Large Group Planning - Advice Appreciated!

I am beginning to plan my first ever large group trip to WDW. I usually go by myself or with just 1 other person, so I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. There will be 20-27 (9 Kids ages 3-17, up to 17 adults) of us and we’re more than likely going to be going during a peak time (Thanksgiving/Christmas). I’ve read through some of the older posts on this topic, but we’re all just waiting for the parks to reopen anyway…so why not discuss it again??
What advice do you have for large group planning?
Do have favorite villas or do you break everyone up into small groups within a resort?
Do you run multiple itineraries based on what people enjoy or do you march everyone from location to location?
Do you let everyone book their own accommodations and then take over planning from there?
Any tips you large party planners have would be greatly appreciated!

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How fun!!! We haven’t done Disney with this large of a group before but we have traveled with 20+ people and what seems to work for us is planning meals or something to do together and then let everyone kind of do their own thing the rest of the time. Like, let each family group plan their own start time, FPs and maybe regroup in the evening for dinner/fireworks/etc.

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So I haven’t done WDW like that personally, but for touring I would do one of two things:

  1. have people tour w/ smaller family units and meet up for key events (meal, character meet, parade, fireworks, show, etc)
  2. come up with like 5 or so “groups” - Perhaps you can group people according to what they are wanting to do. Some may want to do or die and ride them all. Some may want to people watch and catch some dark rides. Some may want the thrills only but don’t want to do shows or spinners, etc. could be a fun way to mix and mingle your group.
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Our group was only 7 people, but we ranged in age from 13 months to seniors. Some of our most successful days involved splitting into 2 groups. If we get to go in December as planned, I think that more splitting up would be best. DS did not enjoy waiting in line for characters, but I wanted the photos. We would still do most meals together, but sometimes QS separately was a nice break from one another. Staying in the same resort helped with getting everyone going at the same time.

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I’ve planned large groups. Our first was 20, the second was 30 (both over thanksgiving) and our next is this coming October with 26. The first two trips we planned as a cohesive group, picking fast passes and ADRs together. We toured together most of the time and stayed in the same hotel. It was logistically challenging, but that’s something I thrive on. I made a pdf, touring pocket guides, and gave presentations and everything. This coming trip is much more laid back, mostly because everyone has experience in the parks and isn’t looking to us to guide them. We’re all in different hotels. We made ADRs last month and are sharing a couple of meals together but not all. We set up a google sheet with a wish list/must do for each day for each family. Most days we’ll be in the same parks. I’m looking forward to it being more relaxed than the first two times.

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Then you have probably read my advice for large group planners - don’t do it. It is a thankless task, and the people for whom you are doing all the planning are the ones who are going to sabotage your efforts. Call me jaded, I don’t care…

The best approach is to let each family unit in your group make their own plans - have a few group activities that everyone meets up for, but otherwise let them do what they like, how they like. By all means share the plan you have made for your family unit and tell people that they are welcome to follow along, but make it clear that you are not going to wait for them if they aren’t up on time to hit RD (if that is what you are planning to do that day).

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What advice do you have for large group planning?
Perhaps our most successful large family group was the one with a purpose: a birthday bash for a 15 yr old. Previous big groups had been just we’re all going to WDW together. The birthday kid picked certain things to do with each family group: Disney Springs with grandparents who didn’t want to spend money and days on park tickets. MK with a cousin’s elementary age girls. Waterpark with mom & stepdad. 4 parks/1 day with dad & stepmom (newbies) to name a few.

Do have favorite villas or do you break everyone up into small groups within a resort?
On the birthday trip a grandmother used her non-Disney timeshare points to reserve three 3-br villas for 7 nights. Everyone got to stay for free. Both grandmothers, a grandfather and a great aunt and uncle stayed in a ground floor villa. The cousin and kids stayed in one villa with his mom (2nd floor), while the parents and step-parents and birthday kid stayed in the 3rd villa (also 2nd floor).
We have on previous large group trips stayed in WDW deluxe resorts, all paying for our own rooms tho one person was in charge of reservations. This worked ok as well. On one trip we did some stay DVC and others in a couple of moderate rooms and that worked better than I expected - mostly thanks to cell phones.

Do you run multiple itineraries based on what people enjoy or do you march everyone from location to location? With the birthday bash, we had multiple itineraries, based on the birthday kid’s picks. One person did all the reservations. Example: first night some went to Epcot World Showcase while others went to MNSSHP. Another night we were all at Epcot but with differing itineraries. On the 4 park day, 4 went in the parks, two ran an airport service, taking one outbound and picking up two inbound, while 5 others resort hopped. Then all the non-4 park folk ate supper at 1900 Park Fare.
All FPs were made by one person for everyone else.
On previous trips we’ve all toured as a group despite attempts to get folks to do their own thing.

Do you let everyone book their own accommodations and then take over planning from there?
We have not ever done this. Have you heard of the grasshopper and the ant? We’ve got a lot of grasshoppers.

Any tips you large party planners have would be greatly appreciated!
I don’t use spread sheets, I use a calendar chart. I also have some information pages with basic WDW info like it’s way bigger than you think - that is, you’re not walking across the street from your hotel to MK. And other info.
I also periodically sent out cost info pages, to keep folks up to date on what’s been paid for and what’s coming up due. The birthday kid - who is homeschooled - developed a Power Point presentation for various newbie family groups.
It helps to be able to figure out what’s important to each group to tailor info to be meaningful to that group.
If you’re detail oriented it’s good to have a sounding board person to help you not be excessive. Less is more.
Shirts: we picked a different color for each day. Teal for Monday. Green for Tuesday. White for Thursday. Red for Friday. Blue for Saturday. Some choose to wear what they already had, while others bought shirts. In the photos, our shirts are color coordinated, but not ALL the same. We had some interesting choices.
The granma of the cousin’s kids chose to dress all 3 girls in matching colors. This seemed to gain us some extra attention, such as dancing with Cinderella and her Prince at 1900 Park Fare. I’d never seen that done.
We all pitched in to get Memory Maker. We’d do that again. And months later, when I made 2020 calendars, I could easily see which photos went with which day due to shirt color.

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If you go with the advice of other liners (Which I agree with) Then by all means let each family group plan their own day. But be sure to give them all the same guide-lines based on your research, such as;
-Tell them what park to attend each day. So that you will still see each other throughout the day.
-Offer your suggestions for any days that might be good for a group dinner. Then they could RSVP to you and you make the necessary arrangements.
-Finally, give them all the tools for planning a successful trip of their own. Give them the web sites that explain key planning strategies such as rope drop, FP+, lodging, dinning, and touring. (This site is an obvious choice)

Some people will find this too much to deal with in which case you can then offer up your expertise. Give them an idea of what you have planned and see if this is good for them. I have planned for a large group before and would suggest that you only make group touring plans for the morning and meet for dinner. Leave the afternoon and evening for them to explore and enjoy their holiday. Again you can offer more suggestions on how to effectively spend their afternoons and evenings.

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The largest group I have planned for is 9. We all stayed together in a 2 bedroom villa and we all stuck to the same itinerary. That was by choice though. My mom was always going to tour with my family of 5, but I left it up to my nephew and his girlfriend whether or not they wanted to tour with us. They didn’t want to put in the time and effort to make their own plans, so they chose to stick with us.

If I were planning for a larger group I would start by putting together the plan for my own family. Then I would share that plan with everyone else and let them know that they were welcome to follow along, or pick and choose when they wanted to meet up. I would, as mentioned above, make sure they all had the knowledge and resources to make their own plans if they chose to do so.

As for accommodations, with so many kids, I would try to all stay at one resort. That way if they all wanted to swim or play together, it would be much easier to make that happen. I would not let everyone book their own rooms. But I’m a control freak and would worry that someone wouldn’t get it done and the rooms would book up.

Another thought…is everyone paying their own way? If not, I would defer to the wishes of the one(s) holding the purse strings to determine how to plan it all out!

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This is really great feedback…all of it. It sounds like I need to offer my advice and present the option to do the larger bungalows, but let each family plan their own accommodations depending on their budget. It is also possible not everyone will stay the whole time (which I hadn’t thought of until these responses). Then give a suggested itinerary with some shared meals, maybe a couple of planned photo ops or events. A couple of people mentioned planning for my family unit first…but that’s just me (although I may be put in charge of 2 of my nieces as their parent would not be able to attend)…which should probably make the ‘flexible’ party. As @brklinck pointed out, I don’t want to sacrifice my enjoyment if others can’t keep to my schedule (I’m a RD to in a ride line at close kind of person)
It is true we’ll have varying levels of interest in rides, people that need naps, can’t go all day in the parks, need a day off etc. My plan was to send out a sort of ‘interest quiz’ to everyone and let them tell me what they would/wouldn’t ride/do…then maybe form groups based on those responses.
This has given me a lot to work from!

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Yes, as to not everyone stayed the entire time. We had all kinds of time tables. Some driving, from different locations, and some flying from different locations.

We did have planning meetings throughout the year leading up to the birthday bash. Usually over lunch, and starting with the powerpoint presentation. The birthday person was in charge of running the planning meetings.

We did keep sit down meals to one a day - usually a late breakfast, but not always.

I did usually make reservations for up to three smaller tables, rather one large table. And I usually made reservations for an odd number. 5 instead of 4. Thinking that if some family group was late, the rest of us could eat. Instead of waiting for the whole group to show up. The odd number is in case the numbers fluctuate so that all but one or two person(s) at a table for 5 bail, that one or two can then be accommodated at another table for 5, now 6 much easier than trying to go from 4 to 5. This actually happened at least once.

It definitely pays to know your group. Some will be “whatever the team wants” and others will be regularly party poopers. Adjustments to the table reservations and putting the word out that you’ll be at rope drop, regardless of what others’re doing, helps keep the fussy ones less frustrating to me, anyway. Their enjoyment or lack of is not my problem.

My one problem area which I dropped the ball on is pictures. I simply forgot many times to take photos. One of the “team” newbies saved the day. She was so excited to be at WDW, and wonderful on her phone. Resulting in plenty of great memories. She not only got the candid fun shots but scene setting shots as well - restaurant and ride exteriors.

Point here: delegate. Delegate. Delegate!

All of us had a great time - except maybe the party poopers. :wink:

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This sounds like it may fall under the “no good deed goes unpunished” category. You will spend a lot of time and the rest of the group may never appreciate all the work you put it (and will complain when they feel their preferences haven’t been met).

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I haven’t done a large group to WDW so this is more generic, but we often travel with another family with somewhat different interests so we end up a party of 10+ and I do most of the planning. We’ve gone to London/Scotland, Greece, and all over the US. We also occasionally travel with my 3 siblings and their families (so I’ve seen how my mom navigates that). I’ve got a bit of a system.

Try not to make it overly complicated (for you) but still try to set each family unit up for success.

I’d chat separately with each family and figure out what their priorities are, including any individual differences within the family. Attractions, scheduling, meals, accommodations, costs…basically you are guiding them through setting their priorities. And giving them a general lay if the land (no, there isn’t time to do EVERYTHING).

Then, plan YOUR trip. 2 ways to approach your role. If your main objective is to play “host” you’ll be keying off the the most common items across all families plus anything that came up that you really want to do (or you think will fail if you’re not there). Or, alternatively, just plan the trip you really want to do, with some flexibility towards the bits you really want to experience with various people.

Whichever way you go, make a general plan along with any related deadlines for booking things.

Present your general plan. “Here is what I plan to do. I’ve highlighted certain items that require pre-booking along with a date. If you want me to book for you, you need to confirm with me prior to that date.”

For each family, highlight places you think they may want to deviate from your general plan and give them the information they would need to make those arrangements on their own along with your recommended deadlines for doing so. You can also give them tips about where they might want to touch base with another family unit or person. (“The only other person that really wanted to do X besides your family was Sally, so you might want to check with her.”)

For their deviations off the general plan, you act as a resource, but they need to own those bits. Also, don’t “judge” their choices, but do make them aware. “Ok, if you want to do that, it’s totally up to you, but here is the trade off you’re making.” (Ex “If you don’t want to be there 45 min before RD, that’s fine, but we’ll be moving on when we finish the attraction so you’ll need to decide what you’re going to cut to catch up to us for lunch.”)

As you move on to detail planning, put that in something like Google drive so they can decide how much they want to monitor the mutual bits or not.

I cannot stress this enough: When you stop to use the restroom, everyone goes, whether they think they need to or not. Explicitly get them to agree to this during the planning as a non-negotiable. You can make it a bit of a joke, but be firm on it. This can eat up tons of time. ”Humor me. Go.”

Also, build in some “stopping to smell roses time” and verbalize it. “It looks like some of you want to spend some time in this gift shop. If you want, we can use our ’cushion time’ this morning for this, so those of you that would rather do something else for 20 min, we’ll meet back up…”. Or “I was thinking we’d do this next. If you want more time here, do you want to text when you’re done and I’ll let you know where we are?” You need to balance some flexibility for impromptu stops with not holding everyone else up standing around.

The “trade off” concept is key. They are welcome to deviate from the plan, but that means they’ll need to miss something on the plan. And if you’ve gotten a good understanding of their priorities/preferences, you can help them with what they’d be willing to sacrifice. “I don’t think any of you really considered X that important?”

It can be super rewarding to see people light up when your plans work out, but they also need to share responsibility for their own choices/preferences.

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Thank you @amvanhoose for taking the time to explain your system, which btw is eerily similar to mine. Apparently some things are universal (EVERYbody goes to the bathroom!)

I agree: set each family unit up for success. This is such a good way to put this. It helps if you’re an empath as newbies often have no idea what they don’t know.

When guiding thru priorities @StinsyLinson , if you mention doing everything at MK in one day is a thing and those who try the challenge move as fast as they can for 11 hours, you’ll often get your point across. :slight_smile:

You’re so right: general plan with related deadlines is such a must do. As are several reminders. Even my sister, who is a bigger Disney nut than I am, requires date and amount reminders. Frequently.

Thats a good point: touching base with the other family with similar interests. It can help your subgroups feel more like it’s their trip, too. As is the tradeoff message.

Again, spot on with stopping to smell the roses or buffer time is important. Even just for getting from A to B. Nobody walks at the same pace. :confounded: And somebody always has to hit the ATM or dart off for a photo.

It is rewarding to see people light up. :heart_eyes: I’m sure that’s why some of the die hard fans in my family continue to visit. It’s crazy how a storm trooper can make a 40 year old giddy. :rofl:

I just realized that keeping my expectations low provides better results. Thanks again @amvanhoose for the “how to”.

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Tons of great advice here and I sympathize with all of you. I was planning a trip for 12 this coming August for WDW and UO before Covid-19 happened. Agree with others to set your expectations low. This 12 consisted of my parents in their 70s, my little sis and her husband (older millennials), my wife and our two teenagers, my brother, his wife, their adult son and teenage daughter with Celiac. I built spreadsheets with links and descriptions to all the attractions at all of the parks. We had at least three planning meetings. Mom and Dad were using points to pay for the airfare, hotel, and rental cars. We were going to be responsible for everything else. Our last meeting was to plan which parks on which days we were going. We had every day planned out, built plans, and made sure we agreed on all the attractions we wanted to go to. My sister had some things she wanted to do outside of the plans, and funny it was mentioned, time to “smell the roses”. We had one “free” day as well as a non-park day planned for the beach. I can’t say how it would have gone because we made the decision to cancel, but we’ve done plenty of family trips, including a week on a houseboat last year, and everyone survived. There will always be some drama, but you just have to get passed it. HAVE FUN!!

PS - I made the mention of my niece with Celiac because you will want to consider any accommodations you will need to make for family members. For us, it meant that we were going to stay in a hotel that had full kitchens so we could prepare our own food and not be concerned about cross contamination.

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While we don’t have life-threatening food allergies, some of our extended group have food issues. We’ve routinely had the allergies noted on ADRs and have had chefs visit our table. We’ve been happy with Disney’s handling of our food difficulties.

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Rather than a broad questionnaire, it might be helpful to have people watch the Disney vacation planning videos (because they’re free and up-to-date) and ask them the top 3-5 things they want to do in Disney World. You’ll get all sorts of answers, from rides to characters to snacks. There were only 8 people in our group, but I built our trip from our must-do lists, and we all had an amazing time.

We’ve also had great experiences with Disney taking care of our food allergies. It’s worth googling “wdw gluten free” or similar terms if you’re managing a trip with allergies. There are lots of bloggers out there who have chronicled their experiences, and even condensed them into top 10 lists. We actually found a few snacks for our must-do lists this way.

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So sorry you went to all that effort and had to cancel. Do you think you’ll reschedule?

Thank you for the advice and reminder of the allergies. I have a food allergy, so I’m quite accustomed to seeing the chefs at every meal…but I do need to remember to ask everyone about their food allergies (I know my siblings and nieces/nephews quite well, but my cousins and their kids…not so much).

Thank you for going into such detail with your travel planning system. Those built in free minutes and bathroom breaks are definitely things that would be easily overlooked by me when trying to fit everything into a day.

I go to Disney enough that I’m willing to forego my must dos (except the absolutely necessities like mini corn dogs at Casey’s) for everyone else to get to experience the things they want to enjoy. Plus, if I made my whole family do Disney my way, they may not speak to me again :wink:

Although it is early to say for sure, I think I’m lucky that it is only my family members that I’m planning for. We’re a large family (usually 75-100 at Thanksgiving), so everyone kind of knows how to just follow orders or step up and be in charge if the situation calls for it.

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There are some really good tips here! The biggest group I planned for was 9, twice. The first time was better than the last. brklinck stated there would be saboteurs and yes that’s what happened our second group trip. Some of the adults were SO badly behaved we haven’t spoken since :frowning: very sad. There was no need. There were a few of us that did the planning and reservations. and I created and gave everyone a small laminated tour guide so they could make the best of their days at the park. Touring guides were based on a family survey I created on google docs. But we allowed everyone to do their own thing and gather for one meal a day (we had DDP). We’ve gone back since but w/o out all the fuss or big group. Disney wasn’t ruined by those few bad apples :wink: Best of luck to you! Enjoy the small things.

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