Congratulations! You’ve carved out time this summer to take your kids to the water park where everyone will have the time of their lives, then hopefully crash out early and sleep in the next morning – including you, Mom! Now comes the challenge of deciding what to bring for the long day ahead. You don’t want to under-pack and potentially miss something important you’ll need since the family will be there for an extended period of time, but you also don’t want to over-pack because, let’s face it – Mom’s always the one left holding the bag. Or bags. Seriously… why do I always end up carrying all the bags?!

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First things first: select your bag. This may seem like a trivial step since, in theory, any bag that holds everything you need could work. However, having a bag that’s comfortable to carry around all day and can still manage to hold all the things makes all the difference. We’ve all experienced the discomfort of being loaded down with that one tote bag that cuts into your shoulders or suddenly weighs twice as much when it takes on even a tiny bit of water, and that’s the last thing you want to walk back to the car with after a long day in the hot sun.

Once you have your bag of choice, here’s a list of all the things you’ll want to consider bringing on your next trip to the water park, and some tips to make the day go smoothly.

Know before you go: before you start packing for your day at the water park, check the park’s website for its prohibited items policy. You don’t want to lug in 4 puddle jumpers only to discover they’re not allowed, and you now have to go put them back in the car.

TOWELS

Bring one for every member of the family, but I say leave them in the car. Towels are bulky to pack in a bag and carry around and weigh a ton if they accidentally get wet (and in the water park, everything gets wet). Keeping the towels in the car means they’ll be warm and dry when it’s time to leave.

SUNSCREEN

If you’re like me and have the warm summer glow of a polar bear, sunscreen is the most essential item for the trip. Before you pack your sunscreen, give the spray bottles a shake to make sure there’s enough in there for everyone, and give it a test spray to make sure you’re not bringing a bottle with a defective nozzle. Have the kids put on sunscreen before the car trip to the water park, since no one will want to stand still when y’all get there, and then you’ll only need to pack enough for reapplication throughout the day… which is still a ton for me!

MEALS, DRINKS, AND SNACKS

Unless you are prepared to shell out water park prices for some less than mediocre food, you’ll need to prepare some food to bring along, whether it’s a full lunch or a buffet of snacks. Disposable or reusable storage bags prevent you from carrying bulky empty Tupperware containers back to the car after the day is over (or potentially losing your favorite one… it’s always your favorite one).

If the park has refillable water stations, a single water bottle for everyone will keep dehydration at bay; you don’t want the kids chugging down the pool water. If not, you’ll need to bring enough water for everyone, which can get really heavy really fast. If you need to make a midday trip (or more) back and forth to the parking lot, an umbrella stroller will be your best friend. A sturdy, insulated lunch bag will keep everything cold and dry and most of them fold up nicely when empty. Don’t forget plastic utensils if you need them.

ATTIRE

If possible, have everyone wear their swimsuits to the water park so you don’t have to spend valuable play time changing into swimsuits when you get there or worse – risk getting all the way to the park only to realize you’re one swimsuit short. Pack a change of clothes for everyone (don’t forget yourself, mama!) that will be easy to put on a tired, soaking wet child in a tiny changing stall when the day of fun is over. My personal favorite post-pool outfit for my girls are the $5.99 jersey dresses from H&M and a pair of loose-fitting shorts.

If hats are allowed, have the kids wear one you won’t care about too much if it gets sacrificed to the lazy river (and don’t forget your giant floppy mom hat – I have three). Know where the kids can and can’t wear goggles to determine whether bringing them along is worth it or not. Check the policy on puddle jumpers if you plan to bring them (they can also clip on to the stroller, so you don’t have to carry them), and don’t forget to pack your (or your kids’) favorite coverup.

If the park allows water shoes, a well-fitting pair can get your kids through the whole day without burning the soles of their feet or breaking or losing a flip-flop. If not, a lightweight pair of sneakers for the walk to and from the parking lot may be best.

WET/DRY BAGS

Everything gets wet at the waterpark, and nothing will ruin your fun day faster than dropping your phone down the waterslide trying to get a good picture of your kid’s excited/terrified face. A good waterproof pouch for your phone is a must, and many of them even double as a wearable pack. (Thankfully, fanny packs are in style again… or are they out again? I can never keep track. Doesn’t matter; I don’t need to look cool at the waterpark and with my giant floppy hat, rash guard, and SPF 12000, I never will.)

You’ll also want a dry bag for essential items like keys and wallets and a portable phone charger (even our phones get sapped of energy in the summer sun). Any medication goes in the dry bag, too. Then, of course, you’ll want a plastic bag for all the wet swimsuits at the end of the day.

POOL TOYS

No. Just don’t. The water park is their pool toy. Spending my day keeping track of Ariel and Flounder is not my idea of a good time and God forbid Flounder gets lost and we have a meltdown the whole way home. No.

Of course, these are all suggestions, not rules… and at one point or another, I’ve broken them all (including dropping my phone in the lazy river). Do what works best for your family, and most importantly – follow Kelly’s one rule for life: whatever you do, wherever you go (including the water park), don’t forget to pack baby wipes and a book.

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