Planning a multi-family trip to Walt Disney World: Deciding when to go

As I mentioned in my last post, I have taken it upon myself to coordinate a multi-family trip to Disney World in order to get myself, my family, my five siblings and their families, and my Mom and Step Dad all down to Disney World for a mega-family once in a lifetime vacation. I thought that I’d capture what I am going through as I plan here on the blog in case others who’ve done this have advice or others who are thinking about doing this can follow along.

Once my siblings gave me either resounding positives or luke warm non-negative responses to whether they wanted to embark on this crazy trip, I sent each of them a survey. I will reproduce the part of the survey that deals with step one in the planning: Deciding when to go. I felt that the answers below would help us to select the date for the trip. Deciding when to go is easily the hardest but most important part of this whole process.

From the survey:

Instructions: Circle one or fill in the answers

  1. Are you interested in going as a group to Walt Disney World?
    1. Yes
    2. No (you may now stop completing this survey)
  2. How long would you want to spend in Disney World
    1. 4 days/3 nights
    2. 5 days/4 nights
    3. 6 days/5 nights
    4. 7 days/6 nights
    5. 8 days/7 nights
    6. Other ___________________________________
  3. What time of the year would you be more interested in going:
    1. Late August (right before school starts, but hot)
    2. Early October (the first week of the month)
    3. Early November (the first or second week of the month)
    4. Other time of year  ___________________________________
  4. Are you willing to take your kids out of school?
    1. Yes
    2. No

Probably the most important decision you make to start off this whole Disney World vacation planning adventure is deciding when to go. If you have school aged children, which all of us in my family do now, then you have to discuss whether you are willing to take those children out of school to go to Disney World. If that isn’t an option for you, then you are limited to the breaks during the school year and summer vacation which are typically the more crowded times in the parks.  If you are not against taking your children out of school, then you can open your search to the less busy and less hot times of the year like spring, fall and winter.

We started our discussion with the year (2013). This would give everyone a little over a year at least, to save up for the trip. Next we had to narrow down to the time of year. Down to the last, every one of my siblings was willing to take their kids out of school in order to go to Disney World. So we were not limited to just the summer months for a vacation. I am not sure if this is because we work a lot with our kids and are willing to take homework down there with us (something my husband and I have done with our kids on a few of our trips) or that as midwesterners, we just can’t take the heat of Florida in June and July. Either way, we were clear to look at dates in the fall.

To start, we looked at the calendars of the members of our party who’s schedules revolve around school schedules. One sister is a teacher, and another works in the admissions office of a college. With these in mind, we identified a week in November and a week in October that would work.

For crowd levels, we looked over the 2012 Touringplans.com crowd calendar for those weeks this year to get an idea of how busy the parks will be on similar dates in 2013. I highly recommend a Touringplans account if you’re planning a Disney World vacation. We’ve been subscribers since long before their Lines iPhone application was even in beta.

For a data-centered nerd like myself, who has a bit of experience with mathematical optimization techniques, I love that the Lines app and the algorithms behind the touring plans inside of it are based on the traveling salesman problem. The solution is backed up with loads and loads of actual park wait times data taken over years.  If you want a little more background on the science behind the Touringplans, you can hear Mr. Len Testa (coauthor of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and member of the podcast WDWToday) himself over on the now-defunct podcast Betamouse. Part one is here and part two is here. If you are interested in the background, I highly recommend giving these two episodes a listen. Perhaps if I drive the listenership up a bit, some of the members of Betamouse who did not leave the podcast to go work directly for Disney might consider restarting it. 🙂 If they need a Rocket Scientist to join in, I’d gladly volunteer.

Ok, enough about betamouse. 🙂

According to the crowd calendar, the equivalent two weeks we were looking at in 2012 ranged from 2’s to 6’s out of 10. If we go in October, we will be able to catch the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival (which is my favorite special event in the parks) and if we go in November, we will miss F&W but the crowd levels will be even lower.

Initially, we were set on November, but were going to have to restrict our visit to 5 days, 4 nights based on vacation restrictions of one of my sisters. Then she got engaged, and has planned her wedding date for 2013. That means she’s out of going on this trip, since she will be paying for a wedding and a honeymoon.

That freed us up to look at October again.

With a week in hand, it was time to start getting data of costs together. That’s where I turned to the travel agent we’ve used in the past, at Mousefan Travel. But that part of the story will have to wait for my next post.

Good night all.

RSM

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Planning a multi-family trip to Walt Disney World: Initial steps

If you know me, or read any of my tweets, you know that I love Walt Disney World (WDW). My husband and I have taken our kids down to see the Mouse at least once a year since they were born. But our love didn’t start when we had kids. Our first vacation together as a couple was a week staying at Dixie Landigs (now called Port Orleans Riverside) at Walt Disney World. Together and apart, we’ve both lost track of just how many times we have visited the Magic Kingdom resort area.

My Mom first talked my Dad into taking my sisters, brother and I to Disney World when it was just the Magic Kingdom in 1976. We were lucky enough to be down there during the bicentennial celebration.  We went two more times together before I went off to college and my parents got divorced. My husband went with his family even more times than that, starting out shortly after the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.

On almost all of the WDW trips we’ve taken our kids on, we’ve also taken my Mom and step Dad. It started because my step Dad had never been, and my husband and I were DVC (Disney Vacation Club) members and wanted to show him the magic of Disney. He was instantly hooked, and each time we went back, he and my Mom would charm their way into joining us.

It’s long been my Mom’s dream to get all of her kids, their significant others, and her grandkids down on a mega-family trip to Walt Disney World. The grandkids are almost all in grade school now, so after bounding the renewed idea off of my Mom, I decided to start the ball rolling. Starting last December, I pinned my siblings down to give me a yes/no answer on their interest level. If only one or two of them were interested, I’d still do the planning, because my husband and I would most likely be taking our kids down to Disney World again anyway, but it wouldn’t accomplish the family gathering my Mom had in mind. Thankfully, everyone either said “oh, yes!” or “ya, ok” and everything in between. We were go for launch.

In order to go the next step (to our travel agent – more on her in later posts) I needed to have additional information to start getting some quotes. I put together a short questionnaire for everyone, sent it to them via email or snail mail depending on which would work, and we reconvened with their answer.

In order to plan a trip to Disney World, the four biggest things you need to decide are:

1. When do you want to go (this is related to when can you take off work, are you willing to take your kids out of school).

2. What is your budget (this is tougher, because you have to start looking at prices of things in order to set your ballpark figure).

3. Where do you want to stay (on property or off property)

4. How are you going to get to Florida (Driving, flying, etc).

Because this post is getting a little long, and because I haven’t been really good about getting new posts up here on my site, I am going to end here. I will pick up in the next post with deciding when you want to go to the parks.

Wish us luck on this journey.

RSM