Aug 242016
 

Ann Dunnington

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Fall is in the air.  Can you feel it?  Ok, maybe it’s still technically summer, but school is back in session and pretty soon, pumpkin-spiced EVERYTHING will be everywhere you turn.   If you’re planning on visiting the Walt Disney World resort in September or October, you will undoubtedly be there during a special ticketed event at the Magic Kingdom known as “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party”, or MNSSHP for short.  This event is full of special parades, shows, fireworks, trick-or-treating, character meet and greets, party-specific merchandise and treats, and little to no wait time for select attractions. This event is always a hit, and is a fabulous way to get into the Halloween spirit!  We are attending one of the parties this year, so here are my top 5 tips for getting the most out of your MNSSHP experience!

 

  • Save time, money, and potential sell-outs by purchasing your ticket in advance

Depending on the date you choose, adult ticket prices can range from $72 to $105 if purchased in advance ($67 to $100 for children), or $79 to $105 if purchased on the event day ($74 to $100 for children).  So save yourself a few dollars and purchase your tickets in advance on the Walt Disney World website.  This will also save you time by being able to skip the ticket counter at the Magic Kingdom, and prevent the potential disappointment of the party being sold out when you arrive.  There are only a select number of tickets available for each party, which helps keep the crowd levels low.  BONUS TIP:  Even though the party begins at 7:00 p.m., Cast Members have historically allowed entrance to the party as early as 4:00 p.m.!   If you purchase your ticket in advance, add it to your My Disney Experience account, and you can add up to three FastPass+ selections to use before the party starts!  Your FastPass+ selections can be between 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., 4:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., with no additional admission ticket required!  Of course, this is historical information, so it’s all subject to change at any time.  But, this allows you to have a nice restful day swimming and relaxing at the hotel, and then a full 7 hours at the Magic Kingdom starting at 4:00 p.m.!

  • Dress Up… carefully

Children are allowed to wear full costumes of their choice, as long as the costume isn’t long enough for them to trip on, doesn’t have a mask that they can’t see through, and doesn’t have any weapons.  Adults have a few more restrictions now due to safety concerns.  The new adult policy states: “Guests ages 14 and older are strongly discouraged from wearing layered costumes or costume props that surround the entire body as they may be subject to additional security screening. Additionally, costumes may not contain any weapons that resemble or could easily be mistaken for an actual weapon.”

Because of how hot and humid Florida can be in the fall, and of course there’s always the potential for rain, choose a costume that is comfortable and can be covered with a poncho if necessary.  Disney bounding, aka dressing in normal clothes that are inspired by a Disney character, is a popular choice, as are family-themed costumes (like the whole cast of Finding Dory).  But don’t feel like you HAVE to dress in costume- you don’t!  My husband and I will be Disney bounding this year, dressing up as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels… because we’re completely normal…  Ha.

  • Trick-or-Treating with a special diet? No problem!

Disney is known as being the ultimate destination for guests with special needs of all kinds.  If you’re attending MNSSHP and have food allergies, but still want to participate in the Trick-or-Treating fun, bring the bag of candy back up to City Hall and exchange it for some special diets treats!  Or if you don’t want to Trick-or-Treat at all, head straight to City Hall upon arrival and pick up your goodies!  These treats are generally “Big 8 Allergen” friendly, and sometimes aren’t even edible at all (think pencils, stickers, small toys, etc.).  To make sure that special diet treats are available during the party you will be attending, you can email Special.Diets@DisneyWorld.com.  They always have these available at every party, but they can sometimes run out if there’s a lot of demand.  Stop by early in the party, just in case!

  • Catch the 2nd shows/parades of the night for smaller crowds

The most popular parades and shows are the first ones of the night.  If you want to meet characters that are only out during the party, like Jack and Sally or all Seven of the Dwarves, get in line for THEM early (I suggest 6:00 p.m.), rather than getting a spot for the first parade or castle show.  You’ll be able to meet the character you want to meet, and have fewer crowds around you when the later show or parade rolls around.

In regards to the best places to stand for the parade, I prefer Frontierland or Liberty Square over Main Street.  These areas seem to be less crowded.

  • Not all attractions are open during the party, so plan accordingly

Of course, riding rides at MNSSHP is not high on everyone’s to-do list, but for those that prefer taking advantage of the more popular attractions with little to no wait time (like us), this is something to keep in mind.  A few of the popular attractions, like the Jungle Cruise are not open during the party, so these would be great attractions to use those FastPass+ selections on before the party starts.  This year’s MNSSHP map is not yet available, but you can see last year’s map here.

So there we have it!  What are your tips for making the most out of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party?  Are you planning on attending this year?  Let us know!

Jun 012016
 

By Ann Dunnington

 

School’s out for summer! For many families, this means it’s time to head down to the Walt Disney World resort. Before you pack your bags and head to Florida, here are some tips to make the most of your summer vacation!

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1- Utilize Fastpass+

It’s no secret that summer is a very busy time at the Walt Disney World Resort. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to wait in long lines if you plan your FastPass + reservations wisely! You can reserve 3 FastPasses at a time 60 days in advance (if staying onsite, or 30 days in advance if staying off-site), and when those have been used each day, you can use your phone while in the park to reserve one additional FastPass at a time! Be sure to download the My Disney Experience app before you leave home!

 

2- Consider the Mid-Day Break

In the summer, we always like to head back to the hotel room around noon for lunch and a break to cool off. Whether it’s a swim, a trip to the laundry room, a nap, or a shower, it’s just nice to get out of the heat for a while. Then, after we have freshened up a bit, we head back out for a sit down dinner at the park of our choice and end the day riding our favorite rides when it’s a bit less humid and the crowds have thinned out a bit.

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3- Take Advantage of Extra Magic Hours

Extra Magic Hours (available to onsite guests) can be a real lifesaver in terms of touring the parks out of the heat of the day (and those pesky 4pm rain showers). If utilizing the Evening Extra Magic Hours, consider not even arriving to the park after your mid-day break until 30-60 minutes past the start time! As crazy as it may seem arriving at the Magic Kingdom at 10pm, you really can get a TON of park touring done in a short amount of time. And there’s really nothing like touring the parks at night. There’s something so magical about it!

 

4- Stay Cool

It probably goes without saying that water is the most important thing you can drink when touring the parks. But, did you know that you can get a FREE ice water from any of the counter service restaurants that offer fountain drinks? Take advantage of this! Also, be sure to bring along a wide brim hat, sunglasses, sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply), and moisture-wicking clothing. We have used cooling towels in the past, but found that they got a bit cumbersome. Now, we grab a washcloth for each person from the hotel room and put it in a zip top bag with some ice, and use that to cool down with! A swipe across the wrists, inside of the elbows, back of the neck, and back of the knees really feels amazing. We also like to bring along an umbrella- not only is it good to keep the rain off, but it’s a great tool to keep the sun off as well (especially when waiting for a parade to start, or if you’re grabbing a quick snack mid-day!)

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5- Air Conditioning

Did you know that the gift shops along Main Street in the Magic Kingdom and heading toward the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios connect? Walk through them to stay out of the heat! Walking past a gift shop on the way to your next ride? They almost always have multiple exits, so walk through them to get a blast of cool air on the way to your next attraction! Also, attractions like The Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress, Spaceship Earth, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Turtle Talk with Crush, Finding Nemo the Musical, and The Great Movie Ride are wonderful attractions to do mid-day, because they get you out of the sun for an extended period of time!

 

So what are your tips for surviving summer at Walt Disney World? Be sure to share them with us on our Facebook page! Happy travels!

Mar 092016
 

By Ann Dunnington

 

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In November, my husband, his parents, and I went on a short vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort. My mother-in-law had a conference at one of the near “Good Neighbor” hotels near Disney Springs, so who were we to resist going along, too?? Twist my arm…

When looking for lodging for the 4 of us, there were a few hotels we were considering. We went back and forth between getting two hotel rooms on Disney property, two hotel rooms at the conference center (technically off Disney property, but Disney Springs was across the street), renting two Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Studio Villas, or renting a 2-Bedroom DVC Villa. Weighing the options back and forth and comparing pricing, it made the most sense for us to rent a 2-Bedroom DVC villa. Since we were booking kind of “late” by point rental standards, we had three location options that were available on our dates- Animal Kingdom Villas, Saratoga Springs, or Old Key West.

Once the person we were renting DVC points from gave us the three location possibilities mentioned above, it was a no-brainer for me to go with Old Key West. Here’s why:

  • The conference my mother-in-law was attending was near Disney Springs. This ruled out the Animal Kingdom Villas from strictly a location standpoint. We love ourselves some safari view-age, but it just wasn’t as important this trip.
  • Old Key West was the first DVC property at Walt Disney World. Since this was the first DVC property (built in 1991), the rooms were constructed with more space than the other DVC properties. With 4 of us being in one condo (and 2 of us being rather tall people), we knew that the extra space would be welcome.
  • Old Key West was less money for more space, and they just did an update on the rooms not too long ago, and they look beautiful!

Once we arrived at Old Key West, we were surprised at how close it was to the front of Epcot! A hop, skip and a jump, and you’re there. Not to mention being connected via a waterway to Downtown Disney… it’s a fabulous location. The check-in/pool/restaurants/gift shop are all near the front of the resort, and the bus transportation can take you up there if you don’t want to walk. THAT is super convenient, especially if your room is in the back of the resort. The whole feel of the resort is very relaxed and home-like. When you’re there, you’re ON vacation.

You have three lodging options at Old Key West – Studio Villa, 1 Bedroom Villa, and 2 Bedroom Villa. Some of the buildings are two stories, others are three, and most buildings have both stairs and elevators (but not all- so if you have a mobility issue with stairs like our party had, request a ground floor room). Each group of buildings has its own parking lot, so if you rent a car, you’ll be able to park right outside your room. This alone was a FABULOUS perk that the other DVC resorts do not offer.

Our 2 Bedroom Villa was enormous. It offered two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full size washer and dryer (bigger than I have at home!), a full kitchen, sitting area, eating area, and porch. We never once felt in each other’s space, and had all the amenities and comforts of home! If we ran out of tissues or toilet paper, the front desk sent someone over right away to help us re-stock. We had trash and towel service on day 4, and that was truly all of the housekeeping we needed.

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The kitchen was large enough for us to comfortably cook 3 meals a day, with a full size refrigerator, stove, microwave, double sink, dishwasher, and all the pots, pans, and utensils we could need. It also had dish soap, a sponge, towel, and dishwasher detergent as well.

The resort itself, as all Disney resorts are, was very well maintained, manicured, and themed. The villas were in the décor style of the Florida Keys with lots of pastel colors and charm (minus the plethora of cats…ha!). The guests at the resort bus stops were all very friendly and chatty, like old friends. If you’re staying at a DVC property, you’re most likely a Disney fanatic that knows the ins and outs of everything at Walt Disney World, so it’s very easy to make conversation and comradery. We shared what we had been doing all week, favorite rides and experiences, and chatted about Disney Vacation Club. DVC owners love to talk Disney!!

So overall, if I were to give Old Key West a rating of 1-10, 1 being the worst resort I have ever stayed at and 10 being the best, I would give it a 9.   Because I like Epcot and the Boardwalk area so much, that keeps this resort from getting a full 10. But, if I were coming down to Walt Disney World with a group again and the Boardwalk wasn’t available, I would have no hesitation whatsoever staying at Old Key West, and would totally recommend giving it a try! We had a fantastic stay and would love to go back whenever we get the chance!

Dec 022015
 

By Ann Dunnington

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For most families, vacations are a time of fun and excitement. For those of us who have to navigate the tricky world of food allergies, vacations can be more stressful than relaxing. Figuring out where to eat, what to eat, packing foods that are safe but also travel well… it’s a lot to keep track of. After spending 6 magical days at the Walt Disney World resort this past week, one thing has become very clear. Disney is taking GREAT strides in better accommodating their food allergy guests in a way that is “mainstreamed”.

So much so, that nearly every restaurant on Walt Disney World property now offers an allergy-friendly menu with food modifications that you can order without needing to talk to a manager or a chef. Don’t get me wrong, speaking to the chef about our allergies in the past did give us a sense of security. Knowing that they understood how to accommodate us (and doing so is still an option if necessary) was a welcome sigh of relief, but that would pull the chef away from what he was doing and unintentionally make us feel like we were being “high maintenance”, especially when non-allergy diners were eating with us, too. The addition of the allergy menus really helps to make allergy diners feel comfortable and “normal”, which is a treat!

Many of the gift shops are now even offering Disney’s own private label “allergy-friendly” snacks. In years past, this was my biggest complaint… the serious lack of allergy-friendly snacks in the gift shops was always a frustration. Apparently I wasn’t alone in thinking that this was needed, and Disney is really stepping up to the plate. Let’s take a look at a few of the new allergy friendly snack options that I found in numerous gift shops around the hotels and parks.

 

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These chips are made by Way Better Snacks, and are free of the top 8 allergens, but are produced in a facility that also uses milk and soy. They are delicious!

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These cookies are produced by the WOW Baking Company, and are made in a dedicated gluten free facility. Normally I can only find these at Target stores in my area, and I was so excited to see them at Disney World!! They’re soft, chewy, and a really fantastic treat.

The chocolate bars, ‘granola’ bars, seed/fruit mixes, and cookies are made by the Enjoy Life company. This company is known for being free of the top 8 allergens, and then some! I was so surprised to see the cookies in the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop, right up by the register! Needless to say, we picked up some to keep us going through the Evening Extra Magic Hours!

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In addition to this, the Erin McKenna’s NYC bakery at Disney Springs is a gluten free and vegan (which means no dairy or eggs there, either!) bakery that makes the most delicious treats that the whole family can enjoy!   Their treats are also available around the various hotels and the Allergy Kiosk at Animal Kingdom in “grab and go” containers. I love the chocolate brownie mini-cupcakes!

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We have traveled to the Walt Disney World resort 8 times in the past 9 years, and of those vacations, 4 of them were after a diagnosed food allergy. With the addition of the allergy-friendly restaurant menus, training of the Cast Members, and the availability of more and more snack options at most of the gift shops, there is no better vacation destination for food allergy guests! Regardless of what allergy you may have, you’ll have no problem eating safely at the Walt Disney World resort!

Do you have a food allergy? Tell us your ‘allergy dining’ experience on our Facebook page!

Sep 092015
 

By: Ann Dunnington

 

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Those of us seasoned Walt Disney World travelers know all about the changes that have occurred over the past few years in regards to Disney vacation planning. FastPass+, Dining Reservations, Hotel Reservations, Dining Plans, Ticketed Events, Behind the Scenes Tours… you name it. In many different “Disney Fan Communities” around the internet, travelers have begun complaining that you can no longer have an unplanned, unscheduled trip to Walt Disney World, and the previous spontaneity that vacationers used to feel is now gone. But is it REALLY gone? Can you not have a fantastic trip to Walt Disney World unless each minute is pre-planned 60-180 days before your trip? I say, you absolutely can!

In July, my husband and I took a very unplanned trip to Walt Disney World. We decided to book a last minute long-weekend trip two weeks ahead of time. We had never traveled to central Florida in July before, but since we, like many of you reading this, are “in the know” about all things Disney, we absolutely knew what to expect (hot, crowded, and afternoon rain storms). With just two weeks to “plan”, we decided that we wanted to try to wing it WITHOUT set plans, just to see what would happen.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I did plan a tiny bit. However, the only planning I actually did was to see what parks had Extra Magic Hours (and avoid them, since we were staying offsite for the first time since the early 1990’s), and to make sure my touring backpack was packed with water, snacks, bandages, an umbrella, wet wipes, a big floppy hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and my phone and wallet. We didn’t, however, have even one FastPass or Dining Reservation made. In July. Were we insane?! Spoiler alert, it was just fine, and so much more relaxed than in previous trips. How?

Of course, there were a few things that we knew we needed to do if we weren’t going to go by a detailed touring plan for the first time ever:

  • We knew we needed to arrive at the parks a little past park opening. Why not prior to park opening? It gets crowded when the vacationers have nowhere to go before the parks open, so we wait about a half hour to let the crowds enter the park before we head in. Our first day we decided to park our car at the Transportation and Ticket Center and leave it there for the day. First up was the Ferry Boat to the Magic Kingdom. It was packed, so we decided to go up to the upper level to get away from the crowd a bit. We stood near the Captain and got to watch through the window his amazing boat parking skills! So fun, and something we had never seen before.
  • We knew that we had to go with the flow. Once the boat docked, we let the crowds go ahead of us. No need to rush! We were the last off the boat and walked at a leisurely pace, saying “hi” to every Cast Member we passed. At both the bag check and the ticket scanner, there was always a Cast Member that had little to no line (generally those on the far ends). We knew this was going to be the case, so that’s where we headed! We were in the park in no time! Once inside the parks, we knew there would be large tour groups and crowds at every turn. We knew that it was probably going to rain each afternoon. We knew it was going to be hot. And that was ok! If we got hot, we went inside a gift shop. If we got thirsty, we picked up a free ice water from the various Counter Service restaurants. If we got hungry, we stopped in a shady spot for a snack. No need to rush to our FastPass attraction to meet our time since we didn’t have any. We just went with the flow.
  • We knew we weren’t going to be able to ride everything we wanted to.   This was ok, too. We decided to explore areas of the parks that we had never been to before. Like, the Main Street Train Station. How many of us just walk right past it when we enter the park? Or the new Hub by Cinderella Castle. Or the back of Morocco at EPCOT. Or the smaller paths behind the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom. There are so many places to explore! And, we had a blast finding them. While wandering around the parks, we used the My Disney Experience app to see what the wait times were at the various attractions. Believe it or not, there were tons of attractions with very little wait if you knew where to look. Sure, the headliners like Splash Mountain or Space Mountain had wait times of upwards of 120 minutes, which we were expecting. For those attractions, we had a different strategy… ride after it rains, or during the summer extended park hours. Perfect.
  • We knew it was going to rain, and used that to our advantage. When it rains in Florida, only a few attractions go down. Those rides that go outside like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Test Track, or Expedition Everest generally do not run in the rain. Nor, apparently, do guests. When it rains, the restaurants and gift shops become packed with guests waiting out the storm. We were able to ride a number of attractions right as the rain was dying down, in the middle of July, with no wait at all. This was all because everyone was waiting for the rain to completely stop before they went back out again. So put up that umbrella, and keep on touring! You won’t melt, I promise!
  • We knew that the most popular restaurants wouldn’t have tables available. We weren’t even going to try to get a table at the Be Our Guest restaurant. We knew that it would be nearly impossible, so, we packed and brought our lunch and some snacks in a cooler, and opted for a later dinner at the various restaurants at the resorts. Resort restaurants are generally less crowded than park restaurants, which we knew, so we walked up restaurants like Kona at the Polynesian, Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht Club, and il Mulino at the Walt Disney World Swan, and we were seated in no more than 20 minutes, tops. Amazing food, relaxed atmosphere, and no problem getting a table at all. And now that the Disney restaurants have started rolling out their Allergy-friendly menus, those of us with food allergies needn’t worry about letting the chefs know ahead of time that we’re coming- they’re already prepared!

So, can traveling to Walt Disney World without a plan be an enjoyable vacation? Absolutely! We rode some of our favorite rides, ate some amazing food, ventured off the beaten path, and had an amazing time! Have you ever taken an unplanned Disney trip? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook your best strategies for touring without a plan!

Jun 032015
 

Top 7 Must Bring Essentials for a Disney Vacation

By   Ann Dunnington

After being a seasoned traveler to the Walt Disney World Resort, I have picked up a few tips and tricks to make my trip as comfortable as possible, both for myself and for those around me. Some of the items that I bring on vacation with me are a little unconventional, but they have all come in handy and I’m so glad that I’ve brought them along! Here are my Top 7 (a la Stacey) Must Brings that are often overlooked by the average vacationer that you should bring on your next Disney vacation.

For the Hotel Room:

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1- Travel Size Power Strip

Let’s face it. Hotel rooms simply do not have enough power outlets. Bringing along a travel size power strip can help corral all of your electronics in one place so that everyone can access the power they need, and no electronics (or chargers) will be left behind.

2- Over-the-Door Shoe Organizer

This is where I get a lot of funny looks. What I like to do is bring along a fabric over-the-door shoe organizer to organize our toiletries in the hotel bathroom. The bathrooms in most of the Walt Disney World hotel rooms have separate sink and toilet/shower areas. Keeping your toiletries in the organizer helps everyone stay more organized and efficient while getting ready in the morning. You can keep the organizer on the restroom door, hang it on the clothing rack in the sink area, or hang it on the shower curtain rod. This also helps Mousekeeping out as well since your bathroom areas won’t be cluttered with bottles everywhere!

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3- Pop Up Hamper (and Other Laundry Supplies)

I always underestimate how many clothes I’m going to need when visiting Walt Disney World. After touring the parks in the morning, coming back to the room for a break or a swim in the afternoon, and heading back out in the evening, that’s a solid 2-3 outfits per person, per day! I don’t wear that many outfits at home on a daily basis, so inevitably, I run out of clean clothes by day three. I like to bring a pop up hamper and laundry detergent to do laundry mid-way through the trip so that I can resist the urge to pack (and carry) my entire closet on vacation.

For the Parks:

4- Fabric Magic Band Covers

No matter what time of year you head down to central Florida, you can guarantee that the weather will be warm. Now that Magic Bands are the way to enter the park, pay for items, access your Fastpasses, etc., your family will be wearing them all the time. Magic Bands are a soft rubber type of plastic, and they can get pretty hot and sweaty after a day of park touring. Enter the fabric Magic Band covers. You can find these online for very inexpensively, and besides making your magic band customized to your style, these covers can make wearing the Magic Band all day a lot more comfortable! And, the covers are machine washable, so just throw them into the laundry mid-way through your trip!

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5-   Blister Blocking Bandages, and Peppermint Foot Lotion

Nothing ruins a trip like getting blisters on your feet after your first day. I highly recommend getting a good broken-in pair of shoes, and spend some time in them before your trip. If they are comfortable but give your toes some “hot spots”, cover those spots with blister blocking bandages, and bring as many as you can stuff into your suitcase. I added peppermint foot lotion into this section too, because after a long day of park touring, nothing makes feet happier than a shower and a massage with cooling peppermint foot lotion! I like to mix a drop of peppermint oil with a little bit of coconut oil. The cooling effect is a wonderful refresher!

6- Heavy Duty Zip Top Bags

For those hot park days, a heavy duty zip top bag filled with a wash cloth and ice from the ice maker at the hotel can really do wonders to help cool you off. Hop onto the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, pull out your icy wash cloth from the hotel, and hold it onto your heat points (back of the neck, inside of the wrists and elbows, back of the knees, top of the head) for an instant cool down. Using heavy duty zip top bag will prevent the ice water from leaking all over your stuff. Maybe even wrap it in a small hand towel from the hotel for extra protection.

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7- Wide Brim Hat and Sunglasses (for Everyone!)

If you’re not used to the Florida sun, a wide brim hat and sunglasses can be a real lifesaver! My husband looks like Gilligan in his wide brim white hat, but I have to tell you, paring that with sunglasses while touring around the parks sure beats the headaches and eye strain he would get without it. For ladies, a big floppy packable straw beach hat and over-sized sunglasses are the way to go. Harness your inner Audrey Hepburn!

Well there you have it- my Top 7 Must Brings for the Walt Disney World Resort. Do you have any unconventional items that you bring on vacation with you? Let us know on our Facebook page!