Your goal here is to pack everything you might need during the day to avoid having to purchase it while you’re there. On the other hand, we don’t want you to be slogging through the parks looking like a pack mule, so we have to find a happy medium.
Families with Kids
STROLLER – If your kids have outgrown a stroller recently, you’ll want to bring it along ‘just in case’. They’ll be happy you have it by the second day! Airlines do not charge baggage fees for a stroller if you check it at the gate (be sure to confirm this with your airline). Stroller rental prices at Disney have gone through the roof, better to bring your own or rent. Here’s a great run-down of stroller options including pricing http://wdwprepschool.com/comparing-stroller-options-for-disney-world-trips/
ID TAGS – Make it easy for the Disney Cast Members (employees) to reunite you with a lost child by attaching a name and cell phone number to your kids. Keep in mind that your child will have to show the information to the Cast Member, the Cast Member won’t be able to turn out a shirt tag or check underwear labels! Some people purchase shoe ID tags, or silicone bracelets like those offered here http://www.mypreciouskid.com/products/wearable-id-products.html, but you don’t have to spend any money – you can even be as basic as writing your phone number on your kid’s arm with a Sharpie pen. Another inexpensive option is to create your own using Shrinky Dinks. A basic design will take you less than 10 minutes to create, and doesn’t take any art skills at all. We’ve produced an easy how-to guide here: https://pjguides.wordpress.com/creating-childrens-id-tags-using-shrinky-dinks/
HANDHELD GAMING DEVICES or SMARTPHONES – Some waiting is inevitable, whether it’s standing in line for the bus, or waiting for the fireworks to begin. Having something for the kids to do can decrease the whine factor. The up-side to a phone/device is its size and weight, the down-side is that if your kid breaks or loses it you are out some money. Your other option is a book or favorite toy (with no small parts), a cheap MP3 player, or digital camera of their own.
A FEW SURPRISES – Reduce meltdowns in stores by having a few small “presents” that you’ve purchased in advance at the Dollar store and that you can magically hand out when the kids are in the “I want that!” mode. Glow sticks are also good if you’re planning on staying for any nighttime shows.
Even if you don’t plan on your group splitting up, carry your phone and be certain to turn up the ringer (shut it off during shows) or carry it close to your body so you can feel it vibrate. It is easy to get separated and finding each other in a sea of people can be frustrating.
So, do you bring your DSLR or a separate point-and-shoot, or just use your phone? First off, we’re trying to save money here, so we’re not recommending you buy anything just for this trip – including cameras, straps, or extra batteries, etc.
If you have a DSLR and are comfortable carrying it all day and have a waterproof way of safely carrying it on rides, I’d bring it. Disney World is an amazing place to capture family memories, and your DSLR with a good all-around lens will give you the best results possible.
Point-and-shoot or your phone? If you have a p&s that takes better pictures in low light or fast motion than your phone does, bring it, you’ll have more opportunities for fun night shots and on-ride pictures.
Selfie Sticks are not allowed in any of the Disney parks and will be confiscated if you bring them in.
Disney allows you to carry your phone or camera on any ride, be sure you have a safe way to secure it because they’re not stopping Big Thunder Mountain Railroad so you can retrieve your iPhone. A neck lanyard keeps a point-and-shoot camera safe and ready to go, or use a wrist strap at minimum.
If you’re bringing a stand-alone camera – If you don’t already have an extra battery, now is the time to buy one. Check Amazon for deals, but beware of extremely cheap Chinese-knockoff batteries. Some are okay, some won’t hold a charge. Also be certain to have a large enough memory card. We recommend downloading photos to your laptop or tablet every night, but if this isn’t a possibility, have at least one 8 GB memory card for a basic digital camera, and a minimum of 10 GB if your camera takes HD video.
EXTERNAL BATTERY PACK –
Using your smartphone to keep up with your FP+ reservations, take pictures, make dining reservations and everything else means you’re going to be sucking the life out of the thing pretty quickly. An inexpensive battery external pack is the best way to keep things running smoothly without being tethered to an outlet for an hour. Look for one with at least 10,000 mAh, from a trustworthy source like Anker, Jackery, or RAVpower.
PONCHOS OR RAIN COATS – Even if you aren’t going during the summer monsoon season, Florida still gets its fair share of the wet stuff. Expecting sunny skies and being unprepared for rain will mean you’ll end up spending about ten bucks each for Disney ponchos. If you already have high quality rain PROOF (not just resistant) jackets that are long enough to cover your rump, these will always be more comfortable and easy to wear than rain ponchos, and will double as your windbreaker on cooler days. However, if you don’t have rain coats , then purchase Coleman rain ponchos from Walmart for around $3 each (in the camping section). The really cheap $1 ponchos are so thin that they are usually only good for one ride before they rip.
ZIP LOCK BAGS – Pack a couple of large (2 gallon) baggies so you have a place to stash that dripping wet rain gear without getting the rest of the stuff in your backpack wet. Also bring smaller ziplock bags for your electronics if you don’t have a waterproof place to store them.
Every park has a First Aid station that is staffed by medical professionals, although there is no physician on site. They offer a large variety of nonprescription medications in both child and adult strength, and an assortment of band-aids, all of which are available for no cost. They even have baby powder available, if the heat is causing you to chafe!
You can also pack a tiny first-aid kit that includes a few band-aids, some liquid band-aid, a needle and thread, a few safety pins, and a glasses repair kit (if anyone wears glasses). Include a small bottle with a few aspirin, tylenol, antacid, antidiarrheal, and advil, along with any specialty medications you require.
Spray on sunscreen is available in small tubes that are easy to pack. Lotion-type sunscreen does a better job, but feels so yukky on sweaty skin that you may be better off getting a lightweight spray that you’ll use more often.
Layers for the win! Weather is a changeable thing in Florida, so you may leave your resort in 40 degree temperatures, have things heat up to over 80 during the day, then finish the night with a light rain shower and cooling back to 40. We’ve toured the parks on below-freezing days wearing windbreakers, polar-fleece pullovers, shirt, jeans, and lightweight knit gloves. As the weather warms during the day, you can remove and pack the pullover and gloves, then the windbreaker.
If you have small children, bring a change of clothing. If you’re visiting during warmer weather and your kids like to play in water features, bring a swimsuit or a change of clothing.
Wear comfortable and breathable walking shoes with good socks. The average person walks 8 miles a day at Disney World – your feet will be tired!
WALLET, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
One option is to remove all but your essential cards from your regular wallet, and bring just your driver’s license, one credit card, and your park tickets (if you don’t use a Magic Band). Your other option is to have a lanyard that can carry all these things and is easy to keep track of.
If you do carry the wallet in your pants, we recommend only a zippered pocket. Sure, your wallet stays put during work, but how many times are you launched into the air at speed, doused with water, or thrown upside-down while working at the office?
LADIES, LEAVE THE PURSE AT HOME
Unless you have a backpack-style purse, a lightweight and small backpack will serve your park needs much better than any purse. The pack will be more secure, and if it gets dirty you can just throw it in the washing machine.
Don’t forget your lunch, drinks, and snacks!
LOCKERS – To Rent or Not To Rent
If you have a large family, the idea of poor Dad schlepping a heavy backpack full of food around all day, especially in the heat of summer, doesn’t sound all that appealing. If won’t have a stroller, renting a locker is a good option. Locker rentals to store your bag lunch do cost money, but it’s a small price to pay compared to eating at restaurants. The downside is that every time you get hungry, you will need to walk back to the lockers.
Large Locker (size varies, but smallest is 17”H x 9”W x 16”): $7.00 per day plus a $5.00 key deposit which is refunded when the key is returned. There are also small lockers for $5 a day.
Lockers can be accessed as often as you like.
When visiting more than one theme park on the same day: Return the key for the $5.00 deposit and get a receipt. Present the receipt at the next park, pay the $5.00 key deposit and you’ll have a locker for the remainder of the day.
Another option besides renting a locker is to evenly distribute the load among everyone in your group. If your kids can be trusted to keep track of a backpack or fanny pack when getting off and on rides, they can carry their own water and a snack. If this is not an option, at least have each adult carry a pack and split up the weight as evenly as possible. If you are one adult with two or more children, carrying water may not be an option due to weight. In this case, take advantage of drinking fountains and free ice water at counter service restaurants.