Planning a theme park vacation for a large group is only half the battle. Surviving a trip to Disney World with your parents, children, in-laws, nieces and nephews is a completely different animal. Here are ten tips to make a theme park vacation with a big group BIG FUN!
1. Appoint a team leader.
Since I'm the team leader for the planning stage of our "big group" vacations, I'm usually the team leader during the trip by default. I keep track of our dining reservations and basic schedule details that were finalized well before our trip, but I'm also the "point person" for issues that arise during the trip. My wife usually acts as a co-team leader; she helps me get messages out to the group, assists in corralling everyone before a show or meal and steps in when I've hit my limit trying to make everyone happy. If you are the team leader, I highly recommend having one other person to help you like Mommy Frog helps me.
2. Wear the same (bright) color.
Never is wearing the same bright color more important than when traveling with a large group. Since you're going to need shirts for everyone in the group for the number of days you're traveling, this takes a bit of planning. Here's how to do it: Make a spreadsheet with everyone's name and a blank column for shirt sizes. Email it to the group and have them fill in their shirt sizes then send it back to you. Order online or buy from a store solid-colored t-shirts for everyone. You could also get prints if you can find them in adult and child sizes.
3. Follow a schedule, but be flexible.
Following schedule is a MUST, but over-scheduling is a MUST NOT. Having too strict of a schedule just simply does not work when you're traveling with a large group. Even when you're following a looser, more realistic, schedule, do your very best to stay flexible. Yes, it would be nice if everyone showed up at 11:45 for the 11:45 meet-up time, but try not to fret if you're consistently running 15 minutes late or you have to make adjustments to your plan.
4. Remind everyone of the designated meet-up times each day.
It's a good idea to give everyone a print-out of the entire itinerary, but daily meet-up times are sometimes decided each morning of the trip. So before everyone goes on their merry way (like during breakfast, for example) decide on when and where the group will meet up that day. Designated meet-up times are important for two reasons: 1) It's a nightmare trying to call people while you're inside the parks and arrange these meet-ups. 2) Meet-ups are great times to have group pictures taken. (Tip: Pick a spot that's easy to find like the statue of Walt and Mickey in front of Cinderella Castle.)
5. Arrive earlier than normal for shows.
When it's just you and your spouse, you can weasel your way into a show 10 minutes before it begins with a decent shot at finding 2 empty seats. Not so with a big group! For shows like Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Disney’s Hollywood Studios® or Festival of the Lion King at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, it's not overly ambitious to get to the show location an hour beforehand.
6. Plan for everything to take longer (especially meals).
Does it usually take your family one hour to get showered, dressed and ready to board the Disney bus? If your ADR is at 1:15 p.m., can you reasonably assume you'll be outta there by 2:30 p.m.? Well, add an hour to how long you think everything will take and you'll be closer to how long it'll actually take your big group. This is VERY important to keep in mind if you're scheduling an activity to follow a group meal. It's better to have 30 minutes to kill before a show than have to miss it altogether because your lunch took longer than expected.
7. Break up the big group into sub-groups.
The Frog Family splits up into sub-groups several ways. When we have a day centered around rides, we divide the group by height. The "shorty" group heads toward rides like Dumbo the Flying Elephant® and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin® Attraction. The "tall" group can then go on the rides with height requirements like Splash Mountain® Attraction and Space Mountain® Attraction without the little ones having to wait behind. When we have a day centered around meals and shows, we divide the group so that there's a good mix of older and younger kids. The older kids are a huge help with getting the little ones seated and comfortable.
We have one adult volunteer to be the "back-up plan" each day of our big group vacation. This person begins the day with the rest of us, but is willing to take anyone who has had enough of the action back to the hotel. This volunteer is especially nice to have in case a little one gets sick, needs to change clothes, or just wants to have some quiet time in the room.
9. Recover quickly from tense situations.
Despite their younger ages, the kiddos aren't usually the ones who get into a petty argument and then feel the need to discuss it with the rest of the group for the next three hours. It's us grown-ups! So even if you know you were right and Uncle Rolando will not admit he was wrong, the middle of Main Street, U.S.A.® is not the place to have a melt-down. Move on and focus on the more pleasant people in the group.
10. Celebrate your group at least once a day.
Whether it's at the hotel pool after a full day of park hopping or right after breakfast at Chef Mickey's, be sure to take a few minutes each day to celebrate that you are all together at the Most Magical Place on Earth. We like to sing songs like It’s a Small World® Attraction or "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" or do some sort of fun chant. However your big group decides to do this, make sure to have your video camera ready! You're guaranteed some great memories.
Do you have any group travel tips to add? Share them with us!
If you're planning a theme park vacation for a large group, be sure to read this helpful blog: