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WDW Radio Exchange: What to Do with Teens at Disney for the FIRST time!

Lou recently received an email from a member of the WDW Radio family who will be taking a spring break vacation with two teens who have NEVER been to Walt Disney World.  We thought this was a great time to have a teen edition of the WDW Radio Exchange and discuss what teens at Disney for the first time should do!  In the WDW Radio Exchange, we ask different people to answer the same question in the hopes of giving the most comprehensive advice possible.

In this special edition, we turned to some of our teen writers: Blake Taylor, JJ Harvill, Lindsay Diamond, and Makena W. and asked them to offer their personal insights so we make sure this family vacation is as magical  as possible.

Without further ado, here is the letter and the advice from our veteran Disney teen travelers.

Dear Lou,

Last year June I took my wife on our honeymoon to Disney World for her first visit to the world. I had been to WDW at least 6 times before through my life. Being my wife’s first visit and being obsessed with Disney (she is from S. Africa and only moved here with her family four years ago and had no idea the magnificence of WDW) she is now a certified WDW fanatic! We have booked a trip for next year March 2013 to take her brothers with us on their spring break. They are 14 and 17 and also never have been to WDW! To see them experience it and take in the magic will be unreal! We are staying at the Contemporary for 8 days at the end of March (I KNOW SPRING BREAK CROWD MADNESS) and I am counting down the days already. I know WDW better than most–I would say enough to write a small book due in large part to your show. I have already listened to your show in October where you spoke about taking teens to WDW which was a great help.

My questions: What are the things I should make sure to make happen for the young lads when they are there? Attractions? Shows? Restaurants? Other?

Thank you Lou for all you do for us fans and travelers to Disney World. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you or WDW Radio.

Your Fan and Friend, Brian S.


Blake Taylor:  “Most teenagers love the thrill attractions (like Test Track or Tower of Terror…basically anything with the letter T! Just kidding…).  In addition to thrills, I tend to enjoy the hands-on, interactive attractions that are sometimes overlooked.  The Magic of Disney Animation at Hollywood Studios is a great example.  Many Guests meet the characters and then leave, but there’s a lot more to do inside, like learning how to draw a character (which you then get to keep as a free souvenir) and putting your voice in a Disney animated scene.  Innoventions at Epcot also has a lot of fun, interactive exhibits…the build-your-own-roller-coaster ‘Sum of All Thrills’ is a must for teens!

As far as restaurants go, if you are considering a character meal, I recommend 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian.  It has face characters (as opposed to their furry friends), so it might be a little less awkward for first-time Guests.  You can’t go wrong whether you choose breakfast (with the hilarious antics of the Mad Hatter) or dinner (with Cinderella and her hysterical step-family)–you are guaranteed great character interaction with these offbeat personalities.

As a last note, I normally love to sleep in (weekends, ahhhh), but in Disney it pays to be a morning person.  I know teens, including myself, value their precious sleeping hours, but you will get so much more done in the early mornings, which is especially important since you’re visiting during spring break.  But don’t stress yourself out trying to plan out every single minute–enjoy the magic and have a wonderful, wonderful vacation!”

JJ Harvill“Are those teens in for an unforgettable trip or what?! There’s so much to do and see and experience, so an agenda (a flexible one at that) is necessary for first-timers.

Across the four parks, so many attractions can catch the eye of a teenager, but the thrill rides probably stand out to most teenage WDW-goers. Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Splash Mountain offer the most thrills in the Park. However, even the most thrill-seeking guests can find pure fun and joy in the classic attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. Finally, check out Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin for some friendly competition!

If you’re looking for the fastest ride in all of Walt Disney World, head right on over to Epcot for Test Track! Future World, also home to Mission:SPACE and Soarin’, is the section of the park usually favored by the teens, offering the most exciting fun in Epcot. This park hosts what I believe is the best fireworks show found in WDW. IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth never ceases to wow the audience with its enormous and breathtaking visuals.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is often considered the teen park of Walt Disney World. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (which I personally think is the best ride overall in WDW), Rock n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, and Toy Story Midway Mania! — from 13-story free fall drops to revolutionary 4D interactive fun, Hollywood Studios is chock-full of the best teen attractions. Also, be sure to go see the amazing nighttime show Fantasmic! – with live characters, fireworks, lasers, and water, it’s one of the best shows in all of WDW.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the park in which you discover something new every time you visit. It is truly the most immersive WDW theme park. But a first-timer MUST head straight on over to Expedition Everest. This roller coaster journey up to Mount Everest has an awesome story and fantastic thrills, making this THE must-do in Animal Kingdom. A favorite amongst many my age is also Dinosaur. It’s a very bumpy ride and can be considered a little too intense for youngsters, but most teens will surely have a blast riding this.

Favorite restaurants in Walt Disney World include Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom, Teppan Edo (Japan) and Yorkshire County Fish Shop (United Kingdom) in Epcot, and Yak & Yeti Restaurant in Animal Kingdom. Teens should also check out Rainforest Cafe and T-REX in Downtown Disney for unique and immersive dining experiences.

Brian, I’m so excited for you and the 2013 trip that you and family will venture on to the Most Magical Place on Earth!”

Lindsay Diamond: “One suggestion is planning a ‘night out’ when the adults and teenagers can separate to have some time to themselves. It allows adults and teens to do more of what they want to do. I suggest sending the teenagers to Disney Quest in Downtown Disney, an ‘indoor interactive theme park’ that features attractions, video games, and more. The adults can treat themselves to dinner at Downtown Disney. My favorite restaurant there is Portobello. It’s a must-do for Italian food lovers.

There are many other fun attractions and delicious dining locations to experience, but this is a good start to finding things to do that you’ll love. I didn’t go into detail about anything because I think the attractions and restaurants should speak for themselves. It is so exciting to go on a ride for the first time and not know fully what it is about. Menus and descriptions can be found online or in guidebooks or maps if you want to research anything deeper. Happy planning and enjoy every minute! Very few things at Walt Disney World disappoint guests, so no matter where you eat or what you see, you’ll be sure to have a magical time.”

Makena W. “A very effective way to help maximize the enjoyment of the trip is to get everybody involved in the trip before you even leave home. Order the free vacation planning DVD from the Disney website and watch it. It gives you a feel for the parks and most of the attractions. This can help the boys decide what they want to do. Another good thing to do beforehand is buy a park guide and a hidden Mickey book for the boys to glance through. The guidebook will help tremendously with planning the trip and the hidden mickey book is a fun way for the boys to realize that it’s not all about rides. Don’t concentrate on ONLY hidden Mickeys though. Let each boy pick a few, since it is their first time.  Listen to some Disney music.  Listen to “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and “A Pirate’s Life For Me” and see if they like it. If not, that shouldn’t decide whether you hop on a ride or not. If they do like it, they can learn the words and maybe sing or hum along when they hear the song in the attraction!

Magic Kingdom is where it all started. Make sure the boys get the “1st Visit” Pins!  Cast Members love acknowledging people with pins on. The rides here are focused more on story rather than the adventure. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean are classic attractions that people of any age love. Splash Mountain is a necessity only if it is hot, and Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain are on the must-do list also. Big Thunder Mountain might not be intense, but it is always entertaining! Space Mountain is a classic, but is a little rough. Now something that I love doing on my trips is riding these three “Mountains” in a row, which is called the Mountain Range. When you ride all three in a row without a different ride in between, you conquer said Mountain Range! Another thing that is a must do is Wishes. But think about it, how can you go to Walt Disney World and not see the Magic Kingdom fireworks!

Epcot is a park that celebrates the future and the unity of countries to create peace. Soarin is a ride that should be THE FIRST THING on your list. It is an amazing attraction that still leaves me saying “Wow” every time. As long as nobody is afraid of heights, this is the perfect first attraction in all of Walt Disney World. It captures the sense of theme and literally drags you into the story when you get on the ride. If some people in your party are thrill seekers, Mission: SPACE and Test Track are always there to satisfy any needs for adventure. Mission Space has two versions: Green (Non-intense) and Orange (Intense). The Orange version spins you around so that you experience weightlessness. It makes you very dizzy afterwards, and people usually recommend that you sit down for 30 minutes to an hour to give your body a rest and recollect yourself (I haven’t ridden it myself, so I can’t give personal advice.) Green doesn’t spin you around, but still tilts your capsule up and down so it still feels like you are flying to Mars. Test Track is being refurbished at the moment, but I know the storyline is supposed to be that you design your own vehicle and you get to test it out, but it is not supposed to be a simulator. I don’t know how that is going to work, but I am sure when it opens in November in it will great and better than the original! The ride should be open when you go in March. Even though it is not a ride, strolling through World Showcase is a must do. All the countries have so many details and it makes you feel like you are really in said country.

Hollywood Studios celebrates the old and the new, whether music, movies, or locations. Toy Story Mania is one of the busiest and most crowded rides on property. The Twilight Zone’s Tower of Terror and the Rock N Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith are for the truly daring. These two attractions are must dos if they are thrill seekers. The Rock N Roller Coaster is perfect for people who haven’t been on roller coasters that have inversions. They are quick and you don’t see them!  If the boys are big fans of George Lucas, make sure they get to see Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and get to ride on Star Tours. If they aren’t fans of George Lucas, maybe show them the first Indiana Jones movie (Raiders of the Lost Ark) or the first Star Wars movie (Star Wars IV: A New Hope.) If they don’t want to see any more of the movies, then these two are skippable. But if they love Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, then it is a must do. Another good show (especially if somebody or everybody in your party is/are fans of action movies) is Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show! They show you how some car chases were made and you get to see it all live! This show also includes a fiery ending!

Now I am going to jump over to Disney’s newest theme park, Animal Kingdom. Now, as an animal lover, I believe that a ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris should be required to gain access to the rest of the park. I don’t even classify it as a ride because of the beauty of it all. You aren’t on a track. You aren’t restrained. Instead, you are surrounded by beautiful animals that are just enjoying life. This is a good one to do first thing in the morning because most of the animals are out and about as soon as the park opens, and the waits aren’t that long. All thrill seekers have to check out Expedition Everest, a roller coaster with an amazing story. But if the boys are not into roller coasters, Kali River Rapids might be a better choice. If it is a hot day, this ride tends to have a longer wait, so grab a fastpass early!

Downtown Disney is a place that commonly gets skipped over as just “a bunch of stores”.  No way! There is a lot of good food and activities like the AMC Theater, where you can get a movie and a meal! One store that I like everybody agrees is the one store you HAVE TO visit in Downtown Disney is the World Of Disney. It is the largest Disney store in the world! Are you looking for specific merchandise? Chances are, you can find it here!

Every teenager has one thing in common-their love for food (especially teenage boys!) Some restaurants that I recommend for first-timers and foodies are 50s Prime Time Cafe. The food is homey (meatloaf, fried chicken, etc.) and they will definitely get a kick out of seeing the waiter or waitress disciplining their parents. Just make sure they eat their greens! Another restaurant in Hollywood Studios I recommend is the Sci-Fi Dine In. What I love about this restaurant the most is that it truly shows how well Disney commits to its themes. The story is that-well, you are in a Drive in watching old black and white films. My only concern with both of these restaurants is that you can’t book them on the same day. The both have such great meals, you won’t be able to finish one!

We hope this helps and you have a great trip!  Please drop us a note afterwards and let us know how the trip went!

Do you have other ideas to help this family plan a magical vacation?  Add them in the comments below!