The More the Merrier?: Traveling to Disney with Another Family

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You think a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun. Your next door neighbor thinks that a Walt Disney World vacation sounds like fabulous fun too. If you have enough of these conversations, inevitably your neighbor (or your sister and her kids, or your in-laws, or your college roommate and her family) will come up with the brilliant idea that if you’re both going to have amazing Disney vacations, then wouldn’t it be great to have those vacations together.

Whoa, hold it there partner. Traveling with another family could be a wonderful experience for all involved, or it could be a way to beat a perfectly nice relationship to death with a grotesquely over-sized turkey leg. Before you book those connecting rooms, take a minute to consider some thoughts about whether multi-family travel is right for you.

Do you have the same philosphy about souvenirs as your companions?

  • Do you actually like these people? All of them? Sure you love your sister like, well, a sister, but what about her overbearing husband or her bratty teenage daughter? While you may be a able to cope with these folks at a two-hour birthday party, will you actually remain sane if you have to listen to bro-in-law complain about his boss for five straight days of your precious vacation time. If you can’t honestly say that you enjoy spending time with every single person in the other family, then reconsider making the trip.
  • Do your kids actually like each other? Up until age seven or eight you can usually throw youngsters together and they’ll find a way to make it work. But once the kiddos get their own interests, all bets are off. Does a cheerleader cousin make your goth daughter’s skin crawl? Will throwing your children together with polar opposites ruin their vacation? (And thus yours.)
  • Do you have a similar financial situation? This may be difficult to assess, because most folks in the US would rather sleep on hot coals than have an honest discussion about money. Despite the discomfort, you’ve got to have the money talk before embarking on a vacation with someone. Do your friends think a vacation only a vacation if you’re staying in a five-star resort, while you’re clipping coupons to splurge on a moderate hotel? Do you want to eat table service for every meal, while your friends want to save their pennies by making oatmeal in the room for breakfast and bringing granola bars for snacks in the parks? Obviously, neither approach is right or wrong, but if you’re not on the same page then resentment is bound to happen. The “haves” will feel like they’re being held back. The “have nots” will feel over-extended or guilty. If your spending ability and philosophies are not not in sync, save your socializing for your home turf.
  • Are your bravery levels compatible? There are plenty of situations at the Disney parks which challenge the senses. Will you react to them in the same way as your companions? If they want to do Expedition Everest six times in a row, while you get dizzy during the rotations at Carousel of Progress, then resentment is likely to accumulate while one group cools their heels waiting for the other.
  • Are your circadian rhythms synchronized? Are you ready for rope drop and pooped by 9:00 pm, while your in-laws like to sleep until noon and close down the Magic Kingdom? It’s difficult to have a great time with someone if you’re never awake at the same time.
  • Do you enjoy the same types of rides?

  • Do you discipline the same way? In some families, the rules are the rules, no matter where you are. In other families, vacations are where rules are made to be broken. If one set of kids in having ice cream for breakfast, while the other gets no dessert unless they finish their green beans, tensions will arise.

Now before you start thinking that there is NEVER a situation where you’ll be comfortable traveling with another family, there are also some pros to group vacations that may outweigh any cons:

  • Date night is easy. Assuming that the other family is willing, you can trade evenings out with your spouse. You watch their kids while they watch yours. Enjoy big savings on sitting fees and feel safety in leaving your kids with a known supervisor.
  • Shared experiences can build bonds. If your son and his cousin simultaneously chicken out when attempting Space Mountain for the first time, that’s a story they’ll later laugh about for years to come.
  • Does everyone enjoy night-time activities?

  • There may be some economy-of-scale savings. This is particularly true if you decide to stay in off-site accommodations. Splitting the cost of an Orlando-area rental home may allow you substantially upgraded amenities for the same prices as staying on-site with a smaller party.

If you do decide to take the plunge, here are some guidelines you may want to set before you travel:

  • Everyone pays for their own food. Tell your server at the beginning of each meal that you want separate checks. This eliminates hard feelings when the sirloin and martini eater wants to go halvsies on a meal with a teetotaler vegetarian, for the third time this week.
  • Plan some time apart. Just because you’re vacationing together, that doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking minute together. If you plan to have some activities separately, that will give you more to talk about when meet up again.
  • Does everyone in your group agree that this is an acceptable breakfast?

  • Distribute tasks. Get everyone involved in the trip planning. This gives everyone ownership in making the vacation a success. This also ensures that no one person is overwhelmed with tasks like making dining reservations or planning itineraries.
  • Write out a list of expectations. Items covered may include items such as expected bedtimes, souvenir budgets, or disciplinary tactics for typical misbehavior situations. Share the list with children. The more everyone understands what the common goals are, the fewer opportunities there will be for hurt feelings.

Over the years, I personally have traveled to Walt Disney World with neighbors, my parents, my sister-in-law and her family, my Moms Panel buddies, and even some unrelated babysitters. There have been great successes (priceless photos of the extended clan) and some frustrating challenges. Meeting at 8:00 does actually mean meeting at 8:00, why don’t some people understand that? :-) What have your experiences been? Have you enjoyed your journeys to the World with others, or are you going nuclear-family-only from now on because of a negative situation? Give us your tips in the comments below.

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Posted on December 8, 2011

11 Responses to “The More the Merrier?: Traveling to Disney with Another Family”

  • We are DVC members so we often travel with others. We have taken my parents, my mother in law and my parents at the same time, my brother and his wife and 2 kids, etc. For the past 3 years we have gone at the same time as our close friends who have a daughter who is exactly the same age as ours. This has been nice because they also have a (non-Disney) timeshare so we stay separately but we meet up for meals, rides, etc. It’s more fun (to us) to go with others and share the magic.

  • I’m glad you pointed out the realities of traveling with others. It has been my experience that, as romantic and fun as it sounds, it never turns out that way. On our next trip, I am inviting relatives to meet with us for a few days of our vacation. I am also leaving plenty of wiggle room for down time and time apart. Hopefully this will minimize any potential drama.

  • We went on a few WDW trips with aunts, uncles, and cousins when I was a kid. We’d spend some of the time together, but we’d break off into our own family groups most of the time. It worked out really well and was a lot of fun. But I cannot imagine touring as a large group together all day.

  • My in-laws felt WDW was a “must do” with their grand-daughter. Poor things could not be up and out by rope drop (grrrr), were slow movers who insisted they did NOT need scooters and (therefore) were ready to leave at noon. Upside, we all shared a once in a lifetime experience. For us it was only 1 WDW vacation, we have years and years to go without them. For them it was wonderful to see their grand-daughter reveling in the magic of WDW!

  • My wife and I recently had a 10-day stay at WDW. We spent a couple days with my wife’s College Program roommate and her husband and two daughters. We weren’t able to move as quickly as I would have liked, but then again we did things that I normally would have skipped.

    Later that week, my in-laws arrived and we spent the next few days together. We spent most of our time together, but also split up when parts of the group wanted to do other things.

    I think the key is to be flexible and not get dissapointed that you can’t do everything because lets be honest, even if you are on your own it’s not always possible to do “everything”. (And to answer the question for the last picture, if the answer is no you are not in my group!)

  • We went with another family a few years ago. They stayed at a different resort than us and was sometimes time consuming having to wait for each other to meet up. It would have been easier if we’d stayed at the same resort.

  • I think it’s better to just be on your own for the first visit. We started planning for the kids’ first trip to WDW 2years in advance, and made the mistake of telling everyone about it. First, my in-laws invited themselves and then they invited my side of the family as well. The thing is, there were no other kids in the group other than ours, and everyone wanted to spend time with them. Even when we “split up,” we still had to spend half an hour trying to figure our when & where to meet up again, and then we’ll get a phone call in the middle of our split up time with a question and we’ll have to stop our touring and figure things out.
    I ended up spending good portion of the year trying to plan dining, touring, and shopping for 10 people, and when we were there, trying to make sure everyone else was having a good time. And don’t even get me started on the bathroom breaks! It wasn’t terrible, but not what I had in mind. Sure, my husband and I got to go out one night, but I still would’ve preferred just 4 of us for the kids’ first trip…I don’t remember much of it because I was so busy worrying about everyone else.
    It would’ve been great for our second visit to have one set of grandparents (not both, that was probably another thing that made it harder) join us. Or if they joined us halfway through the vacation, that would’ve given us some alone time as well.

  • I just wanted to comment because, my (little) family has ALWAYS traveled to Disney World with my (BIG) family until last year. This means my parents and their 3 kids & their husbands/ wives & kids. We don’t stay at the same hotel always, but always stay on property, we have some days together in parks, some days not, and have some meals with some members but not all, and a least one fantastic big sit down meal together. Sr. Mom and Dad always treat the kids to a “parent free” day/night.
    In 2010 my own little family was going to have our first WDW vacation “alone” and we were really excited about this new experience… but then my BIG family got excited and decided to go at the exact same time. I was honestly disappointed at first, but we warmed up to it and, of course, had an absolute blast once there.
    My Dad then passed away suddenly last June. I am so incredibly thankful that we had that last wonderful experience with him in WDW and I will always remember him playing with his grandkids in the Poly pool and riding Splash Mountain with a log full of family. Best of all, we got to watch the MSEP holding hands just like when I was a little kid one last time. Sometimes the little headaches of traveling with family are SO completely worth having vacation memories with loved ones that will truly last a lifetime.

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