Packing for vacation can be stressful.


Deciding what to bring, anticipating what you'll need, and choosing the right clothes, reading material, and necessities takes time and effort. Packing for children adds another layer of work and worry. Wise travelers, I once read, put everything they think they need to pack on a table or bed—and then put half into a suitcase and the other half back into the closet.

There are, however, some essentials when traveling, especially when going to the Walt Disney World Resort. What follows is a what I consider to be my list of absolutes—necessities that will undoubtedly enhance the Disney experience for you and your traveling companions.

#5 – Balance

Travelling alone has its joys, as does traveling with others. The single traveler enjoys that rare pleasure of following his or her own whims and interests. There's no need to worry if others will enjoy a particular restaurant, attraction, or experience. Going solo has its advantages.

When traveling with others, of course, experiences are shared—and that, in and of itself, is a special pleasure. Most vacation stories revolve around humorous family misadventures and mishaps, and there really is something to be said for "making memories" with those we love. Nonetheless, traveling with others requires compromise—we often have to give up experiences we would enjoy to meet the needs of our travelling companions.

It is, however, possible to achieve some sort of balance. When travelling with a family, for example, experiencing things together enhances the fun of vacation. It also expands horizons. I am not a big fan of Tomorrowland, for example, but my sons love it. So, in an effort to make the trip memorable for them, we spent a considerable amount of time there during a recent visit. And guess what? I enjoyed it because I was with people I love.

I am not a big fan of character meals, but there was a request to enjoy a meal inside Cinderella Castle. Was it overpriced? Yes. Would I have enjoyed my vacation without this particular experience? Sure. That said, it was wonderful to be inside the castle again after so many years—both the architecture and décor are truly amazing. Seeing the joy on the faces of my family was more than worth my little compromise.

There are some experiences that I enjoy that are not on the must-do lists of others in my family. I love the World Showcase films, for example, but my sons are far too young to enjoy "The American Adventure" or "Impressions de France." My Walt Disney World experience, however, is not complete without these two classics. As a result, we are sure to build in some time in our itinerary for me to sneak off and enjoy both attractions without the kids in tow. It takes a little effort to make this happen, but it is worth it.

#4 – A Plan

Speaking of planning, a game plan of sorts is the next essential to pack in your suitcase. There is much online debate about this idea, and rightly so. Part of the fun of vacation is escaping schedules and "have to do" lists. Disney's new NextGen has many fans worried that their entire vacation will have to be micro-managed in advance.

This is another example when balance is key. It's safe to say that some level of planning is essential to make the most out of a Walt Disney World vacation. Some Advance Dining Reservations need to be made to avoid the disappointment of missing out on a favorite dining location. Some idea of how many days will be spent at theme parks and water parks is essential when making the decision to purchase theme park tickets. For me, the key is prioritizing. Rather than micro-manage every single minute of vacation, we tend to create lists of must-do attractions, meals, and experiences. That way, we have a focus when we arrive at a park and avoid wasting valuable time deciding what to do next. Once we've enjoyed the essential attractions on our lists, we are free to spontaneously enjoy the rest of the day.

Another consideration is a financial one. Walt Disney World vacations are expensive, and there's nothing worse than arriving home only to realize that you forgot or didn't even know about an experience you and your family would have enjoyed. (Acquaintances of mine from the West Coast once spent the entirety of their vacation in Epcot's Future World thinking that was all there was to see. They were under the impression that World Showcase was Florida's version of the Magic Kingdom, so never even ventured that far!)

At the very least, a brief outline of a plan—combined with plenty of unstructured time for following one's whims—makes vacation truly worthwhile.

#3 – Realistic Expectations

This is a tough one, and Disney marketing is to blame.

Every promotional DVD, brochure, website, or commercial promises "magic" for visitors. Perfect weather, small crowds, up-close and personal interactions with the characters, and smiling families are everywhere. In addition to pushing one's insulin level to dangerous heights, the overly perky, annoyingly enthusiastic hosts of the promotional DVDs as well the over-the-top "testimonials" of real guests build up expectations that are, to say the least, unrealistic.

I'm not suggesting that visitors lower their expectations or that they stop dreaming of Disney destinations, but a little perspective is vital. Without it, there's a strong possibility that the reality of vacation will be a letdown, or worse. Similar to planning, a balance is needed here. Go ahead and get excited—create a countdown poster—make your dining reservations—visit the local Disney Store to get in the mood, but just remember: real vacations are seldom like the ones shown in commercials.

#2 – A Positive Attitude

This item, along with a healthy dose of patience, will go a long way in ensuring a happy vacation experience. Things will go wrong on your trip; to expect otherwise is very unrealistic. Busses, trains, and flights will be late; every meal will not be perfect; crowds will annoy and frustrate; some experiences won't measure up to your memories or to your expectations.

But that doesn't mean that all is lost. There's a very good chance that you will have excellent food and service at your meal; you may be surprised that a fondly remembered attraction is even better than you remembered it; you might just strike up a conversation with a fellow guest and enjoy the experience.

Just as in life, it's not so much what happens that shapes our experiences—it's how we respond.

#1 – Imagination

Here it is—the number one item on your must pack list: Imagination. A sense of adventure. A willingness to play. A total surrender to the escape that is at the heart of a Walt Disney World vacation.

According to British writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the "willing suspension of disbelief" occurs when we "temporarily accept as believable events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible." It was his contention that it is this ability that allows readers to appreciate and enjoy stories that explore unusual ideas or create alternate worlds populated with incredible characters. It is, in fact, this very idea that allows readers to enjoy the magical world of Hogwarts, the mystical world of Middle Earth, and the alternate reality of Tron. It is also necessary to retain this ability in order to truly succumb to the joys of Walt Disney World. After all, long lost classics like The Living Seas and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea required guests to ignore the fact that the hydrolaters never really moved or that surface air-bubbles hovered just above the portholes. To thoroughly enjoy the experience required a sense of imagination; it is this willingness to pretend that enables guests to truly enjoy their Walt Disney World adventures.

Escaping from the world of reality is, sadly, much more difficult now than it ever was. Once upon a time, it was relatively easy to leave the cares of home and the worries of the world while on vacation—simply leave the television off and the newspaper at the door. With constant contact via email and cell phone and with a plethora of sources for news and information, it's much more of a challenge to get away from it all nowadays.

Nonetheless, it is absolutely essential to put aside worries and cares, to actively exercise one's imagination, and to surrender to the wonders of the World.


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Tom Richards is a life-long admirer of Walt Disney, something of a Disney historian, and a free-lance writer. His Disney interests include but are not limited to: Walt Disney World, classic Disney animation, live-action films made during Walt's lifetime, and Disney-related music and art.