3. Don’t under-estimate Epcot
Just like there is a real temptation to emphasize time at the Magic Kingdom if you have teens—after all, it has roller coasters and a haunted house--, many parents tend to under-estimate Epcot as a potential teen destination at Walt Disney World. Epcot unfortunately has a kind of poor reputation as a ‘nerd park’. With its strong background in edu-tainment, it seems like just the type of place that would put off teenagers.
I recall when we once took two of our Florida students, high school freshmen, to Walt Disney World. Their families visited the parks frequently, so they were familiar with all four parks. We told them they could pick any park in Walt Disney World for the visit. With little hesitation and to our total surprise, they both picked Epcot. Both were totally normal Fortnite-playing teenage boys. They loved Epcot. We had an absolute blast riding rides and eating our way through World Showcase.
Epcot may not have the non-stop action appeal of Disney’s Hollywood Studios or the fantastical scope of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but it has several factors in its favor for appealing to teens. First off, it has several great attractions for the age group—Test Track includes the thrills of a high-speed race but also allows teens to dream big and make autonomous choices in designing their vehicles. Mission: Space Orange feels distinctly like a thrill ride to young visitors, and Soarin’ engages their sense of wonder. Many teens do have some educational interests, and attractions like Spaceship: Earth and even Living With the Land engage this, piquing their curiosity about subjects that might sound dull at school. Most modern teens may not feel much nostalgic connection with Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but they certainly might regarding Frozen or Finding Nemo/Dory, which gives Epcot extra points.
World Showcase and Epcot’s festivals add another surprising element. World Showcase scratches the itch of teenage wanderlust, giving adolescents an opportunity to try foods and experience new cultures. Some favorites tend to be the sword displays in the UK and Norway pavilions, the pastries in France and Norway, and especially the Mitsukoshi store in Japan. As for Epcot’s festivals, they provide a fun opportunity for teens to try wild new foods and for them to goof around. Sure, some of the dishes might be intimidating for picky eaters, but there’s so much variety that teens can often find at least something to try (plus, teenage boys are often bottomless pits for food). Festival activities like special Photopass frames, interactive art exhibits, living statues, and concerts add even more teen-friendly fun.
In short, resist the temptation to skip Epcot just because you have teens. The park has a neat way of appealing to the side of many teenagers that wants to be viewed as a little more mature then smaller kids.
4. Know the top teen-friendly attractions
No matter which parks you choose to visit, you’ll want to make sure you hit the best attractions for teen appeal. Every teenager is different—some love thrills rides, some don’t, for example—but statistically, we have noticed that some attractions tend to excite teen visitors more than others. At the same time, some family favorites tend to ring as duds to teens.
At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you can’t go wrong with Avatar: Flight of Passage and Expedition: Everest. These are often ranked as teens favorite Disney attractions overall. The Hollywood Tower of Terror and the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster tend to hold the crowd at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, followed by anything Star Wars related (we won’t be the least bit surprised if Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run becomes the new frontrunner). At Epcot, Test Track and Mission Space Orange are usually surefire winners, while the Magic Kingdom mountains remain the best bet at their respective park.
If you really want to hit a truly perfect attraction for teens, head over to Disney Springs and try Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. This hyper-virtual reality experience is truly mind-bending, and it’s practically tailor made for teens.
Here’s an overview of our favorites and some duds for taking teens to each park:
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Avatar: Flight of Passage
- Expedition: Everest
- Kali River Rapids
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
- Dinosaur (some teens find it more cheesy than thrilling)
- Navi River Journey
- Primeval Whirl (granted, everyone over the age of 10 seems to hate this one)
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- The Hollywood Tower of Terror
- The Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster
- The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Star Tours
- Anything connected to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- Star Wars: Launch Bay
- Muppet Vision 3D
- Toy Story Mania
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
- Toy Story Land, including Slinky Dog Dash
- The Stage Shows (unless your teen gets the warm-fuzzies when they watch The Little Mermaid or Beauty and The Beast)
- Test Track
- Mission: Space Orange
- The Festivals (especially Festival of the Arts and Food and Wine Festival)
- Sword displays in UK shops
- Anything related to Guardians of the Galaxy
- Spaceship: Earth
- Living with the Land (weirdly enough)
- The American Adventure
- Frozen Ever After
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends
- Journey Into Imagination
- The films
- Gran Fiesta Tour
- Magic Kingdom (get ready for some “ouch”, superfans)
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Tom Sawyer Island (particularly Injun Joe’s cave)
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- The Peoplemover (curiously)
- Everything related to Gaston
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- The Haunted Mansion
- The Seven Dwarves Mine Train
- Jungle Navigation Co Skipper Canteen
- The Mad Tea Party
- Pretty much everything in Fantasyland, ESPECIALLY It’s a Small World (Peter Pan’s Flight tends to be the most tolerated ride if the wait is short)
- The Barnstormer
- Country Bear Jamboree
- The Hall of Presidents
- Jungle Cruise (in most cases—some teens find it funny)
- Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor (same situation—some think it’s funny, others are horrified)
- The Carousel of Progress
- The Enchanted Tiki Room
- The Tomorrowland Speedway
5. Don’t make all of your plans based on younger siblings
One of the biggest frustrations of teens we’ve met over the years who visit Walt Disney World is feeling like the entire trip caters to younger siblings. It’s a surprisingly common phenomenon. Disney World tends to feel like a park more appropriate to younger kids, so there’s an easy temptation to visit attractions that appeal to them more. Some parents also seem to assume that their teens just aren’t going to like Disney, so they focus all their attention on the younger kids, sometimes assuming that the teens will get more focus on a future trip Universal Studios or Busch Gardens.
A lot of the teens we met really enjoyed certain elements of visits to Walt Disney World, but these elements were either skipped or glanced over compared with activities more appropriate to younger siblings. Another thing that triggers this is falling into the trap of assuming the family needs to all do the same activities together. This means that if the younger kids don’t like roller coasters, the family skips them even if the teens would be up for them. Foods are chosen based on the picky palates of smaller kids, and much time during the day is sucked up standing in line for the most popular attractions in the parks for little kids.
While every family has different needs, try to resist this model of trip planning in favor of something more balanced. Yes, smaller kids have a lot of unique needs, and they can even be more demanding than teens. If you want your teens to enjoy Walt Disney World, a more balanced trip approach will include attractions that they enjoy as well. This may mean splitting up into two groups for thrill rides (or letting the teen ride alone in the single rider line) or using the rider switch option. Smaller kids might get moody if they’re used to having the trip catered to them, but your teens will appreciate feeling like their needs are being considered as much as their siblings.