Preparing to do battle? Good.

You’ve got your packing list and you’ve read all the books, but what do you really need for your Walt Disney World trip? Well, good shoes, of course. And all the basics—you don’t want to forget that toothbrush even if you can buy one at your resort.  On top of that, there are a few must-haves that I don’t like to leave home without:

5.  Sunblock that you brought from home.

Sure, you can get sunblock in the park, but it’s expensive and worse than that, it’s probably not what you need. Not only is the sun protection factor (or SPF) on the low side, Disney sells mostly spray-on sunblock, which doesn’t offer the best coverage. If you burn (and most of us will in the strong Florida sun), bring a good sunblock from home, usually an SPF 50 or higher.  I like Neutrogena or Aveeno for Kids, both of which come in SPF Bazillion and don’t feel too heavy. Apply frequently and while you’re at it, don’t forget your hat.

It's a beautiful, sunny day. Don't forget your sunblock.

4. Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs).

I used to make ADRs for most days of my trip, but the new cancellation policy, which imposes a $10 per person penalty for missed ADRs, has made it a lot easier to get reservations the day you want to dine.  You can even try getting a walk-up reservation.  Please note: This probably doesn’t apply to the much overrated Le Cellier.  I don’t forgo ADRs completely, however. Instead, I usually make them for at least half of the sit-down meals I’ll be eating in Walt Disney World. I find it’s a nice compromise between over-planning and having a little bit of spontaneity.

Make sure you add the infamous Butterfinger Cupcake to your schedule (from Starring Rolls Cafe at Hollywood Studios).


3.  A planning spreadsheet that you can throw away.

Speaking of planning, we all know it’s good to plan out some aspects of your Walt Disney World vacation, whether it’s what night you’ll be seeing Fantasmic or what character meet and greets are a must-do. What isn’t good is sticking so firmly to your plans that you miss out on the type of magic you just can’t plan.  So, know where you’re going, but don’t be afraid of taking a detour along the way to getting there.

No, you can't take one of these to Universal.

2.  A basic understanding of how Disney transportation, your tickets, and the dining plan work.

You don’t have to memorize the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. In fact, as much as I love that guidebook, it can be overwhelming to the average guest. But you should take some time to understand that a base ticket means no park hopping and that you get dining credits per night, not per day. Little things like knowing you can’t  use Disney buses for resort to resort transportation can save you time. And at Disney World, time is definitely money. And not wasting it makes for a much happier guest.

1.  A little extra cash.

There’s nothing worse than being on a super tight budget at Walt Disney World.  Saving a little extra cash, even if it means moving your trip a little farther into the future, can bring you a lot of peace of mind. Just to be safe, add about 20% more to your estimate for out-of-pocket expenses.  Chances are good you won’t spend that much more, but if something comes up, or if you just want to splurge, you’ll have the extra cash if you need it.

And what don’t you need? Well, you don’t need to add the water park option, at least not until you’re in Walt Disney World. Here’s why. Adding a water park and more option to a base ticket costs around $60 per ticket. That’s a lot of money, consider the cost to the average family of four people.  And while the water parks are appealing, this option is often underused. Why? Because people get busy in the parks!  And because the resort pools are pretty darn nice already. Finally, Florida weather can be unpredictable. Sure, you’re almost guaranteed good weather from April through October, but it can be downright cold in March and December might find you wearing gloves and a hat–not a bathing suit.

Your best bet is to wait to add the water park option once you know you’ll use it and if the weather is holding up. Just make sure you have at least one day left on your park tickets.  It’s as simple as going to your resort concierge or any ticket booth to add the option; the price remains the same whether your ticket is for two or ten days.

What about you? Is there a “must have” on your Disney park travel list? Please tell us about it in the comments section.

Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.

You can find Chris at Everything Walt Disney World.

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If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!

  • Great column Chris. I’ve got to agree about the sunblock. I’ve forgotten it more times than I can remember and not putting it on (even just one day) can ruin a vacation due to sunburn.

    Your best tip is not to be afraid to explore. As Fastpass, dining reservations and travel guides all urge pre-planning of everything, the adventure and whimsey of a Disney vacation is quickly being replaced with schedules and plans. While you may have to use advance dining reservations and fastpass to compete with the other guests and still have a good time, if the crowds aren’t too bad, don’t be afraid to explore.

    Our best vacations ever were the ones where we just showed up with no prior plan as to what we were going to do. Sure, we may not have gotten as much done, but we also explored more and felt like we were really enjoying ourselves rather than just rushing to the next thing. Certainly worth a try if the conditions are right.

    • Chris Wood

      Thank you. I was a little surprised at how strong the sun was in Disneyland and got a slight burn. It’s so lovely and cool, you forget. It’s hard to forget in WDW where the sun beats down on you like crazy.

      I’m a huge fan of just taking it easy on Disney vacations these days if it’s not crowded too–thanks for your comment.

  • KENfromOC

    While I always like your columns, you are way off base with your sunblock recommendations. We recently had a demonologists on our local community TV station and he talked about the new FDA guidelines which say that anything over SPF 50 is a waste (and they are even looking at anything over 30). In fact their recommendation is “use a Broad Spectrum sunscreen with an SPF value of 15 or higher in combination with other protective measures” Also, it can take up to an hour for the sunblock to absorb into your skin to reach it full protection potential – so apply it early.

    Your basic ideas for bringing your own brand is fine, as is wearing a hat. But unless you are a demonologists, you should stay away from specific recommendations!

    FDA link:s

    • Chris Wood

      Thanks Ken. That’s good advice and I always appreciate every comment, even if I don’t entirely agree! I’ve heard this as well and I really don’t know what to believe and have wondered the same thing, but my dermatologist’s recommendation for a higher SPF is based mainly on the fact that people don’t apply it the way they should. I know that if I go under 50, I fry.

      Thanks for reading.

  • danyoung

    So now I’m totally confused – do I listen to my dermatologist or my demonologist?

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Loved the article, especially the advice about having a plan but being willing to dump it if the need arises. Oh, and for me, not so much with the sunscreen, but I can see how it’s needed for most folks, especially kids!

    • Chris Wood

      Very cute!

      Thank you for your comment–it made me laugh.