If you thought it was a struggle getting little ones packed, and keeping them happy and fed for a multi-day theme park trip, we hate to be the bearers of bad news: It doesn’t get any easier with tweens and teens. You used to be in charge and call the shots—plus, everything was magical and everyone was happy. Now, castles give way to coasters, and scheduled character meals give way to compulsive cravings. This doesn’t mean everyone can’t have a great time; it just means thinking a little differently. Based on tried-and-true experiences, we’ve compiled some pointers and tips to keep tweens and teens happy at the Happiest Place on Earth—not an eye-roll in sight!
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Preventive Packing for Multi-Day Theme-Parking
Packing is a crucial aspect of your theme park visit that is likely to require parental intervention. You would think your teen knows how to pack and dress themselves appropriately by now, but that’s not always the case. They don’t think that rain could suddenly roll in (it will). They don’t think they’d ever need a back up pair of shoes or more than one pair of socks (they will). They don’t anticipate it suddenly getting cooler after dark (it will). Unless you want to spend valuable ride time combing through shops for an acceptable overpriced hoodie, plan on helping them pack.
Pro Tip: This is Florida, so prepare for rain. Make sure everybody packs a plastic rain poncho; if you don’t already have some, pick up a few at the drug store ahead of time. Even if it doesn’t rain, they’re excellent for use on water rides. Rain ponchos, socks, underwear, and swimsuits are small and easy to pack—better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them. And if your teen’s shoes and socks get wet, put him to task with the hand dryer. It works wonders.
Lots of Room or Lots of Rooms
When planning a multi-day theme park trip to Walt Disney World with teens and tweens, nothing is more important than space. When they were little you could all share a room with two beds just fine. But as they grow, so must the space. At the very minimum, a double vanity will save your sanity since teens spend a great deal of time in front of the mirror. A larger room, such as an L-shaped family room at the Swan or Dolphin Resort, is even better. But ideally, separate connecting rooms are the way to go. Not only does it solve the bathroom wait issue, but it gives teens their own space to Facetime with friends, watch what they want, stay up late or sleep in if they choose. The Beach Club and Yacht Club are both within walking distance to Epcot, and a longer walk or boat ride away to Hollywood Studios. The shared pool area, “Stormalong Bay,” is a hit for tweens and teens with its waterslide and lazy river.
Pro Parent Tip: To get the best bang for your budget on space, consider staying offsite at a hotel like The Grove Resort Orlando, where the 1, 2 and 3 bedroom suites offer a minimum of 975 square feet for a reasonable cost. The Grove also features its own gaming center and onsite waterpark, complimentary for guests. There is enough here to keep families happy for longer stays and non-theme-park days.
Let Teens Do the Tech
From smartphone apps to magic band passcodes, your teen will hover over you and “back seat tech” your every move. Looking up wait times? Expect your teen to grow impatient and grab your phone mid-scroll because you’re taking too long—never mind that the app is refreshing—nope, you’re just too slow and besides, you wear reading glasses so you can’t possibly be seeing the numbers correctly.
Pro Parent Tip: Have your teen download necessary apps and bookmark necessary pages to their phones, and let them schedule fast passes and keep track of wait times. You can save the day when you pull out a portable battery charger to re-charge their devices without having to search for an outlet.
Make Time for Photo Shoots (That You’re Not in)
The days of cute family photos or posed character greetings are all but memories of the past now. Be glad you have them! Sure, your teen will want to take plenty of pictures, but not to print, frame and display on the wall. The photos they care about are of themselves at arm’s length, and will live only 24 hours on Snapchat or Instagram stories. Don’t even think about suggesting a great backdrop or theme; teens are not only highly skilled selfie-snappers, they are also masterful art directors, location scouters, make-up artists, fashion editors and animated gif-grabbers.
Pro Parent Tip: Don’t stand behind your teen in line, you might be asked to step out of the frame of their selfie-shot.
If your teen asks you to take their picture at a spot, make sure you stand exactly where they tell you, and don’t move until they’ve checked that the hair is just right and the pose is what they want. Sometimes this requires several takes. By all means, NEVER ever say “smile!”
Pro Parent Tip: Use your own phone to sneak a few candids before your teen is officially camera ready; that way, you’ll have some pictures to keep for screensavers (or printing and framing, if they approve).
If there’s one thing every teenager can conjure up at any given moment, it’s an appetite. Making dinner reservations and scheduling meals is a brave venture, and unfortunately necessary if you wish to enjoy a table-service meal during peak season (basically year-round at Walt Disney World). While this works well for the more self-disciplined of families, let’s face it—a teen’s voracious appetite can strike at any moment, and you must feed the beast right then and there. Unless, of course, it’s an Instagram-worthy treat like Dole Whip or the Cinderella Castle Cupcake, in which case staging and lighting take precedence.
Pro Parent Tip: Know where to find the nearest Dole Whip in any park at any time. When ordering and paying for food using the magic band or credit card, don’t fumble that passcode. (Omg, how embarrassing!) Best to include your teen for authorized charging, and just let her order and pay for it all…save everyone the embarrassment of the awkward stare from the cashier.
Nostalgia? No Way
While you might love the idea of taking your tween or teen on your favorite childhood ride or attraction, and sharing your fondest memories, they really don’t care. For example, the People Mover: It’s been around forever and only exists in one park, but teens will quickly pass it by in favor of Space Mountain.
Pro Parent Tip: Take a break apart. Let your teens off on their own to wait in the queue at Space Mountain. Meanwhile, you can ride the People Mover to your heart’s content, stroll down Main Street, and ride it again by the time they get out.
Not Even Those Old-School Mouse Ears?
Mouse ears were cute when they were little ones. Then they hit a few pre-tween years when the ears were totally uncool. But once they start ‘gramming with their own phones, they’ll be into the mouse ears again, and will want a different set to wear each day to match their #OOTD (outfit of the day). Disney has both fed the frenzy and fueled the trend, coming out with brand new versions of mouse ears every year. If your teens are into baseball caps, same deal.
Pro Parent Tip: Surprise your teen and pack every Disney hat and mouse ear band you have, plus budget spending money for new ones. You will rightfully earn your credit in the wardrobe and props department.
Remember, Today’s Teens Grew Up to More than Disney
Let’s face it: For teens, Disney’s Seven Dwarves Mine train is child’s play. They want real coasters that go fast, and real thrills they can identify with. (Has your teen ever even read Snow White?) Every generation grew up with something “Disney,” but the teenagers of today are the first generation to have grown up with the books and movies of “Harry Potter” and other franchises.
Pro Parent Tip: Schedule a day away from the mouse and princesses to spend with wizards and superheroes at Universal Orlando Resort theme parks. In between magical coaster rides they’ll want to do again and again, be sure your teen snaps their selfie drinking a “Butter Beer” in Hogsmeade, and visits the fantastically themed shops of Diagon Alley. Give your teens this day to let loose and get it all out of their system. The rest of the family will find plenty of amusement in the wonderfully themed lands; plus healthier, tastier dining options will please everyone’s appetite.
End Each Day on a Good Note
One word: fireworks. No matter what age, everyone stops to watch the magical fireworks shows at the Disney Parks. This is one attraction that you might actually all agree to Fastpass together, securing space in preferred viewing areas. After time spent going separate ways doing different things, it’s nice to come back and enjoy the spectacle together.
Pro Parent Tip: Plan to spend at least one evening after dark in Animal Kingdom. What it lacks in fireworks, it makes up for in light and sound. The Tree of Life awakens with creatures and color, while the Rivers of Light captivates with floating sets and glowing fireflies. But the land of Pandora steals the show with its bioluminescent rainforest transformation. Herein lies the real test of a masterful selfie—pushing the limits of both the teen’s talent and the parent’s patience. But in the end, a worthy endeavor.
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