We recently recorded our very own podcast special with Detour to Neverland and one of the things the interviewer found interesting was how we often go with such a large group.
Large groups come with its challenges. Differing ages, opinions, needs…
But Disney is super equipped for large groups! Nothing is better than getting to the front of a line (Pirates, anyone?) and them asking how many, and you say “19” and they don’t even blink, they just say “4 in row one, 4 in row two, 4 in row three, 4 in row four, 3 in row five.” And you’re on the ride. No chaos, no worries. Very “Hakuna Matata.”
Logistically, there is lots to consider. Finding dates for us all to be available to go with our varying jobs is obviously a task in itself. We will plan years in advance. In fact, usually 2-4 years in advance. We have a Facebook group for the family, and that’s where it starts. Most of us are in the Greater Vancouver Area, but Danielle is all the way in Terrace, BC. Think 17 hours away, right by Alaska. So online is a great place to start.
Then comes the family meeting. We sit down with our coffee and a Disney treat and bring out the calendars. We consider everything… crowd levels (there are amazing crowd calendars out there like this one that project when the parks will be busy), weather, taking the kids out of school; all of it. Once the dates are set, we map out the time. For Disneyland we do 5 day park hoppers (more about tickets here) for Walt Disney World we did 8 days (non-park hoppers) with water park. If there’s a day off, we schedule it in also. We talk about what we want to do on the days off. We talk about our theme days. Some of our favourites are Neon Day, Safari Day and Mickey Mouse Day. Planning ahead really comes more into play for Walt Disney World than for Disneyland. Strictly because with WDW you have to pre-select your FASTPASS (80 days ahead), which if you forfeit them the chances of getting new ones last minute aren’t great. For Disneyland, we still do a rough idea of the days we want to be in the park but if we feel differently when we get there or something changes (like weather, or someone gets sick) we can still swap our days.
We like to hash it all out before so we are all on the same page. Not all of us are planners,(me… it’s me who’s not the planner) but it still helps with expectations.
Once We are There
We’ve stayed at the same hotel, and we’ve stayed at different ones. If you are going as a group, I would recommend staying at the same hotel. It does take out the waiting for other parties to get going. It sucks waiting at the gates of Disneyland as everyone passes, while you wait for the other part of your party to arrive from their hotel. We have found it most successful to determine a leave time the night before, and allowing every family to do what they need to do in order to stick to that timeline. So if we plan to leave for Disneyland at 7:30 am, my husband and I will plan to have our little family at breakfast at 7 am with everything that we need for the day so that we don’t have to return to the hotel. When you’re in a group, it’s important to be respectful of everyone’s time and stick with what has been agreed upon.
Once in the park, there are times where it’s super important to fight for staying together, and there are times where it’s like “lets regroup in two hours” so that everyone stays happy. We have found that it’s easy to stay in a large group if the expectations are clear from the beginning. This is something my husband and I often did as not only was it his first time in Walt Disney World, but also his first time in Disney EVER. So by splitting off we could spend a little more time “smelling the roses” per se, as opposed to bee-lining it with the rest of the group.
We always do all of the rides… we’ve never been a family to just jump from mountain to mountain. Is everyone going to LOVE the Enchanted Tiki Room (AKA “the nap room”)? No. And that’s okay. (I’m there for the Dole Whip.) But we feel really strongly that if you don’t experience everything, you’re going to miss out. We’ve taken teenagers in youth ministries that have said they are bored… our answer for that is always “only boring people get bored”. YOU’RE IN DISNEYLAND! If you only do half the rides, you will naturally run out of things to do. So while I don’t love the Haunted Mansion, I will do it once or twice when we’re there.
When we get through the gates (early, always always early) we head straight for the group photo. You’re not going to “feel” like it, but it’s truly worth the two minutes. Pro tip: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is way less crowded first thing in the morning. People always ask us how we get pictures in front of the castle without many people. This is what we do (we also go to one of the sides not the middle where there’s a line).
Then we head to a ride that everyone can ride. With littles, this is always Pirates of the Caribbean for us. Don’t forget to fast pass Indiana Jones on your way over! With teenagers, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain or Indiana Jones. Talk about this on the walk/ride over. Have a plan. Check out our post here for how to effectively do Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park.
We stay together ’til lunch, always. At that point, sometimes we break off… again there are different family needs. Some want to go back to the pool, some want Mickey’s Toontown, some want a big ride, some want a show. This is completely okay! Meet back up for dinner and hit up all of the favorites.
PhotoPass / MaxPass
One of the things to consider with a big group is upgrading to a PhotoPass. In Walt Disney World, it’s super easy for one person to pay it once (thanks Mom!) and link it to all of the MagicBands. In Disneyland, you can even add the MaxPass for just one day for the photos alone. One of the Disney photographers gave me a great tip. Screenshot the PhotoPass on your phone and make it your screensaver. Saves time for them and for you.
The PhotoPass is not a necessity. We’ve done it both ways, but if you want quality photos and less hassle, splurge for this. There are lots of places where you just won’t get the same quality of photos on your own (think meeting the princesses), and bonus… the ride photos come with it too! We had the MaxPass this last trip (July 2018) which includes the PhotoPass. It was so nice being able to get group photos stress-free (other than wrangling everyone to stop). There is nothing worse than having 19 people ready for a photo but no one will stop to take your photo. Or worse, it’s blurry and you don’t notice ’til you are home. And on that note, keep an eye open for people who need their photo taken. We’re all in this together. One of my favourite photos from this past trip was from a stranger that took it for us. I saw three girls awkwardly standing in front of the castle holding their camera in their hand (you know, you’ve been there before). I offered to take their photo and then they returned the favor. The beauty of the PhotoPass was that once our Mom purchased it, we were all linked to her PhotoPass. This meant that even when we were separate, we could get photos of just one of the individual families just by tapping our MagicBands (seriously, Disneyland needs to get on that!).
One of the reasons we dress up in theme days (besides looking cute and the best photos ever, obvs) is because it is so easy to spot everyone! It’s easy in a big group to think that you have everyone, only to realize you actually don’t. Every Disney trip growing up it was like “where’s Elisia?”. You don’t think it will happen to you, but almost every trip someone disappears. Dressing similarly is a good way to be able to spot everyone quickly… for both the parents and the kids. My favorite for this was Neon Day because when you inevitably get separated (small kids = small legs!) you can always spot the block of people that is your group! Plus for the kids, you remember EXACTLY what you put them in that morning (and sometimes have another child in the same outfit… hello coordination!)
Another reason we love to coordinate is that it makes the anticipation grow before hand. When we are doing big group trips with either friends or family it’s so much fun to talk about which themes you want to do. And then shop together for different outfits. Because we usually decide far in advance we will often get things on sale. And most things are something we will wear again after, but we keep it put away so it’s brand new for the trip! We have also made shirts together in the past as well. There are lots of ways to incorporate this idea without too much stress or fuss.
Lost Parents Inquire Here
Our family rule was always “GO BACK TO THE LAST PLACE YOU REMEMBER ALL BEING TOGETHER.” When we were with a large group last summer, our 4 year old wandered off in Adventure Land between Indiana Jones and the Enchanted Tiki Room. I quickly ran back and she was standing with a worker right in front of Jungle Cruise. She told them “mommy was lost”. At the beginning of the day we talk to the kids about the plan. You’re usually going from point A to point B so this has worked for us. If everyone knows the plan, you’re good!
In the event that a child legit gets lost, the workers will bring them to the Baby Center in the respective park. However, they will say “lost parent” rather than “lost child”. With my three year old, I rehearsed with him what to say if he couldn’t find my husband or I. I also told him to look for the name tag of a cast member, and instructed him to say “my mommy is lost”.
If you are going to the parks for multiple days, we try and get the majority of everything done in the first two days. You can read about how we do a day in Disneyland and a day in Disney’s California Adventure in more detail in the links. For more than one day, ask everyone what the ONE THING that’s really important for them to hit. If it’s Mark Twain Riverboat, everyone does it. If it’s World of Color, everyone does it. It feels nice to feel heard, and you may just discover a new favorite! After all, the whole reason that you are there together is because you wanted to be! Yup, with a big group the thing to remember is consideration. And I think it’s good for kids (and adults) to be stretched into trying new things. We are definitely not the family that lets their vacation be dictated by the kids. Maybe that’s the benefit of growing up in a big family. You just realize that it’s not only about you. Plus you never know what is really important to someone unless you ask! Someone might really really want to experience The Hall of Presidents. You just never know!
Know Your Families Needs
One of the biggest struggles for me personally is weighing the wants of my family (sisters, parents) and my family (husband, children). Hands down, I want to be with my family and ride or die. However, something that my husband struggled with was wanting to get in quality family time with “just us”. Now this is something we are still working on, so I haven’t finessed it quite yet. But ultimately communication is the most important piece.
We hope that this helps you feel confident about doing Disney with a big group!
Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle