EDITORIAL: Taking Your Teens to Walt Disney World

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If you are planning a trip to Disney World with teenagers you might feel like it’s a daunting task.  After all, Disney World is only for little kids, right?  Well don’t you believe it!  Teens can have a great time at Disney World but it takes some planning.  I have three teens of my own who love Disney World but they are teens and let’s face it, they can be challenging at times.  A Disney vacation is expensive and us adults want to have fun too, so what is a parent of teens to do?  A bit of planning ahead can make for a more relaxed trip for everyone.  The following are some tips I use to keep my teens, as well as my husband & I, happy and drama-free at Disney World.

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Include your teens in the planning process

The more input your big kids have in the planning the better.   Once you establish what level of accommodation you want to book (deluxe, moderate, or value if staying on property) it’s great to include the kids in deciding which resort within that category they most like. Say you choose the moderate level of  resort for your Disney vacation.  Some teens may love the rustic look of Port Orleans Riverside, while others may prefer the tropical vibe at the Caribbean Beach resort.  Ask them to go online to check out resort pictures and reviews so they can offer their input.  I highly recommend staying on property especially with teens which I will explain below. Another area in which your older kids can help in planning is dining.  Let them view menus online and let everyone pick at least one restaurant to dine at.  There are so many dining options to choose so everyone will be happy.   Last but not least teens can help choose your families FP+ options.  I ask each of my kids what are their “must do” rides at each park and make our FP+ selections accordingly.  Some teens may not want to ride only the “mountains”.  You might have teens (like mine) that also enjoy the classics like Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion so include them in the process.

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Stay on Disney property if possible

Staying on site has its obvious benefits such as extra magic hours, magic express service, and 60 days advance booking of FP+, but the most valuable benefit I have found when traveling with teens is the use of the Disney World transportation system and the proximity to the parks.  Depending on the maturity of your teen you can give them some freedom and control to hang back at the resort  and meet up with you later or venture off by themselves for part of the day.  The Disney transportation system is free, safe, and convenient.  Let’s say you are staying at one of my favorite resorts, The Boardwalk Inn.  Instead of fighting your teen to get up so you can go to Epcot early, imagine letting them sleep in and you enjoying some quiet time in Epcot eating breakfast in the France pavilion?  Then when they are ready they can just walk over to Epcot and join you.  Sound good? Cranky teen or café au lait and a croissant in Les Halles?  I know which one I would rather have!  Another fantastic benefit to staying on property are the room charging privileges.  Teens can use their MagicBands to charge a snack, beverage, or souvenir  back to the room giving them even more freedom.  Of course you should discuss beforehand how much your teen is allowed to charge on his or her MagicBand so everyone has the same expectation which eliminates even more drama.  All teens are not the same so use your best judgment as to how much freedom you want them to have.

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Plan for Non Park/ Resort Day(s)

Hitting the parks all day for several days in a row can end in disaster for both the teens and parents.  The heat, the cold, the crowds,  the lines, the rain, and all that walking can wear even the most fanatical Disney fanatic down.  I like to plan some non park/resort time.  The amount of non-park day(s) you plan for will depend on your length  of stay.  One non park/resort day would be a good mid week break to a 6 or 7 day trip.  If you are staying longer for example 10 days or more, I would plan for a non park/resort day every 3 days or so (3 park days, 1 day off).  This day can be a sleep in day, enjoying the pool, exploring the grounds of your resort,  and dining at your resort.  Some resorts like The Boardwalk Inn, Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter offer nighttime entertainment.  All of the value resorts offer pool games & activities throughout the day. Having dinner in your resorts food court or full service restaurant can be very relaxing.  A down day enjoying your resort gives everyone some much needed chance to recharge.

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Book FP+ rides and attractions for the afternoon or evening

When my three kids were little they woke with the sun.  Getting to the Magic Kingdom by 7am or 8am was the norm.  Extra magic morning hours were a perfect fit to our park touring.   This past Christmas two of my teens did get up early  at Disney World ONCE & we enjoyed a relatively empty Magic Kingdom for over an hour.  However that was an anomaly! Most teens will balk at the idea of getting up at 6:45am to get to the parks “rope drop”, so my planning strategy had to change with my older children.  When Disney did away with the paper Fastpasses I wasn’t sure how well the new system would work for us.  Thankfully it has proven to be a benefit to our family.  The urgency to be at the parks early to run around getting Fastpasses is not there with the FP+ system.  Ok, maybe 3 or 4 rides/attractions  a day is not enough for most folks, especially if you only have a few days at Disney, but those 3 or 4 (or more) are guaranteed as long as the ride/attraction is operational.  Having 3 guaranteed FP+ selections eliminates the crazy rush at park open.   Since the plan is for a later start I like to make our FP+ selections for the afternoon.  A sample day might look like this.  Teens sleep in while my husband and I enjoy breakfast at our food court.  Whomever is ready around 10am or so will head to the park with us, let’s say Magic Kingdom.  We ride what we can, maybe see Carousel of Progress or ride the Tommowland Transit Authority People Mover or even shop a little.  We always plan lunch before 12 to avoid the rush.  By noon whichever teen slept in has taken Disney transport to meet up with us in the Magic Kingdom.  This is when I plan my FP+ rides or attractions.  I like to make them for mid afternoon between lunch & dinner.  So for example, on a Magic Kingdom day we might ride Space Mountain at 1pm, Seven Drawfs Mine Train at 2pm, and Haunted Mansion at 3pm.  After that we see if we can get anymore FP+’s for the day.  Recently this process has been made easier as you can select your 4th FP+ directly from your phone via the My Disney Experience app.   I prefer to have a sit down dinner each night so we can all enjoy a nice meal together.  Then we either catch the fireworks, night time parade, or ride whatever has the lowest lines like Monsters Laugh Floor, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress, Philharmagic, or The Country Bear Jamboree.  Planning our FP+ during the mid afternoon or early evening ensures that even if we get a late start we won’t miss our favorite rides or attractions since we have them booked already.

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Plan a Tour

The Walt Disney World Resort offers many tours that are for ages 16 and up.  These tours offer history, trivia, fun facts, backstage access, and some even include lunch!  The best tour in my opinion is Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour.  I took my oldest the year she turned 16 and we loved every moment of it.  As soon as my youngest turns 16 we will take this awesome tour again.  The tour is 4-5 hours with lots of walking.  You get to go backstage and even under the Magic Kingdom to the Utilidors! Lunch is included at Columbia Harbour House.  For even more “magic” you can take the Backstage Magic Tour which is a 7 hour backstage tour of Epcot, Hollywood Studios, & the Magic Kingdom.  This tour is also for those 16 and up.  If learning more about animals sounds interesting there is the Backstage Tales Tour at Animal Kingdom.  Geared for ages 12 and up this tour takes you behind the scenes at Animal Kingdom to see the animal hospital, feeding areas, and learn about Wildlife Conservation efforts.  At Epcot you can take The UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour. During this 4 hour tour for ages 16+ guests learn about how Epcot developed from Walt Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow into today’s theme park.  You will also learn about the meaning behind and technology used to create Epcot’s nightly fireworks & lazer show Illuminations Reflections of Earth. These tours are a great way to spend the day with your teen(s) while you all learn something new.

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When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Shopping

Disney Springs is a great place to go with your teens.  My teens enjoy going to the mall and Disney Springs is one big outside mall that has something for everyone.  My girls love the edgy clothes and jewelry at Tren-D and the unique items at the Marketplace Co-Op.  My son loves Goofy’s Candy Company and Ghirardelli’s.  If your teens are soccer fans they might like United World of Soccer.  Teens might want to check out Happy Hound to bring home a present for the family dog.  While others may want to check out the Harley Davidson store or Curl by Sammy Duval  for clothes and accessories.  There’s also plenty of fun for older kids at Splitsville Luxury Lanes Bowling and the AMC Movie Theater.  Of course there are also many great options for dining that appeal to teens as well like House of Blues, Wolfgang Puck’s, and Earl of Sandwich.  MagicBands work in Disney Springs for charging privileges so your older teens can explore a little on their own and do a bit of shopping.

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Upgrade your Dining Experiences

Dining at Disney World can consist of hamburgers and chicken nuggets or you can expand your palate (and your waistline!) by visiting some of the finer dining establishments Disney has to offer.  So many dining options open up for families when the kids get older.  Dining with teens is less stressful than with younger children.  They don’t need to be entertained with crayons or toys at the table and they usually are willing to try some new things on the menu.  My kids have grown into “foodies” and love the nicer and more upscale restaurants at Disney World. We dress up and make it an event.  Last year we celebrated my birthday at the Contemporary’s California Grill.  The food was excellent, service attentive and relaxed, something you couldn’t have with younger kids in tow.  Our next visit we are dining at Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Resort and we are all looking forward to it.  If it’s good enough for Joe Rohde it’s good enough for us!

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Be Flexible

I love this quote I saw on Pinterest, “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy.”  So true! This also applies to your Disney vacation.  You can plan down to the last minute and as with life something will happen to change your plans.  I speak from experience.  We have experienced everything from blisters on our feet to emergency room visits. We’ve  had our Hoop Dee Doo reservations “auto cancelled” whatever that means and were told there was nothing they could do.  My whole family was sick with the norovirus all at the same time.  My son who was 4 at the time wandered off in Pinocchio’s Village Haus.  Rides break down, it pours right before a parade, kids have meltdowns, shows get cancelled.  It happens, even in the most magical place on earth.  Expect that something may happen that derails your best laid plans.  Every detail does not have to be perfect to still have a fun Disney World vacation.   Enjoy you teens while they are still yours.  Like Crush says “Go with the flow.”

I don’t know about you, but there are times when planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming! There are so many options, where to stay, when to go, is this the best price. So, I want to introduce you all to Cindy Minor and the team at Small World Big Fun. They will help you plan your Disney vacation for FREE. Contact them today!

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About the author

Anne Marie Cronin

Former New Yorker, Anne Marie has spent much of her career in the fast paced financial industry before discovering all that Walt Disney World has to offer. As the "official go to person" on all matters Disney for friends, co-workers, and family, Anne Marie enjoys helping others with Disney World travel and planning. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 25 years and is the proud mom to 3 wonderful kids.

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