Brad and I recently got back from a big family trip down to Walt Disney World. We were a total party of nine: me and Brad; his parents; his sister, Rachel; his grandparents, Gram and Pops; and his cousin, Gina, and her husband, Matt. We had a great time as three generations of one big family, plus a few Cast Member friends sprinkled in here and there.
Brad has been really fortunate to go to Disney with his grandparents many times in his life. Gram and Pops have the worst FOMO ever so when Brad and I got Annual Passes, so did they (and Rachel, and then a year later, his parents too).
We’ve traveled to Disney with Gram and Pops quite a few times since then (including a Spring Break road trip in 2015 where the van broke down. Twice). So we wanted to share a few tips we’ve learned along the way on visiting Disney with grandparents.
Plan Down Time
This is a popular tip for families with young children. But honestly, adults need nap time too. Especially when it’s hot, like it was during our trip in August. I planned a nap time every day. We went into a park in the morning, stayed just through lunch, returned to the hotel for a nap/swim/shower, then left again for dinner and a couple more hours in a park. Going back in the afternoon kept us out of the worst heat, since we were worried about Pops overheating.
Your best plan will depend on your family’s needs. Maybe a lengthy lunch, or seeing a show in the afternoon is enough of a break for you. Maybe early mornings and evenings in January are too chilly for your grandparents, and they prefer to join the group in the afternoon.
However you do it, make sure everyone gets some kind of break. We’ve done the open-to-close park days, but after a few days of it, everyone is too exhausted to enjoy themselves anyway. Those kind of trips are better left to the millennials.
Rent a Scooter
Even if your grandparents don’t normally use any kind of wheelchair or scooter, get one for vacation. Gram has no-so-great knees, so even though she can manage in daily life, she just can’t keep up with all the walking that goes into a Walt Disney World vacation. The last several trips we’ve taken with them, Gram has been in a wheelchair. This most recent trip, we finally convinced her to try an electric scooter. She agreed to try it at Epcot first, because that park has the easiest sidewalks to navigate-- they’re wider and flatter than the other parks. Gram was worried that she would a) run into kids or b) be too cautious and not get anywhere. But she actually did great. And by the next day, she was willing to rent a scooter again and wanted Pops to get one too. So by the end of the vacation, we were a two scooter family.
The downside was when she wanted to get up and walk for a bit, like in a shop, she had to park the scooter, which was not her forte. With the wheelchair, we would pile the backpack on the seat and she’d push it like a walker when she wanted to stretch her legs.
Plus, since we didn’t convince her to try a scooter until we were already at Disney and almost halfway through the trip, we rented the ones from the park, which aren’t the best. You’re definitely better off renting a higher quality scooter from an Orlando based company. Just like with stroller rentals, you can have a scooter delivered to your hotel. That way you’ll have it for going to and from the bus or monorail. Plus, every single non-park rental scooter we saw seemed nicer than the ones from the park, which were pretty cumbersome.
However, having the wheelchair was very convenient at the airport, because security would have been an extra slow process had Gram been walking the whole time. Not to mention then we'd have to move like turtles to our gate. We could have gotten a chair to use from the airport itself, but having one already just made things easier. Brad and I are both very fast walkers, so it was quicker for us to just push her to the gate.
If you've never been to Walt Disney World with a wheelchair or scooter before, be aware that there are different loading procedures for each attraction. Cast Members will ask if you're able to transfer out of the chair/scooter and into the ride vehicle, and they usually want that person to answer, not someone else in the party. Some rides will have the wheelchair party enter from the exit (Spaceship Earth), some have you wait in line with everyone else (Pirates of the Caribbean).
Each ride has a specific limit on how many mobility impaired guests it can have at a given time. For example, Splash Mountain only allows 4 handicapped guests on at a time-- they need to know exactly which of their guests will need assistance if the ride is evacuated for any reason. So don't assume that having a wheelchair or scooter in your party is some kind of extra Fastpass+. Your wait could vary hugely from the one posted. It all depends on how many other wheelchair families are waiting ahead of you.
Find the Classics
If your grandparents are anything like Gram and Pops, they aren’t exactly caught up on the latest Disney movies. They thought Frozen Ever After was a cute ride, but haven’t seen Frozen. Gram loves the Tangled restroom area, but we had to practically force them to watch Tangled. They adopted a cat, named him Jedi and HAD NEVER SEEN ANY STAR WARS MOVIES (they’ve now at least seen episodes 4 and 5).
So, when planning an itinerary with them in mind, I try to fit in as many classic attractions, or at least attractions that feature classic movies, as we can. Magic Kingdom has plenty of great options like:
-Carousel of Progress
-Peter Pan’s Flight
-it’s a small world
-Winnie the Pooh
-Enchanted Tiki Room
The other three parks have some good attractions, but less of them (mainly from having less attractions to begin with) but we tend to do:
-Living With The Land- Epcot
-Spaceship Earth- Epcot
-The Great Movie Ride- Hollywood Studios
-Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage- Hollywood Studios
-Kilimanjaro Safaris- Animal Kingdom
-Festival of the Lion King- Animal Kingdom
You may have noticed from my list, but I try to keep an itinerary full of rides that are low-impact, and focus our Fastpasses on those attractions. Between the easy-going rides, shows, and parades, there’s plenty to fill our Fastpasses. Then, the “kids” can hit the roller coasters, first thing in the morning before the Fastpasses start, or in the evenings when the grandparents have gone back.
Stay on Property
Staying in a Disney hotel makes accommodating the various desires of your party a heck a lot easier. So when your grandparents are tired after dinner and want to return to the hotel, they can simply get on a bus/monorail/boat and get where they need to go. Disney transportation is super prepared for their guests’ needs. You’ll be able to roll a wheelchair or scooter right onto any of the transportation.
We’ve stayed on and off property with Gram and Pops, and we have found that being in a Disney hotel is just plain easier, especially with a wheelchair. And it makes keeping everyone happy in a big group easier when the group can split up and come and go as everyone pleases.
You know how your parents and grandparents love family dinner? Make it a priority while on vacation. Trust me, they'll all love it. Our vacation seemed to be focused more around meal times than attractions. And for good reason, since that's when we all sort of came together.
Gina and Matt were a last-minute addition to our group, so while I was able to add them to our ADRs no problem, I couldn't add them to our Fastpasses. They did their own thing during the day (although all nine of us rode Jungle Cruise and it's a small world together the day we wore our matching shirts), and even the rest of us kinda came and went throughout the parks.
But we were all together for dinners. It was nice to be able to catch up while sitting down in air conditioning, rather than waiting in a sunny line. Plus, we were often joined by our Cast Member friends, and we are very much a "more the merrier" group. The highlight meal was without a doubt California Grill: amazing food, incredible view of Wishes, we celebrated Matt and Gina's first wedding anniversary, and saw another couple get engaged, and the whole restaurant applauded them. Sitting down and eating together everyday was probably the most memorable part of the vacation.
Have you ever visited Walt Disney World with your grandparents? Are you thinking of planning a trip? We'd love to hear your thoughts, so let us know in the comments!