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.
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.
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.
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.
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!