As a solo traveler, I am not accustomed to planning trips for groups. When I asked my family to join me in Florida for a trip to Disney World I was thrilled that they would be coming but then the logistics of how to arrange this type of event became somewhat daunting. Even booking the flights, which for me, is usually seamless, took a lot of careful attention to detail.
There are many books, blogs and websites that specialize in trips to Disney and can provide some great information to help with your planning, so we took what we needed and customized the trip to suit our specific needs. There were 7 of us, ages 6 – 61 with all the different interests and preferences of a multi-generational family. My daughter and her husband did a fantastic job researching and arranging all our activities and events and I think that is the real key to a great trip – good planning!
Day 1 Travel
Southwest Airlines - This is our domestic airline of choice. They are consistently a pleasure to travel with and provide fantastic service at a low cost.
Alamo Rental Car – The agent at the rental counter was extremely friendly and helpful in providing the perfect vehicle for our trip.
Embassy Suites Tampa Airport Westshore – This was great space for our large family and with adjoining rooms we could still be together. The hotel staff made us all feel right at home. It was great location close to the airport, restaurants and shopping.
Besito’s Mexican Restaurant – The food and atmosphere at the restaurant was very good. Our server gave us a lot of special attention and even brought the children good luck Mexican worry dolls.
Day 2 At the Beach
Clearwater Marine Aquarium – This was an additional excursion as we were in the area and loved the Dolphin Tale films and the wonderful story of Winter and Hope. This is a very special place and to get to see and interact with so many of the rescue animals was fantastic.
Clearwater Beach – Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill – This was a perfect spot for lunch and an afternoon on the beach. The kids loved playing in the water and collecting sea shells.
VRBO Rental Orlando– We were very pleased with the house and the location. It was a beautiful 7-bedroom villa with a large covered patio and pool that the kids loved.
Day 3 Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom
This was our first-time visiting WDW so it was the perfect place to begin our incredible journey. Immediately, we were impressed with how friendly, clean and well organized everything was. Young and old we were all amazed and filled with wonder in this magical place.
Dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern – We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived but we loved the incredible food and service we received. It was a Thanksgiving family style meal – Turkey, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, vegetables, bread, cranberry sauce and the best Pot Roast any of us have ever had, the macaroni and cheese and toffee dessert were especially popular. My daughter has a gluten allergy and I have never seen anyone cater to her the way they did at WDW. They made her feel very special and assured her she would have the same meal as the rest of the family only gluten-free. We found this true at all of the parks and could not have been more pleased. As a mother, it meant a lot to me that she was treated with such kindness and respect and not like a problem.
Day 4 Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom
This was by far the busiest day and took some serious endurance. We wanted to get to the park early so we could go to Pandora and ride the Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey. To say this is an out of this world experience is such an understatement. The design and realism was unbelievable. Even waiting in the queue felt like you were walking on Pandora, every detail was stunning. It was literally breathtaking and the most intense ride I have ever experienced. I would actually take a special trip back to Florida just to do that again and would love to see it at night.
Day 5 Walt Disney World EPCOT
After all of the intense, adrenaline-filled excitement from the day before, this was a calmer, more peaceful day. It might have been a little anti-climactic for the kids but as tired as we all were I think it was perfect. We had a wonderful time just meandering through all the different countries and enjoying the lower key more educational rides and activities.
Here are some of the things that we discovered that helped make this a great experience for our entire family.
Air Travel – If you are booking for a group you should contact the airlines. There are different requirements for groups traveling on the same or independent itineraries. Also, you may qualify for some discounts that are not posted on their websites.
We found less expensive airfare by flying into Tampa instead of Orlando. It is always a good idea to check alternate airports for your flights, just confirm your location and check distances before you book.
Extra Activities – Check out other things to do in the area. We loved going to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the beach before heading to Disney World.
Where to Stay - Choose accommodations close to where your main activities will be, it gives you more time to enjoy your vacation. We loved coming home to relax in a private pool after a long day out.
What to take – We found it easier to purchase additional supplies when we arrived so we didn’t have to bring it all on the plane (sunscreen, beach towels, snacks, drinks, etc.). Also, it was less expensive than buying them at the destination.
Every person had one backpack with the following - Collapsible water bottle, frozen bottle of water, cooling neck-tie, disposable rain poncho, sunhat, sunglasses, sunscreen, flip-flops, assorted non-perishable snacks. You can take food and water into all of the Disney parks and there are many places to refill water and get additional food. It kept us fueled and hydrated while walking around and held us over until our main meals.
Driving/Parking – One of the biggest issues we heard about before going to Disney was the parking and how difficult it could be. After considering all our options, we decided to drive and park ourselves in the standard lots. We went early, before the park opened, took the transportation provided at the park. It was a very quick and easy and worked out perfectly for our group.
What we learned – We are very happy that we were so well prepared with our supplies. It is easy to underestimate how much food and water you need for long days in the heat and humidity. Having protection from the sun and rain was also essential, it helped keep us much more comfortable. The walking and standing is intense - we wore tennis shoes but it was nice to have sandals and flip-flops to give our feet a rest later in the day.
Planning your day at the parks is critical (booking fast passes in advance, going to the busiest attractions first, when and where you’ll take breaks etc.). Also, we wore matching shirts on the first day and it made it very easy to see each other and keep our group together. We realized on day 2 how well that had worked and would do it every day for any future trips. Planning is great but you also need to stay flexible and adapt to changes that inevitably come up when you travel. The only thing we might do differently would be to build in a little more down time but on a short time frame we wanted to do and see as much as possible.
This was such an incredible journey for all of us and now we are looking forward to our next fantastic family adventure to Disneyland Paris!
Have you been to any of the Disney Parks? What are your best tips and advice for families traveling together? We’d love to hear your comments and stories about your family adventures!