Congratulations! Your extended family/large group of friends wants to join you on a magical vacation to Walt Disney World! Here are seven tips for planning a group trip to Walt Disney World. Let the planning begin…
1. Disney Wishes
Encourage everyone in your group to write a Disney Wish List that includes their preferred resort amenities, any “must do” events or activities, the length of their vacation, and their available budget. Then, compare these lists. Pay attention to work and school calendars; if the kids go to different school districts, note their vacation and testing days. Communicate, compromise, and make decisions together… the earlier, the better.
2. Resort Accommodation
Before you book your resort, discuss your preferred amenities and location. It is okay if you choose to stay at different resorts because everyone has different needs. If your group contains a mix of DVC members and non-members, then it might be best to use your points while other people rent points from a service like David’s Vacation Rentals. Consider room options: some large groups might want separate studio rooms for privacy, and others might want to share a multi-bedroom villa. When you discuss room types and sizes, think about logistics like kids’ bedtimes and sharing bathrooms. If you book separate rooms at the same resort, call the front desk after you check in online (up to 60 days before your vacation) and request rooms that are close together. Also, if you decide to book a room for your friends or family using your DVC points, be clear about any reimbursement expectations up front. Whatever your decision, reserve your rooms as early as possible.
Transportation that works best for your immediate family might not work well for groups of eight or more people. Plus, some people might depart from different parts of the country. If you drive, discuss whether you want to caravan and quite literally follow each other to Orlando, meet at checkpoints along the way, or just meet at your WDW resort. If you fly, discuss whether you want to take the same flights, take separate flights and meet at the Orlando Airport, or meet at your WDW resort; try to time your flights accordingly. Even if you take the same flight, you might not all fit on the same Magical Express bus, and you most likely will not be able to all sit together on that bus, so be prepared. As with everything, the earlier you plan transportation, the better.
4. Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs)
Securing WDW restaurant reservations for large groups is, in my experience, the most challenging part of vacation planning. You will have to be online and ready to make ADRs when the clock strikes 7:00 a.m. (ET) 180 days before the start of your vacation. If someone in your group has an earlier resort reservation, then that person should be your group’s official dining reserver. If everyone’s resort reservations begin on the same day, then choose one responsible person to be your official dining reserver for the entire group. Most likely, you will not get the most sought-after reservations at restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table. Instead, look for dining experiences outside of the parks, like Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian Resort. Also try to get ADRs during non-peak times, like dinner at 3:30 instead of 6:30. If you can’t get the ADR that your group wants, you can always keep your fingers crossed and try again closer to your vacation.
First, link all of your My Disney Experience accounts using the Friends and Family option on the WDW website. Agree on a list of preferred attractions, and then, 60 days before the start of your vacation, select one responsible person to make your entire group’s FP+ selections. Sometimes it’s impossible to get eight or more FP+s for popular rides like Frozen Ever After, so try booking overlapping times instead. For example, make four FP+ selections for 1:00 to 2:00 and another four for 1:30 to 2:30; then ride the attraction together at 1:45. It’s also sometimes possible to add individuals to existing FP+ selections, depending on availability. Trial and error can work well in this situation, so be patient, and clearly communicate your desired schedule with others in your group. Remember that you can always change your FP+ times and selections later if necessary.
6. Navigating the Parks
After months and months of planning, you’re finally at Walt Disney World! But the planning isn’t over yet. What will you do between your dining reservations and FastPass+ attractions? Will you always stay together in the parks, or will you sometimes split into smaller parties? Will some adults watch the kids while others enjoy quiet time? Will you go back to the resort for naps or swimming, or will you stay in the parks from open to close? Hopefully you discussed some of these questions before you left for vacation, but the best intentions could change after you arrive. The key is to communicate, always, and to be flexible. Not everyone will want to do the same thing at the same time, so it’s okay to split up. Let everyone have a voice, and keep your cell phones charged and ready in case plans change.
7. Personal Wellness
Most likely, everyone in your group will have different physical and emotional needs. Don’t follow a predetermined schedule so strictly that it jeopardizes the health or safety of your family and friends. If part of your group needs a sit-down to cool off, then either wait patiently or split up to do something else while others rest. Pay attention to potential health problems like dehydration and low blood sugar. Don’t neglect bathroom breaks, and enforce the “if one person goes, then everyone tries” rule for kids. If you need additional personal time, then add a few days onto the end of your resort reservation to enjoy with your immediate family. Remember that more people means more planning, more fun, and a merrier Disney vacation!