Hello, dear reader. This is Chris, your friendly Gear Guides editor.
Me, my wife, and our 4-year-old son are currently on a three-week trip to Walt Disney World — in fact, I’m writing this from our off-site digs — and since visiting the Disney parks (either WDW or Disneyland) is something we enjoy doing as often as we can, I thought this week’s guide could focus on a few essentials for navigating them a little more smoothly, particularly with one or more kids in tow.
Obviously, every family and situation is different, so this cannot possibly be a comprehensive guide. Think of it more as a starting point to build your own experience on.
Sure, you can rent a stroller when you visit the parks, but I always recommend bringing your own if you can. Your stroller is almost surely to be more comfortable, easier to maneuver, easier to spot from a distance after being parked, and generally more tailored to your needs.
Baby Jogger’s City Mini is the stroller I’d recommend. It’s lightweight, compact, comfortable for kids, and can be folded one-handed. That last feature in particular is a godsend when you’re often having to take the stroller on trams, buses, or the monorail.
Side note: Even if you feel your kid is too big for a stroller at home, walking literally miles around a Disney park all day (especially in 90-degree heat) is a whole ‘nother story. They will get tired and need a place to rest. Besides, a stroller can be a great way to lug your stuff around when you get sick of carrying it all yourself.
For parents of young ones in a Disney park, a good bag serves one major purpose: Being able to carry valuables with you whenever your stroller is parked. Since strollers aren’t allowed in any of the ride lines, you’ll be parking it often — sometimes for extended periods — and no one watches your stuff while you’re away. You can take a bag on most rides though, meaning you can always keep tabs on your most important belongings.
Also, if you’re buying souvenirs and can’t fit any more into the stroller basket, a bag gives you a bit more storage to work with. Lastly, it’s a good place to keep things like snacks, camera gear, and autograph books, none of which you’d want to be without at a crucial moment.
The GORUCK GR1 is a versatile bag that can hold a lot of stuff without feeling too bulky or heavy, and can be worn comfortably for long periods. It will also withstand just about anything you throw at it.
One nice thing is that when you reach the bag check line before entering the park, the GR1 opens flat for easy viewing by the security agent. Some people recommend not carrying a bag at all so you can avoid that line altogether, but we’ve not been able to pull that off just yet. Here are some things worth packing in your bag:
- Ponchos, because Florida is notorious for its sudden rainstorms. We just get a few cheap ones from Dollar Tree before the trip.
- For that same reason, pack a rain canopy for your stroller. (That link is for the canopy compatible with the City Mini stroller listed above.)
- Snacks and possibly a sandwich meal (or something similarly simple). While the quick-service restaurants throughout the parks serve perfectly good food, it’s obviously overpriced. For example, a single chicken nugget meal costs nearly $10 — fine if you need to share a snack between a small group of people, but the cost adds up quick when you’re relying on those restaurants for full-on meals for everyone.
- Sunscreen. I don’t recommend the spray-on stuff, because I don’t like inhaling the chemicals and the coverage never seems as good anyway. Whatever you prefer, don’t forget this stuff because you’re going to be out in the sun a lot.
- Ziploc bags for holding any valuables you wouldn’t want to get wet. A few rides that aren’t explicitly water rides can still end up splashing you a bit, so it’s good to be prepared. I also like to carry some deodorant and cologne in a Ziploc bag, so I can freshen up a bit whenever I start getting sweaty later in the day.
- Cheap flip-flops for when you go on actual water rides. Nobody likes sloshing around in wet socks and shoes all day.
- Baby wipes. Whether or not you have an actual baby, these things sure do come in handy for cleaning up small messes and such.
Read our full review of the GORUCK GR1 here.
While walking around the parks, you’ll definitely want to have some water on hand. Though the GORUCK GR1 mentioned above is compatible with the company’s own standard 3L hydration bladder, you may find it more practical to simply carry a couple of good tumblers and occasionally refill them with ice water from quick-service restaurants’ soda fountains.
Zojirushi’s stainless steel mug is the space shuttle of vacuum-insulated travel mugs. It keeps drinks hot or cold for hours — up to half a day, in our experience.
We’re constantly amazed how consistent the temperature retention is, and yet the exterior is always comfortable to the touch. It’s totally spill-proof, and even has a lock to prevent the lid from opening accidentally. The lid also disassembles for easy cleaning, so no worrying about gross gunk building up in there.
Also good is the Contigo autoseal tumbler.
If you book a stay at one of Disney’s resort hotels or become an Annual Passholder — we just became Passholders ourselves! — you will automatically receive a MagicBand for every member of your party, each of which can be customized with a number of colors or designs.
Even if you’re not a Passholder and prefer to stay offsite, I still think buying MagicBands is worthwhile. They make your whole experience smoother, since they…
- Act as your ticket into the parks. No more having to dig around in your pockets for cards.
- Allow you to make purchases just by holding your wrist up to a little device at each register. Apple Pay, eat your heart out.
- Check in at any rides/shows where you’ve signed up for Fastpass+ passes. Be sure to schedule these in advance, they’re your best friend.
And if you do choose to stay onsite, the band also acts as your room key. If you don’t like the colors or designs available from Disney, you can always customize the MagicBands yourself.
Yes, the hump on this case makes your iPhone 6/6s look a little silly. But you’ll forget all about that after a day or two of taking photos and videos all around the park and still having battery to spare. And all those times you didn’t drop your iPhone while capturing a family memory, thanks to the grippy silicone exterior. Not to mention the iOS integration that lets you check both the iPhone’s and Smart Battery Case’s respective battery levels right from Notification Center.