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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.


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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Disney Cruise

Top 10 Reasons to go on a Disney Cruise

Yes, I am a Disney fan and I’ll admit, being closer to Mickey Mouse was a perk to moving to south Florida.  But, sometimes planning a trip to Disney World can be intimidating and downright exhausting.  And, if you’ve never been, where do you start?  What if you hate lines and you want to go an a vacation that doesn’t require you to go on another vacation to recover from the break-neck pace you’ve been going?  The answer…a Disney Cruise.  I like to call it, the lazy-parent’s vacation.  You may say, “yeah but, aren’t cruises cheesy and packed with people and mediocre food?”  Yes, they can be, but not a Disney Cruise.  Because you know the genius of Disney?  Well, they put it on a boat and all you have to do is show up and unpack your bags.  I’m serious, don’t worry about planning excursions or packing sequin gowns, it’s time to unplug and enjoy the beauty of an unstructured vacation.


Disney Cruise


Top 10 Reasons to go on a Disney Cruise 

(in no particular order)

1.  You can watch Disney movies while you swim.  
What’s not to love?  Hang by Goofy’s pool and you can splash around or relax in a lounge chair while you watch Disney movies on the 24′ x 14′ LED TV.  It’s especially fun to enjoy a little night swimming and movie on the deck while you star gaze.

Disney Cruise 1
Poolside movies

2.  No crowds at dinner  
This is just pure Disney genius.  Instead of crowds of people waiting in lines at buffets for dinner, Disney assigns you a themed restaurant each night and to a dining time.  So, no restaurant is crowded at dinner and you get to eat at each one during your cruise.  To keep some consistency, your wait staff moves from restaurant to restaurant with you each night.  More on the staff later.  These aren’t just boring restaurants either!  There’s plenty to look at and menus for the kids to keep them entertained, including a few surprises.  I have a  hard time cooking for 4 some nights, I can’t imagine cooking for 2500.  Miraculously, they do it and do it well!  I’m still dreaming about the tuna tartare tower that I had one night and the dolce de leche ice cream with the salted caramel sauce.

Disney Cruise 2
Our favorite dinner spot – Animator’s Palate

3.  Free room service  
We like to travel but, ordering room service is never really something that we’ve done because I’m not a fan of an overpriced burger and luke-warm french fries.  But, on the cruise everything on the room service menu is free and available 24 hours/day.  I’m not sure why you need food at 2:00 in the morning but, at 2:00 in the afternoon it’s sort of fun to have chocolate chip cookies show up at your door.  An even more welcome sight is coffee delivered in the morning.

4.  Castaway Cay
If you go on a Disney cruise to the Caribbean or Bahamas, you have the pleasure of spending a day at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island.  Picture an immaculate beach, clear-blue water and Caribbean music playing in the background.  Oh, and Disney cast members are available to help you with whatever you need.  Yes, I am ready to move to Castaway Cay but, apparently I’d have to homeschool our children if we live there.  Spending a luxurious day there will just have to do.  If you (or your kids) don’t like to sit still there is plenty to do on the island.  You can rent inner tubes, snorkel gear, or rafts to float around.  There are swim up watersides and playground equipment in the water (think monkey bars and rope climbing.)  You can even parasail and get a bird’s eye view of the island.  They also have a splash playground for little ones and a kid’s club if you need to sneak away for an hour or two to the adult-only beach.  Everything you need for the day is on the island, including Mickey, Minnie and the gang.

Disney Cruise 3
Paradise Found! Castaway Cay

5.  Kids Club
Usually my kids don’t go running to hang out with a room full of kids they don’t know.  They can be clingy like that, but on the Disney Cruise, the Kids Club is no joke!  Think Mary Poppins, meets an indoor playground, dance party, digital design studio and dress up party.  There is always something fun going on like a science experiment or craft and the kids love having their own space sans adults.  There are counselors there but, I don’t really count them as adults because they are just way to peppy!  And, you don’t need me to tell you what to do with alone time, but there is a whole section of the ship dedicated to adults including a separate pool, bar, and spa.  In the Kid’s Club, they are vigilant about germs and they make kids put their hands through a carwash-like cleaner up to their elbows before entering.  When you board the ship they give your kids a bracelet that has a tracker in it so they always know where your kids are, which comes in handy when (or if)  you decide you want to pick them up.

6.  Waterslides
Each ship has a different set-up, but no matter which one you sail on, you are sure to have a few watersides to choose from.  On the ship we went on, the Disney Magic, the kid-friendly water slide has several twists and turns, but is tame enough for smaller children.  Then there’s the big kahuna.  The Aqua Dunk, in our case, literally drops you down 3 floors and then propels you out over the side of the boat before depositing you with a giant splash at the end.  I’ve heard grown men shriek like little girls at the first drop.  Our Dad gave it two thumbs up.  You are guaranteed to get soaked and a giant wedgie, but it is an adrenaline rush you don’t want to miss.  I recommend trying it at night when the lines are shorter and the views are beautiful.

7.  Pirate Night
For all of you land lubbers who haven’t experienced pirates at sea, here’s your chance to show off you best pirate speak!  Most ships have a pirate night one evening on the cruise and Disney goes all out.  All of the characters are dressed in pirate gear and the cast members as well.  You’ll want to don your best ruffle shirt and grab your sword to join the fun in the search for Jack Sparrow.  We enjoyed watching Pirates of the Carribean on the top deck before the pirate party.  If your little ones can stay up late enough, it’s worth it to join the dance party and witness fireworks at sea.  Arr!

Disney Cruise 4
Our pirate crew with Stitch

8.  Cruise staff
In Disney speak, they are called Cast Members but, whatever you call them, they are heaven sent!  No matter what their job, everyone that you encounter on the ship is there to make your vacation magical.  Our server at dinner literally said, “tell me what I can do to make your dining experience phenomenal.” And, he meant it!  The room stewards remember what you like to have in your room or how many towels you need and they make it happen every day.  If you are stuck in a lounge chair with a sleeping baby, someone will come over to offer you a cold beverage or extra towel if it is chilly.  This trip, our toilet overflowed after my 5 yr old used the bathroom.  He claims he wasn’t doing anything fishy, I’m not sure I am buying it.  As soon as we told someone, the ship mechanic was there and the room steward had cleaned the bathroom before we got back from breakfast.  Now if we could just figure out how to have everyone come home with us after the cruise…

Disney Cruise 5
Roston, our favorite server doing magic tricks for the kids

9.  Disney Characters
You know when you go to Disney World and you have a child who is really into a character and you spend at least 30 min in line waiting for a picture, an autograph or a hug?  Or maybe, you’re like us and when you finally got to the front of the line and your child realized that up close, Mickey Mouse is HUGE and maybe you don’t want to take a picture with him.  Well, no more!  The great news about the Disney Cruise is that the characters are also on the boat.  You can get a schedule of where they are daily and plan to meet them.  We’ve only waited in line for about 10 min, tops and we even got to high-five them walking down the halls of the ship.

Disney Cruise 6
Mickey took a break from lounging at the beach for a pic.

10.  Staterooms
The design of the staterooms is pure genius.  The designers definitely had families with children on their mind when they planned the rooms.  And you know where there are families, there is also tons of gear that go with them!  Miraculously, everything that you travel with has a home in your room.  Each room has a king-size bed and a sitting area with a couch that turns into bunk beds at night.  Magic!  There’s plenty of room under the bed to slide your suitcases under and there are lots of drawers and closet space.  The kids’ side can be “closed off” with heavy curtains  if you want to block the light or just have some privacy.  And, the TV is on a swivel so the kids can watch Disney movies or you can tilt it towards the king bed for late-night viewing.  But, by far my favorite feature is the bathrooms.  Yes, I said bathrooms with an “s”.  Oh the joy to have two bathrooms!  One has a sink and a toilet and the other has a sink and a tub/shower.  Do the great Disney minds realize how many arguments they prevented by separating the shower from the toilet?  I think they must have had teenagers or just enjoy their private moments.  Either way, it’s delightful and being able to hose your kid down in the tub is so rewarding.

11.  The Shows
When you think of cruise entertainment, do you think of cheesy lounge singers in sequins draped over a piano?  I do!  Not so on this cruise.  The shows are pretty darn close to Broadway quality and the singers are legit!  Like, goose bump good!  They have shows every night and they are different themes but, all are professionally developed and the set design is amazing (imagine things appearing from under the stage and people flying through the air).  They are actually a bit better than Broadway in my mind because they hold the attention of the smallest theater-goers.  The shows are so interactive you can expect things to fall from the ceiling, characters to surprise you from behind and wonderful sing-along worthy music.  While we were on the ship, they debuted a new musical that they had been perfecting for almost 2 years, Tangled.  It was fantastic!  Our crowd from 4-41 was completely in awe. Grab some popcorn and an adult beverage and be thankful that you didn’t just pay $100 a ticket on  Broadway.

Okay, so that was more than 10 because I just couldn’t stop thinking of reasons why I love Disney Cruises.  If you haven’t been, do yourself and your family a favor and consider booking one.  No they aren’t cheap, if you really add up the amenities and the activities that you can do that are included in the price, it is totally worth it.  And best of all, you will make memories to last a lifetime!

Disney Cruise 7
Hoping we can comeback again someday!

Quick tips for busy moms:

1.  Check the sailings to book a cruise.  They offer 3 night sailings on up to 2 weeks, but don’t feel like you have to break the bank.  Three nights away is just as magical.

2.  Make sure everyone’s passports are up to date (and you know where they are).  Many of the sailings go out of the country and you’ll need a passport to board.

3.  Pack your pirate gear.  Even if it’s some black eyeliner, a scarf and a torn white T-shirt.  There is a pirate night on board and people go all out!  As long as you don’t have an aversion to costumes, you’ll want to join in on the fun.  Of course, Disney never misses a shopping opportunity so if you want to pick up an eyepatch on board, you can!

4.  Bring something magnetic to “decorate” your cabin door.  It’s a great way for your kids to identify which door is yours on a long corridor of look-alike rooms and it’s fun.

5.  No need to bring swim vests, they have them everywhere to use.

6.  You have to be a certain height to go down several of the watersides.  Check their web site so you don’t have explaining to do later.

7.  If you can, go with family or friends.  Disney cruising is a perfect multi-generation vacation because you can stay as busy or lazy as you want.  And, you can join together at dinnertime to share the magic of your day.

8.  Be prepared to unplug.  Communication on the ship is difficult and expensive so get a back-up at work and enjoy the luxury of truly going “off the grid”.

9.  When in Florida or cruising, don’t forget the sunscreen!

A special thanks to the Oates family for letting us join you on this magical journey.