Packing Our Day Packs

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

When preparing to spend a day at a Disney theme park with their children, some parents take very little, others pack their bags pretty full. This week we asked our Parenting Panel: What do you pack in your bag for a day in Disney theme parks?

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, Samantha (14), and twins Casey and Alex (11), live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

My yellow North Face backpack is still going strong, despite multitudes of days in the Disney parks, on airplanes, at Grateful Dead shows, on the ski mountain and just about anyplace else you can imagine. It's nice and bright and can easily be spotted, especially walking through the Magic Kingdom with a small Disney character plush head poking out of the top zipper. My kids can always spot me if they fall behind. But what will they find in the bag if they look?

It's a very small cargo. I don't want to carry too much with me. The bag does have chest straps and a nice waistband strap if it starts to feel too heavy, but the trick is just not to load it up.

The smallest and outermost pocket will always hold the kids autograph books and pens, along with the park map and Times Guide of whichever park we're in.

The next pocket holds the pack of flushable wipes, which are good for their intended purpose, but equally adept at cleaning ice cream off faces or sticky hands. In the same pocket, there's just about always a box of white Tic-Tacs. (There's probably a box in there right now while it's sitting in the closet!) There's also a built-in key hook, which I find perfect for carrying the in-room safe keys found in the Disney resorts.

The main cavernous compartment has the Mickey ponchos; a hat for each of the kids, as well as myself; a can of spray-on sunblock wrapped in a Ziploc bag and, to be honest, that's about it. This has pretty much described the contents of my backpack for the last decade. We pack light in the parks. With three iPhones in the family, I don't even bring a camera along anymore. My wife likes to throw a small thing of bug spray in somewhere, but one of the magical things about Disney is the remarkable lack of bugs, so that's even becoming nonessential.

Besides, inevitably the kid's pin lanyards come off and end up in my bag. There's also usually a shopping bag or three with souvenirs shoved in there. So, I need the empty space. I prefer not to take a huge pack with me, knocking into people every time I turn. My trusty yellow pack is always with me and always has a bottle of water tucked into the bottle holder on the side, but it's not my whole hotel room packed in there. After all these years, and all these trips, we've done just fine. I don't think I've ever said, "Boy, I wish I had my _____." Neither has anyone else. Plus, bag checks are a breeze!

Bottom line: Pack light. Travel happy.

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:

The late George Carlin (the voice of Fillmore in the movie Cars) used to say that we didn't have so much stuff we could just carry it around with us all day long.

Sometimes it seems like during a Disney vacation, going to the parks is a rendition of just that. We feel the need to bring a bunch of stuff into the parks "just in case."

Granted, I feel like the Boy Scout motto of "Be Prepared" is one to live by as I know that the moment I decide to not pack something, I'm going to need it.

Chris's wife, Kathy, carries the family day pack on a recent trip to Walt Disney World. Essentials such as hand santizer, water and even a lightweight blanket are within easy reach. Photo by Chris Salata

For our family, cargo is carried mainly by me and my wife. I will admit right now, she does carry the vast majority via a medium-sized backpack. Its not a lot of stuff, but these are some slightly bulky items that we consider necessities in the parks. Here are some of the more common items in our pack:

  • Rain Gear – Let's face it—a trip to Walt Disney World would not be complete without getting rained on. Depending on the forecast, we might carry both tightly folded ponchos and Disney rain jackets. If the rain is lighter, the jackets work just fine. If more extended downpours are in the works, out come the ponchos as well. The jackets also help keep us warm if for some reason we go into an eatery that is very cold and the hot-to-warm transition is more shocking than comfortable. This can especially be the case if you are already wet.
  • A light blanket – We have a very lightweight blanket that can be used for warmth or to sit on during parades. It folds into its own pouch and looks like the size of a small CD carrying case.
  • Sunscreen – Apply before leaving for the parks. It's always a good idea to reapply during the day as well. It's a smaller bottle that fits in the outside pocket. This way, it is easily accessible without going through the rest of the bag.
  • Hand sanitizer – While washing your hands is always best, sometimes you cant wait to get your hands on some popcorn or a snack. Considering that you are also touching things that thousands of others have also touched, it's a good idea to have some of this handy and use often.
  • Snacks – Usually some small baggies of nuts, trail mix, or other non-meltable munchables. Kept in the outside pocket for easy access.
  • Medicine – Small container of any meds that we may need during the day.
  • Printed copy of advanced dining reservations, Fastpass+ tickets, and other reservation info – Call me a bit paranoid, but just in case the phones aren't working to show us what's next, I want to be prepared.
  • USB Battery Pack – I carry this in my camera bag along with a long enough USB cord where I can have the battery in my pocket while still having my camera or phone charging during use. With the advent of using online Disney apps more and more, the investment in such a battery is well-advised.
  • Camera, camcorder, batteries – All kept in my bag that sticks by my side. I have everything accessible with one hand. I know where everything is by touch so that I don't miss any action while reaching for the device of choice.
  • Mickey Bottle Clip – One of the best $7 you can spend is this awesome clip that you can attach to the top of a water or soda bottle. Then you can clip it to your belt, bag, or backpack. Found mine where they sell gifts in Fantasyland's Storybook Circus.

Granted, this sounds like a lot of stuff to bring in, but we end up using the majority of the items throughout our stay. I know that we pack lighter these days compared to when our son was very little, but I am not sure we would go without what we learned from experience to be the essentials.

Elizabeth, who posts on our MousePad message board as eabaldwin, has been a Disneyland Annual Passholder since 2010. She and her husband have two daughters, Katie (4) and Josie (2). Elizabeth writes:

We pack pretty lightly, I think. We feel like less is better for us. We have less stuff to lose, less stuff to get through the security check point, less stuff to carry around. After so many trips with our kids, we know what we need and what we don't. This is what works for us!

We always pack:

  • Diaper pack – fold-out changing table pad with pockets for diapers and wipes
  • Extra pack of wipes and an extra diaper rash ointment
  • Extra kids' underwear – and extra pants/shorts if we are potty training
  • Glow sticks – we bring plenty to share!
  • Sweatshirts/something long sleeved
  • Snacks – apple sauce pouches, bananas
  • Sunscreen
  • Hats
  • Water bottles/sippy cups

In my small purse, I have a few bandages. I also carry locks for our pins with the little allen wrench, since we don't trade them.

We also grab some napkins to keep in the top of our stroller to have for any spills or messes.

Since we are Disneyland Resort regulars and we don't usually go when the weather calls for rain, we don't pack umbrellas or ponchos. We didn't bring any with us when we went to the Walt Disney World Resort, so we ended up buying ponchos there. Now we know to add them for any future trips.

We also bring pajamas with us, but usually leave them in the car. It's nice to have the kids changed already because they fall asleep on the way home. Since they are already changed, we just pick them up and put them in their beds.

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!