Vacation Planning

Tips to Enjoying (Not Just Surviving) a Group Family Vacation

I have been pretty lucky to get to do so many group family vacations over the years with both my family and my husband’s family. We share so many fun memories…and a few that maybe weren’t so fun at the time but we can laugh about now.

Photo Credit: Disney Destinations

Tip 1: Be Willing to Break Rank Sometimes

There is no hard and fast rule that says when you’re traveling as a group that says you must start and finish your day together. You do not have to be together all of the time.

We’ve traveled to Disneyland several times with my grown nephews. We have always have a blast together. But we rarely start the day at the park together. My hubby and I are early risers and like to be there when the parks open. The nephews are just the opposite. They text us when they get in the parks, and we get together then. It’s no big deal. Everyone is enjoying the trip the way they that makes them happy.

I had a client who recently returned from Walt Disney World. It was a couple with their two elementary-aged children. They had gotten up early one morning try to get on the new Rise of the Resistance ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The system for getting on the ride was crazy when it first opened. Despite their much too early morning, they were unable to obtain the elusive “Boarding Group” that would allow them to get on the ride.

The dad really, really, really wanted to ride Rise of the Resistance (and who could blame him). The rest of the family wanted to sleep in (and who could blame them). This could have been a huge battle or a situation that required some personal sacrifice. Instead they chose to let Dad get up early one morning while the rest of the family chose to sleep in and explore their resort. Everyone was happy and Dad got to share how awesome the new ride was…and I enjoyed reading about it.

Tip 2: Don’t Try to Do Too Much

One lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way over and over through the years is that the larger group, the slower it moves. So don’t try to schedule too much into your days.

Even in small groups, you’re always moving at the pace of the slowest traveler. It might not be you on Monday, but it might be you on Thursday when your feet are knee is acting up and slowing you down. Don’t let people get frustrated when someone seems to be slowing the group down.

Allowing your group to set up a schedule that is too rigorous will make you look like a group of military recruits out on a long march. The looks on your group’s faces will say it all. Take the time to look at people’s faces and see if it’s time to take a break and sit for a moment…or maybe reassess your schedule for the day…or maybe even split up for a little while (see Tip 1).

Tip 3: Have a Back-Up Plan Ready

There are a number of reasons you may want to have a back-up plan ready to go. Sometimes you realize that you have too many things to do in too short a time. If this is the case, knowing ahead of time which activities are easiest to drop is a life saver. There is no need to sit and waste valuable time trying to decide what to drop in the heat of the moment.

Other times, you can look around at your group and know that no one’s enjoying whatever the group is doing. Maybe it sounded fun during the planning, but the reality is that no one is enjoying it. Cut your losses and move on to the next activity…or stop for an ice cream to get the group back in a happy frame of mind before moving on. Yes, we do use ice cream to readjust moods in our family.

Maybe you’ve planned an outdoor activity, but it begins pouring down rain. It’s okay to have a back-up plan in place to make sure everyone stays safe and dry…and most likely happier…when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.

In the end, you have the ability to change things up to make sure everyone is enjoying their time together. If needed, it’s okay to split up into smaller groups (see Tip 1).

Tip 4: Know What People’s Must-Do or Want-to-See Lists Are

For most group family vacations, people are putting out a lot of money on accommodations, activities and hotels. While it is nearly impossible to do everything everyone wants to do, trying to work in at least one thing that each person wants to do can go a long ways in having a happy group. Ask everyone ahead of time what things they want to do on the trip and use that information to create an itinerary.

When planning a family vacation, that is one of the first questions I ask each individual. I work hard to try to fit in something for everyone.

Tip 5: Assign Everyone a Task That They Do Well

Do you have someone in the group that enjoys taking photos, go ahead and ask them to be in charge of taking photos on the trip. Are you headed to Mexico and someone likes to show off their Spanish-speaking skills, let them be the interpreter when needed. Do you notice Cousin Freddie fancies himself a foodie…he posts dozens of pictures daily on his social media from the restaurants he goes to. Let him pick out some places to eat during the trip.

When someone agrees take on a role for the group, they begin to feel like they have a stake in making sure this trip goes well. Thank them profusely and give them encouragement. It can be hard work trying to figure out a place eat that will appeal to almost everyone. Gratitude goes a long way in getting people to offer their services in the future.

Caution: Occasionally when I’m planning a trip for a larger family group I come across someone who is a “control freak.” They want to make all the decisions for everyone. Listen to what they say to express their opinions and implement one or two of the suggestions where appropriate…but don’t let them take control over the entire trip. Believe me, everyone will be happier that way.

Tip 6: Shop Around for Group Discounts

Group discounts can be found many places. The thing to remember is some places offer group discounts for groups of eight or more, and other discounts require you to have a significantly larger group. When checking out the prices of where you want to go, there is usually a link and/or phone number to call to discuss group discounts. And who doesn’t like to save a few dollars?

Some discounts require you to purchase them in advance. Still other discounts may require you to visit on certain days of the week or during certain times of the day. This is all important information to know when planning your family’s itinerary. It never hurts to ask if your group can get an exception if the restrictions don’t work…but don’t count on an exception.

Tip 7: Share the Knowledge

When I have taken the time to plan a trip for a larger group, I like to have an initial conversations with the group. If a destination has been decided on, there is a good chance that many in the group have already done some research on their own which is a good representation of their own interests and motivators.

You can gather everyone’s ideas together and assemble them and send the ideas out to the group. I find that in some ways this can become almost like a personalized guidebook for the group. Like in Tip 5, it allows everyone to share their strengths to come out with an itinerary that’s works for just about everyone.

Tip 8: Know When to Speak and When to Listen

It is important that everyone feels like they have had some say in the planning. Once you get deeper into the planning stages, it’s important that people continue to feel heard. You need to be sure you understand any special needs that people have.

It is perfectly okay to have a pre-published agenda and stick to it when having a planning meeting with the family. It is essential to share any information people may need to be aware of such as deposit or final due dates of payments.

It is also a good idea to share your initial itinerary with the group. Give them a few days to look it over and make suggestions for adjustments. It is also important to make sure people are aware of any special medical needs such as food allergies or mobility issues family members may have.

For example, maybe Aunt Susan expresses her concern that she can’t hike the required five miles to ride every ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s a great opportunity to see if she would prefer you locate areas where she can rest within the park or prefer to rent a wheelchair or mobility scooter. If she wants a wheelchair, who will be pushing her around? Are there volunteers? It is much better to have solutions in place before you leave than to deal with these issues once you get there.

Tip 9: Talk Things Out

This is one of the most important tips I can give. It is so important to have open conversations when planning a trip. To resolve most of the issues ahead of time by talking through them allows for a much more amicable trip. I encourage you to keep planning meetings to 45 minutes and stick to an agenda. This ensures that conversation doesn’t go too far off the rails. You can always follow up where needed when you’ve been able to step away from the problem and look at it from fresh eyes and do some research.

It is crucial that everyone feels like they’ve had the opportunity to have their say – or at least a few minutes to express themselves. Despite the fact people may not agree, they all can feel like they have been able to contribute to the conversation. Even quiet Cousin Callie might have a hidden obsession with Disney trivia and might be able to come up with a game the kids can play when they are getting restless during an hour-long wait for Space Mountain.

Tip 10: Try Using a Trip Planning Service

For larger groups, I recommend using a trip planning service. There are some great online tools and resources as well as travel advisors that specialize in group travel. If you decide to use a specialty travel advisor, I recommend you interview them to before signing any documents. It is important to understand what, if any, documentation you will need to sign or fees that will need to be paid. These fees can be worth their weight in gold.

If you don’t want to use a travel advisor, check around to see what online tools you can find to help you in your planning and booking. I continue to add resources to my website on a continuous basis to help people plan for their family vacations. I encourage you to do a search or contact me using the “Contact” page if you have any specific questions. I really enjoy helping families put together trips that will create memories that last a lifetime.

And remember: The family that plays together, stays together.

Vacation Planning

Discover the Benefits of Using a Travel Advisor

For many travelers, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of having a travel advisor working for you. As the pandemic emerged, travel restrictions were changing day by day and, often, minute by minute. Many travelers were finding themselves on hold with airlines and cruise lines trying to figure out what was allowed and what wasn’t…and in some cases, some of the online travel websites went bankrupt in a matter of just a few weeks and travelers lost their money.

For several weeks in March of 2020, I spent 8 to 10 hours a day just on hold with various travel suppliers. I got created when needed and sometimes using two different phones and two different lines trying to ensure the most efficient use of my time. In the end, I was able to get every single one of my clients either a refund or vacation rescheduled just like they wanted. Some travelers were not so lucky.

I kept my clients apprised of what was happening and every change and update that affected their individual reservations. Those were such grueling days for me, but my clients were able to sit back and handle other things that were more pressing in their lives at the time…and dream ahead to when they would finally be able to take their trips.

There are a lot of advantages to using a travel advisor. Following are some of the most useful benefits:

Travel Advisors Advocate and Fight for You If Something Goes Wrong

People don’t always realize that a travel advisor can (and should) advocate for you if something unexpected happens on your trip. Maybe you paid for an ocean view room at a swanky resort, but the resort says they are overbooked puts you in a room with a view of the parking lot. You can contact your travel advisor. Often a call from a travel advisor can find a way to make things right.

Sometimes an oversight or confusion of a detail can occur before or even during your trip. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes a mistake will happen that is not your fault. A travel advisor will take the time to go through the information and sort it out for you so that you can get back on track with your vacation. Travel advisors can also be great proponent of getting you compensated with cash or future credit when the fault belongs with the travel supplier whether that be a cruise, hotel, or tour operator.

You Get to Work With the Same Person Every Time You Call

Let’s face it, it can be very frustrating to make a call to a customer service line…any customer service line. Every time you get transferred, you need to explain your situation all over again.

When using a travel advisor, you get to talk to the same advisor every single time you call. They work with you from the early planning stages of your trip until you return home. They get to know you and what you need. They remember why you made the choices you did in hotels or destinations. They are committed to assisting you with your vacation plans.

Travel Advisors are Continuously Training and Getting Educated

A lot of people think to themselves, “Can’t I just plan this trip myself?” You absolutely can! But travel advisors are continuously training with tour operators and cruise lines and theme parks…as well as staying up-to-date and educated on the travel industry as a whole. I personally average one to two hours per day participating in educational opportunities, certifications and trainings.

But it’s more than being educated about the general basics of the travel industry. Travel advisors also take advantage of familiarization trips (also known as fam trips) to experience and inspect hotels, restaurants, cruise lines, as well as being able to sample area attractions and services. Contrary to popular opinion, these trips are often long days and are not relaxing trips for a travel advisor.

Many Travel Advisors are Free to Use

Many people don’t realize this, but most travel advisors cost the traveler absolutely nothing. They don’t need to charge a fee because they are paid via commission by the travel supplier. I do not charge a fee for my travel advisor services.

For example, Disney may pay the travel advisor a set rate commission for booking a package that includes hotel, tickets, and dining. This costs the traveler absolutely nothing extra. The travel advisor looks for special promotions that may be available if you change your check-in date, etc., that the individual may not be aware of. Disney pays the travel advisor a commission because they are specially trained to work with the travelers on putting together a dream family vacation. This benefits Disney because the traveler is calling their travel advisor instead of Disney.

Several things the traveler should take note of:

  • If using a travel advisor to do research for a trip, please use them to book it. It would be unethical to use up hours of their time only to turn around and book it directly yourself.
  • If you see something that appears to be priced less expensively on an online site such as Expedia, 9 times out of 10 you are not looking at an apples-to-apples comparison. Please let your travel advisor know so that they can try to price match or see if there are restrictions to the lower rate you are seeing that you are not aware of or don’t want.
  • Some travel agencies do charge fees to their clients…especially for specialty vacations like destination weddings. Be sure to inquire about any fees a travel advisor may charge prior to working with them.

Travel Advisors Can Help Choose Excursions and Activities Suited to You

Often when we think of travel advisors, we think that they sit around all day just booking the reservations via a computer. While that is certainly one aspect of their job, they are also fantastic resources for helping choose activities and excursions relevant to your vacation.

Are you an active traveler? They can suggest activities and suppliers that can take you zip lining or give you private surf lessons. They can help plan a romantic sunset cruise on a catamaran in Hawaii. As a travel advisor gets to know you better, they can make suggestions catered specifically to you and your family.

Because travel advisors get opportunities to experience travel themselves (and receive feedback from other clients’ travel experiences), they are familiar with many destinations. They are not just aware of the most popular and familiar things to do at a destination, but they can also do additional research and help you pick out the perfect plans.

For example, I recently had a client traveling to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. She wanted to take her daughter for dinner with a princess. There are actually half a dozen different places to have a meal with a princess there, but some of these dining experiences aren’t known to most travelers. I asked her who her daughter’s favorite princess was. She let me know it was Rapunzel. I was able to arrange a breakfast with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. They were one of only a handful of tables at this breakfast so the interaction time with Rapunzel and Flynn was phenomenal. That’s the type of experience a travel advisor can put together for you.

A Travel Advisor Gets to Know You and What You Like

A good travel advisor will work with you vacation after vacation. As they do so, they get to know you and what you prefer on a vacation. Do you prefer first class flights or economy? Do you prefer an upper floor room? A room close to the elevator? A cruise versus an all-inclusive resort? They get to know your likes and dislikes and what is important to you.

The benefit here is that it makes it quicker and simpler to book and work with you each trip. When you call a cruise line’s call center, you have to explain everything to them again and again…every time you call you get someone different. Your travel advisor knows you already. The result is time saved and value and advantages for you!

Travel Advisors Sit on Hold So You Can Spend Your Time Doing Something You Enjoy

Want to catch up and binge watch your favorite TV show? If you’ve ever spent hours on hold with a cruise line, you’ll know how frustrating it can be to lose that time…and they always seem to pick up at the most inopportune time like when you’re trying to get the kids to bed.

Seriously though, one of the best benefits of using a travel advisor is they will save you time. They are the ones to sit on hold with the cruise line and work with them to sort out any problems, errors or questions relating to your reservation.

The best thing about this is that you don’t have to. That means you have more to do something else…just about anything else!

Gifts of Appreciation

Travel advisors enjoy showing their appreciation for your business…and often that will come in the form of a gift.

Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you.

–Ralph Marston

I love that quote. I value my clients and wish to show my appreciation for their loyalty and business.

Who doesn’t like walking into your hotel room and find a thank you note with a little something extra like chocolate-covered strawberries or a gift basket…or onboard credit for a cruise. Travel advisors want you not to just book one vacation with them but many more. They put in a lot of work to help you have a great trip and want you to know they appreciate your business.

Travel Advisors Specialize and Focus on Certain Types of Vacations

Travel advisors spend a lot of time being educated and certified. This means many travel advisors have specialties that they focus on. My specialty and focus is on family travel…whether it’s a family of 2 or a family reunion of 200. As a result, I have taken the time to get certified in popular family destinations and types of travel such as group travel, Disney vacations and cruise lines.

Because of this additional training, a travel advisor often continues to watch for price changes and work with their clients to get them the best deals possible. Sometimes that means getting clients a free upgrade or financial savings.

But What If I Like Doing the Planning Myself?

Most travel advisors allow you to do as much or as little planning as you want. Some people enjoy planning the details of their trip. A travel advisor can still add value by making suggestions you might not be aware of. They can handle the general booking of the trip while allowing you to keep control of the particular details you want control of.

A travel advisor can also add the benefit of making you aware of new opportunities and offering up savings like onboard credit on a cruise ship. If something goes wrong, they are there to advocate for you…and spend hours on hold so you don’t have to.

If you’ve never used a travel advisor to help you book your trip, I highly recommend you try it. You just might be surprised at how much less stressful a trip can become when using a trained travel advisor.

If you want more information on how I can benefit you in planning your next trip, please feel free to use the “Contact” page to let me know.