"My 2 Cents!"

Perils, Pitfalls and Practical Advice on
Traveling with a Group

This article appeared in the
October 23, 2001, Issue #109 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

In the vacation in my head, my family and I would meet in the lobby of our hotel. The Magic of Disney would overcome the stress of the plethora of plane flights that had brought us together. Pixie dust would be oozing from every pore. We would dance around in glee celebrating the start of our five
days together in one of the "happiest places on earth."

Check-in would be smooth. Our group of 12 would then joyfully stroll over to Epcot, pick up Fastpasses for Test Track, and then see Honey I Shrunk the Audience. We would split up to meet back at Test Track at the appointed Fastpass time. Once again going our separate ways, we would
meet promptly at 5:30, for a 5:45 preferred seating at Germany.

The wonder and sounds of all that is Walt Disney World would be drowned out by the laughter and joy of our first family vacation together, since the childhood days of being stuffed into Dad's old Packard Caribbean Convertible.

It would be perfect, a dream come true.

In the vacation in real life, my family arrived with the glazed look of immigrants who had just endured a nine- day voyage in steerage on a tramp steamer on rough seas. The stroll to Epcot more closely resembled a death march with cries of, "How far is this?", "Where can I smoke?", "It's
too hot!", and "$2.50 for a Coke! What a rip-off."

We made it as far as the International Gateway before splitting up. By 6:05 p.m., less than half of the family had shown up for the 5:45 dinner reservation. The dream vacation in my head was rapidly turning into a nightmare.

There is nothing that can be potentially more fun, or more horrible, than a big family or group vacation to Mousedom. The anticipation of sharing ANYTHING a person loves to do, for a first time, with family or friends, often leads to glorious anticipatory pictures in one's head. These pictures
are often very different from what actually happens. The very fact that we are all different as human beings assures that.

With that in mind, I would like to offer Zamgwar's advice for a smooth large group vacation to our favorite 40 square miles of Florida.

First, make NO first-day group plans other than dinner together (and it's best to make your first one a buffet). Everybody travels differently. Some people have their bags packed and ready for departure three days before any trip. Some traditionally have no sleep the night before, because
they're doing laundry before they can pack. Some people will spend their first day looking at sights. Some spend their first day looking at prices.

Allowing time for everyone to unwind at their own pace into vacation mode will help your group see Mickey more like a mouse and less like a rat.

When dinner reservation time does approach, assume someone will be late. If you're traveling with my family, assume almost everyone will be late. If you just accept that as a fact and plan accordingly, dinners will match almost perfectly the vacation in your head. In my case, after the first day I gave everyone meeting times that were 30 minutes before our actual reservation time.

This assured the last straggler would only be 15 minutes late.

Next, plan events together rather than whole days. Once again, everyone has their own pace, and the logistics of moving a varied group can be frustrating. Some will want to move from attraction to attraction. Some will want to move from designated smoking area to designated smoking area.
Some from bathroom to bathroom. Some from churro to churro.

Meeting for events lets everybody enjoy their day, in a way that truly suits them.

Ride the 7:15 a.m. bus to Animal Kingdom, go on the safari together, and then take the gorilla walk together before breaking up for the day. Start an E-Ride Night together at Splash Mountain. Meet at an appointed spot for fireworks. Meet for breakfast a few mornings. It's usually easier to gather the troops at the starting line than at some point midway in the race. Make a Fantasmic dinner package reservation. Even my group was punctual when there's only one ticket to get you in!!!

Meet for after-park cocktails. On our trip, we did this nightly. For some reason no one is ever late for cocktails. It's great fun hearing the stories of what everyone did during the day.

Finally, plan a group or family picture. More than anything that can be purchased in the parks, the group picture is a priceless memory. Plan it late in the trip (after Disney has had its best chance at working its magic on everyone). Plan a location and a time that is not in any way a hardship for
everyone to make.

Our family picture was taken by the bartender at the Adventurer's Club following last call. Family pictures turn out best after everyone has drunk from a monkey's head.

"She Who Must Be Obeyed" and I are veterans of a vast variety of group trips with friends. We have always found such trips work best when viewed as "all being on vacation in the same place," rather than "all being on vacation together."

It was a brief brain cloud that caused us to act differently on our own family vacation.

After the first catastrophic day, my Family Vacation story turned out even better than I ever had dreamed. I got to see my sister Barbara's face glow in wonder at Animal Kingdom. I got to see my sister Susan with her hair plastered on her face after a ride on the Kali River Rapids. I rode Tower of
Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with my brother Michael. We all found our laughing place together on Splash Mountain.

It just didn't happen in the order that I planned it. But, in the end, being flexible made it all the more fun.

That's My2Cnts... What's yours?

Office of Group Travel
The Zamgwar Institute


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.