Organizing a Reunion at Walt Disney World

BY MARY WARING

Here are a few things I learned from my own family reunion experience:

It helps if one person is the “coordinator” while you’re in the planning stages, though different people may organize various events. The main reason for a coordinator is make sure there aren’t too many events, and to help prevent conflicting events.

A travel agent can be invaluable in helping everyone coordinate their travel plans. Ideally everyone should use the same agent to prevent too much confusion and to help save money. For instance, if you can get some people on the same flights (at least for the last leg of the flight), you may be able to share rental cars or limos.

Email makes it much easier to coordinate plans before the trip. The coordinator can set up a group email list and then whenever there is news, he or she can simply write one email that goes out to everyone with the push of a button. The recipients can hit “reply to all” and share their ideas and plans with the whole group.

We agreed as a group on a general itinerary for the first four days (i.e. which park most people would be heading toward for that day), and many people (but not everyone) followed that plan. It did make it a little easier to hook up with other families that way. Most people stayed for a week, but everyone did their own thing for the last couple of days, because some wanted to go to Universal and others spent more time at Disney.

We didn’t try to schedule too many group events. Even if you are a minute-by-minute planner, you have to understand that some people in the group will want to do their own thing. I think it’s best to plan a few different activities and allow people to join in or not, as they please. Most people are going to Walt Disney World to enjoy the attractions, and trying to run from one event to another is likely to cut into their park time and make them cranky.

Don’t try to keep the entire group together all the time. In fact, it’s really difficult to navigate through the theme parks with more than 6 or 8 people. Remember, every time someone has to go to the restroom, the entire group stops. Plus, it can be challenging to make sure you don’t lose someone, especially if you have a lot of kids in a large group.

Cell phones are invaluable for coordinating with other members of your group. We saved a lot of time and aggravation by calling each other to set up meeting points, change meeting times, etc.

Don’t neglect the more intimate gatherings that can really provide some “quality time” with friends and family you don’t see often. Consider scheduling some time with smaller subgroups of family and/or friends. For instance, Mike and I had lunch at the 50s Primetime CafĂ© one day with my brother, his wife and their two kids. Another night we went out for the evening with my father-in-law and two sisters-in-law. Both of those get-togethers were great fun.

Smaller events like the ones I just mentioned are also a good way to accommodate the varied needs of different age groups. If you have older people or people with babies in the group, they may not be as interested in racing from attraction to attraction as the families with school-age children. By planning some meals or evening events with those who are moving more slowly, everyone gets to enjoy each other’s company and take a little time to relax, too.

We thought it would be fun to have one dinner for the entire group, which we tried to accomplish by booking tables at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. We made two separate reservations and were told that we could all show up the night of the show and ask to have the tables next to each other. It turned out that this was not true – the tables are preassigned long before you arrive – so our groups were across the room from each other. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it was disappointing. If you want to have a meal for your entire group, be sure to book everyone on the same reservation.

It was great having everyone at the same hotel. Even though individual families and various groups went off in different directions, at least every day we ran into each other in the hotel restaurant, the lobby lounge, and/or the bus stop. This often led to impromptu plans, restaurant table-hopping and suchlike.

If you can afford it, try to get one suite, or designate another place at the hotel where people can gather. On this trip Mike and I had a 1-bedroom suite and the other families had regular rooms on the same floor. Friends and family wandered in and out of our suite in the evenings, hung out, had a drink and chatted, which was a lot of fun.

The fact that we were all on the same floor of the hotel turned out to be convenient in ways we hadn’t even anticipated. For instance, my brother and sister-in-law set up a baby monitor in their room with their children, and were able to bring the other monitor with them and hang out across the hall in our suite without worrying about being too far away or out of touch.