These top tips for going to Disney World with a large group are from guest contributor, Sue Nowicki, from the blog TeamMom365.
Planning a Walt Disney World vacation for a group is not for the faint of heart. If you were appointed chief planner and FastPass+ maker then I feel your pain. Over the past ten years, I have planned group Disney vacations for two large family grand gatherings, seven trips to AAU Volleyball Nationals at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex including ten players with all our coaches and families, and one trip to HOSA Academic Nationals with 19 competitors and their chaperones.
Top 10 Tips for Doing Disney With a Large Group
While still *MAGICAL*, planning for a large group has its own unique nuisances which require some added attention. Here are the Top 10 tips I have discovered along the way to help you plan a Walt Disney World vacation for a large group.
If Your Group is Big Visit When the Crowds are Small
Planning any Disney vacation starts well before you ever step foot on Disney property. It starts with a series of decisions, the most important of which is when you are actually going to visit. When traveling with a large group it will be markedly easier to travel when the crowds are low as opposed to those busy times of the year when the crowds swarm to the ‘House of Mouse’. This crowding doesn’t just effect the number of people walking around the Parks, it effects the availability of Advanced Dining Reservations and FastPass+ selections, increases standby queue and on-property transportation wait times and decreases accommodation options.
Times to Avoid a Group Disney Vacation
Finding the times to avoid is as easy as looking at your local school corporation’s calendar. If the kids are out of school in your district, they are likely out of school in hundreds of other districts across the country meaning the parks will be hopping. In conjunction with school vacations, holiday weeks are another big time to avoid. This is especially true for the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Weeks.
Times to Consider a Disney Group Vacation
In all my years going to Walt Disney World, the very lowest crowds I have experienced are the weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday but before the week of Christmas. If that is a possibility for your group, DO IT! It is not only a period of low crowds, it is considered the Value or Regular season depending on the day. This means theme park tickets and accommodations are cheaper. The entire resort is also decorated to the nines in its holiday finest.
If this time of year is not a possibility due to your kiddo’s school schedules, I recommend trying to go as soon as the school year ends or just before it begins. Our home school district typically gets out the Thursday before Memorial Day (with snow days it is usually the week after – UGH!).
If you go to Disney the first week of June you will be beating almost half the country there because a large part of the country goes to school into the second week of June – some even later. Conversely, those kids who get out of school on or before Memorial Day likely go back to school in the middle of August while the rest don’t go back until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Therefore, if you are at one of those schools who gets out in the second week of June then those last two weeks of August will be your best bet.
Link Your Traveling Party in My Disney Experience
The My Disney Experience planning program offers are great feature called “Friends & Family”. This allows you, as the main trip planner, the ability to link your entire traveling party and make Advanced Dining Reservations and FastPass+ selections for the entire group in one fell swoop.
Judge the Transportation Needs of Your Traveling Party
Every single group Disney vacation I have planned has included two types of people when it comes to transportation:
those with a “need for speed” and those trying to save money where they can,
The “Need for Speed” folks don’t care how much it costs, they want to be inside the magic PRONTO. The money saving folks would like lower cost alternatives without sacrificing too much. As the main planner, you will, at the very least, want to research the options for both camps. This will include looking at all the flight options as well as driving possibilities.
Disney Offers Accommodations for All Budgets
Similar to the two travel camps in #3, your traveling party will also be split on their accommodations budget preferences. For those looking for cheaper options Disney offers a Value level of resort. While definitely still *MAGICAL*, the Value resorts typically have outside facing doors and two double bed rooms, and most rooms only accommodate up to four guests. When we traveled with the academic team, we stayed at Disney’s All- Star Music Resort and the kids got a kick out of sitting outside the rooms, hanging out and enjoying the Florida weather after their competition was over.
For the “Brinks Truck is Not Following Me to the Grave” folks, Disney has amazing Deluxe resorts with every amenity one might imagine of a luxury resort from onsite spas to gourmet dining to stunning views. The deluxe resorts can even accommodate up to five guests per room.
If you are looking for a happy medium, Disney also has a category of resorts called Moderates. These resorts have great theming, comfortable rooms and a mid-range price.
If an on-property happy medium can’t be found, there are hundreds of off-property accommodations featuring everything from regular studio hotels rooms all the way to 10+ bedroom luxury villas. However, when it comes to staying off-property, the luxury villas aren’t as expensive as one would expect. A cursory search of VacationResortsByOwner.com showed a wide variety of 7-, 8-, and 9-bedroom villa homes under $300/night in the Kissimmee area. A 9-bedroom home could easier accommodate three families, which equates to a mere $100/night per family. If you really want to please the luxury-seekers as well as the money-savers, this is the way to go.
It’s OK not to Plan Every Single Minute Together
Just because you are traveling with a group doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment together. Leave time in your schedule for individual exploration. We like to start our day together then split up until later in the day for some FastPass+ selections, dinner or the nighttime spectacular.
Disney Dining with a Large Group
Not Everyone Likes Sushi. Similar to #5, you do not need to eat every meal together just as you do not need to partake in every attractions together. Planning one meal a day together is more than enough. The rest of the time the folks in your traveling party can experience (and experiment with) all the delectable flavors around the World.
No is Not Always the Final Answer on Advanced Dining Reservations.
Making Advanced Dining Reservations is exactly the same procedure for a family four as it is for a volleyball team of 15. Using your My Disney Experience account, you can make reservations for your entire group.
The down side of making Advanced Dining Reservations for a group is that sometimes, the reservation you want is not available. Don’t fret, remember the old school Chicago politics saying, “Vote early, vote often”. The earlier you make your reservation (preferably at the 180 days prior to your reservation) the more likely you are to get the ones you want.
So what do you do if you cannot find exactly what you want? Keep checking… People cancel reservations all the time for varying reason. Also don’t forget to check in different ways. For example, instead of looking for a reservation for 15 people, look for a reservation for eight and one for seven, or three reservations for five people all occurring at roughly the same time.
Memory Maker Captures the Memories
You will be making so many memories while on your *MAGICAL* Walt Disney World vacation. However, you would not want to miss the opportunity to capture those memories in perpetuity. Memory Maker is a great product for a group because its’ (1) affordable – yes, I said affordable. If you are traveling with three families, it will cost less than $57 per family and (2) your will get hundreds of posed and ride photos without leaving anyone out of the picture.
Plan for Down Time
If you plan every moment in the parks your legs will scream at you in protest by the end of the second day. The little ones in your traveling group will also be exhausted and we all know how exhausted kids can act. Make sure to plan downtime in the form of afternoon naps for the little ones, pool time and even a few mornings for everyone to sleep in.
Wear the matching shirts… Plan “goofy” poses for your Memory Maker ride photos… Look for Hidden Mickeys… Interact with the Cast Members… Trade pins… Plan a park scavenger hunt… It’s Walt Disney World! Relax and have fun!
Sue Nowicki is an alumna of the 2014/15 Disney Parks Moms Panel. She is a team mom extraordinaire who has filled her time serving as secretary, navigator, head cheerleader, treasurer, athletic trainer and team psychologist for her daughter’s travel sports team for over 15 years before becoming a team owner. You can follow her on her blog at TeamMom365.com.