Entering the WDW Parks Without a Bag – Is it Realistic?

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I’ll admit it – I look like a pack mule when I enter the Disney World theme parks.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I look like a cross between Quasimodo and Mary Poppins, hunched over with a massive over-stuffed bag. Yes, I’m the one you’re cursing under your breath at the security line, “Who could possibly need all that stuff?” So you could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that my Touring Plans compatriot Julia Mascardo routinely enters the parks carrying nothing but her phone and a tiny card case. How is that even possible?

Let’s back up for a second and reiterate that you should follow Julia’s recent advice and never go to the parks without these basics: your admission ticket or Magic Band, a government issued ID, some form of ability to pay for items in the real world (cash, credit card, etc.), and your medical insurance card. Realistically, most adults will also bring their phones into the parks. These most basic of basics will all comfortably fit into your back pocket.

So why on earth do I look like I’m going camping when I visit the Magic Kingdom? Let’s break it down:

Local vs. Tourist

Julia lives within spitting distance of the Magic Kingdom. If it starts to pour, or she gets a blister, or if any of a million other minor mishaps occur, she can just head home and try again tomorrow. She doesn’t need to carry a zillion forms of vacation remediation with her because those things all exist at her house.

As much as it feels like I live at Walt Disney World, my actual home is in New York. When I go to Walt Disney World these days, I’m typically there for an intense research trip, with a packed schedule from 7:00 a.m. until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. (or sometimes even later). If a problem happens, I have to fix it and keep going.

Long Day vs. Short Day in the Parks

If you’re away from your hotel (or home) for just a few hours, you can keep some items there, but longer outings in Florida require a re-application of sunscreen. Gotta bring the bottle with you.

Out and about, you’ll also need plenty of hydration. There are only so many environmentally unfriendly $4.00 bottles of water you can buy before you realize you should bring your own refillable water bottle.

Medical Issues

I don’t personally need a lot of medical equipment when I visit the parks. If you’re a person who does, those items are obviously non-negotiable and going through the no-bag line at security will be all but impossible for you.

My tangentially related item is prescription sunglasses. I can’t see without glasses and I can’t see in overly bright light. Sunglasses in a hard protective case are a must-have for me.

Once you’re carrying anything, you may as well throw a few bandaids and a dose of Motrin in your bag. Those things are available at the first aid center (potentially a ten-minute walk away) or behind the register of some park shops ($3.00 for two Tylenol, for example). Neither option is ideal.

Personal Comfort Issues

Items like hand sanitizer, gum or mints, lip balm, headphones for audio entertainment during a long wait in line, a granola bar or small baggie of almonds, and tissues or wipes to clean up spills are often in my park bag. Are any of those items 100% necessary to have a good day at a theme park? No. Do I find myself using them almost every time I go to a theme park? Yes.

Do I Really Need to Have Every Solution on my Person at All Times?

Maybe, maybe not. Some things, like an industrial-strength phone charger, are non-negotiable for me. I’m often in the parks for 10+ hours at a time and if my phone dies, I’m toast. Yes, I could buy a fuel rod or stop at a charging station but 1) why pay money for something I already own and 2) I don’t have time for that and neither do you.

Many of the other things I carry could be fixed on the go with minimal time lost, but there is a potential money lost factor. For example, my park bag includes an umbrella or rain poncho, sometimes both. I check the weather every morning before I leave the hotel. Sometimes when I see zero chance of rain in the forecast, I leave the rain gear back in the room. And that’s the reason why I currently have seven poorly made $15 Disney Parks umbrellas in my coat closet. It only takes a minute to buy an umbrella or poncho when you’re caught by an unexpected downpour, but when unexpected becomes ordinary, be prepared seems like the sane way to go.

Similarly, about 3/4 of the Disney sweatshirts I own are from days when I decided “I really don’t need to bring a warmer layer to the parks today” and encountered a weather change or an air-conditioner over-zealous enough to make me change my mind.

Meeting the Needs of Babies and Young Children

My kids are old enough to carry their own gear, but if your children are under the age of about five, they’re going to require lots of gear that the adults in the party will have to carry and keep track of: diapers, sippy cups, bibs, nap items – the list is endless. If you have a baby, toddler, or preschooler, you simply cannot go to the parks empty handed.

The Issue of Gender

In my unscientific observation of guests entering the theme parks via the “no bags” line, the majority are men. Is this because women are socialized to be prepared? Do men care less about small personal comforts? (Seriously, when was the last time you saw an article in a men’s magazine called something like “13 Purse Essentials Every Totally Prepared Woman Carries in Her Bag“?) Are they fine because they have bigger pockets? Do they have other people to carry their stuff for them? Are their bodies immune to torture of too much AC?

#goals

While I find myself jealous of folks who stroll into the theme parks unencumbered by a giant tote, I don’t think I’m there yet, at least not in my current situation. If I’m going to be away from my hotel room for 12 hours, I am bringing sunscreen and a water bottle. I just am. And once I have that, the poncho and sweater are probably going into the bag too. And so on and so on.

But I am trying hard to pare it down, at least a little. Maybe I really don’t need the extra pair of socks “just in case.” Maybe I don’t need to ask myself “but what if” quite so many times every morning at Walt Disney World. Packing light, sigh, #goals.

What about you? Are you a be-prepared person? Or a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may person? Does it matter if you’re a local or a visitor? Does gender matter? Let us know your thoughts.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

23 thoughts on “Entering the WDW Parks Without a Bag – Is it Realistic?

  • August 6, 2019 at 10:20 am
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    I used to go with only the things I could carry in my pocket. But that just didn’t work well for many of the reasons you describe. Then a fanny pack. Until I saw a photo of me wearing a fanny pack! That day I bought one of the coolest Disney backpacks and have been using it ever since. Prescription sunglasses with hard case. Sunscreen. Cheap poncho and small footprint umbrella. Reusable water bottle. Phone recharger *with* chord. Long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt. Sanitary hand wipes. Rarely any snacks since being at Disney is a perfect excuse to try out the limited time and/or my favorite snacks. I’ll trade the expense for the fun of those snacks!

    I admit, I look jealously at the folks breezing through the park entrance without having to get their stuff checked. But I figure I make up for it later in the day when there’s blazing sun and they look like a lobster, it’s pouring rain and they’re running for a store while I saunter over into an attraction, or I’m sitting in a restaurant and the A/C is blasting away.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 11:00 am
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    I think you hit the nail on the head with local/frequent visitor vs tourist and being prepared vs money spent. We get to the parks once every few years, usually for 5 days. No way we’re leaving for anything less than a real emergency/illness, so we have to be prepared. I can’t imagine how much we’d spend buying water, ponchos, chargers, and sweatshirts x 5. And once we’re bringing bags to carry those essentials, I might as well throw in my camera, basic first aid items, and a few snacks. DH and I each carry a bag, and we also have a small folding backpack that the kids switch off carrying to hold their jackets mid-day. (We go at times when we need them early morning and late evening.) Thanks for reminding me why there’s no need to aspire to going bag-free!

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  • August 6, 2019 at 11:55 am
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    Magic band, wallet, phone, charger, print out of the touring plan because I don’t trust wifi-tech. Done. The wallet even has band aids in there just in case, though each park has med service.

    Really what else does one need? Maybe a water?

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    • August 6, 2019 at 11:56 am
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      Oh right… and a poncho. That’s what cargo pants/shorts are for.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 12:06 pm
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    Most of the clothes I wear to Disney don’t have pockets. Pair that with my need to be prepared and elementary aged kids, I find it easiest to bring a bag. I keep thinking this will be the day I go wild and free sans bag but no, I just can’t do it. I do send my husband and kids through the no bag line and we meet up once I’ve cleared. Sometimes it allows us to get a jump on another line – like if we need to go to guest services or Starbucks/Joffrey’s. I’ve found it’s worth lugging a bag around to have snacks on hand to keep the kids happy – instant gratification vs having to seek out a snack place and wait in yet another line.

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    • August 6, 2019 at 5:29 pm
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      This is exactly like me!! I also bring pins for my daughter for trading, a small water bottle for her and some Playfoam (small sticky foam balls) for her to pass the time while waiting in line.

      I like your idea of sending the family ahead to wait in the coffee line while I’m bogged down in bag check.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 12:25 pm
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    As for gender, people with uteruses who are under the age of menopause need to bring feminine hygiene products. Even if you think your period is not due anytime soon, guess what? Mother Nature can be cruel, surprise! A long day in the parks calls for several hours worth of supplies and some Motrin.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 1:31 pm
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    The thing that made me switch from bag-free to bag-having life was the real “need” for a phone in the parks. If I and my SO are going for a long day in the parks, using our phones for MDE, MaxPass at Disneyland, Play Disney Parks, taking photos, looking up park facts, all that stuff, we need a backup battery. The one we share is too big to be comfortable in a pocket, so I’ve switched to bringing a small bag, and I’m still experimenting with the best type. In the past I’d brought a purse, but lately I’ve been using a drawstring backpack. I want to get a mini-backpack, perhaps one of the Loungefly ones, but I do want it to be pretty far toward the mini side. And of course, once you have a bag, you do add more nice-to-have stuff like minor “first aid” things.

    I think you could be more judicious about phone use and survive without a backup, but for me it would be “surviving” and I’m not even a social media person or news junkie. I’m just doing stuff that’s pretty related to my park day.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 3:58 pm
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    I haven’t brought a bag of any kind since I ditched the diaper bag years ago. Everything is in our pockets.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 4:29 pm
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    I pack mule for my whole family. That means multiples of nearly everything. Camelback with 24L of packing space is all I need and it covers the family too. If it were just me cargo shorts and a raincoat tied around my waist and I’m done.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 9:06 pm
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    My personal strat for going bagless for a day at Disney is the following.
    – Stay at a Disney World hotel
    – Get to the park first thing in the morning
    – Head back to the hotel room around noontime
    – Back to the park around 3 until closing (magic hours baby!)

    Between my magic band (which pulls double duty as a credit card too), 20 min bus ride to the hotel, free ice water at the park, and taking care of sun screen/blister treatment/etc during my siesta I get away with only taking my phone into the park.

    I started doing this when I realized we were only getting on 1-2 rides mid day. It seemed all the families with younger kids got to the park 10, so by lunch it was getting crowded. Then by 4 or 5 o’clock the little ones were getting tired from being out all day so mom and dad start to head out with them. So just chill in your hotel room and recover while everyone else fights the 3 hour line for the Haunted Mansion. Then swoop in as the crowds thin out.

    And I feel you on the prescription sunglasses, I used to carry two glasses until I got Lasik too. I would just take the sunglasses and wear them on my head while indoors and secure them to my bra when on a ride (after watching countless other drunk adults/screaming kids/and pissy teens the CMs do NOT care what you’re shoving down your shirt while in line so long as you buckle your damn safety belt).

    As a chronic over packer it was hard to train myself to do this but I find my Disney trips so much more enjoyable this way.

    (There are also plenty of super cute skirts with nice big pockets on Amazon. I have a selection of “Disney skirts” for when I don’twant to carry my phone.)

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  • August 6, 2019 at 10:37 pm
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    I am a male in my 20’s that carries a bag (I call it my purse, but it’s more of a back pack) everywhere I go. I’ve been to Disney a few times with it and my fiancee often leaves her purse behind and puts her stuff in my bag. The reason I carry it is mainly to prevent me from losing things like my wallet and keys. I do find myself loading it up with everything I can think of, and it rarely ever bothers me to carry it.

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  • August 6, 2019 at 11:54 pm
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    On our last visit I noticed several individuals wearing what I found out are called travel vests, the kind with lots of pockets. They make versions in mesh which would probably be ok on all but the hottest of days. I’m definitely going to consider that on our next trip.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 8:38 am
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    I cheat. I bring an empty cinch sack wadded up in my pocket, and my husband and I divide the essentials between us, cramming them in various pockets (travel sunscreen, compact ponchos, gum, Tylenol, granola bars, etc.). It’s not necessary to completely empty your pockets before passing through security. Just put those items that are going to “red flag” you in the designated bowl/tray before passing through the security detector. We carry our water bottles in plain sight and breeze right through. Once on the other side, it’s a simple matter of shaking out the cinchsack & tossing everything inside.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 10:13 am
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    I’m happily down to a hip bag and cinch pack. I don’t expect to go any lower than that for a full park day – all the reasons in the article!

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  • August 7, 2019 at 10:37 am
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    To all who believe the magic band means you don’t need a wallet with cash… twice I’ve been in Epcot during F&W or Festival of the Arts when all magic band & credit cards were failing at registers & kiosks. Complete system failure.

    It was great to skip the lines when they became “cash-only” for a couple of hours though. 😉

    Just a word to the wise.
    The wallet fits in one’s pocket.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 10:53 am
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    I’m a diabetic, so there’s no way I’m getting by all day without my blood testing kit, my insulin, sharps disposal (I have a little aluminum jar for that now but it still takes up SOME space), and the glucophage pills I have to take with breakfast and dinner. I also have another medication that needs to be taken at a specific time, and I’m of Irish and Swedish descent, which means I could practically pass for a Hitchhiking Ghost and need to have high-SPF sunscreen on hand. So yeah – short of taking a chunk out of my day to go back to my hotel (and who wants to do THAT?), it’s not realistic for me to go to the parks without a bag. I used to wear a fanny pack to the parks, but fanny packs make absolutely no one look good, so these days it’s generally a backpack or some kind of themed purse, and maybe a reasonably stylish belt bag for my phone and wallet if I don’t have pockets in that day’s outfit. I envy the folks who can just hit the park with nothing but their phones, wallets, and MagicBands.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 4:35 pm
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    We are looking to go in March. Our kids will be 8 & 4 (hopefully potty trained) I hate taking bags in anywhere. I use a carrier for the little guy on my back so I’ll attempt to put minimal needed things sneakily in the pocket the hood is in unnoticed. I usually slip a drawstring bag in there too just in case we do find ourselves with things throughout the day. I understand bag check but don’t like going through it.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 4:56 pm
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    Everything I bring into Disney:
    -Wallet w/ cards, ID, cash
    -Cell phone
    -Key fob for car (just the fob itself- I will remove the key itself and keep my keychain inside the car)
    -Fuel rod
    -Lip balm

    And that’s literally it! If you don’t count my sunglasses. But I will wear those atop my head when I’m inside. Everything else fits snug into my pockets. And I never take my magic band off once I leave the hotel room.

    Earlier this year I did run my battery low at Disneyland and had to buy a fuel rod. I must’ve been there for 13 hours. Now on especially long trips I will bring it. If you type “chargers” in the Disney app you can find the closest exchange location.

    Never had to apply sun screen more than once at the hotel. I guess that’s a Floridian thing. Never experienced a pop-up shower than I needed a poncho or umbrella for either. Not exactly afraid of being wet. But days I know it will be raining I wear a rain jacket.

    What bugs me though is I can never find lip balm in any of the shops so I have to remember to bring that.

    I always ask the counter service for ice water when needed. If you were to need a bag you can ask for one at any of the shops and they will give you a tall, clear, sturdy bag. (Perfect for putting anything extra into when you ride splash mountain, or when the sun comes out and you want to fold up your rain jacket).

    There’s always going to be that chance you’re unprepared for the weather or a headache. One time I didn’t bring my sunglasses because it was such an overcast day. The sun slowly came out and I found myself at the nearest shop with sunglasses. Now they’re my favorite pair. The shops are always there and chances are if you forget that sweater you’ll likely buy one you will treasure for years to come.

    I’m uncomfortable bringing a bag in. Being hands free is important to me. And lugging anything on my back gets tiring very quick.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 6:18 pm
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    It actually depends on the day I live in Florida right now an hour and a half from the park I used to live 7 miles from the park some days when I feel like okay if it’s crappy I can go home I take nothing on other days when I’m kind of prepared to stay there all day no matter what I take more stuff so like I said it actually just depends on the day

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  • August 8, 2019 at 9:16 am
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    For years I carried a crossbody bag that carried a water bottle and bandaids trading pins, and other basics. Last year on the last day of touring my shoulder hurt, so my husband loaded his pockets and we skipped the water bottle in favor of free ice water. It was heaven, like Julie Andrews spinning on the mountain top liberating. So no bag for me this year. We are on ddp so mb are all we need for food. We’ll carry a few dollars just in case and if it rains we deal. We always rope drop, leave at 12:30 and return at 5 anyway. We usually miss the rain storms that way.

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  • August 9, 2019 at 11:53 am
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    We each wear a fanny pack with the following items (in each pack):
    Phone
    Recharge power pack and charging cable
    ID
    Annual Pass card
    Medical insurance cards
    Cash
    Credit card
    Disposable poncho
    Small bag of snacks
    Car key
    2-1qt ziplocks (storage weight, not sandwich weight)
    Sunglasses

    In my (Lee’s) bag, I carry in addition:
    Pen
    Small notebook
    Bandaids
    Extra car key
    Flashlight
    Thumb drive

    In Robin’s pack, she carries:
    Various meds both of us might need
    Tide To Go stain pen
    Cell phone wall charger

    Attached to the waist strap of each bag is a bottle holster which we use for either a refillable Brita water bottle (which nicely filters the sulfur taste out of the Florida water) or a bottle of frozen water we bring from our townhouse. In practice, Robin only brings this about 1/2 the time.

    This setup has worked for us on 99.9% of our park days. YMMV.

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  • August 10, 2019 at 4:54 pm
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    I adore the no bags line, though I find it much easier to go bagless when the weather is “cool,” i.e. December – early March. Sunscreen is the tipping point for me. Well, that and extra socks for my daughter! Since we are rope droppers, a light jacket with pockets makes all the difference. I have also found a “running belt” to be a great alternative to a fanny pack. It’s basically like having a large extra pocket. The one I have is large enough to hold a slim pack of kleenex, lip balm, credit card and ID and my phone. Hand sanitizer, poncho and touring plan go in the jacket pockets. Sunglasses are on a cord around my neck. I carry my phone, external battery charger, and water bottle with carabiner attached up to the metal detector, then once I’m through the phone goes in the running belt, the charger and cord go in the jacket pockets, and the empty water bottle clips to a belt loop, jacket zipper, or whatever else works. If I ever get too warm, I just tie the jacket around my waist. Hoping this is what my November trip will look like. Just got back from my last trip a few days ago, and without my beloved jacket there was no way I was getting everything I needed in the park without a small purse. I did buy that Loungefly backpack I asked you about, though! So if all else fails that is my backup plan!

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