There’s no doubt that Walt Disney World is a magical fantasy land where proud little girls in updos twirl in their finest princess attire and boys wait patiently in line to channel The Force in their battle against Darth Vader or Kylo Ren but if you’re wondering if you Disney is still a cool place for a family vacation with tweens and teens, my answer is yes.
This year we were fortunate to have received an invitation to Disney Social Media Moms (DSMM), an invite-only conference for social media influencers and their families. The highly coveted invitation is one that’s always lovely to receive and never expected especially since I am a DSMM veteran. When it landed in my inbox, I knew immediately that I wanted to go.
But would my family? Would Emily, age 12, and our 9 year old, Thomas, still love Walt Disney World as much as they did when they were younger? Or had they outgrown it?
The answer is no.
My kids are still as in love with Walt Disney World as they were when they were little but their focus has changed. Instead of our kids eagerly awaiting autographs from favorite characters at meet and greet spots and Character Breakfasts, they’re all about the adrenaline rush that comes with riding their favorite rides, enjoying late night Extra Magic Hours, and filling up on bacon at our resort’s buffet.
This spring my kids proved to me that they’re never going to be too old for Disney but the way we plan our trip for time at the parks has changed since they’ve grown up.
Looking at how we’ve done the Disney Parks then compared to now, I put together this collection of 14 tips for traveling to Walt Disney World with tweens and teens. We are well past the age where we’re rolling our kids along in the stroller as they clutch their Disney plush in one hand with a sippy cup having fallen fast asleep before fireworks, but regardless of how old our kids are, I’ve found that they will always have a soft spot for the most Magical Place on Earth.
4 Things to Do Before You Go to Walt Disney World
1. Choose a resort with an amazing pool
When planning your trip, there is a dizzying selection of Disney Resort hotels to stay at but we always prefer the ones with amazing pools. Over the years we’ve stayed at a number of different resorts and our hands down favorite is Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. Conveniently located within walking distance to Epcot and a short boat ride to Hollywood Studios, you can’t beat the location of Yacht Club but their pool reminds us why we go back each time we stay there.
Reminiscent of New England yacht clubs, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort shares the Stormalong Bay pool with the adjacent Beach Club Resort. The area includes 3 pools and is like a mini water park. It features a lazy river, sandy beach, hot tubs, mini water slide that empties into a kiddie pool, and the larger water slide where older kids can climb the steps and launch themselves mid-mast into the pool. It’s the perfect place to spend time when you need a break from the parks.
If a Deluxe Resort is beyond this trip’s budget or if your tweens and teens have younger siblings, Art of Animation’s pool has various areas for splashing that makes it fun for kids of all ages when you move between the 3 pools at the resort. The Finding Nemo/Finding Dory themed Big Blue Pool is a gently sloping pool where you can actually listen to Disney songs underwater, Cozy Cone Pool features areas for relaxing and splashing, and Flippin’ Fins is a 103,642-gallon pool that will appeal to princess loving Little Mermaid fans.
2. Allow them to choose the color of their Magic Band
Parents of tweens and teens know that their preferences can change like the wind so unless you’re planning a big Disney reveal before your trip, let them choose the color of their Magic Band. Magic Bands are included for guests staying on-property at Disney Resorts and can be customized on the My Disney Experience site. Just remember to pack them in your carry-on luggage since you’ll need them to board the Magical Express that will whisk you from the airport to your hotel.
3. Buy the Disney Photo Pass Memory Maker
It’s ironic that tweens and teens are all about selfies but shun family photos, at least until they get to Disney. The most Magical Place on Earth is just that when it comes to capturing moments especially if you have the Photo Pass Memory Maker.
While the $149 advance purchase may feel like a pricey addition to add on once you’ve reserved your hotel, bought your park passes, and made dining reservations, it’s well worth the price. Not only are professional photographers available to take your photos at the best locations around the parks but you’ll also get the photos from any character experiences or rides to view immediately through the My Disney Experience app on your phone.
All photos that are taken within 30 days of activating Memory Maker are yours! Just download them from My Disney PhotoPass when you get home and they will be a nice reminder of your family vacation when your kids are rolling their eyes at you as you ask them to pose for a photo. For more information about Disney PhotoPass and Memory Maker, read Gay NYC Dad’s Walt Disney World’s Photo Pass is Worth a Million Dollars!
4. Enlist them in them decision making
If your Disney trip isn’t a surprise, enlist your kids in the planning. Have them hop on the Walt Disney World website to take a look at the various park maps, read the ride descriptions to decide what ones are worthy of your 3 Fast Passes, and review restaurants to make dining reservations. Collaborative planning will make your family trip more fun and let tweens and teens feel empowered because they’ve had some say in the trip.
10 Things to Remember While at Walt Disney World
1. Be flexible
The rule for any family trip is to always be flexible. The first day you may hit the parks hard, taking full advantage of having Park Hoppers and staying up late to watch fireworks before crashing. While you want to do it all while at Walt Disney World, pace yourselves! See how you’re feeling each day and adjust plans accordingly.
2. Let them sleep in
While parents of little early risers could take advantage of early morning Extra Magic Hours, those with tweens and teens might have better luck letting older kids sleep in and rest up for a full day at the parks that extends well after the firework spectaculars end.
3. Splurge on the breakfast buffet
Unless you have light eaters, we’ve found that the best way to power up for a day at the parks is with a big breakfast. We love the variety that breakfast buffets provide whether we’re dining at Yacht Club’s Captain’s Grille or enjoying the flavors of Africa interspersed with Mickey waffles at Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. With a big breakfast, we can eat lighter, sampling items from the parks throughout the day which makes for a fun eating adventure before enjoying a regular dinner.
4. Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours
With a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast to start your day, tweens and teens will be ready to hit the parks and once they do, there’s no stopping them! Park Hopper holders will love being able to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours at the various parks where favorite rides tend to have shorter lines after the sun goes down. The later it gets, the shorter the lines! It’s not unheard of to hop off Space Mountain and run through the line again as Midnight approaches when Magic Kingdom has Extra Magic Hours!
5. Spend a day at the Typhoon Lagoon or Hurricane Harbor
Whether you’re staying at a resort with an incredible pool or not, you can’t beat a day at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach during your Walt Disney World stay. Water parks are not included in the price of your Park Hoppers but are well worth it if you want to trade roller coasters for water slides, drifting in a wave pool, or relaxing in an inner tube as you make your away around each of the water parks. Not sure which Disney water park is best for your family? WDW Prep School’s Blizzard Beach vs. Typhoon Lagoon: Battle of the Disney World water parks provides helpful information about each one and crowns a winner based on 8 different criteria.
6. Give them permission to use their smartphones
As tempting as it may be to tell them to leave their smartphones in the room or to put them down, chances are they’re sharing your vacation with their friends. Maybe they’ve accessed the My Disney Experience app (free for iOS and Android) and are watching the video that was created on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. They could be sharing the silly faces your family made for the camera when riding Rock N Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios with their friends to show just how cool you really are even though they’d never tell you that in person. Perhaps they’re planning ahead and looking at wait times for the rides that your family put on your must-ride list as you plot next steps.
Smartphones are the way that this generation connects to their friends and the world beyond them and since Walt Disney World does an incredible job integrating technology to make your time at the parks easier and more efficient, it’s hard to deny today’s tech savvy kids the pleasure of using what they know in order to make your vacation even better.
7. Grant them age appropriate independence
Armed with smartphones, there is a certain level of independence that you can grant tweens and teens depending on your comfort level. Set your confident teens loose for a day in the park and keep up with their adventures via the photos that are snapped and uploaded to your family’s v account or grant tweens a bit more independence and let them ride the single line on their favorite roller coaster while you sit it out in favor of some shade and a cold drink. Chances are your child will relish the independence of riding solo and since there’s only one way out, you can pick a meeting spot and meet at the exit or have them text you when they’re done to set off on your next park adventure.
8. Let them use their own money to buy something they really want
There’s something to be said for kids who have disposable income but think about how to spend their hard earned money. Letting them bring and spend their own money not only teaches the value of a dollar but makes them consider their purchase more carefully when it’s personally funded and makes them treasure their souvenir even more. Besides the shops in the parks and at your resort, the new Disney Springs is a great shopping and dining destination that is easily accessible from your resort and features fun shops and incredible restaurants.
9. Step outside your comfort zone
Maybe you don’t love roller coasters. Or drop towers. Or getting wet. Part of the fun of a Walt Disney World vacation is stepping outside your comfort zone and doing something you wouldn’t normally do all in the name of family bonding. So go ahead. Take a chance and you might find that you enjoyed the thing you were scared of even more than you thought you would!
10. Channel your inner kid and have fun!
Finally, let loose and have fun! A vacation at Walt Disney World is meant to be enjoyed and when you show your goofy silly side, your kids will have a healthy dose of respect for you even if they still think you’re not cool when you return home.
Have you traveled to Walt Disney World with young children and later when they became tweens and teens? What advice do you have that you would add to this list?
I attended the 2016 Disney Social Media Moms Conference (#DisneySMMC) as an invited guest of Disney but paid for my registration and my family’s so we could experience Walt Disney World together. All opinions are my own and based on my family’s personal experiences. Some images courtesy of the WDW Press site.