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Bridging the Generation Gap:
Getting Your Grandparents to Walt Disney World
by Pete Saroufim
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the March 18, 2003, Issue #182 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
They've been around for as long as you can remember. They were there at your birth, they were there for your talent shows and your basketball games, and they were there to take your side when you thought Mom and Dad were being unfair. They were there for you... and now you have the chance to be there for them. There's not much better than taking the ones you love to that place that you love -- and there's NOTHING like taking a grandparent to Disney World. Some of you may have a grandma who loves it as much as you do, some may have a grandpa who's been eager to go since your first tripand then there's the "back in my day, our only entertainment was a plastic spoon and box of nails!" type. Whichever group your grandparents fall into, taking one or both to Disney World is quite an experiencefor better or worse.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity, and what I consider the privilege, to travel with my grandmother to Walt Disney World. No family trip is without snags, and a trip to the "World" can have its share of confusion, but we, as a family, learned a few lessons when attempting this one.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
For my trip, my grandmother's initial worry was the plane ride, because she had never been on one. Before this adventure, she had only gone as far as crossing the state line to buy tax-free goods. The bottom line -- she was not a traveler. After some attempts to ease her mind (some things are impossible), she started wondering if she'd have enough food, if her back would hold up, if there would be enough room for everyone in the hotel, and where each and every bathroom was situated in the parks. Any grandparent can have these fears, but armed with the available wealth of information, you have the materials to turn fear into excitement. Start showering him or her with guides, park maps, and those Disney videos that you've seen 200 times but still watch when you're all alone at home. Removing that fear of the unknown will help get the trip off to a great start.
Once you've finished the pep talk with Grandma, it's time to start worrying about everything you just convinced her not to worry about. Before the rides, the shows, the food, and even the flight, the first thing in all Disney trips is planning. Planning to bring a grandparent brings about some new situations that you've probably yet to encounter.
Some of you may have a long distance-running grandfather, but my grandma has enough trouble getting out the front door. For someone like her, the thought of walking through the seemingly endless hallways to get to the room or strolling aimlessly through Magic Kingdom can be quite daunting. If your grandparent is like mine, start thinking about what he or she can or cannot handle. Staying on Disney property may be the key to a more relaxing trip, as the room is never more than a bus ride, a monorail, or short walk away. It's a good idea to try for a first floor room, or to request a room near an elevator, main lobby or food court. Walking another mile to your room, after a long day in the parks, is not always a pleasurable trek. And wherever you decide to stay, a resort with a kitchen, like the Old Key West, Boardwalk, Wilderness Lodge or Beach Club Villas, is a great idea. My grandmother can get hungry at the strangest hours, and the ability to fry an egg at four in the morning is priceless on a Disney vacation.
Something else to consider before leaving is wheelchair or ECV rental. Most Disney resorts have wheelchairs available for Guest use (first come, first serve), and rentals are available at the parks. However, if a wheelchair is an absolute must, or if having your own ECV is necessary, using an outside rental agency could be a solution. Most agencies will deliver them right to your resort door. Preparing for this in advance will help you have a nice, relaxing trip.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Transportation: Things that seem so simple in your own back yard may be almost impossible when you're away. Even if your grandparent is mobile, hopping onto the older Disney buses can be quite a feat. Be aware that the driver can hydraulically lower the bus for easier access -- just ask! Also, if you have more than one elderly person traveling with you, and you rented a minivan, one of those people may not be able to climb up into the middle seat. Don't ask me how I know.
The Parks: Did I say "nice, relaxing trip" somewhere? That's almost unheard of when traveling with my dad. He was very patient on this trip, though, knowing how important this was for my grandmother and for all of us. We would walk at our own pace through the parks, and everyone else around us just became the background. We could look around and see details in the Animal Kingdom walkways, find Hidden Mickeys on Main Street, and really understand the true beautyof talking water fountains. In a matter of time you'll be seeing Disney World a whole new way, through the eyes of your elder. Take the advice of Aladdin's Genie, who says, "stop and smell the hummus."
As you're looking at Disney World through your grandparents' eyes, choose attractions through their eyes, too. As important as the rides may be, other elements are what really make up Disney. Most grandparents will get a kick out of the Dapper Dans barbershop quartet in the Magic Kingdom, the World Showcase Players in Epcot, or any of the other lively and eccentric street shows that Disney offers.
Be aware that even on the slower attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion, the moving walkway can be slowed to almost a halt, but not stopped completely. Elderly people with vertigo may have trouble with even this extremely slow movement. Again, don't ask me how I know.
The "Grandma Swap": When you're finally feeling like the trip is going to be perfect, it hits you that Grandma probably will not want to ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Although it looks like an immediate flaw in your plans, you can be saved by my patented "Grandma Swap." Rather than leave your grandparent alone on a park bench, simply have the whole family enter the queue together. One family member can stay with the grandparent while the rest get to ride, and then upon their return a new member stays with grandma or grandpa and the family goes back on, line-free. If this sounds suspiciously like the Child Swap system that Disney has had in place for yearswell, they probably stole my idea.
Dining: As it nears time for dinner, the choice of restaurant can be a bit tricky. Does your grandparent have dietary restrictions? Is he or she overwhelmed with the surroundings and want a nice, quiet place to regroup? Your choice all depends on their tastes and personalities -- some may like the liveliness of Wilderness Lodge's Whispering Canyon, while others may like the peacefulness and elegance of Cinderella Castle. Whatever the character, I can almost guarantee you success with one choice, the 50's Prime Time Caf at Disney-MGM Studios. Many of you may have eaten there before, and you probably enjoyed it and had some good laughs, but trust me, when you go to the Prime Time Cafwith someone who's prime time really was in that period, it's a whole new experience. Mom in the kitchen isn't just Mom in the kitchen... it's Great-Grandma! The food you're ordering isn't just restaurant food, it's that homemade cuisine you grew up with. The Prime Time Cafis not just a restaurant -- it's a part of your life.
More important, however, than where you eat is making sure that you actually stop for to eat. You may be able to get by with a turkey leg and a Citrus Swirl, but elderly travelers probably need a break from taking in all the sights, and a chance to refuel. And, although it's important for everyone to remember, it's even more important to be sure your grandparents stay hydrated! Don't ask mewell, never mind.
My last piece of advice is this: Remember to videotape everything. After a few years, your grandparents may not remember the fantastic time they had getting a kiss from Minnie, yelling in Indiana Jones, sending virtual postcards, or swimming in a mini-whirlpool, and the video will help them recall it all. But keep in mind that the videotape is only a back-up. Because after you see the World with a grandparent, after you enjoy it from such a new and diverse perspective, after you see the expression on their faces at IllumiNations... you'll probably want to plan another trip to re-create the happy memories you experienced. And even if your grandparents eventually forget, those memories will be yours forever, each and every time you plan and take a WDW vacation.
Enjoy Pete's other ALL EARS® features at: http://allears.net/btp/pete.htm
You can also drop him a note at: TheLebageek@aol.com
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.