So much for me keeping to a bi-weekly schedule, huh? How hard could it be to sit down and write about a place that I adore? Suffice to say, folks, I’m sorry about my absence from cyberspace. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll finally continue my three-part series: Teens n’ Tots Touring.
This time, I’m talking about single-parent families. I confess one of the reasons that I haven’t posted until now is that I was figuring out what I could say. I wasn’t sure if I could make a Disney World itinerary easier for single parents with both preschoolers and adolescents. For several weeks I was banging my head against a wall. For example, I was terrified at the prospect of guiding you readers through the multi-age horror that is Tomorrowland. (I imagined a single-mother being pulled on one arm by a teen bound for Space Mountain and on the other arm, a toddler determined to drive at the Tomorrowland Speedway.) But in a moment of Buddha-like enlightenment, I realized my mistake: I was trying to treat single-parent families like two-parent families.
Unfortunately, single parents just don’t have the same luxuries when it comes to a Disney World vacation, such as another pair of arms or a more daring partner to do the rougher rides with teens. Still, that doesn’t mean that a single mom or dad can’t take their kids to Disney. Like all things are when you’re a single parent, it just takes a bit more planning and a little sacrifice.
Of course, if you think that your teenager is ready, you can let him or her tour on their own with emergency cash and a cell phone. But if that isn’t the case for you, this article will be focused on families that want the teens to stay with them. I am going to take you on a park-by-park explanation of how to accomplish this task, including: all-age rides, easy dining, and tips on preventing meltdowns. So let’s start at the beginning, the Magic Kingdom.
I. Magic Kingdom
For all kinds of families, the Magic Kingdom has some major perks: there are thrill(ish) and tame rides, princesses and pirates galore, and plenty of transportation to-and-from the park. Now the downside is that “MK” can be tricky to navigate. This is because the streets go around in a circle until you reach the end of Frontierland. But interestingly, the themes of the “lands” can help put you in the right direction.
For instance, Frontierland, which is based on the Old West, is on the west side of the park. Liberty Square, which is themed on America before the westward expansion, comes before Frontierland. East of the American lands is Fantasyland, the theme of which is a European faire. Next to fantasy is the sci-fi-themed area, Tomorrowland. (In-between is a cartoon land, Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Make of that what you will.) The only land that I couldn’t fit into this device is Adventureland; it’s south of Frontierland and west of Main Street USA. Speaking of Main Street USA, it is simple enough to find: it’s where you enter and exit.
Below is a list of Magic Kingdom attractions that most teens and tots like. I’ve made notes when an attraction may frighten a little kid – or big grown-ups, for that matter.
· Jungle Cruise (there is a scene in the dark with fake snakes)
· Pirates of the Caribbean (there are scenes in the dark, fake fire, and lots of skeletons)
· Haunted Mansion (there are ghosts, ghouls, skeletons, and dead bodies)
· Peter Pan’s Flight
· Mickey’s PhilharMagic (if your tots get scared, they can take off their 3-D glasses)
· The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (don’t laugh; teens like the optical effects)
· Mad Tea Party (make sure wild teens ride in a different teacup than tiny tots)
· Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
· Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor (teens can text in jokes for the CGI characters to perform)
Epcot presents a peculiar challenge for single parents. It’s the favorite park of many young adults, but not very popular with most little guys. What the little kids do like about Epcot is not what most teens do. Specifically, Epcot has awesome thrill rides, such as Test Track and Mission: Space. Both of these (as well as the other headliner, Soarin’) have height requirements.
If you can, it helps to give your teens some independence in Epcot. (After all, aside from its enormous size, there’s not much in Epcot that makes it hard to handle.) There are two alternatives to this: 1) skip Epcot, or 2) stick to World Showcase and Future World West. If single-parents want their families to stay together, they’re going to experience World Showcase in a different –- but no less enjoyable – way.
As opposed to focusing on the limited attractions, single-parent families should tour World Showcase as it was meant to be done. Slowly sample the offerings of each pavilion. You can shake the maracas in Mexico, play with marionettes in China, and eat puff pastry in France. In fact, I would recommend this form of touring to anybody! If your toddler get bored with World Showcase, find each pavilion’s KidCot Fun Stop; they are craft centers in each pavilion that kids love.
The only problem with this plan is the problem with Epcot: its size. Epcot is nicknamed “Every Person Comes Out Tired” and this is especially true for a young child. Be sure to pack painkillers in your First Aid kit. Even if your toddler denies having foot pain, regularly check their feet for blisters. If anyone – including you – is worn out, find a bench in the shade, buy a cool drink, and just relax. If your tot is antsy, drag your group to the Germany Pavilion; there is an elaborate, outdoor train-set there that toddlers could watch for hours. Everyone else can sit nearby.
Below is a list of attractions at Epcot that most teens and tots like. I’ve made notes when an attraction may frighten participants.
· Spaceship Earth
· Innoventions (teens and tots will like different areas)
· Universe of Energy (tots will not know who Bill Nye the Science Guy is and there are dinosaur animatronics)
· Maelstrom (this almost didn’t make the list; there’s a 20-foot plunge, dark, and monsters)
III. Hollywood Studios
To be honest, I’ve been dreading this section most of all because Hollywood Studios is the dream of any adrenaline-loving pubescent. It also has some shows that are hits with toddlers. But sadly, there isn’t any overlap. Since the thrill rides have height requirements, even if a small child wanted to ride them, he or she couldn’t. Plus, even an enthusiastic teen will tire of the gushy, singsong entertainment provided for the little dudes. What’s the solution?
The normal approach of only experiencing attractions that both groups like would make for a short day at the Disney Studios – though this is becoming less true every year. You can always skip Hollywood Studios, but if you don’t want to do that, my advice would be to maximize the power of the FastPass.
For example, get two FastPasses for Tower of Terror. Proceed to a showing of Playhouse Disney ~ Live on Stage or Voyage of the Little Mermaid, depending on your tike’s preference. You can grab a snack or watch some street theatre afterwards. By this point, your FastPasses should be valid. Have your teen go first and wait for them to finish at the Child Swap station. If you want to ride too, hand your toddler off to your teen and go ride.
For attractions such as Star Tours and Fantasmic, it helps to have a brave toddler. In the case of shows, if your tot gets scared, you can just leave and wait for your teen. If your younger kid gets frightened on a ride, teach them to close their eyes and cover their ears. But never force your child to ride something; it can ruin the vacation for them. Feel free, however, to force your teen to do certain things. Many so-called “kiddie” attractions have wide appeal, even if they look juvenile – i.e. Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
Below is a list of Hollywood Studios attractions that most teens and tots enjoy. I’ve made notes when attractions may frighten small children.
· Beauty and Beast ~ Live on Stage
· MuppetVision 3-D (if your tots get scared, they can take off their 3-D glasses)
· Toy Story Mania
· Voyage of the Little Mermaid (once teens are in the theatre, they usually enjoy the show)
IV. Animal Kingdom
I have a feeling that you will like the Animal Kingdom. Aside from three or four attractions, its offerings delight the whole family. In fact, my only counsel to you for the Animal Kingdom is to be careful about your meal schedule. In my opinion, this park does not have sufficient dining options (to demonstrate, of the six counter-service locations, one of them only offers tea, espresso, and cookies). The rule-of-thumb for Animal Kingdom eateries is to ‘zig’ when everyone else ‘zags;’ either have lunch very early or late. You do not want to be stuck outside in a food line at the busiest time – roughly 11:30pm to 2pm.
One other thing that I should mention before you let your teens loose in the Animal Kingdom: remember that it can be difficult to navigate due to the tall trees that block streets from view. Remind them that if they get lost, they should return to Discovery Island at the center of the park – the street signs are very well marked on the Island. Also, a teeny-tiny note: remind your teens that if they ride Kali River Rapids that they should not keep their cell phones in their pants. Their bodies and their phones will get soaked.
Below is a list of attractions that most teens and tots like at the Animal Kingdom.
· Festival of the Lion King (there’s one scene with fire and it can get loud)
· Kilimanjaro Safaris
· Pagani Forest Trail
· Flights of Wonder
· Kali River Rapids (there’s a 38in. height requirement; you will definitely get soaked)
· Maharajah Jungle Trek
· Finding Nemo: The Musical (make sure your kids have seen the film or it won’t make sense)
V. Water Parks
Being at a water park with a toddler can be daunting. Safety has got to be top priority if you splurge on the water parks. Yet, this alone doesn’t create much of a touring problem. The issue that single parents will face is that the slides that teenagers love the most have height requirements.
The best solution is to go to Typhoon Lagoon instead of Blizzard Beach. Blizzard Beach is almost all slides that your tot can’t go on while Typhoon Lagoon has several non-slide attractions, including a wave pool, a scuba diving simulation, and a ‘river’ for floating (although in fairness, I should say that Blizzard Beach has a great raft slide that everybody can ride). My parents will tell you that the tot-area at Typhoon Lagoon is superior in design to the one at Blizzard Beach. In addition, there are more places to eat at Typhoon Lagoon.
VI. “Character Hunting”
‘Character hunting’ is when a Cast Member, costumed as a Disney animated character, signs autographs for and takes photos with guests. Toddlers – if they can get over the enormous size of the characters – love it! Teenagers usually do not. How do you character hunt with your toddler and satisfy your teen?
First of all, don’t get in line every time you see a character. Keep to your tot’s favorites. If everybody is too irritable to keep touring and you spot Donald Duck, rest assured that most characters can be found again at other parks. Then when you do character hunt, make your teenager the photographer. It gives us teens something to do and makes us feel like we’re being good big siblings.
I hope that this post was worth the wait. If you have questions about this Disney topic or any other, please ask them in the Comments. I’ll do the best that I can to answer them. Have a magical day!
Girls’ Night Out in Disney World is a blast! Downtown Disney, the Boardwalk, and Epcot’s World Showcase, are all great places to have fun with the divas. But what if you have somebody under-21 in your GNO group? Mexican margaritas, German beer, French wine, martinis, G&T, and vodka, just became illegal. (And in case anybody got a non-Disney-esque idea, Mickey does check ID.) But in addition to no buzz, how does a mom, fun aunt, or another lady friend, entertain the teen or preteen while still doing stuff that everybody else likes?
In my experience, the best way to lower social inhibitions among girls (without alcohol) is chocolate. Chocolate ice cream is preferable, but chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, or chocolate candies, will do the trick. I recommend Ghiradelli’s Chocolate Fountain at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Selma’s Cookies at the Boardwalk, or Boulangerie Patisserie at the France Pavilion. If you check out DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney, the Cheesecake Factory Express inside (open seasonly) has the best chocolate cupcake ever to bless the earth with its awesomeness.
Shopping is a must, of course. At Downtown Disney, World of Disney is so darn huge (50,000 sq. feet!) that everybody will probably find something they like. But the new must-do for girly gear Downtown is TrenD. I haven’t been able to personally see the store yet, but from the reports, no teen girl or young woman can skip TrenD. The store sells clothes, accessories, pillows, writing stuff, even furniture! And oh my gosh, Tinker Bell! If you want a nuclear bomb with Tink on it, I bet you could find it at TrenD. As for other stores, avoid Summer Sands. The bikinis are cute there, but they’ll make you feel guilty about all the chocolate you ate.
All of the World Showcase pavilions are great for browsing, but if you actually want to buy something: visit the China Pavilion for adorable parasols and fans, the Norway Pavilion for winterwear (Go fleece!), Italy for headache-inducing perfume, Japan for pricey jewelry and “Hello Kitty” nostalgia, and the France Pavilion for make-up (I like to tell people I bought it in France, which is kind of true).
As for the Boardwalk, there are a couple of stores, but the main attractions at Boardwalk are the activities. A personal favorite are the dueling pianos. And for your older teens: watch the guys watching TV at the ESPN Club.
If your budget is tight, though, you can have a Girls’ Night Out right at your resort! Both the Port Orleans resorts have live, free entertainment (a musical comedy show at Riverside and a jazz club at French Quarter) on select nights. The Polynesian has some very fine-looking lifeguards and God’s gift to earth, Dole Whip soft-serve. All the resorts on Seven Seas Lagoon, the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach Club, and Caribbean Beach, have beaches – and more fine-looking lifeguards.
What it comes down to for a G-rated (okay, PG) GNO at WDW is that there are no rules. Let your adolescent know that whatever happens in Disney will stay in Disney; they don’t need to worry about being embarrassed. Squeal like crazy on rides, dance in the middle of the street, and flirt with the cashier! Act like you’re buzzed even though you can’t be. Buy too much, stay out too late, and be too loud! To please your teens, just keep moving until they don’t want to anymore. Then get a cold drink – preferably one that’s pink – and wish on the stars at the most magical place on earth.
Thanks for reading, everybody! If you have any questions about teens in Disney, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I’ll try to answer them in my next Thursday post!