by Erin Foster
on April 29, 2014
Back in 2001, when my husband and I were deciding whether to buy Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points, one of the possible benefits we discussed was that our daughters would be able to use our DVC membership to have a safe place to go for spring break when they were older. At the time, our daughters were ages one and four, so talking about spring break solo vacations was akin to talking about dairy farming on the moon with George Clooney, the concept was equally as abstract and far fetched.
Now fast forward to 2014 and that ex-four-year-old, Charlie, is now a high school senior, ready to graduate in just a few weeks. (Someone pass the tissues, please.) As it turned out, our pie-in-the-sky rationalization for the DVC purchase ended up being a wonderful use of our points. Here’s how it all worked out.
Why Disney For A Spring Break Trip?
Every community has a different norm for what is and isn’t acceptable protocol for senior spring break. Some communities treat this no differently than any other school vacation – kids travel with families or stay home to relax or work. Other communities have a tradition where groups of seniors travel to far off destinations (usually where the drinking age is a minimally-enforced 18) with little or no adult supervision. And of course, there are a range options within the continuum.
When polling other parents in my town, I learned that there are typically many groups of high school seniors each year who use spring break as a chance to visit Caribbean islands on their own.
I personally was uncomfortable with that level of unsupervised activity. While I do have great trust in my daughter (I would not have sent her anywhere on her own if I did not), the easy access to alcohol near un-lifeguarded ocean water on an island trip seemed an order of magnitude more risky than I was ready for. And frankly, I think Charlie was fairly intimidated by that scenario as well. She jumped at the chance when I said that we would gift her with DVC points so that she could host a group of friends at Disney World.
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by Evan Levy
on January 24, 2012
Let teens do some shopping on their own
Many parents have fantasies of taking their little ones to Disney World—skipping gaily though the Magic Kingdom with their daughter dressed enchantingly as Princess Jasmine; clicking away as their son poses for snapshots at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom.
Fewer parents have fantasies of going to Disney World with their moody 16-year-olds. This, however, is a mistake. (Just wait…) Disney World is actually fantastic for older kids, especially teenagers. With a little planning, both you–and they–can have a terrific time–even if your son refuses to pose for that picture beside the entrance to Splash Mountain.
Note: The following suggestions rely on your comfort level and your teen’s age–not vice versa.
Give him free time
It’s entirely possible that when your husband/four-year-old/great Aunt Mollie wants to ride the spinning teacups for the 12th time, your teen will politely (or not so politely) decline. In fact, he has made it clear that he would much rather hang out in the room for a while and watch the Final Four basketball games and then meet you later. If you both have cell phones, this is a great opportunity to arrange a meeting time and place. If your hotel is on the monorail, so much the better. Arranging a meeting time and place just relies on careful planning and your descriptive powers. For instance, do not say, as others have undoubtedly done before you, “I’ll meet you at the Information Desk in the Magic Kingdom.” That’s kind of like saying, “I’ll meet you in France.” Far better to say, “I will meet you in front of the bottom step that leads directly to the entrance of the Crystal Palace at exactly 3:01 pm.” Your teen will be happy you trusted him; you will be happy you were specific. Arrange check-in points ahead of time: Tell him to text when he gets on the monorail, when he enters the Park, etc. This will give him some free time and not make him feel like he’s merely tagging along every second. Make sure he has some free time every day. Remind him of the adage, ”With freedom comes responsibility.” The more he acts responsibly, the more you’ll trust him.
Give her real responsibility; let her make decisions
Kids and teens know when you are giving them fake jobs or tasks to do. If you’re giving her responsibility, then really do it. For example, put her in charge of all the gifts you buy for friends and family back home. Arrange a budget, have a preliminary discussion, and tell her to check in when she wants your advice–but LET HER FOLLOW THROUGH ON HER OWN.
Following through, by the way, does not mean shadowing her as she looks at Mickey Mouse cups in Downtown Disney and whispering, “I hear Cousin Frank likes Donald Duck…” In the same spirit, if you ask her to get some information from the concierge or make a reservation for a show, do not lurk nearby while she’s at the front desk or “happen” to be standing right there while she’s attempting to book last minute tickets for four.
Accept that they will say no sometimes
This is one of the hardest parts for parents. You want those bright-eyed toddlers squealing in wonder; they want to IM their friends or play arcade games. Know when to push and when to say no. As my mother says, choose your battles. Is it more important for your teens come to dinner at Boma or breakfast at ‘Ohana? Can you bear for them to give up one meal with you? If they want to hang out by the pool when the rest of you go to Downtown Disney, will they meet you you for a movie that evening? Compromise, people. Remember: As in Disney World, so in life.
Initiate the Offer
Don’t always wait for them to come to you; show your teens you trust them by reaching out on your own. (Hint: This also allows you to retain some control over the situation.) For instance, were you to say, “I know you might want to sleep late tomorrow. Why don’t you meet us for lunch at Sunshine Seasons? Just stay in touch, OK?” you will probably be met with a look of both surprise and gratitude.
Or maybe not. You can never tell with teens. But at least you made the effort, and have shown you understand their need for independence.
Remember that they’re teenagers.
As if you could forget. But that means that they may not always (or ever) go along with your fantasy of the perfect family vacation. You–and they–may have to settle for moments, which is actually not that bad.
Because Disney World, paradoxically, is a great place to let them to do a little growing up.
by Erin Foster
on June 17, 2011
There comes a time in every Walt Disney World vacation when you find that not all members of your group want to do exactly the same thing. Maybe Mom wants to shop while the kids want more time on the rides. Maybe little brother wants another turn on the Teacups, while big sister wants to cool off on Splash Mountain. Maybe Dad wants to go for a swim, while big brother wants to sleep in at the hotel. Many of these situations involve parents and children with differing vacation wants and needs. Would everyone have a better time if kids and parents spent some time apart?
Kids and parents may have different attraction priorities
When children are small, splitting up is not an option; you know can’t send a four-year-old to explore Tomorrowland on his own. And when you’ve got high school seniors, you may be grateful that they want to conquer the Tower of Terror without you. But what do you do in the intermediate years? How do you know when it’s OK to give your child some time alone at your hotel or in the theme parks?
Is there an official policy?
Over the past five years, I’ve asked at least a dozen Disney cast members in various positions whether there is a policy about what age is acceptable to allow children alone in the hotels or parks. I’ve never gotten a firm answer. While there may be no publicly released policy, there is information from which you can infer the party-line point of view: the on-site childcare centers will accept children only until age twelve. After that, families have to answer the evening supervision question on their own.
Currently, there is no age-of-required-supervision given on the official Walt Disney World website. However, I did find reference on several older Disney-related discussion board threads to a statement on the 2004 version of WDW Annual Passholder site which stated, “Persons under the age of 10 years must be accompanied by a person over the age of 21 years while attending Walt Disney World® Water parks and the DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park. Persons under the age of 7 years must be accompanied by a person over the age of 21 years when attending the Magic Kingdom® Park, Epcot®, Disney-MGM Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.” The implication here was that you could send your eight-year-old to the Magic Kingdom alone.
As for what the law allows, I have found that Florida has no legally mandated age for leaving a child unsupervised at home or elsewhere. (I’m not a lawyer. If you need more information, please consult a professional attorney.) But just because it may be technically acceptable to leave your child alone in a hotel or theme park, that doesn’t mean this makes sense for your personal situation. As with most parenting decisions, this really boils down to a judgment call.
Factors to Consider
When deciding whether to give your child time alone at Walt Disney World, there are a number of questions to ask yourself:
The answers to these and a multitude of related questions will influence your decision on whether to allow your child some time alone at Walt Disney World. For some families, a child as young as seven or eight might be ready to go on a ride alone. For other families, a 16 or 17 year old might still need watchful attention at all times.
Practice Makes Perfect
In between constant supervision and a totally solo trip to the parks, there are a number of intermediate steps on the road to a child’s independence at Walt Disney World. Here are some milestones along the way:
Each of these steps gives a different degree of freedom that may feel more or less comfortable given your unique situation. You can use them as building blocks on the road to theme park independence. At each step, stop and assess how comfortable both you and your child are with more separation. If there is any anxiety, then take a step back or wait until your next trip before trying again.
In every case, be sure to discuss contingency planning with your child. For example, several of the restrooms at Walt Disney World have multiple entrances. Would your seven-year-old know what to do if she accidentally chose the wrong one to leave through? If a ride breaks down and someone is delayed or a cell phone battery fails, do you have a fail safe meeting time and place? A few minutes of advance planning can go a long way to making sure everyone has a positive experience.
What have I done?
While each family is different, I personally started letting my daughters go alone into a restroom or onto a ride when they were about eight years old. We’ve gone through several of the steps above and are now at the stage where my 11-year-old twins have stayed alone in our hotel room while I went to the resort’s quick service restaurant for a few minutes. Our 14-year-old has been allowed to explore Epcot alone for a few hours during the day. We have also allowed her to leave the Magic Kingdom and take the monorail on her own back to our room at the Contemporary, texting us all the way. Other families might consider our timetable to be too restrictive or too permissive. Tell me what works for you…
UPDATE March 2013: Disney has changed its policy on allowing unaccompanied children in the parks.
on November 18, 2009
Roller coasters, shopping, fireworks, swimming, dancing, laughing. These are some of the things that teens love about Disney World. Notice the omission of the phrase “sit-down-dinner-ing?” True, Disney has some amazing restaurants, but a teenager would much prefer to be in the parks, riding rides, than scarfing down a fancy meal. Though there are some family-friendly restaurants, I don’t know of any that involve being thrown upside-down and pulling 5-Gs. Ever since Disney got into the thrill business, it’s been hard for calamari to compete.
Solution? I call it “snacking your way through the parks.” There are no restaurant meals on a snacking vacation. Instead, buy your food at eateries and from vendors. That way, you spend more time watching shows and experiencing rides than waiting for a dish to arrive. Forget your grandmother’s rules about walking and eating! Who says you can’t savor a soft pretzel while darting to the Jungle Cruise?
But if you’re like many Disney World guests, you might have a few concerns: 1) fast food isn’t remotely healthy, and 2) Disney World restaurants serve such fabulous food that you don’t want to miss out. Not to worry. I’m going to teach you to snack in a way that solves these problems, plus saves you a Goofy-sized bundle. So read on, Grasshopper (or rather, Jiminy Cricket).
First: healthiness. You may be worried that eating burgers and cheap pizza for a week will ruin your waistline. You ought to know that on an average day at Epcot, a guest walks over 12 miles, not to mention time standing upright in lines. I promise, you will burn calories. In fact, I usually lose a couple pounds in Disney. However, if you can’t stand food loaded with cholesterol and fat, or rather lacking good stuff like vitamins, below is a list of counter-service places at each park with options for the health-conscious diner. (Remember that Disney has been making an effort to provide healthier choices, so there can be a fruit side with almost any meal.)
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe, Tomorrowland (soups and Kosher items)
Columbia Harbour House, Liberty Square (vegetarian chili and seafood)
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn, Frontierland (vegetarian wraps)
Sunshine Seasons, The Land (fresh fruits and veggies, and good stuff for breakfast too)
Lotus Blossom Cafe, China Pavilion (vegetable dishes)
Liberty Inn, America Pavilion (come only if you’re desperate for a salad)
Backlot Express (vegetarian sandwiches and multiple salads)
ABC Commissary (curry and salads)
Flame Tree Barbeque, Discovery Island (salads)
Kusafiri Coffee Shop, Africa (light pastries for breakfast)
What about missing out on the world-class food at WDW? Some of the country’s top chefs have restaurants there; it seems a shame to skip. It’s true you won’t sample many culinary masterpieces in my “snacking through” strategy because it’s geared towards downing calories for energy. Then again, there are some counter-service versions of the high-end restaurants. Exhibit A: Wolfgang Puck Express at Downtown Disney. It’s more casual and faster, but the pizza is as much gourmet as that of Wolfgang Puck Cafe up the road. The Yak & Yeti Restaurant at Animal Kingdom has a cafeteria-style alternative. You get the picture.
I hope by now it’s clear that you hardly have to sacrifice anything to snack through Disney World. It gets better, too! Here’s the major upside: a family will save an average of $90 for every sit-down meal they forego! Another example: stock up on bagels and cereal from the Buena Vista Winn-Dixie to eat at the turnstiles to save a castle-load. (Get it? Castle sounds like cash. And it’s Disney-themed. Get it? Never mind.)
What are my awesomest money-saving tips for food? OK I’ll tell, but let’s hope my mom doesn’t find out that I shared the family silver! The drinks at Disney are huge, so splitting them saves you about $3 every time. That may not seem like much, but considering how hot Florida gets, staying hydrated is important; it adds up. The ultimate cheap(er) dining secret is: get kids’ meals for adults. Like I said, portions at WDW are huge. Kids’ meals are often big enough to satisfy an adult stomach, and are up to $7 less for the exact same food.
If you still cannot give up eating at a restaurant, you and the other adults can have a sit-down dinner. Meanwhile, the teens and preteens can continue touring, making all of you happier than Snow White singing to beavers. Just make sure the pubescents have a little cash and a cell-phone with them in case of an emergency.
I should mention one other major worry about snacking before I go: not experiencing a character breakfast. Luckily – with the notable exception of Cinderella – almost any character your munchkin would meet at a character breakfast can be found somewhere else in the theme parks, for free.
That’s all for now, though I may return to this topic later. If you have any questions about a Disney World vacation with teenagers, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I might just turn the answer into my next post. In the meantime, have a magical day!
on May 28, 2009
Welcome to the first installment of my three-part series: Teens n’ Tots Touring! Nowadays, there are a lot of families with kids over age 10 and kids under age 5. Planning a Disney itinerary is hard enough without negotiating between these vastly-different ages, so I’m here to help. In this first installment, I’ll focus on families that have multiple teenagers.
Five years ago, I became a big sister. My little brother took his first Disney trip (not counting in-utero) when he was 11-weeks-old. Ever since then, my beloved parents have been coordinating the desires of two teens with a Buzz-Lightyear-loving-somewhat-bold-heat-hating tot. But until my big brother went to college, my parents had one thing on their side: there were two teens. How could this possibly be helpful? Simple: safety in numbers. It meant we could leave our parents without being alone. It’s hard to find danger in Disney, but it can happen. And in case of a medical emergency, having a brother or sister there is parentally reassuring. While my big brother and I were gallivanting through Tomorrowland or screaming on our fourth ride of Test Track, our parents could ride It’s a Small World with my little brother sixteen times in a row. In addition, separating the teens and tot meant that the youngster could go take a nap at the resort while the adolescents stayed in the parks. Mealtime is a great excuse to rendezvous. Just don’t forget to give teens their tickets so that they can FastPass attractions, and make sure they have a cell-phone or walkie-talkie.
However, it may be that you have younger teens or you can’t trust them to run off without you in an unfamiliar place. The answer to this dilemma is splitting up the parents. (This post assumes that there are at least two adults in the group; I’ll give advice to single parents next week.) Whichever adult – the mom, godfather, or grandpa – is most daring and, it should be said, has the best health, can accompany the teens through the parks. But let the kids lead itinerary-wise. If at all possible, send a willing non-parent with the teens; they’re far less likely to be accused of acting “embarrassing.”
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