Traveling with teenagers can be a joy and a challenge. In many ways it's easier than traveling with small children; gone are the days of diaper bags, strollers, and carrying at least one extra change of clothes! And chances are your teenager will let you sleep in if you want to.
Parenting teenagers is often a balancing act: How can you give them the independence they need as they move ever-closer to adulthood, yet still provide sufficient guidance and support? Here are my tips for traveling to Walt Disney World with teenagers:
- Stay in a WDW resort hotel, if at all possible. Now, I want you to know this is not my standard advice. I'm a big fan of comparing on-site and off-site options to be sure I'm getting the best value for my money. I even share ownership of a couple weeks at a timeshare resort near WDW. But with teenagers, I feel the advantages to the on-site hotels are worth the premium you might pay. Many of the tips below rely on this first one.
- Consider charging privileges. At your Disney resort, your teen will be given a room keycard (or RFID wrist-band, as the new technology is rolled out). This keycard or wrist-band can be enabled with charging privileges, so that almost anywhere at WDW, your teen can charge purchases. Is that a good thing? Depends on your teenager. Consider whether you'd like to be consulted on every purchase ("Mom, I want a Mickey bar. Can I have some money?") or whether you'd like them to be able to roam a little more freely. Charging to the room might be more convenient than giving them cash to carry around, and provides a record of all expenses in case there's a bill to be settled later from someone's allowance.
- Consider the Disney Dining Plan. I can already hear my friends gasping as I make this suggestion. Generally speaking, I don't feel the Dining Plan offers good value, and I advise everyone to do the math carefully before deciding to purchase this package. But yes, really, if you're traveling with a teenager this may be a must-do if and only if you're not planning to give your teenager charging privileges, but would like them to be able to go ahead and get a hamburger without you. If they do not have room-charging privileges, but they do have the Dining Plan, they'll be able to charge food and drinks (against the Dining Plan credits, at Dining Plan locations) but nothing else.
- Pick your resort hotel based at least partly on transportation. The WDW transportation system is pretty easy to use. If your teenager uses public transportation at home, you might be comfortable letting them get around Walt Disney World on their own. Perhaps they'd like to sleep in, and you'd like to make it to rope drop? They could just take Disney transit over whenever they're ready, and join you for lunch. But it's easier to find your way around the transportation options at some resorts than others. For example, the Value resorts generally have one big bus depot, with bus stops clearly labeled for each destination (e.g., the theme parks and Downtown Disney). But some other resorts have multiple bus stops throughout the resort, and when you're heading back to the room at night, it's sometimes hard to tell the bus stops apart if you weren't paying careful attention when you boarded the bus in the first place; Saratoga Springs and Port Orleans both come to mind. Consider the resort transportation layout, and if you've got your heart set on one of the more confusing places, try requesting a room near the main lobby.
- Keep those cellphones charged. It seems pretty much a given that teenagers will have cell phones these days. If they don't already have them, consider buying a pre-paid phone for them to use during the trip -- and be sure to get one with plenty of texting credit, because in the often-noisy Parks, it's a lot easier to communicate by text than by voice. Your cell phones will be your communications infrastructure, so make sure that everybody's got charger cables with them, in case batteries run low before the day is done. You might want to also consider buying external battery packs for re-charging the cell phones, in case there's not an outlet handy.
- Let them play, their way. It might be hard to accept that your kid doesn't want to ride Peter Pan's Flight anymore. Or that they don't fit the teenage stereotype of loving all the thrill rides. Now that they've got a bit more independence, you can all visit your favorite attractions together or separately, and most likely a little bit of each. Listen to your teenager. Try not to crowd them. The time you spend together will be much sweeter if everybody can get some space now and then.