The first time we took my youngest daughter to Disney, she couldn’t have been more than two. She was a huge fan of Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse and wanted to meet all of her friends. We walked into EPCOT for the first time; standing right near Spaceship Earth was Goofy.
Without even thinking, she ran right toward him, slid under the rope, and before I could react, she was hugging Goofy. I quickly apologized to the dozens of people waiting in line and Goofy’s “handler.” She was utterly oblivious to the entire situation. It didn’t matter to her; she had just met a TV star.
It was a completely perfect Disney moment. Of course, she has no recollection of the event, but I do, and no matter how many years have passed, I remind her of the event every time we go to Disney. It’s what fathers do.
Many years and Walt Disney World trips have passed; now, my little girls are teenagers. The saddening passage of time has turned my toddlers into teens.
I’ve had to adjust my expectations and routine to meet their needs. As a creature of habit, this has been difficult for me. I’ve had to relearn the World of Disney, and this time from the perspective of a teenager.
Here are some ways that your vacation more enjoyable for everyone, including your teenagers.
As my teens continually remind me, they are wired differently than adults. You have to let them sleep in. This drives me absolutely crazy. I’m a rope drop guy every morning. If you wake everyone in your party up at six, so you can take a bus to Animal Kingdom for an 8 a.m. rope drop, it will be a terrible day. The kids will be miserable, and therefore you will be miserable.
One or two mornings a week is perfectly fine. I know; it drives me crazy knowing that I’m sitting in my room as Disney is happening outside. But with sleep, they will be more pleasant, and you will have a better time.
Make the Most of Late Nights
Again, if they’re sleeping in, your teenagers are going to want to stay up later. Think of late nights as a reverse rope drop. All those people who were at the Parks at eight in the morning are now in bed. The Parks aren’t as empty as they would be early in the morning, but the later you stay, the more likely that the crowd will thin out.
Your teenagers aren’t morning people. Just get used to that fact. You are going to have to adjust your behavior if you want to have a great time at Disney. I’m not a night person. I enjoy being in bed by nine, but it’s a Disney vacation, so you break some rules. Remember, you always have coffee.
Allow Them Alone Time
If you want to head to rope drop, let the kids sleep and go yourself. They’re old enough at this point to walk or take the bus to the Parks. You get to enjoy the Parks with your significant other while they get some time to sleep. All teenagers have phones, so finding them shouldn’t be that hard.
You could also do this throughout the day. There are going to be times when you will get on their nerves and vice versa. This would be a good time to separate for an hour or two. Let them have a little freedom, and they’ll come back refreshed. And you’ll have time to calm yourself down from whatever they have done to anger you. It’s a win-win.
They are going to need food. Lots of food. Stopping to feed them will give everyone an opportunity to relax for a second and people-watch. It’s actually fun.
You’ll get a chance to decompress, and they’ll get a chance to eat. It will take you all of 20 minutes, but it will help you keep your sanity. Added bonus, you’ll get to eat some great food.
If you can follow these rules, you should be able survive a Disney vacation with your teenagers. I always have to keep telling myself that they are not little kids anymore. It hurts, but I still have to recognize reality.
The last time we were in Disney, we were at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. I had followed all of my rules and sacrificed my desire for constant control. Just as we were leaving, little after midnight, it started snowing in the Magic Kingdom. It was another Magical Disney Moment.
My teenage daughter turned to me and said, “this is epic.” And that was all I needed. It made my night and vacation. My Disney World has changed, but now it’s just getting better.