was a first!) but regardless, I'll call it a win! Here are a few of our fun finds!
GLOW STICKS: We packed some Glow Sticks and had fun with these at the fireworks and Fantasmic show. You can buy these at Disney and other light toys, but you'll be paying a premium of course. Bonus, we packed extra and when I could tell a mom behind me was having a hard time with her kiddos, I offered some glow stick bracelets to them (ask the mom first of course!) which brought some major smiles to the kids and was one small way to add a little "Pixie Dust" to someone's day.
PIXIE DUST: Disney is known for its magical "Pixie Dust" which just means giving, finding, creating, or being the recipient of "pixie dust" (some act of kindness or extra magic) from someone else. If you're lucky, a cast member might be a part of this (it might be as simple as getting a better seat on a ride or a cupcake at a restaurant to celebrate a birthday), but you can create your own too! If you're one of those people that goes out of your way to try and make someone else's day better, you will love this aspect of Disney! If you want to be the giver of pixie dust, some ideas are: giving a mom (or a few moms) a $5 Starbucks gift card, having glow sticks or Disney stickers for your kids to give to other kids, or something as simple as telling a mom she's doing an amazing job (with all the research, planning, packing, and effort that goes into Disney, hearing this can be a gift in itself)!
STROLLER: We brought our own stroller, but if you need to rent a stroller, Scooter Bug is a great place to rent. It should be waiting at the resort when you arrive.
STROLLER COVER: If it looks like even a hint of rain, cover your stroller with a Stroller Cover or poncho as a last resort (check ahead of time to make sure it fits), if you're headed in line for a ride, show, or restaurant. Florida's weather is unpredictable and quick rain showers are quite common. The last thing you want is a drenched stroller as kids don't want to sit in a wet, soggy stroller. Better to be safe than sorry!
STROLLER ORGANIZER: As noted above, we used this shoe organizer on the back of our stroller and it was pure gold, especially if traveling with toddlers or little kids! Read more on this above in "ORGANIZATION".
STROLLER FAN: This was also a MUST for us. We had 2 REALLY hot days so we took turns with the fan. When my kids fell asleep in the stroller, we angled it down on them which kept them cool. We LOVE and use this Battery Operated, 3 Speed Flexible Fan often. It's great for beach trips too!
DECORATE STROLLER: It's no joke, there really are TONS of strollers at Disney and the cast members can move your stroller around as needed. Decorate stroller with ribbon, balloon, bandana, a small sign hanging from the back that says "<LAST NAME OF FAMILY'S> STROLLER" to easily locate your stroller. We also put an Air Tag in our stroller to locate it easily.
STROLLER LIGHTS: Use stroller lights for nighttime if you plan to stay out later and want to find your stroller easier. I found some cute Minnie lights in the dollar bins at Target.
SUNSCREEN: Make sure you apply and reapply sunscreen on your kids, including their ears, behind ears, hair part lines / pigtail lines, etc. to avoid sunburn. The sun at Hollywood Studios is unforgiving as there isn't much shade, so make sure to reapply often there! One of my favorites is the sunscreen at Trader Joe's.
AVOID LOST KIDDOS: You probably will be fine as we have 2 littles 4 and under, and they stayed by us for the most part, but we felt it was better to be safe than sorry, especially since one of our kids isn't very verbal. We did see other families panicking with lost kids while we were there so we were thankful to have peace of mind. There was one time when our 2 year old looked up and didn't see us and must have gone into panic mode as he bolted for the door of the restaurant, but thankfully I was watching him like a hawk and was able to run after him to get him before he went too far. If you prefer peace of mind, here are some ideas to help. Place Air Tags in children's pockets, in Air Tag Bracelets, or attached to belt loops with these Waterproof Unbreakable Air Tag Holders, Place an Air Tag in the stroller too (to quickly locate your stroller as cast members can move strollers around). We attached these to our kids' belt loops with the Air Tag Holders and when they didn't have belt loops, we had our kids wear them in these Air Tag Bracelets. Since my 2 year old was too small to have a Magic Band, he actually thought his Air Tag Bracelet was a Magic Band so he would pretend scan it at the rides and felt so proud! We also had custom silicone bracelets made (from WristBandy.com) with our phone numbers that the kids wore and had a plan for them to find a cast member if lost, just in case. Yes, we are a little over the top when it comes to our kids' safety, but at the end of the day, you can't put a price on your kids or peace of mind.
FOOD & WATER:
DINING ALERTS: Quick tip! Sign up for Dining Alerts if you weren't able to snag the restaurant you wanted. We booked our vacation about a month out so we didn't get to making dining reservations 60 days out. We used StakeOut and the Dining Alert apps, and the Stakeout app actually worked for us as we got into Akershus for a character dinner with the princesses! Many times a few days before your trip, there will be lots of people that cancel their reservations so you may be able to snag something a few days before or even the day of! Check out "(MUST READ) Disney Tips & Tricks" for even more Disney hacks!
WATER: You can't bring glass bottles to Disney so pack stainless steel or plastic bottles! We filled up our water bottles in the morning and then brought extra water bottles with us too. They do have complimentary water at some of the Quick Service restaurants and drinking fountains, but I'm picky with how water tastes, so prefer bottled water when traveling. Hydrate well in the morning and throughout the day to avoid heat exhaustion and to keep everyone feeling their best. This was my favorite Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle we bought ahead of time (and I loved the colors!), and I just attached it to the stroller ribbon with a small carabineer hook. My husband had a water bottle on the other side of the stroller too. We both were recovering from the stomach bug so we also used these Liquid IV Hydration Packets which are great for recovery as well as hydration on hot days.
GROCERY DELIVERY: Utilize Vacation Grocery Delivery or Walmart delivery if you would like groceries or adult beverages waiting for you when you arrive. Buy/bring whatever works for your family of course. Some of the thing that worked for us were Lunchables, fruit, veggies, muffins, cereal, milk, water, oatmeal, snacks, water, cheese sticks, bagels, cream cheese, granola bars, single serving mac & cheese cups, prune juice (see note below), Pedialyte packets, etc.
PEDIALYTE: We always pack plenty of Pedialyte Immune Support packets whenever we travel because our kids ALWAYS get sick. These are not only great for IF the kids get sick, but for prevention and hydration. Every day we actually brought a water bottle with water for each kid along with a Munchkin Straw Cup (close to spill proof) for each kid filled with Pedialyte. Our kids love drinking Pedialyte and think it's a special treat, so it's a win for everyone. The extra electrolytes helped keep them hydrated along with an extra boost of vitamins. Crazy enough, even though we all were recovering from the stomach bug going into the start of our Disney trip, no one got sick (minus pink eye) for the first time ever after we got back from Disney (and I even have a 2 year old thumb sucker!) PTL!
SNACKS, SNACKS, SNACKS!: Yes, I know you can buy and try lots of Disney food (which we did and LOVED!), but when standing in line (especially character meets) and the line ends up being longer than you anticipate, let's just say snacks were our best friend and kept everyone happy. Some of our go-to snacks: cheese sticks, clementines, fruit, veggies, pretzels, granola bars, fruit bars, veggie straws, chips, and fruit pouches.
PRUNE JUICE: I'm sure I'll get a few chuckles with this, but this is always a life saver for us when we travel to keep the kids a little more regular and avoid our daughter complaining of her stomach hurting ALL day as she isn't a big water drinker. We didn't go crazy on it, just had them drink a little every morning. I also LOVE these LOVEBUG Toddler Probiotic and Fiber Packets that I put into my kids "Vitamin Water" each morning which helps to keep them regular. We use them at home every day too!
VITAMINS: Load up before you go and take plenty while you're on the trip. I had some vitamins in our room ready to go but also kept some in our cooler for us and the kids for after we had a full meal in our stomachs to avoid taking them on an empty stomach.
Thanks for reading! For some of my BEST TIPS and TRICKS to make your Disney trip go as smoothly as possible, check out "(MUST READ) Disney Tips & Tricks" as well as "Disney Food & Snacks Worth the Splurge!"