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Taking Your Parents to Walt Disney World: Dealing with Change

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My family back in 2000

I have to admit that my love of all things Disney was started by my parents. They took me to the movies, bought the toys, and, most importantly, took me and my siblings to the theme parks. I was fortunate enough to go three times in my childhood years, and every time we went there was something new that I grew to love.

Eventually, though, my family moved into the college years, where my parents couldn’t afford to go to the theme parks because they were putting the four of us through school. Regardless, I still made a point to request a trip every year, to which I was met with a patient “no.” Even when I was doing my solo or friend trips, I always yearned to have the whole family back in Walt Disney World again.

To my shock and amazement, my father told me the last time I was home that they were indeed planning a Walt Disney World vacation for next summer, and that I should come along. My youngest brother is now done with college, and they felt it was time to enjoy the parks again. (Plus my mother is a huge Harry Potter fan, and she has been dying to go to Universal Orlando, too.)

My parents are in their late 50s, so this is not a post about getting around the parks with elderly parents. (For tips on that, you can check out the comments section in this article.) But if you have done the parks as a child and now are going back as an adult with your parents, you know full well that things are going to be very, very different!

I’m *kind of* in charge

My father loves planning trips. He makes reservations, plans out each day’s itinerary, maps out the routes, and finds fun things to do along the way. (The Northwest Trip of 2002 is his crowning jewel of trip planning.) He also did this for our Disney trips. I remember his purchase of the Birnbaum’s book back in 2000 for our last Disney vacation.

Too bad we can’t replicate this perfectly-timed shot!

I know where I get my love of trip planning. But now that the two of us will be vacationing at Walt Disney World together, I am the one who knows more about the parks than he does. When it comes to shortcuts, the best food, or the closest viewing locations, I have more knowledge in those areas than him.

However, this doesn’t mean I will become the dictator of the vacation! I need to gather their interests (fewer rides, more shows, some characters), their food preferences (more counter service), and their general Disney love (moderate Disney lovers) and give them suggestions. I can use my knowledge to make the trip better, but better for them.

Fastpass ain’t what it used to be

Back in 2000, the FASTPASS system had just rolled out, and my father read all about it and loved the idea. He was so excited to get a little card that said he could “cut to the front of the line.” We used the FASTPASS system as much as we could on that trip, and he had such a good time with it.

Now, the original FASTPASS system is gone; replaced by FastPass+ and the My Disney Experience. My parents have a pretty good handle on technology, and I hope that we don’t cross major issues trying to sync everything up.

For a trip planner, though, FastPass+ might be right up my father’s alley. I hope he likes it just as much as the original system.

The best place to stay

cabinMy parents both really enjoyed the Fort Wilderness cabins on our previous two trips. It meant paying for one cabin instead of two hotel rooms for the six of us. When I asked my father his lodging thoughts, he immediately said “I really liked the cabins.”

The cabins have climbed in price, and they are classified as Moderate resorts. We aren’t sure how many of us will be on this trip, but my initial thoughts were that the cabins might not be the best bang for our buck. It would also mean a lot of travel time: theme park to TTC, boat or bus to Fort Wilderness, internal bus to cabin loop (we aren’t rental car people). When we were all younger this worked. Now? I’m not so sure.

My mother has always mentioned that she would like to stay at the Grand Floridian Resort. This would be perfect for them, since it would require minimum travel time to the parks. Even if they decide it’s too expensive, maybe something along the lines of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort or one of the Port Orleans resorts might provide a great on-property experience. I’ll make sure they have all the resort information before they make the final decision.

The wonders of the cell phone

If you can recall, back in 2000 cell phones were not quite mainstream. We used to keep together a lot more, or if any groups wanted to break off, we were given explicit instructions on where and when to meet up. We were expected to be at that specific place at that specific time.

Now everyone in my family has a phone. If there ever is a time where my parents want to go off and enjoy themselves, or I need to do some research for future articles, we can keep in contact with each other. Although the cell service might not be stellar, we can at least keep some sort of communication open for when we need to meet up. (Although talking to each other in person about where and when to meet might still be the best thing to do if cell service was to be spotty.)

Copyright 2000 Claire NatThe touring plan dilemma

While our family trips were planned out, our days at the park weren’t. One day it would be “Epcot.” The next day it would be “MGM Studios.” What we did during that time was up to us. I only recall one time in 1995 where we got to Magic Kingdom park at rope drop; my mother ran with my sister, brother, and I for Splash Mountain while my father hung out with my baby brother.

I’m not sure that my parents are touring plans people, since they have never done them before. But I’ll always remember this bit of information I heard on the WDWtoday podcast: Ask them to do a touring plan for one day (like this one). If they enjoyed the amount of attractions done in one day, see if they want to do more touring plans. If not, just go with the flow.

This will be made even easier with the Lines app. Touring plan or not, I can immediately tell them where the lines are the shortest, and we can make the most out of a great trip.

Any tips?

Many of you readers probably have experienced what I’ll be doing next year. Do you have any tips for my family? We have a year to plan this thing, so I’m ready to take notes and make this the best vacation we’ve ever had!

More updates on this vacation to follow. Please comment with your tips and stories from your vacations below!

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Claire Nat

I've been enjoying Walt Disney World since my Nana pushed my sister's and my strollers back in the late 1980s. I enjoy my day job here in the Denver area as a teacher and music coordinator at our church. I love music, reading, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Michigan sports!

24 thoughts on “Taking Your Parents to Walt Disney World: Dealing with Change

  • I always have each person in the family or group select 3 things at each park that are “must-do’s.” These will inevitably overlap, so it isn’t truly 3 per person. Then, I do my very best to be sure that those things are done in each park. That way, I know that no one is feeling resentful or slighted in any way. Also, the expectation has been set in advance that we can’t do EVERYTHING, but we will do these 3 things.

    • We do the same thing – then I plan a touring plan around that list of “must-do’s.” When we’re done with the list, it’s free time. Usually, after the first day or so, everyone notices how much more smoothly the day goes with a plan and they abdicate all planning to me. Which is just how I want it…..:o)

  • I took my parents this year for a retirement gift (along with my husband and 4 year old son). My parents are both pushing 70 but still very active. I gave them a spreadsheet with all of the rides and a description so they could see what they wanted to do (it’s been over 20 years since their last trip). I took care of the planning but let them pick attractions and restaurants. The menus from allears.net were great for this. Each day I would give them a touring plan (with both their choices and ours- thanks to the custom touring plans!) and a map and they could choose to follow the plan or not. Some days they would deviate but then meet up with us for their “must do” attractions. They loved having all the input but also being able to choose the day of it they wanted to go along with our hard core plan or meet up later. We would head back to the rooms around 2pm and they would often stay in the parks a few hours later. We also stayed at the Ft Wilderness cabins just so we could have the full kitchen and do dinner together each night. After a day of touring they were ready for some quiet time at night! We also rented a golf cart while we there so we could have easy access to everything- I would highly suggest this and would also suggest using an off-site rental to save serious money. Have a great trip!

    • I am excited to see how they tour the parks as a couple without kids. It should make for some fun stories!

  • Claire – I’m so glad your family is going to get to have a family trip to WDW now that you all have finished college!
    We stayed at AoA and I really wanted to recommend that resort. My kiddos are tweens and having 2 bathrooms was awesome for the morning and for getting out for an ADR. I think you all would appreciate that. Also, your parents would really have privacy in the master bedroom and their own bath. The kitchenette was perfect for breakfast things and some snacks in the room.
    The first time we travelled with my dad and step mom we told them to just try one day with a touring plan. They were thrilled how we did so much in Epcot before lunch. In fact I think we rode everything in FW before 11:30AM! They were sold. However, there is a lot to be said for going with the flow. I just can’t bring myself to do it at Disney!
    I’d ask your mom and dad what is most important – eating together, experiencing attractions together, just spending time together and be sure you are all on the same page. Communication now, while planning and while on your amazing trip is key. Enjoy this special trip as a family!

    • I’m so glad for your Art of Animation recommendation! I have not stayed on property since it opened, but I’ve heard good things about the bus service and the suites. We are already talking a lot about this trip, and it’s so far off!

  • Took my parents with my kids on our second DVC trip. The six of us stayed in a treehouse at Saratoga Springs, perfect for my parents to relax, and my dad could even BBQ.

    My Mom was amazed how well the restaurants took care of her with her Celiac needs (far before the Gluten nazi’s made it trendy), and my Dad absolutely loved not having to drive anywhere and not having to pick up their luggage at the airport.

    At times it was like having five kids instead of three, but we made the best of my kids running too far ahead of us. Planning, but not over-planning made it a fantastic memory.

    • I never thought of the treehouses! I’ll add that to my potential resorts list. That would be very unique!

  • My family is “Not A Touring Plan” family. They are willing to get up early because they see how much they get done at rope drop, but they want to go with the flow. I am a planner to the minute in Excel (including bathroom breaks). you would think they would be conflicts and there use to be major conflicts.

    Then I stopped showing them the plan. I still have the plan in my back pocket. Then as we go about the day I say things like…would you like to go on Pirates or Jungle Cruise next? Or the parade starts in half an hour, does someone want to get dole whips while someone scouts out seats?

    I always give them a choice (ok so it is a choice between something that is already on the plan, but they don’t know that)

    They magically follow the plan 90% of the time and have a great time without complaining about the plan. And they talk about how they just go with the flow and never have to wait more than 15 minutes in line. EVER.

    • That’s where knowledge really comes into play. Even though I’m not going to demand where we go next, I’ll still do my best to give them the best vacation they can!

    • smallworld

      Ha! Julia, I love your strategy!

  • I’m 50, and while I’ll agree the values or mods might be more economical, at my age I’ve learned to really appreciate a good bed, and kitchen or kitchenette in the units I stay in. You don’t want your parents counting days until they get to go home to their regular beds, you want them counting down the number of days left in an excellent room in a fantastic resort.

    Running around hitting their top 3 rides/shows may no longer be their style. Let them know the system isn’t even close to being what it was. You’ll have to plan your days out months in advance, and changes to the fast passes at times are just not possible. In other words: Make plans, but let them know that you’ll all have to play it by ear when the day comes. If all they want to do one day is enter a park, go on one ride, watch a show and shop before turning around to go back to the room, let them. Enjoy the parks as you would normally, and know you will be getting together for a meal here and there. My mom has not learned this lesson and wants to be at my elbow as I tour the parks, and when I want to go on a ride, she’ll give me a guilt trip saying she’ll wait at the gate for me, even if it will be an hour.

  • I employ the “get them to follow my touring plan without them knowing it and make it feel spur of the moment” strategy as well. Works like a dream. Lol
    As far as resorts go, my parents (who are in their early sixties) like a calm, relaxed breakfast-not a chaotic, child-filled food court. So I’d suggest at least a moderate, where there’s a sit-down restaurant. Same would go for the pools, my parents would be heading straight for the quiet pool. If they are only medium dis lovers, the theming at moderates would be a nice fit, not overly Disney-fied, but still beautiful and well-maintained. Have a great trip!

  • Emily H.

    It is so hard to plan a multi-generational trip these days for our family. Young kids with parents, a single uncle, late-50s parents — stay together and see less of the parks or split up and tour alone?

    Hard not to try to please everyone :/

    • I would think splitting up is a good idea – that way everyone gets to do what they want. But schedule some times during the trip (nighttime spectaculars, meals, parades, etc.) where you would all get together and share the awesome stuff you’ve done!

  • Norman Wigton

    My wife and I are approaching 70. We have been to WDW on three occassions with two kids in tow and several times to Disneyland. We visited WDW last November just before Thanksgiving Except for a Saturday at EPCOT with some adult family from Florida we were on our own. I would NEVER attend a Disney Park without a well thought touring plan. We never follow it precisely but it is there when we need it. During our trip the longest wait was 30 minutes at the Beauty and the Beast Bell attraction. Most others were 10 minutes or less. Many favorites such as 7 Dwarfs. Mine Train , Pirates, etc. Were walkins using the Fast Pass system

    • Great job! It’s fun finding out how successful these touring plans are for people. I remember being shocked by the amount of stuff me and my friend did the first time we tried one. Glad to know people of all ages can enjoy!

  • William Natsis

    I am already looking forward to planning this trip, even though we haven’t even taken our 2015 trip yet!

  • Nicole Kaplan

    This sounds like a great family trip. If everyone is grown, I would recommend scheduling your trip for Septmeber instead of summer. It’s a little cooler, but still great pool weather. It’s less crowded, and disney often offers free dining plan during September.
    Also, if your mom wants to stay at the Grand Floridian, consider renting vacation club points. I haven’t done the math, but I think it will let you stay at a deluxe resort’s vacation club for less.


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