The first time I went to Disney World with my sons, they were ages 3 and 8. Their favorite “attractions” were things like meeting Mickey at a character breakfast, climbing around Animal Kingdom’s dinosaur-themed playground (in dino jammies), the holiday parade down Magic Kingdom’s Main Street and riding a flying Dumbo. Sometimes, for my younger son, just watching birds dive bomb for French fries seemed entertainment enough, and we didn’t need a park ticket for that.
Here we are now–five more Disney trips and 10 years later–and boy, the way we ‘do’ Disney has changed considerably. Our last two trips have been driven by a need for speed, thrills, and things that appeal to one’s curiosity, which leads me to a few things I’ve learned about experiencing the “World” with tweens and teens.
Learn How to Spend Less Time in Lines
Plan ahead and pick which attractions at which park on which day you want to visit. Disney World allows you to reserve up to three complimentary FastPass+ selections per day, as early as 30 days before you arrive (60 if you’ll be staying at a Disney World Resort Hotel). If you don’t have a FastPass, you can still avoid long lines if you arrive at opening time and head straight for your most-want-to-experience attractions.
Go to Disney’s Water Parks
At Blizzard Beach. conveyor belts transport rafts up to meet riders (with the exception of Runoff Rapids), while Typhoon Lagoon’s water rides require you to carry your raft up the stairs, which is easier for agile tweens and teens than younger kids. Typhoon’s Lagoon Surf Pool–the largest wave pool in North America–is an additional perk with six-foot swells that are quite fun to body surf.
Prepare for Bad Weather
Check the hourly forecast each morning. Even if there’s only a 30 percent chance of storms at a certain hour, consider it 100 percent and know that rides will shut down. You can use the FastPass App or visit one of the park kiosks to adjust your ride time for popular attractions.
Let Teens Be in Charge
Each day, my sons looked over a park map and figured out the best plan to hit our respective must-see (or dos) given weather, ride popularity, and FastPass access. It’s fun for them and makes it easy on you!
When choosing rides to visit, consider my sons’ 15 favorite attractions for tweens and teens (with an eye on what their female cousins might also enjoy), written by my oldest son, Cameron.
15 Best Attractions for Teens
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – Magic Kingdom
The all-new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a laid back coaster that traverses an outdoor “mine.” Situated behind Cinderella’s castle in recently expanded Fantasyland, the ride mimics a journey through the mountainous home of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Riders careen in a mine cart around bend after bend, and occasionally go down a decent-sized drop, but that is coupled with a slow roll through a brightly colored diamond mine where the dwarfs sing their ode to work song. This coaster’s mix of fast and slow makes it a longer ride and one that is especially good for tweens. Snow White fans will like the peek inside the Dwarfs’ cabin near the ride’s end where Snow White is dancing with Dopey.
Splash Mountain – Magic Kingdom
This Magic Kingdom water coaster classic is the only ride we’ve gone on every time we’ve been to Disney. Riders sit in pairs in a log-shaped boat that takes you through the story of Brer Rabbit as he tries to escape his ravenous pursuers, Brer Fox and Brer Bear. A musical woodland forest provides the background for the story, where banjo-strumming alligators and a raccoon with a harmonica are just a few of the critters that serenade you. The ride contains mostly small drops and one very large — and very fun — plummet down the mountain. Riders in the front of the log typically see more splash action than those in the back, so be prepared. The plastic ponchos Disney sells at most resorts will keep you relatively dry.
Space Mountain – Magic Kingdom
Space Mountain, located in Tomorrowland, is a fast-paced indoor roller coaster that is almost completely in the dark, with the exception of a few futuristic neon-lit tunnels, and the “stars.” These stars are small lights hung all throughout this coaster’s cavernous home. The best part: you feel like you are hurtling through outer space when you pass by them at high speed. There are a few large drops and a lot of sharp turns, making Space Mountain a must ride for thrill-seekers.
Crush N’ Gusher – Typhoon Lagoon
This fast-paced waterslide, set against the backdrop of a deserted fruit processing plant, is popular with all ages. Riders have three options: Pineapple Plunger (up to 3 riders per raft), Coconut Crush (up to 3 riders per raft), and Banana Blaster (up to 2 riders per raft). Not only does Crush N’ Gusher push you down a few small drops, it also propels you up a few hills with powerful water jets that help you defy gravity. Smaller tweens might need help dragging their rafts up the staircase.
Humunga Kowabunga – Typhoon Lagoon
Humunga Kowabunga is a five-story waterslide with a 214 foot-long high-speed drop. The slide is one long chute and completely dark inside. Three side-by-side slides offer riders the opportunity to race against family and friends. If you’re into near-vertical drops, this ride’s for you. You must be at least 48 inches tall to ride.
Castaway Creek – Typhoon Lagoon
Gently moving Castaway Creek is a mostly shaded, 2,000-foot-long river that encircles Typhoon Lagoon. There are five places to enter and exit and plenty of inner tubes if you prefer to float instead of duck and swim around them as the current carries you along. Waterfalls make it hard for some (like my mother) to keep her hair dry. The river also travels beneath rope bridges where people might squirt you with water guns.
Teen Beach Party – Typhoon Lagoon
Disney’s “Teen Beach Movie” and this season’s “Teen Beach 2” inspired this half-hour part show, part party. The interactive event runs four times a day, typically during midday hours. While the movie’s main characters might be teens, the show itself attracts mostly kids ages 11 or younger. Performers dressed like characters from the movie organize games such as Hot Potato and relay races, plus they teach dances from the movie. Beach balls and stickers are a few of the prizes up for grabs. The show takes place on the beach area beneath the wooden clock tower, directly across from the wave pool.
Epcot’s World Showcase – Epcot
Here you get a taste of the world by walking a lap around a lake and visiting eleven countries: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, Japan, Morocco, France, the U.K., and Canada. Each section has a large building designed to match the given country’s traditional architecture (for example, the Morocco exhibit is a bazaar and Mexico has an Aztec-style pyramid). All also have their own gift shops, attractions, street performers (for some) and restaurants that serve the respective country’s cuisine. The experience is made more authentic because most employees hail from the country whose exhibit they work in. Many are happy to talk about their home. Our two food favorites are Via Napoli, an authentic Italian pizzeria, and Germany’s Biergarten, where you can listen to live traditional music and return to the buffet as many times as you’d like for German specialties that include sausages, sauerkraut and apple strudel. Some pavilions offer short films. Don’t miss Canada’s “O, Canada,” an 18-minute 360-degree panoramic film of Canadian highlights from the Bay of Fundy to the sport of curling, all narrated by actor/comedian Martin Short.
Soarin’ – Epcot
It’s easy to see why Soarin’ is one of Epcot’s most popular attractions. The ride is designed to make you feel as though you’re hang gliding over California, your legs dangling over the Golden Gate Bridge, redwood forests, mountains, vineyards, beaches, and of course, Disneyland and Los Angeles. The large contraption meant to mimic a hang glider lifts from the floor in front of an enormous wall-to-wall screen. The beauty of Soarin’ is that you don’t move much, but the combination of tilting seats, wind blown in your face, and the scent of pine, all make it feel like you’re flying over California. You must be at least 40 inches tall to ride.
Test Track by Chevrolet – Epcot
The gist of Test Track by Chevrolet is initially difficult to grasp. First, you design a concept car on a digital board, customizing the body style, tires, spoiler, and much more. Yet on the ride itself, you don’t ride in a car anything like the one you designed. The standardized cars seat four and take you through test runs of extreme driving conditions. Digital boards throughout show how the ride car would fare against your digitally designed one, ranking each on handling, maneuverability, efficiency, and power/speed. The speed test–when your car accelerates like a bullet to more than 60 miles-per-hour in seconds–is the best part. Test Track is the fastest ride at Epcot, and ideal for those who like to whip around a few corners at high speeds. You must be at least 40 inches tall to ride.
Kilimanjaro Safari – Animal Kingdom
The Kilimanjaro Safari offers a unique opportunity to see zebras, elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, lions, antelope and more in their natural habitat without having to travel to Africa. Disney’s Harambe Wildlife Reserve is 110 acres of mock African wilderness that you explore via an open-air safari vehicle that could be mistaken for a small tank. Aside from a few rickety bridges, the ride is completely calm for the duration of the trek. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and offer interesting facts and stories about Harambe’s more than 30 animal species (for example, we learned that zebras are in fact black with white stripes).
Kali River Rapids – Animal Kingdom
A jungle landscape damaged by illegal logging provides the backdrop for this faux raging river journey in a circular raft that spins. You will definitely get wet and possibly even drenched on this ride, but your belongings won’t. Each raft contains a large dry compartment in the middle, where you can store bags, phones and other belongings. The ride’s highlight is a drop down a 20 foot-high slope. On one bridge overpass, there are squirt guns that passers by can use to spray water on riders. You must be at least 38 inches tall to ride.
Zuri’s Sweet Shop – Animal Kingdom
Don’t miss this new store located in Harambe Market. Zuri’s sells a variety of African candy in flavors you don’t often see in the U.S., such as a milk chocolate spicy cinnamon banana crisp bars and Harissa popcorn (Harissa is made of chili pepper, coriander, paprika, and a few other spices). If you’re less adventurous with your sweets, animal-shaped cookies and mini chocolate crocodiles are also good.
Expedition Everest – Animal Kingdom
Climb aboard Expedition Everest for an awe-inspiring train/coaster ride around a replica of Mount Everest. The coaster starts out slowly, overlooking a forest and passing through a stone tunnel before reaching “Mount Everest’s” summit. The train has a stop inside the mountain as it encounters broken tracks, at which point it careens backwards before beginning its wild journey back down the mountain, narrowly avoiding the clutches of a Yeti. Often in the dark, Expedition Everest also contains drops of up to 80 feet. As one of Animal Kingdom’s most popular attractions, lines are often long so visit early. You must be at least 44 inches tall to ride.
Amphicars at The Boathouse – Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney)
Opened in April 2015, the Boathouse’s fleet of pastel-colored vintage Amphicars are exactly what they sound like: cars that can drive on land or sail on water. Only 3,878 of these vehicles were made in the 1960’s and roughly a hundred remain, 9 of which were restored and are now a Disney Springs attraction. Lots of people gather around to watch and take photos as your car departs and a professional photographer also takes pictures (available to purchase at ride’s end), then your Captain drives straight into the water and you sit back, relax, and learn about all the changes happening at Disney Springs. The cars can fit three adults (four with two small kids) and cost $125 per outing. Don’t miss the collection of rubber duckies in the gift shop. They have everything from a camo-clad duck to ones decked out in shades and jewels. Reserve a time at The Boathouse. Tours are offered hourly (weather permitting) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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