During our recent trip to Disney, we were looking for a way to be able to stay in touch while walking through the parks. The Mrs. would be off with the little ones somewhere snapping photos while I was waiting in line for something else. I’m personally an amateur radio operator, but I haven’t had much luck getting my wife to get her license. We wanted a way to keep in touch or send short communications back and forth without needing to use our cell phone. We decided to use an FRS radio system at Disney!
We don’t necessarily have anything against cell phone use or anything, but it can be a bit of a pain for us. We usually stash our phone in our backpacks while out on adventures and often times we can’t hear them with diapers, wipes, spare clothes, and food stashed all around them. We have unlimited texting and phone calls so we aren’t worried about the costs involved with a phone, but just found it to be rather inconvenient. We decided to get a FRS radio set for use at Disney to help solve this communication problem.
For those that aren’t aware, there are a few different types of radio that can be used in the US for every day people. FRS is an acronym for Family Radio Service and does not require a license. There are a few limitations that the FCC imposes to keep these communications very short and local and FRS radios are generally non modifiable and low power, so you get hat you get right out of the bubble package. To make matters more confusing there is a type of radio known as GMRS that tends to overlap with FRS. They are generally higher power and require a license to operate. A license can cover an entire family and are around $100 to obtain. No testing is required, you just need to pay out for it. This wasn’t really an option for us, and thought that an FRS radio would work just fine for us! On our family vacation we were really only looking for a quick way to say “Hey honey, I forgot to ask, can you get extra fries while you go through that line?” or “Hey I’m over on the bench right here.” (for when we get out of ride lines).
An FRS radio is perfect for this! We picked up a set of Motorola radios that had some pretty cool features and fit our budget. In addition, they also work on GMRS channels, so if we want to get a bit more range in the future we can still get a license. We found a set of Motorola Talk About FRS radios that had everything we were looking for! A set of Motorola MT350R FRS radio set us back about $60 on Amazon, and worked perfectly! This particular set of FRS radios is great for travel. A small plug in micro usb charger can charge both at once so there isn’t much gear to pack away. They are weatherproof so if it rains it’s not really a big deal, and they feature a flashlight and even a jack to use a speaker mic or headset. In addition, this particular model has a vibrate function so if you have it clipped to your pants, you can tell when someone is trying to reach you. We decided to pickup a very inexpensive set of speaker microphones, to clip on our backpacks and just drop the small FRS radio in a pouch on the outside of the backpack. In addition, the LED flashlight was a very welcomed feature at night when the busses were dark traveling back to our hotel. If you really want to get fancy, you can easily pay upwards of $80 or more for an FRS radio, but those models come with some really crazy features like blue tooth! We opted for the more basic models.
When looking to purchase an FRS radio, you’ll probably see some outrageous claims like “35 mile range”. Don’t be fooled, these are low power units. They will only reach that sort of coverage under ideal conditions, with NOTHING in between radios. I can tell you however that we had some very good results when we used them. We generally weren’t very far apart, but could easily tell the Mrs., “Hey turn right up here.” When she was in front of my with our oldest as I pushed the stroller. The speaker microphone was a great add on purchase because we didn’t have to keep unclipping the radio each and every time and it was much easier to hear. Another consideration is privacy and interference. You must realize that an FRS radio is a form of public communication. There are others that will be walking around with these type of radios as well. There are “privacy channels” that the manufacturer promotes, but remember it’s not really private. It just means that you are tuned into a specific channel and code. Anyone can hear you so be smart about what you say. We picked a random channel and random privacy code so it wasn’t a big deal for us.
We even purchased a drop in charger for our adventures at home. We just leave the radios in it, and grab the FRS radios right before we leave. Unless we are staying somewhere overnight, we don’t take a charger with us, but we can also use standard AA batteries. We keep a pack in the glove box of each of our cars, but be aware that the battery door has a small screw that needs to be loosened to open them up. We have found that the battery life hasn’t been an issue though.
A word of warning though: if you’re purchasing an FRS radio setup fora Disney trip, you’ll definitely want to make a purchase in advance. They are not sold on property at any of the gift shops or hotels, and the selection t some of the local stores are limited. I have seen quite a few of the character walkie talkies at both Disney shops and offsite souvenir shops, but they are usually inexpensive and poorly made until. They often times aren’t even FRS units and operate on a totally different frequency like the kiddie walkie talkies.
Overall a FRS radio is a great way to stay in touch while visiting the mouse and is much, much easier than dialing a cell phone each and every time you need to get a quick message across. I recommend the Motorola line below, as it seems to be a great value for the features presented.
Want to buy the FRS Radio set we did?