Advanced Planning: Family Time and Alone Time
By: Rebecca Farrell (@RMZFarrell)
When my sister and I first started planning a joint-family trip to Disney to celebrate my niece’s fourth birthday last October, my husband was far from thrilled with the prospect of “sharing” his precious annual trip to Disney World with two small children.
By way of background, my sister’s girls were 4 years and 18 months old at the time we took the trip, my sister hadn't been to the parks in about 12-15 years, and her husband had never been (let’s call them Family G). It’s just me and hubby (no kids, yet), we’re Family F. So four adults, two kids all in. Also, Family G and Family F live close by and see each other all the time, so it’s not like we were coming from opposite sides of the world and needed to be joined at the hip for a solid week.
As much as I assured my husband that Family F would have PLENTY of alone time that did not include Family G, he wasn't convinced. If you've read any of my other posts, you know that I’m a seasoned Disney traveler. This was very much to the whole family’s advantage when planning the trip. So I put on my Type A planner hat and created a spreadsheet that would put NASA rocket scientists to shame. I collaborated with my sister on her family’s wants/needs (it was their first trip, after all) as well as some very special experiences that they were able to arrange through a friend, and ultimately took all of the guess-work out of the trip.
Here’s what I took into account:
Family G’s preferences
- Early risers (6 am, usually)
- Early to bed (8pm, usually)
- Two girls, one celebrating a birthday, both celebrating first trip to WDW
- A baby who needed two naps (she did sleep in her stroller)
- City kids not easily shaken by noise or crowds
- Good at sit-down restaurants
- Dad’s a vegetarian
- Wanted one day off-property to “cheat” on Disney
Family F’s preferences
- Big breakfast
- Reasonable wake up time (8am, usually)
- Experienced Disney travelers
- Wanted to experience a Disney water park for the first time
- Wanted the last evening’s dinner to be just the two of us
- Wanted to experience MK Rope Drop with the girls (OK, that’s just me, Auntie)
Side note: If you’re interested, I can share a copy of the spreadsheet and the PowerPoint that I created to guide our family trip; there really is no easy way to describe it here! Send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Putting the plan together
I used my trusty spread sheet so that I could plan our days to be as similar as possible but ALSO to see where I could ensure that we had time apart. My sister also had a few specific requests: Perfectly Princess Tea and Dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table on A’s 4th birthday. Not a problem – I slotted this into the planning spreadsheet and they were at the top of my list when I made my ADRs at the 180 day mark. As you may have read in my post on Disney dining, if you want to book these types of experiences, it is critical to plan ahead! We joined in for the dinner part, and it was great fun – which we followed up with Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party!
In order to make sure that Family F had the alone time hubby was craving, I made a dinner reservation for our final night at Rose and Crown. This was a very, very bad idea. The last night of our trip was a Saturday. During Food and Wine festival – or, as I like to call it, drunken idiots on parade. We waited 40+ minutes after our ADR time to be seated and had a table of drunk people directly behind us who completely ruined the meal. My advice to you is this: Avoid EPCOT on Food and Wine weekends. Thank me later.
Another ‘break’ for Family F was hitting Blizzard Beach for the first time – and boy, did we have fun! I highly recommend hitting this park if you can swing it; it’s an added cost, but really worth it and it was close to Animal Kingdom Lodge, so we hit Boma for a delicious buffet dinner afterwards.
The PowerPoint that I created for my sister’s family included detailed instructions on how to get from point A to point B in excruciating detail. This helped to ensure that my sister and I did not need to be in constant contact about logistics. She is also amazing when it comes to organization, and knows her girls very well and was able to gauge what their family needed. In a few instances, that meant adjusting schedules and cancelling reservations, but it wasn't a big deal at all. Planning to be flexible is all part of the experience!
No matter how large or small your group, experienced Disney people or newbies, it all comes down to planning – when kids are involved, you need to map things out and avoid winging it; otherwise, everyone ends up tired, cranky and disappointed.
All told, we spent less than 30% of our vacation (this is a guess) all together as one large group in the parks. But I did get to experience MK rope drop with my beautiful nieces, watch them meet the Princesses for the first time, and even ride some roller coasters with A. I don’t think any kid ever had more fun at Disney than A did…we made memories that I’ll cherish forever.
Me and hubby at EPCOT on our last day of vacation