Disney World Castle

What to Pack for a Day at Walt Disney World

Planning for a day at Walt Disney World in Orlando can be both exiting and exhausting.  Believe me, you don’t want to leave something in your car or forget it altogether.  Everything you can do ahead of time to plan will reward you later on.  We had an annual pass to Disney World and we went to the parks over 20 times, so I had packing for our family of 4 down to a science.  Here’s what I recommend taking into the park:

Back Pack

We don’t have a fancy back pack, in fact I think ours is an old Jansport from 15 years ago.  All you need is something that fits some essentials and if it has a water bottle holder on the side, bonus.  Just make sure you can be hands free.  Here’s a pack that would do just fine.

Stroller 

Can your kids walk for a minimum of 3 miles without whining?  If not, bring a stroller.  Even if your child refuses to ride in it sometimes, it’s a great way to carry your stuff and give your back a rest.  If you are flying to Orlando you can rent them at the parks – well worth the money, in my opinion – if you don’t need one at the airport.  I promise, at the end of the day your little one will use it, even if they are too stubborn to thank you in person.

Running/walking shoes 

Wear the most comfortable shoes that you own.  You will be standing and walking for 8 plus hours and even though you have Converse that look so cute with your Mickey T-shirt, save your feet and wear your shoes with support.  I’m an Adidas girl myself.

Fitness Tracker

If you don’t have something that counts your steps like a FitBit or UP, please don’t feel the need to go buy something.  This is strictly for entertainment and/or bets with your husband.  You will be amazed at how many steps you’ll take in a day when at Disney World.  The walk from the parking lot at Magic Kingdom alone is several hundred steps.  And, it makes you feel less guilty about getting a Mickey Ice Cream bar in the afternoon.  I like the UP band because you can track your friend’s or family member’s steps which is a fun way to encourage (compete with) each other.

Reusable Water bottle

All that walking is going to make you and your little ones thirsty.  Instead of buying water bottles in the park at airport prices, bring your own so you can keep your drinks cold and create a little less trash.  We love the Swell bottles because they keep drinks cold for at least 24 hours – a Godsend when it’s hotter than heck out there.

Snacks

Yes, your kids are going to get hungry and you may not want to drop $20 on chips and french fries.  Bring a small snack to tide the hunger pangs so you can save your money for big meals.  I like to pack granola bars, bags of nuts or the old standby, Goldfish.  Don’t pack any chocolate because it tends to melt in your bag.  Not a mess you want to deal with after being on your feet for 8 hours.

Hand sanitizer/wipes

I am not a clean freak but even I appreciate the benefit of having hand sanitizer at the ready.  Disney does a great job of having a restroom nearby most food areas so we always pop in before meals to wash our hands. But people who wake up not feeling well always seem to make it into the park anyway.  It doesn’t hurt to squirt a little hand sanitizer while you are waiting in line listening to a chorus of coughing and sniffling.

Cell Phone

I know, duh.  But, before you get to Disney make sure you download the My Disney Experience app.  There’s a link to more info about the app here.  It will have all of your dining reservations and Fast Passes loaded so you don’t miss anything.  I especially like the ride wait time postings so you don’t have to hike over to Big Thunder Mountain if the wait is over 60 min.  The map comes in handy too.  Disney has free Wi-Fi so you won’t have to use cellular data constantly.  Warning, it is slow many times.  Your phone is also great to use for taking a picture of the row you park your car in, so you aren’t looking for it at the end of the day.

Portable Phone Charger

Your phone isn’t going to make it a whole day without a charge.  And, you aren’t going to want to sit down near an outlet and wait for it to charge either.   All of those adorable videos and photos take up a lot of battery life and I promise you’ll have the My Disney Experience app open plenty.  I like this Mophie external battery pack.  You just pre-charge it at home and then pop it on your phone when it gets low to give you an extra boost to make it through the day.

 

Sunscreen

They don’t call it the Sunshine State for nothing!  Unless you plan on jumping from shadow to shadow, you’ll want to put on sunscreen.  Being outside for 10+ hours can do a number on your skin and your children’s.  Nothing ruins a vacation faster than an uncomfortable sun burn.  I like throwing a sunscreen stick in my bag for our faces and then using lotion for arms, backs of necks and any other skin peaking through clothes.

This Sun Bum sunscreen is my favorite sunscreen for kids because it is in stick form. Older kids can even apply it themselves. And it is small and easy to throw in your bag.

 

Rain Poncho/Light Jacket

Depending on the time of year, you may want to throw a light jacket or rain poncho in your bag.  In Florida rain showers come and go really quickly.  I wouldn’t recommend a rain coat because it just takes up too much room, and you aren’t allowed to bring in umbrellas.  The winter can get a little chilly in Orlando so dress in layers.  You’ll warm up walking for a few miles.

Disney Shirts

I know you’ve seen photos of families standing in front of Cinderella’s castle in cute shirts that have Mickey ears and “Daddy” written on them. Mom has a similar one with Minnie ears and you get the picture.  I’ll tell you, I was a skeptic the first time I saw them and then I realized the genius of the matching family T-shirts.  It’s a great way to quickly spot your family in a crowd of Disney fanatics.  While the neon yellow shirts are slightly obnoxious it’s even easier to spot Grandpa when he sneaks off to take a picture with Tinkerbell.  There are tons of people on Etsy who will customize shirts for your family vacation.  Bite the bullet and order some.  I promise you will want them once you walk around and see some of the cute shirts people have made.  Here are some I found on Amazon.

Princess Dress

If your little Princess has an appointment at the Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique she will definitely want to complete the ensemble.  You can purchase a dress, shoes and a tiara at the Boutique or at any of the stores in the park, but you’ll spend over $100 and wonder why it isn’t made to last for at least 5 years.  Or, you can bring your own gown and save a bundle.  You can even buy it from the Disney Store online for less money or even go to any of the big box stores for a knock-off version.  Just hope your 5 yr old isn’t brand loyal.  The fairy godmother at the boutique will be wonderful and gracious no matter if you spent $120 at the boutique on a costume or not.  She never resists the urge to sprinkle you with pixie dust!

Photo Matte for Signatures

If you have younger kids who just can’t wait to get Mickey’s autograph or want to meet Elsa in person, you’ll want to have something for them to sign.  While I like and autograph book, it’s not something that my kids revisit or look at very often.  A few years ago I saw someone on Pinterest who suggested bringing a photo matte for a picture frame and having characters sign that.  I love the idea because it’s fairly easy to fit into your backpack and then you can insert a photo of your child standing with his or her photo when you get home.

photo matte
My daughter has this in her room to remember her first visit to Disney World. We just brought the matte with us to the park for signatures.

Pen/Marker

Don’t forget to bring something so the characters can sign your photo matte.  I recommend a Sharpie.

Hats

They keep the mid-day sun out of your eyes and keep your head dry in a rain storm or a ride down Splash Mountain.  What’s not to love?

Sunglass Strap

I recommend bringing a cheap pair of sunglasses that you could lose without losing, you know what.  Have you ever looked on the ground below some of those roller coasters?  To ensure that your sunglasses don’t fly off while you scream your head off on the Seven Dwarf Mine Train, bring a sunglass strap.  There’s a lot of walking from dark places to blazing bright sunlight so minimizing the time that you are fumbling for sunglasses is key.

Patience

Finally, pack your patience.  It’s almost always hot, crowded and filled with people who also want to have a magical vacation with their families.  Having a “we’re all in this together” attitude is more pleasant way to spend the day.  As we say in the south, “you catch more flies with honey”.  Don’t turn the trip into a visit to Ordeal Kingdom.  I heart you, The Onion.

Okay, you’re all set for a day filled with the beauty of Disney magic!  Now, who wants to carry the backpack?…Not it!

 

 

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Christmas at Gaylord Palms – Orlando

When you think Orlando, you probably think Disney World, right?  We used to do the same until we stumbled upon the Gaylord Palms hotel, thanks to my son’s preschool teacher.  Even if you only have a one-track mind and must visit Disney while in Orlando, the Gaylord is an excellent choice for a hotel because it’s about 4 miles from the entrance to the parks and typically a lot less expensive than the resort hotels, but just as grand and impressive, maybe even more so. Yes, the Gaylord caters to the Disney crowd and offers free transportation to the parks and can help with tickets and reservations.   But, don’t overlook all the hotel has to offer…

Rooms overlooking the waterfall and plants

The hotel itself is impressive with the commanding lobby which leads you into the huge glassed atrium with rooms surrounding a lush landscape of plants and animals native to Florida.  Yes, I said animals -well, really reptiles.  They have baby alligators and turtles living in the atrium.  You can walk up and watch them swim or just enjoy the metal railing that separates you from their little jaws.  In another water feature they have fish and other marine life native to Florida and every afternoon there’s a fish feeding that you can watch.

Alligators enjoying sunning on the rocks and swimming

The pool (also known as the Cypress Springs Family Fun Water Park) lives up to its name.  We could have easily spent all day poolside because the kids were entertained, which means the adults could take a break from everything, really.  The fort/tree-house-type water feature has slides, water guns and one of those giant buckets that dumps water on unsuspecting sliders every few minutes.  It’s hilarious to watch, especially if you are sitting in a lounge chair clear from the spray.  The pool has a zero-entry side, great for little people and floating basketball hoops for some one-on-one.  They also have a giant screen that plays movies nightly.  The Sand Bar is a few steps away with adult beverages and a great lunch menu.  Not to worry, if you just can’t get out of your chair, they will come to you.  If only the little elves at my house did the same at mealtime.  You can also rent pool cabanas if you need some privacy and like to roll like that.  If you happen to be at the Gaylord without children, they have an adult-only pool that offers peace and quiet, not something we know anything about these days.

About as family-friendly as they get and hours of fun
Nightly movie showings and a screen large enough to impress any dad

The Gaylord Palms goes all out at Christmastime and we think it’s a great way to kick off the holidays, Florida style.

Think it doesn’t get cold in Florida?  Well, you may think otherwise if you head to Gaylord’s Alpine Village.  You could spend most of the day here soaking up the chilly fun.  For an adrenaline rush and giggles, head to the Alpine Rush Snow Tubing.  The hotel built an 8-lane snow hill so you can tube to your heart’s content.  They even have a double tube for families with little ones.  If your kids have never been sledding before, this is a must-do!

Possibly the most impressive feature in Alpine Village is “ICE! featuring ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.  The magic of Christmas comes alive in this frozen treat.  Two million pounds of hand-carved and colored ice sculptures decorate the ICE! exhibit.  They tell the story of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and even show you how they put the while thing together with illustrations and an ice carver who may be working on a hands-on creation.  They do warn you about putting your tongue on the ice.  No Christmas Story repeats here.  They’ve even built an ice slide so you can remind yourself how hard and slippery ice is.  We loved that they ended the exhibit with a beautiful nativity scene.  The whole exhibit is truly impressive and F…F…Freezing!  The exhibit is kept at 9 degrees to keep the sculptures in tact, so you’ll want to layer up and bring a hat and gloves if you want to spend any time inside (of course we didn’t have any because we live in Florida).  They have giant parkas to help keep you warmer but, it’s amazing how cold you get so quickly in 9 degrees.  Don’t worry, you can buy hot chocolate to warm up after you exit.

…were all cozied in for their long winter’s nap  (this is all ice!)

 

Ice sledding a little hard if you don’t have padding on your tush.

 

A stunning and moving nativity display

Santa’s available for consultation at the Alpine Village and he took the time to have a memorable chat with our kids.  He even let us walk through his workshop to see what he was working on for Christmas.  We could order a packet of pictures or just chat for free, which was a nice touch.

They also have opportunities to make a gingerbread house, have breakfast with Mrs. Claus and do a little shopping, including a Build-A-Bear workshop.  You really could spend some time here so if you plan on going, so give yourself a few hours.

In addition to the Alpine Village, the hotel has an Elf on the Shelf® (gosh I wish I thought of the Elf on the Shelf) scavenger hunt!  They give you a guide book and you read clues to find 10 elves hidden all around the hotel.  Let me tell you, those elves are sneaky and you never know where they will be.  It’s actually pretty difficult, but a great way to explore the hotel and learn your way around.  Disco, our elf, forgot to make the trip with us that weekend so it was nice to have his friends there to keep an eye on us.

If you do nothing else at the Gaylord, try to go by for a visit to see the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped show.  It is a free show in the atrium with Cirque du Soliel performers doing what they do best: awe-inspiring feats of contortion and acrobatics.  We heard mumblings of “how did they do that?” throughout the 30 min performance.  After the show they light the grand tree in the atrium and all is right with the world.  They do performances daily and sometimes twice a day.

Cirque show with the tree lit and wide-eyed viewers as far as the eye can see

Now you don’t have to stay at the Gaylord to experience the holiday splendor but, if you do, you can purchase a package deal that gives you access to all of the holiday events and allows you to avoid a few lines.  We heard some of the lines got long so it was worth it to us to stay there.

Quick tips for busy moms:
1.  Book ahead of time to book rooms and ask for packages with ICE! tickets or snow tubing.  If you can swing it, get a room overlooking the atrium.
2.  Pack hats, gloves, layers for the ICE! show.  And, also pack your bathing suit.  I know, crazy!
3.  To see the Cirque show, get a seat or a spot on the stairs early because it is popular and crowded.  We recommend grabbing a drink or dessert and sitting down about 45 min to an hour before showtime.
4.  You are not far from Disney.  If you don’t want to drive over and pay for parking, take the shuttle but, check for times before you commit.
5.  The food at the hotel is really good but, a little pricey.  If you don’t want a pricey brunch in the morning grab something at the coffee shop or pack food to enjoy in your room.
6.  The Gaylord is a convention center so don’t be surprised if rooms are booked up or you see people walking around with laniards on in business suits and sensible shoes.
7.  When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!

Merry Christmas to all of my blog readers!  Here’s to a healthy and happy holiday filled with a little wonder and a lot of thankfulness.  xoxo Katy

ICE
Merry Christmas from our crazy family to yours!