Survival Guide: Visiting Disney World As A Group
A lot of extended families toy with the idea of going on vacation together. More often than not, Disney is on the short list of destinations that everyone would be willing to attempt this family-dynamic experiment. There is a catch, however. Everyone has their own idea of what a Disney vacation looks like. And when time and money are on the line, everyone wants to have their fair share ideas heard and accommodated. Here are a few tips and strategies to successfully visiting Disney World as a group.
Appoint a team leader
Usually, I would say “many hands make light work” but when it comes to planning and organizing a vacation as epic as Walt Disney World for 10+ people, I need to change my tune. “Too many cooks in the kitchen” is the song of choice this time around.
A team leader can divide and conquer the tasks, sure. Delegation is the key to sanity and success. Know what can be handled by others and allow them to help, leaving the big picture and more important tasks to yourself and co-leader.
Since I’m the team leader for the planning stage of our “big group” vacations, I’m usually the team leader during the trip by default. I keep track of our dining reservations and basic schedule details that were finalized well before our trip, but I’m also the “point person” for issues that arise during the trip. My need for control and Type A organizing personality were made for this.
Nothing will be achieved except bitterness and stress, if all parties can’t be open and communicate their objectives for this holiday.
Objectives? It’s Disney! That’s the objective!
Sure, but that could easily have been achieved separately. Why are we all going together instead of as 3 separate families? Because being at Disney as a whole family is part of the experience.
Here are a few tips and questions to ask each member of the group;
Setting the groundwork
In order to set the groundwork for a touring plan, it is important that everyone who is part of the group be honest with themselves and each other.
- What time do you like to be up and ready in the mornings?
- Which parks would you like to visit first?
- Will you want pool time built into your plans?
- Would you like to spend all day every day of the vacation together? Or would half days together be better?
Just because you can spend every moment together, doesn’t mean you should
- Do the kids have different sleep requirements?
- Does everyone meet the height requirement for bucket list rides?
- Can everyone handle the epic amount of walking or do you need to slow your pace?
What are you expecting from this vacation, what is on your bucket list and how will you handle the compromise? If you have something on your bucket list and not everyone can go, what will you do? What will we do if the first, second or even third choice of dining or FastPass+ reservation can’t be secured?
Set up My Disney Experience ASAP
By setting everything up as soon as possible, this leaves wiggle room for any mistakes or technical problems. Can’t add someone to your account? No problem, you still have 3 weeks before you need to book anything. Plenty of time to have I.T to sort it out.
Purchase rooms and tickets early
Also another great thing to have under your belt as soon as can be. Planning ahead and scheduling time off of work as a group can be difficult, but the earlier you do it, the easier it will be for the boss to say yes – no one else to compete with.
Also, by booking far in advance, your hotel of choice will have more rooms available and at a lower cost. Need an accessible room, adjoining or family suite? There are only so many available and they tend to go quickly. Book early and scoop them up before someone else does.
How exactly is everyone going to get to Disney, around Disney and what type of budget are we looking at? Knowing every detail about the vacation in the pre-planning stages makes it easier to plan and schedule later. This also means most of the important conversations have taken place before anything is set in stone.
Questions to ask:
- Is everyone ok with making dining reservations and FastPass+ reservations on the date those open?
- What sort of attractions appeal to the group?
- Do you have any picky eaters or foodies in the group? Allergies?
- Does the group want to split at certain points?
Coordinate packing and purchasing
Everyone doesn’t need to bring a giant bottle of sunscreen and pool toys. Especially if sharing a common space, like in a family suite or villa, one bottle should be enough for a 10-day stay. This is the same for snacks and souvenir purchases – grandma can carry all the Amazon pre-ordered souvenirs in her suitcase since mum and dad’s luggage is apparently a free-for-all for the kids.
If the group wants to have matching t-shirts each day, even if they aren’t sticking together for the whole day, only one person needs to be in charge of purchasing. Bulk orders from vendors tend to get discounts, so having one person order 100 shirts (10 people x 10 days) will get you a lot further than 3 families ordering 30 shirts each. Bulk purchases also mean the vendor can order their supplies in bulk, and not risk them running out of stock by the time the 3rd family’s order rolls around. Bulk is where it’s at.
Organize carry-on bags and day packs to compliment each other, instead of duplicating.
Where to stay
There are a number of hotels that are available for groups of 5 or larger. This may or may not be an option for your family. Here’s why.
Suites and other styles of rooms that accommodate large groups of people are both amazing and a horrible idea at the same time; they are a single living space. Everyone gets their own bedroom, sure, but sharing a kitchen and living room? Maybe you don’t want to be that close to your in-laws.
Check out our newest article about hotel rooms on-site that accommodate families of 5+ as well as the different things you will want to take into consideration when choosing a hotel room for such a large group of people.
Where to eat
Plan restaurants carefully
Knowing whether there are any can’t-miss restaurants in advance will help immensely when it’s time to make advanced dining reservations at the 180-day mark. I recommend looking at menus beforehand to make sure that not only is there variety in the type of food offered but also a variety of price points.
There are a variety of restaurant styles, but for larger groups, we recommend Buffet, Family Style and Dinner shows.
Plan for everything to take longer (especially meals)
Since everything is timed perfected to be served at the same time; the larger the group, the longer the wait. Then you need to wait until everyone has completed their meals. Between the slow eaters, the talkers and the multi-course meals, it can be a real problem for those that purposefully order smaller lunches in order to “get back out there”.
This is also a discussion that needs to be made – how long will meals take and what do you plan on ordering? I want to know that you aren’t going to order your kid the ice cream sandwich for dessert because then I have to order one for mine… and I don’t want to.
Is the Disney Dining Plan an option?
Once restaurants have been chosen, and menu selections roughly planned out (this is how Type A I am, I will plan my menu selection 180 days out so I am not surprised when I sit down on the day of), this is the time to bust out your high school math supplies and start calculating the pros and cons of Disney Dining Plan. Having extra credits at the end just means you can convert them all into snack credits and come home with a TON of Disney exclusive treats. With 10 people, probably enough to warrant a new suitcase and last for the year.
I’m kidding. I give it a week. TOPS.
If your reservation suddenly pops up as being eligible for free Disney Dining, look at your other options as well. Sometimes this will be in lieu of room discounts or ticket discounts. They will also want you to forfeit any discounts already on your account and add a few more options to your package. This is when Free Disney Dining is no longer free. Look at all of your options and decide what is best for the whole group. If booking as a group, it is an all-or-nothing scenario. Everyone takes the discount or no one takes it. Discuss your options and budget with the family and see what happens.
Advice for larger groups
Your group can also share a Memory Maker. You can save a lot of money on pictures by having the same Memory Maker rather than separate ones. Designate one member, usually the Team Leader, to be the admin on the accounts so no one can accidentally delete or change anything without consent from the group. This may or may not be a true story.
Break up the big group into sub-groups.
If you do want to spend the time mixed together, have themes for the day; Rides at Magic Kingdom day, for example. Little ones in one group, and big kids in another. This way, no one is waiting during Rider Swap and no one is doing “baby rides” against their will. This is Disney, not a hostage situation.
Have a backup plan for those who need a break from the action
Have one adult volunteer to be the “backup plan” each day of your big group vacation. If the backup is activated, have a plan to relieve them of their duties later in the day, or at least thank them for their sacrifice.
Recover quickly from tense situations
Kids bounce back from arguments like it never happened. Adults on the other hand, not so much. Agree to disagree, bit your tongue and move on. If there are members of the group that you know just don’t get along, pair each of them up with a neutral member that is willing and able to diffuse the situation.
Heat, crowds, and stress can bring out the worst in people, even those with the best of intentions. Keep this in mind and everything will be just fine… eventually.
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