Whatever our children’s ages, parents often haul along bags when we visit Disney Theme Parks. With a wide variety of age-groups represented on our panel, this week we asked the Parenting Panelists how they Pack it Up: What kind of bag to you bring when your family visits the Disney theme parks? What do you pack inside?
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
Packing up for a day at the parks is part art and part science, in my opinion. I say that because you are always afraid you are going to forget something, while, at the same time, you do not want to be “that parent” that looks like you are actually going to scale up Expedition Everest’s mountain during a two-week trek. You quickly figure out what you really need to carry versus what would be convenient.
Parents with younger children seen to have this dilemma more often and with more intensity. I clearly recall, with pictures documenting past trips, where our stroller became not only a conveyance method for our then-toddler son, but also acted as one of the most convenient ways to have everything we needed for a full day at the parks. The bottom of the stroller would carry the diaper bag that held diapers, wipes, snacks, extra changes of clothes, a few small toys, sunscreen, and anything else that might be of importance. At the same time, the stroller also allowed us to easily carry our purchases from place to place via its vast cargo capacity underneath. Our only downfall was that to get the “buggy” onto the bus that cargo area needs to be empty.
Now that our kids are older, we found that our supply needs focus on only the essentials, which usually revolve around the weather and/or the park which we will tour that day. For example, my wife has a smaller backpack that she bought at the Magic Kingdom several years ago. She usually carries such items as:
- Ponchos or light jackets
- Hand sanitizer, connected to the backpack with a clip
- Beverages that we freeze the night before
- Baggies of snacks
- Notebook with our pre-determined touring plan
- Notes on the ADRs for the day
- Large zip-up bags to keep things dry during water rides
- Small purchases
- Small container with various medicines
- Antacid tablets
I, on the other hand, take care of anything related to documenting our trip. I have one of two camera bags that I carry with me, depending on what I plan on doing that day. In most cases, I have the smaller bag that cradles my camcorder very neatly and is easy to get into. It also houses:
- Extra batteries for both the camera and camcorder
- Extra memory sticks
- My portable USB charger, which is used for the camcorder, as well as phones
- My iPod Touch – for games during longer queue times
- A small bag of snacks
- Some napkins (multipurpose wiper-uppers)
- Water flavoring packets
- A few dollars in cash
- A clip for hanging my water bottle from my bag
At times, we have been known to carry a change of clothes with us, especially if we plan on eating at a nicer resort restaurant and wish to be a little “fresher” as we enjoy our meal.
Overall, I think as the children in your traveling party get older, you will find that you might need less with you to help you get the most out of your day at the park. Though, I still think that habits are hard to break and we all feel comfortable being more prepared than not. After all, it will be the visit you don’t bring the poncho that you will need it the most.
Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 2 months and 2 years. Jen writes:
As you can probably guess from the ages of my children, all of our kid-accompanied Disney trips have been taken with kids under the age of 2. Every parent knows babies and toddlers come with a fair amount of baggage, so to speak, and even a day trip to a Disney park requires a bit of advance planning and packing.
My husband is a self-described pack mule and should probably be writing this one instead of me. He prefers to carry just one big bag to hold most everything, from diapers and wipes to snacks and drinks, and sometimes even a baby. Depending on the kids' age(s) and the length of the trip, the bag of choice is either a Camelbak or a Kelty Kids Backpack Carrier. We like the Camelbak because it holds plenty of water for the day and still has room for a fair amount of kid stuff. The Kelty Kids Backpack has a small zip-off diaper bag, a bigger backpack section, and a secure place to hold a baby who is at least 6 months of age.
What do we bring? With babies or toddlers, plenty of diapers and wipes are essential. Disney parks do sell diapers, but their size selection is limited and you will be paying a premium price. We also make sure to bring any special drinks or snacks that wouldn't be available in the parks. Our son preferred to drink from bottles once I went back to work, so when he was under 1-year old, we'd pack bottles, expressed breastmilk, and a breast pump (which we'd stripped down out of its big bulky bag) so I could pump in the Baby Care Center. When he was old enough for baby food, we'd bring a jar or two of his favorites. Our daughter is the opposite of her brother and prefers to nurse, so we'll be traveling lighter for our next trip as all I'll bring to feed her is a nursing cover.
Other must-pack items are a change of clothes for each kid, hats and sunscreen, and ponchos or light jackets—depending on the weather forecast. Once our son reached toddler age we started throwing in a couple of small toys, such as a few stickers or a Slinky, to distract him if he got especially impatient while waiting in line. A bottle of bubbles was the most successful item, and we ended up entertaining quite a few kids with it in the line for Astro Orbiter on our last trip.
Mary Kraemer is an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible! Mary writes:
As a mom, I’m the sherpa who carries pretty much everything for my family. Although it’s certainly changed from the time my kids were babies, so that diapers, wipes, clean clothes, etc. are no longer on our packing list for a day at a Disney park, I still find myself packing as if I was heading out for an expedition.
More often than not, I bring a backpack with me for a day at the parks. I like a backpack that’s comfortable and fits well, with good, sturdy shoulder straps and padding for my back. I prefer water-resistant fabric for those instances where I might get splashed, and I favor a backpack with lots of pockets and zipper compartments so I can stow certain items in one place, know where they are, and access them easily. Right now, I have a pack from LL Bean that works really well for a day at the parks as well as air travel.
When I’m going to the park for the day, I pack for most situations. I bring water bottles, sunscreen, a hat, lip balm, blister Band-Aids, regular Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, ponchos, snacks, camera, camera batteries, cell phone, cell phone charger, business cards, glow sticks for the night parade, feminine supplies (hey, you wanted to know what was in my backpack, right?), hair brush, hair elastics, makeup, Advil, migraine medications (because I never know when one will happen), and a sweatshirt unless it’s the middle of the summer.
Of course, I have to consider the business side of things, with my wallet and my park admission (I usually consolidate my family’s park tickets to use for FastPasses and I keep those, too.) And because I have the backpack, I always end up with an assortment of stuff from my kids, such as sunglasses, sweatshirts, their cell phones, etc. And you know, it’s funny what just might find its way into my backpack from the gift shops that seem to be at the end of every ride…
I see people who walk around the parks not carrying a thing. And I envy those people, truly I do. Because they can go through the security stations without having to unzip every little compartment for bag check. Because they can come and go, seemingly effortlessly. Because there’s a sense of freedom and spontaneity in their movements, while I am the Queen of Planning and What-if Scenarios. But I have my moment of satisfaction, when we’re at the water’s edge for World of Color, and those foot-loose and fancy-free folks are standing there soaked while my family smiles smugly from inside our ponchos.
Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 13, 10, and 7. They’ve been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays. Adrienne writes:
I’m a backpack gal. I love having a backpack balanced between my shoulders. It’s so much easier for me to cart around than having a bag over one shoulder. When I had babies and toddlers in diapers, we used an Eagle Creek Parent Pack—two, actually, because I upgraded between my second and third babies! That backpack was wonderful to haul everything we needed on the stroller, but we could grab it and carry it conveniently through queues when we went on rides.
Now that my children are beyond the stroller stage, I experience the joy of letting them help load our haul in their own backpacks! I prefer to keep it simple with my trusty Vera Bradley backpack. This is my regular purse so I already have our basic needs covered and do not worry about forgetting to transfer something into another bag. Like most moms, I usually have lip balm, hand sanitizer, lotion and ibuprofen on hand in my everyday backpack. I also carry a small little coin purse with SD cards for those occasions when, yes, we grab a camera but arrive somewhere and find that we left the card in the computer at home! For special events, such as MouseAdventure or longer days, I occasionally bring my larger Vera Bradley microfiber backpack. I can throw in some water bottles and even a clipboard if I need to, or a larger camera.
Our boys bring their Camelbak reservoirs and/or help carry water bottles in their backpacks. As avid campers, they have good backpacks with multiple compartments to help keep items organized. I love having children old enough not only to help carry their water but a couple of bottles for mom and dad, too. Their backpacks are conveniently big enough to stuff a camera and because the bags are on their backs, not mine, I can open up their bags and grab the camera when I need it. My husband’s backpack usually has a small first aid kit in his backpack and any gadgets he might want including his back-up battery chargers. Like father like sons, if dad decides to leave his backpack at home, the boys are always glad to carry these items, and have their own first aid kits.
I realize I probably sound like I merely treat my children as pack mules, but believe it or not, they enjoy helping out. They like to feel important and they actually appreciate having their own backpacks because it gives them more freedom and independence if they want to retrieve something, or dump something inside! They can access their bags without having to ask me or if we find ourselves separated for whatever reason. If they want to make a purchase, they have their backpacks to stuff their purchases and do not have to worry about keeping track of a shopping bag. If they want to bring a jacket or take a jacket off, they have it with them, or a place to quickly store it. With a family of five, we can spread the haul and no one bag becomes especially heavy and that also keeps our boys more willing to pitch in to help out.
MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 11-year-old Samantha, and twin 8-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:
A backpack is a very personal thing to certain people, and I’m no different. I chose my yellow North Face backpack from the many choices at our local ski/outdoor store about 14 years ago and it hasn't failed me yet. I’ve hiked with it. I’ve skied with it. It’s followed me to so many Grateful Dead shows, school trips, ski trips, and weekend getaways that it’s almost become a part of me. Most importantly, it’s my Disney bag. I use it as a carry-on and, shortly after I check in, the magazines, granola bars, iPod and GameBoy are emptied out onto the nightstand and it becomes my daily park bag.
It’s got three pockets; the main large compartment of the bag, a smaller one on top of that, and one smaller than that. That’s as many as I want. There are lots of backpacks out there with many more pockets. That’s not for me, too confusing. It’s highly adjustable, which I think is important. The side-straps can condense it, if I’m not carrying much, but that also means it’s quite expandable once we start stuffing it with souvenir bags. It’s more of a technical pack, so it has a padded hip strap and sternum strap, which can really help lighten your load on a long day. If you happen to be in the market for a bag, I would highly advise choosing a backpack with these two features. I use them all the time. Another little feature I love in the mid-sized pocket is a key clip. On other trips this usually holds my car keys. On a Disney trip it’s always the room-safe key that hangs there. Most importantly, it has the handy stretch mesh side water bottle holder, critical for those sweltering August days in Florida.
As far as contents, I travel pretty light. The aforementioned water bottle is key for sure. Depending on the time of year there might be Mickey ponchos inside. If the kids aren’t already wearing them I’m usually carrying their baseball or bucket hats to ward of the Florida sun. Mine is in there, as well. There’s always a bottle of spray sunblock, the kind that doesn’t need to be rubbed in. I almost always have a box of white Tic-Tacs on me anyway, so there’s always one in the pack. You’d be amazed how useful a pack of disposable wipes can be on any type of trip, so there’s always one of those. The camera is in there, of course. The smallest pocket is just the perfect size for the kids' autograph books and pens, although as the kids get older, I assume that space will become available. Aside from the park map and Times Guide of whatever park we’re at, that’s pretty much it. I have, in December, carried a sweatshirt for the kids, but that’s a rarity.
We’ve tried carrying snacks like Goldfish crackers and granola bars in the bag. We’ve found that our kids never asked for them. This used to mean a smashed granola bar and bag of goldfish crumbs at the end of the day, so we don’t bother with that anymore.
When the kids were younger, Pal Mickey or another stuffed character of their choice would have his head sticking out of the highest zipped up point. Yes, it was cute and fun for them, but the character head jutting out combined with the bright yellow color of the bag also always made it easy to spot me in a crowd should they inadvertently lag behind.
I hate to sound like a spokesperson for North Face, because I certainly am not, but this is a fantastic bag. It’s perfectly designed. Considering the concerts it’s been to, the tree-skiing (and falling!) it has experienced and the many, many long days of Disney park abuse this bag has endured, it has never failed me and is as durable as the day I bought it almost 15 years ago. I just know that when I have this pack on, I’m usually doing something fun. It’s as much a part of my Disney experience as Splash Mountain, the Monorail and Mickey Mouse!
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!
(Send an email to Adrienne Krock)
Adrienne gathered experience taking children to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job: being mom to her three boys. Adrienne, Matthew, Spencer, and Colin visit Disneyland frequently, usually with Dad, Kevin.