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All you can do without visiting the theme parks
|Planning Meets at Walt Disney World|
Friday, January 24, 2003
One of the unexpected benefits of being online, at least for me, has been the chance to meet so many new friends and acquaintances. Posting on a Disney newsgroup or message board over time allows for friendships to begin, as people become familiar with the screen names and find some common ground. People can meet anywhere online, whether on purpose (via personals) or by chance. And for those who have gotten to know each other through some Disney connection, the logical next step is to meet in person at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
The most informal type of meet is when two or more parties realize their vacation dates coincide with each other. Agreeing on a date, time and place to meet in person can be a great deal of fun. Finally putting a face and voice to that screen name and seeing how reality matches or differs with what was in your mind is always interesting!
Common sense should tell you that all meets of this nature should be done in very public places. Theres no need to meet someone in his or her hotel room, and you should not let this stranger know your room number until after you have met and are sure there is no reason to be cautious. Typically, if you know the person fairly well, it could make sense to meet for a lunch somewhere. For someone you know less well, you may want to meet in a park at a designated time and place to ride a couple of attractions together. If things click, you are then free to stay together longer or make future plans, but if the friendship does not seem to work as well in person, its very easy to go your separate ways.
A more involved type of meet is planning a trip for the sole purpose of meeting your online friends. I have been involved in several of these trips, and sometimes they work well and sometimes there are a few bumps in the road. Although people on message boards might get along great online, it doesnt always go as smoothly in person, and all it takes is one person to upset the balance. But with some planning, the group can work around that. I was very fortunate: my last trip of this nature (with over 30 women from around the country) had no surprises at all, and everyone was just as wonderful in person as they are online.
When planning such a face-to-face meet, the first questions are usually when to go and how long to stay. Ive found long weekends tend to allow the most people to participate, since it minimizes time off for working people and minimizes time they need to arrange child care for stay-at-home moms. I think all of my meets of this nature have been Thursday until Monday or Tuesday. People who can extend their stay in effect have two trips in one, with the meet followed by a solo or family trip. Having the rest of the family join you for a vacation towards the end of the meet also helps cut down on whining from the spouse and kids who dont think its fair for anyone to go without them.
The next decision is lodging. Ive done trips where the entire group stayed at the same resort, and trips where weve been spread over many different resorts. In November, I booked a grand villa at Old Key West, and others had at least three more studios there, while the rest of the group stayed elsewhere. It was kind of nice having neighbors we knew, but realistically staying at the same resort was not important. Except for one afternoon we spent in the villa, we really did not spend that much time at the resort together, and others from the other resorts simply drove or took Disney transportation to get there.
Since the resorts are so different, I find its generally best for people to stay where they feel most comfortable, considering that not everyone shares the same budget. One person may be miserable unless theyre at the Grand Floridian, while for someone else paying for a room at the All Stars is a struggle.
During all of the meets Ive attended, most people share a room with someone else. This helps cut down on the cost and gives you a buddy to share the downtime with. Some people prefer to not share a room, and that also works fine. Ive done it both ways, and the grand villa was the perfect solution since I had my own bedroom yet had the company of friends over morning coffee.
For more than two people, sharing a room it becomes rather expensive unless you are a Disney Vacation Club member. DVC members have access to beautiful large villas, but they tend to rent for $500 or more per night (for a 2-bedroom unit), which makes it somewhat expensive if each person wants their own bed. The Fort Wilderness Cabins are cute, but really have only two sleeping areas, so unless you want three people in the bedroom plus another in the living room, those are not the best option for a group of single adults.
One easy mistake to make is to plan to spend the entire trip together as a group. Anyone who has ever traveled with extended family knows what a disaster this can be. Interests and priorities differ from person to person, and the larger the group, the harder it is to spend any length of time together particularly in the parks. What has worked for us was to identify a park for the day and meet early to do certain attractions as a group (things likely to appeal to the most people). Once those are out of the way, the group can split off into smaller groups as appropriate to do different things.
One big advantage to this method is that it gives people the chance to spend time with different people in smaller settings, where they can get to know each other better than in a big group. Meeting again later as a bigger group for Illuminations, Fantasmic, Pleasure Island, mini golf, or any other activity is also a good idea.
Sharing information on whos planning to do what helps the others to find you in a park. Last November, it was such fun wandering around the Food & Wine Festival because we kept running into others from our group staying with them for a while until it was time for someone or a small group to head elsewhere.
Meals provide an excellent chance to regroup. During my first meet, we went a little overboard planning lunches and dinners each day, which was way too much food. Not everybody can or wants to eat that much on a daily basis. However, agreeing on one main meal priority seating during the day is a great chance for people to get back together, share their experiences that day, and then after the meal go off with a new group.
Disney will send you to Group Dining if your party is over a certain size (six or eight), but if you call early enough they should be able to accommodate you without any problem. We had 32 or 36 for dinner at the busy Boma recently, and they had a section of the restaurant set aside for our group. Doing a dinner show such as the Hoop Dee Doo Revue or seeing Cirque du Soleil is another activity that is fun with a group.
When making plans, ask the group what some of the attractions or activities are that they always wanted to do but never could for various reasons, like the children were too small, or the spouse didnt want to. One friend of mine always wanted to do the Keys to the Kingdom Tour, but with two young boys and a husband who wasnt really interested, doing it on our meet with a couple of the others was the perfect solution. Had she gone with her husband, it would have cost a lot more for the two admissions plus babysitting for the towboats for a good chunk of the day.
Many of my friends had never been to Pleasure Island, since they are typically at Walt Disney World with their children, so that was at the top of their list of things to do. Maybe youve always wanted to try the restaurant in Morocco, but your family members were sure theyll hate it chances are, one of the others at the meet either loves it or is willing to give it a try.
There are so many things to see and do at Walt Disney World, and being there with new/different people can open up new opportunities for vacation fun. In addition, some of your online friends are likely to become real-life friends, with many future trips together!
If you are meeting a large group for the first time for a planned activity such as a dinner, encourage people to wear their Disney Guest of Honor name tags, and consider bringing blank name tag labels. People can write both their screen names as well as their real names to help match names to faces, and it will help you break the ice quicker.
If your entire group is together in one location, consider spending a few moments to take a group photo with everyone so that you will remember what everyone looked like. If you break into smaller groups, there may be some people you don't get to visit with, so a group photo is a good way to remember everyone.
Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.
After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.
She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.
Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.
You can contact Sue here.
Get the latest info about the resort at Park Update: Walt Disney World.
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