Getting Ready for Your Walt Disney World Vacation…Packing

luggageIt’s a couple days before my trip to Disney World and I feel like Cinderella getting ready to go the ball. It’s such an exciting feeling, but getting there takes some preparation, and we don’t all have personal fairy godmothers at a moments notice. No, instead you will have this blog to give you some suggestions on what I consider to be the most valuable items to pack.

Items may change depending on the time of year you go (lot’s of t shirts versus lot’s of sweatshirts) or the age of people you are going with (diapers versus hearing aid batteries). You know you and your family best, so this is not an all encompassing list. Things like MagicBands and money are definitely a must. This is my top “must haves” that might or might not be so obvious to you, followed by a list of what I deemed unnecessary baggage.

Must Haves

Keeping cool with sunglasses and a visor.

Keeping cool with sunglasses and a visor.

Sunscreen and/or Sunglasses and/or Hat:
I take my sun protection very seriously, and I’d advise you to do the same. Sunburns will not only kill your Disney vibe since you’ll be in pain, they also leave you wide open to infinity lobster comparisons. The sun in Disney World is bright because it’s more magical that way. Stop straining your eyes and get some sunglasses. I love finding cheap ones at someplace like Target so I don’t care if they drop, get scratched, break, or I lose them on a ride.

My Mickey bag is my go to Disney park bag.

My Mickey bag is my go to Disney park bag.

A Bag to bring into the park unless you are a guy with ginormous pockets:
To women, this probably seems obvious, but I want you think more about the type of bag that will work for you. If you get stuck with a huge backpack, will it get too heavy and uncomfortable throughout the day? If you stick with the forever cool fanny pack, will that be enough room if you wanted to bring some snacks or water bottles? What feels more comfortable on you, over both shoulders or just one like a messenger bag? I would never recommend using something expensive or something really special to you. This bag will be touching benches, hanging from bathroom stalls, set down on seats and floors and different ride vehicles. I have been using an orange Mickey sling book bag for what seems like forever. I like it because it’s super light weight, but I can still stuff a sweatshirt and refillable mug in there too.

maybe the best dollar you ever spend

maybe the best dollar you ever spend

Umbrella or poncho, the dollar ones will do the trick:
Depending on the time of year you go, you may experience monsoon like weather in Orlando. (Summer). While you are most likely going to experience rain during your visit, for every cloud there’s a silver lining. People will leave the park when it starts raining. I don’t know why, perhaps melting is a serious concern, but I would advise you to whip out your trusty poncho and keep enjoying the Magic. The rain is likely to pass, and in the meantime, the lines on some of your favorite rides have greatly diminished.

we love snacks, any time, any where.

we love snacks, any time, any where.

Snacks:
There is something about traveling and being in a plane or hotel that just makes me want to eat, regardless of the time of day or how many hours it’s been since my last meal. Save yourself a couple bucks and bring some snacks and even your own bottles of water if you want. (Of course you have to check all liquids over 3 oz.) And since you’re already bringing something to eat, why not bring breakfast? This only applies if you are like me, not super into breakfast but still has to eat something or I might die. In the past I have brought my own Kashi cereal, bowls, and spoons and just bought some milk at the food court. I have also brought my own bread and peanut butter. The food courts and villas have toasters for you to use. Bringing your own breakfast also cuts down on time in the morning so you can spend that extra 30 minutes or so sleeping in.

plastic bags will help you out in multiple situations.

plastic bags will help you out in multiple situations.

Plastic bags big and small:
Since these are super lightweight and take up virtually no room, I’d recommend throwing in a couple extra plastic bags. Throw in an extra zip lock for your liquids in case your other one rips for gets thrown away. Or incase you want to put your phone and wallet in something waterproof on Splash Mountain. Throw in an extra garbage bag so you have a dirty clothes bag in the room. Throw in an extra Wal Mart bag for wet bathing suits if you want to swim on your check out day but have already checked your luggage at the Resort airline check in. You would even throw in one of those dollar bags from the store checkout in case you are coming home with more souvenirs than anticipated. Bottom line, can’t go wrong with plastic bags.

Gum:
This is more of an FYI to any serious gum chewers out there. If you want gum, you will have to bring your own. Disney does not sell gum anywhere on property. I’d imagine it’s to avoid sticky messes all over the park.

your dogs might be barking by the end of the day.

your dogs might be barking by the end of the day.

Pain Medication:
After I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon, I was beyond thankful to have some pain killers with me. Even if you’re not running a marathon, it’s still a good idea to pack something. After a long day of walking around, climbing in and out of ride vehicle boats, and doing way more standing than you are used to, your legs and feet will be feeling it. You also never know when a child induced headache will strike, so have a few over the counter drugs at hand.

Unnecessary Baggage, What NOT to bring:

Expensive jewelry:
This is similar to above when I mentioned there is no need to bring an expensive bag. Disney is not responsible for any lost or stolen items, so why even put something of value in a vulnerable situation like that?

towels are provided

towels are provided

Towels:
Towels are always provided at the main pool of every resort. Unless you have a really deep affinity for your own pool towels, don’t waste space in your luggage. They will be provided. Disney also has life jackets for the little ones too if you want to keep their floaties at home.

you will be stuffed for most of the day on the dining plan.

you will be stuffed for most of the day on the dining plan.

Food:
But wait Sandy, before you said to bring snack, now your saying not to bring snacks?
If you’re on the Disney dining plan and you’re a human, I can almost 100% guarantee you that you will not to bring extra snacks. You get a lot of food on the dining plan and even get snack options, so in this case, it’s not necessary to bring your own. You could however still bring your own breakfast since most plans don’t include breakfast options.

don't let this be you a few days before your trip.

don’t let this be you a few days before your trip.

Shoes you’ve never worn before:
A single blister can derail an entire Disney trip, and if you’ve ever tried to buy quality footwear in an amusement park, you know the pickin’s are slim. If you’ve read my other getting ready for WDW blog, you know that I recommend training, so you should have your proper footwear picked out ahead of time. Now is the time to go tried and true. I always like have a couple footwear options just in case. I was just in the Adirondacks where one of my favorite Dr. Scholls shoes started giving me a blister out of nowhere. So sad, but luckily I had my trusty flip flops for the rest of the trip.

There you have it folks. The last of my getting ready for Walt Disney World Blog series. I can’t wait to enjoy the fun and sun at the happiest place on Earth. What are your must haves when you pack for Disney?

What even Non-Disney Humans can Appreciate about Disney Series…Staff Training

To the readers of Sandy’s blog, it’s not a surprise that I don’t love Disney. (This is Brad again.) Even as a non-Disney lover though, there are some facets of Disney that I appreciate for a variety of reasons.

These cast members are serious about meeting your needs.

These cast members are serious about meeting your needs.

Staff Training
As a teacher whose classroom management plan involves slowly training academic behavior into a group of middle school students who are mostly concerned exclusively with their own immediate feelings, I am very impressed with how well Disney trains their staff. No worker, or “cast member” in Disney speak, ever misses a beat. They perform their jobs perfectly every time, and from what I’ve heard, they do so for about the same amount of money as the McDonalds worker who gives you two chicken sandwiches and a scowl when you order a burger and fries — and hope for a smile.

I got so many "congratulations" from cast member the day after wine and dine.

I got so many “congratulations” from cast member the day after wine and dine.

Disney staff catch everything from Disney pins indicating birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons, etc. to t-shirts indicating everything from family reunions to race finishes. It’s not that the staff notice these small details about visitors that’s impressive, it’s the fact that while checking tickets, assigning people a row in a fake, shaking spaceship, and high-fiving the toddler in front of you, they still notice some miniscule nuance of your overly-bright tourist costume and comment on it with what sounds like genuine cheer. I’m not pretending that every staff member is genuinely excited by every birthday pin they see. That’s what makes it all the more impressive. I know I’m the 200th person that day with a “recently engaged” pin, and the ride attendant still smiles and cheers as if you’re her brother.

The nicest Italian cast member gave us a free dessert after she saw our "Just Engaged" pins.

The nicest Italian cast member gave us a free dessert after she saw our “Just Engaged” pins.

Most of us, if we’re honest, cut corners every now and again. In the words of my dad and I when completing home improvement projects in our century old houses: “that’s what thick moulding is for. ”Disney staff are trained never to cut corners. There are entire divisions of workers who stroll the grounds just to sweep up the occasional gum wrapper that shows up on the pavement. They never walk by a blowing napkin on the sidewalk because most people won’t see it anyway. They sweep it up. They sweep everything up. Depending on what job you hold, and if you’re a Disney fan, I’m assuming it’s a pretty decent one, I’m sure you know someone making between $80-$100k a year who doesn’t show that level of attention to detail. Training isn’t the only part of Disney that’s impressive to a non Disney person. Stay tuned for more Disney nuances that impress even people who refuse to wear silly, black ears.

My friend Kendall still upbeat after hours of working on "It's a Small World." Not an easy task.

My friend Kendall still upbeat after hours of working on “It’s a Small World.” Not an easy task.

Why Disney World Resorts Are The Best (Series)…Deluxe Resorts Part 2

Friendship boats to get to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Friendship boats to get to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Let’s continue on down that deluxe resort road, down the road to Epcot (and Animal Kingdom). The next batch of deluxe resorts continue to wow us with their theming, amenities, and park proximity. Characterized as the Epcot resorts are the Beach Club, Yacht Club and the Boardwalk Inn. These three resorts surround Crescent Lake. Then in a world of its own is the Animal Kingdom Lodge, located in close proximity to the Animal Kingdom. Each one of these resorts has something great to bring to the table.

The Beach Club/Yacht Club
These two resorts are like brother and sister. They are actually attached and share without question, Disney’s best pool, Stormalong Bay. Both hotels have very similar layouts and share the theme of being by the ocean. The theme of the Beach Club is turn of the century New England seashore. The Yacht has more of a boating, nautical feel. Some people say that the Yacht Club has a slightly more adult feel to it, but just like every resort on property, families of all ages are welcome, and shorts and Mickey shirts are the norm. These resorts share buses too, but you will have a nice relaxing covered bus stop to wait at.

Walkway to Epcot

Walkway to Epcot

Proximity
By far, the best perk of these hotel is the proximity to Epcot. In case you didn’t know, Epcot actually has two entrances, the main one by the monorail and spaceship earth, and one called the international gateway, located between England and France. You can only get to this entrance from the Epcot Resorts. The walk from the Beach Club to Epcot it literally 5-10 minutes depending on your pace. The Yacht club might be an extra 5 minutes since it’s situated on the farther end. This comes in handy if you want to drink your way around the countries, stay late at the International Food and Wine Festival, or want to make a quick getaway after Illuminations. Both hotels also line Crescent lake, the waterway that connects Epcot to the resorts and to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. You can definitely walk to Hollywood Studios from the Beach and Yacht Club, but it will probably take you 20-30 minutes. If that seems like too much, hop on one of the Friendship boats. Yacht and Beach club share a dock where a boat will pick you up and take you to your final destination. FYI, the boat makes a few stops and can take a while. The order of the stops is Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Swan/Dolphin, Yacht/Beach, Boardwalk, Epcot, then reverse order. So remember, even though it seems close, I wouldn’t try to cut it too close with Fastpasses or dining reservations.

Stormalong Bay pool is awesome.

Stormalong Bay pool is awesome.

Pool
Let’s hop back to the pool situation. Stormalong Bay is a huge, sand bottom pool complete with lazy river, waterfalls, coves, bridges, kids sections, hot tubs, and water slide. This pool was becoming so popular, everyone wanted to go. Now it is for hotel guests only, and cast members will check you magic bands to make sure you are a resort guest. Also FYI, one of the only complaints I’ve heard about this pool is that the entrance to the water slide is actually outside the pool area, close to Crescent Lake. If you are alone at the pool with a young child, it might be difficult to constantly keep an eye on them. However not to worry, there are always tons of lifeguards everywhere.

Refill your mug by the pool

Refill your mug by the pool

Dining
Staying in the Epcot Resort areas opens up your dining options because you are in short distance of Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk, Yacht/Beach club, and the Swan/Dolphin. The Yacht club does not have any quick service dining options so you will have to go elsewhere if that is what you are looking for. And that brings me to a money saving recommendation if you are debating buying the Rapid Refillable Mugs. I would not buy them if I was staying at the Yacht club because there is no where to refill them. All the refill stations are located at the Beach Club (which has 3). Now they will work at any hotel so if you were staying by the pool all day you could refill them at the poolside grill Hurricane Hanna’s, but if that’s not the case, it’s not convenient for you at all. On the flip side, if you are staying at the Beach Club, I would highly recommend buying the mugs. You can even use them at the Beaches and Cream restaurant. Don’t forget they will also work at the participating Boardwalk refill stations if you are over there.

Stroll down the Boardwalk

Stroll down the Boardwalk

Boardwalk Inn
The Boardwalk Inn captures the feel of a coastal 1920’s seashore boardwalk. Again you have the convenience of walking or boating to Epcot through the international gateway as well as Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It is a slightly closer walk to the studios from the Boardwalk since it’s across the lake from Yacht/Beach. The Boardwalk is a perfect place for families that enjoy more of a nightlife or bustling feel. All of the restaurant’s for this hotel are actually on the boardwalk, so you must go outside to access them. You will have a variety of dining options, from quick service, to casual, to ice cream, to more high end.

Rent a surrey bike at the Boardwalk

Rent a surrey bike at the Boardwalk

There is something for everyone. There are also two clubs on the boardwalk, Atlantic Dance Hall and Jellyrolls for some evening entertainment and dancing. You can also rent surrey bikes on the boardwalk and make the Crescent Lake loop. FYI, if you have a fear of clowns, this is not the resort for you. The pool is home to a giant (creepy) waterslide clown.

Creepy clown? You decide.

Creepy clown? You decide.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a room facing the lake because there are also very pretty gardens on the other side of the hotel for you to stroll though. This hotel is the smallest of the deluxe resorts in terms of available rooms so it can fill up fast, especially during the International Food and Wine festival. All the Epcot resorts tend to fill up during this time. Also, during certain times of the year, the Boardwalk might share a bus with the Swan/Dolphin and they usually drop at the Boardwalk last. If you are willing and able, I’d hop off and walk back to the Boardwalk. It’s such a pretty view walking around the lake anyways. If there are any runners reading, the Crescent Lake loop is approximately 1 mile, or the path along the water to Hollywood Studios would make a great out and back.

Enjoy the savanna view at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Enjoy the savanna view at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Animal Kingdom Lodge
Situated close to its Animal Kingdom counterpart, the Animal Kingdom lodge brings the feeling of an African wildlife preserve right to central Florida. Definitely the highlight of this hotel is the savanna views of the animals. There are 3 separate savannas, Sunset, Arusha, and Uzima, and each one offers a different view and some difference in animals. Your room will come with a viewing guide, and there are many cast members that can answer questions about the animals. There are also special sunrise and sunset safari tours you can reserve. This is definitely not cheap, however you will have 3 hours of pretty much a private safari tour. This is another resort that has bunk beds available which could work well for certain parties. FYI, not all rooms face the savanna. This is something you must request when selecting a room category. This hotel has plenty of dining options for the more adventurous and the mundane.

View of the pool.

View of the pool.

The hotel offers one of the largest pools on Disney property but note to adults, there is no quiet pool at the Animal Kingdom lodge. This hotel also has the most rooms out of all the deluxe resorts. I have yet to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge simply because of it’s location. All of the other deluxe resorts allow you to walk, boat, or monorail to a nearby park or two. Animal Kingdom Lodge just seems so out of the way to me that I haven’t been able to commit to transportation only by bus for the price of deluxe. But that is just me, and if animals are your thing and you love the Animal Kingdom, this place should be a perfect fit.

The Epcot resort area is becoming one of my favorite places to stay for the convenience and proximity to two parks. Even getting to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom does not take that long. A few more FYI’s about all deluxe resorts, all hotels will have different room options, suites, and club level. One of the more annoying things considering the price you pay, not all rooms are guaranteed walk out balconies. You will definitely have a sliding glass door that opens, but there might not be an actual patio with chairs, just a railing. This is something you can request and hope for the best. As always, contact me if you have more questions or want recommendations for your next stay. That concludes the deluxe resorts but there are still plenty more accommodation options on property. Stay tuned for Disney Vacation Club villas.