There are vacations, and then there are waterpark vacations. High-octane, fast-moving and very, very wet, waterparks can be found coast to coast and are a huge source of family fun — as long as you pack well for them.
Having recently spent a week at the sprawling Atlantis Bahamas, which features a 141-acre waterscape of its own dubbed Aquaventure, I know a thing or two — or thousand — about what it’s like being waterlogged from sunrise to sunset. For one, it’s a blast. While my preference would be reading a book on a quiet beach, my four kids had other plans, and I was happy to discover just how much I enjoyed tagging along with them on the rapid river and the wildly tall waterslides. Also: I’ve never seen my kids have more fun in their short little lives.
Secondly, you can’t underestimate just how wet you’re going to be all day long. You’re going to need wet bags, dry bags, backpacks, beach bags — you need all the bags. Plus, some packable towels, sunscreen galore, rash guards, hats, water shoes, backup clothes and a few additional “musts” that will ensure your waterpark experience is smooth sailing.
I relied on these items heavily during my trip, and I can’t recommend them enough. Armed with these essentials, you’ll be sure to have the best time ever.
Keeping your smartphone with you at a waterpark is a must — whether you’re looking to reconnect with friends at the bottom of a slide or just want to snap a few photos — and you can do so worry-free with this dry bag case from Joto Universal. During my trip, I used my case daily, from morning ’til night, while tubing down the raging river (over and over again), swimming in the ocean and riding dozens of slides. The dry bag kept my phone safe and my anxiety at bay because I could be in touch with my group 24/7.
Smeared mascara streaking your face is not a good waterpark look. If you’re a mascara devotee, this bang-for-your-buck waterproof option from L’Oréal is the way to go. With more than 7,000 positive Amazon reviews, the drugstore fave is also beloved by pro makeup artists. “It’s easy to apply, layers over itself for a bolder look and doesn’t move,” celebrity makeup artist Adam Breuchaud told CNN Underscored. It also ensures your waterpark pics are framers and not being deleted immediately.
Most waterparks are glass-free, but it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to keeping your kids’ feet free from injury. These Amazon water shoes are great because they’re light, they’re breathable and they have water drainage holes in the anti-slip soles. Available in more than 20 patterns, the shoes also have a thick rubber cap that will keep toes safe.
Long days in the sun and water almost always result in painful sunburns — avoid them with Sun Patch, a waterproof, reusable patch that is made of UPF 50+ silicone and blocks 99.9% of UVA and UVB rays. Reusable up to 10 times, the patches are available in a variety of hues, from neon pink to nude, and are water- and sweat-proof for up to six hours. More to know: The patches are also hypoallergenic and chemical- and phthalate-free.
Ward away the sun all day with a unisex Melin hat. Sweat-wicking and water-repellent — the water literally beads and rolls off the hats — the A-Game Hydro can also float and has a hidden interior pocket for cash. Available in more than a dozen colors and three sizes, the ventilated hat is worth the investment even if you’re not headed to the waterpark anytime soon.
There are two reasons you need this rash guard for your waterpark adventures. First, it’s fitted with UPF 50+ protection and will keep you from sunburn. Second, whether you’re standing in line soaking wet for 30 minutes or you’re shooting down a waterslide at 30 miles per hour, you don’t always want to be in a bikini. Keep yourself covered up with this recycled polyester shirt that comes in four colors and sizes XXS to 3X (and tall and petite sizes) and has two zippered pockets for securing essentials.
Avoid reapplying sunscreen on the kiddos all day by investing in a rash guard that will work overtime on keeping them warm and protected in between rides. I’m a big fan of all the Kanu Surf Shop wares (especially the kids’ bathing suits) because they’re durable, high quality and ultra affordable. This cute shirt has more than 7,000 Amazon reviews and comes in 10 colorways and sizes 2T to 14-16.
Keep little ones safe — and give yourself some much-needed peace of mind — by packing this life jacket for beginner swimmers. Good for kids 22 to 66 pounds, the jacket is equipped with safety shoulder harnesses, double adjustable strap clips and armbands, all of which require zero inflating. Available in nearly two dozen patterns, it also has more than 3,000 reviews on Amazon.
Capture all of your water adventures on camera with GoPro’s latest and greatest Hero11 Black. Completely waterproof, this latest version of the cult-favorite camera can produce some incredible slow-motion videos, not to mention immersive, higher-quality footage, thanks to a larger image sensor. And the Hero11 is the brand’s most tech-savvy camera yet, as it now automatically sends highlight videos to your phone and uploads your footage to the cloud.
While some waterparks and resorts will have towels on offer, it’s not a sure bet, which is why I always pack a few of my Dock & Bay towels. Unlike the old-school terry cloth beach towels of yore, Dock & Bay towels are made from recycled polyester and polyamide, which results in a sand-wicking, fast-drying thin towel that will barely take up any room in your suitcase. Ultra absorbent, the towels are also quick to warm up cold, wet kiddos at the end of the day. Known for their striped pattern, the towels come in dozens of colorways and are available in sets too.
Even if you’re headed to an indoor waterpark, you’ll still want to bring a good sunscreen with you, since most have overhead windows that can allow the UV rays in. Our best overall sunscreen pick is this Hawaiian Tropic Everyday Active Clear because it has a wide spray distribution that makes it quick and easy to cover your entire body, it’s fast-absorbing and it smells delicious. Packed with SPF 30, the sunscreen is water- and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes and comes in a slim container that’s easy to travel with.
Having multiple dry bags with you at the waterpark is imperative — one for carrying with you on your adventures and one for keeping your dry clothes ready for you at the end of the day. Sea to Summit is an industry leader when it comes to this stuff, and we’re obsessed with these because they’re ultra lightweight, made from recycled nylon and have a white interior lining that makes it easier to find your stuff. Available in seven sizes and five colors, the roll-top bags can be synched up with the brand’s Dry Bag Sling ($9.95), transforming it into a crossbody bag for the day.
While you won’t be wearing sandals in the wave pool or down some slides, they’re essential for heading to the bathroom or concessions. I’ve been wearing this pair from Reef to beaches and pools for years and think they’re the most comfortable water-resistant pair out there. Fear not, there’s a similar option for men too.
If you want to avoid concessions altogether, a backpack cooler will keep your hands free (to carry more gear!) and your lunch chilled. We love RTIC’s Backpack Cooler because it has comfortable, padded straps, it has a zipper-top opening for easy access, it’s waterproof and it can even float. Durable and high quality, the backpack comes in two sizes (large enough to hold 20 cans or 30 cans) and six colorways.
Your search for a pretty swimsuit bag has officially ended. Look no further than Wander & Perch, a line of beautiful bags that are water-resistant, breathable and machine-washable. Available in dozens of patterns, the reusable Wander & Perch bags have a waterproof interior lining, making them ideal for all your wet gear that needs to be isolated at the end of the day.
Yes, this cover-up is a splurge, but it’s both sustainable and supports local artisans in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — two things worth investing in. Lightweight and utterly chic, the gauze dress will have you feeling like a million bucks, even if you’re exhausted and soaking wet. Founded by supermodel Liya Kebede, all Lemlem pieces are hand-woven in Ethiopia, and the craftsmanship is evident — each piece is gorgeous in real life.
Kids need constant snacks on a regular day, never mind when they’re running from slides to wave pools at full speed. Keep their faves dry and on hand with the help of some Stasher bags. Made from food-grade silicone, the Stasher bags are a cult favorite — and an Underscored editor favorite — because they’re reusable (eliminating single-use plastic), durable, dishwasher-safe and great at keeping snacks secure, thanks to the pinch-locking system. Available in a slew of sizes and colors, these will be your go-to for waterpark days and beyond.
You’re going to need a big ol’ bag to carry all your stuff in and out of the park, and this waterproof tote is the best option out there. Combining Steele’s history of making quality bags with Mark & Graham’s know-how for fun colors and monogramming, this durable tote is tear-resistant, has thick comfortable straps for bearing heavy loads and comes with built-in bottom grommets for shaking out sand and dirt. The vinyl-coated nylon bag comes in three sizes and 12 colorways and has an interior pocket.
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