Sure, visiting Walt Disney World with little kids is fun – but as a veteran of dozens of Disney World trips with my teen daughters and their friends, I think I enjoy trips with teens even more. Here are tips for making your trip with teens their (and your) best trip ever.
1. Involve them in pre-planning.
Prior to booking any component of your vacation, there’s a pre-planning phase that involves discussion about timing and goals for the trip. Teens have loads of knowledge about their personal schedules — information that mom or dad might not know about. For example, is there an upcoming dance recital that’s not on the family calendar? Did drivers’ ed training get postponed? Are there SAT study sessions happening? Is there a possibility of making it to the hockey tournament this year? I once had to move a trip with my teen daughter because she couldn’t miss team photo day. Make sure that these type of commitments are accounted for before you choose your trip dates.
Also check in with your teen about their vision of an ideal vacation. Do they want to rest after a hard semester? Blow off steam? Escape from reality? Something else? Their responses might impact your decision about the length of the trip, where you stay, activities, and more.
2. Involve them in active planning.
Teens are old enough to have opinions about hotel themeing, how many days to visit each theme park, where to eat, and more. While you may choose not to honor all their requests, working some of their favorites into the trip can go a long way to insuring family harmony.
You can also use trip planning as a way to help teens learn skills like time management (create a daily spreadsheet of activities), phone skills (call Disney to ask a question about a reservation), or negotiation (lobbying a sibling for a particular restaurant).
3. Set a budget together.
Older teens might be ready to have information about family finances and most are ready to understand the rudiments of budgeting. Break out the calculator and work together to show how various trip planning decisions impact the overall finances for the trip and for other aspects of the family’s financial commitments. Teens may be more understanding about forgoing Park Hopper tickets (for example), if they understand the math of why that allow them to stay an extra day. Or they’ll better understand that staying in a moderate hotel rather than deluxe will allow you to chip in more to their college fund.
Now is also the time to discuss parameters for spending on things like souvenirs. Will they have to spend their own money for that fun spirit jersey?
4. Consider how your choice of hotel will impact your stay.
Beyond just price, the wide range of hotel options in the Orlando area can have a big impact on your vacation. You might save money staying off-site, but will that mean your teens can’t get to the parks on their own? Will teens, or you, be more comfortable if you’re not sleeping in the same room, or if you have access to more bathroom facilities?
5. Consider everyone’s sleep habits.
Related to the hotel choice — most teens like to sleep in. We’re strong proponents of crack-of-dawn rope drop, but this can be a hard sell for teens. Maybe this is the trip you plan to visit the parks more in the evenings. Do siblings no longer feel comfortable sleeping in the same bed? Or perhaps this is the trip where you pack granola bars for breakfast because that gives the teens an extra 15 minutes to sleep. Well rested teens are happy teens.
6. Don’t limit your fun to the theme parks.
Teens may be interested in exploring Disney World beyond the theme parks. Particularly if you have a teen who is in a “too cool for Disney” phase, finding activities outside the parks could be key to the entire family’s vacation enjoyment. Do they want shopping time at Disney Springs? Will they want lots of pool time? Do they want to spend time at the movies? Should you venture to the beach one day?
7. Plan some time apart.
Disney allows guests age 14 and up to enter the parks on their own. Having a bit of time away from parents can be a great way to learn independence in a safe environment – even if it’s just for a few hours. Check out our tips on deciding whether your child is ready for time at Disney alone.
8. Arm them with a touring plan.
You know who doesn’t like waiting around in boring lines? Teenagers! Give them a touring plan to make sure they have less time in line and more time having fun.
9. Don’t assume they’re too old for the kid stuff.
A key perk of travel with teens is that they’re tall enough for every attraction. Many teens want to take advantage of that by hopping on every thrill ride, but don’t assume that they don’t want to do revisit the favorites of their childhood. Depending on their personality, you may want to build in time for a character meals, a ride on Small World, or a visit to the petting zoo at Animal Kingdom’s Conservation Station.
10. Build in time for physical activities.
Some teens, particularly those who involved in rigorous sports or dance training, may want some time to exercise or move in a way that’s not just walking. Some of the WDW resorts have fitness centers. There are jogging trails at most hotels. Other options include tennis, golf, biking, and volleyball.
11. Plan an activity that is only open to teens or adults.
Some activities, notably backstage tours, are only open to guests ages 16 and up. With some tours returning to Walt Disney World in February 2022, this could be the perfect way to make your teens feel special and grown-up.
12. Put teen skills to use.
Many teens have superior tech skills. Make your life easier by deputizing your teen to be in charge of the often-wonky My Disney Experience app. They’ll be faster at making reservations, mobile ordering food, or setting up your MagicMobile service. Trust me.
13. Plan theme or challenge days.
One of the best times my teens had at Walt Disney World was during a family scavenger hunt. This activity was different enough from our usual park touring that it felt just right for mature teens. While a full-scale scavenger hunt might be too much, you can give teen trips some extra shape and extra oomph by giving them some vacation challenges: ride every roller coaster, try a new food, memorize a ride script, find the most expensive cupcake, and so on.
14. Clearly communicate rules and expectations.
To nip confrontation in the bud, plan together a list of rules and expectations – for the parents as well as the teens. Put it in writing if that helps. What time is wake up? If you split up in the parks, how and how often will you communicate? Will the teens be responsible for younger siblings at any point? The more that gets worked out in advance, the less conflict there will be during vacation.
15. Plan for lots of eating.
Growing teens are ALWAYS hungry. In consultation with them, decide how this will impact your touring. Frequent snacking? Visits to buffet-style restaurants? More dining at quick service vs. table service restaurants to help economize.
16. Bring a friend.
If you’re the parent of an only child, or an only teen, you and your teen may both have a lot more fun if you bring one of your child’s friends with you. Of course this impacts budgets and sleeping arrangements, so plan carefully.
17. Buy a Memory Maker package.
Disney World is an epic spot for social media photos. Make sure your teen has well-composed shots iconic park locations by purchasing a Memory Maker photo package. These will likely be pictures they’ll share with their own families one day.
18. Make sure they have everything they need with them for a successful day.
Chances are your teen hasn’t micro-planned everything they’ll need to have in the park with them. Park admission media? External phone charger? Umbrella or poncho? Bandaids or Tylenol? Giving them the tools they’ll need to solve minor problems can give everyone more peace of mind.
19. Try to be flexible.
Not surprisingly, teens are likely to change their minds. Your well-negotiated plan might get thrown out the window if your teen stays up too late texting with her besties, or if the weather changes, or if he gets a sunburn, or or or …
Try to keep in mind that teens are people too and that this is also their vacation. Things will happen, the more flexible you can be with modifying things on the fly, the more likely you’ll have family harmony during the trip.
What have you learned during your trips with teens? What do you wish you had done differently? Let us know.