I’m a theme-park journalist. (Yes, that’s a real job, and no, it’s not all cotton candy and roller coasters!) I spend my days wondering about how Butterbeer was created, sharing breaking news, and flying to Florida a bit too often to report stories for magazines, websites, and my podcast, Very Amusing with Carlye Wisel.
I’ve refined my park essentials over the years, mastering the delicate balance of packing absolutely everything I could possibly need without collapsing under the weight of it all in 90-degree weather with 80% humidity. There are the health-and-safety essentials, like antibacterial gel (I’m partial to Bath & Body Works’s fun and convenient keychain holders), along with the requisite sunscreen and sunglasses. Face coverings—disposable N95 masks and kids masks—are no longer required, but I like to pack a variety and swap them out depending on the crowds and the duration of indoor attractions. And then there are the things you don’t realize you need until you need them. Here’s what I won’t hit the parks without.
Your phone is your lifeline, so keep it charged and handy
I often have pen and paper on hand to take notes, which helps jog my memory for future stories. (Yes, I come prepared for all kinds of journalistic and/or Mickey Mouse autograph emergencies.) And more and more theme parks are embracing digital apps and mobile ordering, which in turn means your phone will certainly die before lunchtime. I stock up on 4-inch Lightning cables (which do the trick without taking up space) and pack a lightweight external charger with multiple charges.
I’ll sometimes grab cheap phone lanyards, which keep my phone at the ready and can hold any paper tickets I’ll need to have handy for more jam-packed visits. I use an Otter + Pop case and a tripod since selfie sticks are often banned.
Theme parks are meticulously designed to be an exciting and fantastical experience, and this can make remembering annoying, real-world things tricky. I rely on Superhuman, a paid email client, to seamlessly surface to the top of my inbox dining reservations, ticket-confirmation codes, or reminders of what foods I absolutely have to try, so I never have to search for them while I’m out and about. Gmail has integrated a lot of the same functionality, such as snoozing emails to a specific date and time or adding an email to a task and making it visible with a date and time in your calendar. But Superhuman offers keyboard shortcuts for the most reliable, easy-to-use email reminder functionality I’ve experienced. It’s worth every penny to be able to distinguish trip-related communication from work conversations that I’m ignoring until I’m back home.
You will be schlepping your stuff—so do it comfortably
I’m all about a Dagne Dover backpack. The mesh and neoprene materials keep relatively cool in the summer heat, and the bag is jam-packed with pockets—there’s this genius slit in the side for your phone, which I swear makes it easier to access than pulling it out of your back pocket. (The Dagne Dover Ace Fanny Pack is a Wirecutter pick.)
Inside, I’ll keep personal items organized in a Kipling Creativity Pouch or the small pouches from Stoney Clover Lane. SCL has an adorable collaboration with Disney. Yes, the pieces are on the pricey end, but they’re bedecked with the iconic princesses or Mickey and Friends characters, so they can be worth the dough for die-hard fans. (Full disclosure: I’m friends with Stoney Clover Lane’s founders, so they’ve occasionally gifted me items.) I fill the pouch with single-use eyeglass wipes and wet wipes, bandages, a pill case stocked with Lactaid—basically anything I could want and could never find once I’m deep in Fantasyland. I’ll even add some emergency cash for balloons, since they don’t take cards for everything, FYI.
My Instagram is like a nonstop theme park party whenever I’m in Florida. But it takes a lot of personal-care products to tame my humidity-averse hair and skin. I previously grappled with a mountain of beauty and hair products but recently discovered Cadence, and I’m absolutely obsessed. The reusable, refillable capsule containers are leakproof, magnetic, and made from recycled plastic, so they’re ideal for both travel and tumbling around in the bottom of your park bag. (Even better: They’re individually labeled and opaque, so sunscreen and tinted moisturizers won’t degrade in the sun.)
Since I live close to Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland, I’ll often shove everything into a small purse if I’m going for only a few hours, which is dumb and futile and always destined to fail. That’s why no matter where I am, I always toss in a Baggu reusable bag. It works well for carrying around anything—wet umbrellas, take-home treats, souvenirs I know I don’t need but purchase anyway. This bag is so much sturdier and better for the environment than the single-use Mickey Mouse–branded plastic bags. And with such colorful patterns, a Baggu reusable bag is way more fun, too.
Prepare yourself for wild temperature swings
People joke that it rains every afternoon in Orlando, which is why I come ready for anything. Theme parks are among the few places where you can wear a poncho without feeling like a total dweeb, but disposable ones are human plastic wrap in hot weather. So I pack my own reusable poncho, often in a fun pattern. I’m partial to Crocs when it rains, but a friend tipped me off to sneaker savers, which are little plastic zip-up shoe covers, if that’s your jam.
I aim to keep my bag as light as possible—I have no upper-body strength—so I prefer a tiny collapsible umbrella, which I stocked up on when I visited Japan. And I always toss in a gallon-size zip-top bag, which is helpful for keeping valuables dry on water rides or bringing an extra churro (or two) home at the end of the day.
When it comes to beating the blazing heat, others swear by cooling towels. But Chelsea Watson—a Florida-based Disney content creator I know whose makeup remains flawless on 100-degree days—recommended this handheld rechargeable fan. It’s a lifesaver when the sun’s beating down as you’re hightailing it across the park.
I’ve burned my scalp too many times to count while watching a daytime parade or aimlessly eating a pretzel in the blazing sun, which is why I’m having a love affair with collapsible sun hats that fold up into little baggies and fit inside your purse. I just bought a comically large one from Baggu (while purchasing the aforementioned bags). And Barrière debuted some that are certified UPF 50+, which is ideal for someone like me who is constantly on social media and generally unwilling to wipe off a face of makeup to be … responsible. With bright colors and fun patterns, they’re a far cry from the “Grandpa on a cruise to the Galápagos” vibe most other hats give off.
On the other end of the spectrum, what most people don’t realize is that these parks can be cold when the sun sets, and air-conditioned transportation, restaurants, and indoor attractions feel chilly all day. I won’t leave home without a pair of single-use hand warmers, even in summer. I often pack a sweatshirt (I designed a Very Amusing crewneck with puffy letters that I absolutely love) along with layers of Uniqlo Heattech (which keep me warm without the bulk of a coat). Wirecutter tested Heattech pieces, and they’re a good option if you aren’t doing sweaty things, like hiking in them.
Stave off thirst and hunger so you can make it till park closing
Staying hydrated is always tricky. Ideally, you’d bring a reusable water bottle. But bottles from popular brands are often heavy, and water kept in disposable plastic bottles can quickly become tepid. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried everything available, and I recently found an upgrade by way of Pathwater. This water comes in lightweight, reusable 20-ounce aluminum bottles (nine to a pack) that somehow seem to keep their contents colder. And if you tire of carrying your Pathwater bottle around, you can always recycle it.
There’s plenty of food on hand at theme parks, but as a professional who routinely has Wizarding World of Harry Potter ice cream for breakfast, I need sustenance of substance by midday or I’ll crash. Protein-rich snacks can be hard to come by in the parks, so a bag of almonds, Kalahari Biltong, and peanut butter packets are my go-to choices. You can always find a piece of fruit to slather that nut butter on, or you can suck it down whole like a marathon runner who needs to make time or simply needs to make it to the next roller coaster. After all, getting through a full day at a theme park is pretty much an endurance sport.
This article was edited by Annemarie Conte.