By guest blogger Leslie Smittle of Leslie's Little Smittles
While Disney World really is a place where dreams come true, it can be a challenge if you're traveling as a large family. Proper planning is crucial. My husband and I will make our next journey to Disney this fall with our six children under age 9. Crazy?! Maybe, but we don't want to miss out on the magic of Walt Disney World just because of the size of our family. With a few planning tips and a little patience, you too can create the vacation of your large family’s dreams. Here are our tips.
1. Make a travel budget.
This is a great idea for anyone, but if you visit as a large family, having a travel budget in place is a must. It’s the first step to a great vacation. Once you know how much you can spend, you’ll be able to make important decisions about your trip, like when to visit and where to stay. Our family saves by vacationing in the off season and choosing a cheaper resort for sleeping. Because our family size is too large for a single room, we reserve two adjoining rooms instead of a more expensive suite.
2. Identify your priorities before you leave home.
You can get by pretty cheap by bringing your own food and not doing any extra activities. Be sure you make a list of things you would really like to include in your vacation, check prices for those things and include them in your budget if possible. You don’t want to end up being at Disney World and not able to do the things that are really important to your family. On our first trip to Disney World, we were on a really tight budget. We went to one character meal because that was all we could afford, but it was really special, and the kids had a fantastic time.
3. Set kid spending limits.
You’ll also need to budget spending money for your family. Once we’ve come up with an amount, we divide it equally among the kids and then give each of them a Disney gift card to use. We usually get our spending money from collecting change throughout the year as a family. Getting the whole family involved in saving money is a great way to teach them to be more thoughtful of what to spend it on! Once you set a budget stick to it! You’ll be so glad you did.
4. Bring your own stroller and baby carrier.
Packing for a large family can be really tough. There are lots of things that can be left at home, but there are some things you’ll want to have with you. We always bring our own strollers. The park has them to rent, but there is still a LOT of walking to do outside the parks. Little legs get tired of walking after a day in the parks. We also bring several different baby carriers. In our experience slings and other baby carriers are the best way to vacation with a baby. You’ll be able to carry baby and still have your arms free.
5. Don't forget the kid essentials.
Other great things to pack are water bottles (which can be refilled inside the parks), ponchos, wet wipes and a flashlight. We also always get a few different kinds of quick breakfast foods and snacks to have while we are there. I also let each child pack their own special backpack with their comfort items to sleep with along with anything else that will help them feel at home. Getting to Disney World without those special things could be a disaster. The backpacks are also filled with glow sticks, bubbles and coloring packs. We use these things to help pass time when waiting for firework shows or dining reservations.
5. Have a safety plan.
Before you leave for your vacation, it is of utmost importance that you create a family safety plan. Each member of your family should be familiar with the plan before you leave, and it should be posted in your resort as well so everyone knows what to do in case of emergency. Tailor your plan to fit the needs of your family, but try to include some of the following: Decide on a place to meet in each park in case someone gets separated so that you don’t waste time looking for Dad after he takes the toddler to the bathroom. Make identity cards for your children in case they get lost that include the resort name, your name and phone number. Take daily pictures of the kids so that you’ll have a photo of what they are wearing for the day. Wear matching colors as a family daily to help finding each other easier.
6. Have a plan for each day in the park.
As a family check out all the attractions and restaurants for each park, and make plan for each day so that you already know what you'll want to do in each park before you get there. Plan to spend the most time in Magic Kingdom. There is so much to see, and moving from place to place with a larger family will take a little more time. Once you've seen the other parks, you can hop over to Magic Kingdom in the evening as long as you have the park hopper option on your tickets. We think it’s totally worth the extra expense. Always be sure to include activities for everyone when planning your days! There's nothing worse than being stuck in a stroller all day while Dad and the big kids ride every single big kid ride. Plan out your days using Frog tours! This feature will save you line time and ensures fun for everyone. Fastpasses and rider swaps are GREAT for large families. The rider swap pass is available at any ride and allows parents to wait in line together and then simply swap out. Since the babies in our family can't ride the 40-inch+ rides, my husband would ride the ride with the big kids first then he'd get a ticket that would allow us to skip the line and I'd go with the big kids for my turn.
7. Make Advanced Dining Reservations.
When you are eating with a large family (at Disney that’s 6 people or more), it’s very important to make advanced dining reservations. When planning your meal reservations, be sure to give yourself breathing room. We feel a little pinned down by our reservations any time we have three different reservations in one day. Also, be prepared with tip money. An 18% gratuity is automatically added to any party over 6. This amount is not included in meal plans. Our family takes a look at the menus beforehand so we know what we want to order before we get there. I will usually jot down all of our orders so that I have them handy once we get to a restaurant. This is really helpful if you’ll be ordering lots of kid meals. Also, be sure you know what sort of table service restaurant you are going to, since there are some that are actually buffets. There are pros and cons to the buffets because making 8 plates is tough, although it ensures there will be something everyone will eat. Quick service restaurants are a great option for large families since they are usually easy to get in and out of, and won’t require added gratuity.
8. Savor the experience!
Once you’re there, remember to slow down and relax. It’s so easy to go into management mode when you are corralling lots of littles. Remember you are on vacation. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Sit back and enjoy every moment of it! Try saying yes instead of no if at all possible. Disney World is an amazing place to make lifelong memories with your family ... no matter what size.
What are your tips for traveling as a large family? Share them in comments below!
Leslie is a homeschool mother of six beautiful children. She and her family are gearing up for their next Disney vacation this fall. You can read more from her at her blog, Leslie’s Little Smittles, where she shares about life with six chidren ages 8 and under. In addition to her blog, you can find Leslie on Facebook and Pinterest.