Invasion of the Large Family: Being the Pack Mule

by Joe Needham, contributing writer
By Joe Needham, contributing writer

When vacationing at Disney World with a large group, one thing is for certain: You are going to accumulate a lot of junk, err, goodies. From souvenirs, half bottles of soda or water, to popcorn containers, the list of items that you have to carry continually grows. Not to mention the items you carried in with you; a camera or cameras, an extra pair or two of socks, a sweatshirt or jacket, and so on.

So what are some good ideas for handling this material over the course of your day and trip? I like to refer to it as becoming the pack mule, and that usually falls on me, Dad. I have tried reasoning with people on what to take with them or not to take, to persuade people not to buy that large stuffed Eeyore at 9:15 in the morning. But my pleading usually falls on deaf ears and all of those promises of "I will carry it" usually goes the way of the dinosaur in 15 minutes, and dear ol' Dad is left carrying the bag. So to increase my enjoyment and to try and minimize the fussing I have come up with a few tips to help carry the load.

Start thinking about this early

When you are at home and preparing for the trip, start thinking about storage. If at all possible, pack a good sized, empty duffle bag. That way you can pack your souvenirs in that bag for the return trip. I can't count how many suitcases we have had to sit on, jump on, and cry over in order to get closed because of the extra cargo for the trip home. And usually all of that jumping and crying is accompanied with screams of "Don't Crush Mickey!"

Also, I can't count how many minutes have been wasted at fuel stops on the way home from picking up souvenirs that come tumbling out of the van when the doors open. So I can't stress enough, plan for room even before you leave the house.

How will you handle the flood of items each day?

I recommend taking an empty or nearly empty backpack or bag with you each day to the park. My family of six takes at least two bags with them to the park on nice weather days and at least three bags with them for questionable weather days. One backpack has things like a camera, extra pair of socks, band-aids, and aspirin to get through the day.

When you start to add the possibility of rain (likely in the summer) or cool mornings and evenings (likely in the winter) then a second bag is needed for the ponchos and jackets. That leaves one extra bag to handle the accumulating valuables. The best bags I have found to utilize are single pouch sling bags or backpacks.

When purchasing a backpack, I know that all the neat pockets and hidden compartments are cool, but they are a pain at the security tables because the guards are supposed to look into each pouch. A single pouch bag makes it much easier for security. If you can't find a single pouch, then a bag with the fewest pouches possible is recommended. I also recommend a bag that has a detachable strap. That way you can detach the strap and thread it through bag handles or hat straps for easier toting. See the picture below.

A detachable bag strap allows you to thread other items through it to make for easier carrying. Photo by Joe Needham.

Utilize the package pick-up or delivery system run by Disney

If you are staying at a Disney Resort and are not checking out the next day, then when you purchase a larger item, have them deliver it to your Resort. They usually will tell you that they can deliver a package to your Disney Resort by the next evening. If you don't have that much time or are not at a Disney resort, have them hold it at the Package Claim location at the park and pick it up on your way out. For more details, talk to the cashier about the options as you are making your purchase. My favorite option is having them deliver it to the resort for me. So I often push my kids to purchase their bulky items with a couple of days left on the trip so they can be delivered for me.

But even with these tips and the best laid plans, moms and dads of the world, you are still destined to become a pack mule at some point during the trip, so be ready. Try not to fuss too much (but always reserve the right; I have to at least once a day to get it out of my system).

Happy hauling.



  1. By davidgra

    We have rules about "stuff" in the parks -- first, if you buy something early in the day, you have to carry it yourself all day. We encourage everyone to wait to make purchases until later in the day. Not only does this stop impulse purchases and encourage thought about what each person wants, it also keeps the amount of toting down to a minimum. We (the adults) also won't carry anything deemed "unnecessary" for the children. We'll carry water, snacks, sunscreen, hats, umbrellas, etc., but we won't carry electronics, stuffed animals, books, or anything else like that.

    We've been at WDW with family groups as large as 17, and, on those occasions, a locker rental is a must. Yes, it's inconvenient having to trek all the way back to the park entrance to retrieve stuff, but it beats having to deal with back-breaking backpacks and tote bags. When using a locker at the Magic Kingdom, a trip on the train to the Main Street Train Station makes for a nice mid-afternoon break, both for our feet and for the snack that awaits us in the locker.

  2. By mkraemer

    I am usually the sherpa of the family, and once the kids finished using strollers (oh, they were so convenient to carry stuff...and, um, kids), we began using lockers regularly. It was easy to come to the park in the morning with sweatshirts, some snacks, extra water bottles, and offload it into a locker for later in the day. I really REALLY appreciate the electronic lockers that allow access whenever you want.

    As far as purchasing stuff goes, we tend to not do it unless the stuff goes directly into the locker or right before we leave the park for the day. Or...we send stuff to our hotel. No sense toting it around!

  3. By Chewyswimmer

    One bag I have found to be super helpful, is created by camelback. It is one of their larger ones and contains a 3 liter bladder in it. People give me weird looks as I start drinking from the straw over my shoulder, but I can't believe how many people have never heard of these! My answer to the I am thirsty and WANT something sweet, is take a hit of this. The water stays cool and because it is kept close to your body, is not terrible. I usually do not fill up all 3 liters. My bag has plenty of space and even a stuff compartment with no zippers for bulky items like a sweatshirt. Yes it does take some time to go through security, about 10 seconds longer than a 2 section bag.

    As for souvenirs, we are allowed 1 item per trip, we only purchase after the park has closed. You know the drill, might as well enjoy our time if we must wait anyways strategy. And yes, massive plush Mickeys are not allowed to be purchased.

  4. By OlivenLola

    We actually still use our stroller, even though the kids are a little too big to sit in it. I stuff that sucker with the extra clothes/jackets/hat bag, the snacks and water bag, etc. Then we leave it parked in a central area in whatever land we are in and retrieve it when we move on. Very handy, kind of like a locker on wheels.

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