How to plan a multigenerational vacation

Family trips that include multiple generations are a magical way to strengthen the bond between parents, kids and grandparents, and there’s no family vacation spot in the U.S. that does multigenerational vacations better than Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Still, anytime you include small children, teenagers, adults and grandparents, there are multiple factors you have to consider so that everyone is able to enjoy themselves and come home with great memories and maybe a little residual vacation zen.

From choosing the right Disney World hotels to picking your spots at the Orlando theme parks, here’s everything you need to know about planning a multigenerational Disney World vacation.

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1. Pick your hotel wisely

Whether it’s your first Disney vacation or your fiftieth, choosing the right hotel near Disney World might be the most important decision you can make. It’s even more important when you’re traveling as a large group with a wide range of ages. The most important factors are convenience to the parks, the ability to be together as a family and the kinds of perks you can only get with a theme park hotel

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If someone in your family is a Disney Vacation Club member, take advantage by booking one of the large villas with one to three bedrooms, along with full kitchens and living rooms. Even if you aren’t a Disney Vacation Club member, you can book these villas through a travel agent or the Walt Disney World website (they’re expensive but worth it for extended families).

Another way to stay close together while vacationing at Disney World is to book a cabin at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. The cute cabins sleep up to six people, have a full kitchen and outdoor grill and are just a short boat ride away from Magic Kingdom. 

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2. Don’t feel pressured to do it all

One mistake families make at Disney World is trying to “do it all,” something that is virtually impossible at any amusement park for kids but especially at a resort as large as Disney. 

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Instead, make a list of your most important priorities and must-do experiences: which parks you want to visit, which restaurants you want to try and which days you want to sit back and relax back at the hotel. Think quality over quantity, especially when traveling with different ages.

3. Do make time for everyone’s priorities

Instead of zooming around all four Disney World parks with the extended family, have everyone in your group make a list of things they want to do, whether that’s visiting Disney’s Star Wars Land, devouring a specific Disney World food, or screaming their heads off on a favorite roller coaster. 

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Make sure to build in time for everyone to do their favorite things in a way that makes sense based on which park or parks you’ll be visiting on a given day. As park pass reservations are made and dining reservation windows get close, you can come up with a solid strategy for your multigenerational Disney World vacation.

4. Plan to spend time together (and apart)

One of the benefits of visiting Disney World with a large group is the ability to break into smaller groups some of the time. Parents should let the kids go off with the grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins. This gives everyone a break and allows different age groups to enjoy the different aspects of the parks.

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Plan to eat at least one meal together each day (most likely breakfast or dinner). Meeting as an extended family at breakfast lets everyone know the day’s plans, while dinner allows the whole family to reconnect and share stories.

5. Determine if you really need Disney Genie+

Disney Genie+ is a relatively new service at Disney World that replaces the former FastPass system. The service costs $15 per day per person, which adds up quickly if you’re traveling with a large group. Before going to Disney you should think hard about if your group really needs to purchase Disney Genie+.

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The parks where it come in most handy are Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom. You can manage without it at EPCOT and Animal Kingdom if you arrive early or stay late. Anyone staying at an official Walt Disney World hotel should be aware that hotel guests get 30 minutes of extra time at each park every morning. 

If you’re staying at a Disney Vacation Club resort or Disney deluxe resort, there are also certain nights throughout the week that you can have either EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, or Hollywood Studios to yourself for two hours after the park closes. These less-crowded times are also a great opportunity to hit rides you didn’t get to do during the day. 

6. Choose your transportation wisely

Disney has a variety of transportation options, including a fleet of buses to take you just about anywhere on property; boats that can take you to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios; the Disney Skyliner that connects some hotels to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios; and of course the iconic monorail that takes guests to Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.

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While Disney’s public transportation often takes longer than driving yourself, it’s a nice perk for those staying at a Disney hotel. If you do choose to drive yourself, plan at least 15 extra minutes to walk from your car to the front entrance at EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

If at all possible, do not drive to Magic Kingdom. Not only will you need to walk or take the tram to the Ticket and Transportation Center, you will then need to take a monorail or ferry boat to the entrance of Magic Kingdom. This is a big time eater. The best option for Magic Kingdom is to take a bus or monorail to the park, depending on what resort you’re staying at. This will drop you off as close to the front entrance to the park as possible.

7. Be flexible

The number one rule about going to Walt Disney World with a large family is to be flexible. Rides break down, restaurants run out of ingredients for certain dishes and the weather can be unpredictable. While you can plan as much as you want, there’s no substitute for allowing some freedom for everyone in your group to just have fun. 

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