Vacationing with Tweens at Walt Disney World

by Lynne P. Feiz
AllEars® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the October 13, 2015 Issue #838 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.

Lynne FeizTweens. I've heard them described as colorfully as, "Too old for toys, too young for boys." (Or girls, but I guess that doesn't rhyme, does it?) It's that delightful but somewhat difficult age of 10 to 12, though some would argue that the tween years begin as early 8 years old. Not a small child anymore, but certainly not with the maturity or responsibility of a teenager.

So what about touring Disney World with tweens? After all, if they're too old for character greetings, Dumbo, and princess dresses or pirate costumes, is it even worth it?

In a word, "Yes!"

The key to a successful trip as a parent and chief planner is, as always, to know your tween and what he or she really enjoys.

What's their "daredevil level"?

At most non-Disney parks, I would venture to say that tweens are a forgotten bunch. Most amusement parks offer "kiddieland" type rides that are clearly designed for the preschool and elementary school set, as well as high-energy, high-exhilaration rides for teens with enough speed, height, and motion-sickness warnings to be embraced by only the most adventurous tween. The vast majority of tweens, I've found through personal experience, are stuck squarely in the middle: Too old or too young for most of these offerings.

Fortunately, the same can't be said for Disney World. After all, Walt's vision from the start was to build a place where the whole family could enjoy doing things together. So while Disney offers attractions at both ends of the spectrum — from the tame Prince Charming Regal Carousel, to the highly charged Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith — most attractions, to the delight of this tween parent, are right up the middle.

The trick, then, is to consider your child's sense of adventure. Is he or she a daredevil? Or more apprehensive? Finding the right setting on your child's "thrill meter" will help you plan a trip with just the right amount of excitement, causing neither boredom nor anxiety.

Does your tween want to try a rollercoaster? Great. Disney offers a wide range of coasters: everything from The Barnstormer Starring the Great Goofini — a great introductory roller coaster — all the way up to the aforementioned Rock 'n' Rollercoaster. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, and even Primeval Whirl tend to span the range between the two.

Does your child like cars? Driving their own on the Tomorrowland Speedway or braving the redesigned Test Track by Chevrolet, which features top speeds of nearly 65 mph, should meet their need for speed.

The bottom line is, you know your child best. If they're adventurous, plan on trying some of the more high-octane attractions. If not, Disney still has plenty to offer.

Ready for responsibility?

Many tweens crave some level of involvement and responsibility, as opposed to having to follow to the letter what their parents have planned. So when it comes to planning your Disney World trip, I say, let them have at it! I was surprised one day to learn that my daughter, Julia, wanted to be involved in not only picking where we'd make our advanced dining reservations (ADRs), but in actually making the reservations online! She liked the idea of inputting what we wanted, reviewing the menus, consulting with us on the times, and booking them (with overall mom and dad veto power still intact, of course).

She's also grown to become "chief scribe" in our pre-trip discussion about choosing attractions and FastPass+ picks in each park as well, as we've always come armed with a list of each of our must-dos. It ensures each member of the family gets to choose those attractions they most want to see—and that we don't waste time in attractions no one really cares for—while preventing us from over-scheduling. She runs down the list of attractions, assigning a rating system (nothing sophisticated, just 1-2-3) to each one based on our family's level of interest. Top priorities are, of course, our prime candidates for FastPass+.

If there are aspects to your trip for which your tween wants to (and is ready to) take responsibility, it's a great way to get them involved and make them feel like they have some control over their trip. It also goes a long way toward building their appreciation for how much planning and work goes into a trip, so they recognize that, while Fairy Godmothers do exist, the family vacation wasn't put together with a wave of her magic wand.

Don't overschedule. (Loose translation: Leave plenty of pool time!)

One thing you can never plan for is the unexpected. And Disney has plenty of unexpected—both good and bad. Of course attractions can break down or transportation can take longer than expected, sometimes putting a slight crimp in your and your tween's best-laid plans. On the flip side, however, newly discovered attractions you didn't think would be a hit for your tween, street performers whose shows your tween stumbles upon and can't tear himself or herself away from, or the irresistible resort pool that you can't seem to get your tween out of can also tug at you, forcing an unexpected change your plans. Guess what, though? It'll all be OK!

On our last two trips, both during the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, we were racing from Test Track to Sum of All Thrills when our daughter decided she really wanted to make the sand art sculpture and decorate a plastic flowerpot at a special festival Kidcot station just outside of Innoventions. Part of me wanted to walk on by, with a brusque, "Are you kidding? We can do that at home!" But instead we stopped and took the time necessary for her to layer the brightly colored sand just the way she wanted it, and to decorate the pot with Sharpies in just the right patterns. And you know what? Taking that small bottle of sand and those brightly colored pots home and remembering the fun she had putting them together is actually a highlight of her trip!

On another afternoon, we stayed much longer at the resort pool than we ever expected, thinking we'd need to get back to the Magic Kingdom to finish the attractions we had wanted to do. Instead, our tween was very much into the pool games that afternoon and was participating in what seemed like a marathon hula hoop contest. Well, she won the contest, and to this day she still looks back fondly on that afternoon and can't wait to participate again the next time we go. It sticks in her mind as a brighter bright spot than any other attraction we rode later that night.

The moral of both stories is you never know what will spark your tween's interest, so if you're occupied with sticking to a schedule, you all could miss out on opportunities that might wind up being the most magical!

Don't assume your tween is too old.

When my daughter reached the tweenage years, I assumed that rides like Dumbo and attractions like character meet and greets would fall completely by the wayside. After all, tweens are too "cool" for such experiences, aren't they?

Well, you know the old adage about what happens when you assume. While Dumbo may not be tops on her list or something she yearns to do over, and over, and over again (that honor now goes to Space Mountain), her trip wouldn't be complete without it. And with respect to characters, while she doesn't need to see as many, I think in some ways she has more fun greeting and posing for pictures with her favorites now than when she was preschool or elementary school age.

Backstage is as interesting as on-stage.

As tweens begin to explore new subjects and activities in school, from science and engineering to theater and the arts, their interest in how it all works behind the scenes becomes of greater interest, too. One of my daughter's "coolest" interactions came as we were exiting the recently shuttered Backlot Tour at Disney's Hollwood Studios. As we disembarked our tram, she was able to get a glimpse of the backstage area of "Lights! Motors! Action!" — one of her favorite shows — and saw one of the hero car drivers and a motorcyclist awaiting their cues. Each waved to her as they were getting ready for their entrances, and she stood mesmerized by how they prepared themselves and their vehicles for their roles, interacted with other backstage personnel, and finally entered the on-stage area. It gave her a rare peek into the inner workings of stunt show production, and she still talks about it.

Her other "must-see" is Space Mountain with the lights on. Typically, at least once per trip (unfortunately for those who want to experience the attraction), Space Mountain is temporarily closed. When it is, our family makes a mad dash to the PeopleMover for a ride through this dark-ride-no-longer, because the lights are on, the track and mechanical system are visible, and the workers are milling about trying to address the problem: fascinating stuff for a tween who wants to see how such attractions are Imagineered.

I have to admit, when attractions are being built or refurbished, we're typically "that family," the one you've seen peering into, through, and around barricades, scrims, and construction walls for a glimpse of how it's being put together from the inside out. We must've spent 20 minutes of prime vacation time just watching workers test and put the final touches on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train when it first opened. It's fascinating to a tween (OK, to her parents, too) to see what it's made of, how it works, and what goes into the construction.

If you have the opportunity, and your tween is so inclined, spend a few minutes talking about the inner workings of Disney World — from the animation, to the engineering, to the marketing, to the performances. It just may pique their curiosity and serve as the foundation for future career choices!

In the end, Disney truly is a destination for all ages, tweens included. If you know your tween, and try to gear at least some of the planning and the experience to their interests, you might just find a whole new kind of magic in store for the entire family.

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Taking Tweens and Teens to Walt Disney World:
Hoop-Dee-Doo… or Hoop-Dee-Don't?

Walt Disney World from a Teenager's Point of View

Planning a Trip with Older Teens

Other AllEars.Net articles by Lynne Feiz:

Disney World on Wheels

A Disney Survival Guide for Parents

Navigating WDW with a Special Diet

Engaging Your Disney Senses

When Should I Take My Child to Disney?



Lynne P. Feiz has been a marketing communications professional for more than 20 years, and an annual visitor to Walt Disney World since her first trip in 1974. Despite the frequency, she admits she still gets goosebumps when she hears those first few notes of the nighttime parade. Lynne and her husband Tony joined Disney Vacation Club in 1999 and call BoardWalk Villas their second home. Their first home is in central Massachusetts, with their daughter, Princess Julia.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.