Traveling to Disney World with Friends or Extended Family: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

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You’re planning a super fun Walt Disney World vacation! Your sister-in-law hears this and thinks a Disney vacation sounds super fun too.

And she wants her family to travel with you. Yayyyyy!!!

Yayyyy????

If you have enough conversations about your Disney World trips, inevitably your in-laws, or sister, or your college roommate, or your next door neighbor will come up with the brilliant idea that if you’re both going to have amazing Disney vacations, then wouldn’t it be great to have those vacations together.

When traveling with others, make sure that all the kids and all the adults get along well.

Is that a good idea or a bad idea? As with most things Disney, the answer is, “It depends.”

Traveling with friends or extended family could be a wonderful experience for all involved, or it could be a way to beat a perfectly nice relationship to death with a grotesquely over-sized turkey leg. Now more than ever, it’s important to look closely at what traveling with others really means and do an honest assessment of whether it makes sense for you.

Here are some things to think about. While a few of these points are specifically targeted to travel during the time of Coronavirus, most items apply any time:

  • Can the people you’re traveling with follow rules? During the Coronavirus pandemic, there are lots of rules. Wear your mask, keep social distance, sanitize often. If you know that your prospective travel companions are rule flaunters in general, then now is not the time to travel with them.
  • Have your travel companions kept good COVID hygiene? Are these folks who have been staying home and wearing masks from the onset of the pandemic, or have they been out maskless at large gatherings? Are they/you willing to get tested before you travel together? Make sure that people you might spend time with have the same protection philosophy you do.
  • Do you actually like these people? All of them? Sure you love your sister like, well, a sister, but what about her overbearing husband or her bratty daughter? While you may be able to cope with these folks at a two-hour birthday party, will you actually remain sane if you have to listen to bro-in-law complain about his boss for five straight days of your precious vacation time. If you can’t honestly say that you enjoy spending time with every single person in the other family, then reconsider making the trip.
  • Do your kids actually like each other? Up until age seven or eight you can usually throw youngsters together and they’ll find a way to make it work. But once the kiddos get their own interests, all bets are off. Does a cheerleader cousin make your goth daughter’s skin crawl? Will throwing your children together with polar opposites ruin their vacation (and thus yours)?
  • Do you have a similar financial situation? This may be difficult to assess, because most folks in the US would rather sleep on hot coals than have an honest discussion about money. Despite the discomfort, you’ve got to have the money talk before embarking on a vacation with someone. Do your friends think a vacation only a vacation if you’re staying in a five-star resort, while you’re clipping coupons to splurge on a moderate hotel? Do you want to eat table service for every meal, while your friends want to save their pennies by making oatmeal in the room for breakfast and bringing granola bars for snacks in the parks? Obviously, neither approach is right or wrong, but if you’re not on the same page then resentment is bound to happen. The “haves” will feel like they’re being held back. The “have nots” will feel over-extended or guilty. If your spending ability and philosophies are not in sync, save your socializing for your home turf.
  • Are your bravery levels compatible? There are plenty of situations at the Disney parks which challenge the senses. Will you react to them in the same way as your companions? If they want to do Expedition Everest six times in a row, while you get dizzy during the rotations at Carousel of Progress, then resentment is likely to accumulate while one group cools their heels waiting for the other.
  • Do you have similar attitudes about time? Are you always early for reservations while your bestie is often later than fashionably late? Are you ready for rope drop and pooped by 8:00 pm, while your in-laws like to sleep until noon? It’s difficult to have a great time with someone if you’re never awake at the same time or if you don’t have the same attitude about promptness.
  • Do you discipline the same way? In some families, the rules are the rules, no matter where you are. In other families, vacations are where rules are made to be broken. If one set of kids in having ice cream for breakfast, while the other gets no dessert unless they finish their green beans, tensions will arise.

Even if you’ve been in a close educational pod with your proposed companions for months, completely secure in your COVID plan and truly BFFs at home, it’s important to think about the ways in which travel will put different stresses on the relationship. Daytime and nighttime routines can be very different. Unknown stimuli (such as overstimulation in a theme park) can cause perfectly balanced relationships to skew. Do you really want to mess with a great relationship now? Or ever?

The more people you bring, the more opinions you’ll have to accommodate on what is the best way to do Disney.

Now before you start thinking that there is NEVER a situation where you’ll be comfortable traveling with another family, there are also some pros to group vacations that may outweigh any cons:

  • Date night is easy. Assuming that the other family is willing, you can trade evenings out with your spouse. You watch their kids while they watch yours. Enjoy big savings on sitting fees and feel safety in leaving your kids with a known supervisor.
  • Shared experiences can build bonds. If your son and his cousin simultaneously chicken out when attempting Space Mountain for the first time, that’s a story they’ll later laugh about for years to come.
  • There may be some economy-of-scale savings. This is particularly true if you decide to stay in off-site accommodations. Splitting the cost of an Orlando-area rental home may allow you substantially upgraded amenities for the same prices as staying on-site with a smaller party.

If you do decide to take the plunge, here are some guidelines you may want to set before you travel:

  • Everyone pays for their own food. Tell your server at the beginning of each meal that you want separate checks. This eliminates hard feelings when the sirloin and martini eater wants to go halfsies on a meal with a teetotaler vegetarian, for the third time this week.
  • Plan some time apart. Just because you’re vacationing together, that doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking minute together. If you plan to have some activities separately, that will give you more to talk about when meet up again.
  • Distribute tasks. Get everyone involved in the trip planning. This gives everyone ownership in making the vacation a success. This also ensures that no one person is overwhelmed with tasks like making dining reservations or planning itineraries.
  • Write out a list of expectations. Items covered may include items such as expected bedtimes, souvenir budgets, or disciplinary tactics for typical misbehavior situations. Share the list with children. The more everyone understands what the common goals are, the fewer opportunities there will be for hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

Over the years, I personally have traveled to Walt Disney World with neighbors, my parents, my sister-in-law and her family, adult friends, unrelated young adult babysitters, and even a group of twelve teenage girls. There have been great successes (priceless photos of the extended clan) and some frustrating challenges. Meeting at 8:00 does actually mean meeting at 8:00, why don’t some people understand that? 🙂

What have your experiences been? Have you enjoyed your journeys to the World with others, or are you going nuclear-family-only from now on because of a negative situation? Give us your tips in the comments below.

Considering a large-group trip and want help with the planning experience?  A TouringPlans travel agent can assist with your trip whether it is a party of 2 or 200. Visit us at Touringplans.com/travel.

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

8 thoughts on “Traveling to Disney World with Friends or Extended Family: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

  • September 22, 2020 at 12:15 pm
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    We traveled about 6 yrs ago with friends who are like family from Mexico. There were 7 of us all together. We did as you suggested and did some time away, or broke into groups. We linked our MyDisney Esperience so we could plan fastpasses etc. We compromised on meals – some in room, some great table service. It was a wonderful trip and we are ready to do it again- maybe next year.

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  • September 22, 2020 at 12:16 pm
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    When people complain to me about the long lines and expense of visiting WDW, I tell them they should come with me because we experience no such things (except for pre-pandemic Flight of Passage). Of course, I’m a liner and use an optimized touring plan. We also stay offsite and bring food and drinks into parks to save money. We are also rope droppers.

    I have invited other family members to join us, but when I explain how we do Disney, they give me the brush off. They don’t want to RD or follow a set plan or they want to stay onsite and eat all meals in parks (which is where they run up the cost).

    So us not touring with extended family hasn’t been for lack of trying. Extended family just hasn’t been interested in following an itinerary that maximizes the number of attractions we experience.

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  • September 22, 2020 at 3:39 pm
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    This is key: Plan some time apart.

    We do this with friends and family. Plan a few key events, meals, or activities, and let people make up their own schedule. My son wakes up at 6. We are in the parks at rope drop. The rest of the family shows up at 11am. We’ve already experienced a lot of attractions with minimal wait before they show up!

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  • September 22, 2020 at 8:46 pm
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    As super nerdy as it sounds, I write every attraction, show, diversion in each park on a spreadsheet, and give it to everyone to vote. Depending on how many top tier attractions there are they are given x amount of 6 point votes, which means they are the most important things in the park for them. They are then given an unlimited amount of 3 point votes (Yes, I would like to do this, but wont be crushed if we dont get to it), 1 point votes (I will do this if other people want to do it), or 0 (Absolutely will not do, typically due to fear of heights or motion sickness). Everyone also gets a single 15 point vote per vacation, which means that there is no way (unless a breakdown or closure) that we wont make time for it.

    This helps us make sure everyone is heard, and so that no one gets left out, or is able to hijack the vacation. It also helps us plan when to split up, especially for our motion sick crowd. Lastly, it can help target where to spend your money: We had one person in a party of 11 that adores Magic Kingdom fireworks and it was her 15 pointer. I also had several people that would rather lie down under a row of strollers than stay for the fireworks. We compromised by having a dinner at the Contemporary with fireworks viewing, which was a splurge, but our completionists loved doing it, and our friend got to see the fireworks in a new way.

    We print out the sheets in advance and go over them with everyone before we plan our park days. Sometimes the things people care about can really be surprising: GreatGrandma cared most about Expedition Everest, Grandma cared most about replicating a picture at Gastons Tavern, and our highest voted non-mountain ride in the Magic Kingdom was Carousel of Progress. It’s the only way to travel!

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  • September 23, 2020 at 9:24 am
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    @Jennifer We love nerdy planners! I’m also impressed that everyone in your party went along with the planning in this way.

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  • September 23, 2020 at 1:35 pm
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    I went on an excellent trip with a friend in our early twenties, and a few years later, we attempted a second trip, now with her husband along as well.

    In the intervening years, our budgets, priorities and travel styles had RADICALLY diverged, and there was a lot more tension. After a tetchy first day, we hashed it out and everyone readjusted their expectations, but it could have been much worse.

    Because I grew up in New Jersey, we nearly always went in November, and several times coordinated with other families to fantastic results, and a lot of fun for my siblings and I. If you feel like it’s something you can pull off, blending families on a trip can be the best.

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  • September 24, 2020 at 10:57 am
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    @Erin. The people that have a hard time not “taking over” the vacation got to feel like everything important was already argued over, so they didn’t have to be as in control in the park. The people that are perpetually upset that other people “take over” the trip got to make sure there were safe guards against it. My wife and I were the enforcers, which was as relatively close to neutral arbiters as we could get.

    We also have a firm no shaming, no changing policy, so we arrange to all do the spreadsheets together. That way no one can be harangued into changing an unpopular opinion. There was a little eye rolling the first time I insisted on this, but once EVERY SINGLE PERSON said, “This is what we ALL agreed to” at least once to quell complaints/whining/mutiny on the actual trip it has become a beloved staple of our vacation planning.

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  • September 27, 2020 at 9:32 pm
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    We took friends to the 4 WDW parks and the 2 Universal parks in 2015. We joked (serious) that we are rope dropping planners and they could always take the next bus if they did not make the one we took. After them asking me multiple times, “when are we doing X ?”, because they knew I had it in our plan, I finally wrote out our plans on the hotel mirror with a dry erase marker, including meal, bus, & park opening times. They loved it and were proud that they didn’t miss a bus once and got to ride everything planned with minimal waits (thanks to Touring Plans) … Although a ‘bonus’ kid asked- who had their magic band at the Epcot gate- so I had to take him back to the hotel…. (heavy sigh)

    Reply

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