Bringing Grandma and Grandpa Along

by 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."

Matt, Katie, and Tommy Metzger share many wonderful memories from trips like this one in 2012, with their grandparents, Janet and Steve Magro. Photo by the Metzger Family

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.

Getting Around

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!



  1. By xezat

    I think one thing to remember is, if you're the one who ends up having to push the wheelchair, have realistic expectations on what you'll be seeing; it's pretty physically demanding to push someone around a park all day while navigating traffic so I can tell you from my past two trips, I just haven't been able to enjoy the sights like I normally do since I'm more focused on trying not to mow someone down. And try to keep a positive attitude as well; unfortunately I half snapped during the end of my trip as it does stress and takes a toll on you, but try to remember that whoever you're pushing does (or should be!) greatly appreciating your assistance in seeing all the parts of the park they might not otherwise. Frequent breaks for resting and sitting are also a lot more important for the pusher, normally I just bounce from place to place and ride to ride, but I definitely appreciated breaks and taking things slower when I had to push someone around the parks.

    The Disney castmembers are also by far the best in helping accommodate guests with physical limitations as well. I'll admit I felt somewhat guilty that I was getting to cut large portions of the line because I was pushing someone in the wheelchair even though I have no handicaps, but remember the above point as well; it's your reward for what can be pretty demanding physically pushing someone around. People also seem generally more courteous in holding doors open and giving up seats on the monorail. I also agree Photopass is the way to go, at least at WDW since their system is much superior, at Disneyland eh.

    Honestly though, if whoever it is can splurge for one of the EVs instead of a normal wheelchair for a day or two so you can have a rest, I think that would be a better option over pushing a wheelchair 24/7 like I did. At more spacious parks like Epcot, it's easier for them to navigate over more dense ones if they're nervous or unused to the crowds, and it gives the pusher a day to relax a bit too.

  2. By GusMan

    Excellent comments xezat. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

    Pushing my mom around in a wheelchair was not only stressful for me - but also for her. She was worried about me having a good time while I was worried about her having a good time. The next time we were there, we got an scooter for her. A much more relaxing experience for her. Well worth the cash spent.

    I know that some people roll eyes every time they see someone approaching a bus in a scooter or a w-chair. My standard silent comment to them is that I hope and pray that they never have to deal with mobility issues either for themselves or those they care for and love. At the same time, Disney does an excellent job making sure that every one can get from point A to point b with a minimum of disruption.

    Its simply a point of planning a bit more to accommodate everyone. Not really a big deal.

  3. By deedee73

    I totally agree with the above posts especially with regards to the compassion of others & cast members.

    On a differing note, sometimes EVs are not feasible due to age or ability of the occupant (94 yr old grandmother). I would have been very fearful for her to drive one in a crowded area such as Disney.

    One benefit that my mother & I saw after a 9 day WDW trip while taking turns pushing - we both lost weight despite all the snacking & huge meals. It was the firat yime that ever happened for us in all of our trips. Also it is a nice extra storage area for lugging the necessities for our group.

  4. By GusMan

    Quote Originally Posted by deedee73 View Post
    On a differing note, sometimes EVs are not feasible due to age or ability of the occupant (94 yr old grandmother). I would have been very fearful for her to drive one in a crowded area such as Disney.

    Thats a good point. Even those that are not experienced with scooters can gain some experience with them at home by going to a local grocery store and giving one a spin. Seems like an odd thing to do, but the practice really helped my mom.

  5. By deedee73

    Quote Originally Posted by GusMan View Post
    Thats a good point. Even those that are not experienced with scooters can gain some experience with them at home by going to a local grocery store and giving one a spin. Seems like an odd thing to do, but the practice really helped my mom.

    I know that is how my step father learned prior to our trip. He's was ok to do little normal walking but WDW was out of the question - so we told him he needed to practice before renting one. It worked out fine. He was a pro quickly.

  6. By adriennek

    I totally appreciate that ECVs can be convenient. And I've had to push a wheelchair around a park because my husband needed it - it's not necessarily easy to do if you're the only one available to push. But. I feel like there's been such a big push for people to get ECVs that sometimes we don't appreciate the good ol' wheelchair - which I realized after talking to Chris and Tom.

    Wheelchairs can be more affordable - remember, they got them for free instead of having to rent them. In fact, there were trips that they had multiple free wheelchairs because the grandparents both needed one, and there were trips that they actually needed a third because other family members had health issues going on.

    Yes, just because an ECV is available doesn't mean that the person who needs a wheelchair is going to be the best driver. Or that they're going to be comfortable driving through crowds.

    Also, it's easier to get a wheelchair into a rental car. I know people love the WDW transportation system. I do NOT. Tom and I had a bit of kumbaya over that one. When a person who needs a chair or ECV is on those buses, they get seated in the areas where other guests will be standing. So on a crowded bus, seated guests get other peoples tushies in their faces. Not everyone enjoys sitting on a crowded bus with someone else's tush in their face. For me? My most memorable ride was when a child who had a cold got on, sat next to me and coughed and sneezed and was not covering his mouth or any other level of careful about it. Some of us will very gladly rent cars to avoid crowded buses.

    And, finally, not every family is limited to one person able to push wheelchairs. There have been times when we have visited theme parks with family members in wheelchairs and my kids used to fight over whose turn it was to push - even when they were young. They didn't always want to push but they wanted to push enough that we had opportunities to take turns and breaks and not over-tire one person.

    I also believe that the opportunity to push a family member's wheelchair helped my children become more compassionate people. Yep, I went there. But it's true. My kids can drive me crazy but one thing I can say for them: They are very caring people. And helping someone, practicing patience and care giving skills, I'm quite confident, contributed to this.

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