As a mom of teenagers, I know a thing or two about keeping them happy on a trip to Walt Disney World. My teens loved it when they were younger, but now they're reaching that stage where they don't like to be seen with Mom, Dad, and their younger brothers and sisters. They also shy away from anything that seems too childish.
I don't force my teenagers to stay with their parents and younger siblings all day, every day. Sure, we do some family activities, but I've also been known to let them take a bus over to one of the other parks, like Disney's Hollywood Studios, while I've got the little ones at the Magic Kingdom. I give them some money for lunch and let them enjoy some time on their own.
That's one of the great things about Walt Disney World. It has an excellent free transportation system. The teens can take a bus to the park of their choice, and the rest of us meet up with them later.
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Walt Disney World has a lot more going on than just the rides and shows in the theme parks. My teens get bored on some of the rides that they feel are geared for younger kids. I promise them that if they go with their sisters and brothers on Winnie the Pooh or the Little Mermaid ride, I'll let them rent boats over at one of the resorts or go on a Segway tour at Fort Wilderness. The boat rentals are limited to age 12 and up, while you have to be at least 16 years old for the Segway tour. That makes my teens feel “grown up,” since they get to do something special that the little kids can't do.
I want my whole family to feel like this is their trip, and that includes my teens. When we plan our Disney vacation, everyone gets to pick out some must-dos, and we plan our days around those picks. That means a morning might be centered around doing what the little ones want to do in Fantasyland, but when the afternoon comes, it's all about making sure the teens hit the three “mountains” (Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Splash Mountain). Everyone gets their chance to have part of the trip be all about them.
My teens are always glued to their smart phones, every when we're in the midst of the happiest place on earth. Instead of fighting it, I enlist their help and make that obsession an important part of our vacation. I have them play photographer, grabbing photos and video clips and posting them on Facebook for their grandparents and other family members and friends to see. Of course, those photos also become part of our family archive of captured memories. Because the teens always have their phones out, they're able to capture some really spontaneous moments.
The teen years are a time when youngsters are making an important transition and want to be viewed as adults. Teens tend to be cynical and place a lot of important on being “cool.” They refuse to get excited about seeing the Disney characters waving at them in a parade, and they certainly don't want you to hear them gasping in awe at a beautiful fireworks display.
However, as a mom, I sometimes notice that they can't rein in their inner child completely. They get a little silly and actually have a good time when their younger brothers and sisters drag them to a character greeting. They let it slip that they really enjoyed the new floats in the parade or that the Peter Pan ride brought back some great memories of when they were young. I never say, “See, I told you so! I told you that you'd have a good time.” and I certainly don't embarrass them by posting that picture where they mugged it up with Goofy with as much excitement as a six year old. I just cherish those precious memories on my own and let them maintain that “cool” facade.