Disney articles

Planning a Multi-Generation Disney Trip

March 20, 2011
by Kathleen M. Reilly
DIS Contributing Columnist


If you're a true Disney fan, you know Walt's original dream for his theme park: To recreate an Americana experience where all generations could play together. And if you're lucky enough to have multiple generations to travel together, you're in for a Disney experience like no other.

Over twenty percent of all vacation travel in the United States involves multi-generational travel. That's more than 17 million trips, according to the Travel Industry Association. Seeing your parents and your children enjoying the magic together, or being able to watch your own grandparents see the castle for the first time can create memories you'll keep forever.

That's the goal, anyway. Getting to that end goal takes a lot of planning on your part. Some things to keep in mind as you plan your adventure:



You've got several options for lodging. You can have each family unit get a separate room at the same hotel, book a space large enough for everyone, or mix-and-match.

  • Some group options on the property include treehouses (yep!), villas, or value suites.
  • Off-property, you can rent a house (most even include a private pool).
  • Is your group the outdoors type? Head to Fort Wilderness to pitch some tents, stay in your RVs, or rent a cabin. Or, do a combination of sites, depending on the equipment each family has.
  • Don't forget about a Disney cruise or other adventure—some are perfect for the multi-generational guests.



If you wanted a vacation destination where there's going to be something for every age in your group, you definitely picked the right place. Disney's got everyone covered, from toddlers to seniors.

There are plenty of attractions that will accept your entire group at the same time—you can all sit together at the American Adventure at Epcot, commandeer your own boat in Small World, or catch one of the 3-D experiences together. And of course there are the fireworks and parades, perfect for a large group to enjoy together.



A successful multi-generation vacation begins with good, solid planning. Get everyone working together through email, Skype, texting, or family meetings to learn everyone's thoughts on what would create a special trip.

Keep in mind when you're planning that not everyone's going to have the same idea of fun. Your teen might want to hit Rock N Roller Coaster three times in a row, while your grandmother might prefer the Great Movie Ride and a shady bench. The keys:

  • Plan your trip by park, but don't get too specific. Say, "Thursday, we'll all be at Hollywood Studios. Everyone make a list of the attractions they'd like to see." Then, pair up people with similar interests. There's no reason you all have to travel in a solid pack every minute. Make dining reservations to meet back up, or make plans to be at the swimming pool at the same time for some group fun.
  • Mix-and-match. While the toddlers might travel at the same speed as Aunt Sarah and Uncle Todd, you don't need to pair them together every single day. You might find Aunt Sarah shares your affinity for shopping, while the toddlers appreciate the splash fountains as much as the 7-year old kids in your party.
  • Plug some wiggle room in to your itinerary. There will be times when folks change their minds once they're actually at the parks. Maybe you've all decided you'd rather not stay for the parade, or some people will, while others don't. Don't get so set on The Plan that changes throw you for a loop. As long as you have your "regrouping" place—like a dining reservation, you'll be fine.
  • And while you're in the planning stages, take a deep breath and hit those hot topics. Get them out in the open now so they don't waylay you somewhere in the middle of the Norway pavilion. Who's paying for what? Who's sharing a bed with whom? What happens when Grandpa's snoring gets out of hand or little Thomas has a meltdown after a long day? How about if Grandma has the meltdown? Don't go into it thinking, "Eh. We'll figure it out." That might work for touring plans, but for the hot button issues—like money—settle this now.


It might take more work pre-trip, but it will be worth it if you create a "travel guide" for each family. Get a binder, folder, or flexible file for each family unit (one for your cousin's family, one for your grandparents, etc.). In each guide, put:

  • Your planned itinerary—which park you'll be in on which day, dining reservation info, hotel information, etc.
  • Everyone's cell phone numbers.
  • Any individual travel plans like flight numbers and times.
  • A list of links to Disney sites so they can get an idea of what a Disney vacation is all about, if they've never visited.
Two "don'ts" to help save your sanity:

Don't set yourself up for a fairy tale trip—go into it knowing there will be some bumps along the way. And what if you're into laid-back parenting while your in-laws tend toward a stricter approach? Agree ahead that while you have the final say on how your children will be disciplined, everyone's limits will be respected.

Don't get roped into feeling like you're responsible for every family member's happiness. You're not. Although you might be the focal point for planning, be sure everyone has read travel guides or surfed websites enough to have an idea of what they are interested in. If Aunt Jane is upset that her shower isn't working ("You chose this hotel!"), give her the number for Mousekeeping and let her handle it. If Grandpa's complaining that his feet hurt after a day at the parks, get him set up pool side with a good book. And if your brother-in-law is irked that his kid is too small to ride Splash Mountain with everyone else, suggest that he and your sister do a child swap. After all, this is your vacation, too. Your role was to coordinate and get everyone together. Their job is to let the magic happen—for themselves.

Kathleen M. Reilly is the author of WALT DISNEY WORLD EXTREME VACATION GUIDE FOR KIDS and is polkadotsuitcase on the DISboards.

We just returned from our trip to Disney World. Our party consisted of myself and hubby and our 7, 3, and 1 year old daughters, hubby's parents, my parents and hubby's brother. Hubby, his parents and brother had all been to Disney before, my parents and girls and I had not. I did all of the planning and 99% of the decision making. I included everyone on what our plans were, and told them that if they wanted to stay at the house or ride other rides then they were free to do so. The group stayed together the majority of the time, really only not being together when BIL had to get some emergency work stuff done, and when MIL wasn't feeling well. We rented a house at Windsor Hills that would fit everyone, and we were quite pleased with it. I wanted everyone to have a really good time, and I think that they all did, but if someone didn't have a good time, I'm not really the type of person to put the blame on myself. We were flexible to begin with and I think that can be key to having a good trip. All of our planning was done by phone, email and facebook since my parents are 12 hours away from us and hubby's parents are 6 hours away. We did have some last minute changes that had to be made because my parents started a new, very strict diet, but it wasn't that big of a deal since we didn't really plan to eat in the parks in the first place. We were also slowed down more than we thought we would be by slower paced parents (who don't normally have trouble keeping up), and by souviner shopping. However, we did have a great trip and we really enjoyed ourselves. DH and I have already begun talking about going back, which unfortunately won't be for a few more years.

I think the family trip is wonderful. I went in 2007 with a group of 9 people. I think the most important thing to do is break up and then meet up for shows and dinner. You shouldn't even try to please everyone and keep them on your pace, plus everyone needs their own space.

I agree completely with the author of this article. We are leaving in June for our second "family trip" While my husband and I and our children have all gone to WDW for many years, 2 years ago we took our first "family vacation" with son-in-laws and grandchildren. Since we live in different states we use I-chat to have our" meetings" Each "family (5) makes a list of what they "must" see, where they "must" eat..... then we make up a "park schedule" so we all are at the same parks the same days. We eat atleast 1 meal a day together. We stay in the villas, with each family having their own studio, and my husband and I have a 1 bedroom, so that we have our "living room" to meet, have snacks etc. We can't wait till June!!

We've been going to Walt Disney World since 1987. We've done larger groups 20-25+ people. These tips are great, and we've used them many times. The hardest part is getting the others in the group to decide or choose a few "must dos" or a meal that they would like to do. The children are usually the most cooperative in this respect. We seem to have a couple of non-planners on both sides of the family. My daughter-in-law and I just let all the others know what park we'll be in for the day. They are welcome to join us if they wish. She will set up a couple of meals for the entire group. Other than that, they can be on their own for the most part. We will usually have a grand villa for part of the group along with 1 or 2 bedroom villas for the other family members. We will get together in the grand villa for a meal or two or just drinks and snacks to see how everyone is enjoying their vacation. Works out better for us this way.

Paul Cyopick
We're leaving Thursday, for a week at WDW with my parents (in a tree house no less). Seems like Kathleen wrote this just for us. This will be our 3rd trip in as many years, but for my parents it will be their first to WDW since 1982. As a planner, I tried balancing what I know my kids and I like with what my parents will enjoy. The differences are most apparent with the choices of restaurants. My parents are the picky ones, not my kids. :) Meat and potato all the way this trip.

I totally agree with the author. My DH and I took our older son, his family,our younger son and his ex-girl friend, total of 8 people. We had a monthly dinner (10 total) to set plans. I gave everyone guide books and websites to study as well as a 3 x 5 card to write their top 5 things they wanted to do or see plus one restaurant they wanted to dine at. Upon arrival everyone had the itineraries for dining, park hours, on 3x5 cards that they could easily carry. We split up several times to do our own things. Everything worked well until the 3rd day when the ex-GF started "acting out" of jealousy. she was not the whole focus for my son. Her actions started to ruin the trip until my DIL and I decided that she was not in charge of our magic. While my our one son was not having a good time the rest of us did. The best thing to happen to my son was this trip as he saw the future and changed it. We are planning another trip for this year for 7 of us.

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