If you’re like many Disney Vacation Club owners, part of the reason you purchased DVC was to enjoy vacations with extended family members. Hosting big family trips together to share memories, fun, and relaxation with grandparents, siblings, and cousins. Unfortunately, the rosy picture in your head doesn’t always match reality when you’re spending time with relatives in close quarters, who may have different expectations of your vacation than you do. We’ve all seen this happen in the parks….arguments, disagreements, or even out-and-out physical fights between family members whose vacation has clearly gone off the rails. Since my husband and I regularly use our Disney Vacation Club for an annual family trip to our favorite place on earth, I’ve developed a few strategies to avoid the potential pitfalls that might happen in this scenario. Because nobody wants their family vacation to go viral on social media. Here are a few tips…
Determine all costs ahead of time, and inform family members
This should be something that you, as the owner, are clear about. Are you expecting your family members to chip in money to cover the costs of accommodations? Then be sure to state that upfront, so family members are not caught unaware and without the budget to do so.
As we know, Disney vacations are expensive. Make sure you spell out the cost of park tickets, Genie+, meals, transportation, tips, etc., when inviting family members. Not everyone’s budget is the same, and you may need to adjust dining expectations (fewer sit-down restaurants, more villa meals) in order to make your trip affordable for everyone.
Also, make sure your family understands that while you are providing accommodations with your DVC points, they’re responsible for other costs. Unless you’re incredibly generous and are footing the bill for everything. And in that case…will you adopt me?
I find that one of the best ways to make sure everyone fully understands all the costs involved in a Disney vacation is to send periodic emails that enumerate the details during the planning process. Have everyone download the My Disney Experience app, and make sure you are friends with them so that you can coordinate dining, park reservations, etc. These types of trips always work better when only one individual is the point person. That way, everyone can be on the same page, and get all the information in a timely fashion.
I also ask everyone in our party if there is something special they want to do, somewhere specific they want to eat, and which attractions are a “must-do” for them, and then I work it into the plan. It’s important to take everyone’s needs into consideration. It’s no fun to go to Disney and never get to ride your favorite attraction, or have an opportunity to try that dining location you’ve been dreaming about for months.
Get the largest accommodations your points will allow
This is important. People need their space. Especially people who don’t live together, and whose family habits, rules, noise level, and acceptable amounts of chaos are most likely different than yours. My extended family trips include my husband, our three children and their spouses (two of my kids are married), my grandson, and my brother-in-law. This year we got a two-bedroom villa plus two studios to accommodate everyone. Space-wise, we only needed one extra studio, but we wanted to give each individual couple their own space. Our trips are always 10-14 days, and not everyone wants to live in a villa with their in-laws for that long. This will probably change on our next trip, as we’d love to try a three-bedroom grand villa and see how that goes. I understand that not everybody has the points to book multiple villas, so if you don’t, it’s worth playing the points game, and see if it’s cheaper to get three studios vs. a two-bedroom, or if that’s not an option, see if you can book a two-bedroom with three bathrooms (Bay Lake Tower or Kidani), so that whoever is sleeping in the living area doesn’t have to walk through someone else’s bedroom to use the bathroom.
Set expectations early and be flexible
With a large group, there will undoubtedly be people who are going to want to do their Disney vacation differently. Some people can’t imagine getting up for Rope Drop, while others will be chomping at the bit to get out the door so they don’t miss the first bus to the parks. That’s fine. The one thing that makes these trips go smoothly is to not force others to go along with your agenda. Only half your party wants to get up early? Great. Everyone else who sleeps in can meet you for your lunch dining reservation. When I’m planning these trips, I make a calendar that shows our plans for the day…which park we have reservations for, where we’re eating, etc. Then I send a copy to everyone. If they choose to come along, wonderful. If they would rather have a pool day, that’s great, too.
On our recent trip, my daughter and her family didn’t have park tickets for as many days as the rest of us (they have military tickets). My grandson is only two, and they wanted to spend more downtime with him at our resort (Kidani) just relaxing. On one of their “off” days, we took our grandson to the pool, while Mom and Dad enjoyed a romantic, toddler-free, meal together. That’s a genuine vacation for them, and I totally get it!
Our other family members love to ride everything and hit the parks early, or stay late. We love taking advantage of the extra-evening hours for just that reason. I also booked an after-hours party at Hollywood Studios, and a fireworks dessert party at Magic Kingdom for those of us who wanted to enjoy more of the parks.
Constant Togetherness is Overrated
One of the things about bringing a large party to Disney (eight or more) is that it’s almost impossible to do everything en masse. Not only do individuals have their own agendas and ideas of what a fun day at Disney looks like, but it’s not always easy (or affordable) to get Lightning Lanes, or dining reservations for that amount of people. While we enjoy eating together, for some of our reservations we broke our party down into two groups of four (plus toddler) to ensure we got into those more popular restaurants (Toppolino’s, I’m looking at you). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I find it almost impossible to converse with everyone at one long table of eight anyway. By breaking our party up, we mix our seating at each meal, and get to spend more one-on-one time with our family members. It’s also important to have individual families spending time together enjoying the parks or the resort on their own. It gives everyone a break, allows them time to bond, and make their own special Disney memories, as well as giving them some much needed space on what can often be an intense, somewhat stress-filled, vacation. This also applies to you, DVC owner and chief planner. You need that break, too.
Go with the Flow
Once your vacation has begun, just enjoy it. Try to head off any problems or issues right when they happen, so that they don’t fester and become drama. Usually, issues occur when someone is feeling ignored or taken advantage of in some way. I find that dealing with the problem right away is the best solution. Also, things run more smoothly when you allow for downtime in your schedule. We had several “resort days” planned for our trip. That way, your family members can do what they want…whether that’s sleeping in, heading to Disney Springs, resort hopping, or a water park. Having a relaxing day is a great way to re-group. Fatigue and stress make for bad moods and irritability, and that’s not what you want on your vacation.
Have the Best Time
Finally, take the time to enjoy your family and your vacation. This is what Disney Vacation Club is all about…. the memories, the fun, and the special times it provides. Enjoy playing games together in your villa, hanging out in Community Hall, or just relaxing on your balcony and talking together. I’m very grateful that my husband and I are able share our membership with our family and friends. It truly is magical.
What about you? What are some strategies and tips you have when taking a large group to Disney? Please share in the comments. I’d love to know your thoughts.