Learn how to create a plan of magical attack during a trip to Disney World with littles, tweens, teens, parents + grandparents, ensuring ample fun and minimal arguments for all.
The crew during our longest trip to Disney World was composed of two-year-old Hudson, Eric, and my mother-in-law. I had low expectations, fearing it would be impossible to ensure all ages had a good time. With someone who only likes slow boat rides with repetitive songs, another who gets sick on the "spinny things," and the other who prefers attractions that send his stomach into his throat, we were in for a challenge.
But by following the suggestions laid out below, our trip was filled with bonding, renewed childlike wonder and only-kind-of-disastrous sugar-highs. We ended our trip exhausted, but sad to leave.
1. Select flights strategically
An ill-timed plane itinerary - like a red eye - can sour the beginning, or end, of your trip. It is worth the money to book flights that will maximize your time at Disney World and, if possible, have you in the air during your child’s (or nana's?) naptime. Your best bet is to choose non-stop flights (if possible) that are in the air in the afternoon, ensuring you can all get a full night of zzzs before hitting the park, and flying home.
2. Post up at a Disney Resort
With over 25 accommodation options, Disney World offers something for every variety of traveler, whether you prefer camping, luxury hotels, or something in between. While there are seemingly endless non-Disney lodging options in Orlando, the perks provided at Disney Resorts makes this option well worth it. These perks include, but are not limited to…
Disney Magical Express: Complimentary transport to and from the airport in cushy buses playing videos that get you pumped up for Mickey Time.
Magic Bands: These aptly named bracelets provide personalized access to the parks, the Magical Express, FastPass reservations, and your guest room door, in addition to allowing you to charge food + drink to your account, or access your Disney Dining Plan credits.
Themed accommodations: Kids, and Disney-lovin'-adults, are suckers for rooms with their favorite characters plastered across the walls, sheets, shower curtains, and more. While the higher end resorts have more subtle themes, resorts like Art of Animation go big.
Family style suites: Most resorts offer suites that accommodate five or more peeps. This option allows your entire gang to stay together, which may or may not be a perk, depending on your family...
Complimentary transport to and from Disney parks: Shuttles leave on the regular to and from the various Disney Resorts.
Extra Magic Hours: This is a fun chance to feel a bit smug, as you get to stay in the park longer than guests who aren’t staying at a Disney Resort. This option was ideal for our multi-generational group, as mother-in-law and toddler would go to bed, and Eric and I would roller coaster it up until the wee hours.
Option of purchasing a Disney Dining Plan: This pre-paid meal plan is especially helpful if you have such a large group that you may be separated for some meals. For example, if Little Johnny goes off with Aunt Patty's fam for some thrill rides, you don't have to send him with $ to lose, just his magic little band that's preloaded with food and drink credit.
Heated pools, and hot tubs. I mean, come on.
You can find the full list of Disney Resorts' perky goodness here.
3. Map out your trip at MyDisneyExperience
The snazzy MyDisneyExperience site allows you to research the attractions each park offers, learning more about height restrictions, ride descriptions, locations, and more. Once you make your selections (with or without the input of your fellow travelers - we don't judge), reserve your FastPass+ - you can reserve three per person, for each day you’ll be visiting the parks.
Next, download the MyDisneyExperience app to access GPS enabled park maps, your itinerary and constantly updated wait times for each ride. And it accomplishes the life-saving task of showing your where the nearest bathrooms are.
4. Don't overfill your days
When my family visited Disney World we walked twenty miles in two days. Thank you little baby Jesus for strollers. Word to the wise, stagger rides with shows and pool time so you’re not on your feet all day, and so tired you want to proverbially kill your loved ones.
5. Bring healthy snacks and lotsa water
Children have been known to be picky eaters... Pack your people's healthy favorites so you can feed them at a moment's notice, without having to stand in line. If your kids are SO picky you're worried they won't like the food at the park, skip the Disney Dining Plan, get a room with a kitchen, and stock up at a local grocery store. Before you head into a park, load a backpack with food that won't spoil.
And let's not forget the water. All that walking, standing and (happy) screaming can be dehydrating. Bring a few bottles of water and refill them often at the easily-found water fountains.
6. Dress for comfort
Disney World is not known for fashion. People won’t care what you look like, so go ahead and pack those khaki shorts, socks + sandals, and visor. If you don't want to go full tourist-style, just make sure you have light and breathable clothing (layers if it will be chilly) and your most supportive walking shoes. If your kid is adamant about wearing their princess dress or pirate getup, pack extra clothes in your day pack for when they inevitably get itchy in their synthetic garb.
7. Divide and Conquer
The adrenaline junkies and easy riders amongst you may be required to go their separate ways during various phases of your Disney endeavor. To ensure everyone gets a taste of their favorite flavor of attractions, consider splitting up (making sure there is at least one adult with each group) for a portion of the day.
Another option is for the thrill seekers to head back to the parks after dinner, utilizing the Extra Magic Hours reserved for Disney Resorts guests.
8. Savor the moments
A Disney adventure can easily consume your mind with thoughts of what's next. But the true wonder of this enchanting world lives in the tender moments, belly laughs, silly photos, random chats in long lines, and tasty treats shared with loved ones. Release your need to do it all, and instead focus on relishing this special time with your special people.
We'd love to hear about your tips, tricks, wins or good-story-making missteps while navigating a multigenerational trip to Disney. Share in the comments below, or say hello at AdventureTravelFam@gmail.com