Flying to Disney World: Carry-on Essentials

Going on a vacation can be a real bittersweet experience at times; you are excited to go, but you are not necessarily thrilled about the “getting there” part of the trip.  When the trip requires flying, this feeling can be even more overwhelming, as you decide what gets packed in which bag, how much to pack and how heavy your bags are.

Disney offers a service called Magical Express which makes getting to and from Orlando International Airport easier and cheaper (it’s free) than taking a cab; however, it doesn’t come without its caveats.  For one thing, your checked luggage won’t show up to your resort until a few hours after you do, so depending on your plans, you need to think very carefully about what is going into your carry-on bags. Here are some suggestions:

1. Extra clothes
We commonly pack an extra set of clothes for each person in the family whenever we fly anywhere, in case our checked luggage is lost in transit.  This may be particularly important if the clothes you are flying in are not suitable for a day in a theme park.

2. Sunblock
It’s important to wear sunblock while visiting the parks, but you can’t throw your entire bottle of it into your checked bags, due to the liquids rules while flying.  Make sure you fill a couple of airline-acceptable containers with enough sunblock for the whole family.

3. Swimsuits
Some families prefer to spend their first day at the resort pool.  This is a great way to ease into your vacation without burning one of your theme park tickets on a partial day.  Just make sure you pack your suits in the carry-on, so you can hit the pool right away!

4. Snacks/Entertainment/Chargers
These are items most people typically pack for any flight; just make sure your devices are charged up before the flight.

5. Sunglasses
A lot of our flights leave out of our home airport early in the morning, so we aren’t necessarily wearing our sunglasses when we leave the house.  Make sure you pack them in your carry-on, so you’ll have them when you need them upon arrival in Orlando.

6. Pins/Vinylmations
If your first day plans involve going somewhere that includes pin- or vinylmation-trading, make sure you have your traders with you.

7. Guide books/Itinerary
Even as smartphones take over as the go-to resource for accessing your vacation plans, we would still recommend a hard copy of your essential information – reservation numbers, times, etc.


8. MagicBands
This is a new one, but we will all soon get used to the common reminder: Don’t forget to pack your MagicBands in your carry-on!
MagicBands are the focal point of Disney’s Next Generation initiative, and they are being rolled out across property as you read this.  They are bracelets that replace your room key, theme park keys and credit card.  When you book a Disney vacation, you can personalize a MagicBand for each member of your party, and they are sent to your house ahead of your trip.  This is a fun and exciting package to receive in the mail as you are counting down the days until your vacation; but you have to remember to pack them! Furthermore, they should go in your carry-on so you can begin using them as soon as you get to the resort.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive; we each have our own items that we can’t travel without. But, if you include these things in your carry-on, you likely won’t feel like you forgot something when you are checked into your Disney resort and are ready to start your vacation!


Disney’s Magical Express 101

There are a few perks of vacationing at Disney World that many people assume cost extra, such as FastPass and transportation to the parks.  Another great “extra” of staying at a Disney Resort is Magical Express, Disney’s free airport shuttle and luggage service.

After you book your flights, you should call Disney (or have your Travel Planner call!) and register for the service.  Before your vacation you will receive special yellow luggage tags and a booklet with Magical Express vouchers.  Please note that these luggage tags are the paper type with ends that are like stickers; they are just like the ones that the airline will put on your bag when you check it at the airport.  They are NOT the luggage tags that Disney frequently gives you as a souvenir, the hard plastic type that contains a card with your name and contact info.

Photo by Jumping in Mud Puddles

Photo by Jumping in Mud Puddles

Prior to leaving for Disney, you will put the yellow luggage tags on all luggage that is being checked at the airport.  After you check it at your home airport, you won’t see it again until it is in your room at Disney World; it truly is magical!

Upon arrival at Orlando International Airport (MCO), you can bypass the baggage claim.  Go straight to the Magical Express counter (Main Terminal Building – B Side – Level 1). They will take your voucher and you will board the shuttle to your resort.  Please be aware that most of the shuttles will be scheduled to stop at a few resorts that are located near each other.  The trip from MCO to your resort should take around 40-50 minutes, depending on which resort the shuttle stops at first.

Another happy family boards the "Mickey Bus"!

Another happy family boards the “Mickey Bus”!

When you get to your resort, you will check in as usual.  If your room is available, you can take your carry-on baggage up to it and begin to get settled.  Your luggage will usually arrive a couple of hours after you do, so it might make more sense for you to go do something, like visit a park or hang by the pool.  Keep in mind, though, that whatever you need for these activities should be packed in your carry-on luggage, since that is all you will have available when you first arrive at the resort. If this seems problematic, you can opt to pick up your checked baggage before you leave MCO. Here’s how that works: Don’t put the yellow tags on the luggage back at home; stop by baggage claim at MCO and retrieve your bags; the Magical Express will put your luggage in the undercarriage and bring it with you to your resort.

When your vacation nears its end, you will be told when to report to the Magical Express pick-up location at your resort (usually 3 hours prior to flight time).  Depending on your airline, you can check your luggage at your resort (see Notes below); you will see it again at your home airport.  The Magical Express will take you back to MCO, and you’ll be on your way home.


The Magical Express shuttle is available 24 hours, but the luggage service is only for flights arriving between 5AM and 10PM.  If your flight arrives outside of those hours, you will need to go to baggage claim, get your bags and bring them with you on the Magical Express.

The following airlines are available for Resort Check-In:

AirTran Airways
Alaska Airlines
American Airlines
Delta Air Lines
JetBlue Airways
Southwest Airlines
United Airlines
US Airways

International guests can use the Magical Express service, but they still have to follow Customs; afterwards, your luggage will be re-collected and brought to your resort.