Part Two - Multigenerational Trips: Tips and Tricks, Highs and Lows

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

On April 15, The Parenting Panel turned to Twitter and MousePlanet’s followers responded (link)! We saw a trend on MousePad of members planning multigenerational trips spanning from young children to older grandparents and so we asked: What tips or tricks do you have from your experiences planning and taking multigenerational trips? What has gone well and what has not gone well? Here is the second half of those responses:

Emily Loftus is a wife, mom, portrait photographer and Disneyland fanatic from Reno, Nev.

Since my husband and I have been parents we’ve been in a perpetual state of Disney vacation planning. We have vacationed at the Disneyland Resort, with both kids and grandparents in tow many times in the past nine years. Over the years I have learned that the help a grandparent provides cannot be understated. From hair-brushing in the morning, to tray-carrying at meal time, a grandparent’s help is indispensable. The biggest blessing of their presence is that they often handle the tasks that we parents like the least (emergency bathroom visit No. 349, for example).

Here are a few tips for traveling with three generations that we have picked up over the years:

  • Plan something that’s just for the grandparents. Last year, my children and I decided we would set aside the first morning of our trip to make sure that Grandma got to ride her favorite ride, the teacups! It was an excellent exercise in thoughtfulness for the kids, and a great way to let Grandma know we were grateful for her presence.

Grandma loves the teacups. Photo by Emily Luftus

  • It’s OK to say no. Let’s face it, Grandma basically came along for the sole purpose of spoiling your children. She feels compelled to purchase lots of snacks, and every trinket your child sets his eyes upon. You and I both know that all this can be a recipe for a very ugly moment at some later hour. It is okay to gently remind Grandma to slow down a little, so long as you do it with delicateness and tact.
  • Partner up. Pairing a child with a grandparent can alter the entire mood of a vacation. One example of a beneficial kid-to-grandparent pairing is the story of our 7-year-old daughter’s first Tower of Terror ride. She had chosen not to ride time and time again, but last year she was ready to give it a try. My mother-in-law, about to take her first rid, as well, was especially unsure of what to expect. The two of them were so darling together, comforting and encouraging one another. Grandma was vulnerable, patient and sensitive in a way that I hadn’t been able to be. The ride went smoothly and both Grandma and her granddaughter had a blast. Somehow pairing parents, kids and grandparents together, can work out to give everyone a richer, fuller experience.
  • Nap time! Adults need it, grandparents need it, the kids definitely need it. Don’t run yourself into the ground. An afternoon retreat to your room will make all the difference. My children are 8 and 9 and they can still nap at least two days out of a five day Disneyland visit.

All this said, not every activity we enjoy works for our parents. My family and I love a character breakfast, but our parents don’t really see the value. Instead of going together, we set a meeting time for after our meal, and join forces later in the morning. Secondly, our parents are not typically thrilled to sit on asphalt or concrete and save a parade spot. I can’t say that I blame them. This is a place where I, with my young back, can help out. I have Grandma take the kids to a ride or to get popcorn, while I hold a spot for show time. It’s not my preference, but I do understand that I am better suited to the job, than my parents.

Three generations of Emily's family enjoy the Disneyland Resort together. Photo by Emily Luftus

Finally, during a Disney vacation it is very easy to be compelled to arrive at park opening, create a plan of attack and scheme our way through the day, accomplishing as much as we possibly can. The presence of our parents, however, can change that tone. They aren’t the tense, tired parents. They’re the grandparents. They take their time and they remind us to do the same. For our family that reminder to stop and smell the churros is the icing on the cake.

Mary Kraemer is a travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations. She loves to travel with her husband and four children and is an avid Disney fan who visits Disneyland several times a year—and Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line as often as possible. It is no surprise then that Mary shares another perspective having traveled with three generations not just to parks but on the Disney Cruise Line as well:

My family has made numerous trips to Disneyland and Walt Disney World with kids and grandparents, and it’s a wonderful way for families to spend time together.

I think one of the key requirements for our successful multigenerational trips is: Space.

Make sure everyone has their own space, where they can have some downtime from all the togetherness. On the first multigenerational trip, my son and I flew to Orlando and met my parents, who drove to Florida with their trailer so we could spend the week at the Ft. Wilderness campground. Ultimately, too much togetherness was not always a good thing.

A lot of your planning will depend on the age and mobility of the grandparents. When my parents were in their 70s, we didn’t storm the parks, but getting around was no problem. However, as they aged, that changed so when they were in their 80s, it was much easier for them to get around with the assistance of a motorized scooter (we rented one from a non-Disney vendor and kept it for the duration of our vacation). Having a disabled access placard for the car was also really helpful to have convenient access to the parks or shuttles.

When my parents were in their early 80s, my younger kids were little, so going back to the hotel for a rest midday worked out well for everyone. At Walt Disney World, we stayed at the Polynesian Resort, and it was nothing short of perfect because of its location and convenience to transportation; we could take the monorail or simply walk/scooter over to the Ticketing and Transportation Center to get wherever we wanted.

There were times when we would go our separate ways, when the grandparents needed some downtime (they needed it more than the kids), and with having separate rooms (adjoining, though), it was easy to do. I think one of the key things was to discuss the plans in advance, and not overschedule anything. Flexibility is key.

On our last WDW family trip, my dad was 88 and undergoing cancer treatment, so he was frail. We had the motorized scooter for him, but his stamina was not very strong, so he’d manage about a half-day with us, and then need to spend the afternoon resting. We spent a week at WDW and then a week onboard the Disney Magic, and we found that multigenerational cruising was even better than park time.

While we onboard the ship, nobody really needed to depend on anyone else for entertainment, and we did not feel the necessity to stay together nearly as much as when we were at the parks. Rest times were far more easily accomplished by simply going to a stateroom for a nap. We had a mixture of inside and balcony staterooms (the kids had the inside stateroom across the hall from ours, and my dad had another inside stateroom so everyone had space). My dad enjoyed spending time doing nothing more than watching the sea from our stateroom’s balcony while the kids were at the pool, at the movies, or simply hanging out onboard. There were days when we didn’t see much of each other except for dinner, but we kept each other informed of our whereabouts by using magnetic marker boards on each stateroom door. (On our cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, there were special iPhones that could be used onboard, and not only could we call one another while we were on the ship, we could also find out the location of everyone who had a similar iPhone or transponder unit—really great!)

The motorized scooter was an invaluable thing for my dad to get around on the ship and feel independent. If he wanted to go anywhere, he did not need to be dependent on one of us to take him there, and he relished the freedom it provided.

I think, given our experience, I might opt more for a cruise vacation as a really successful multigenerational trip because everyone can really go at their own pace and do what they please.

Lori Abramson is the executive assistant to her soon-to-be 5-year-old daughter, Summer. Lori has been a Disney fan since her first trip when she was 1 year old. From her Mouska “ears” to her D23 shoes, she enjoys helping spread the pixie dust to everyone she meets.

Multigenerational travel is something I remember as always being a part of my Disney experience, from my early days of going to Disneyland as a child with aunts, uncles, and grandparents, to today as I organize trips to Disney World for my own daughter and extended family. Through the magic of the Mouse, there is no better place to go where we all can have fun and enjoy a trip catered to our individual interests and needs. Now, before you think that type of trip only works well for those that are part of the “silver sneaker” set, let me be honest, my mom is nowhere close to being an “active” senior. She has two types of arthritis and some days finds it hard to move at a fast pace. But there is nothing that she enjoys more than going to Disney with her granddaughter.

Disney has done an exceptional job of transforming itself from a place to take the kids to a place for the whole family to enjoy time together. The Parks provide plenty of places throughout where my mom can sit and rest in the shade or in an air-conditioned area, such as one of the many indoor shows. Believe me, Mickey’s Philharmagic and Festival of the Lion King are enjoyed by all ages for this reason, among others, of course. My daughter loves the show and my mom loves the break. Of course, grandparents can prove invaluable to the parents, as well. My 4 year old is still “height-challenged “and doesn’t quite qualify to ride Rock 'n’ Roller Coaster or Mission: Space. This could be a major dilemma but give the two of them a bench, a drink, and Mickey Bar to share and they are content to let the others go ride away to their hearts content. There is also the convenience of being able to stay on-property. When the grandparents, or even the toddlers, have reached their peak activity level and need to recharge, a quiet place to rest is never more than a bus ride away and allows the remainder of the group to carry on with minimal interruption.

I remember as my own grandmother got older and I tried to talk her into once last trip to Disney, and one last ride with me on “it’s a small world”, she would always tell me she just wasn’t able to get around like she used to and thus would never consider going. Sadly, she is gone and I will never have that opportunity again. For those of you that hear the same arguments, let me be clear. Disney accommodates. From wheelchairs in the parking lots, to wheelchair rentals at the parks (as well as off-site companies that deliver them right to your resort), navigating the parks is not an issue. One may even pick up from each parks’ guest relations a “special accommodations” card that lets cast members know what assistance is needed without having to explain the situation at every ride. All that is required to get this pass is a letter from your doctor explaining the individual’s needs. So, for instance, a ride that may seem challenging to board, such as Peter Pan’s Flight or Haunted Mansion because of their “constant motion,” can be stopped momentarily for loading and unloading. If it’s a challenge for you, Disney has already developed a way to overcome it.

It’s not just the rides and park layout that accommodates people of all ages. In recent years, Disney has expanded it to entertainment, as well, with their annual events. These special events, which have become an annual tradition for our family, such as the Flower and Garden Expo and the Food and Wine Festival, provide entertainment for the adults, as well as, children of all ages and are the highlight of any trip. My daughter loves to play in Tink’s Garden, visit the butterflies, and sample all the food—especially the desserts—while my mom enjoys the cooking demonstrations with chefs from across the country and the many unique and varied gardening seminars. What do I enjoy most? Knowing that our entire family, mother, childless sister and her husband, and my family can go to one place and all have a great time enjoying each other’s company. That is true magic!

Scott Miller planned a trip for four generations. Scott shares the lessons he learned:

It began as an idea to bring our extended family closer. My immediate family had made our first trip to WDW in 2005 and instantly fell under the spell of Disney magic. What could be better than sharing this magic with our extended family? As a veteran of 10-plus WDW family trips, and a daily MousePlanet reader, I thought “How tough could it be?” We visit WDW at least once a year, and I know how to plan a trip for my immediate family including travel, daily schedules, meal planning, etc. for adults and kids. I’m always working on our next trip.

With this in mind, I volunteered and drove the planning for our first family “Grand Gathering”. Eight people, six days, four generations, and four parks. Included in this trip was my grandmother (88), my father and mother (68/65), me (45), my brother (41), my two sons (14/ 9), and my niece (11). Our experience ranged from Disney fanatics (me and my boys) to limited exposure (parents, grandmother) to first timers (brother, niece).

With most (all?) Disney vacations I feel that planning is critical. I like to plan everything in advance, so that very little time is spent discussing when/where/how when at the parks. And we do love the parks: We’re a group that’s there at early opening and closes the parks down. We have very leisurely but very long full days when at WDW. I approached this trip like all others, but included a less strenuous version of our plan for those who couldn’t spend as much time in the parks as me and the boys. This less strenuous plan still had the family members synchronized for lunch/dinner and major shows such as Wishes, Illuminations, etc.

I went into this trip rather naively. It’s been discussed many times on MousePlanet how most of us “get it” when it comes to Disney. If not, we wouldn’t be spending time on Disney-related Websites or following Disney topics on Twitter! Unfortunately there are some people that don’t/can’t “get it.” I attributed this lack of enthusiasm to poor planning and being overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of entertainment options available at WDW. I was determined to share my enthusiasm regarding the parks, and have this enthusiasm become contagious through the wonderful experiences I’d planned. Everyone was going to love this trip. What I learned afterward, is that someone can have a fun Disney trip without caring about the myriad details, history, or understanding of someone that “gets it.”

I arranged for a van to pick us up and take us to the resort from the airport. I had arranged for us to fly together, wanted to get there as quickly as possible with a minimum of fuss and delay. Magical Express is free, but can be slow. I recommend this for anyone flying in to Orlando. Use Magical Express to get back to the airport when your trip is over and you’re not so eager to leave.

We usually stay at Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Staying at the Lodge is always a stretch for us—we take advantage of all available discounts and only travel during value season. I wanted my extended family to experience the Lodge, as well, but cost was a huge concern. We had eight people. The Lodge allows up to four per room. We only needed two rooms.

This was a big mistake. We should have stayed at a moderate resort with more rooms. Pay close attention to hotel arrangements. Don’t fill fewer rooms to capacity to save money. You’ll save a few dollars, but this can negatively impact your trip. I didn’t consider the impact of people on different park schedules sleeping in the same rooms. I can tell you firsthand that people planning on sleeping in do not take well to others getting up at 6 a.m. to eat and be at the parks by 7:30 a.m.. Conversely, those planning on hitting the parks first thing do not like it when someone wants to stay up and watch TV. There’s a tendency to divide up by family or age group, but I recommend considering lodging arrangements by activity level or park schedule.

Another consideration when arranging lodging is how the room card charges will be applied. Park charges put on the room card will apply to the credit card the room is booked under. Mixing families across rooms can make for complicated and unexpected accounting at the end of the trip. One of my roommates (relation withheld to protect the guilty) ran up large charges and was unable to cover them (they were already on my card) for many months.

On schedules: I didn’t have enough alternative schedules. I didn’t clearly understand people’s expectations regarding the trip, and they trusted me as “the expert” to take care of the details. Some expectations that I had were completely wrong and turned upside down. It’s very important to discuss expectations before traveling with a multigenerational group. For example, I just “knew” that my grandmother would want to spend a lot of time at the Lodge. I later learned that my grandmother wanted and expected to do everything! It’s a wonderful and completely unexpected experience sharing Mission: Space with your grandmother. I “knew” my brother and niece would want to see everything, only to find out they wanted to hang out at the pool and relax. They only went to the parks twice in six days. This is still unimaginable to me since they purchased six-day park hopper tickets. This was an opportunity I missed to save them money based on my expectations. Once you understand expectations, devise schedules that can keep everybody accommodated and included. By “included,” I recommend planning for several events throughout the day where the family can be together regardless of activity level. It was important to us that family members be together for lunch/dinner and major shows. This also involves a little bit of training (in advance is best) on how to use the Disney transportation system since groups can become separated. Disney transportation can be intimidating at first glance, but it’s easy to grasp with some advance explanation.

Our trip was a great. Each person built wonderful family memories – even though their Disney experience was completely different. The boys and I did everything all day as usual – except with Grandma in tow most of the time! My brother and his daughter hung out at the Wilderness Lodge and enjoyed the great atmosphere, saw Wishes and Illuminations, and watched Disney TV from the room. My parents swung between both groups. We gravitated together over six days and four parks. What could be better?


Discuss expectations thoroughly! People who have never been to Disney, or have not had a good Disney experience don’t know how to answer questions about specific rides or activities. Focus on activity levels. Ask questions like:

  • Are you willing to get up early? Stay late?
  • How do you think we should balance the desire to see X with the schedule?
  • Are you OK on your own?

People don’t need to grasp the entirety of Disney to enjoy their trip. Match schedules to expectations.

Create multiple itineraries as appropriate, with connecting points (meals, shows, fireworks) throughout.

Some may just want to sit (Disney is a great place to sit and watch), others see it all. Some want guidance, others to be left alone. All of this is OK.

Know that everyone will have a good time, just maybe not by your definition (lounging at hotel for example)

Planning! Travel, transport, where to stay, accommodations are key (more rooms is better).

Finally, Rachelle offered these quick tips:

For those traveling with multigenerations, a trip to the Disney parks can be enjoyable for all with a little pre-planning. I found it works best if you have reservations for sit-down meals and plans for quick service. I like to schedule them around nap times for my 3 year old, which give rest time for the older generations and around parade schedules. I plan my meals since kids don't like to wait for a table and the older generation typically needs to take pills with food at regular times.

I also take advantage of early entry while the park is less crowded. Usually the older generation and children are early risers so this works nicely. Depending on the age of the oldest generation on your trip, they might not be able to partake in the thrill rides so there is someone who can watch the kids while mom and dad ride the thrill rides.

I have been to both Disneyland and WDW with my son (3), my grandparents (72) and my husband and I, and Disneyland would be our "home" park. It really is like a home away from home.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting on the Parks section of our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about "Multigenerational Trips" (link), or send your suggestions via e-mail (link). Don't forget to follow @MousePlanet on Twitter! Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!