I have some experience in this area and the way I see it vacationing at Walt Disney World with family or friends is all about setting expectations. Bottom line, what are you expecting from the trip and what are your traveling companions expecting? Seems simple, doesn’t it? The answer, of course, is a magical vacation. But if you want to return from the trip still on speaking terms and with your friendships intact, there’s more, a whole lot more, to discuss before you start making your reservations.
No, not that one. The child care talk. One of the most common travel groups is families with grandparents. I highly recommend traveling with grandparents – it’s a wonderful experience for everyone but Grandma and Grandpa may have different expectations for the trip than Mom and Dad. Extended family may feel as if they are expected to be glorified babysitters and it’s important to reassure them that is not the case; it’s their vacation too. If you would like an adult night or two out, discuss it with your family and ask if family members are comfortable watching the kids. If they aren’t, make a reservation at the Children’s Activity Centers or Kids Nite Out so everyone enjoys their time at Walt Disney World.
Just how much togetherness is right for you and your family and friends?
Lodging. Is bunking together in a DVC vacation home or a family suite the right choice? It may be, especially if you’re traveling with Grandma and Grandpa. On the other hand if little Johnny is up at 5am and Grandpa can’t function before 9am, you may want to rethink the whole staying together thing.
What happens when one part of the group expects to stay at a Deluxe resort while a Value is in the budget for the other half of the group? If two or more rooms are the way to go for your group, talk about preferences for budget and theming early on. Logistically, it’s more convenient to stay at the same resort.
It’s easier to meet at the resort bus stop than have to coordinate another meeting place and be at the mercy of Disney transportation to get you to the right place at the right time.
Alone Time. Talk about how much time you’ll spend together at Walt Disney World. For my family, it’s best to split up throughout the day and then get back together for dinner. My sister and brother-in-law enjoyed spending time at Magic Kingdom with my kids but then wanted some alone time for massages and cocktails.
If two families are traveling together, can they take turns watching the kids so the adults have some time to themselves?
Chef Mickey or Chefs de France? If you’re not careful, meals could turn into a showdown between gourmands who prefer signature dining and in-laws who prefer a burger with all the fixins’. What’s the right mix of group meals versus going it alone? For the group meals, don’t forget about picky eaters and vegetarians when choosing restaurants.
Wheels. Are you going to share a car, either rental or your own? You don’t want to be like two teenage siblings fighting over the car keys. Talk about a schedule if you’re going to use the car heavily at Walt Disney World.
Disney World is one of those places where you can either spend a little (relatively speaking) or a lot. You’ll have great experiences either way – they’ll just be different. Here are some things to discuss with your group before you leave home.
Who Pays? Where money is involved, setting expectations is paramount. Are you inviting your family and friends as your guests and do you plan on picking up the tab for everything besides personal expenses? Or, will you be vacationing together but everyone is responsible for their own costs? If you share lodging, how will the room be paid for? When your group eats at table-service restaurants, will you rotate who picks up the bill or will you have the server bring two checks? Don’t forget incidentals the whole group will share such as water and snacks delivered from a service such as Garden Grocer or a stroller rental.
Sure, it’s awkward to talk money but defining expectations in a sensitive way early in the planning process will avoid any awkward misunderstandings later.
Souvenirs. Normally, you could say to each his own when different budgets are involved but souvenirs can be a sticky situation when traveling with kids. If touring as a group and one family allows their kids to pick out any souvenirs they want while you enforce a strict souvenir budget for your kids, there can be resentment and whining. Try to have a consistent approach to souvenirs when traveling with a group that has children in it.
Extras. Walt Disney World has recreation, special tours, and more for every budget. Problem is not every budget may have room for these extras. One approach is to tour the theme parks together and then take a mid-day break where people can go their separate ways – it may be a nap and pool time for some or golf for others. Before booking any additional Grand Gatherings, be sure to be up-front with the additional costs with all members of your traveling party.
Commando, Leisurely, or Somewhere in the Middle? Deciding on a general touring plan before you visit the park is essential. Some families tour Walt Disney World commando-style (from sun-up to sun-down) while others stroll through the parks and take in all the details. Others are somewhere in the middle and take a mid-day break after hitting the major attractions in the morning. Ask your group about the approach they would like to take and try to meet in the middle.
After you agree on a general touring style, you have to talk about a daily schedule. Does your group plan on taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours? What works best – Morning Extra Magic Hours or Evening Extra Magic Hours? Do you plan on visiting more than one park each day and does everyone in your group agree to the extra cost of a Park Hopper Option on their ticket?
If you’re traveling with children or seniors, don’t forget to take their needs into account when planning the day.
Meet-up or Go Together. Do you meet at attractions and meals or do you wait for each other and go together? If there’s a member of your family who is habitually late it may be best to have her call when she’s at the park and then decide where and when to meet instead of waiting for her.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant or Rock ‘n Roller Coaster. For a successful group trip, pick rides that interest everyone when you tour as a group. Save the thrill rides for when you split up if you have people in the group that feel more comfortable on Dumbo and “it’s a small world.”
To Wait or Not to Wait. Some people don’t mind waiting 60 minutes in the queue for a ride while others reach their limit at 30 minutes. Be considerate and decide on the general amount of time your group is willing to wait for any one attraction. It doesn’t have to be set in stone but it’ll be a good rule of thumb. I’m looking out for you here too. No one wants to be stuck in a long queue with grumpy companions.
There you have it, my quick survival tips for having a wonderful Disney World vacation with family and friends.
Lisa M. Battista is the author of Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers When she’s not chasing after her little ones, you can most likely find her at the beach or in the kitchen trying her hand at a new recipe. You call follow her on Twitter @DisneyExplorer and Facebook.
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