I’m blessed to have six grandchildren, ranging from 16 down to almost 4 years old. We have all been to Disneyworld at various times; some more than once. Based on multiple Disney trips over the past dozen years, I have some suggestions for grandparents or other family members, planning a trip for their extended family or friends.
- Decide Up Front About Cost & Responsibility: one of the first needs for an extended family trip is to clearly define what costs are being paid by the organizer, and what costs are the responsibility of the individual family members. While money is sometimes considered a “touchy” subject, it is important to be clear on this rather than to have hard feelings later.
- Be Clear About Expectations: like the finances, I find that it is important to talk frankly about the expectations of everyone included in the trip. This includes specific events in which everyone is expected to participate, dates of travel, accommodation arrangements, and financial responsibilities. In my experience, this is one of the first topics to cover with everyone in the trip. For example, I always require one group photo session on each trip, as that photo becomes one of my most prized memorabilia.
3. Plan one meal together daily: whether in Disney or any other travel destinations, one of the basic “requirements” I set for everyone on the trip is that we have one meal together daily. Usually we plan for dinner, which allows everyone to share their activities. During the day, we are sometimes together, and other days may opt to go different directions, but dinner each evening assures our chance to catch up. One of the benefits at Disney is that there really is “something for everyone” at every restaurant. Even the pickiest eaters will be able to enjoy the meal as well as the atmosphere. Further, they are super at accommodating special dietary or allergy needs, assuring that everyone can enjoy the food.
4. Use Disney’s Memory Maker photography option: Disney offers a Memory Maker program, that includes unlimited photos of your family members, taken throughout the parks or cruise ship. They have professional photographers at every character greeting and scattered throughout the parks for posed or impromptu photos. While everyone will still be taking photos on their phones, it’s nice to have photos that include everyone. Disney also has photos on most rides, and some of my favorite pictures are those. My then-four-year old grandson, Ivan, on his first experience with Dwarve’s Mine Train had a priceless expression (combination excitement and terror) as he came down the final hill into the water. We could not have captured that moment—I’m thankful Disney recognizes the pleasure those photos will bring.
5. Maximize Convenience by Staying on Disney Property: Disney novices are often surprised at the land area Disney encompasses, which is the size of Manhattan island. Staying in Disney hotels/resorts aids greatly in the convenience of enjoying the parks. There are multiple reasons to stay onsite, including:
a. Being in the magic: from the time you arrive at the transfer bus in Orlando airport, you enter the excellence of Disney service. They are well-known to be the best at customer service—you’re on vacation, so why not enjoy the best full time?
b. Saves time: the time to travel from outside the parks to the parking lot, park, and get into the park can add up to a considerable amount each day. Stay onsite and use that time to be in the parks, which is why you came, right?
c. No need for individual transportation: Disney provides multiple means of transport between the hotels and parks. Depending on where you stay, that can be bus, boat, monorail or skyliner. The convenience of the continuous transportation, being dropped at the park entrance, and not paying for transportation eases each day. It also saves getting lost, and allows everyone to come and go as they desire.
d. Option to park hop: Disney is the ultimate fun destination, but it includes lots of walking. Staying onsite means we can easily return to our hotel in the afternoon, catch a nap and maybe cool-off in the pool, before returning to enjoy the evening in the parks. This may be the same park as our daytime hours, or may be visiting a different park. Staying onsite makes this easy to accomplish.
e. Early access to dining and Fast Pass reservations: those guests staying onsite at Disney accommodations are allowed access to dining and Fast Pass reservations earlier than those guests staying off property. For the most popular reservations, this can be the difference between having your preferred events or finding them all taken.
6. Throw in Some Extra Magic: One of the benefits we have found from travel with extended family (beyond the amazing memories we create and the joy of unfettered time together), is that we can share the load. For example, on our last trip to Disneyworld, my adult kids wanted to enjoy the newest Star Wars experiences and other adult-oriented events that were inappropriate for the youngest members of the group. So, we planned a couple of days for them to head to the parks in the early hours, and then I brought the young kids to meet them in the park later in the day. The same was true for nighttime, as once the little guys were in bed, Grandma was also ready to turn in, which allowed the adults to get out and have adult time.
7. Plan Early & Use a Professional Disney Planner: Disney is an incredible experience, but one that requires a lot of planning to get the maximum benefit. It’s also not the least expensive vacation choice, so it’s important to not miss the best experiences due to bad timing or inexperience. Choosing the accommodations, scheduling dining and Fast Pass reservations, selecting the right Magical Moments takes time and knowledge. Disney provides the most in-depth training in the industry, and those of us who are Disney Certified Specialists make these plans daily. Since the most desirable attractions and events book quickly, it is important to plan far enough in advance to get those reservations. Our recommendation is to allow 9-12 months for proper planning; less than 6 months means you may miss out on some events.
Another benefit of using a Disney Certified Specialist is that we can also assure that any special celebrations (birthday, anniversary, first time visit) are noted in the record so Disney can aid in the celebration. Each Disney Specialist in our firm makes a personal trip to some Disney location annually, so we are current on how to make the most of your vacation. Don’t risk your time, funds and memories – they are all too precious!
For your benefit, we offer a Guide to The Four Disney Parks; get your copy by clicking here: