“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age,” Walt Disney once said. That is certainly true at the Walt Disney World Resort, where there is something for all ages, including tweens and older kids. When they’ve graduated from Disney Junior, there’s a whole new world of exciting adventures awaiting them at the happiest place on Earth.
One reason I love traveling to Disney with my middle schooler is that tweens often have feet in two different worlds, vacillating between being invincible and so grown-up one minute to being very childlike the next. While that can be tough in day-to-day parenting, I realized on a recent trip that Disney is the perfect place for tweens straddling those two different worlds. My girl could go from riding the Tower of Terror to watching the Beauty and the Beast stage show without missing a beat and be equally thrilled with each, but for completely different reasons.
Here are a few of the highlights of activities tweens may love at Disney Parks based on their interests.
If your kids love thrill rides and roller coasters …
Don’t miss Space Mountain, Expedition:Everest or Rock n Roller Coaster.
My tween’s very favorite ride in all of the Disney Parks is Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom. She’d ride it all day, every day if you let her. Thrill seeker that she is, though, there are lot of thrill rides and coasters that she’d happily go on again. And again. And again.
She loves Rock n Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios, which speeds you off to an Aerosmith concert. (I’m ignoring the fact that she doesn’t know Aerosmith, which doesn’t detract from her immense enjoyment.) When she was younger, Expedition: Everest, which takes you to the icy peaks of the Himalayas, terrified her. Now, she adores it.
Parent tips: There are guests, like myself, who enjoy keeping their feet planted on the ground and they are lovely conversationalists when you are all standing near the viewing or exits areas. If you have little kids not tall enough to ride, take advantage of the Rider Switch option.
If your kids love Star Wars …
The Force is strong at Hollywood Studios.
I met Chewie! I mean, my whole family had the opportunities to say dignified hellos to our favorite Wookiee, Chewbacca, in the Star Wars Launch Bay and I maintained my composure the whole time and did not embarrass my daughter at all. Between that, seeing costumes from the movie (including Rey’s, which was a big hit with my girl) and watching her trade with a Jawa, the Star Wars Launch Bay was a big hit with my whole family.
Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away is a new live, stage show with vignettes featuring popular Star Wars characters like Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, Darth Vader and Darth Maul. And this summer, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular will light up the night. It’s the next generation of the current Star Wars-inspired fireworks show that my family loved. I can’t wait to see how they top it by adding lasers, light projections and other special effects combined with Star Wars-themed music and iconic characters and scenes from throughout the saga.
Parent tips: The themed food at the Backlot Express, including the Dark Side chicken and waffles, are really fun. Don’t miss the BB-8–so cute and so good!
If your kids love cars and design …
Check out Test Track at Epcot.
My daughter wouldn’t say she likes engineering or cars. Ask her if she likes designing her own car on a computer, determining which features will maximize the performance and efficiency and gauging the impact of tire size and spoilers as part of the Test Track ride at Epcot, and she’ll give you an emphatic yes. That emphatic yes may be the result of the ability to make her car turquoise with sparkles, name it “Sparkle Thunder” and then ride in a “simulation car” that reaches peak speeds of 65 mph.
Parent tips: I love riding Test Track at the heat of the day–it’s mostly air conditioned. Leave some time to enjoy all the features after riding the ride. Bring hair ties if anyone has long hair–doing circles at 65 mph can lead to some serious tangles.
If your kids love trying new foods …
Dine at the Harambe Market at Animal Kingdom or Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge.
When it comes to trying new foods at home, my tween is hesitant. When it comes to trying new foods at Disney, she’s enthusiastic. And there are so many new foods to try there. Two of our new favorites from this latest trip were Harambe Market, a bustling marketplace alive with the aromas and flavors of African street foods. She devoured a chicken skewer with berbere spice served with black-eyed pea, corn and tomato salad and green papaya slaw, followed by an African milk tart for dessert.
At Boma, a buffet in the Animal Kingdom Lodge where we stayed, she tried out some African favorites, and really liked the watermelon rind salad.
Parent tips: Let your tweens check out the menus and see what sounds good to them. You may be surprised. Also, ask your server what their favorites are, which may sway your kids. If you have any food allergies, definitely let restaurants know, and in advance if possible. They’re great about accommodating allergies. Also, the International Gateway of Epcot is always a good place to try out the cuisine of 11 different countries.
If your kid loves performing …
Take in the Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom and Beauty and the Beast at Hollywood Studios.
With gymnasts, singers, stilt walkers, an aerialist and a fire knife dancer, The Festival of the Lion King has something for everyone. The aerialist also performed a stunning ballet dance to “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” that mesmerized my daughter, who has taken dance lessons for years now. As we left the theater-in-the-round performance, I asked my daughter her favorite part and she went into a very technical discussion of the dance moves. It was awesome to see her analyzing and appreciating the performance from the perspective of a dancer.
I learned tonight that she has been watching and rewatching a dance from the Beauty and the Beast show at Hollywood Studios so she could learn the choreography. If you have an actor, singer, or dancer at home, the Disney shows are must-sees.
Parent tips: I’m a sap, but you may want to bring a few tissues because the performances really are incredibly moving. I also like to plan on seeing a show after eating. I like a little time to digest before hopping on exciting rides.
Tweens are often in the process of trying out different identities and discovering what different interests bring them the most joy. There’s a lot of pressure to declare early what kind of kid you are, but at Disney, they can enjoy a little bit of everything, often in the same day.
My middle school daughter had no problem being a foodie ballerina who could talk about the importance of Rey as a strong female Star Wars character and then gape in wonder at fireworks just like she did when she was little. And getting to see her joyfully embrace all those parts of her personality was the highlight of my trip. (Oh, and Chewie.)
You can find more information on planning a Disney trip with tweens here.