1. Stroller. My son hasn't used a stroller in close to a year, but we would not have survived without a stroller on this trip. I bought an inexpensive umbrella stroller with a basket for the trip. I expected to need it at the airport or I would have just rented one. If you rent one from Disneyland you can't take it out of the parks. But, you can rent one from a local company and they will drop it off at your hotel for you. If you fly, look into the rental option.
2. Buy souvenirs in advance. I became BFFs with my local Dollar Store leading up to this trip. I found so many great options here. Each morning I gave my kiddo one new item. He loved it and it seemed to take the edge of wanting stuff. We managed to only spend $17 on souvenirs at the park.
4. Laundry hamper. The collapsible but stand up laundry hamper was awesome. Each day all of our laundry went into the hamper and kept our room much cleaner and organized. I will take this on all future family hotel trips. Note that this was a bit hard to find at the Dollar Store and took me a couple trips. But is a new essential for road trips with the family.
5. Glow Sticks. These were another Dollar Store purchase. Some were better quality and lasted longer than others. But they were a great way to entertain my kiddo while we waited for parades and shows. The bracelets were my favorite because he could connect and disconnect them as entertainment. In DCA, bubbles are sold during the parades. I forgot to bring some but they would have been a great activity while waiting.
6. Photo Pass Plus. Read my full post for more info but I loved this service.
7. Snacks! I brought lots of snacks - too many actually - with us. Each day I carried in a small soft cooler with juice, milk, applesauce in the squeeze form, fruit, crackers and fun size candy as a treat. I handed the kiddo bags of crackers and applesauce to munch on any time we waited in line. It gave him something to do and kept him in a better mood. Plus, he never once asked for a food item he saw. This kept him happier and saved us money. I had protein bars for myself. The first day in the park I didn't even buy us any food at all.
8. Refillable water bottle. I had a great bottle that hung off the side of the stroller. It became his bottle and he would reach for it randomly as we strolled the park. He hardly drank the juice I brought and instead preferred the water. I had my own bottle too. I also saved the $3 per bottle of water while keeping us hydrated and happy.
9. Autograph book. Another Dollar Store find along with a fun pen, this became a big part of our trip. He had each character sign his book before he took pictures with them. I think this gave him something to do while he got comfortable being around them. Note that some characters - like Buzz Lightyear - can't do signatures.
11. Buy shirts in advance. Shirts at the park were no less than $20 each for kids - adults were more like $30. I ordered some online from Disney that were on clearance and also got some from Target and Walmart. Most of the shirts for my son were $8. It got him excited to start each day with a themed shirt. Plus I knew it was stain free when we started the day.
12. Lanyards with holder. Totally touristy but a complete necessity. I brought ours in advance at - you guessed it - the Dollar Store (They are $8+ in the park). They held my ID, our tickets, photo pass, hotel key and Visa. All of our essentials were on my person and I could leave the backpack and stroller together when we went on rides.
13. Backpack. Despite having a stroller, I still needed a backpack. I had a beach towel that served as blanket, seat cushion, and drying tool. I also held snacks, my phone, light jackets, the glow sticks and a change of clothes for my kiddo. If you have a big stroller with more storage, you can probably do without a backpack.
14. Trading pins. I purchased these in advance online in a bulk package (at park pins are $8 each, old pins online are $1 each). We only did one trade but they had potential. For a slightly older child these would be a great way to occupy them while you wait in line or give them another activity. We traded with a custodial worker who saw my son getting upset and she saw a way to distract him. It was so sweet and totally worked. Any cast member with pins can trade and you will also see some displayed in stores that are for trade. Usually they were set up by the cashier on a black backing.
15. Wipes. Yet another Dollar Store find. I used both hand sanitizer with Cars theme and actual wipes. It helped clean up his face before photos and let me feel a bit better about all the handrails and rides he was touching right as flu season was starting. Of course we still brought home germs but that is a story for another post.
17. YouTube. More than a few times my son woke up from his stroller nap in a not so fantastic mood. Perhaps it was because he was crammed in the small stroller or just the excitement. But to help him transition back to a good mood, I would find a character themed you tube for him to watch while we waited in line. It made him and his parents much happier.