Your Go-To Guide for Taking Pre-Teens & Teens to Disney World
In terms of imaginary worlds, Golden-Age Hollywood is as much a fantasy land as a princess castle. Walking into this old-time movie-themed mecca (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) conjures images of starlets at Schwabbs and fedora-topped leading men strolling the Red Carpet at Grauman's Chinese Theater. The latter's been recreated with incredible detail, right down to the footprints on the front plaza. Inside, look for one of the park's signature attractions: the Great Movie Ride, a trip through classic Tinseltown flicks. Like everything else here, it's pure movie magic.
Feel the rush of performing on stage in competition, or the thrill of judging the performances in a live interactive entertainment setting with all the glitz and glamour of the distinctive "Idol" set. Guests perform in front of a Disney's Hollywood Studios producer to be cast in a theme park show. After backstage preparation — working with a vocal coach, hair and make-up — it's lights up and showtime in front of a live audience and a panel of judges. Guest performers with the highest votes will compete in an end-of-day Finale Show.
Ages 14 and older can audition for this one, but those younger than 17 will need parental consent in order to audition. Visit the official website.
Half the fun of this wiz-bang indoor coaster is waiting for it. The too-cool pre-show (featuring the Aerosmith guys in an acting cameo that will make you grateful they stick to singing) is a hoot even to kids not yet into thrill rides or Aerosmith. Watching cars peel out at zero to 60 gets your adrenaline rushing even before you've strapped in. The ride has high speeds, steep drops, loop the loops, and the unmistakable frequency of Steven Tyler's voice for a soundtrack. What's not to love?
The heart of this thrill-seekers' delight is a 13-story elevator ride ... straight down. Never ones to be satisfied with just a "main event," Disney ramped it up, housing the ride in a creepy "hotel," menacing everyone with vintage-costumed bellhops who ominously thank you for "dropping in" and adding stellar special effects to tell the back-story of the original ill-fated elevator occupants (suffice it to say it didn't end well for them). All that, plus when the doors open briefly at the top of the tower, you get a stellar view of the park -- assuming your eyes are open.
Alfresco dining gets a new twist at this creative establishment, a place that, despite being indoors, feels every bit the retro, outdoor, night-time, drive-in movie theater it purports to be. Stars twinkle while patrons (in vintage cars, naturally) dine on sandwiches, salads, and soda pop in this remarkably authentic haunt. You even get the creature-feature flick to go with it.
How exciting is this high-speed auto stunt show? To quote one wide-eyed 10-year-old boy, "Cool!" Indeed. On a tiny "Parisian" backlot dotted with storefronts and fruit carts, daring stunt drivers duel, burning rubber while piloting tricked-out cars up, over, around, and through all manner of obstacles. Banner moments include a motorcycle ride through flames and a carefully choreographed high-speed "dance" that might well be the world's first auto pas de deux. The stars are the vehicles, but you don't have to be an auto fan to love it.
All of the Disney resorts are spectacular, but the Coronado Springs is the hands-down favorite hotel of kids. It doesn't have the fun architectural features of the All-Star Resorts, nor does it have the animals wandering the savanna like Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, but it does have an awesome water slide that kids go ga-ga over. Kids love climbing up the side of a Mayan pyramid and taking a big spin down the twisting slide, a scaled-down version (read: not as high) of slides found at Disney's Blizzard Beach Water Park. The pool is large with many different depths, which allows kids to swim freely and play without feeling crowded.
No doubt it sounds corny, but if fairy tales came true, they would have to look like the Magic Kingdom. Kids are wowed by this living, breathing fantasyland, a place where princesses roam the streets (flowing gowns, tiaras, and all) and pirates actually say "Arrghhh." The rides are the trademark, and most folks are bowled over by the talking birds, the rocket rides, and the animatron-inhabited jungle. But there's something to be said for grabbing some cotton candy, pulling up a chair on Main Street, U.S.A.® Area and just soaking it all in. A day outside of the real world? That's the fairy tale.
Pre-Teens & Teens will love the mountains -- Space, Splash, and Big Thunder.
Share the magic with children of all ages who have seen Cinderella Castleon TV, in newspapers and magazines, and have dreamed of seeing it in person.
Evil Emperor Zurg and his Martian minions are up to no good. Your job? Zap the aliens and save the universe. Day-glow "Buzz" is like a life-sized video game, with space-age lasers (complete with sound) mounted on intergalactic vehicles and "menacing" Martians (but nothing too scary) popping up as targets. Fully functional space cars spin on command, so you can zap in every direction, and a digital score keeper tracks each rider's score. Parents: you might as well just concede this one to the kids at the start.
Although some teenagers may think the ride is too young for them, they'll love having an absolute blast aiming for a high score. You're never too big for Buzz!
You've got to love Donald. The loveably ornery duck may be cantankerous, but he looks awfully cute in this 3-D film, ping-ponging through myriad Disney classic film scenes on a quest to retrieve the Sorcerer's hat he pilfered when Mickey's head was turned. The 3-D animation is astounding, and kids will guffaw when Tink's pixie dust sends Donald flying to Neverland feathered behind first. Even better are 4-D effects that squirt water and blow air in synch with the action on film. You'll be hard pressed to leave without a smile.
This classic Magic Kingdom attraction has been testing the constitutions of riders since the park opened in 1971, and it's still a must-do ride. Grab a seat in a giant four-passenger teacup, take hold of the wheel, and spin to your heart's content. It's a laugh-out-loud ride if you like that sort of thing -- kids who do say the two-minute-or-so adventure passes in a fleeting nanosecond.
Yeah, it's a kiddie ride. But teens -- especially teens with their teen friends -- absolutely love it.
It's not every day that you see snow in Orlando. It's also unusual to spot a ski lift in the tropics. But the backdrop for this novel water park -- ice-capped mountains, ostensibly left by a freak storm -- is refreshing all by itself. If that's not enough, there are 66 acres of water rides, from the tame Cross Country Creek lazy river to the heart-thumping 120-foot high Summit Plummet (hold on to your swimsuit!). Kid-sized rides are plentiful in Tike's Peak, and your crew can get dunked together careening down Teamboat Springs. In a word, cool.
With 11 countries spread over 305 acres, Disney's Epcot® isn't so much a small world as a miniature one. Some creative geography (Mexico next to Norway?!) sends families on an international expedition, dining on crepes in France for breakfast, shepherd's pie in the United Kingdom for lunch, and sushi in Japan for dinner. Young ones may find such tourist spots pedestrian next to their preferred destinations, namely those in Future World, where they can blast into the outer galaxy (Mission Space), venture to prehistoria (Ellen's Energy Adventure), and dive below sea level (The Living Seas With Nemo & Friends® attraction).
Sure, the idea of hang gliding sounds spectacular -- all except the part about being in the air without a plane. For those who'd like the experience without the abject terror, there's Disney's Soarin'. The virtual ride astounds guests of all ages, sending them "air borne" via suspended vehicles hovering before aerial footage projected on a giant, bowl-shaped screen. The sensation is of being truly aloft -- wind in your hair, water at your feet -- but with your tootsies, if not firmly on the ground, at least within a few feet of it.
Older kids who want to maximize thrills can take a seat in row 1, which rises the highest in the air. After Soarin', head to the Living with the Land boat ride -- older kids are fascinated by the futuristic gardening.
Talking to the animals is one thing. When the animals talk back? That's a shocker. But, Crush -- the animated turtle dude from "Finding Nemo" -- does just that, delighting kids when he cracks jokes and answers questions from the other side of the aquarium. Little ones are astonished when Crush refers to them by shirt color or calls them by name. The gnarly Testudine even engages grownups ... once they get past the fact they're talking to a cartoon turtle. Parents will spend the show's 10-minute span trying to figure out what kind of wizardry is behind this. Kids? They'll just want Crush's autograph.
On paper, this nightly extravaganza on Epcot's® World Showcase Lagoon is a garden-variety pyrotechnics display. In person, it plays like a giant, congenial campfire. Visitors lining the World Showcase stand shoulder to shoulder, watching raptly as international images unfold on a giant, spinning globe. The emotion-inducing finale -- featuring those aforementioned pyrotechnics in especially dramatic form -- is paired with a lovely, engaging soundtrack. When it's done, all that's left is a giant group hug.
From the very first moment you step into this ode to gadgetry, you know this is no ordinary arcade. Elevators rocket up 100 stories (not really, but the special effects make an awfully fun approximation) to three floors of virtual adventures. Aladdin's Magic Carpet, Pirates of the Caribbean® attraction, the Virtual Jungle Cruise, and Cyber Space Mountain -- a coaster simulator you program yourself and can actually ride -- are the highlights. Though all are simulations, the motion feels real.