A visit to Disney World has become a rite of passage for many families. I believe that a Disney World trip can be made even more magical when it combines three (or more) generations. Disney offers so many attractions that there is sure to be something that appeals to everyone. Plus, the joy of seeing your child or grandchild’s face when they experience the magic of Disney is only heightened when shared with the whole family. However, there are some important additional considerations when bringing a larger group or multiple generations to Disney World.
- Pick the right accommodations Visiting Disney World is a fun, but tiring vacation. Extra tiredness plus the stress of less-than-ideal accommodations do not make for a fun and enjoyable family holiday. Selecting the right hotel or villa is a subject that deserves a whole blog post of its own, so be sure to read that here.
- Consider a tour guide Disney World provides tons of options when it comes to visiting the parks, and there are multiple good ways to tour with a group. However, there are even more bad ways. If your group a) doesn’t want to invest the time to create a detailed trip or b) has multiple people who like to be in charge, I recommend hiring a tour guide, at least for part of your trip. A guide not only will expertly navigate the park and make the most of your time, but can also prevent in-fighting when touring together. The first day and/or a day in the Magic Kingdom might be the best time to hire a guide.When it comes to choosing a guide, they fall into two camps: official Disney guides and unofficial guides. The official Disney guides, who come with VIP Premium Tours, offer amazing ease, benefits and access, but at a steep cost. VIP Tour guides start at $2,800 for seven hours in low season. You can read more about the official guides and how to book here. The key perks that official guides have are the ability to put you in every FastPass line repeatedly, access to reserved seating for shows and parades, and the ability to transport you between parks via side and back entrances, saving you tons of time if you are park hopping.Unofficial guides vary significantly in what they offer and how much they cost. I have never used any of these guides, so cannot personally recommend any, but Google brings up a number of options. What these guides can do to minimize stress and family friction is create a custom plan for your family that will help reduce your time in lines and find the best places to watch shows and parades. They will also serve as a neutral third party that can be essential if your family has multiple “chefs” that will be touring together.
- Don’t Try to Do Everything Together Even with a small family, it is unlikely that everyone will want to do all the same activities all the time. Little kids won’t be tall enough or may be scared to do a lot of rides. Teenagers (and honestly most adults) will have little interest in Disney Jr. Live. And there are plenty of shows, bars, and restaurants that will likely appeal only to adults. In addition, moving around the parks with a large group is stressful. I suggest planning a part of each day that you can do as a family group and then split up into smaller groups for the rest.For example, when visiting Epcot, perhaps the entire party has a character breakfast together before park opening and then rides Test Track or Soarin’ and several other rides in Future World. Then break into smaller groups that will do bigger rides, meet characters, go back for naps, check out the World Showcase pavilions before meeting up again for dinner and watching Illuminations. Or perhaps you all do breakfast at O’hana before hitting a water park, with the plan that toddlers and grandparents will go back to the resort for lunch and naps before a family dinner with the Fantasmic Dining Package at Hollywood Studios.
- Take Advantage of Rider Switch Disney offers “rider switch” at rides that have height restrictions. This means that when you get in a line, if you show up with a child who doesn’t meet the requirements of the ride, they will give you a rider switch pass that allows the adults who stay with the non-riders to use the FastPass line later. However, given that the pass is good for up to three people, it means that older children can ride multiple times in the FastPass line if there are younger ones who can’t ride. If there are multiple younger children and a larger party, you could even get multiple rider switch passes by presenting yourselves as separate groups. This can serve as an incentive for tweens and teens to stay with the larger group to accumulate rider switch passes that they can use later. WDW Prep School offers a great guide to rider switch here.
- Plan special events to do as a group Disney World offers a number of extras (at a cost, of course) that give opportunities to create some unique and fun experiences that are perfect for creating family time.My favorite example is the Wishes Fireworks Tour on a pontoon boat. For about $350 you can charter a private pontoon boat that will take up to 10 people from one of the Magic Kingdom resorts on a cruise around the Seven Seas Lagoon before watching the fireworks from an amazing vantage point with the music piped in. Snacks and non-alcoholic drinks are included, but you can have additional food or drinks ordered as well. This makes for a great opportunity for your family to have a relaxing, uncrowded fireworks experience. Plus, if you compare it to the cost of the Wishes Dessert Party, it can be cheaper! (And having done both, I much prefer the boat cruise.)
Booking an event like these not only gives your group a great experience, but if you have teens or tweens who are in that “too cool for the family” stage, it serves as a great incentive to spend time with the larger group. Other ideas for special experiences are: -Illuminations Fireworks Cruise (although I think Wishes is much better) -Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party -Tiana’s Riverboat Party & Ice Cream Social -Sleigh Rides from Fort Wilderness (only during the Christmas season) -Wild Africa Trek or one of the other private Animal Kingdom safaris (note: you need to be at least 8-years old for these safari experiences) -One of the dinner shows (Spirit of Aloha, Hoop-de-Doo Revue, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ) -Cirque de Soleil -Club Villain (especially for groups without young kids) -Highway in the Sky Dine Around (again, especially for groups without young kids) -Renting a cabana at one of the water parks. Disney recently launched the Enchanting Extras Collection which almost all of these experiences would fall under. It contains up-to-date information with pricing on what is available and explains how to book the activities.
- Rent strollers/wheelchairs and other special equipment A Disney World vacation involves a great deal of walking and can be far more tiring than other vacations. As a result, children who don’t normally use strollers or buggies at home may need one at Disney World. And the same for seniors and those with mobility challenges. You may want a wheelchair or scooter at Disney World if you plan to do full-day touring even if they aren’t needed in daily life. It is possible to rent wheelchairs and strollers from Disney World, but they tend to be more expensive, less comfortable, and more time consuming than if you rented from a third party service. Additionally, if you have young children, you will likely have a lot of extra gear to bring into the parks. Having a stroller gives everyone in your party a place to stash their water bottles and jackets, which can be very convenient. The purchase of one or more helium balloons to tie to your stroller will help you locate it and reduce the chance that someone else will mistakenly stroll off with it and can make it easier to find your party if you get split up while walking.Orlando has multiple services that will deliver strollers, scooters, wheelchairs, and other kid gear to your hotel or villa rental. I have used Orlando Stroller Rental and could not have been more pleased, but Touring Plans has a great review of some of the larger providers here and discusses ECV rental and use for Disney World in this post.
- Plan your dining well in advance I recommend that everyone going to Disney World make their dining reservations when the 180-day booking window opens, but for larger groups it is essential. Having one sit-down meal a day all together provides a great opportunity for family time, even if you are breaking up into smaller groups as discussed earlier.There are definitely good and bad restaurants for larger groups. Some restaurants, such as Jiko or Sa’naa have menus that may not appeal to everyone. Other meals, such as the Disney Jr. Breakfast at Hollywood & Vine or STK at Disney Springs, simply are not going to appeal to all age groups. And certain restaurants, while appealing to almost everyone, like Beaches & Cream, cannot accommodate groups of more than 8.Some restaurants that are likely to be better for an entire family meal include:
-Rose & Crown
WDW Prep School has a great post on the maximum party size for the restaurants at Disney as well as tips for booking with a larger group.
- Plan to sit While older kids and young adults may not need to plan their park touring around chances to rest, younger children and older adults (I include myself in that, and I’m not quite 40!) will likely need time to sit. Fortunately, there are lots of opportunities for this at Disney World. At every park there are shows, rides, and entertainment that provide a much needed break from standing. However, not every show is equal when it comes to sitting. Some are 30 minutes or more of standing, so it is important to do your research. Other shows offer only bench seating.Here are some options in all of the parksAdditionally, taking a break at a restaurant can provide much needed relief from being on your feet. There are lots of options, many of which are an attraction in themselves, to get a snack or a drink, sit down and people watch or take in some entertainers. I recommend putting these conveniences into your touring plan. Remember also, that you can make a reservation for a table service restaurant and just have appetizers or dessert.The guide that Disney World publishes for cognitive disabilities provides a lot of detail about rides and shows lengths that can be helpful in deciding if a ride or show is going to give you the break that you need.
- Take a break There are very few people for whom I would not recommend planning a mid-day break from the parks every single day. If anyone in your party thinks that a daily nap is a good idea, it will definitely seem like a good idea at Disney World. I would suggest that everyone return to the resort for a mid-day nap, swim, or just time to decompress. Building this factor into your trip plan will help to keep everyone happy.Those who don’t need a nap could choose to stay at the parks or use that time to swim at the pool. During hotter months leaving the parks will have even more appeal for everyone.