Packing Daypacks for Touring the Parks

by Adrienne Krock, contributing writer

Most families pack a bag of supplies when they visit the Disney theme parks. Whether a diaper bag, a backpack, or several bags carried among various family members, each family plans ahead of time what they can or cannot live without. This week, we asked the Parenting Panel: What do you pack in your bags for a day in the Disney parks with your families?

Chris Salata, also known as GusMan, is a Disney-inspired author and photographer, and loves to help people get the most out of their Disney vacation. Chris writes:

At one time I could easily say that I was a self-proclaimed over-packer. To me, I was always concerned about forgetting something at home and realizing it moments after I left my neighborhood. Maybe its the Boy Scout in me and always wanting to be prepared. The same would go when visiting the parks and what we would take with us for the day. After all, you really try your best to not miss out on things because you have to hop back on a bus to get that one thing you really need.

The good thing is that time has taught me a lot of different things about packing for vacations, as well as what my family needs to bring inside the parks. For context, one of my kids is a pre-teen and one is a young adult now, but that does not mean that we go into the parks with nothing. It only means that the items we bring tend be more targeted for their ages. In essence, we have graduated over the years from diaper bag, to larger backpack, to a smaller backpack with some specific items. I believe that a lot of these items are pretty much universal for any age group, even if it's mainly what we consider the “Bare Necessities.”

  • Sunscreen. You should reapply sunscreen often, especially if you are sweating a lot. Even if you go during the cooler, winter months, sunscreen is still very important.
  • Ponchos or rain gear. If you don't bring them, you know it will storm harder than ever. Central Florida is very unpredictable when it comes to rain (and even Southern California can get showers now and then), especially in the afternoon, so it is best to simply be ready for it.
  • Snacks. We tend to pack small bags of snacks that will not be impacted by the heat. Items such as nuts, seeds, raisins, or even cereal can take the edge off while waiting in line.
  • A couple bottles of water. You have to stay hydrated while at the parks. We reuse our bottles and refill them at fountains or even transfer cold water into them from counter service eateries.
  • A small travel blanket. An odd addition, you think? Take into consideration that most of the queues and eateries are rather cold compared to the outside temperature, the extremes can be quite chilling. The blanket helps control those temp swings. Also, we use it to sit on while waiting for parades.
  • Battery packs for phones/camera. I think these have become quite the necessity these days. While we tend to reduce our usage of technology while at the parks, sometimes it helps the longer wait times go by.
  • Mini first-aid kit. A few band-aids, an alcohol pad, and a packet of Tylenol can go a long way in a pinch. Granted, the first-aid stations at the parks are great, but some times you just need something now.
  • Medium size zip-up plastic bags. These are great for storing cell phones and the like when doing a water ride, like Splash Mountain, where you just don't know how wet you might get. They also help protect items even during a big rainstorm.

Keep in mind, this is a basic list that I think is a starter for any family. If you have younger children, you might want to consider other items that help pass the time during long waits. You might need to also consider medications that you might need during the day. Whatever you bring, try to make the list as short as possible, so that it fits into a bag that is comfortable to carry for 12-plus hours at a time and can be taken on attractions easily. Regardless on what you bring, make sure you you pack so that it helps you enjoy the magic.

Members of the Krock family, part of the Parenting Panel Team, help carry supplies in backpacks including their family's camera bag. They like to bring water bottles from home with lids that close tightly. "S-biners" come in handy to hang bottles on backpacks or belt-loops, too. Photo by Adrienne Krock

Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 4 and 6. Jen writes:

When our kids were babies, we didn't go anywhere, including the Disneyland Resort, without a bag of baby essentials. The bag was always full of diapers, baby food, bottles, wipes, and changes of clothes. Now that our kids are no longer babies, the contents have changed, but the bag still comes along. Here is what we bring for a day at the parks.

  • Snacks. We buy our meals at the parks, but bring most snacks with us. It's much cheaper than buying from Disney ($2 for a juice box, anyone?) and easier to take care of kid insta-hunger that can strike at any moment. Contents vary, but our typical snack bag includes juice boxes, cheese crackers, applesauce, kid protein bars, and fruit snacks. Many of our recent Disneyland trips have been with friends who have similar age kids to ours, and both families have gotten in the habit of bringing big bags of snacks for the kids to share. One thing we've both noticed—the other kids' snacks are always better!
  • Water. Especially in the summertime, we don't go anywhere near the parks without several bottles of water or even a full Camelbak. Dehydration in Anaheim or Orlando summer heat can be a very bad thing for everyone, big or small.
  • Change of clothes. While we're happy to be well past the diaper stage, we still usually bring a change of clothes for each kid in case of a big spill. In the summer, the kids love to play in Dot's Puddle Park in "a bug's land," and it's nice to let them have fun getting soaked and then change into dry clothes when they're done.
  • Spending money. We let the kids earn their own spending money and often they like to use it on Disney toys. They aren't quite big enough to safely carry their own money around the parks, so it comes along with us.
  • Stuffed animals. Our kids don't take many naps anymore, but our 4 year old still occasionally naps in the stroller during a long Disney day. When she does, she likes to have her favorite stuffed elephant to hug while she falls asleep.

Even little Mouseketeers carry their precious supplies in a backpack at the Disney theme parks. Photo by Sheena Byerley.

Sheena also known as Mermaid, teaches first grade in Arizona where she lives with her husband and two children, Matthew (4) and Katie (3). She visits the Disneyland Resort as often as she can and has passed on her love of the parks to her little Mouseketeers. Sheena writes:

We just returned from a wonderful week long trip to the Disneyland Resort. This was our first trip without a stroller so I had to be more deliberate about what I brought with us to the park. I carried a small Vera Bradley backpack in the Midnight with Mickey print. Inside I carried:

  • Small wallet with ID, tickets, cash and credit card. I like to minimize what is in my wallet on vacation so I have a small travel wallet.
  • Cell phone
  • Frozen water bottle in a gallon-sized bag with cheese sticks. This served a few purposes. One, we had cold water later in the day and two, it kept the cheese cold for our morning snack. The water bottle did get damp with condensation, so putting it in the plastic bag kept everything dry. I also then had a bag for emergencies—although I never needed it.
  • A sandwich box with peanut butter crackers inside. The box kept the crackers from breaking into a million pieces.
  • A few boxes of raisins, because my kids loved them and they warded off the "hangries" a few times.
  • A quart-sized bag of clothes for my 4 year old. She still has occasional accidents so this was a good insurance policy. This was the last trip I will bring this. Next time, I will probably just throw in a pair of underwear. If I bring it, I won't need it, right?
  • A small first-aid kit with bandages of various sizes and purposes, headache medicine, a safety pin, a dose of cold meds and alcohol wipes. This trip I did use the bandages and cold meds for the first time. Yes, there is a first aid station at each park, but when a blister strikes, it is so much easier to have it with us.
  • Sunglasses for me and the kids, although the kids never wore theirs.
  • A few loose pins for trading when the kids didn't wear their lanyards.
  • My daughter's autograph book and pen. She used her piggy bank money to buy this and was very into getting it signed. My son didn't care about it so he didn't have one.

That pretty well filled the backpack without it being overly full. My husband carried our camera using a cross body strap and he carried a bottle of water for us to drink in the morning before the other one thawed out. As the kids age, I hope to carry less and less. This was a manageable amount of stuff and I only left it on the bathroom hook once.

The Disney theme parks sell many backpacks for adults, and for children, too. The current merchandise line includes these two Vera Bradley Campus Backpacks in Mickey Meets Birdie pattern on the left and Plums the Word pattern on the right. Photo by Adrienne Krock.

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry, his wife, Diane, Samantha (17), and twins Casey and Alex (13), live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

The mighty yellow North Face backpack that has been hanging off of my shoulders for just about every trip we’ve taken in the last 20 years or so has obviously served me quite well. First of all, it is seemingly indestructible. Despite the innumerable Disney trips, countless Dead shows, ski trips, hiking trips, amusement parks, zoos, days in Central Park, and much more, this trusty bag is always just the right size and never falters. It’s a testament to the manufacturer. So, what is inside said awesome backpack when we hit the parks of Walt Disney World? Nowhere near as much as you think is the surprising answer.

When we first took my daughter to Disney she was 4. The same went for our twin sons a few years later. This coming summer, they will be 17 and 14, respectively, and the contents of my Disney pack have pretty much never changed. Most important in the Orlando swelter is the ever-present water bottle, literally attached at the hip in a mesh pocket hanging off the side of the backpack. The kids know when all else fails; Dad will always have a cold bottle of water at his side. The pack has three pockets, going from small to large.

The smallest has typically held the ubiquitous autograph books and pens. That’s one item that we’ve managed to shed, as the kids got older. The pens are still there however as is a set of all four Walt Disney World park maps and a Times Guide.

The middle pocket has the always-handy flushable wipes. These have been remarkably useful over the years and not just for their intended purpose. They’ve cleaned countless sticky fingers, removed tons of melted Mickey premium bars from faces and have served as a refreshing cleanse for sweaty necks. There’s also always a box of white Tic Tacs in this medium-sized pocket.

The main pocket of the pack is the most used. Inside there’s always a set of Mickey rain ponchos for the guaranteed Orlando afternoon summer downpour, one for each of us. There’s inevitably a Disney ball cap for each member of the clan to shade the hot sun. Speaking of sun, tucked safely inside a large zip-up plastic bag is a bottle of spray-on sunblock. Lately, the pin lanyards seem to be “not cool” for the teenage boys, so they are in my backpack, ready to trade, just not ready to be worn!

Dare I say it, but that has been pretty much it for the past 13 years of park touring. Sure, souvenirs have been stashed in there and in the winter visits, a sweatshirt has typically replaced the Mickey ponchos, but other than that, I’ve rarely swayed from my packing list. We travel and tour lightly. It’s always been a thing for us and thank goodness for my shoulders, we’ve stuck to that mantra. I can’t think of a time when I stopped in the parks and finished the following quote, “Boy, I wish I had my _______ with me!” I haven’t needed it.

Back in the early days, I used to take a small flashlight for dropped pins and things, but cellphones have pretty much eliminated that need. The same can definitely be said for the small point-and-shoot camera and video camera that I used to tote around. Remember those?

The one thing I will say that used to be in my pack that I do seriously miss is Pal Mickey. We used to put him in the medium-sized middle pocket. The pack has zippers from both sides so we used to keep his body in the pocket and zip him up to his neck with his head sticking out. It gave a focal point for the kids to look at and follow Daddy around. Did you turn your head and lose the family? Look for the bright yellow backpack with Mickey’s head sticking out of it and you’ll be fine. I have to admit, I kind of miss the days when Pal Mickey would buzz in my bag and we’d stop and see what he had to say. Other than that, though, our mantra has always been travel light and in all the years of storming the Walt Disney World parks, that mantra has never let us down so why change it now?

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!