Teenagers. They bring a spark of the unpredictable to life. Sometimes, they’re like having an especially hilarious mini-adult living in the house— like an alien from another planet who’s been here long enough to blend in but also is just barely figuring out that the oven is not a reasonable place to store dirty dishes. Other times, their youth becomes more obvious when they melt into a hot mess of emotions over an indecipherable text chain with their friends spoken entirely through memes of cats vomiting rainbows.
Bringing a teen to Walt Disney World can seem an intimidating prospect. Whereas Disney is easily the Most Magical Place on Earth for small children, teenagers are not so easily taken in by flying elephants and daydreaming princesses. In Florida, the easiest solution tends to be to assume that the teenage years is just the age you visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure instead. While plenty of reasons can be explored why Walt Disney World outranks Universal in overall theme park offerings, there’s no doubt that Universal’s parks are somewhat-more-ideal for teenagers.
Universal’s advantage in the teenage market doesn’t mean that teenagers can’t enjoy Walt Disney World, however. Indeed, the reason why most teens tend to get annoyed with Disney usually has its root in misconceptions and misguided trip planning. The truth is that The Most Magical Place on Earth is well on the way to becoming more teen-friendly than ever before with the impending arrivals of Star Wars: Galaxy’s edge, as well as new offerings like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Tron roller coasters.
Want your teens to enjoy Walt Disney World as much as you do? We gathered seven tips to customize your trip to be as teen-friendly as possible.
1. Plan to visit during less busy times
This is probably the top Disney Parks 101 tip we share here at Theme Park Tourist, and it goes double if you have teenagers—resist the urge to plan your trip during Disney’s busiest seasons.
If you have an ultra-extraverted teen who has demonstrated comfort with huge crowds, there’s some breathing room, but the honest truth is visiting Walt Disney World during any of the park’s ultra-busy seasons with a teen is a recipe for disaster. The worst of these include all holiday weekends (especially Christmas, New Year’s, and 4th of July), Spring Break, June through Mid-August, and the weeks surrounding a major opening within the parks.
It’s already rough enough enjoying the parks when crowds are overflowing, a more and more common issues since the “off-season” is much harder to pin down these days (October and the first weeks of December, for example, are no longer surefire times to visit for low crowds), but bringing teenagers when the parks are packed can add all new elements of stress.
While every teenager is different, modern teens tend to share two issues. First, depending on their age and maturity level, they may get frustrated with long lines. Sure, Disney has lots of great ways to keep guests entertained in their queues, even without the need for a smartphone, but most teens have an attention span that is about equal to their age in minutes (13-17 minutes). Their impression of Disney is not going to be particularly positive if they spend the whole time in line.
More important, however, is the increasing issue of anxiety. We live in a culture where modern teens are more stressed out than ever. Leaving aside the wide range of issues behind this phenomenon, anxiety is a familiar struggle to the vast majority of teenagers. Even if a teen doesn’t have an obvious anxiety issue like a disorder, theme parks with near-capacity-crowds can easily leave a teen out of sorts and overwhelmed. Their impression of Disney parks can end up being a negative one due to crowds alone, even if the crowds are the same as they’d experience at another park like Universal.
Want your teens to enjoy Walt Disney World as much as you do? Give them the best impression possible by visiting during a time when crowds aren’t totally bonkers. If possible, take them out of school—this can be a great motivator for them to keep their grades up and do their chores! A few particularly nice times to still visit are mid-January (avoiding holiday weeks), early May, late September, and mid-December on weekdays.
2. Choose your parks wisely (especially in regards to Magic Kingdom)
The vast majority of families who visit Walt Disney World tend to follow a predictable trip structure. A large emphasis is placed on time visiting Magic Kingdom. In general, first time visitors tend to prioritize Disney’s Animal Kingdom next as a full day park, followed by possible half-days at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and maybe Epcot. If the family only has a three-day pass, one of these two will be skipped.
This tends to be difficult for some to hear (especially more seasoned fans), but if you will be visiting Walt Disney World with teens for the first time, throw the traditional plan out entirely and don’t overdo your time at Magic Kingdom.
The truth is, Magic Kingdom is honestly the least-teen-friendly park at Walt Disney World. This statement is usually met with incredulity by parents and fans, but it’s just the truth for many teens. Don’t get me wrong—Magic Kingdom has a lot to offer, especially if your teens grew up loving Disney. However, if you’re budgeting out your trip time considering the general inclinations of the average Gen Z teenager, Magic Kingdom is the most likely park to leave them feeling “Meh”.
There’s so many reasons this notion seems to defy logic. After all, wouldn’t Epcot be the least teen-friendly park? Even Disney’s Animal Kingdom can seem like a hard sell for teens for those unfamiliar with the park’s offerings. Thanks to Pandora: The World of Avatar and Expedition: Everest, most teens consistently rate Disney’s Animal Kingdom as their favorite. Disney’s Hollywood Studios often takes second place (and may even take the lead once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens). As for Epcot, even it often surprisingly edges out Magic Kingdom as a dark horse in the race for teen appeal—more on that in a bit.
Magic Kingdom absolutely has some great attractions for teens, but it suffers from two significant fatal flaws—it feels the most like a “kid’s park” and a majority of its attractions are either kid-focused or rely on nostalgia. If a teen has no childhood-connection to Disney parks, attractions like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and It’s a Small World can just seem cheesy in comparison to Expedition: Everest and Test Track.
If you won’t be bringing small children with you, consider limiting your time at Magic Kingdom with new teen visitor to a half day. This gives enough time to hit a few strategic attractions but doesn’t leave you lingering in the parks for too long. If you’ll only be visiting on a 3 day-3 park ticket and appealing to your teenager is a priority, consider skipping Magic Kingdom entirely—seriously. Unless your teen gets the Disney-magic feelz, they will be statistically more likely to enjoy the other three parks. This isn’t a hard rule, but we have seen the scenario play out enough times to notice a pattern. Kids and adults tend to love Magic Kingdom, but teens can only take so much of it. There are exceptions to every rule and every teenager is different, but this is a pretty frequent scenario. Instead of planning to make Magic Kingdom the top priority in your Disney vacation, spend some extra time in the other three parks instead.