Disneyland has something for guests in every age group. If you are going to Disneyland with teens and tweens, you'll be approaching your trip differently than if you were visiting with toddlers. We’ve done quite a bit of traveling to Disneyland with teens and tweens, so we’re sharing our tips for other parents.
Our son, Tad, is a tween, and we have traveled with teenage cousins, teen friends and older children. We love the silliness, energy and ease that teens bring to the parks. Teens? Ease? Yes! It's freeing to visit Disneyland with no diaper bags, strollers or height requirements to worry about. The parks can also provide a safe place for teens to split off from parents and gain independence to explore on their own. Disneyland can also bring out that sweet, excited child who is still hiding under that cool teen exterior. Here are a few tips for going to Disneyland with teens so you can plan a trip that will have your teens hopping with excitement.
Tips for Going to Disneyland with Teens and Tweens
What we can say about traveling with teens is that no two teens are alike. Think of these tips as a general guide for going to Disneyland with teens, but definitely listen to your own kids and customize your trip with them. If you also have younger tadpoles, you’ll be trying to meet the needs of different age groups. Teens can be super helpful in managing younger siblings, but will also appreciate having some opportunities to pursue their own interests. Some teens are excited to meet their favorite characters, whereas others are all about jumping on the thrill rides. Then there are the teens who just want to stuff their faces with all the tasty treats.
Disneyland provides a great mental break from the stress of school and social pressures. That's why it’s a great way to de-stress teens and reconnect with your teens in a fun way. Here’s what to expect when taking tweens and tweens to Disneyland, along with some tips to make it a toadally magical day.
Find Attractions Teens Love
For the most part, teens and tweens love Disneyland thrill rides. For tweens who are not ready for the more extreme roller coasters found at Six Flags Magic Mountain or Knott’s Berry Farm, most Disneyland roller coasters provide the perfect level of thrill and fun. Most teens get hopped up for the top teen and tween thrills at Disneyland such as Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones Adventure. At Disney California Adventure, Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin' and Goofy's Sky School are fun. For the most adventurous teens, Incredicoaster and Guardians of the Galaxy are sure to be fan favorites.
Many teens love water rides, such as Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run, especially on a hot day. But even thrill-seekers get their kicks when riding gentler classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Gamers will have fun beating you on Toy Story Midway Mania or Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, which are rides that incorporate elements of video games and shooting games. (Hop over to our gamer’s guide to Disneyland for more on gaming at Disneyland!)
The younger tweens enjoy getting behind the wheel of their own vehicles at Autopia. If you have artsy teens, it’s fun to take an art class at Animation Academy and to create animation in the Magic Mirror Realm in the Sorcerer’s Workshop at Disney California Adventure.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland and the Marvel attractions at Disney California (including the Avengers Campus opening in 2020) are among of the newest and upcoming immersive lands and attractions to interest teens. Huge Star Wars fans can build their own lightsaber or droid, try blue milk, pilot the Millennium Falcon and use the Datapad (aka Play Disney Parks app) to decode, translate, hack and solve puzzles. They can help shield Chewbacca, Rey or the spy from Kylo Ren and the Storm Troopers, immersing themselves into the story of the land.
Encourage your teens to watch Fantasmic!, World of Color and the Disneyland fireworks. Those shows are magical. But we’ve also known some teens to skip the shows to take advantage of the shorter ride wait times. Be sure to let them choose their path, and divide up if necessary so you can still fill your own bucket with must-do shows and attractions. It’s your vacation, too!
Expect to Get a Later Start
We have a saying: The early frog gets the fly. But we're learning that many middle school and high school kids would rather catch some ZZZs. While we love to be one of the first families in the park, we understand that many teens and tweens love to sleep in and stay up late. That can really affect a parent’s rope drop dreams. While older kids may be harder to get going in the morning, the fun part about teens is that they may be able to stay later in the park at night, whereas younger kids need to go to bed. So if your teens miss the low crowds of morning, you can make it up by enjoying lower crowds at night in the few hours before park closing. Plus, they can stay up late for the awesome nighttime entertainment in the parks.
By staying on property or within walking distance, you can go have your morning fun. Let the teens join you when they are ready. It’s also fun to stay close enough to leave the parks for a splash in the hotel pool. If you also have younger tadpoles, you can take them to nap during the day so they can keep up with the teens later.
In case you missed it, Undercover Tourist is now booking discount hotel rooms for the three Disneyland properties — Disney's Paradise Pier (as low as $389 a night ), Disneyland Hotel (as low as $441 a night) and Disney's Grand Californian Hotel (as low as $547 a night), as well as other nearby hotels!
When traveling with older kids, we want hotels that offer more space. We look for hotels with suites, or we book adjoining rooms. When we spread out, we can each get the sleep we need. An extra bathroom can be especially helpful when you have teenage girls competing for the shower and bathroom mirror. (Can we blame them? They need to be Instagram ready.)
The Courtyard Marriott Theme Park Entrance (as low as $280 a night) is within walking distance from the parks and offers rooms with bunk beds and split bathrooms, perfect for larger families and families with teens. Tadpoles of all ages will love the water slides. Homewood Suites by Hilton (as low as $160 a night) is next to the Toy Story parking lot and shuttle. With daily free hot breakfast and a complimentary evening social with small plates Monday through Thursday, you can save money feeding hungry teens. The large suites give you all a little breathing room. Teens will love the on-site arcade, putting green, pool and basketball court.
Buy Teens a Park Hopper Ticket
Teens can find plenty to interest them in both parks, plus they have the stamina and energy to park hop that smaller children lack. Teens can rack up some serious mileage on the ole Fitbit throughout the day. We recommend that teens start out in Disney California Adventure with their favorite thrill rides and then hop over to Disneyland during the afternoon or at night. Disneyland Park is open later and has more FASTPASS availability in the afternoon and evening compared to Disney California Adventure.
Don’t Skimp on Snacks!
Teens are all about those classic Disneyland treats. They might even prefer to snack all day rather than sit down for a large meal. Churros, Mickey pretzels, mint juleps, chili cone queso, bacon mac ‘n’ cheese cones, Mickey beignets (OK, anything shaped like Mickey), corndogs and Dole Whips always sound good to a teen. Teens also love colorful foods that look pretty in pictures so they can make all their friends super jelly. If you want to control the snacking (for sugar or budget), give your teen a Disney gift card for snacks and let him or her decide how to spend it.
Say Cheese! Take Those Photos!
That same kid who might give you a hard time about taking family photos at home may be begging you to take their picture at Disneyland. While it’s known as “the Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland is also ranked number one as the most Instagrammed place on earth! So take advantage of that. Be your teen’s paparazzi. Pose those pics in front of iconic spots, with favorite characters and in front of walls. Yes, walls. There are popular wall spots and backdrops to take photos. Don’t worry, your teen probably already knows about them. Just go with it and don’t ask questions. Tad is often the man behind the camera, taking pictures and capturing video for our YouTube channel. He can go on a ride with his little sister for "video purposes." We know he's having fun, too, but we let him pretend he's going on just to get the shot.
Invest in MaxPass
Disneyland MaxPass is a way to help you manage your day. While it does add an additional cost per day and per ticket, it's worth it. MaxPass allows you to make FASTPASS reservations for certain rides and shows through the Disneyland app on your phone. Teens are experts at managing life though the phone. It also includes unlimited PhotoPass downloads. Your teens may jump for some Magic Shots, in which the photographer adds surprise elements to the photo. We feel this tool is toadally worth it when taking teens and tweens because most of their favorite rides offer FASTPASS. Your teens and tweens will love skipping the lines and sharing their photos! I mean, who doesn’t? You can even edit the photos, adding borders and stickers in the app! (Psst …parents, if your teens split off from you, you can kind of keep track of them in the app. Link their tickets to your phone. Their FASTPASSes and PhotoPass photos will pop up in your app.)
Bring External Phone Chargers
Taking all those pictures and using MaxPass definitely takes a toll on phone battery. And you want to be able to be in touch with your teen should you split up. You can bring your own chargers. But if you don’t have one, or froget yours, you can purchase one in the park that comes with cartridge replacements. The whole family can take turns using the charger. You can keep exchanging them at kiosks around the parks for a fresh charge. (Replacements are unlimited, but there has been recent talk of changing this policy.) Other tips to protect your phone include putting the phone in a locker or plastic bag during water rides and making sure it's in a protective case.
Make a Meetup Plan
Even though you have phones and chargers, make a plan. If you have a failure to communicate and your teen’s phone dies or the screen gets smashed (we've seen everything), having a back-up plan is hugely helpful. Plan a meeting spot and specific time to meet just in case. If all else fails, Tad knows to meet us at the clock on Main Street, U.S.A. across from the Penny Arcade after fireworks. One tip to keep your teen wanting to meet up with you is to control their spending money. Food is not cheap at Disneyland. If you don’t give them money for meals, their appetites will have them seeking you out.
Get Dressed Up
Some teens love to get dressed up at Disneyland. Others do not. If your kids are cosplayers, get familiar with “DisneyBounding” and the Disneyland costume policy. Kids under 14 may wear costumes to Disneyland, so your tweens can still dress up. Kids 14 and up cannot wear costumes or masks. But there is a Disney-friendly way to get around the dress code.
DisneyBounding is using regular street clothes to put outfits together that capture the essence of a character or even attraction. For example, someone who loves Snow White might put together blue, red and yellow clothes and accessories. Polka dots in red, black or white color schemes honor Minnie Mouse. Your Star Wars fan teens might want to channel the patterns or colors of some of their favorite characters. Marvel fans can wear the colors of their favorite Super Hero. Whether they like to dress up or not, many teens and tweens love to wear ear headbands, hats or Disneyland spirit jerseys.
Consider Bringing a Friend
If you have an only child, you might consider bringing another teen cousin or friend along so your teen has a companion. Some teens will be happy to hang out with mom or dad, especially if you have similar interests. Others definitely want some space or to be able to split off with another teen or tween sibling/cousin/friend. We expect a little of each when going to Disneyland with teens and tweens. We all ride together and get our group photos in, and then we may let the teens and tweens break off for a few rides while we focus on our toddler, Lily. If you do decide to bring another teen, be aware that it can change the dynamic of your group.
Include Your Teen in Trip Planning
You are already doing your research by reading this blog so that you can maximize your time at Disneyland, save money on Disneyland tickets and hotel stays, and maybe even formulate a touring plan. Many teens just show up and easily get overwhelmed and distracted by all the yummy treats and ride options. Talk to them about which parks you are visiting, the attractions there and how to use FATSPASS, MaxPass and Single Rider lines. Share your itinerary with them so they know where to be and when. This way, they can be efficient with their time and get the most done, too.
Tad has had a chance to learn his mad theme park skills from us, his toadally cool parents. But he is often stumped by how slowly his less-experienced friends and cousins move about the park. Some older kids, used to being told what to do, have a hard time making a decision about where to go next. Some kids actually prefer it when the adults take charge and tell them where to go next at Disneyland. Without guidance, some teens will just stand in line all day without knowing any better. You can help them out by sharing your plans and tools. And for that, you’ll seem pretty cool.
Visit Downtown Disney
You’ll have a great time inside the parks, but Downtown Disney can capture the interest of your teens, as well. Downtown Disney has restaurants, more snacks, shopping and Splitsville Lanes for bowling.
Have more questions about going to Disneyland with teens? Let us know in the comments below! If you are looking to save money on an upcoming trip to Disneyland, be sure to check out the hoppin’ deals on Disneyland tickets, hotels stays and car rentals from Undercover Tourist.