Gadgets and Gear to Grab for Disney World

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When my wife and I visit the parks, we go loaded for bear. Laden as we are with our bags and gear and gadgets we are often mistaken for Sherpas, which explains why folks are constantly asking us to lead them to Expedition Everest. We of course try to explain that we’re not really Sherpas, but they just respond that it’s all right, it’s not really Mount Everest. Touché.

Fortune, as they say, favors the prepared, and although I’m not sure who “they” are, they nevertheless make a good point. Whether or not you choose to gear up for a day at the parks, however, is strictly personal. Of course, you could always make some other member of your party the pack mule, in which case, it’s nothing personal. Or that’s what you should tell them.

Walt Disney World Best Gadgets and Gear for the Parks

  • Shoes – As much fun as it may sound to run barefoot through the parks, Disney frowns on this sort of behavior. After about ten minutes, I’m pretty sure you would too. Although you may have heard this already from many great sources, including The Unofficial Guide to Disney World, wearing a comfortable pair of shoes—preferably shoes designed for walking—may be the smartest thing you can do for yourself. Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach, but you will be crawling on your belly before long if you choose style over sense.
  • Sunscreen – Again, this one seems like a no-brainer, but it is an essential. My wife and I have spent hours and hours in the parks and managed to keep our complexions pasty white. Seriously we have to wear long sleeves in The Haunted Mansion to keep from being mistaken for one of the happy haunts.
  • MagicBands – These days, the MagicBands are nearly ubiquitous and
    magic.bands
    Feel the magic!

    practically non-negotiable, which makes their inclusion on this list a mere formality. It is still possible to visit the parks without making use of the MagicBands, just like it’s possible to go to Epcot and skip Soarin’, or sail the River Styxx through It’s a Small World and not have that song in your head the rest of the day. It’s in there now, isn’t it? You’re welcome.

  • Bag – Unless you’re hitchhiking across the galaxy, then the
    My awesome bag of awesome!
    My awesome bag of awesome!

    one thing you want to always have on you isn’t a towel but a really good bag. For me, that means one large enough to hold my gear, but small enough that I’m not mistaken for Quasimodo. The day they build a replica of Notre Dame at the France Pavilion, I’ll happily change my bag of choice and take up residence in the bell tower, but until then, it’s best to stay as hunch-free as possible. Also, a good bag should have lots of pockets of varying sizes for your gadgets.

  • Portable containers – In my bag, I like to carry a couple of Altoids tins, in which I store things like earphones, memory cards, Pepto tablets, minor first aid items (including blister packs), and hand sanitizer. It’s a good way to keep your smaller items organized. It’s better to have these things and not need them, than need them and not have them. Don’t tell me you haven’t gone through the queue at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and not had the occasional, instinctive shudder as you watch people “interact” with the flowing wall of honey, even if you didn’t touch it yourself.
  • Organizer – If you find a bag you like, but it lacks the requisite number of pockets, or they’re too large, I recommend getting a Grid-It insert. It’s a great tool for keeping your gadgets from jangling around in your bag. No one wants that.
  • Foam (optional) – It’s also a pretty good idea to glue some foam in your tin, so your supplies don’t rattle around–unless you don’t mind auditory evidence your screws are a little loose.
  • Smartphone/tablet – With the implementation of My Magic Plus, there is all the more reason for you to be packing either a smartphone or tablet. The My Disney Experience App makes it possible to change your FastPass+ reservations on the fly, at least in theory. Plus, it’s nice to have something to read on those occasions when our wait lasts longer than 20 minutes. If the wait is really bad though, I’m breaking out the Minecraft.
    • I also highly recommend both the Touring Plans Lines and Menus apps, to keep up on wait times and wait staffs, well not so much wait staffs, but the stuff they will be serving. The Menus app came in very handy last year when we took our extended family to Disney World at Christmas and we needed to pick a restaurant where everyone could find something to eat. We have picky eaters, vegetarians, and a person (myself) who doesn’t like cheese. I am a special category of “picky.” All the different tastes can make finding food a quest that reads like the most tragic of Greek mythology. Believe me, if King Pelias had given me the task of retrieving the Golden Fleece Cheese, that thing would still be lost.
  • Extra batteries/Battery chargers – It’s great that there are now locations in the park where gadget-heads can charge their stuff, but having your own will give you the assurance that you will always have a charge without having to battle for an outlet or charging station. I find it much easier to carry additional batteries than chargers for those gadgets that have swappable batteries. It takes forever to charge versus the 2-3 seconds it takes to pop out one battery and pop in a fresh one.
    • Note – If you intend to pack a charger for your tablet, select one with a power bank of at least 6000mAh. I’ve tried lower rated chargers in the past and they have provided only a small boost. You’d be better off with one of the Professor’s stationary bike generators, but that’s going to make your pack significantly heavier.
    • If you bring a charger, don’t forget the appropriate cables.
  • Camera/Video Camera – I know, I know, folks these days use their smartphones and tablets to snap photos or take videos, and I get that. You can take decent photos with them. Nevertheless, I like my trusty DSLR for really high-quality photos, although it does increase my bulk somewhat. Of course, having good gear is no substitute for talent. Unfortunately.
  • Poncho – This may come as a shock. It rains in Central Florida. It has rained pretty much every day we’ve been in a park. You can pick up ponchos for very little at any big retailer like Target or Walmart, or you can pay quite a bit more and get one at the parks. We bought ours at Magic Kingdom on our honeymoon eighteen years ago. I wear it in the shower sometimes with the hope of eventually getting my money’s worth.
  • Maps/Touring Plans on lanyards – When we visited the parks with our extended
    map-lanyard
    It’s what all the cool kids are wearing.

    family at Christmas, we wanted a plan in case we got separated. Nothing dampens the mood of returning home from vacation more than doing so with fewer members of your party than you started with. Our party included a smoker, so for his sake, I marked out the designated smoking areas on his map. Everyone else got the non-smoking version. They were all nice and laminated and clipped to lanyards so everyone could see just how cool we were. When my family first saw them, I think a small part of them crawled into the fetal position as the gravity of what they had gotten themselves into finally hit them. We warned them.

  • Notebook and pens – I realize this may make me seem like a proper Luddite. Nevertheless I’m very fond of the old-fashioned way of jotting down things I see, or the thoughts such events evoke; it’s more immediate and tangible—and more flexible. Okay, technically notebooks and pens probably haven’t been considered proper gadgets since before Gutenberg invented movable type. In fact, I think their invention is reenacted somewhere on Spaceship Earth between the Phoenicians and the Renaissance. Isn’t there something about Michaelangelo showing his patron his new iNotebook? You think the “i” is starting to seem a little silly these days.
  • Water Bottle and carabiner hook – I like my bag, but its one I carry with me every day, and as a personal choice, I didn’t want one with a mesh pouch on the side for my bottle. The next best thing is a bottle with a hook and a clip for the bag. Just be careful where you hang it, unless you don’t mind being constantly massaged in one spot on your lower back the entire day. Trust me, you’ll go from not realizing how much that spot needed a massage, to how nice the incessant banging of cold-to-lukewarm-to-warm plastic feels to pretty much realizing that spot desperately needs a massage afterwards.
  • Snacks – We usually pack granola bars of some kind for a boost of energy or anytime we feel peckish. I know folks with kids will sometimes carry bags of cereal for those long waits in line. This works unless you’re going to meet Anna and Elsa. For that, you might want to pack a pizza, a sleeping bag, clothes for the next day . . .
  • Extras – I also carry a small container of truffle salt. Until you have had truffle salt on popcorn, you haven’t had popcorn. That’s one of the reasons I started carrying a bag in the first place. Now I never have to remember to bring the salt when we go to the movies.
  • Umbrella (optional) – A nice small one will come in handy to provide a little shade while waiting for a parade.

Walt Disney World Best Gadgets and Gear for the Resorts

  • SleepPhones – These are basically headphones you sleep in. Disney does a great job of keeping their resorts peaceful places to relax and unwind after a hard day of park adventuring. Nevertheless, there are times when you may need to tune out ambient noises. If you’re like me, and prefer to sleep with a little white noise, and your spouse prefers total silence, these are a good investment. It may not be a cone of silence, but have you ever tried to sleep in one of those?
  • Travel charger/surge protector – I really doubt this thing is going to protect against any surges, but it does come in handy when you have more gadgets than outlets. Most of your gear is going to need more time to charge than you can give them in the park.
  • Grounded extension cord – Adding additional outlets to your room won’t do you much good if the outlets are on the other side of the room.
  • Ethernet cable – Hotel Wi-Fi is notoriously spotty, not to mention less secure than a good old-fashioned wire, but you are less likely to find rooms with working Ethernet ports these days. I still pack one just in case. If you want to get really geeky and the Ethernet in your room works, try connecting a portable Wi-Fi hotspot to share the wired connection with the whole room.
  • Laptop – Call me old school, but there are still things I prefer to do with an actual keyboard. I carry my trusty Ubuntu-rocking 11′ Sony Vaio everywhere. Sometimes, it even finds its way into the park because, I’m that big of a geek.
  • High Capacity Flash Storage – If you take a lot of photos or video, you have four options when your memory cards fill up: 1. upload them to the cloud; 2. upload them to an external drive; 3. buy additional cards; or 4. weep bitterly. Again, given the spottiness of hotel Wi-Fi, I find it much easier to just dump my media onto an external drive. Alternatively, you can pack a portable hard drive. I like this option, as I can be assured all my media is in one place, and on something I’m less likely to misplace, but I also roll my own Owncloud server for added redundancy. For a less technical, more straight-forward cloud option you can use iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive.
  • RavPower charger and wireless FileHub – this little device is handy for sharing videos and the like with everyone connected on your ad-hoc network. It relies on Wi-Fi, so once again it’s anyone’s guess how well it’s going to work.

This list may seem daunting at first, but my bag really weighs no more than about 4-5 pounds, but Every extra pound will feel like even more after a few hours of lugging it around. It’s all about comfort. This is one of those occasions when it’s a good idea to think small. Don’t be a hero. It’s also a good idea to divide the gear among the party.

Of course, not everything in this list is strictly “essential” to enjoying yourself at the parks. I’m sure there are many people who go to the parks every day and bring with them nothing more than excitement, a smile, and a can-do attitude. We call those people . . . well, it really doesn’t matter what we call them, since we’ll probably never see them again.

So what gadgets do you bring to the parks? Let me know in the comments below.

Bob Whitten

I made my first trip to Walt Disney World in 1973, but for some reason, did not return for 23 years. Fortunately, that year I married into a Disney family and my lovely wife eventually set me straight. We now make regular trips to the World, despite not having any kids. We do have one cat, though she has yet to express any interest in going with us.

27 thoughts on “Gadgets and Gear to Grab for Disney World

  • July 18, 2014 at 7:01 am
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    wow….since 9-11 I have gone to the park with only what will fit in my pockets….before I only carried little but after seeing the lines for bag check I decided there wasn’t much I really needed….you can get most of what you need in the parks—alot free

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    • July 18, 2014 at 8:01 am
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      Yeah, we get to the parks soooooo early that there are no lines at security. Did I mention I’m also a bit of a packrat?

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  • July 18, 2014 at 7:33 am
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    Smart phone, sunscreen, hat – all in the pocket of cargo shorts.

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    • July 18, 2014 at 8:20 am
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      It’s always a good idea to pack light. It’s a weird personal thing, but the reason I switched to a bag is that I really hate having stuff in my pockets. Somehow, it makes me feel sweatier and bulkier. My wife has informed me this isn’t a good look for me.

      Reply
  • July 18, 2014 at 8:08 am
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    Tip on the ponchos: I buy several packs of two for $1 ponchos at our local Dollar Store. Since they are so inexpensive, we simply dispose of them after use on water rides (we put them down on the wet seats, not on us!) or after an afternoon shower. Who wants to carry around a wet poncho the rest of the day? The ponchos are of good quality, compact and light-weight….a great bargain! I dont stress over throwing away a 50 cent article of clothing when I’ve already committed so much more $$ to our overall Disney trip 🙂

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  • July 18, 2014 at 8:31 am
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    I laughed out loud after reading the line about how you sometimes shower in your WDW poncho, purchased 18 years ago, just so you can get your money’s worth. Very funny! One of my favorite activities is packing for a Disney trip and figuring out how to get the essentials I need for a day in the parks into my small bag. Great tips!

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    • July 18, 2014 at 8:48 am
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      Thanks! By my reckoning, I’m only about 60-odd showers away from guilt-free poncho wearing.

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  • July 18, 2014 at 9:56 am
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    “If you intend to pack a charger for your tablet, select one with a power bank of at least 6000mAh. I’ve tried lower rated chargers in the past and they have provided only a small boost.”

    That’s a measure of capacity. The bigger problem tends to be the power draw. To charge a device like a tablet, it needs to have a 2Amp charger port. Many of the smaller battery packs only have .5 or 1Amp ports. Even if you get a bigger one, make sure it has at least one port that is 2Amp.

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    • July 18, 2014 at 10:11 am
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      Thanks for the input. I will assume you know more about this than I do. I have several smaller capacity chargers (I’m seriously thinking of setting up my own mobile charging station next time I go). In particular, my 4000mAh capacity charger has a 2.1Amp output and never fully charges my tablet. My Lumsing 10400mAh capacity charger has a slightly lower output (1.5Amp) and it worked like a champ. It’s the only one I’ve had that every actually charged my tablet. The trade-off is it’s a little heavier, but not terribly. Maybe I just got lousy chargers in the past, or else their output isn’t as advertised.

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  • July 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm
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    What is the brand of the “awesome bag of awesome”, please?

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    • July 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm
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      The brand is called Green, but it is currently out of stock on Amazon, where I got it. Amazon does have several comparable bags, however. Basically, it’s small canvas messenger/commuter bag. The main compartment is 9.5″ X 12″ X 3″. They’re all pretty much the same. I’m always on the look out for more awesome, so if you find a better bag, let me know.

      Reply
  • July 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm
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    Except for water on hot days, or you have a baby, if it won’t fit in pockets, you probably dont need it. If it’s a tablet you definitely don’t need it.

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  • July 18, 2014 at 5:16 pm
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    I’m almost positive I became a germaphobe after watching everyone “interact” with that honey wall. ((shiver))

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    • July 19, 2014 at 6:46 am
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      Hehe. At least it’s not actually honey. Oh no, I think I just grossed myself out. Now I’ve got that in my head.

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  • July 18, 2014 at 8:59 pm
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    For the hotel room.
    I’d suggest a small bedside flash light, if you need to get up in the night without waking your partner with full light. And/or a key-chain flash light to find ‘that thing’ that’s sunk down into the depths of your suitcase of park park.

    The Led ‘tea lights’ or electric candles are nice to put on the nightstand to give a room a warm feel. Put a couple in the bath room so you don’t get blasted with full light in the middle of the night

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    • July 19, 2014 at 6:32 am
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      Excellent suggestions. Thanks!

      Reply
  • July 18, 2014 at 10:44 pm
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    ^Great tip putting battery tea lights in the bathroom- will definitely do that in the future.

    Excellent and very entertaining article! I am also a bit of an overly prepared person, but you have me beat by a mile. Some great tips, I really like the altoid tins with foam. Good call on the silent factor.

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    • July 19, 2014 at 6:56 am
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      Thanks! Can you ever really be too prepared? 🙂

      Reply
  • July 19, 2014 at 5:28 am
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    I never travel with my family without my handy head-lamp flashlight (the kind for camping that attaches to your head with elastic). It makes for a great reading light in bed after lights are out for little ones & is a great hands free light for shuffling around the hotel room in the morning before the family is up.

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    • July 19, 2014 at 6:36 am
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      That’s a good idea.

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  • July 19, 2014 at 11:26 am
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    Excellent article! I, too, feel like a Sherpa when we go to the parks, but at least I’m prepared….. I like to pack a couple of bandaids and some antibacterial ointment. I’ve only needed them twice and we didn’t have to cross the park to get to the first-aid station.

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  • July 19, 2014 at 2:09 pm
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    Absolutely LOVE my SleepPhones… other than the fact that I’ve had to had them replaced under the warranty twice now. But I will keep doing that, they are so comfortable to sleep in!!!

    I used to bring a router when you could connect through ethernet… does that make me a geek??

    I carry a Baggalini messenger bag. It’s a little big but I can get everything I need in there and sometimes even have room to stuff my jacket in it. I also have a LeSportsac Kasey bag but I feel so unprepared when I carry it since it’s so much smaller!!

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    • July 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm
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      Your own router? Um, yeah! I tip my cap to you.
      I’ve been tempted to pack a raspberry pi and set up a portable media center, but we don’t spend enough time in the room to justify the work.
      I’m going to check out the Baggalini. I’m always on the lookout for good bags.

      Reply
  • July 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm
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    At last someone else who doesn’t like cheese. Had to smile at the image conjured up by your ‘food quest’ sentence. That’s how I feel when we try to incorporate all our tastes (or lack of’s) when our extended family holiday together.

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  • July 22, 2014 at 6:32 pm
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    Hehe. There aren’t too many of us, are there? In my experience, it’s not the cheese who stands alone, but me. Never did understand that song. Of course, I’m not going anywhere near it . . .

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  • July 23, 2014 at 6:12 pm
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    Shoes – not only comfortable and broken in, but also more than one pair. You are supposed to switch shoes everyday, so you really should have at least two good walking pair with you.

    I dislike liquid hand sanitizer (especially when it opens up in my purse), so I opt for the individually wrapped wipes (alcohol based, of course). More portable, and I like being able to wipe off any dirt or grime, not just sanitize.
    And there have been times a bathroom is so gross, I do not even want to touch the sink fixtures and choose to use my hand wipes instead.

    Reply

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