As a parent who has traveled many times to Walt Disney World with teens, I wanted to offer some suggestions for anyone who might be traveling with one for the first time. I have now gone through the teenage years with all 3 of my kids. I do not claim to be an expert on the teenage species but I am acutely aware that they are, indeed, their own species separate from the youth/tween age and adulthood. In my attempt to help you to have a magical Disney vacation I will offer these pointers because anyone who is a parent of a teen knows that the mood of your teen can have a huge impact on the whole family, whether at home or on vacation.
There are several areas that I feel warrant special mention when planning a Disney family vacation with teens. These vary from trip planning to technology and each is very important when planning your magical vacation.
Tip 1: Include your teen in the planning
It is great to have the whole family involved in the planning process from the start. Some teens will have a “whatever” kind of attitude and, if that is the case, you can help to find things that you think would interest them and let them know. Some teens are very tuned in, though, and will go online to research WDW and have some solid ideas and suggestions to offer. Whichever type your teen is, be sure to involve them with the rest of the family when planning your trip.
Tip 2: Keep teens in mind when making resort reservations
This tip will apply more to families traveling with more than one teen, or maybe a teen and a tween. Teens need space and a certain level of privacy. If it is possible, try to obtain two connecting hotel rooms. This option allows teenagers to have their own separate quarters and space to themselves. This does depend on the teens as some would be ready to stay in a separate room at an even younger age, while others may not be ready even at 18. Whenever our teens have been in a separate room, we have always made sure it was connecting ours for security reasons. At night, we slept with the door opened slightly. After all, I did need to be able to sleep.
We have had good luck with 2 rooms, especially with the increased space and an extra bathroom (which makes getting ready in the mornings much easier). Still, there are times when we have not been able to afford separate hotel rooms and it has worked out just fine. Also, being together in one room has its advantages: we usually talk more, and definitely laugh more, and I have found out lots of secrets through the years. In the case where you cannot afford an additional room, or if you are traveling with only one teen, you might think about letting them sleep in or come back to the room early and just hangout alone sometimes. This will feed their need for independence while still allowing them the opportunity to have a good time with the family.
Tip 3: Choose the right park tickets
When traveling with a family with varied interests and schedules, I recommend choosing the most flexible ticket options. I would definitely recommend purchasing the Park Hopper option. Depending on your family’s interests, you might want to purchase the Waterparks and More option as well.
Tip 4: Be aware of their needs when planning your itinerary
Teens have actual physical needs that differ from younger kids and adults. Their needs for sleep, physical activity, and space (both physical and mental) differ from ours. It will benefit you to keep this in mind when planning your itinerary.
If you are traveling with teens, I do not recommend planning your itinerary with early park entry every day. This will be fine for mom and dad and the younger kids, but plan to let your teens sleep in as much as you can. It is not that teens just prefer to have lazy mornings, but research shows that their bodies actually demand these extra hours in the morning. We often let our teens sleep in and then meet up with us at the parks before lunch. This gives them time and space while keeping peace in the family. If you don’t like the idea of leaving your kids at the resort, or if you are traveling with only one teen, then perhaps you can plan a sleep in day or two. If there are younger children in the group, you can use these mornings to do something special with them like having breakfast by the pool or going for a morning swim.
Most teens have periods of normalcy mixed with the need of physical activity and even high adrenalin adventure. Most of these needs can be met in the park and a good mix of thrill thrown into the itinerary will benefit everyone. A bored teen can ruin the day for everyone so just keep this in mind (subliminal message: Tower of Terror, Rock N Roller Coaster, Expedition Everest and three important mountains). It is so much fun when you are bonding with your teens over these thrills. Mine have enjoyed the fact that the whole family will ride Everest 10 times in a row.
Another fun activity is shopping, unless your teen hates it. They will usually enjoy shopping for friends and relatives back home, but be sure not to overdo it. Chances are that if you are off on a marathon shopping trip, your teen would rather be anywhere else, unless of course you are shopping solely for them:).
Planning some time when your teen can have some mental space will be good for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend planning the itinerary where it is completely packed with activity from sun up to sun down and have your teen’s day completely spoken for. It is their vacation too and, even though you are paying for it, it is highly likely that you are paying for it because you love them and really want everyone in the family to have a wonderful vacation.
Tip 5: Give them space
I can tell you from all my years of experience with teens that they need their space. Let them explore sometimes then meet up for meals. If your teens are mature enough (and there is more than one) you can let them explore the parks and resorts on their own. Cell phones allow us to keep in touch and you can set up a time and place to meet. Meeting for dinner is good because you get quality time with them and they get to eat – another favorite of teens.
Let the late birds roam
Teens usually like the nightlife. While parents and younger siblings have woken up early and burned the candle at both ends, some teens just come alive at night. Allow older teens to stay at the park later and tell them when to be back at the resort. Be sure to arm them with park closing times and instructions for how to get back. Sometimes, they don’t even want to venture too far, but they might simply want to chill at the resort for a while outside the room. My sons loved just sitting down in the lobby or food court playing cards together and bonding.
Tip 6: Set the rules and stick to them
With my teens the rules about safety are the same on vacation as they are at home. If my kids are late, I am worried — and it is my vacation too. So if they are going to be out they have to respect the curfew. When they are having fun at WDW it is easy to lose track of time; I totally understand that. But I make it very clear when they are to be back or meet us for dinner and if that curfew is disobeyed, their curfew will be bumped up the next night or not allowed at all. As a courtesy, I tell them that I will text them one hour before meet-up time. I send them a love note just to remind them that their family misses them and can’t stand waiting even one more hour before seeing their beautiful faces again. They don’t fall for it but it is nicer than saying “don’t be late or else.”
Tip 7: Give them a budget
My teens are given a budget before we leave. They have traveled with me enough to know that when it is gone, it is gone. I sometimes give them extra for special treats if they will be apart from us for a while, but they know they are responsible for their own money and they can spend it however they wish with the understanding that the predetermined amount is all they have.
Giving them a budget also allows them to purchase gifts for their friends at whatever level they feel is appropriate. We don’t have to deal with begging for this or that. If they really seem interested in something their budget won’t allow for, I just make a list and buy it for a Christmas or birthday gift as a surprise.
Tip 8: Enjoy the time with them
Enjoy your time with your teens. It will be gone before you know it and you will look back on these memories many, many times. Don’t ruin your vacation together by nagging. Vacations are meant to be stress-free so try to have a nag-free vacation. If they don’t pick up their clothes off the floor, just remind them kindly and let it go. Remember that keeping the peace will make everyone’s vacation much more enjoyable and they won’t be fixing that C they got on a test right before the trip while at WDW so there is no point in bringing it up while there either. If an argument does happen, try to end it as swiftly as possible and remind your teen how important they are to you and how much you love them.
Also, a very important point: try not to get your feelings hurt when they don’t want to walk right next to you. They are too cool for their parents, after all. I promise that a few years from now things will get back to normal –about the time they become us and their kids are too cool for them. Oh, the circle of life.
Tip 9: Don’t completely separate them from life back home
Whether we like it or not, a teenager’s friends are very important to them; more important in their minds than even family sometimes. We have brought friends of our teens with us to WDW a number of times. If they are away from all of their friends, though, let them have some cyber-time. We do this during our down-time at the hotel. While we are vegging in the afternoon before heading back to the parks or in the evenings when the day is done, they can connect and catch up. Then everyone is alright in their universe and we can all go out and have some more fun.
Tip 10: Nurture their unique skills
You can nurture your teen’s unique skills while showing them their importance to the family unit by putting them in charge of one aspect of the trip. If they are good with maps, put them in charge of navigating the family around the park. If they love photography, make them the family photographer. If they love a fun hunt, give them the task of helping the younger ones search for hidden mickeys in the park. They will enjoy the responsibility and will appreciate the fact that you have entrusted them with it and that you recognize their gifts and trust them to accomplish the task.
Visiting Walt Disney World is the perfect opportunity for a family to enjoy quality time while having lots of fun and making wonderful memories. I hope your trip will be the vacation of a lifetime. My best tip – whether you are traveling as a couple or as a family with small children, tweens, or teens is to hug often and make sure there is lots of love and pixie dust thrown in. The memories you share will stay with all of you for a lifetime.