You are only as happy as the least happy member of your group. There is a similar saying about families, but it really does apply to group travel as well. A big group vacation can be wonderful, but you really need to do some advance work, to make sure that everyone will enjoy themselves as much as possible.
Disney World is often called the “most magical place on earth”, and it really can be. But, and this is a big BUT… you need to go in with your eyes wide open about what to expect, and approach the trip with the right attitude. There are lots of potential pitfalls with this sort of a vacation. Is it going to blow someone’s budget? Do they hate crowds? Do they need some down time? How much togetherness do they really want? Is it imperative that they visit a certain attraction in order to consider the trip a success? All of these things need to be taken into account.
If you address these issues BEFORE you go, there is an excellent chance that your group will have a lovely and memorable vacation together.
- Money Matters – Discuss everyone’s budget and allow for each paying group to make their own hotel choice. There is a hotel option in or around Disney to suit just about any budget and taste. You can stay at the deluxe , convenient, but more expensive hotels close to Magic Kingdom. The Grand Floridian, the Polynesian and the Contemporary are all right on the monorail track and have views of the Magic Kingdom. For a significantly lower price, the budget Disney hotels are great and give you benefits of being on property (Magic Express airport transfer/Extra Magic hour/access to dining plans/Disney transportation/ free parking and more!). To save more, there is a very wide range of hotels very near to the resort that can save you even more. Or if someone wants luxury but not all of the Disney trappings, there is a beautiful new Four Seasons just off-property.
- How much together time will you have? -Have some open conversations prior to your trip so that everyone knows what to expect of each other. Some people like to pack in as much Disney park time as possible from dawn until dusk, others like to take a couple of Disney-free days, and take their park days at a slower pace. You can really make these styles work together, and still come together at the end of the day for together time.
- Meal Planning – Plan your meals well in advance. Dinners will most likely be your one special time in the day when you can all count on being together. Guests at Disney Hotels can book reservations 180 days in advance. Definitely take advantage of this. If you don’t get the reservations you want on the first try, book a second or third choice, and try a few times more. People change reservations all of the time, particularly as the time for your vacation gets closer. Designate one (organized and motivated) person to take care of all the reservations in order to save headaches.
- Special Events – Try some of the special dining shows/events. These work very well for larger groups. Hoop de Doo review is a hoot. There is a luau at the Polynesian. These both offer you guaranteed seating and an all you can eat meal. The Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert dining show is a great way to view the Magic Kingdom fireworks in comfort, and all sitting together. You can also guarantee seating at some of the other park evening shows in a package with your meals. Sort of a dinner and a show arrangement. That guarantees you can all sit together at the night time park entertainment, eliminating the stress of gathering your group in the midst of the fireworks or parade crowds. If someone in your group has a particular character they absolutely MUST meet, you can often arrange to do that meet and greet at a special character dining event, rather than waiting in a long line.
- Give them what they want – Before you go, and as you go along, find out everyone’s top few “must do” activities. If seeing Mickey is EVERYTHING to your nephew, then you want to make that happen, or the trip could be a bust for them. Likewise, if you want to see the Candlelight Christmas processional in Epcot, or your daughter wants a princess make-over at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Make sure everyone gets to do what is really important to them and plan around that. Fastpass plus and your dining reservations will make most of this possible. Fastpasses for guests at Disney properties are available 60 days prior to your visit. One person should be in charge of making the fastpass reservations once everyone has put in their wish lists.
- Allow for breaks – If anyone requires down time during these busy days, it is a very good idea to make sure that is workable. Staying at hotels owned by Disney is the easiest way to ensure you can go back to your hotel during the day easily. But it is also possible to get back to off-site hotels. You just need to think about how that will work. My family liked to hit the parks early, then take a break mid-day, then head back to the parks mid to late afternoon for some more activities, dinners and evening shows. Sometimes we would have lunch at one of the Disney hotels. It was much quieter than eating in the parks. The food was better, the crowds lighter, and it is really fun to check out some of these beautiful hotels.
- Extra Magic hours – Use these specific offers to access one park either before or after opening hours on any given day. There will be a published schedule. This is a GREAT way to avoid the crowds, and it is well worth the effort to wake up and get out early to take advantage of this benefit, which is only available to guests at the Disney owned hotels. You can take a rest mid-day, when the parks are most crowded.
- Call your friendly travel agent for help!-Finally, I recommend using a travel professional (like me!) to help you pull all of this together. There are a lot of working parts to this sort of vacation, and a professional can help everyone in your party finds the right hotel and can also give you some great tips to make this a fantastic trip!
I hope that this is all useful to you, and that your family or extended group will have a Magical time at Disney World!