Doing Disney with large families
(Article last updated: June 16, 2015)
Lots of you have requested a trip plan for large families. I've held off for a little bit on doing this because...let's just say...I've learned some of these things the hard way.
Here are some ideas for doing a Disney World with a group...
Where to stay
When you're traveling with a lot of other families, you'll be dealing with many different ages, family sizes, interests and budgets. If you all want to stay at the same place, you'll need to pick a hotel that will work for everybody.
Port Orleans Riverside accommodates up to 5 people per room and is moderately priced. This hotel is also one of the rare ones to have both a restaurant on site as well as a food court, giving you a couple of good dining options right at the hotel.
Rooms start at $182/night.
The Cabins at Ft. Wilderness Resort are considered a moderate resort by Disney and accommodate up to 6 people. Each cabin has a full kitchen, patio, a grill and is about 500 square feet.
There are lots and lots of group-friendly activities at Ft. Wilderness that include Mickey's Backyard BBQ, Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, horseback rides, nightly sing-a-long marshmallow roast, bicycle rental, archery and a lot more.
Cabins start at $330/night.
The Treehouse Villas at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa are 3 bedroom standalone "treehouses" elevated 10 feet off the ground that can accommodate up to 9 people. The Treehouse Villas (there are 60 of them) have their own pool, boat transportation to Downtown Disney, bicycle rentals and a kid's playground.
Villas start at $797/night.
Old Key West is a Disney Vacation Club resort with large, affordable rooms (this is where we would choose to stay if we had multiple families traveling together). You can book directly through Disney or rent points which will most likely cost even less. Here's how that works.
Rooms start at $368/night if you book through Disney, but renting points should be even less.
When booking your hotel reservations, you can put the name and check-in date of the other people in your group so that you have a better chance of being assigned rooms/cabins/villas near each other. Call in your request if you feel like you want to add more info than you're allowed to specify online.
Note: they may book your group using a "travel with" number which will connect all of the reservations, but all of the special events for large groups ("Grand Gathering") have been discontinued.
Where to eat
Buffets are what many probably think of when it comes to accommodating large groups which can be good since everybody can ingest the same germs start eating all at once, but they can also be a bit hectic, especially with little ones.
If you do want to do a buffet, try Chef Mickey's (at The Contemporary), Crystal Palace (at MK), Hollywood and Vine (at HS), 1900 Park Fare (at Grand Floridian), Boma (at Animal Kingdom Lodge) or Trail's End Buffeteria (at Ft. Wilderness).
I may have just named every buffet at Disney World.
Family-style eating is probably even more convenient (and there's a set price, making it easier to split the bill).
You can find that at 'Ohana (at The Polynesian), Whispering Canyon Cafe (at Ft. Wilderness Lodge), Garden Grill (The Land pavilion at Epcot) and at the dinner service for Liberty Tree Tavern (Magic Kingdom). All 4 offer a fun atmosphere that will appeal to all age groups.
Whispering Canyon Cafe
Another good option that's not family-style or a buffet is lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern at Magic Kingdom. Guests are seated in 1 of 6 rooms and called by name to be seated ("the Alberts from Texas!").
Dinner shows are a good group event and Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue is the most popular. It's located at Ft. Wilderness Campground and the family-style home cookin' along with a funny show is great for appealing to a big group.
When making your Advanced Dining Reservations, you'll encounter maximums which vary depending on the restaurant. Some have a max of 8; some max out at 14. You may end up having to call or make multiple reservations for your group. When you check in at the restaurant, just asked to be seated together.
An automatic gratuity of 18% will be added to your bill for parties of 6 or more.
Disney used to offer perks for groups in the way of special events that were only available if you were a "Grand Gathering." They discontinued that as of January 2012 but they do still offer group discounts to those booking 10 or more rooms. You can find out more info on that at http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/disney-group-rates/.
Advice for groups
Traveling with a lot of people can be logistically very difficult. It's like moving the Titanic instead of a speed boat to get anywhere.
I suggest that the large group should split into smaller groups and tour separately in order to not kill each other tour effectively. You may want to split into individual family groups, by interest, by age, etc. Plan to meet once a day as a larger group, such as at dinner.
I would also suggest dividing up various duties. If you're planning to do the Tinker Bell thing, designate days where 1 person is responsible for doing it that day.
If you're bringing food, assign somebody the job of picking it all up at a grocery store stop.
If you happen to be staying at 1 of the locations with a kitchen and want to eat in your room each day, take turns being in charge of cooking the meal that day.
Your group can also share a Memory Maker. You can save a lot of money on pics by having the same Memory Maker rather than separate ones. Read my article on how Memory Maker works for more info.