Eye to Eye: Taking Teens to Walt Disney World


Ah, Max. Remember A Goofy Movie in the mid-90's? Dad Goofy struggling to find that balance of sentimentality of the old days and the pull young Max felt as he moved into his teen years along with all of the classic rebellion, awkwardness and oh-so-cool Powerline concerts that came with it? And then there was that fishing trip; it's always fun to take a teen on a trip to bond as father and son. Well, how's about three teens and a trip to Walt Disney World?

For several years now, I have navigated the teen years with three teens. As they are now mostly edged out of that time frame, I can look back at the evolution from early childhood family Disney vacations to teen years and offer my top five tips. 

Whether you choose to vacation during the Covid-19 pandemic or hold off a little while longer, when you're planning a vacation with teens, it's possible to avoid Max's feelings when he said, "This is the stupidest vacation!" By the way, if you are at Walt Disney World these days and want to find Max and Goofy, they are traveling in the Christmas 2020 Cavalcade.

Ready to plan that teen-friendly vacation? Let's go!

Tip #1: Stay on property

Over many trips, there are bound to be one or two teens who needed lots of extra sleep time or didn't feel well or just took way too long getting ready in the morning than everyone else. If you feel an older teen is ready to be more independent and stay in the room by him/herself and navigate the world outside the resort room to figure out how to find their family, this is a great opportunity to foster their autonomy. One of our teens with navigational issues used the "Get Directions" feature in the My Disney Experience app with success to meet up with us in the parks. Checking out the maps on the app prior to visiting Walt Disney World is a helpful tool as well. Asking a cast member while you're in the parks is also a friendly option.

Tip #2: Change Your Expectations

The early childhood days of naps, strollers, and diaper bags are behind you and the pre-teen days are gone. Max told Goofy he had his own life now, he grew up, but Goofy replies that while he knows that, he still just wants to be a part of it. On vacation, setting your expectations with a different mindset is one of the compromises you might need to make. It was hard to not always wake them in the morning, letting one or two sleep in, understanding we all have different expectations of what it means to enjoy a vacation, and 7am wake up calls may not be one of them.

You may even find that while they're doing their teen activities, you and your adult vacationers can enjoy what you want to do as well. The expectation that teens eat differently as they grow and develop may make you rethink and reevaluate meal strategies, offering quick service more often when you used to sit down more often (or vice versa)!

Photo by Mike Scheid on Unsplash

Tip #3: Space

If you can swing it in your budget, on occasion we had two rooms connecting when it was all of us and teens of different genders. We adjusted our vacations to value resorts with two rooms as opposed to one room at moderate/deluxe hotels. We missed our favorites, like Wilderness Lodge for example, but instead, we ate dinner there and enjoyed the space for the same value approximately at the Pop Century Resort. It offered everyone the physical space they needed to move about the room and sleep in, and offered the proper bed size, too. The day bed wasn't working anymore!

"So your jokes are all, let's face it, prehistoric..." Max sings to Goofy in Nobody Else But You. Your teen will require emotional space. Dad jokes are no longer funny, mom chasing them with sunscreen and a water bottle can be invading. Enjoy this time to reconnect with your spouse/partner, or a relative that has joined you.

I have found mental space in long lines to be just as good for me on my phone as it is for them. I am that person you see escaping into my phone just as much as my teens to have that emotional release away from them because it can be challenging to be on a vacation with teens 24/7 and we all need that escape. I don't see it as a negative, I find it's helpful.

Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

Tip #4 The Buffer

Perhaps it's time to enjoy Walt Disney World with a cousin or a friend who is your teen's age. It comes with a lot of consideration and is a different type of trip if you are used to family-only time, but having this "buffer" may allow for a better time for your teen and therefore happier times for everyone! Perhaps that friend/relative can enjoy attractions with your teenager that you no longer wish to go on (Tower of Terror anyone?)! 

A buffer can have its drawbacks, but it is worth considering, however, during Covid times, this may not be doable. It can be an option if following safety guidelines.

Tip #5 Involve Your Teen in the Planning

One of my now post-teen children is a movie buff. I would have never thought of going to a movie on a Walt Disney World vacation, but a few years back, that's what we did at Disney Springs. He loved it, and we enjoyed the time to decompress. Some of these choices that they have requested over the years have become some of the best vacation memories, including mini golf and boat ride rentals.

Having them help plan during pandemic times is important. Conversations about Walt Disney World before the pandemic and how it will be when you arrive (whether during or "after") will have a different look and feel. Reminding them about the lack of buffets, lack of late nights, and fast passes will be good to do, but also focusing on the positive aspects such as more swim time, waking up later or potentially less crowds (maybe) will be good, too. As a family, check out tips and safety guidelines together during the planning process.

Have your teen choose which masks he/she will wear each day can be a part of the involvement. Purchase individual hand sanitizers for each teen personal to them (there are many Disney stylized ones). Allow them to take over the My Disney Experience app and book your mobile food order for you, or have them try to achieve the coveted virtual Rise of the Resistance boarding groups with, or for, you.

Photo by Daniel Cheung on Unsplash

The magic of a Disney vacation is that at some point, love will find its way into your trip and you will all see eye to eye. You just have to listen to each other. If not, there's always watching this! Enjoy!

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