“Vacations always seem a little bit smoother to me when the adults outnumber the kiddos,” said Brenda Davi, planDisney panelist, when we finally reached out for help. That led us to the first lesson learned.
Ask for help
Reaching out to a travel adviser who specializes in Disney vacations is a smart option. We were tempted to do that after spending hours on research and in family chats and texts. Then someone mentioned that planDisney is an online resource set up to assist travelers with planning details. Thank you, Brenda Davi! We asked, and she responded with good advice and a slew of tips.
Panelists are selected by Disney but are real guests, not Cast Members or Disney marketing representatives, who provide answers to your questions based on their own experiences at the parks. These are moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, and just regular people willing to share their tips to the parks.
Have a plan
At Davi’s recommendation, we asked everyone in our family group what rides or attractions were number one, two, and three on their list of must-dos at each park, and Davi used this information to suggest a general plan of attack. As an example, here’s what she suggested for our Animal Kingdom visit. Head to Avatar Flight of Passage first as it’s one of the most popular attractions. “If the Na’vi River Journey has a shorter wait, you can do that next but if not I suggest moving on to Kilimanjaro Safaris while it is still cool,” she said. “We have always had the best animal viewings earlier in the day.” Next, visit Maharajah Jungle Trek and Kali River Rapids. “If some of your group want to experience Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, it is close by and it offers Rider Switch,” she suggested. (More on Rider Switch below.) After lunch, she said, would be a good time to visit the Discovery Island Trails and/or head to the Tree of Life and the It’s Tough to be a Bug exhibit. “This is a great attraction for when your group is tired and needs a little air-conditioned break, and there usually isn’t a long wait,” she said.
You get the idea. We had a plan for each park, and used it as a guide, changing it here and there along the way, as needed. And this sure beat winging it.
Another word on planning: Theme park reservations are required to enter a park through Jan. 8, 2024. Beginning Jan. 9, 2024, theme park reservations will no longer be required for date-based tickets. For other admission types, theme park reservations may be required. More info here. Insider tip: get to the park before opening time.
Consider buying the Disney Genie+ Service (prices vary throughout the year depending on the date). It allows you to book specific times to use the Lightning Lane entrance at most of the attractions, saving a lot of time waiting in line. But beware that not all attractions are included in the Genie+ Service, so look at what’s included and decide if it works for your group. Our group agreed that it was a necessary, sanity-saving service.
Have your heart set on a popular attraction that’s not included in Disney Genie+? You may want to purchase an Individual Lightning Lane selection. Individual Lightning Lane selections are attractions that are not offered through the Disney Genie+ service; it’s another additional cost (prices vary) but it’ll save you from waiting in often unbearably long lines. When we were there, traditional waiting times for popular attractions could be 60 minutes or longer, while the Lightning Lane wait was 10 minutes or less.
Download the My Disney Experience App to see theme park wait times, access Disney MagicMobile passes, get park maps, order food and beverages, find your car, purchase Disney Genie+ service, and more. The Mobile Food & Beverage Ordering feature in the app is a nifty tool. You simply pick a restaurant location and time, place your order, and pay, and you’ll get a text notification when it’s ready for pick-up.
Watch the budget
A Disney vacation can add up fast, but there are ways to save. First, bring your own food and drinks into the parks. You’ll probably still purchase food and drinks inside, but having snacks and water handy keeps costs down. We traveled with insulated water bottles and filled them up with free ice and water at Quick Service Dining locations.
Purchasing a one-park, one-day ticket is cheaper than the Park Hopper Option, and we knew we’d never have the energy to visit more than one theme park in a day.
We also rented two strollers from a local provider (listed here), instead of renting them inside the park. It was cheaper and we could also use them outside the parks. Even our 7-year-old appreciated an occasional ride.
“One of my favorite money-saving ideas is to bring small gifts for the little ones from home and bring them out as a surprise on vacation,” Davi shared. “There are many options for Disney-themed merchandise at most discount retailers, like Disney stickers, glow sticks/light-up toys, personal misters with fans, Disney hats, and Disney pins for trading.”
Also, check the Disney Special Offers page often. Even if you have already booked your vacation, if an offer opens up later, you may be able to apply it to your current reservation.
Divide and conquer
A multi-gen vacation means accommodating a wide range of ages and interests and striking a balance between family gang time and on-your-own time. There are some attractions that all ages can enjoy and others that don’t appeal to (or aren’t allowed) across the ages. We thought this might be the most challenging aspect of our theme park vacation. It wasn’t. In most areas, there was something for everyone. For example, while some in our group rode the Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain at Animal Kingdom, the others walked around and gawked at the waterfalls, played rock drums, and grabbed a treat. The key was reconnecting, meeting back up for a snack or meal, a show, or the next attraction.
“My number one recommendation for taking a multigenerational trip to Walt Disney World is to plan a few activities that the entire group does together each day and allow the smaller groups freedom to experience their vacation in their own style,” Davi advised. “Giving each generation the opportunity to explore the theme parks individually is just as important as planning activities that you will do together.”
Our big splurge and group activity (besides tickets, accommodations, and flights) was Minnie’s Beach Bash character breakfast at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. We booked it primarily for the 2-year-old in our group, who is enthralled with Mickey, Minnie, and their friends. But not so much in person, as it turned out. She wanted nothing to do with those life-size characters.
Ahhh … “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Nevertheless, we had a blast.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com