Theme parks, which are NOT the same as amusement parks, are my favorite travel destination. Especially Universal Studios Orlando (which is where the above picture is from). Theme parks, funnily enough, have a theme! Amusement parks are generally smaller, and have no correlating theme. Theme parks are great for fanatics, for example: Disney World for those who love Disney.
I’ve been going to Universal Studios Orlando once a year since my sophomore year of college (except one year in which we went to Disney instead.) Unpopular opinion: Universal Studios is better.
This list encompasses every possible thing you could possibly need for a day in the parks. This is not what you should pack in your overall travel luggage, just what you should take into the park on a daily basis. Trust me, if you’re planning to spend an entire day in the park, you’re going to need more than you think.
Through trial and error, this is the list that has been perfected through many, many trips to theme parks.
1. Drawstring or Small Backpack
You don’t want to be carrying all the stuff you’re going to need throughout the day in your arms, so you’re going to need something to put it all in. I recommend a drawstring bag as long as you don’t stuff it to full because the strings will dig into your shoulders if it’s too heavy. Another great alternative is a small backpack.
I do not recommend a full sized backpack for two reasons. One: You will take forever to get through security because they will search every single pocket in your bag. The fewer the pockets the better. It will annoy you, the security guard, and everyone in line behind you. Two: They’re too bulky. They won’t fit into lockers, and a lot of theme parks now have lockers you must stow loose items and bags in. They’ll weigh you down, and your shoulders will be killing you by the end of the day.
Personally, I use a drawstring. Usually they only have one “pocket”, they’re lightweight but durable, and they’re easy to shove into the free small lockers. Whichever you choose, make sure it’s quality or it won’t last the beating it’s going to take at a theme park. Because I frequent Universal Studios, and it’s my favorite vacation spot, my drawstring is usually a character or from a movie that is represented in the park. Currently, I use a Jurassic Park drawstring.
2. Small Wallet
This might seem obvious, but if you have a large clunky wallet, you might want to consider downsizing for heading into the parks. Besides your main credit/debit card, you’ll probably want to have cash on hand, and if you’re over the age of 21, your ID in case you want to have a drink.
I like to carry cash because it’s easier to track my spending and not go crazy. Between the food and drink in the park and the thousands of souvenirs, it can be super easy to spend your money without even realizing how much you’ve spent.
Ladies, I use one of Vera Bradley’s little zip ID cases to carry my cards and cash. It fits nicely inside, it doesn’t take up too much room in limited space, and they come in all types of cute designs. I attached my own short wrist lanyard to it, so when standing in line or shopping in stores it will be ready when it times come to pay and I don’t have to awkwardly root through my bag in the check out line.
Whatever your painkiller of choice is, you’re going to need it. Whether you use a drug like Ibuprofen or Tylenol or homeopathic options, don’t forget to pack it. You will need it.
Those parks are massive. Your feet will hurt, your head will hurt, stay ahead of the pain. I usually pack an entire travel sized bottle. Because I know, the minute I go for an Ibuprofen, everyone in my group is going to need one. And somehow, they’ve forgotten to bring any.
Painkillers are a life saver.
This also should include any other medications you may need for the day: prescriptions, anti-nausea meds, etc.
4. Travel First Aid Kit
You can buy one of these at your local drugstore already made up for you. They usually have band-aids, gauze, and alcohol wipes. It’s perfect for minor cuts and scrapes, especially if you have young children with you.
Personally, I find it great for blisters. Which I always seem to get no matter if I wear proper foot wear or not. You’re just walking miles and miles day after day. Cuts and scrapes are inevitable. And even if you never use it. It’s one of those things you’d rather have and not need than need and not have.
5. Change of Clothes and/or Poncho
If there are water rides, bring a change of clothes. Usually I just bring a tank top and shorts that won’t get too weighed down if they get soaked. And I always bring a plastic bag to put the wet clothes in so they don’t get everything else in my bag wet. I also take a pair of flip-flops so my sneakers don’t’ get soaked on the rides. We all know they’ll take ages to dry. A change of clothes might also be a good idea for kids in case they have an accident.
If you don’t want to get soaked on the water rides, I recommend a poncho. A quality, full-sized poncho with a hood. For those Universal Studios water rides: you will get soaked. There is no escaping it, believe me I’ve tried. It feels great on a hot Floridian day, but afterwards you then have to walk around soaking wet. And if you plan on riding other rides after, it won’t be fun for the poor soul who gets your seat after you.
Continuing on with some things so basic, you might not even think of them:
Tissues are always good to have on hand. You never know when you might need a tissue. Whether it’s an unexpected sneeze, or you need to wipe a kids’ runny nose. Tissues are versatile, too. If you go into a stall only to realize there’s no toilet paper AFTER you’ve used the toilet, tissues can work in case of emergency. Yes, this has happened to me.
7. Hand Sanitizer/Lotion
I love having one of the PocketBac hand sanitizers from Bath and Body Works on hand. They’re great for using regularly throughout the parks. There are germs EVERYWHERE! And because I use hand sanitizer frequently, it severely dries out my hands. So, I like to have a small travel lotion on hand to moisturize. My hands get very dry. So mixing the alcohol from the hand sanitizer and the hot Floridian sun, and it causes a lot of dry cracked skin.
Yes, you can get water in the parks. But it will cost you an arm and a leg. Like, $4 for a bottled water, seriously. Take in your own water bottle. They have places in the park at water fountains to fill up reusable water bottles. A reusable water bottle is a great option, helps save the planet, and it’s free to refill. You will need water. It gets hot in Florida. Even if you go during a time the temperatures are cooler, walking around that park for hours and hours can cause dehydration as well. Drink plenty of water!
Ladies this one is for you! Men, you can go ahead and skip to the next one. Unless you’re the designated bag carrier, then make sure you include these for the ladies in your life. Even if you don’t expect to get a visit from Aunt Flow during your trip, it’s always good to have some on hand. Just in case. Plus, you never know when someone around you might be desperate for one and you’ve got one on hand.
10. Tide-to-Go Pen
You never know when you might spill food on your shirt. Who wants to walk around all day with a stain on their clothes? Instead of having to run to the bathroom to wash it off, just use your Tide-To-go. It’s small and doesn’t take up too much room in your bag.
11. Portable Phone Charger
These are a life-saver! Especially if you’re a picture taker, that can really drain your battery. Or, if you’re using the handy dandy park app (which I totally recommend). A portable phone charger is a great investment. I always take ours, which can charge four phones at the same time and usually lasts 2 or 3 days without needing to be re-charged (though I usually charge it every night anyway).
Snacks in the park are over-priced. Sometimes they are worth the surcharge if they are themed snacks. I say go for it. It’s fun to indulge in the experience every once in a while. But if you just want something to nibble on during long days at the park, throwing a bag of chips or whatever your prefer as your snack in your bag is a good way to save on money.
13. Extra Hair-Ties
Hair elastics will break. It’s going to happen. Be prepared. That Florida heat can get ridiculous, and if you’re like me and your hair makes you hotter, you want it up. If you forget a hair-tie or yours breaks, you will want to have back-ups. And again, you can be a good Samaritan if someone around you happens to be in need.
This is what I tend to pack in my drawstring for a full day in the parks. Is there anything on this list you would leave behind? Or is there something I’ve missed you think should be added?