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By Wish Upon a Star Diva

I recently returned from a trip to Disney World that included ten members of my extended family.  That’s right, we were a group of eleven taking on The World together! Myself, my husband, our two kids (ages 9 and 7), my sister and brother-in-law, their two boys (ages 6 and 3), my mother and my sister’s mother and father-in-law. Phew! Now, I don’t know about your family but mine has definitely been known to put the “fun” back in dysfunctional if you know what I mean.  Let’s just say that I was more than a little wary that with all the strong personalities involved, this trip was doomed for disaster.  And truth be told, it almost was.

After several *ahem* heated discussions during the planning stages, it quickly became apparent that we all had different ideas about how we wanted this trip to go down and we were going to need to set some guidelines ahead of time to ensure everything went smoothly.  Thankfully, it ended up being an incredibly magical Disney vacation and one that I’ll treasure forever in my memory! I encourage you to consider my top five tips for taking on Disney with your extended family so that you can have a magical trip too and save the drama for your mama! (Unless your mama’s coming with you, then, you know, never mind).

Communicate your expectations for the trip ahead of time.  


My husband and children and I tend toward a more “commando” style of touring Walt Disney World.  We like to hit all four parks and make sure we pack in as much into each day as possible during a Disney stay.  I assumed that everyone in our group would follow suit and attempted to make plans accordingly.  If I hadn’t talked this through with the others ahead of time I wouldn’t have known that my sister and her family were expecting to go at a much slower pace with less planning.  They just wanted to focus on Hollywood Studios and The Magic Kingdom and were looking forward to other activities in the Orlando area during their trip.  Because we knew what we were getting into, we were able to adjust our expectations and avoid mid-trip meltdowns. (And by that I mean adult meltdowns which are far worse than kid meltdowns-trust me). We came up with some ways to compromise so that we could all enjoy our vacations the way we wanted to without forcing the others into an uncomfortable situation.

It’s also a great idea for everyone in your party to share the attractions or shows that are on the top of their “must do” lists before you go.  I knew my mom couldn’t wait to experience The Haunted Mansion and my nephews were all about Buzz Lightyear.  We were able to incorporate everyone’s top one or two “must do’s” so that we all got to experience our favorites. A good way to ensure this happens is by using the FastPass+ system.  Which leads me to my next tip…

Use FastPass + to your advantage.         


If you are staying in a Disney Resort, you can book your Fast Passes 60 days in advance of your trip.  Off site guests can book them 30 days ahead of time.  Aulani Diva provides some basic information about the Fast Pass system here.

With the new FastPass + you can schedule a specific one hour window to experience certain attractions.  This can actually be helpful when attempting to accommodate a bigger group.  Remember that not all members of your travelling party need to have the same FastPasses.  By linking together through the My Disney Experience app you can keep track of everyone’s itinerary. On my last trip, my immediate family of four arrived at Magic Kingdom right at rope drop.  We were able to ride Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain first thing, which my bigger kids were looking forward to but not so much their younger cousins. Then, we used a FastPass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train around 10am, which was one of my “must dos.”

I scheduled FastPasses for the entire group to experience Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for later morning, knowing that the others would be happier sleeping in. Because they had the FastPass, they didn’t have to arrive until later.  Our earlier FastPass allowed us to fit several attractions in before they even arrived, including the extremely popular Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride! It was a win for everyone!           

Book dinner shows or other group friendly events.


Disney has several events that are great for accommodating large groups and are fun for the whole family from your little guys to grandma and grandpa.  On my last trip we all attended the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Resort.  The food was delicious and it was served family style, which was nice. There was something for everyone to enjoy. It’s a set menu so there’s no dealing with multiple orders.  You pay at the time of booking which also alleviates awkward check splitting issues.  The show is a little bit drawn out and hokey but the kids loved it.

Another option is the Hoop-Dee-Do Revue dinner show at Fort Wilderness (which I would recommend over Aloha).  You are served chicken and ribs family style and watch a hilarious, interactive, and family friendly musical revue.  So much fun! Everyone in your group will be sure to have a blast.

The Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom is another event that I would highly recommend for your large group.  You get to enjoy an all you can eat dessert buffet at the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant with an excellent view of Wishes, the nightly fireworks show.  There’s nothing worse than trying to stake out a spot for a huge group of people to watch Wishes. Having the dessert party booked alleviates that problem.  I think it’s worth it just for that!

Find a balance between strict planning and flexibility

I am a strong believer that preparation goes a long way in making a Disney trip more enjoyable and I think this is even truer when you’re travelling in a big group.  You don’t want to be that huge family that comes to a dead stop in the middle of a walkway with their maps out and deer in the headlights expressions on their faces, unable to agree on what to do next and blocking the way for other guests.  In fact, I beg you please do not be that family!  I cannot confirm or deny that I like to travel with a color coded spreadsheet when in Disney World but that’s not for everyone.  While you certainly don’t need to plan every second of your vacation it’s a good idea to do your research and to, at the very least, have a mental list of the attractions you’d like to experience and definite plan for which park you will go to each day.

Meal planning will be an essential part of travelling with a large group, especially if you want to eat at a table service restaurant. Table service restaurants require Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs). These are notoriously hard to snag at certain restaurants throughout the World and would have been virtually impossible to come by for my group of eleven had I not booked them several months prior to our trip.

All that being said, there still needs to be room for some flexibility.  It’s great to have a plan to work from, but don’t get too upset if you get veered off course here and there.  If you’re too focused on what’s next, you might miss the magic right in front of you! Not to mention, it’s a veritable certainty that you won’t be able to train everyone’s stomachs and bladders to work in unison.  In all likelihood, you’ll have to stop for a snack and/or a bathroom break what will feel like every five minutes….just go with it! And finally…

Don’t be afraid to divide and conquer!


Although vacations are a great way to spend quality time with your family, there is such a thing as too much togetherness!  Let’s face it, Disney vacations aren’t cheap and everyone wants to get the most of their trip, whatever that means to them.  Sometimes the best way to accomplish this is to split up into smaller groups and give everyone a chance to do their thing!

During our last trip, my family of four actually carved out one whole day to spend in the parks without anyone else.  We were able to hit many of our favorite places without worrying that we were being inconsiderate of the others.  That’s actually the evening we all met up for the Aloha Dinner Show.  It was a great way to reconnect with our family at the end of the day and share our experiences. When we toured later in the trip with the whole gang we were able to really slow down and enjoy the day without resentment knowing we had already checked lots of “must do’s” off our list!

So, there you have it! A guide to having a drama-less Disney vacation with your extended family.  Goodness knows we deal with enough stress and angst in our daily lives, there’s no reason to bring it with you to The Happiest Place on Earth!  Trust me, if MY family can manage a Disney vacation without drama, than yours can too! I promise.