If you follow me on Instagram (or Facebook or Twitter) you probably know that last week The Dudes and I were in Orlando for a magical Disney vacation.
It was slated to be a quick 3 and a half day excursion to the parks to learn about doing Disney right with tweens, but thanks to the Winter That Won’t Die, it turned into a 5 and half day action packed, fun-filled all out adventure about doing Disney BIG with tweens (and a down-for-whatever 7 year old sidekick).
Before I jump into the meat of this thing though, we need to agree on a few things (and no, agreeing to disagree doesn’t work for me)…
First, it’s hard to believe I’m old enough to have two tweens. It is, do not argue with me.
Second, traveling with three kids alone is hard. Even if two of them are tweens. There’s just a lot of do this, move that, go there, STOP, seriously be quiet, hurry up, OMG! STOP! Do you have a drink in your bag? You can’t take drinks through security, now they have to search us! Ugh, please stop, BARF IN THE BAG, MAN. BARF. IN. THE. BAG! as you move from place to place.
And, last but not least, Disney truly is magical. I know it’s one of those locations that seems geared toward the younger set: the soft rides, and the character meet and greets, and the magic. But, for us, as lifelong fans of Disney (DudeDad and I used to go on dates to Disneyland, including our first real date ever), it’s about connecting and having fun together and family tradition and keeping the magic you feel there alive in your heart, no matter how old you are.
Moral of the story: Disney vacations are for families with tweens and teens too. No matter how old your kids are, Disney vacation planning doesn’t have to be hard. With some expert-ish tips, you can craft a trip that is as magical as it is memorable.
Disney Vacation Planning: Making Magic with Tweens & Teens
Use Fast Pass+.
Game. Changer. It allows visitors to reserve a space in line at their favorite attractions in advance of their trip to the park, via the Disney website or the app. I know when Disney vacation planning there are a ton of things to get done, MAKE SURE you do this one. You can choose up to three Fast Passes in advance of your visit and, once you’ve used those, you can add more at kiosks in the park. Gone are the days of racing around the park when it opens to get those little printed ride slips. And gone are the days of waiting 80 minutes to ride Space Mountain (if you plan ahead at least).
Meet Mickey in the Theater.
But, wait until the park is about to close and then take your kids in to say hello. The little kids have usually gone home for the night and you can slip in without waiting in line. It’s cool because Mickey TALKS to you. Don’t tell them I told you, but my big kids got teary eyed over the experience, and Dude 3 just flat out cried.
Book a special experience.
Dude 2 and I were able to enjoy a Wild Animal Safari Trek. We got to go behind the scenes and add some wonderful education to our vacation. We learned about the animals on the property, how they are cared for, and about Disney’s conservation efforts. The guides that lead it are truly dedicated and knowledgeable and hearing them speak about the animals and their work at the park is so inspiring. It’s an excursion you can only take if you’re older (8 and up) and it’s a great way for families with older kids to get an in-depth peek at what Disney is about beyond Mickey and princesses. If you start your Disney vacation planning well in advance, you will be able to get into a special experience if you desire.
Get Disney Magic Bands.
The water proof wrist bands can be used to open resort room doors, get into the parks, use Fast Passes, and more. The Dudes loved the power the Magic Bands gave them while visiting the park. Plus, they come in all kinds of colors and can be customized with little snap ons. If part of your Disney vacation planning involves staying on property, getting Magic Bands will be a seamless experience.
Make plans for rain.
We’ve spent several good looooong days just letting a tropical-ish Orlando rain storm soak us. We bring our rain ponchos (way cheaper than buying at Disney) and just let the rain have its way with us. But even we reach a point when our squeaky shoes just aren’t having it. Think about heading to Disney Springs and enjoy bowling at Splitsville Luxury Lanes or taking in a movie at AMC Disney Springs.
Plan to go later.
With Extra Magic Hours at the parks you can extend your stay beyond the regular operating hours. It works perfectly for families with older kids to head into the park later and plan to stay past midnight because the little people are mostly gone for the evening and the park is remarkably less crowded.
Skip the parades.
Once they’ve seen it a couple of times, the big kids are kinda over it. When everyone else lines up for the parades and the fireworks, use that time to hit all of your favorite rides for shorter wait times!
Don’t underestimate the power of the shows.
We LOVE the Lion King show, and Indiana Jones. And we never go to the Magic Kingdom without going into Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor or Carousel of Progress (we didn’t discover this until our 5th visit and it is SO cool). Plus, Animal Kingdom recently launched Rivers of Light, their night show. It’s worth it to check out some of these if you haven’t in awhile.
Make time to relax.
Older kids can go, go, go for much longer than the babies and toddlers they used to be, but they still require some down time. Hit the AMC for a movie and a meal, or partake in some entertainment at your resort. And seriously, hit the pool. You can relax while they swim in the heated water and everyone can recharge before heading back out into the magic.
Use the app.
And, download it onto their devices so they can too. The Dudes loved stalking Space Mountain’s open/close/wait time (it was closed a few times when we went) and checking out show times and hotel events too.
Need more Disney vacation planning tips? Try this: 30 Things to Know Before You Go on a Disney World Vacation
*Disclosure: We visited Disney as part of a FAM tour. All opinions and awesome tips for success are my own.