The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Disney Vacation With the Entire Family
Preparing for a big family vacation to Disney World — with grandparents, siblings and children in tow — can be very different from a typical Disney trip. Sure, you're still visiting Fantasyland, riding Spaceship Earth and exploring Animal Kingdom, but the circumstances have changed: You'll need to rethink the basics to make the most of your visit.
Knowing when to stay together, when to split up, and what nighttime entertainment is right for everyone are key to ensuring the group doesn't get stuck in the lunchtime rush or spinning on tot-sized rides for hours. You'll need to prep for more than just getting that big family photo by Cinderella Castle, which is why we've tackled every logistical issue you may encounter.
Here's how to book the right hotels for large families, plan the best itinerary for big groups and tackle The Most Magical Place On Earth together without breaking a sweat.
1. Favor efficiency over a free ride.
Disney offers complimentary bus, ferry boat and monorail transportation, but lugging a full group's worth of sweaters, strollers and snacks is burdensome, so larger parties may appreciate the comfort and ease of parking their own vehicle ($20 per day) at the theme parks.
If you're staying on-property, consider splurging on Disney's new "Minnie Van" ride-share program, which is booked via Lyft's app. A $20 flat-rate for kid-friendly polka dot vans is costlier than standard rides, but worth it for complimentary car seats and drop-offs at the Magic Kingdom's front gate — something no car, cab or Uber has permission to do.
2. Plan the perfect compromise.
Spontaneity is near-impossible to pull off at Walt Disney World, so keep everyone happy by splitting each day into three portions and only planning two. This way, a full day of Magic Kingdom reviere can be paired with a calmer evening, an afternoon spent poolside will reinvigorate young ones for nighttime fireworks and that much-anticipated dinner reservation won't be spoiled by sun-sapped exhaustion.
3. Don't be afraid to divide and conquer.
Whether you're juggling kids of different ages or three generations of energy levels, remember: you're only as efficient as your group's slowest member. Split up whenever necessary to ensure thrill-seekers can soar among the stars while speed-averse riders take refuge on low-key attractions without forcing either out of their comfort zone for the sake of sticking together.
Same goes for entertainment. Plan one night at Disney's Hollywood Studios, whose two evening shows — a standing-room only Star Wars fireworks presentation and seated Mickey Mouse-helmed Fantasmic! — are ideal for pleasing both aspiring Padawans and classic Disney lovers without either having to exit the park.
4. But know which experiences are better together.
Easy-pleasing wonders like Soarin' Around The World and Kilimanjaro Safaris are great for families of all ages and ride tolerances, while Splash Mountain's mid-plunge ride photo is a must-have souvenir for larger parties. Opt for the Broadway-inspired "Festival of the Lion King" over "Finding Nemo - The Musical," which skews younger, and aim for full-group photos with Disney characters that are indoors, where scenic backdrops offer more depth.
5. Stay with all the comforts of home.
When it comes to big families traveling together, standard hotel rooms don't cut it. Consider one of Walt Disney World's incredible villa-style rooms, which come with full kitchens, laundry machines, wide balconies, separate bedrooms (and bathrooms!) ideal for giving couples or in-laws their privacy.
Standard Disney rooms have a maximum of four occupants, so if your family consists of five or six, opt for a family suite at Disney's Art of Animation or All-Star Music resorts. Prefer adjoining rooms? The newly renovated Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin hotels, which are walking distance to Epcot, offer discounted pricing specifically for connecting rooms.
6. Make mealtimes a breeze.
Feed everyone speedily by pre-selecting your order through the Mobile Ordering feature on the My Disney Experience app. Choose every burger, salad and yes, even Dole Whip while waiting in line for Jungle Cruise or driving over to the park, and when you feel like chowing, tap the "I'm Here, Prepare My Order" button. Your food will come out in minutes, all without having to wait in line.
If you'd rather dine family-style, there are multiple buffet-style restaurants across property, but a few quick-service restaurants quietly offer large-scale dishes ideal for bigger groups. Satu'li Canteen in the new Pandora — The World of Avatar section of Animal Kingdom serves the entire menu as a "sample platter" come dinnertime, while Polite Pig at Disney Springs combines its delectable ribs, smoked chicken and pork shoulder on sharable butcher boards.
7. Handle everyone's reservations with ease.
The trickiest part of any Disney trip is managing the daily FastPass+ ride reservations, especially for multiple families traveling as one. It's easier to split up reservations than winging it while waiting in standby lines, so resist the urge to book everything together — just ensure there's always an adult to escort young riders.
To keep track of every reservation, consider sending a screenshot of the daily schedule to a group text message or, for extra convenience, do as the experts do and save it as your phone screensaver.
8. Don't forget adult time.
Wrangling kids is never easy, and you'll all have earned a break — without the littles — by the vacation's end. Disney operates four children's activity centers at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club Resort, Polynesian Village Resort and the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel that are open each evening for child care, as well as in-room sitting through a third-party child services company.
Take a night without the kids to ride anything you may have missed, enjoy Epcot's globe-spanning cuisine, and toast amidst Disney Springs' plentiful nightlife.