18 items you need for a Disney vacation

Brooke McDonald and son at Disney plus Magic Bands

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So you’re headed on a Disney vacation to Walt Disney World or Disneyland and it’s time to pack. Chances are this means most of the hard work is behind you — you’ve done your research, booked your hotel and learned the difference between Disney Genie and Genie+, Lightning Lanes and Virtual Queues. Congratulations! You’ve earned a vacation.

As a theme park journalist and diehard Disney mom, between work and family fun, I hop on a flight to the Disney parks almost as often as I check my email — which means I’ve pretty much done it all wrong at some point. From the least useful clothes and shoes in a downpour to a dead phone battery at the worst possible time, packing mistakes can turn an otherwise magical day into a waterlogged nightmare.

On a Disney vacation, time is money, comfort is everything, and the last thing you want to do is spend your valuable time searching for a place to buy something you should have packed.

Depending on the ages of your family members, your list will certainly vary — particularly if you have very young kids and need an entire separate suitcase of baby gear, but this list of universal essentials will help you pack like a pro, dodge my mistakes, and make sure you never start a sentence with “I should have brought…”

MORE: 16 things you can get for free at Disney World

Weatherproof Your Wardrobe With Lightweight, Quick-Dry Clothing and Layers

Whether you’re headed to Walt Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California, you’ll want to be ready for some wild temperature swings. With the exception of the peak summer months in Florida, mornings and evenings can get chilly and the last thing you want is to be sleepy and shivering when you’re lined up for rope drop before 8 a.m. But bundle up too much and you’ll roast when that afternoon sun peaks. Here are some of my favorite clothing picks for the parks.

Kunuflex Short Sleeve Shirt

Brooke McDonald / Simplemost

$71.99 at Backstage Merch

Our entire family is hooked on RSVLTS shirts, and they are ideal for a day in the parks. Their signature fabric is lightweight, slightly stretchy, breathable and dries quickly — great for rain, Florida humidity, or if you get splashed on a water ride. They come in cuts and sizes for the whole family and designs for numerous fandoms. These shirts can also be machine-washed and -dried and don’t easily wrinkle so they’re great for packing.

We love picking patterns that sync with our park plans, like the “Star Wars” collection when we head to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, or the Disney Haunted Mansion-themed collection for a day at Magic Kingdom. There’s also Pixar, Marvel, Bluey and lots more.

Performance Hoodie

RSVLTS Performance Hoodie

$82 at the Disney Store

My husband and kids love the button-downs the best — but I’m always cold and hate going from hot sun to icy air conditioning, so the RSVLTS Performance Hoodies are my go-to. The material is lightweight and super stretchy, never feels too hot midday when I scrunch up the sleeves, and keeps me comfortable in the AC and after dark without needing a second layer.

Be Ready for Rain With ALL the Gear

Don’t ask if it will rain, just be ready for when. If you’re headed to Florida, just trust me, it will rain. And if you’re headed to Disneyland in California — well lately, it’s been raining a lot there too. And even if it doesn’t rain, there’s a good chance you’ll be going on a water ride, like Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, opening this summer at Walt Disney World and later in the year at Disneyland. No matter what the forecast looks like, these waterproof staples are always in our suitcase.

Crocs Classic Clog

Brooke McDonald

$54.99 at Crocs

Those steps turn into miles quickly when you’re zipping from ride to ride, so your first instinct is probably to wear your best sneakers. But comfort turns to pain when soaked sneaks lead to blisters, so we stick with waterproof shoes.

My kids love Crocs — they are lightweight, waterproof and comfy enough to wear all day. If it’s chilly, they wear socks and just take them off; we throw them in our bag if a downpour strikes. My kiddos have always loved the Crocs x Disney collaborations through the years and these Kids’ Sheriff Woody Classic Clogs are some of the cutest I’ve ever seen.

Birkenstock Arizona Essentials EVA

Birkenstock Disney packing guide

$49.95 at Zappos

I was the first one in the family to swear by these Birkenstock Arizona Essentials EVA, but I eventually hooked everyone else too. They are made from super lightweight, waterproof material just like Crocs, and have a supportive footbed. I’ve logged 13 miles in a day without pain in these and love them more than the more expensive leather Birks.

During the blazing hot summer and early fall in Florida (and yes, this photo was taken during a 95-degree August Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party), and on pool days, my kids swap their Crocs for Birkenstocks too.

Totes Super Mini Manual Compact Umbrella

Umbrella Disney packing guide

$9.99 at Target

Some park-goers just throw on a poncho and stay outside even when it’s raining sideways, but I find that getting pummeled over the head with rain all day makes you pretty miserable — and immediately cold and uncomfortable when you go inside a ride or attraction dripping wet. You’ll still want to have the right shoes, quick-dry clothing and a jacket (though sometimes it’s just too hot for a jacket or a poncho, as in this summer umbrellas-only photo), but an umbrella protects you from the worst of it and makes indoor/outdoor transitions a lot more comfortable.

We put four umbrellas in a backpack and whip them out as needed. I like the Totes Super Mini Manual Compact Umbrella. It might not be sturdy enough to withstand a monsoon, but it does the job and is inexpensive to replace if one gets broken or left behind.

And if you are bringing a stroller, don’t forget that’s one more important “umbrella” you need — a stroller cover. If there’s so much as a hint of rain when you park your stroller in an uncovered area while you head inside for a ride, you’ll want it on hand.

Columbia Glennaker Rain Jacket

Columbia Glennaker jackets

$34.99 (was $50) at Columbia

I love the light-as-air Glennaker Rain jacket by Columbia for my kids. It comes in sizes for adults and kids and packs down to nothing, but provides a light layer of protection from the rain and wind and is perfect to add in the summer months; it blocks the rain without adding much heat.

Columbia also does amazing annual collaborations with Disney and “Star Wars” that have yielded all of my favorite jackets through the years. My boys wear the lightweight Glennaker, but I often add more warmth with the shell from the Boba Fett-inspired Columbia x “Star Wars” collection.

Rokka&Rolla Kids Ultra Lightweight Packable Down Puffer Jackets

Ultra Light Down Jacket

$49.99 at Amazon

For the chilliest (Florida and California) winter days, we bring lightweight, packable down jackets. For extra warmth or rain protection, we layer our rain jackets over them too. These Rokka&Rolla Ultra Lightweight Packable Down Puffer Jackets from Amazon are great for the kids and come with a little pouch you can stuff them in.

Uniqlo Women’s Ultra Light Down Jacket

Uniqlo down jacket

$79.90 at Uniqlo

I love Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jackets, like the one I’m wearing here, layered or on their own. They come in a huge range of colors and styles and also come with a little pouch. I can fit the whole family’s down jackets in a single backpack with room to spare.

Worth noting — packable down can sometimes come in handy at night during the summer at Disneyland, but you will definitely not need these in Florida from late spring through early fall.

Columbia Crossbody Bag

Ahsoka RSVLTS Hoodie and Columbia Crossbody

$19.80 (was $33) at Columbia

A waist or crossbody belt bag is my park-day lifeline, even when we are there with the kids and still brought a backpack to hold everything. I use a crossbody waist bag to hold all the essentials I reach for throughout the day. I love having them right at my fingertips, not having to second-guess where my phone and wallet are when we hop on a ride. (I’m also just the sort of scatterbrain who would panic and dig in a backpack for 10 minutes looking for said phone and wallet when they were already in my pocket.).

My kids and I love to look the part and stay on theme — especially when we’re in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. My favorite crossbody bag is from Columbia — part of the most recent Columbia x “Star Wars” collaboration, the Skywalker Pilot Collection.

The collection sold out fast (watch this space and be ready when this year’s drops!) but Columbia has other durable, reasonably priced waist and crossbody bags that give off the “Star Wars” vibes.

Crossbody Shoulder Bag

Kids crossbody bag Disney Packing Guide

$16.99 at Amazon

My kids are always bringing various little trinkets and treasures to the parks with them. It helps keep them occupied during slow moments in line and teaches them to be more responsible about their things. I love these basic, inexpensive crossbody bags. They’re big enough to hold some colored pencils and a notebook, the smallest plush friend(s) they’ve brought along or acquired during the trip, and their pins for pin trading. We also love attaching a little Cutie Cuff — Disney, Marvel and “Star Wars” characters sold in blind boxes — that hook to a bag strap like the Jawa pictured.

Anker Portable Charger

Anker Portable Charger

$16.18 (was $17.99) at Amazon

As frequently as I check wait times, book Lightning Lanes, place mobile food orders and take photos and videos, it’s impossible for my phone to stay charged for a full park day. This slim, inexpensive Anker portable charger has enough juice to fully recharge my phone at least once and then some. If you want to spend a little more money, check out Anker’s larger sizes.

Fuel Rod Portable Charger Kit

Fuel Rod swap spot

$34.99 at Amazon

My Anker portable charger works great — when I remember to charge it overnight. Sometimes during a trip I either forget to plug it in at bedtime or I wake up to find it hasn’t charged thanks to a faulty outlet.

Enter Fuel Rods. These compact rods are sold from vending machines at Walt Disney World and Disneyland in a $30 kit that comes with a selection of cords to charge every type of phone. Once you’ve bought the initial rod, you can swap them for free at locations around the theme parks and resorts.

They won’t fully recharge your phone and charge slowly, but knowing there’s always a swap spot nearby is endlessly reassuring and I’ve relied on them more times than I can count. Save some money and show up prepared by grabbing a pack of two for $34.99 on Amazon — they often go on sale, too! — and make sure you swap your dead one every time you pass a Fuel Rod station (I love how they are usually lightly themed to wherever they are in the theme park, like this one outside It’s A Small World at Disneyland).

MagicBand+

MagicBand+_Disneyland

$44.99 at Disney Store

MagicBands can be a hot topic among Disney fans because they used to be free to guests staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, but are now only available for purchase. (Guests staying at a Disney hotel are eligible for a discount if they purchase one in advance.) First things first — no MagicBand is required or essential to your Disney vacation. But, we still always bring them and prefer to use them.

MagicBand+ is the newest version of a MagicBand. It lights up and vibrates, syncing with some attractions, Disney’s nighttime shows, and a few other experiences around the parks. Those are fun perks, but they come with one big drawback: it’s another thing to keep charged every night.

Both standard MagicBands and MagicBand+ work at Walt Disney World, so we often skip MagicBand+ and use our regular MagicBands, which work like a ticket to tap into the park, access Lightning Lane reservation tap points, link Disney PhotoPass photos, unlock Disney hotel room doors, and charge to your Disney hotel room.

At Disneyland Resort, only MagicBand+ works, and we feel it makes a big difference when it comes to speeding up the process of tapping into the park, entering Lightning Lanes, and linking Disney Photo Pass experiences. Unlike at Disney World, your MagicBand+ won’t unlock your Disney hotel door or allow you to charge to your room, but it will interact with shows and attractions, and enable you to play the interactive Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge game, Batuu Bounty Hunters, on the Play Disney Parks app.

It’s not a need — but for our family, it’s very nice to have.

Goodr Sunglasses

Goodr Sunglasses

$25 at Amazon

Sunglasses are a MUST on Disney vacations. Not only do they protect eyes and make it easier to see outdoor performances like parades and stage shows during the day, I also find that my kids are better able to keep their cool — literally — and avoid getting overwhelmed in the extreme Florida heat. (A cool frozen drink like their favorite frozen Blue Milk from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge helps too!)

Goodr Sunglasses are lightweight and polarized. Plus, the one-size-fits-all OG style fits everyone in the family so it’s easy to toss a pair to whomever needs one in the moment. At only $25, it’s also less tragic to break or lose them.

Wide-Brim Hat

Indiana Jones hat

$59.99 at Amazon

My dermatologist has been telling me for years that sunscreen and sunglasses aren’t enough sun protection.

“You need a 3-inch brim to adequately block sun off of your face, and lenses that have both UVA and UVB protection,” says Dr. Jordan Carqueville, a board-certified dermatologist in Chicago.

I’d always felt a little silly in a giant hat but when the newest Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” came out last year, I took it as a sign and started rocking an Indy hat in the parks.

Cotton and Mesh Hat

Mesh hat

$40.99 at Amazon

I love the iconic Indy-style felt hat — but I also bought a second, mesh version for the hottest part of the summer to stay cooler. I’m going to have to buy a second one this summer. My son constantly steals mine and pairs it with a cooling towel around his neck for maximum chill factor.

Corkcicle Tumbler

Corkcicle

$27.96 (was $34.05) at Corkcicle

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to stay hydrated, or that single-use plastic water bottles are expensive to buy in the theme parks. An accurate and helpful Disney tip when you’re parched and in a pinch is that cups of ice water are free from quick-service locations around Disney parks, so I’ll always recommend grabbing one of those rather than shelling out for an overpriced single-use-plastic bottle of water.

But neither of these single-use options is great for the planet, and if you’ve ever spent time in Florida in the summer months, you know that uninsulated water will taste like bathwater within a couple of hours of being outside. So do yourself a favor and bring an insulated, reusable water bottle.

It’s a lot to schlep four heavy bottles for every member of the family, and we do take advantage of Disney’s free ice water policy somewhat regularly, but keeping at least one reusable, insulated water bottle with us and refilling it any time it gets low means we all end up better hydrated. We never have a meltdown from a kid being thirsty and needing water immediately (and by never I mean not anymore, because like everything else on this list — lesson learned the hard way).

We especially love Corkcicle canteens and tumblers. They have adorable Disney, Pixar, “Star Wars” and Marvel designs, and are sold around the theme parks and Disney Springs if you forget to buy one ahead of time. The canteen is better to throw in a backpack, but on the hottest Florida days, we bring a tumbler for when we buy an expensive frozen drink — and even ice cream and Dole Whip. We dump it straight in the tumbler — and it can stay frozen for literal hours rather than melting in seconds and leaving my kids a sticky mess.

About the Author
Brooke McDonald

Brooke is a Chicago native and Northwestern University grad who spent a decade away from home in NYC at O Magazine and Shape and in London for grad school in Victorian British lit then a career in book publishing. Back home in Chicago, she's outnumbered by her husband and two boys, and the four of them are certifiable Disney fanatics. Other obsessions include Charles Dickens and pizza, which go together better than you'd think. More.


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