Walt Disney World is a great vacation destination for all ages. There are attractions and resorts that cater to every generation. However, one of the most difficult age groups to plan a trip with is kids ages 11-14. Young tweens and teens are at a stage where they might still enjoy attractions and events aimed at a younger audience, but also want to dare to test their bravery on a roller coaster or Tower of Terror (a feat I have yet to attempt). These teens may or may not also be too embarrassed to participate in interactions or activities that parents hope their teens will still find entertaining and fun. This in-between stage can make planning a trip to WDW daunting, or stressful. It doesn’t have to be. I am here to tell you how to make the most out of a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth with your 11-14 year olds.
I have four kids, myself. My oldest two boys are 17, then a 14 year old daughter, and an 11 year old son. The two oldest teens have two things on their mind while at WDW: water parks and roller coasters. I can set them loose to enjoy themselves on their own with instructions to meet at certain times and places and know they are having a wonderful time. With my other two, it takes a lot more planning and coercing. Ever noticed how much a tween can complain? Ever heard of “teen drama?” Just be prepared. It will happen. All young teens have raging emotions that produce random, and often uncalled for outbursts of “extreme anguish.” Those can easily be solved with a Dole Whip, a ride on Space Mountain or Expedition Everest, or meeting Captain Jack Sparrow.
My daughter (14) likes Sofia the First. Yes, the Disney Jr. show for preschoolers. She sets it to record on our DVR and watches it everyday. She also loves Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Marvel, thrill rides, and nerdy stuff like Living with the Land and Spaceship Earth. She is as much a Disney Nut as I am, so she has no shame in loving Sofia as much as she loves Ariel, Belle, and 101 Dalmatians. However, she does not want to go into Disney Jr. Live on Stage at Hollywood Studios, or to a character breakfast with Pooh and Friends at Crystal Palace, or to the Perfectly Princess Tea at the Grand Floridian. Even though she likes younger characters, she doesn’t want to be in the middle of small children; she says “it is awkward.” Instead, she Disney Bounds as Sofia or Jake (from Jake and the Neverland Pirates). She waves at them in the rainy-day parade brigade, or sports a pin or three on her lanyard of her favorite “younger” characters. I don’t force her to go on rides that she doesn’t feel comfortable with. If I want to go on it, she gets a snack and chases squirrels or uploads selfies on facebook and instagram while I am in line.
My son (11) is not as easy to please. He doesn’t like princesses. Or Disney Jr. Or boring educational stuff. Or “baby rides.” Or Tower of Terror. Or parades. Or singing. Yeah… he’s “difficult.” What does he like? He likes roller coasters, action stunt shows, Star Wars, and anything digital or computer-y. Hollywood Studios is his favorite park. He can ride Star Tours 100000 times and never get bored. He can watch Lights Motors Action over and over again and still feel anxious from an adrenaline rush. The new(er) Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game is his new favorite thing to do at Magic Kingdom. When we are at Animal Kingdom he will ride Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids all day and beg me to “please, mom, please don’t make me watch Lion King or Nemo. Please!!!”
Bottom line: If you want to have a magical, memorable vacation you have to be flexible and patient. Here are some go-to favorites that are sure to entertain many tweens during a trip to WDW:
- Swimming pools, especially if they have a water slide
- Toy Story Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin (tweens love anything that scores them some points!)
- The Magic of Disney Animation in Hollywood Studios
- Taking selfies with characters (it is the tween equivalent of an autograph book)
- Disney Bounding is pretty popular (mostly for girls, but I have seen lots of young guys doing it too!)
- Agent P World Showcase Adventure in Epcot and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom interactive, digital games
- Pin trading with cast members
- DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney (separate admission required but is great on a rainy day)
- Splitsville Luxury Lanes for some bowling & sushi
- A meal at Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney
- Fantasmic! (Especially if you purchase Glow with the Show Ears!)
Do you have tweens? What do you recommend for other families travelling with 11-14 year olds? I firmly believe Disney World is for all ages (young, old and in-beTWEEN)! Tell us how you plan to keep your tweens entertained and happy during your next trip!