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Destination Orlando: With Teenagers

Orlando is the dream destination for many families. With “the happiest place on earth,” Walt Disney World, joined by the place to “ride the movies,” Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure, Orlando offers non-stop entertainment for families with kids of all ages.

Yet, most families may think of it as a place for the younger set. But is it? What is there to do for teenagers in Orlando?  A lot. In fact, many rides aren’t appropriate for the younger ones.  But with plenty to do for all ages in the family, this is the destination where all age groups can find fun things to do and see.

My family and I recently made a week’s visit to Orlando to see both Walt Disney World and Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure. My husband, our son age 15 and our daughter age 19, along with me, made Universal Studios and Islands adventure the first two days of our visit.

Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure

While there’s plenty here to do for little ones, these are really the theme parks for the more brave at heart.  Roller coasters and thrill rides abound here, but there’s still Seuss Landing and the Curious George area to make the little ones happy.

The teenagers and adults are likely to find some of their favorite rides here. Get a pass that gets you into both adjoining parks for one, two or more days, so that you can revisit your favorite rides again and again – you’ll want to, from the Incredible Hulk Coaster to The Revenge of the Mummy thrill ride – coaster combo, there are just some rides here you have to do more than once.

Some rides double as attractive to all ages, like the 3-D virtual ride, Spiderman and the new Simpsons virtual ride at Universal studios.  Still, if you have kids of all ages, your party may want to split up. Just use your cell phones to keep in touch with your teens.

After the day is over in the parks here, City Walk provides all sorts of entertainment and nightlife, though not all is appropriate for kids or even teens.  However, some venues such as the on-site movie theatre and other venues like the Hard Rock Café, NASCAR diner, as well as live music, shopping and shows, make the City Walk, with free admission, appealing.

Ways to Save.

Universal Studios/Islands of adventure offers great online pricing on tickets, such as two for one deals, so watch the website when planning your trip: www.universalorlando.com

In addition, Universal now offers Express Plus, which is a special bypass ticket that helps you avoid the long lines.  You can purchase this for a fee in addition to you regular ticket, and if you are traveling in premium vacation time, this may be worth the money.

You may also be able to save money with a one-park meal pass, called the Universal Meal Deal.  For approximately $19.99 for adults and $9.99 for children ages 9 and under, you can use this pass to have two meals for this one price in the park.  Some restrictions on restaurants do apply, so read the fine print.  A two-park meal pass is also available.

Ways to Make it Easy.

Sometimes when traveling with a number of different aged children, convenience is key. 

Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure offers several on-site hotels. If you stay at one of the three hotels on site (Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel or Loews Royal Pacific Resort), you can get free Express Ride Access simply by showing your valid on-site hotel room key — not to mention the savings on gas, parking prices and purchasing the Express Plus Pass.  Learn more about the hotels and all of Universal’s offerings at 800-BE-A-START or www.universalorlando.com

The parks are open all year long and have special holiday offerings, too. Opening and closing times do vary seasonally, so check in advance.

Walt Disney World

Even at age 44, I cannot get enough of Walt Disney World.  Since visiting the first year Walt Disney World opened as a kid, I have gone back as many times as I can. We’ve taken our teenage daughter four times, and our son has been three times. And now with four theme parks, two water parks, new attractions every year, and Downtown Disney with its shopping, restaurants, nightlife, entertainment and more, you can really never see or do everything in one trip.

While the magic of the Disney characters is an obvious appeal for younger kids, what makes Disney so appealing to teenagers and adults alike?  Perhaps it’s feeling like a kid again. My teens still want to do some of the more childlike rides and reminisce about being a child — such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant, The Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight and the classic It’s a Small World. 

Still, Disney has added more thrills than ever before, many which aren’t appropriate for the younger ones, but that pre-teens, teens and adults will love.

What makes Disney so appealing to teenagers and adults alike?  Perhaps it’s feeling like a kid again.

In the Magic Kingdom theme park, there’s the exciting Thunder Mountain Railroad, Disney’s wooden roller coaster than serves up a bit of excitement, along with the neighboring Splash Mountain, that takes the Brier Rabbit theme and makes a big splash at the end, so to speak.

There’s also the ever-evolving Space Mountain,  Disney’s first indoor roller coaster, and teens will especially enjoy the updated Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which now includes pirate hero Johnny Depp’s character from the movies. While there, don’t forget to see the parades and the famous fireworks.

Head on over to Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios), and the two major teen draws are to your right as you enter the park: The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, starring Aerosmith.  The Tower of Terror is, simply put, terrifying, even to those who like a good thrill. Stand outside the ghostly building and just watch, as the elevators take people up and down, over and over again, dropping them in a freefall in utter darkness after spooking them with a scary story.

Just across the street is Disney’s first time to take visitors upside down, and they did it in a memorable way.  Disney’s Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, built on the theme of taking a limo ride with rock group Aerosmith, takes visitors from 0 to 58 mph in about 2.8 seconds. Though I’ve gone on the ride maybe ten times with my son, the thrill of takeoff still makes me weak in the knees and breathless. Teenagers will enjoy the rock memorabilia while waiting in line, too.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom grows every year. It recently added its best thrill ride yet, the rollercoaster Expedition Everest, which offer drops, speed, thrills and a number of surprises before you’re done. There’s also Dinosaur, and this one isn’t necessarily for little kids.  It looks at the more frightening side of when dinosaurs lived, as you take a Jeep ride back in time, in the dark.

My daughter’s favorite, EPCOT, offers two “worlds:” Future World and World Showcase.  Visit Future World for great rides and educational fun, and thrill rides such as Test Track, where you test drive a GM vehicle at high speeds, as well as the new Soarin’, a free-flying virtual hang gliding adventure. But my personal favorite is Mission: SPACE, where you get the feeling of weightlessness and escaping gravity.

Over in World Showcase, you can travel the world, specifically, Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, America, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom and Canada. Shop for souvenirs, eat authentic food and visit their individual attractions, from rides to 3-D shows, while being served by students from those countries and enjoying live entertainment all day.   Then the famous IlumiNations: Reflections of Earth, light and water show set to music each night in the lagoon tops off your evening.

Teenagers will also enjoy Disney’s two cool waterparks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.  As with the theme parks themselves, most are open all year, but times do vary seasonally, and the waterpark hours are also based on the day’s weather, so check in advance. 

Downtown Disney offers even more fun, from great shopping and dining, to Disney Quest, an indoor interactive theme park with video games and much more.  You can also see great show, such as La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil. Shopping includes anything from shopping for a Pooh teddy bear or souvenir, to great music finds at the Virgin Megastore in downtown Disney.

Ways to Make It Easy.

Disney World offers all kinds of ticket options, from one park to multi-park and park-hopper tickets, to multi-day tickets.  Now they call it Magic Your Way, because you select your own days and build your own options from a menu based on what’s right for your family.  You can actually pay as little as $32 a day for a seven-day Magic Your Way base ticket. You can even choose a “no expiration” options on your tickets now.

Want to avoid long lines? Simply visit a Fast Pass machine in front of the line you want to return to, run your ticket through, and get a fast pass to return at a later time – usually within the hour, depending on crowds, to literally go to the front of the line.  Just show your fast pass when you return. It’s that easy — and free. 

If your party is large or varies in age, consider splitting up, if you feel comfortable doing so.  Remember to set a “lost parents” meeting spot, just in case.

Ways to Save.

In addition to the Fast Pass and Magic Your Way ticket options, consider the perks of staying at one of the many on-site hotels.  With free transportation and parking, you can stay in the middle of the magic for many different price points, depending on season.  From the low $80’s nights at a budget resort, to the more upscale resorts such as the lovely and often overlooked Yacht Club and the Grand Floridian, there’s plenty in between, as well.  Visit www.disneyworld.com for more information on tickets, packages, accommodations and special holiday offerings.

Another way you may save is by staying outside the Disney gates. A great middle-of-the-road option may be hotels in the Downtown Disney area.  Though technically outside the Disney walls, you still have free transportation and are in walking distance to much of the Downtown Disney activities.

One leg of our trip was spent at the newly-refurbished Regal Sun Resort (www.regalsunresort.com).  This well-equipped hotel offers all the comforts, is close by the Disney gates and still has the Disney magic, with Disney themed activities, restaurants, gift shop and even a popular character breakfast, where your younger ones won’t have to wait in line to see Goofy and the gang.  Visit their website or call 800-624-4109 for information.  Other resorts are also available in this area and can be located at www.downtowndisneyhotels.com.

Carol Muse Evans is publisher and editor of Birmingham Parent, a mom to two teenagers, wife to a “big kid,” and a Disney and Universal fan for life.

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