Planning a High School Field Trip to Walt Disney World

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Photo Credit - Disney
Mickey’s excited to meet his new high school friends!

In high school, I went on two school trips to Walt Disney World. I had an amazing time with my friends, and the memories have stayed with me to this day. Looking back on the entire experience as an adult, I have endless praise for my teachers, who planned the entire trip from start to finish. They chose to spend their entire Spring Break with 60 high school students. They deserve a medal.

I have spent this past week researching and speaking with different educators on how to organize a school trip to Walt Disney World. Although it’s impossible to fit in every detail, here are some highlights to consider when planning your own Walt Disney World field trip.

First Steps

Planning a school trip to Walt Disney World should begin at least a year in advance. While it would be much easier to hire a touring company to plan and execute the vacation, it might be very expensive. Planning your own trip is not only more cost effective, but gives you complete control over the vacation as a whole. Look into the events you want to attend and the places you want to go. Estimate expenses to determine the total cost for each student. From there, secure a total group number by requesting a small deposit from each student. In addition, have each student fill out field trip and medical request forms. Dot those i’s and cross those t’s!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

While it may be faster (depending on where you live) to take a plane, transporting 60+ kids via air is not wallet-friendly, no matter which way you look at it. Consider alternative modes of transportation. In my case, we took two coach buses from Minnesota to Florida. We booked the bus company very early on and requested four bus drivers. That way one could drive while the other slept, and no one was ever overworked. Not only was a bus cheaper, but we then had a vehicle to move us around within Florida. Note: You will have to pay for the bus drivers’ meals and hotel rooms, so be sure to factor that into the budget.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it takes about 30 hours to get from Minnesota to Florida. When you’re creative and tired enough, the floor of a bus can be quite a comfortable make-shift bed. Trust me.

Photo Credit - Disney
A value resort would be an affordable option when staying on site.

Hotel Accommodations

As my group went over Spring Break, a block of rooms were booked a year in advance. When selecting a hotel, consider the location. How close is it to the parks? Is it in a safe area? Would it be cheaper to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort? To save on food expenses, try to find a hotel with a continental breakfast. Closer to trip time, have a sign up sheet so students can write down who they would like to room with.

Disney Youth Programs

Fellow TouringPlans blogger Kim T. gave a great overview of Disney’s Youth Education Series. These accredited programs teach lessons already established in the classroom back home and are further reinforced through in-park experiences.

I traveled with members of our music department, so we attended two workshops: “You’re Instrumental,” and “DisneySings.” Both workshops were taught by respected and experienced instructors and (without spoiling anything) included a surprise or two full of magic! In addition to these (and other) workshops, students are even given the opportunity to perform on stage at the Magic Kingdom or march in special parades. These programs are well received by the students and make them feel like part of the Disney family.

Through Disney Youth Programs educators can receive group discounts for both the workshops and park tickets. This includes park hopper passes, as well. If you would like an article on Disney Youth Programs, let me know in the comments!

Mo’ Money, Mo’…..Organizing

You can’t deny that money matters when planning a trip to Walt Disney World. Vacations can be spendy, and a school trip is no exception. That’s why the kids at my high school used fundraisers to raise their own money. Not only did it lessen the financial load, but paying for a vacation themselves gave the kids a sense of responsibility and a solid work ethic. If your school plans on doing several fundraisers, an installment payment plan may be the right choice for you. Once final payments have been collected, use a school credit card or designated bank account to pay for all the expenses.

Question: But Angela, what about when we go out to eat as an entire group? How do we allocate the money?

Answer: Good question! Our group ate one meal together every day. If it was at a restaurant, a teacher would arrange the meal in advance with the restaurant manager. They would work out 3-4 entrees the kids could choose from and a set price for each student. If a student ordered any additional items, they would be responsible for covering the remaining cost.

One last housekeeping detail before moving on: be sure the students have enough of their own money for separate meals, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous details.

Itinerary

A full itinerary is the way to go when it comes to those youngins. Working with children, I notice that when they get naughty, it’s most likely because they are bored. Thankfully, it’s darn near impossible to get bored at Disney World. It’s the perfect place to run those kids ragged so they sleep the sleep of angels upon returning to the hotel.

When writing out your itinerary, make sure you allow plenty of time for travel. If you’re rushing to get to your destination with that many students, things may be overlooked and problems could arise. Also, give your kids enough time to enjoy the parks. Back in my day (before FastPass+), a 90 minute wait was standard for popular attractions such as the Tower of Terror and Expedition Everest. We needed the extra time to enjoy as many attractions as we could.

Looking back at my old trip itineraries (yes, I’m a hoarder when it comes to my Disney paraphernalia), I saw that our park visits were centered around parades and shows. We were a bunch of musical junkies, so were sure to attend the Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo – The Musical while visiting Animal Kingdom. While at Magic Kingdom, we would arrive several hours before Wishes! We would meet and watch the fireworks show as a group before leaving the park. Our teachers did a superb job making sure we saw the best side of each park.

Chaperones

There’s always the question of how many chaperones to bring on a school trip. When it comes to high school students, a 1:10 ratio (or less if you can spin it!) seems to be the way to go. If possible, see if a nurse or doctor is willing to accompany your group should anyone fall ill or get hurt. When selecting chaperones, pick adults that are good at managing kids and who will be firm (when necessary) and consistent regarding the rules. Don’t be afraid to send those chaperones on a night time patrol of the hallways. It will prevent students from trying to sneak out of their rooms in the middle of the night (yes, this happens) and will result in a safe and enjoyable trip.

The Safety (and Rules) Dance

When traveling with this many students, safety is key. Rules and expectations play a huge factor in ensuring a safe and worry-free vacation. Make sure your students have the rules down pat to avoid any mishaps or scary situations. Below are a few rules I remember from my own trip:

  • Do not leave the parks on your own.
  • Explore parks in groups of 4 or more.
  • Never invite outside guests inside your hotel room.
  • The door must be propped open if both boys and girls are in one room.
  • Take care of yourself: hydrate and get enough rest.

Before the students explore the parks on their own, designate a check-in location. Twice a day at a time of your choosing, have them stop by so you know all is well. It’s a good way to keep track of them and gives them a security point if they need help from a chaperone. Attractions stall and lines get long, so make sure they have your cell phone number to let you know if they’re running a minute or two behind.

Consequences are real and should be enforced when needed. On my school trip, failure to respect and follow the rules resulted in either a phone call home or a permanent spot next to a chaperone for the remainder of the trip. However, the fear of God was instilled in us by both our parents and teachers, so my friends and I didn’t step a toe out of line!

We’re All in This Together (Name that Disney Channel Original Movie!)

When planning a school field trip, the goal to accomplish should be a safe trip full of community building and bonding. It’s an opportunity for the students to make memories and bring them back home. As an educator, it takes a lot of time to plan this kind of adventure, but I promise you it will mean the world to your students. On my school trips, I was never once scared or anxious. I knew I was well taken care of and safe at all times. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and is something I will always remember fondly.

What other tips do you have for those planning a field trip to a Disney park? Share them in the comments!

Angela Dahlgren

Angela is cohost of the TouringPlans Podcast and regular contributor to the TouringPlans YouTube channel. When she's not talking about the happiest place on earth, she spends her time entertaining her own little Minnie and Mickey Mouse. You can find her on twitter @AngelaDahlgren or via email - angela@touringplans.com

10 thoughts on “Planning a High School Field Trip to Walt Disney World

  • November 7, 2014 at 1:41 pm
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    As a teacher who has taken her class (band) to WDW before, it really helps if the kids have your cell#. A quick text to ask “where are we supposed to meet?” or “We just got on Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and didn’t know it’s 45 minutes long, we’re gonna be late!” can be very helpful.

    Reply
    • November 11, 2014 at 8:29 pm
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      Absolutely! A list with student phone numbers would be great to give each chaperone as well!

      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      Angela

      Reply
  • November 7, 2014 at 1:47 pm
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    Good article. Having been on a bunch of big high school trips myself, here are some strategies that our chaperons used that worked:
    1. Instead of allowing kids to choose their own rooms, allow them to secretly write down the names of 3 or 4 other kids they’d like to room with. Then assign rooms using preferences, but making sure unpopular kids don’t feel left out.
    2. Masking tape across the outside of hotel room doors at night after curfew. If a kid tries to sneak out, either the tape will rip, or it will be impossible for the kid to sneak back in and get the tape back in the right manner. Then a chaperon can check the tape in the morning, before the kids are up, and there will be heck to pay if it was disturbed.
    3. Choose your chaperons carefully. On most of the trips I’ve been on, it was always the adults showing up late, not checking in, etc.
    4. Have parents provide money for meals in cash to the school. Then every morning pass out $20 or whatever to each kid. That way the kid may loose the $100 in souvenir money (a learning experience), but won’t starve or allowed to be a burden on others because he lost his meal money.

    Reply
    • November 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm
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      I hate the masking tape rule. Who do you punish in the room of 4? What if it’s all pulled down. Some motels have 1st floor windows.

      I like the assigning roommates ideas. If you let 4 very tight friends together, they’ll find ways to subvert rules by covering for each other.

      Parents who can set up credit cards with preset spending limits are good for the kids too. But that’s not feasible for everyone.

      Offer the parents to choose whether to have a chaperone hold student’s money. Another good way would be to just have a slush fund for emergencies. If someone loses their money, they can borrow against the slush fund. When the trip is over, use the money for post trip party. Use the slush fund for a treat at the end of the trip. Use the slush fund for next year’s trip, etc…

      “Slush fund” money comes from charging everyone slightly more than necessary to cover the trip. But by being resourceful and eliminating travel agent fees, cutting deals, getting pre-paid meal deals, getting the best deal on the bus, etc…

      It should not be a lot of money. But I don’t like holding 50% or more of every student’s money on the trip. That’s a lot of cash to carry, and it won’t be a secret that you’re holding the cash. And if you lose it, wow. Now who’s the burden.

      Just let the kid be a burden on the head chaperone, call their parents, and let them pay pal some money to someone or something.

      Reply
      • November 7, 2014 at 2:49 pm
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        Most motels have the only window for the room facing the hallway or walkway. A lot of budget friendly locations (and all the Disney value and moderate resorts) have this layout.

        So, masking tape on the door doesn’t prevent using the window.

        The way it ends up working out: as long as the kids wake up in their rooms and there are no incidents in the previous night, nobody cares about the masking tape. Or, you end up ruining a trip over something as little as just getting a vending machine drink or some ice or something.

        Mostly, it’s just a scare tactic for the kids. It works better on the 11 to 14 year olds. 16 to 18 year olds are used to being able to drive to school and be trusted in a hotel.

        Reply
    • November 11, 2014 at 8:29 pm
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      Sarah,

      Thank you for providing extra tips. They’re a great addition for those planning a school trip to the world!

      Angela

      Reply
  • November 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm
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    I had a very nice high school trip to WDW for magic music days, and I have seen plenty of school groups in the parks.

    But in college and after that, the amount of stories and trouble I heard of people getting into is pretty EPIC or scary depending on your viewpoint.

    Do not book time in the itinerary at the hotel pool. There’s not enough capacity to keep everyone busy. Also, high schoolers (and junior high) are not little kids that are happy to be by or in the pool. If you want pool time, go to a water park. Free time at a hotel where some roommates are out of the room and some can be in the room will basically mean that the “intimate” students have access to hotel rooms by themselves.

    Downtown Disney is not engaging for all students and it’s very “open”. Minimize time there. Some school groups are required to perform there. Try to get a performance spot in EPCOT instead.

    Have a SUPER EARLY schedule to get to the parks 30 minutes prior to rope drop! The kids groan about the early wake up call. But the “good kids” will appreciate the short lines. If they need a nap, recommend the hall of presidents or similar attraction.

    Provide good information but gear the information to relevant “controllable” items for students. They will appreciate making a touring plan.

    I wouldn’t suggest that everyone share 1 subscription to touringplans.com, but there’s a ton of great information in the unofficial guide book and on here that students would appreciate.

    They can read up on attractions etc…
    One typical rule: Students must travel in groups of 4 or more.
    Typical problem: Disagreements over what attractions to do lead to separations.

    Students who are interested in following specific touring plans can get into groups of 4 kids. And it prevents arguments that end up with a singular student stranded or a pair of students separating from another pair.

    Maybe only about 10% of the group would go this way, and most of the group would have friend groups that would consist of 4 or more people that get along. But allowing people to get into a group of kids who are like minded in attraction preference will help some kids.

    Obviously, the accommodations, itinerary, and many activities have been pre-chosen. But with information about how and why students have to follow the rules will help keep things smooth.

    Take the temperature of the group on going to Universal.

    There’s probably a contingent of people that want to go to Universal.
    Figure out a way to make things happen that large chunks of the student group want to do. Or, make it CLEAR at the beginning of the commitment from students at the beginning where the group will be going and where it WON’T be going.

    Maybe there’s a way for people to tack on a few days before or after a school trip. To make any school absences excused, be creative: a token college visit perhaps? Parents would be responsible for their kids or kids and friends pre or post trip. But, for example, if the big/main group is spending 30 hours driving back, then why can’t the ones who can afford it just get their own flight and visit Universal on those travel days.

    Not on the recommended reading list: Dark side of Disney.
    For the planner: Read it. It delves into cheats, tricks, consequences, etc… It helps you think outside of the box and maybe create safeguards that will be effective at preventing bad things.

    Keep plenty of auxiliary batteries / chargers /etc… on hand. Kids all have cell phones, and rely on them past the point of failure.

    Reply
    • November 11, 2014 at 8:31 pm
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      Great ideas Ron!

      I love the idea of taking a separate trip to Universal for those who want to go. I would have loved to do something like that during my trip in high school.

      I appreciate the comment!

      Angela

      Reply
  • October 17, 2019 at 11:08 am
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    Hello! I would love an article on Disney Youth programs. Thanks!

    Reply
  • June 23, 2020 at 8:29 am
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    Hello, we’re planning a school trip to Disney and need help with the choice of music workshops before we organize an actual trip. What is the best way to make students like the idea of an educational trip (with the assignments afterwards)? We’re worrying because the tasks may discourage them..
    Sven Taow, art and music teacher

    Reply

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