Bringing Grandma and Grandpa Alongby Adrienne Krock, staff writer
Multi-generational vacations provide families opportunities to make special memories together. This week, we asked the Parenting Panel, what experiences and suggestions can you share from taking Disney theme park vacations with your children's grandparents?
Matt Metzger and his "Papa" Steve Magro enjoy their trip to Walt Disney World in this 2008 photo. Trips like these give grandparents and grandchildren opportunities to get to know and appreciate each other better. Photo by the Metzger Family.
Chris Salata, also known as GusMan, is a Disney-inspired author and photographer, and loves to help people get the most out of their Disney vacation. Chris writes:
I had the honor of being able to take both my mom and mother-in-law with us on a couple Disney trips over the years. One was a land-and-sea vacation and one was one of our first vacation as Disney Vacation Club (DVC) owners. I will be the first to say that bringing my kids' grandparents with on a trip was not without its challenges. This is not because I thought it would be a difficult or trying time, but I wanted to make sure that everyone had the best time they could have. In essence, and with humor, it was like planning a trip with two extra kids in the equation.
"The Grandmoms" both visited the Walt Disney World Resort previously. However, in my mom's case, the last trip she went on was during my very first trip in the early 1980s. At the same time, since a lot of time passed since their last visits, it would be all new to them. In a way, this helped with the planning since we acted as their combination travel agents and tour guides. We took time to gather information from them about what they would like to do, much like what we do when planning a trip with our kids. This included several meals talking about Disney food, going through attraction lists, and understanding their physical limitations.
Some of the things we learned between our two trips include:
- Understand your budget. While this is a typical suggestion of mine, you should know and understand up front how the additional family members will be accommodated. This includes transportation, lodging, meals, tickets and the like. Money is something that can easily turn a magical trip into a difficult time so it is better to have this worked out from the start.
- Consider physical limitations. A great example of this was during our first trip. My mom knew that she had some issues walking certain distances, so we got her a wheelchair to help her with having to deal with the park terrain. However, that did take some effort in pushing her around. The next time I got her an electric scooter, which was a much better, and relaxing experience. A tip: We made her practice driving through crowds by having her use a scooter at the local grocery store.
- Set expectations and communicate plans. We make sure that the grandmoms knew that we were doing and where we were thinking of eating on a daily basis. While they were involved with the planning of the different daily itineraries, we found it beneficial for them to have something in writing they could refer to, and if needed, bring up any questions or other suggestions.
- Consider the crowds. We all know that crowded parks can be difficult to navigate. It might be even more so the case with someone who might not be as mobile, or who is a bit slower. Move at their pace and possibly help them navigate, overcome obstacles such as curbs or even trolley tracks down the middle of Main Street U.S.A.
- Weather makes a difference. I know that both of the grandmoms never liked the heat all that much. Because of this, we tended to travel during the times of year that were a bit cooler to help them out. I know that this is not optimal for every trip with grandparents, but it was something that we did to help them. Keep in mind, sunblock and hydration is still important for everyone in your group, even if it is cooler.
In essence, take time to make memories. Do something special like a dinner show or a character meal. Take a lot of pictures and maybe give a group photo to your special family members as a holiday gift. These are some of the greatest things you can do to remember your trip for a lifetime.
Chris and Tom Metzger, along with their children, ages 17 to 21, make up the MouseAdventure Master Team: The Metzger Family. For the past 14 years, the family has traveled to Walt Disney World with Chris' parents. Adrienne Krock recently sat down with Chris and Tom at the Disneyland Resort to interview them about their experiences in Orlando.
The Metzger Family began visiting Walt Disney World with grandparents Nannie and Papa, when their youngest son was only 3. As Chris put it, the family transitioned from the time they used a stroller to needing multiple wheelchairs.
Benefits of Taking the Grandparents on Your Trips
The biggest benefit, Chris and Tom agreed, was the family bonding time that the grandparents and grandchildren shared. This extended to their life when the family returned from their vacations. The grandparents knew the children better and had an easier time taking care of them when Chris and Tom needed.
"They understood the children's schedules better from spending so much time with them, so they knew what to do when they babysat," Chris said. "The children were more comfortable, too."
When the children were younger and had different interests and abilities, having grandparents on trips, especially at water parks, benefited everyone. At the water parks, Chris and Tom joined their older children on the slides.
"And my mom was more than happy to stay with our youngest in the slower area," Chris said. "She didn't want to go on the big slides, either."
But the benefits worked both ways. The grandparents became more adventurous when they visited with their children and grandchildren. Nannie and Papa also found that they had more fun when they vacationed at Walt Disney World with their children and grandchildren than without.
"They went one time without us then never again." Chris shared.
As for how expenses worked, Chris explained: "We have always split costs. We always pay for our own admissions and flights. There were times that my parents stayed on property and we stayed off-property because it was more affordable for us. Over time, when my parents could not go without our help, we stayed together at the same hotel and they paid for the hotel."
Because many deluxe hotels and DVC properties offer villas, the family would sometimes stay together in a two-bedroom villa.
The Metzgers always rented one minivan or two full-size cars. They used Walt Disney World transportation if one or two family members wanted to return to their hotel earlier than the others, but Tom in particular adamantly dislikes the buses due to the crowded conditions. They agreed that rental vehicles made it much easier to visit restaurants when they wanted to dine at various resort hotels. The one exception to their bus rule is when they visited the Magic Kingdom: The buses drop visitors off at the Magic Kingdom's gate. Taking a car to the Magic Kingdom requires guests to then use a Monorail or ferry to cross the lake from the parking lot.
Chris shared one benefit of staying at deluxe or DVC resorts: Disney provided as many wheelchairs as the family needed, free of charge, for the length of their stay. They took the wheelchairs anywhere they needed to go, in and out of parks. However, she mentioned they did not rent off-site Electric Convenience Vehicles (ECVs) for her parents: "It's harder to keep up with them in the ECVs. As they got older, they're not the best drivers, so we did not want them to be driving ECVs, either, and we had three teenagers to help push their wheelchairs."
Challenges and Helpful Tips
Chris admitted to a few challenges when they traveled with the children's grandparents. "My Dad needed time to get going in the morning, so we never arrived at a park in time to see a rope drop."
That said, her parents usually stayed quite late into the evenings, even closing down the parks: "My mom would stay up through Magic Hours and it was my husband, Tom, who would go back to the hotel earlier!"
The Metzger family stop to visit some local celebrities during this 2011 trip: Steve and Janet Magro, Tommy, Tom, Matt, Chris and Katie Metzger. Their smiles show how much fun they have together. Photo by the Metzger Family
The family also had to move much slower through the parks, especially as the children, and their grandparents, grew older.
"The teens often just wanted to GO, GO, GO! But you cannot just go, go go!" she said.
In addition to needing to stop frequently for restroom breaks, at times when her parents wanted to take a break from the wheelchairs and walk a bit, they walked much slower than the family.
As for the kids being on their own: "When they reached their teens, we allowed the kids to go ahead of us, but they always chose to stay with us. But, we always visit for 13 nights, so we have plenty of time to see everything. Everything always eventually gets done."
Chris admitted that sometimes the children would go back to their hotel early, but, when the family visited the parks, they always stayed together.
The family made compromises at meal times. While Chris and Tom's family preferred to have three square meals with a large meal at dinner, the grandparents preferred one big mid-day meal at lunch time. As a result, they ate their large table service meals at lunch and usually visited a counter-service restaurant for dinner.
Speaking of meals, Chris shared that when they planned their trips, she took care of the footwork for making their priority seating arrangements.
"There are no same-day reservations for meals for groups of seven people," she said.
Chris figured out the restaurants and made the reservations beginning the first day she could, six-months out.
Although Chris did not purchase a Photo Pass CD or downloads on every trip, she strongly suggests families consider a Photo Pass, at least on occasion. As her father grew older, she decided to splurge on a Photo Pass. She approached her family ahead of time and let them know that any time she asked them to stop for a picture, they could not argue or complain.
"Most of the time, I'm not in the pictures because I'm the one taking the pictures, so this meant that I could be in the pictures, too." she added.
Six months after they returned from that vacation to WDW, her father died, and those pictures became even more precious to the family.
On Being Flexible and Mutually Respectful
Chris and Tom shared a sweet story about her parents flexibility. When the family visited Disney's Hollywood Studios and the younger set wanted to ride the more adventurous rides: "We parked [Nannie and Papa] in their wheelchairs along Hollywood Boulevard and they just loved to sit there and people watch."
One time, they came back to find Nannie and Papa eating cake. It seems that some cast members from a nearby restaurant saw them sitting there, thought they looked very sweet, and decided to give them some free cake. Tom laughed at the memory.
As for the big question: How did you deal with conflicts about the children? Tom immediately shared, "I never once had any problems with them or felt judged for my parenting with them."
"The only way trips like this work is when there is mutual respect between the parents and the grandparents," Chris said.
Nannie and Papa never questioned or challenged Chris and Tom's parenting and Chris and Tom, in return, felt much more comfortable making compromises when needed.
Now that Papa has gone, and even though the children are getting older, the Metzgers still travel with Nannie on both coasts. Their family continues to share their love of Disney theme parks.
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!