Monday, August 15, 2011

Grand Gatherings Going Away

Disney announced last week the discontinuation of Grand Gathering experiences after January 28th, 2012.  While I’ve never had the opportunity to participate in a Grand Gathering experience (Illuminations dinner/dessert reception, safari celebration dinner, etc.), I have had several opportunities to travel as a Grand Gathering.  Disney World considers any group traveling with 8 or more, a Grand Gathering.  Since our group didn’t partake of any of the specialized experiences for large groups, about the other thing a Grand Gathering served for us was the ability to deal with a Cast Member at booking who was familiar with booking multiple rooms, linking reservations and the like.  

I do like that Disney puts groups traveling with more than 8 in their party in a special category and feel like there should be more done to enhance the group’s experience outside of special offers like the dinners and cruises.  Large groups have unique logistics that should be accounted for in order to ease some of that travel burden; after all, groups require more rooms, meals, tickets, etc. racking up higher costs.  Right now, groups of 8 or more have their reservations linked in the system, but there is no guarantee of getting rooms in proximity to each other.  “Request” is the term use.  At times, I’ve been next to other members of our party.  Sometimes, down the hall or another floor.  It’s hit or miss.  Another place that could cater more towards large groups is dining reservations.  Sometimes groups sit together, sometimes not.  I understand the system is a give-and-take between accommodating these large groups and smooth operations, but if Disney is listening for improvements, that would be an area to focus on.    

Traveling with a large group or multiple family units has its challenges.  It can be the best vacation every, or the worst depending on how you plan it.  Here are some tips that I would offer:
  • Designate a “planner”.  Groups are notoriously bad at making decisions.  You need a leader and a plan.  Best to have that plan laid out before you arrive.  Poll your group, get their input into what they’d like to see and do, where they all want to eat.  Take into account any special needs.  
  • Write the “plan” down and give everyone a copy.  This way there is no confusion when to be where.  
  • Make sure everyone has everyone else’s contact information.  In this day and age, most everyone has a cell phone.  The cell phone is the life-saver of the large group.  If you get separated, or plan to split up, use text messaging to coordinate a meet up time.  I once got lost from part of my group at  “The World of Disney” in Downtown Disney (it's a BIG store!).  I walked and walked around that store but could not find them.  Finally, texted my sister-in-law and turns out they were right near me.  I just couldn’t see them over the displays. 
  • Split up.  Yes, I know you came all the way to Florida to be “together” but sometimes it’s easier to navigate the park in smaller packs.  If you have grandparents with you, give them dedicated and focused time with each grandchild.  Establish a plan to meet up for lunch or dinner, or a show.  
  • Understand your groups’ “problem children”.  You know…that cousin who doesn’t get a along with everyone else, the grumpy uncle, or the moody teenager.  Don’t let them bring you down.  Expect that drama will happen, and move on.  It may be billed as the “The Most Magical Place on Earth” but crowds, waits, heat, rain, and just too much family time can bring out the worst in people.  I’ll admit I’ve had a few mini-meltdowns at Disney World because things were going my way.  People are people and they don’t change just because they are on vacation.
  • Designate a meeting time/location in the mornings.  Listen people, you got to make rope drop, and you will not if someone is taking too long to blow dry their hair.  Yeah, yeah…I sound like a drill sergeant, but the point is that it’s no fun waiting around for someone.  Be on time and be courteous.  If you can’t make it, text someone and catch up with the group later. 
  • Wear matching or bright shirts.  You laugh at those people with the matching shirts, but let me tell you from experience, if your entire group is a wearing bright yellow shirt, you will not lose each other in crowds.  

Traveling with friends and family can be an extremely rewarding experience.  I hope you all get to experience it, at least once.  

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