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!


Money-Saving Disney Vacation Tips: Shop Before You Go

Let’s be honest: There are reasons why we are willing to pay when places like the Disney Parks overcharge us for things that would cost a fraction of the price in the real world.  For one, we are on vacation, so the money in our pockets may be considered a bit more disposable than when we are home.  Plus, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment when we are living “in the bubble” for a week; suddenly, we forget that we usually spend $2.50 for an entire case of water at home, but in the parks it is the cost of a single bottle.  So, we have to rely on our “still at home” selves to save some money for the “on vacation” spendthrifts we become!  Here are some things that you can purchase while you are still at home that could potentially save you a bundle when you are in the parks.

1. Rain ponchos

"Look, kids, these 50-cent ponchos match Mickey's shoes!"

“Look, kids, these 50-cent ponchos match Mickey’s shoes!”

Florida is known for its daily rain showers, sometimes only lasting a few minutes, sometimes lasting all afternoon.  While looking through the photos from a typical family’s Disney World vacation, you would be hard-pressed to not see at least one picture of people in rain ponchos.  Disney charges a little less than $10 for a poncho, so a family of four is spending close to $40 for ponchos.  The good news is that these are destined to be family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation.  OK, not so much.  They are plastic and they have a picture of Mickey Mouse on the back.  Also, if it rips, Disney will replace it free of charge.  Otherwise, there is no reason to have to pay that amount.  Most Targets, Walmarts and dollar stores sell ponchos, many times in a 2-pack for $1.00.  Honestly, these are trash bags with a few holes in them, and you are usually better off using them and throwing them away rather than trying to dry them and reuse them; but that sounds better than lugging around wet plastic for the week anyway, doesn’t it?

2. Bottled Water

Dealing with hydration, especially in Florida, is a top priority for any Disney vacationer.  Free water is plentiful in the parks, either at the tap or at counter service restaurants.  Many of us, however, have grown accustomed to bottled spring water.  Disney charges $2.50 for a single bottle in the park.  This isn’t too bad; the same bottle at a movie theater or a ballpark may cost you twice as much.  But it adds up.  Let’s say you drink 4 bottles a day, for 7 days: $70 multiplied by the number of people in your family.  Many online retailers (Amazon, Staples, etc.) sell cases of bottled water that can be ordered and shipped to your hotel prior to your stay.  These are usually priced higher than the case you would buy at your local supermarket, but they still represent a significant savings.  For example, a recent search on Amazon turned up a 35-pack of spring water for $22 with free shipping.  When you get to your hotel, you would have the water sent to your room with your luggage.  In the morning, everyone grabs a bottle or two and it will save you a few bucks (or some snack credits) in the park that day.

Purchase souvenirs before you leave home, so you can buy more expensive ones in the parks!

Purchase souvenirs before you leave home, so you can buy more expensive ones in the parks!

3. Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs is an important and fun part of many family vacations.  Chances are, all the money-saving preparations in the world won’t stop you from buying that really cool Epcot thimble when you see it and fall in love with it.  But, sometimes it can become frustrating to continue to spend money on things that are being sold back at home for a lot less.  Here are a few tips to help you out with souvenirs.  First, hit up the Disney Store before you leave.  Check out their clearance section for t-shirts, toys and other fun items.  Don’t tell the kids about them, and you can surprise them with little toys and gifts throughout the trip.  If you are into Vinylmation, check out that section of your Disney Store as well.  Many times, there are great deals (Buy 1, Get 1) or clearance sales (I’ve seen them marked as low as $2.99) on these collectibles.  The deals may not be on the type you want, but these make great traders in the park.  A couple of traders can keep a child collector busy for the whole vacation.  Finally, check out the dollar store for nighttime entertainment souvenirs, like glow sticks or other glow-in-the-dark toys.  Many of the toys sold during parades and fireworks can cost $15 or more.  You can be a real hero if you break out a huge package of glow sticks to give to your family (and maybe even your sidewalk neighbors, too!) while you are waiting for the nighttime parade to begin.

While these tips won’t stop you from spending (perhaps more than you wanted) while you are on vacation, they can help you avoid overpaying for some things, saving extra money for another Mickey Bar or  Dole Whip Float!