If you think Walt Disney World is just for little kids, think again! In many ways, a Disney trip is better with older children. They don’t need naps, they can stay up later to watch fireworks, and they are tall enough to ride all of the attractions. A trip to Disney World with big kids, however, is a completely different experience than when visiting with young children. Follow these nine tips to make the most of your Disney World vacation with teens and tweens.
1. Involve teens and tweens in planning your Disney trip.
Teens and tweens will definitely have opinions about what they want to see and do most at Disney World. By all means let them help with planning and take some of the burden off yourself. Get older kids involved as soon as the decision has been made to travel to Disney. They can do some online research, read a guidebook or talk to friends who have visited. Encourage them to write a ranked wish list of attractions and activities. Ask for their suggestions for dining venues, too. Many of the restaurants at the Disney World theme parks and hotels accept dining reservations up to 180 days before your visit so it’s a good idea to plan ahead if there are specific restaurants your kids would like to try.
2. Spring for spacious accommodations.
Choosing the right accommodations can be the key to a successful trip with teens and tweens. Generally speaking, the more space you have, the better. Sure you might be able to fit a family of four or five into a standard hotel room, but if it results in squabbling then it might be worth spending more for additional space. Family members won’t be tripping over each other and everyone will have more privacy and better sleep. Lodging with more than one bathroom and a kitchenette make getting out the door faster in the morning.
When visiting Disney World, families can choose to stay off-property or on-property. Staying off-site means a wider selection of options including suite hotels as well as apartment, condominium or private home rentals. Choosing non-Disney lodging is often less expensive. It also means foregoing many of the benefits associated with staying on Disney property, like Disney-provided transportation, on-site themed dining options and pools, and Extra Magic Hours to gain early theme park entrance.
Disney provides several options for families seeking more space, too. Some of Disney’s Deluxe Villas, like those at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, can sleep up to eight or nine guests. Other Disney properties, such as the Art of Animation Resort, offer family suites with a living room, kitchenette and two bathrooms. Although many Disney properties have connecting rooms available, they cannot be guaranteed at booking. Families of up to six people who would like to “rough it” in comfort can choose the cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness, home to a pool with waterslide and the popular Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue dining spectacular.
3. Broaden your dining horizons.
Visiting Disney World with teens and tweens means you can get more adventurous with dining choices. Most older kids will be open to trying new foods with flavors from around the world in the Epcot World Showcase restaurants.
Teens and tweens are capable of sitting still for longer than little ones and minding their manners during a fine-dining experience too. Take a break from the parks to get dressed up for a night out at one of the fancier Disney restaurants. My family enjoyed a delicious and relaxing Mediterranean-inspired dinner at the Grand Floridian’s Citricos on our last trip to Disney World, something that would have been more stressful and less enjoyable when my kids were younger.
4. Sleep in and stay late.
If there’s one thing nearly all tweens and teens have in common, it’s a penchant for sleeping in. Most are difficult to get out of bed in the morning whether at home or on vacation. After years of fighting my older daughter’s sleep patterns, I finally realized that it was a losing battle and I might as well plan around it. If you also have a late dozer, you might not be able to get an early start most days but you can compensate by staying up late for fireworks shows and other nighttime events.
5. Split up if traveling with younger siblings.
Be prepared to divide and conquer if your family has teens and tweens as well as younger kids. We have a 7-year age gap between our two daughters and I know all too well that a teenager does not want to see the same attractions at Disney World as her much younger sibling. Spend time together as a family seeing the shows and enjoying the activities that appeal to all ages. Then split up so that everyone can enjoy attractions without listening to sibling complaints.
6. Give teens and tweens some freedom to explore.
To give older kids some freedom at Disney World, pair them up with a friend or sibling of a similar age. Disney World is a reasonably safe, closed environment that older kids can navigate with ease if they stay within one park. Some parents may even be willing to let older teens travel by themselves between parks using the Disney transportation system. Be sure to establish rules for keeping in contact and staying safe. Set specific times and locations for meeting up again, too.
7. Schedule down time at Disney World with teens and tweens.
Don’t make the mistake of spending long hours in the amusement parks every day of your vacation. Even teens and tweens need down time. Head back to your resort and to relax in the pool or watch a movie in your room. Be sure to plan a day or two away from the parks wandering through Downtown Disney, splashing at one of Disney’s water parks, or exploring the Orlando/Kissimmee area.
8. Let kids be kids.
Don’t assume that older kids will just want to go on the headliner thrill rides. Some might not like roller coasters and they need not fee bad about it. There are plenty of other things to do at Disney World. Teens and tweens should be allowed to act like a kid at Disney World. It’s one of the only places where they can let their guard down and stop worrying about being cool. They may want to ride It’s a Small World or Peter Pan’s Flight and that’s okay. The same goes for characters. You might just be surprised that your teen or tween is not just willing, but excited about posing with Mickey Mouse or Cinderella, particularly if this is a first-ever Disney visit.
9. Explore Disney activities just for older kids.
When traveling with older kids, your family has more opportunities to experience Disney fun beyond rides and shows. For example, you could take your teens or tweens to a sporting event at the ESPN Wide World of Sports or sign them up for a surfing lesson at Typhoon Lagoon.
Many of the behind-the-scenes tours at Disney World, such as Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom, are restricted to guests aged 16 and older. Others, such as Disney’s The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains, are for ages 10 and up. Your family can also meet dolphins at EPCOT (age 13+), or explore Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort on a Segway all-terrain vehicle on the Wilderness Back Trail Adventure (ages 16+). You can find a listing of special events and tours on the Disney website to make reservations before leaving home.
Have you visited Disney World with teens or tweens? Let us know your best tips in the comments below!