From choosing a vacation package to juggling the hour-by-hour needs of all the members of your brood, this is your real-life guide to ensuring a magical trip.
My husband and I decided this was the perfect time to visit Walt Disney World. Our two kids are 6 and 9, old enough to handle the vast array of attractions that Disney has to offer and young enough to be swept away by the magic. But we didn’t travel as a family of four. Our party totaled eight people ranging from age 6 to 76, including two teenagers, a grandma, and multiple food allergies. If the challenge of visiting Disney World with a big and varied brood is something you can identify with, you’ll be happy to learn that Disney offers several ways to help make vacation planning — and your actual vacation — go as smoothly as possible. Here, seven essential steps to follow for a great multigenerational visit to Walt Disney World.
1. When to Go
Mickey and friends welcome everyone to Hollywood Studios (Amy Lundeen)
Winter months after the holiday crowds have left are one of the best times to visit Walt Disney World. The weather can get a little chilly, but chances are you will just need a light jacket or sweater at night. We breezed in on February 1 and never felt overwhelmed by the crowds, and it was warm enough for us to go swimming in the hotel pool. DisneyWorld.com also allows you to search hotel rates by night. So if you have some flexibility in your travel dates, you can look around and find the dates that fit your budget.
2. Find Your Package
The pool at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. (Amy Lundeen)
Disney really knows how to put a vacation package together, and you should take advantage of all they offer. If you’re traveling in a multi-family group, each family can call Disney Tourism separately to book and pay for their trip, but you can link all members of your group so your daily planning can be coordinated. A Disney vacation package must be prepaid within 30 days of your trip, which means by the time you take off you are no longer thinking about the bill.
For our package, we included hotel, food, and park passes and got a hotel upgrade. It’s always worth asking what deals are available. Future deals are also listed on their site.
Our stay at the Coronado Springs resort was perfect. When you stay at Disney’s resorts you can also take advantage of the Magical Express (airport transfer to and from resort). There are also regular buses leaving to and from all of the attractions, so there’s no need to rent a car. The meal plans vary, but it’s worth including a plan with table service for convenience and relaxation at meal time. I spoke with Ashley P., a member of the Disney Parks Moms Panel, and she agreed, "We found there is a lot of value to it with character dining as well." (And you will end up with plenty of snack credits to use at the parks.)
3. Let’s Eat!
Menu options at Walt Disney World are nearly infinite. Make the most of lunches by booking table service character lunches each day. The kids are entertained and everyone gets a much-needed midday rest. Hollywood & Vine, at Hollywood Studios, gave all the kids in our group plenty of time with Goofy, Minnie, Daisy, and Mickey. The Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom included hugs from Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too. If anyone in your party has a food allergy, all food service locations are ready to help. At your request, the chef will come out and talk to you about your dietary needs. They can prepare a special meal just for you or direct you to what is safe to eat. Our group had multiple food allergies and the chefs were incredibly helpful.
Another tip from Ashley P. is the Coral Reef Restaurant at Epcot. "We need a restaurant where the kids will be entertained throughout the meal. It has panoramic views of the aquarium. On the table they put guides with all of the fish you can spot. It keeps the kids busy." She also recommends Sanaa at Animal Kingdom, which has floor-to-ceiling window views of the Savannah.
4. FastPass+ Mania
Another bonus of a Disney vacation package is that you get to book your FastPass+ rides 60 days in advance. It may seem crazy that you would want to book park rides so early, but do it. Minimizing lines and wait times can get very competitive and you will be very happy when you walk past, say, that two-hour line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Having some rides booked in advance will also give a little structure to your day, which can help with large groups. You are allowed to FastPass+ up to three rides in advance. When you have taken those rides, you can then FastPass+ more rides, but not until the first three are complete, so try to book them all for earlier in the day if you know you want to get more FastPass+ bookings in.
5. Go Digital
MyDisneyExperience.com is a type-A planner’s dream. I must admit I approached it with caution, but when traveling with so many people and so many needs, it turned out to be perfect. My sister was able to research to her heart’s content to make sure all food allergy needs would be addressed. We were able to get our three FastPasses per park booked and all the kids could join in the planning and researching. There is also an app, so the schedule can travel with you while you are navigating the park. The app also includes bus schedules as well as any and all reservations you might want to make (or change). You can even order your Quick Service meal before you arrive so it is ready when you get there.
6. Take Time to Be Apart
Stormtroopers during March of the First Order, which shows several times through out the day. (Amy Lundeen)
Sure, we spent plenty of time and effort trying to get everyone in our group together for this multigenerational trip, but sometimes it’s a good idea to break up into smaller groups. By the end of the day the older kids were itching for the big thrill rides, the younger kids were just itching, and grandma was ready for a rest. The solution? Set your second round of FastPass+ for the intense “big kid” rides in the late afternoon and let those with the stronger stomachs go their own way for a few hours. Every park has a live show or benches in the shade where the entertainment comes right to you, so those in your group who opt out of Space Mountain will still be happy. At Hollywood Studios, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular kept my mom and the younger kids happy while my husband and my teenage nephew headed to the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. At Animal Kingdom, my 9-year-old couldn’t get enough of the Avatar Flight of Passage. While he and I went back for a second flight, my husband and our 6-year-old were treated to a live drum show.
7. Memory Makers
There are several opportunities to have your photos taken at the Disney parks. If you want these professional photos, you can purchase them after or pay upfront for your Memory Maker. These photos will include all photos taken during rides too. Ashley P. suggests, "The character meet-and-greats are awesome because there is usually a Disney photographer and he or she will capture the in between interactions as well as the portraits." If you know in advance that you'll want these gems, purchase the Memory Maker before you arrive at the park to get a discount. When you link your accounts in MyDisneyExperience.com with your friends all photos will appear on one Memory Maker account so you can just purchase one and share the cost. For the posed photos, take a minute to think of some fun poses. Find a way to have a little fun with your group and you’ll end up with some great photos. (The classic look is also great, but after five of those you might want a little variety.) The smiles on the faces of your group will be a permanent reminder of the amazing experience you successfully planned for them.