Over the past three years, my wife and I have made three trips to Walt Disney World, each time taking a daughter, son-in-law, and their children. Every trip was unique and is a source of wonderful memories. But each was completely different! We learned a lot about traveling with family, and I wanted to share some of those lessons. For background: when we made the trips, the youngest grandchild was six, the oldest was 11. So, we didn’t need strollers, and everyone could carry their own backpack and water through the parks. Of course, your multi-generational trip might need to account for younger young’uns.
1. The same planning steps worked well for each trip.
Several months ahead of each trip we gave the families a copy of the newest Unofficial Guide to study. We kept them updated about news and changes by visiting this blog and sharing articles regularly. It was a great way to stay current with attraction or restaurant closures.
My wife (the Great Organizer of All Things) made a giant chart on a huge piece of brown shop paper and posted it in our front hallway. In addition to the days of the week, it listed the parks we had passes for (required at the time), the must-do rides, and the places we’d eat each meal using different colored post-its. As plans changed and evolved, we could move things around easily. She also transferred that information to an online calendar, so we could share easily. But nothing beats the ol’ wall chart for a family discussion where everyone’s looking at the same thing at the same time!
We bought Memory Maker so we could create and share magical photos everyone could keep forever. Once we were home, we collected the best pictures and had them printed into books we gave them at Christmas. We think it’s still a lot more fun to look at photos in a book than on your computer or TV. And it helps the then six-year-old remember some of the fun.
For each trip, our kids and grandkids flew into Orlando the evening before our time at WDW began. They stayed at a hotel near or in the airport overnight, allowing the grandkids to get a good night’s rest. Then the next day, they met us at the airport so we could all ride out together to WDW.
2. Each family is different.
This may sound so obvious it doesn’t need to be stated. But it’s worth repeating. As I said, the three trips were completely different, one from another. Each family is unique, with their own way of communicating, interacting, and parenting. A touring tactic that may have worked well on one trip was less successful on another. Being flexible in planning helps with this.
We asked each family for three must-do attractions in each park. We explained we might not be able to accommodate everyone’s wish, but would try. Then we jointly planned our itinerary for the next day, agreeing to stay totally flexible. With this loose plan in place, we at least had a foundation for understanding and respecting each other’s needs. Which leads me to…
3. Each family has different meal needs.
In all, we have seven grandchildren. Some of the kids have food allergies. Some don’t love meat. Some enjoy sugar in every possible shape and form. Some adults need a big breakfast; others are happy with a cup of yogurt and fruit in the room. Some of the adults have a variety of dietary restrictions. And some need re-fueling every two hours, so second breakfast and mid-afternoon refueling breaks are necessary.
We had asked families for their input on where we should eat, again explaining we probably couldn’t get to everyone’s choice in a week’s time. Since we had some dietary restrictions, we filled out the “Dietary Request Form” that Disney emailed to us, noting each restaurant and when we planned to visit. This is where Disney World chefs really shine. In every instance, the chef came out to speak with us in person, determining what we needed, what could be offered, what was safe, and what was possible. In some cases (I’m thinking of meals at Chefs du France, Biergarten, and Trattoria al Forno), some meals were prepared from scratch, made to order with safe ingredients.
Even at Quick Service stops, the service was unmatched, with person-to-person consultations preceding our orders. This is an experience that we don’t encounter regularly where we live, so dining out at Disney World is a highlight of every trip we make.
4. Each family runs on a different schedule.
From the outset, the four adults on each trip agreed this seven-day trip would not be a “Dumbo or Die” experience. To get park passes (which were required at the time we made these trips) we had to at least plan which parks we would visit on which days; but we also planned pool time and some quiet evenings into our itinerary. Rest is important not only for the youngest, but for the oldest (Grandpa) as well.
Some of our family members are night owls, others are early risers. We rope-dropped only once each trip because the night owls liked to sleep in a bit while the earlier risers liked to eat breakfast at the resort’s Quick Service. And while some families prefer a mid-afternoon break at the resort pool, and others want to keep touring the parks, the rule for us was simple: we didn’t need to do everything together all the time. This leads me to…
5. Plan to give each family their own time and space.
We had adjoining rooms on each trip. This made sharing in-room breakfast foods and what-nots easy from a logistics standpoint. Making a morning coffee run for everyone was easier, as well. Keeping the door between rooms open frequently meant grandkids running back and forth, creating chaos and memories.
On each trip, we planned a grandparents/grandchildren sleepover night, so parents could have a special evening all to themselves. They could dine where they want, stay out late, enjoy some wine, all without having to look after their children. My wife and I also had an evening to ourselves, allowing each family to spend time together without Grandma and Grandpa to consider. While it’s fun to be together, it’s also nice to have a little time apart!
One last word.
Our trips to WDW with our children and grandchildren were special. Each was unique. Each gave us memories we’ll cherish forever. Personally, I will always remember the day we entered the Magic Kingdom with the first set of grandkids. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy were waving at the crowd from the train station. My wife turned to me with tears streaming down her cheeks and said, “This is magical.” And it was. I hope your trip with your grandchildren will be, too.