There’s nothing like putting three girls in one hotel room to make you ask, “did I really need to pack all this?” In my case, as a lifetime member of Overpackers Anonymous, the answer is literally always no. And while I struggle to go carry-on only even in the best of circumstances, nothing makes me tip the scales quite like an unknown destination that I’m not quite sure what to bring for.
But these days, I’m feeling pretty darn confident that I’m starting to know my way around the theme park world. Mostly based on my twelve days at Universal Orlando Resort over two recent trips, but also on a girlfriend getaway to Disney Land a few years ago and many trips around Disney World as a child.
Wondering what’s inside inside my bag these days when I rock up in Orlando or Anaheim? Read on!
Clothes and Swimwear
While I’m normally a big proponent of rewearing items over and over again on the same trip, you’re likely going to want to bring at least a fresh top for every day you’re at a theme park. It gets sweaty out there and hotel laundry is equivalent to a hefty ransom. A few budget friendly hacks? If you’re staying onsite at Universal Orlando, there is a coin operated laundry in Cabana Bay if you want to do a load on the cheap. Or, there’s always a Scrubba bag!
In general, here’s what I focus on packing:
• day wear: Theme parks are extremely casual, to the point that I borderline feel over-dressed wearing a skirt or day dress (though there’s nothing wrong with either option if that’s what you’re most comfortable in.) I stick to shorts or leggings and tank tops or t-shirts, or maybe a romper if I’m feeling sassy. Remember that you’re going to be doing a lot of walking in the heat, so whatever you chose to wear, be comfortable.
• evening wear: As casual as the theme parks are during the day, there are definitely opportunities to get a bit snazzy at night, if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Most onsite hotels have restaurants worth donning a dress for, and CityWalk and Downtown Disney both have plenty of options for dress-up dining and nightlife. Still, there’s basically nowhere that would turn you away in a pair of jeans and a nice top.
• fun costumes or props: For our day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we ordered coordinated t-shirts off Etsy and Harry Potter glasses off Amazon. Both were a huge hit! One thing to watch out for? Don’t wear Disney ears or paraphernalia to Universal, or vice versa. Not only are you dressed for the wrong party (embarrassing!) you can also cause issues for any official production teams shooting or filming in the park, who will have to cut and reshoot if you walk through wearing a competitor’s gear.
• a sports bra: Ladies, trust me — the more support the better when you’re upside down looping around The Hulk and back!
• swimwear: While I always pack a bikini for tanning by the hotel pool, when it comes to a waterpark like Universal’s brand new Volcano Bay, I’m all about that one piece life. Amazon has hundreds of cute cheap ones, and you can try many of them on with free two-day shipping each way with an Amazon Prime trial.
• a crossbody bag or fanny pack: First of all, fanny packs are cool again, so you can return your eyebrows to their standard height. Second of all, try to keep it small enough to fit in the free lockers at the base of many Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures rides.
• UPF clothing: If you’re super sensitive to sun, you might consider clothes with ultraviolet protection built-in — it’s like your t-shirt and sunscreen had a baby!
• comfy shoes: Trainers worn in non-gym situations are my personal pet peeve. But if that’s what you feel like you need in order to be living your best life, you do you my friend. Other options include sturdy sandals, tennis shoes, or comfortable flats like Tieks. In the evening, if you feel fancy, wedges are a good bet — anything more might feel a bit over the top.
• a sweater: For reasons unbeknownst to me, Floridians keep their indoor areas at a controlled temperature that could comfortably replicate a polar bear habitat. If you stroll into a restaurant in your little shorts and tank top, you might stroll out with frostbite. Pack a sweater (or parka) accordingly.
• avoid white: Water rides, unpredictable afternoon showers, and lots of sweat. You do the math — and thank me later.
Bring In Your Day Bag
• a reuseable water bottle: Believe it or not, you’re welcome to bring your own non-glass bottles into all major theme parks and refill them throughout the day at water fountains and refill stations. Considering the small fortune it would cost to stay hydrated for the day (not to mention the environmental impact) if you bought single use plastic bottles, you’d be crazy not to.
• sunscreen and lip balm: Did I mention it gets hot out there? Remember these essentials and avoid paying a gift shop surcharge.
• a packable ponchos: You’re probably going to want them for water rides — but you’re not going to want to pay on-the-spot prices. At Universal Orlando, you’ll want these for Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, and to a much lesser extent, Jurassic Park River Adventure.
• extra hair bands: Someone in your group is forget one or lose one on a crazy coaster, and now you’ll get to be the hero. Boom.
• ziploc bags: If you’re worried about getting caught in a rainstorm or itching to ride water rides, ziplock bags are a cheap and easy way to keep you wallet, camera and other small valuables safe and dry.
• waterproof mascara: Even if you’re not planning to head to any water parks or ride any water rides, waterproof mascara will keep you looking fresh come humidity or heat. Here’s my favorite (splurge) brand.
• motion sickness pills: Universal Orlando in particular has plenty of virtual reality rides that could leave sensitive travelers queasy. I recommend the ginger-based Dramamine Non-Drowsy Naturals for relief without any side effects — I’m literally obsessed with the stuff after doing a campaign with them. It also can’t hurt to throw a pain reliever and band-aids for walking blisters in as well.
• moisturizer with aloe vera: You’re definitely wearing loads of sunscreen, right? Still, you might find yourself a little crispy at the end of the day — an extra hydrating lotion can help stave off dry skin and feel like a treat.
• selfie cam: One thing you can’t bring into any major theme parks? Selfie sticks! Instead, consider a compact camera with a flip up screen for selfies like the Canon G7X — you’ll get much more high quality images that you would with a smart phone, anyway.
• a lens cloth: The aforementioned air-conditioning problem affects your electronics, too. Don’t be surprised if you’re camera is unusable for a few minutes after you leave your cool-off lunch break because the lens is fogged from being back in the heat! Pack a microfiber lens cloth to combat.
• phone accessories: Worried about keeping cool? An iPhone fan (I’ve used and loved!) or an iPhone mister (full disclosure, I’ve never tried one) is a easy way to stay breezy on the go. Make sure you don’t go dead with an extra battery bank.
Alright, my theme park experts! (Of which I know there are many many out there!) Now it’s your turn to tell me what I missed and what I should do differently for my next trip. What did I miss? Did I manage to bring up any fun new ideas? Share your best theme park packing hacks below!