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Image: Disney

Where there are people, there will be conflict…

It’s human nature for people to have disagreements sometimes—even among close friends. You might think your family is the only one who can’t take a vacation without things getting tense, but you’re actually in the majority.

Theme parks like Disneyland and Walt Disney World have a unique way of highlighting people’s differences in dramatic ways. One family member wants to take things slow; another can’t hit the next attraction fast enough. One likes strict itineraries; another is a free spirit who prefers spontaneity. Your four year old may want to spend the whole vacation in Fantasyland while your teenager only cares about thrill rides and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Age, temperament, and personality can all play into these contrasts.

How in the world is a family to have a peaceful vacation if everyone you’re traveling with is just so different?

Too many Disney parks vacations are spoiled because pace and preference differences are handled poorly. One strong personality might call all the shots, leaving others feeling unsatisfied and left out. Another common scenario is that the entire trip might be tailored to the desires of the youngest child, leaving older children frustrated.

The good news is it is possible to have a satisfying, enjoyable Disney parks vacation when traveling with family and friends who have significant differences. Here are the top tips we found to make it happen…

1. Know your limits

Happy couple near Big Thunder; the woman has Minnie Ears
Image: Disney

There are some realities when traveling with a diverse party—even family—that cannot be avoided. It’s worth considering which limits you may need to manage during your trip that cannot be altered with any amount of planning.

If you have small children, for example, they will need an adult watching them at all times. A large group of kids may be too much for one adult to handle. In similar form, if you have any party members with mobility or care issues, it may not be an option for them to spend portions of the day alone. Other realities to work with may include care for infants, awareness of energy levels, and medical needs.

Instead of ignoring these realities, be aware of them and prepare accordingly. Sometimes just being mentally prepared can reduce conflict in the moment.

2. What are your Disney-magic musts?

Guy and girl toasting with blue and green milk
Image: Disney

There’s something for everyone at Disney parks, and different people are going to look forward to different things…

One of the biggest problems when you have pace and personality differences on a Disney trip is that some party members may feel like their desires aren’t heard. The scales might be tipped too far towards all decisions being made either by the majority or specific family members with strong personalities.

It’s worth taking time before your trip to identify what each family member is looking forward to the most. Is there a particular ride or attraction they don’t want to miss? Is there a meal they want to try? Could they care less about the parks and just want some time napping by the pool?

Go into your trip aware of these wish lists. Some may be short and some may be long, but work as a family to do what you can to make these top experiences happen.

You’re not going to be able to please everyone—you will drive yourself batty trying to do so. You can, however, make efforts so everyone in the party feels included by planning to hit their top wish list items. Some may not be possible simply due to realities like last-minute planning or crowd levels (for example, do not base the total happiness of your vacation on A) Getting onto Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or B) Getting a reservation at Oga’s Cantina or Be Our Guest). You can, however, take measures to plan to visit must-do experiences so you have the best chance that everyone feels heard, valued, and included.

3. Consider strategies for points of conflict

Two boys in Chip n' Dale Mickey Ears trying to pull sword from stone
Image: Disney

The larger your party is, the more likely you will encounter some sort of conflict during your Disney parks vacation. Some of these may be minor disagreements, while others may risk becoming major interruptions and points of frustration.

While you don’t want necessarily want to go down the black hole of mind-reading (assuming others thoughts and intentions) or catastrophizing (assuming the worst outcome is inevitable), it is worth considering how to handle obvious points of conflict.

One common area of conflict for families visiting Disney parks is what time to arrive every day. Do you have an early riser in the group who will make every effort to be at parks before opening gate? If you have other party members who struggle to wake up early (or get the kids ready) on the best of days, you have a potential source of conflict worth talking about. On one hand, you can strategize ways to help the late risers get to bed a little earlier or perhaps pitch in to help with the kids in the morning to speed things up. On the other hand, it may be good for the early riser to be prepared for a later arrival and have a back-up touring strategy so their day isn’t ruined. What you do will depend on your family but consider your options.

Two other points of conflict are closely related: age differences and thrill-ride preference. As mentioned, it is not uncommon for families to tailor an entire Disney vacation around the youngest child, leaving older children (and even adults) feeling frustrated. The same scenario can play out if you tailor your trip to family members who don’t like thrill rides, leaving those who want to try those attractions unsatisfied. Rather than tilting the scales one way or another, consider strategies for how to hit those wish list items as a family. Not everyone needs to ride all of the rides or follow the same itinerary—as we will explore below, your party can consider splitting up for portions of the day, taking advantage of systems like Rider Switch, and even planning purposeful breaks...

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