A vacation to Disney World with the whole family can be a magical experience. I can’t imagine any grandparents who wouldn’t want to spend more time with their grandchildren, and parents could certainly use the extra help and maybe even some alone time.
It’s important to acknowledge though that Disney with a large group can be quite different from a small family vacation. Here are ten important tips to consider when planning a Disney Vacation for the whole family.
1. Choose the right time of year.
If your family’s schedule is flexible, consider traveling during the cooler months especially January and February. These times not only see smaller crowds but almost everything is less expensive. Smaller crowds may make it easier for your large group to travel together and to schedule activities that involve everyone. Cooler temperatures mean you won’t tire out as quickly as you would in the heat of the summer months that also see larger crowds.
2. Consider which lodging is best.
Will your family stay together in a Deluxe Villa or Family Suite, or would it be more convenient to book a few standard rooms and stay separately?
Disney offers several different kinds of lodging options including deluxe studios and one and two-bedroom villas. Some resorts even have larger villas like Saratoga Springs’ Treehouse Villas that sleep up to nine adults. These accommodations allow your whole family to stay together. They also have kitchens or kitchenettes so you could make meals together. Deluxe resorts also have larger, better-themed rooms and activity areas including pools and arcades. These villas can run over $500 per night, but if you split the cost it can be even more affordable than you thought.
If you’d rather stay in separate more standard rooms, each family would get more privacy but the amenities of the kitchen or kitchenette would be eliminated. Value Resorts will also have fewer pools that aren’t as well themed, but the food courts are enormous allowing the entire family to enjoy a meal together all day long. The rooms are also less expensive (usually less than $100 per night), and you won’t have to worry about splitting the bill at the end.
Another option is unique to Disney’s Art of Animation, which is a Value Resort. This is the only Value Resort that features Family Suites for up to six people. They are more affordable than a Deluxe Villa and the suites are very nice.
3. Rent an ECV.
ECVs or Electric Convenience Vehicles may not be necessary in day-to-day life, but it’s important to remember that Walt Disney World is a huge place, and visitors can easily travel over ten miles per day. Older family members may not be used to walking this much and could get very tired or sore by mid-day. To ensure the continued happiness of the whole family, consider renting an ECV or two for the grandparents in the group. All four theme parks rent ECVs on a first come, first served basis, but they often sell out quite early in the morning and they can’t be removed from the park. I would highly recommend using an outside service so the ECV is available for use all day long.
4. Consider all ages.
Walt Disney World is a great place for families because many of the attractions are good for all ages. Even though the younger generations might want to run off to Space Mountain, it’s important to remember that the grandparents probably won’t want to ride these bigger attractions. Here are a few attractions organized by park that the grandparents will love and the rest of the family can enjoy, too.
Magic Kingdom: The New Fantasyland is great for the whole family with rides that anyone can enjoy. It’s A Small World is also a popular family attraction that the older generations might remember if they visited as children. The Festival of Fantasy parade marches down Main Street, around The Hub, and through Liberty Square everyday at 3pm. If the grandparents are a little more adventurous, they might even jump on Disney’s new family coaster, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. End the day with Wishes Nighttime Spectacular.
Animal Kingdom: The whole family is sure to enjoy Kilimanjaro Safaris and The Festival of the Lion King. Dinoland U.S.A., Animal Kingdom’s parody of a cheap carnival, will also be a hit. There are animal encounters all around the park too, and plenty of knowledgeable Cast Members to answer all your questions about the exotic animals. Finally, Avatar Land will be opening in 2017 and will give the family even more to experience including the Pandora forest and the new nighttime spectacular, Rivers of Light.
Water Parks: Both of Disney’s water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, have water attractions for the whole family including designated areas for children, a lazy river, and family raft rides.
5. Take a Mid-Day Break.
As I mentioned above, it’s easy to get tired with as much walking as you do at Disney. Even the cooler months can see hot afternoon temperatures. Kids and grandparents alike will appreciate a mid-day break from the parks when the temperatures are the hottest and the crowds are the largest, but it’s important to plan accordingly.
Get to the parks at rope drop so you can enjoy several attractions in the morning hours before the lines get too long. Head back to your resort and lounge by the pool or to Disney Springs for a lunch away from the hustle and bustle of the parks. Some family members might even want to go to the room for an afternoon power nap. Scheduling your FastPass+ Reservations for later in the evening will ensure that you can get on some of the most popular rides even though the crowds will likely still be high.
6. Listen to everyone’s expectations before traveling.
Before you get too far into planning and definitely before you leave for your family vacation, talk to everyone about what they expect from their time away. Some people will want to spend their vacation days getting a little R&R while others will want to go, go, go the entire time. Some may expect to spend a lot of time together while others will want to spend some time together but also some time alone. Try to plan so that everyone gets some of what they expect, but realize that some negotiations, accommodations, and compromises will have to be made so everyone gets what they want.
7. Realize that you don’t need to spend every minute together.
Especially if your group is very large, you’ll likely have to split up for some things. Teenagers will want to experience attractions that toddlers simply can’t ride while the toddlers will want to ride things that teens will have no interest in. Older generations might be more interested in the nostalgic attractions and less interested in the thrill rides like Splash Mountain or Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster.
Some family members might be early risers who want to be at the parks before rope drop while others will be night owls who want to shut the parks down at night. Either way, the mid-day break options discussed in number five will allow for family time for everyone.
Remember that, even if you’re planning your whole trip, it’s important to leave chunks of open time during which everyone can do their own thing.
8. Schedule at least one special activity for everyone.
Even though you don’t need to spend every waking minute together, it’s important to remember that this is a family vacation. Try to schedule at least one special activity that everyone will attend. A great choice for this is a dining experience.
Disney has dinner shows like the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort or the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. These shows include all you can eat and drink meals and a show that the whole family will enjoy.
If a dinner show isn’t your thing, consider a meal at a Signature Restaurant like Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Cinderella’s Royal Table at Cinderella Castle, or Narcoossee’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian. These are only a few of the options. Some Signature Restaurants are Character Dining Experiences. If you choose a character dining option, find out what characters will be present, and make sure that these are characters your family members will want to see. If they aren’t, consider a different option. You’re paying not only for the food but also for the characters- you might as well like the characters, too! If you’re not sure which Dining Experience is right for you, talk to a Disney Customer Service Representative. They are very knowledgeable and can help you make the best decision for your group.
Another great option for family time is some time spent by the pool. Disney pools are fantastic, and you can relax in a lounge chair or splash around in the pool. Access to your resort’s pool is included in the price of your room, so take advantage of it!
9. Be flexible and have a back-up plan.
It’s important not to be too rigid when traveling, but this is especially important when traveling with a large group. Knowing that there will be bumps in your plans will prevent frustration and flaring tempers once you arrive. If something doesn’t work out as planned, don’t stress. Be flexible, and change your plans. Sometimes the best experiences are those that are unexpected.
10. Let the grandparents have some alone time with the kids.
Grandparents don’t get enough time alone with their grandchildren, so if they’re up to it, allow them to spend some time alone. If a day in the parks with the kids is too much for them to handle, consider some time spent at the pool, a Disney Movie night on the beach, or a dinner at Disney Springs. This will make for unforgettable memories not only for the grandparents but also for the kids.
While the grandparents are enjoying their time, the adults can use this opportunity to have a date night! Go out with your significant other for a nice meal just the two of you with some drinks, or make it a group affair for all the parents. It’s not often that you get adult time in such a magical place, so enjoy it!
Extra Tip: Consider investing in the Memory Maker, which is part of Disney’s PhotoPass service. For one price, you get unlimited digital downloads of all the photos taken by PhotoPass Photographers on your vacation. Only one person will need to make the purchase, so other members of the group could pitch in some money to off-set the cost. These photos will help you remember you vacation for years to come.
Have you ever taken a multi-generational family vacation to Disney World?