Editor’s Note: We are delighted to welcome back to the blog as a regular feature the WDW Radio Exchange. In the Exchange, we consider questions from Lou’s mailbag from different perspectives. We have had some changes the the panel, so let’s recap our talented Disney experts:
Returning to the Panel:
The Chairman: JIM–Jim will answer questions from the perspective of the Disney purist. He will answer the questions in a way to ensure the most traditional Disney experience.
The Teenager: J.J.–J.J. has the point of view of teenagers in the group in mind, as he tries to ensure these family members are happy as well.
The Timekeeper: BRIAN–Brian will offer advice on how to maximize a guest’s time and ensure the vacation is efficient and as many experiences can be enjoyed as possible.
The Disneyland Expert: DARBY–In the event you have a similar experience but are headed to the West Coast, Darby answers the same question for Disneyland guests.
New to the Panel:
Super Mom: TONYA–An experienced traveler to Disney with children, Tonya will address questions from the perspective of moms, and make sure all the needs of the kids (and mom!) are considered.
Fitness & Health Guru: HAPPY–Our resident Iron Man and WDW Radio Running Team “coach,” Happy will help us consider vacations from the perspective of the athletic, health-conscious side of a vacation.
Grandparent: RICHARD–Rich is here to help us remember that often trips are multi-generational, and often there are grandparents who have different needs and interests traveling along. He will offer advice from this perspective.
And without further adieu–here is this week’s question:
Lou!! We need your help!! We are planning a family vacation with a family that has never been to Disney. Our family is composed of 4 children, all of whom(ages 8 and under) have been to Disney over 10 times in their short lives. (I know—we are lucky.) The family we are traveling with has 5 children, aged 5-16, but have never experienced Disney (and dare I say, have not seen many Disney movies!) What can we do to make sure both families have a great time? Rides? Meals? Shows? How do we ensure the 4 adults with these 9 children don’t go crazy?? HELP!!! I am worried this may not be the best idea. —-Jamie
Jim (The Chairman): I do have experience going to WDW with a large group. In 2010 my stepdad took my family and my five stepbrother’s/sister’s families to stay at the Beach Club for a week. Yes, we were lucky as well. It was 25 people in all ranging from 1 year old up to 70. My stepdad had me make all of the plans as well as dinning reservations. He wanted everyone together for dinner each night and since he was paying that was OK with me. I picked restaurants that I thought could handle the large group plus would be fun for the families. I picked 50’s Prime Time Cafe, Mama Melrose, Ohana’s, Tutto Italia, Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, and Whispering Canyon. If I had to pick a few of those for you I would say Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, 50’s Prime Time Cafe, and Ohana’s are your best bets. Great rides for a group I would recommend are Soarin’, Kilimanjaro Safaris, Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, and Tower of Terror if the kids are up for it. Really lots of rides would be good, those are just some that everyone can experience all at a once. For shows any parade or fireworks show is a no brainer. Specific shows I would recommend are Fantasmic, Finding Nemo: The Musical, and Flights of Wonder in Animal Kingdom (I think this one is underrated and a true hidden gem). Something that I think is important with a group is to remember you don’t have to remain all together every minute. Some “alone” time will help everyone keep their sanity. With little kids, as I’m sure you know, hitting the parks commando style every day might not be the best idea. An afternoon nap back at the hotel, some pool time, or even a whole day lounging around could be a welcome rest from the go go go of touring the parks. Lastly sit down with th other family, talk about what they would like to do before hand. What are their expectations? Do their kids have rigid schedules they keep too (naps, bedtime, etc.) How flexible and easy going are they? I think the more you talk it out with them and everyone goes into it knowing beforehand at least a little about what they can and can’t do will go a long way to making it a smoother trip.
Tonya (Super Mom): I guess you could look at it this way, Jamie. What a great opportunity for your children to introduce Walt Disney World to another family! Of course there is a lot to do while on vacation but, since your travel companions haven’t really experienced Disney, I would actually start before you leave. Have the kids sit down and watch the free vacation planning DVD. Not only will it give the other family an idea of what to expect but it will also give your children a chance to tell them what they like most about WDW. Your family may have to move at a slower pace than what you are used so your companions aren’t rushed so make a list of Hidden Mickeys for your children to find to slow them down. It will keep your kids engaged while the other kids absorb all that’s going on around them. If you plan on staying together throughout the day, choose family friendly rides. Even the 16 year old will enjoy a ride on It’s A Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. After all, I still ride them! When it comes to thrill rides, let the kids interested ride while the others choose another attraction or have a snack and wait.
When you’re talking food, I would choose Chef Mickey’s. Even if your children have already eaten there, it’s always a great experience! With 9 children, the buffet is sure to be a hit and you can never dine with Mickey and friends enough. Chef Mickey has such a high energy environment that it will even get the crankiest of kids happy.
Not having much of a Disney history, I don’t think any show will be more exciting for them to see but I think Finding Nemo is a great introduction to Disney shows. Not only will it keep everyone captivated but seeing the movie isn’t necessary to follow the show. Make sure that you make time for the parades, though. Yes, it can be a big chunk of time but there is no greater experience to share with someone than the first time they see the parades or fireworks.
Four adults and nine children – wow! It will certainly be a high energy vacation but where better to try it than the “happiest place on earth”? How great to be able to see Walt Disney World through someone else’s eyes for the very first time. If it gets overwhelming, remember, it’s also a great idea to split up into family units, ages or boys vs. girls and meet up for the parade or meals. However you do it, just have fun!
Brian (Timekeeper): Um… are you sure about this trip? Just kidding! Being the timekeeper… my job is to help maximize your time in the parks. Here’s my suggestion… order a trip video from Disney. Grab a great guidebook (there are several) and have all the kids sit down to watch/read. Make it fun! Play Disney music… watch a Disney movie… really get the excitement started!
Watch the trip video and flip through the book… write down 3 things that each child “must do”. Compile them and plan out your strategy to get the most in for the time you have. Have the children who have already been describe their experiences to those that haven’t… As for the adults, take all of the kids suggestions and add some of your own. You are sure to enjoy it no matter what you do!
A short list of my must do’s might help… Haunted Mansion, Pirates, Thunder Mountain, Finding Nemo (the musical), Dinosaur, Spaceship Earth, Test Track, Star Tours… SO many more… HAVE FUN!!!
Happy (Fitness / Health) – There is so much to do at Walt Disney World that I cannot imagine a kid not having a good time there. I have already mentioned the Miniature Golf courses, but I haven’t yet mentioned the new Splitsville Bowling Alley or the two Water Parks (Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon) or the Disney Quest (Indoor Interactive Theme Park). All of these might be a good fit for your crew but, given the age range you list, I would say that the Mini Golf or Water Parks are the best fit. I will also bet you that they will be “Disney Kids” by the time you leave Walt Disney World!
Richard (Grandparent):Hmm you have a Disney-Gap that could be interesting in managing with the X’s (as in Experienced) and NON-X’s as in the (Non-Experienced). IF, the NON-X’s are receptive to it, you can “assign” your X-ed children to each of their friends. Help them find ways to explain what the stories behind the attractions and activities in which they take part. Hopefully this would be interesting for both “sides” as long as it’s not overdone. For sure the NON-X’s will enjoy everything anyway but if they are helped to understand what the activity will be like and why it is so, without of course tipping off any surprises (here I’m thinking of the Friendly Ghost in my Doom Buggy) they might develop a nice dialogue and sharing.
JJ (Teenager): Walt Disney World veterans taking WDW newbies – I love it!! There are definitely some attractions, restaurants, and shows that one MUST do to fulfill their first Disney experience. The three “Mountain” rides in Magic Kingdom are essential – Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. These rides are filled with thrill but never lose sight of Disney’s charm. Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are classics and, simply put, are loads of fun. They have a bit more edge within the storyline that would probably make them a bit more appealing to the average teen than another classic such as It’s a Small World. Dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest restaurant is perfect for setting the bar high, as guests are transported to the movies and dine regally inside. When night falls, don’t forget to watch Wishes come to life in the sky before your eyes.
In Epcot, Mission:SPACE, an intense motion-simulator that puts the rider right in the action, is definitely something to check out. But the real standouts are Test Track and Soarin’. Both are extremely thrilling and realistic yet magical. It is rare to see someone walk out the exit without a smile on his face! World Showcase offers seemingly endless dining options, each relative to its own respective country. A personal favorite is Teppan Edo in Japan or San Angel Inn in Mexico. Cap off the night with IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, a fireworks spectactular that honors the cultures around the world.
Moving onto Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it has three rides that a teen CANNOT miss – Star Tours, Rock N’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. These adrenaline-pumping attractions are absolutely stellar and should not be overlooked by any teen seeking thrilling fun. Dining at the Sci-Fi Dine-In is an experience not as well-known for its food but for its cool atmosphere. Check out this restaurant for its retro ambience and fun environment. Fantasmic!, a story of the showdown between good and evil, stars Mickey Mouse himself along with several other classic Disney characters. It’s an epic show, recommended to all to finish off a day at Hollywood Studios.
Teens should make it a priority to make it over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for Expedition Everest, the newest thrill ride addition to the park. Fast, intense, and wildly fun, Everest does not disappoint in its execution and promise of thrills. Check out Dinosaur for nonstop action-filled fun and Kilimanjaro Safaris for unexpected surprises as guests never know what to expect from the amazing animals roaming the “wild.”
Darby (Disneyland): I would recommend them seeing Fantasmic for sure then that show combines movie elements along with great special effects, acting, pyrotechnics and show props. I would also recommend attractions like Pirates, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones that have an actual storyline as well as a movie familiarity (they may not have seen the movies, but EVERYONE knows Jack Sparrow!). A friend of mine also had a great recommendation. Checking out the rides that were spawned from movies.
Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Pinocchio, etc….they don’t have exact storylines but you can explain the movies while standing in line for the rides. If anything, it might promp the family to check it out for real. Call it a real time Netflix. LOL!
Do YOU have advice for these families? Have you ever been in a similar situation? Please post your thoughts and advice in the comments below. And if YOU have a question for the members of the exchange to discuss, please email Christy@WDWRadio.com, and we will feature it on a future blog!