While you may have thought nothing of a spur-of-the-moment trip to the amusement park as a teenager, you’re probably more into planning nowadays. I mean, if you can avoid sunburn, getting soaking wet, and running out of battery on your phone, why wouldn’t you?
A trip to the amusement park brings a full day of fun outside, but you can't necessarily bop back to your hotel or car on a moment’s notice when there’s a 20-minute ride back to the parking lot. So what is necessary to end the day at a theme park as happy as you were when you started? We’ve collected a list of 20 theme park essentials to make your day run smoothly and leave you smiling as big as a cheery mascot instead of feeling a hot, melting mess like a forgotten ice cream cone.
Unless you’re rocking cargo pants with the most pockets known to man, at least someone in your party will likely need to carry a sling or daypack. It will let you keep the essentials on hand, from snacks to sunscreen to a poncho in case it rains. However, the bag you bring will depend on your needs and where you’re going.
Single travelers can get away with something smaller since you’ll have less to carry, whereas if you’re responsible for a family’s worth of gear, you might need to go with a large backpack. Whatever size you need, prioritize comfort and look for a bag with at least one exterior pocket where you can stash your phone and wallet to keep them in easy reach for photos and snacks. Whether or not you need internal organization will depend on your personal preference: gear could shift around open space on a roller coaster, yet it’ll give you more flexibility to toss in souvenirs.
You could have to wait in a longer entry line if you’re carrying a bag, yet more and more theme parks are adding X-ray machines and metal detectors that you can walk through without waiting for an employee to search your pack.
Plenty of parks are open year-round, but there’s a good chance you’ll at least try to visit an amusement park when it’s sunny. Some theme parks are working to install sunshades, trees, and other ways to keep you out of the glare, but there are plenty of amusement parks where you feel like you might as well be walking on the sun. Since you’ll be standing in lines all day, whether you hit one or 20 rides, prepare with eye protection.
Sunglasses top our list of what to wear to a theme park because squinting for hours is a surefire way to start your day with a headache. The best travel sunglasses will let you watch the midday parade and stay put as you race from ride to snack to ride. Since you could lose them if you forget to take them off before riding a loop-the-loop roller coaster, we prefer going for inexpensive alternatives that block U.V. rays and keep you comfortable throughout the day. However, if you have special needs—or a prescription—it’s better to pay attention to the warnings and hold them tight than it is to leave them at home.
Speaking of the sun, it can sneak up on you and wreak havoc on your skin when you spend 12-15 hours outside during the longest days of the year. The chill of spring and fall can also lull you into thinking that you don’t need extra protection. But sunscreen is an essential pick if you want to know what to wear to a theme park (and you’ve already remembered to get dressed).
This isn’t the time to skimp on SPF. Apply a layer of quality lotion sunscreen before leaving your hotel room or in the parking lot to give yourself a good base of protection for the day. Then bring the bottle in with you, or opt to reapply with a spray, which we find easier to use when standing in a line. Don’t forget your lips, either! They’ll be slurping down water, soda, and slushies, so coat them with a lip balm with sunscreen and reapply throughout the day.
Between fried food, sweets, and the sun, we get thirsty in a theme park. Bring a refillable bottle instead of buying dozens of soft drinks or an overly-expensive refillable mug you’re unlikely to use again. Most amusement parks offer drinking fountains where you can refill as needed; some even offer bottle-filling stations. If you need something super cold, ask for a cup of iced tap water at the snack stand and pour it in for an instant cool-down. Rehydrating with water will keep you from feeling sluggish, and it’s cheaper, too, so you can save money for themed dinners or animal-shaped snacks. Of course, you could also buy a bottle each time, but we prefer to be Earth-friendly, sustainable packers when we can and reduce the plastic we waste or have to recycle.
However, you’ll have choices to make before leaving home. Is insulation more important to you or saving weight? Each choice has pros and cons, and your mileage may vary. However you prefer to enjoy your beverage, drink up!
It’s one thing if you opt to go on a water ride and end up soaked. It’s quite another if Mother Nature does it for you. If you end up experiencing an afternoon deluge, you’ll be much more comfortable once it’s over if you can stay dry. Ponchos are theme park essentials because they keep more than just your head and torso dry. You can use them to cover up your backpack or sling, and they may even cover your shorts, depending on your height, so you won’t end up with a damp backside once the shower has subsided.
Skip the scramble in the park store and avoid overpaying when you bring along a high-quality poncho you can use for years. While you can get super cheap ones at the dollar store, all it takes is bumping into a fence to rip a hole, and no one likes wearing a garbage bag. Instead, pay a little more for quality, and it’ll be durable enough to withstand the crush of the crowd. Even if you manage to be inside when it rains, you’ll likely appreciate having something to spread on wet benches or rides after the storm.
When you end up in the dead zone between two fans in line (or there aren’t any), you can feel like you’re melting faster than an ice cream cone on Mars. If you pack a personal fan, you can stay cool without paying exorbitant theme park prices for a large bottle that hangs around your neck.
There are many styles to choose from, with some wrapping around your neck, like unused over-the-ear headphones, to smaller ones that fit in your sling. We like bringing one that includes a slight mist because it makes the breeze feel a little cooler. If you’re traveling for several days or a week, it’s nice to have one you can recharge overnight, otherwise, you could find yourself scrambling to find batteries if you use it constantly in the summer sun.
You may have been scrolling through food blogs and are excited to eat around the amusement park, and that’s OK. Packing some snacks is still a good idea, just in case. Your hunger doesn’t necessarily work on the same schedule at the amusement park as at home, with dehydration, heat, and adrenaline combining to make you hungrier faster—as does the scent of popcorn, funnel cakes, and cookies wafting through the air. Whether you’re in line for the newest ride at the park or find a long line at the food truck you’re dying to try, take the edge off your hunger with a snack.
We like packing something sweet and salty with a little protein, like Kar’s Nuts Sweet ‘N Salty trail mix. It has a good mix of protein and sugar, and the 2-ounce packets are easy to pour into your mouth without touching every nut. Another good snack to bring to an amusement park is organic Clif Kid Zbar protein bars. These are smaller than regular protein bars to save your appetite for the themed food you came for, yet they’ll keep you from snapping at your companions like the crocodile during the 90-minute wait for Peter Pan’s Flight. I mean, look what happened to Captain Hook!
Every amusement park has different ways of doing things, so a little research ahead of time is worth headaches at the park. Some pass out paper wristbands to indicate admission, while others use high-tech bands that you scan to get into the park, onto rides, and pay for food. Others issue admission cards you need to scan to get into the park and, potentially, to skip the line if you’ve paid for that privilege.
Instead of digging your wallet out of your backpack or pocket each time, our theme park essentials include a ticket holder on a lanyard. You can have your ticket exactly where you need it at all times, right in front of you and ready to scan, and be able to wear it on nearly every ride since the roller coaster harness can hold it in place. While you’d most likely be able to buy one at the park, you can save money if you bring your own and buy fun pins to personalize it instead.
If you don’t need your ticket at all times and you’re wondering what to bring to an amusement park to carry a few cards plus cash, leave your large everyday wallet at home in favor of something more minimal. After all, only a few theme parks let you pay with your admission band, and they may not offer Apple Pay.
To buy lunch, an afternoon ice cream sandwich, and that tie-dye sweatshirt that all your pals are picking up, look for a minimalist wallet that will hold what you need, keep it quick to access, and still be easy to find at the bottom of your mini backpack. After all, you don’t want to hold up the line for Dole Whip when it’s 90 degrees outside.
If you planned a trip to the amusement park to get your family off their phones, the joke’s on you. Many theme parks have apps you’ll use throughout the day to check how long the wait is for a line, book a fast pass to skip said line, order food, or play a game themed to the ride you’re waiting for, not to mention the photos and videos you’ll want to take of your awesome trip for the ‘Gram.
Even the newest phones will struggle to make it through a long day of fun, so battery banks and charging cords are theme park essentials. That way, you can top up while eating lunch or waiting in line to be ready to complete missions in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge or fulfill your own mission of recording all the fun times.
We’ll save you from dealing with a sick kid at the end of your trip and let you know beforehand that you should bring some sanitizer to the amusement park. Uncountable pairs of hands have touched those same hand railings, shoulder harnesses, seat belt buckles, and screens before you, even if you’re riding in the first hour of the day. Liquid hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes won’t take up much space in your daypack yet have the potential to save you from feeling terrible when you return home.
Although we just said “or,” you may want to pack liquid sanitizer and wipes. Use the liquid to clean your own hands after playing the games in the ride queue and before digging into your mid-morning snack, and turn to the wipes when you grab a sticky turnstile and realize too late that the kid in front of you enjoyed a giant lollipop before getting on the next ride. We also use them to wipe down messy tables when the park staff can’t keep up during the lunch rush.
Some amusement parks have separate water parks, while some have rides where you get soaked. If you’re wondering what to bring to the amusement park when you might get wet, a waterproof phone case is a theme park essential. While most phones are now waterproof and some standalone cases promise water resistance, it’s nice to have the reassurance of added protection, so packing a pouch with a locking closure may be better for your trip down the water slide. Many come with lanyards for hands-free carry and often have a little extra room to stash cash for that late-afternoon slushie or your ticket to the park. You may even be able to take photos through the case since some have clear backs, and most allow you to use the touchscreen to take a call or return a text while your phone is still inside.
Even the world’s most comfortable shoes can rub you the wrong way after 15 hours on your feet or after getting wet in the rain. Stop a blister from ruining your day by bringing bandages. They blunt the irritation so you can be more comfortable for the rest of your trip.
They also come in handy if you trip or bump into something as you head to your next ride. While amusement parks all have first aid stations, you’ll save yourself the time and effort of finding it to get relief if you come prepared. Stick a few bandages for each person in your party in a zippered bag and stash it in the bottom of your pack, or pick up a travel first aid kit.
Everybody loves an old-school wooden roller coaster, but not everybody loves the headache afterward. Even if jerky rides aren’t your thing, there’s a chance that heat, dehydration, or noise could leave you feeling less than 100% by midday. Come prepared with over-the-counter pain medication, just in case. If you bump your head against the headrest or your neck jerks in a direction you didn’t anticipate, a pill might keep you going throughout the day with a smile on your face. If you’re prone to motion sickness, bringing anti-nausea medication could also be a good call.
Use a small waterproof travel size bottle that doesn’t take up much space to keep your medicine from getting ruined on a wet ride. Look for one durable enough to take the bumps and drops of a day of adventure, and you’ll be glad you have it after riding the newest, fastest ride in the Magic Kingdom next to a screaming thrill-seeker (Sorry! That was us).
You might drop your water bottle on the bus or want to sit on a bench after the rainstorm. Maybe your favorite seats are in the splash zone for the sea animal show and the nighttime spectacular projected onto the mist. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of reasons you’ll want to bring a packable travel towel to the amusement park. They come in clutch to dry off after a water ride or to wipe your sweaty face, plus you can dampen them in cold water to wrap around your neck for an instant cooling towel.
What size you need will depend on the weather forecast and who you’re bringing to the park. If you’re traveling with children, pack a larger one to dry them off after they play in the splash pad or wipe them down if they ride a spinning teacup ride one too many times. If you’re solo or spending the day with others carrying their own gear, you can probably get away with something smaller.
When shopping your closet for a day at the theme park, look for lightweight, breathable clothing that will wick away sweat without chafing. Merino wool has natural antimicrobial properties that will help you feel fresh all day, although it irritates some skin types. If that’s you, check out bamboo or synthetic athletic fabrics for a similar lightweight feeling.
You may feel cooler with bare shoulders, but you’ll leave yourself more open to sunburn and potential rubbing from the strap of your bag. That’s why we prefer T-shirts or sleeveless shirts with thicker straps. Comfort is key when it comes to your shorts or pants. We like ones with a larger pocket to hold your phone for times when you can’t get to your bag or leave it in a locker for a more intense ride. Avoid a belt if you can since you could have lap bars and seat belts pressing on it all day, but if you need one, choose one that’s flexible and soft with as minimal a buckle as possible.
Whatever you wear, make sure it’s something you know you’ll be comfortable in all day long. While it’s fun to sport sayings and slogans showing your love for the particular theme park you’re visiting, make sure they’re printed on fabrics you know you like, or you could regret wearing them before your second ride of the day.
Sandals are a good shout for a summer day at the amusement park because you won’t have to worry about your socks getting soaked on a water ride or in an afternoon thunderstorm. Look for ones that lock in place and don’t hurt your feet, and try wearing them for a day of standing at home before packing them for your trip.
However, many people prefer closed-toe travel shoes for the extra support they can provide to sustain you through the day. If this is you, bring an extra pair of socks so you can switch them out if yours get wet. Otherwise, you could feel that puddle for the rest of the day.
Sunglasses may not be enough when the sun beats down midafternoon, and there’s no shade for miles. What to wear to an amusement park to beat it? A hat! It reduces the sun’s glare and works with sunscreen to protect your face from burning, too.
Look for one you can stash in your bag for fast rides, or be ready to hold it on roller coasters so it doesn’t join the collection below The Barnstormer in Magic Kingdom. Finding a good fit is key because it’s a lot easier to take off and put on if you don’t have to pin it in place or re-tie your ponytail each time.
Even if the temperatures climb into the triple digits, you may be spending a lot of time indoors, depending on the theme park you visit, and that sudden chill from the air conditioning can feel pretty cold. Or you may avoid the summer crowds and need to know what to wear to an amusement park in shoulder season. Either way, an extra layer is a good call.
Look for one that’s light enough to carry throughout the day if you think you’ll need it and can roll up small to fit in the bottom of your bag. If you choose one that’s moisture-wicking and includes U.V. protection, you can avoid having to reapply sunscreen so often while adapting to different temperatures throughout the day.
Now for our final recommendation of what to pack for a trip to the amusement park: Your patience. Everyone is there to have fun—remember? That’s why you planned the trip, too! Take a deep breath and enjoy the atmosphere, even as your toddler has a meltdown, your teenager gets hangry, and your best friend decides today is the day she can’t deal with crowds. Chances are that within a few moments, a character, parade, or enticing aroma from the churro cart will snap everyone back into their happy place, and you can continue to enjoy the day, knowing that you packed well for all potential situations.
We hope this list was a great jumping-off point for your upcoming trip to the theme park. Add or subtract as needed, and let us know what your theme park essentials are for the perfect trip.