If your children want to invite friends on your Walt Disney World vacation, give your decision careful thought. There is more involved here than might be apparent. First, consider the logistics of numbers. Is there room in the car? Will you have to leave something at home that you had planned on taking to make room in the trunk for the friend’s luggage? Will additional hotel rooms or a larger condo be required? Will the increased number of people in your group make it hard to get a table at a restaurant?
If you determine that you can logistically accommodate one or more friends, the next step is to consider how the inclusion of the friend will affect your group’s dynamics. Generally speaking, the presence of a friend will make it harder to really connect with your own children. So if one of your vacation goals is an intimate bonding experience with your children, the addition of friends will probably frustrate your attempts to realize that objective.
If family relationship building is not necessarily a primary objective of your vacation, it’s quite possible that the inclusion of a friend will make life easier for you. This is especially true in the case of only children, who may otherwise depend exclusively on you to keep them happy and occupied. Having a friend along can take the pressure off and give you some much-needed breathing room.
If you decide to allow a friend to accompany you, limit the selection to children you know really well and whose parents you also know. Your Disney World vacation is not the time to include “my friend Eddie from school” whom you’ve never met. Your children’s friends who have spent time in your home will have a sense of your parenting style, and you will have a sense of their personality, behavior, and compatibility with your family. Assess the prospective child’s potential to fit in well on a long trip. Is he or she polite, personable, fun to be with, and reasonably mature? Does he or she relate well to you and to the other members of your family?
Because a Disney World vacation is not, for most of us, a spur-of-the-moment thing, you should have adequate time to evaluate potential candidate friends. A trip to the mall, including a meal in a sit-down restaurant, will tell you volumes about the friend. Likewise, inviting the friend to share dinner with the family and then spend the night will provide a lot of relevant information. Ideally this type of evaluation should take place early on in the normal course of family events, before you discuss the possibility of a friend joining you on your vacation. This will allow you to size things up without your child (or the friend) realizing that an evaluation is taking place.
By seizing the initiative, you can guide the outcome. Ann, a Springfield, Ohio, mom, for example, anticipated that her 12-year-old son would ask to take a friend on their vacation. As she pondered the various friends her son might propose, she came up with four names. One, an otherwise sweet child, had a medical condition that Ann felt unqualified to monitor or treat. A second friend was overly aggressive with younger children and was often socially inappropriate for his age. Two other friends, Chuck and Marty, with whom she’d had a generally positive experience, were good candidates for the trip. After orchestrating some opportunities to spend time with each of the boys, she made her decision and asked her son, “Would you like to take Marty with us to Disney World?” her son was delighted, and Ann had diplomatically preempted having to turn down friends her son might have proposed.
We recommend that you do the inviting instead of your child and that you extend the invitation to the parent (to avoid disappointment, you might want to sound out the friend’s parent before broaching the issue with your child). Observing this recommendation will allow you to query the friend’s parents concerning food preferences, any medical conditions, how discipline is administered in the friend’s family, and how the friend’s parents feel about the way you administer discipline.
Before you extend the invitation, give some serious thought to who pays for what. Make a specific proposal for financing the trip a part of your invitation. For example: “There’s room for Marty in the hotel room, and transportation’s no problem because we’re driving. So we’ll just need you to pick up Marty’s meals, theme park admissions, and spending money.”
Additionally, make sure the friend’s parents agree with whatever COVID prevention you may implement and expect your family and the friend you bring along to follow.
For more information on traveling to Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2020.