There is a certain art form to packing perfectly for a day at the Disneyland Resort. The key is to bring everything you might need over the course of the day without being bogged down with too much stuff.
For families with strollers, remember that your cart—er, stroller—while acting as an amazing schlepping tool, will also need to be frequently abandoned. So while you are on rides, don’t store any items in the stroller that are of great value to you.
If you have never been to Disneyland or feel you have never quite gotten the theme park packing down pat, use this checklist to ensure that you have all the essentials. And repeat after us: Less is more.
First things first, know the rules
Before heading to Disneyland, you should be well-versed in what is actually allowed into the parks. If you are going to bring a stroller, be aware that the parks’ stroller policy recently changed—side-by-side double strollers and wagons are no longer allowed.
Disneyland also has a comprehensive list of items that are not allowed in the parks that is worth reading if you have any questions about whether or not something you would like to bring will be permitted. Some items on the list are obvious, such as weapons and motorcycles. But there are plenty that might surprise you, including selfie sticks, shoes with built-in wheels, and wrapped gifts.
If you are packing any food or snacks, know that you can’t bring a cooler larger than a six-pack (not that you would anyway, if you follow our lean packing advice) or anything in a glass container with the exception of baby food or medicine.
Brought something that’s not allowed or that you don’t want to necessarily lug the entire day? There are locker rentals at the entrances to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
Next, check the weather
Thankfully, Southern California is known for its consistently moderate weather. But during summer months, Disneyland can get brutally hot during the day, and during winter months, it can be very chilly and even wet.
Depending on how hot it will be, make sure to wear clothes that you will be comfortable in. Brimmed hats and sunglasses are a good idea to block out the sun, and sunscreen is a must.
On those (thankfully rare) days when the temperatures hit near or above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, there are a few things you might consider bringing to help keep cool. Among them are small, wet washcloths that you keep in the fridge overnight and then pop into a small cooler lunch sack alongside an ice pack. Pull these out to wipe on sweaty faces and necks when the sun is blazing—they can give your crew new life. You can also bring or buy those cooling fans that spray water. These conveniently double as good entertainment for toddlers and younger kids.
Even if it’s hotter than Hades, you may want to consider some layers for the evening. Southern California is a dry heat and the hottest days can turn cold at night. If it’s hot enough that you want to hit up rides on which you will get refreshingly wet, such as Splash Mountain at Disneyland, or potentially soaked, like on Grizzly River Run at Disney California Adventure, a change of clothes and/or a small towel might come in handy.
If it’s going to be cold, and it does get cold in SoCal in the winter, bulk up. And if it’s going to be rainy, ponchos are easier to navigate than trying to weave through the parks with an umbrella. Don’t forget a rain cover for your stroller if it’s going to be coming down pretty good—an easy way to keep the wee ones warm and dry.
Bright, easily recognizable clothes
There tends to be a lot of splitting up and reuniting at Disneyland as family segments divide and conquer to fulfill different needs and wants of everyone in the group. To make the reunions a bit easier, brightly colored hats or shirts can help with finding your clan in the crowd. If you want to go all-out and get matching T-shirts, hats, or outfits for the whole fam for even better group-member spotting, far be it for us to hold you back.
Food and drink
When it comes to food, snacks, and drinks, keep it simple. Pack a few snacks that everyone in the family loves, and a few water bottles (especially if it’s going to be hot), and that’s it. You can even skip the water bottles and do drinking fountain and drink runs instead. The snacks will get everyone through hunger spells that creep up while you’re waiting in line or during the car ride to or from the parks, and you can refill water bottles throughout the parks.
Of course, some families might like to bring more, and if any family member has special dietary needs or if you are trying to keep expenses to a minimum, that’s totally understandable. But for our clan, this falls into the category of traveling light and indulging a bit in the parks’ eateries as part of the experience.
Strollers, carriers, bags, and backpacks
So, now that you more or less know what you’re going to bring into the parks, what should you carry it in? If you have small kids or babies, a stroller is a must because there are often long distances to walk and the stroller will afford them a break. As noted above, you will need to park and leave that stroller frequently, so we like to have one backpack with all the essentials that we bring with us on the rides. In it are our keys and wallets, glasses, sunscreen, lip balm, at least one water bottle, and a few essentials for the kiddos (maybe one or two diapers in case someone has an emergency, and a toy or activity book to keep them occupied in line).
If you have a non-walking child (aka a baby), a baby carrier can be really helpful as an alternative to the stroller for hands-free carrying onto rides or even just walking around if and when baby wants a break from riding in the stroller.
Store anything that is non-essential, such as additional diapers and layers not currently in use, in a separate bag in the stroller. If the kids are a bit older and you don’t have a stroller, you either don’t need these extras, or you divide everything into a couple of small backpacks or bags. Remember that whatever you bring with you onto rides will need to be somehow tucked between your legs or under your seat in designated compartments during the ride. You don’t want the bag or pack to be too bulky because the compartments often aren’t very large.
If it’s hot, anything on your back will be sweat inducing. If you don’t have a stroller-cart, keeping things to a minimum will be even more critical. Families with older kids often ditch the packs altogether and have family members tie a warmer layer around their waist and call it a day. This barebones approach is enviable.
A note about souvenirs
When purchasing souvenirs or memorabilia, think strategically: Someone will need to carry those purchases for the rest of the day. A new stuffie that will continually get dropped on the ground throughout the day might best be saved as a reward for on the way out of the parks. Perhaps there’s a souvenir like a bubble blower or light-up toy that will serve as a good distraction while waiting in lines. Before you buy, think about size, weight, and usability to best time your purchase(s).
A great end-of-day hack
One of my favorite Disneyland tips, which I got from a friend with an annual pass, is to bring pajamas for your babies and smaller kids. Toward the end of the day, when the little ones are starting to tire out, change them into their jammies so that if they pass out on the way out or home, transferring will be easy. A favorite stuffie or small blanket for added coziness during naps and toward bedtime can help, too.
In sum, here’s our checklist:
o Light backpack
o Allowable stroller, if needed
o Baby carrier, if needed
o Small lunch sack with cooler pack, if needed
o Brimmed hat (brightly colored, if possible)
o Comfortable shoes
o Warmer layer(s) for the evening
o Change of shirt/clothes and/or towel if you plan on getting wet
o Refillable water bottle(s)
o Small selection of snacks
o Ponchos, if there’s rain in the forecast
o Pajamas, if you’re with littles who will crash on the early side
o Stuffed animal and/or blanket for those same littles
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