Since Tad and Lily aren't teenagers yet (thank goodness) I consulted my niece and nephew, Sally and Seemore, who had lots of helpful advice for traveling with teenagers to the theme parks. Here's what I learned...
Tip #1 – Let them help in the planning.
Since teenagers' likes and dislikes are constantly “evolving” make sure they have a say in the activities and scheduling. You can also put them in charge of certain aspects of the trip. If they're good with maps, let them be your unofficial tour guide. If they like taking pictures, let them be your vacation photographer.
Teenagers move a lot quicker, last a lot longer and change their minds more often than the little ones. Park Hopper tickets for Walt Disney World and Park to Park tickets for Universal Orlando are the best tickets for teenagers. Sally and Seemore’s favorite Disney park is Disney's Hollywood Studios; their favorite Universal Orlando park is Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Tip #3 – Travel together, but separate.
They understand it's a family vacation, but they're still teenagers and value their privacy and independence. As long as there's more than one teenager in the group, allow them to explore on their own; they'll be much more open to family activities later on. (Downtown Disney is perfect for this one. The grown-ups can go somewhere like the House of Blues while the teens go to DisneyQuest.)
Tip #4 – Don't make them quit the gadgets cold-turkey.
Sally and Seemore are like most teenagers...they text a lot and love communicating with their friends via Facebook and Twitter. It may be tempting to ban all tech gadgets during your vacation, but allowing time to get their “cyber fix” will prevent severe withdrawal symptoms like bad attitudes. You can still set limits like no texting during meals, though.
Tip #5 – Have a “sleep-in” day or two.
My usual advice about sleeping-in on a theme park vacation is not to do it. But with teenagers, sleeping-in some mornings is not only OK, it's suggested. If there are also younger children in the group, use these mornings to do something special with them.
Tip #6 – Be flexible.
By the time your vacation arrives, you've spent hours upon hours planning every detail from where to eat breakfast on day two to what fireworks show to watch on day four. With teenagers in tow, even the best laid plans can fly right out the window. I still recommend having a basic plan, but be willing to alter that plan and “go with the flow.”
Tip #7 – Give them a budget.
Giving your teenagers a budget with their own money to spend is a good idea. When a teenager has to keep asking for money for snacks and drinks, he starts to feel like a child...and you know what that means. If your teenagers are heading out on their own, get them their own Key to the World card. It's much safer than carrying cash; just be sure to set a limit on how much they can charge.
Tip #8 – Be very clear on rules and guidelines like meet-up times.
No matter how old you are, it's easy to lose track of time inside the theme parks. Make sure you set clear and firm meeting times and places. Undercover Tourist's iPhone app has a 'Find a Friend' feature that Sally and Seemore use to keep in touch with their parents.
Tip #9 – Try an activity outside the parks.
There are so many activities to do in Orlando outside the theme parks. An exciting way to spice things up for teenagers is to surprise them with an activity like a Hot Air Balloon ride, a Richard Petty Riding Experience or a spa treatment at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Tip #10 – Don't be discouraged if they act “too cool.”
When you're walking through the park with your teenagers, you may catch them rolling their eyes and trying their best not to be impressed and excited. Rest assured, when they don't think you're looking, they let down their guard and forget about trying to be “cool.” It's not personal...remember, they're teenagers!
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