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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Blast Off to the Kennedy Space Center

If you were obsessed with the 1986 classic movie Space Camp like I was, (didn’t every girl want to be Tish Ambrosia and have photographic memory?), your dreams will come true when your kids are finally old enough to take a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL.  I say “old enough” because the Kennedy Space Center or KSC – just channeling NASA’s love of acronyms – is more fun if your kids are elementary age or older.  Middle school and high school-age may be ideal.  I recently went with my 8 yr old, 6 yr old and my hubby and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We only had one day and we quickly realized that a space enthusiast could plan on a couple days at the Center.  Thankfully the KSC gives you a suggested itinerary based on your audience and timing.  We should have listened to the rocket scientist’s recommendation and allowed for 8 hours to visit the park.  Who knew that they would be accurate?  We had about 6 hours and fell a little short of the items on our “wish list”.  The KSC is not an amusement park but more of a hands on educational immersion into the history and the future of space travel.

Kennedy Space Center
Happy space cadets

We did the bus tour first to get a sense of the history and scale of the place.  The bus tour is the only way to get up close to see the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pad.  The launch pad is several miles from the assembly building and the command center because the vibration of the launch is so intense that it is deadly to humans.  It’s mind-blowing to comprehend the Herculean task of moving the space ships from the assembly building to the launch area.

Vehicle Assembly Building
The Vehicle Assembly Building is massive! Excuse the Florida rain shower.

After driving around various launch pads, including the one that SpaceX is working on modifying, the bus tour drops you at the Apollo/Saturn V Center to explore.  You get to participate in a reenactment of the Apollo 8 liftoff that will rattle your nerves and your senses.  Afterwords you can stand next to the largest rocket ever made – Saturn V.  Talk about feeling small!  You can also enjoy the progression of prototypes for space suits over the years.Saturn V

After you finish the bus tour, whatever you do, don’t miss the Atlantis exhibit.  Your experience opens with dramatic flair as you enter the gallery at the tip of Atlantis.  There is a real rocket scientist standing by with samples of materials from the ship to touch.  Bonus, the scientist that day was a woman and she was happy to answer questions.

Walking in the room and being nose to nose to this old gal is breathtaking!
Driving the space shuttle
International Space Station
Crawling through the International Space Station isn’t for people with claustrophobia or short skirts.



There are tons of other hands-on activities like sitting in the cockpit and pressing all of those buttons (a kids dream)!


Getting to crawl through the International Space Station (ISS) was also a highlight.  We loved talking about researchers living in space and working right now!

But, the most fun by far was practicing exiting the space shuttle by slide and coincidentally the fastest way from the second floor to the first.  The giggles heard from the giant slide sounded the same coming from 6 year olds as they did from 60 year olds.

Shuttle slide
Disembark the shuttle like an astronaut, with an audible girlie giggle!

I love the age-appropriate lessons that bring to light the engineering roles needed to build the space shuttle.  They encouraged kids to do their own flying experiment with paper airplanes to

Space toilet
Bet you didn’t think you’d see a space toilet in this blog post!

see which shape went the furthest, highest, fastest.  Great analogy!

They also do a great job of answering those questions that we all want to ask like, “How do you go to the bathroom in space?”

We also really enjoyed the hands-on video games where you can work on the ISS or land the space shuttle.  We missed the Shuttle Launch Experience because my daughter throws up like clockwork when taking off and landing on a plane.  I didn’t come prepared with a change of clothes.  But, we heard it was excellent as long as you don’t go right after lunch.

One of our favorite experiences was the Astronaut Encounter, a 30 min presentation from a real NASA astronaut.  You get to hear about their history and experience in space.  And they leave time for questions at the end!  If your kiddos are setting their sights on a career as an astronaut, this is an excellent opportunity to reinforce the importance of an education. Parent bonus!

In general it was a really cool multi-cultural experience.  The kids played with kids from all over the world in the Children’s Play Dome.

Childrens Play Dome
A great opportunity for your kids to roll around and get some energy out without accidentally pushing a launch button.

The future of space travel is looking bright as NASA and a few commercial groups, like SpaceX and Boeing, prepare to explore Mars with a goal of 2030.  One of the greatest challenges will be how to live off of the land and grow food in the harsh elements.  Scientists are doing research right now to tackle this and other challenges on the red planet.

We left with a new appreciation for what astronauts go through and with dreams of what the new frontier has to offer.  Will we be traveling to space in our lifetime?  There’s a chance, I should probably go ask my kids!

Rocket Garden
The rocket garden is not only beautiful but also interactive because you can climb in some of the rockets for some great photo ops

Did you know?

We learned some cool space exploration facts while at the KSC.

You know the white stuff that comes out of the launch pad when a rocket/space shuttle lifts off?  It’s not smoke, it’s actually steam!  During a launch, they flood the launch pad with water to muffle the sound of the lift off because the vibration is so harmful to human ears.

The astronauts use liquid salt and pepper in space and they love using hot sauce!

When the astronauts are in space they have to exercise for 2 hours a day so that their muscles don’t atrophy.

They only used the giant tires on the space shuttle once, because the landing was so hard on them.

Tips For Busy Moms

  1. You don’t need to buy tickets online, but, you can if it makes you feel better.  They offer discounts all year round to military, seniors and teachers, but sometimes they have other specials for Florida residents.
  2. We visited a weekend in September and the crowds weren’t bad at all.  I suggest going at non-peak times.  Any time other than the summer, holidays or spring break.
  3. Arrive close to the opening time to take advantage of the day.  Keep in mind that the center is about 45 minutes from the Orlando airport.
  4. This is a great multi-generational trip.  There’s a lot of history so the grandparents can recount “remember when” stories and there isn’t too much walking.
  5. I recommend you do the bus tour first to beat the crowds, get a little history lesson and get your bearings.
  6. You can bring in water and snacks but, eating at the restaurants there is easy and tasty.  They have make your own salad options with hydroponic lettuce that they grow there.  And the cookies are outta this world.
  7. You can have lunch with an astronaut and hear about space travel first-hand while enjoying a buffet lunch. We didn’t do this but, the price wasn’t much more than the regular lunch.  We’d do this next time.  Lunch with the astronaut for adults is $30 and kids are $16 (check the web site to confirm)
  8. You need to be 44″ tall to go on the Shuttle Launch Experience.  If you are shorter, you can just experience the pre-show briefing.
  9. A new experience is opening in late 2016, Heroes and Legends with an astronaut hall of fame.
  10. You’ll want a souvenir but, keep in mind that they aren’t cheap.  And yes, they have space ice cream.
  11. Check the web site to see their launch schedule from Cape Canaveral and witness one in person or tune in online on the NASA web site to watch.
  12. Coincidentally National Geographic Kids Magazine November issue has a cover article Mission to Mars.  Pick it up for your little astronaut and plan a trip to Kennedy Space Center.
  13. When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen!
My kids loved getting to strike a pose with an astronaut and checking out his space suit up close.