Think Disney is just for young children? Think again! Check out my top things to do in Disney World Florida with teens below.
Like many, I had preconceived ideas about Disney World. We have been to Disneyland Paris, and while we loved it, I felt it was more geared towards younger children. I naively thought that Disney World would be similar, but it was only when I started to research the parks in more detail, and learned that Disney World is the same size as Manchester, I realised how much there is to do in Disney World Florida for older children and teenagers.
We decided to visit the four main Disney World parks, The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. There are also two water parks in Disney World Orlando, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Disney’s Blizzard Beach (currently closed at time of publication), as well as a shopping and entertainment area – Disney Springs.
We had seen many parades and shows in Disneyland Paris and my children are 11 and 14, so we opted to visit the areas in the parks that are more suited to older children. We only had three days to explore the four main parks, and it certainly wasn’t long enough. I would recommend at least a full day in each park, plus additional time if visiting the water parks too, and even longer if travelling with younger children.
We had a fabulous time in all four parks, and I am happy to admit I was wrong about the best age for visiting Disney World. There are so many things to do in Disney World Florida with teens and tweens. Here are some of our favourites.
Top things to do in the Magic Kingdom with teens
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No matter what age you are you can’t help but feel a sense of magic when you see the iconic Cinderella’s castle for the first time. The Magic Kingdom was Disney’s first park and it is where you can enjoy regular shows and parades full of favourite Disney characters. However, the Magic Kingdom is not just about parades and princesses, there are plenty of things to do here for big kids too!
1. Thunder Mountain
Thunder Mountain is one of Disney’s classic rollercoaster rides and has been a firm favourite since it opened in 1980. We loved riding Thunder Mountain in Disneyland Paris, and likewise in Disney World Orlando. It offers the perfect balance of fear and fun, and although it is a thrill ride, drops are relatively tame and it is a great coaster to kick start your Disney experience. See height restrictions here.
2. Splash Mountain
Splash Mountain is the Magic Kingdom’s most popular water ride. For the most part it is relatively tame, but (spoiler alert), it ends in a five storey drop at the end. It is a water ride, so expect to get wet, and if you are in the front row, you will probably get soaked! See height restrictions here.
3. Space Mountain
This thrilling ride is the oldest operating rollercoaster in Florida. It has plenty of big drops, and is scarier than the other coasters in the Magic Kingdom, mainly probably because it takes place inside the mountain – in the dark! Space Mountain is one of the best things to do in Disney World Florida for adults and teenagers. See height restrictions here.
4. Pirates of the Caribbean
The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction takes place on barges in an underground river. While dark, it is not a thrill ride, so is suitable for most age groups. No age / height restrictions apply. And, if you hang around close to the ride, you may meet Captain Jack Sparrow.
5. Jungle cruise
This river ride is one of the most popular in the park, so try to secure a lightening lane through Genie+ if possible. Over ten minutes, you will cruise through the Amazon, the African Congo and down the Mekong River, with plenty of jungle creatures and cheesy jokes along the way. No age / height restrictions apply.
6. Haunted Mansion
This ghostly ride takes place in the dark and while there are some frightening scenes, it is a slow ride and suitable for most age groups. No age / height restrictions apply.
No matter what age you are, the fireworks display in the Magic Kingdom will always impress. The latest show includes lasers, magical effects and fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle. Weather permitting, this takes place every night and is one of the top things to do in Disney World Florida.
Top things to do in Hollywood Studios with teens
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Hollywood Studios takes inspiration from the world of film and television, and is packed with fun rides and experiences for all the family. There are plenty of areas suitable for younger children too, including a dedicated Toy Story Land and Pixar Place, but the top attraction is undoubtedly the newest addition to the park – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
8. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
With a house full of Star Wars fans, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was sensory overload for us. As amazing as the rides were, exploring the outposts on the planet of Batuu, and mingling with Star Wars characters, was equally as rewarding. The attention to detail is mindblowing and although this is only one part of Hollywood Studios, you could easily spend a full day here.
The landscape completely changes as you enter Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, you almost forget you are in Hollywood Studios. Park attendants get into character too. They are dressed as Batuu villagers, Resistance fighters or First Order soldiers, so make sure to engage with them. There are plenty of Stormtroopers and Star Wars characters here too, and they are more than happy to pose for photos.
There are numerous shops selling Star Wars merchandise and plenty of dining areas that look straight out of the movies, even the coca cola bottles are made to look like bombs.
You can also build your own droid ($99.99), or a custom lightsaber – for a staggering $219.99. Pre booking for both experiences is essential.
9. Have a drink in Oga’s Cantina
One of our favourite experiences in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, apart from the rides of course, was Oga’s Cantina. This bar looks like the Mos Eisley’s Cantina in the movies and has a lively atmosphere with plenty of aliens to keep you company. I suggest skipping the light bites /snacks and going straight for drinks.
There are exotic concoctions of mocktails and cocktails, including drinks with popping eyeballs. All drinks are unique to Oga’s Cantina, so don’t expect to find regular beer or wine here.
You can only stay a maximum of 45 minutes and pre booking is recommended – you can pre book via the app up to 60 days before your arrival. We hadn’t pre booked, but were fortunate to get a standby spot towards the end of the day.
10. Download the Play Disney Parks app
As well as the My Disney Experience app, the Play Disney Parks app offers additional experiences and activities to use throughout the parks. This is particularly useful in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where you can transform the app into a Star Wars: Datapad.
Interact with droids, complete jobs, and collect digital rewards while waiting in line for your favourite rides – it will keep kids amused during lengthy queues!
11. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Despite trying every morning at 7am, we were unable to secure a lightening lane for Rise of the Resistance, (see tips below on how best to secure lightening lanes). I had been told that it was a must see, so we had no choice but to join the standby queue. Two hours and forty minutes later, I felt that there was no way that this ride was going to exceed my expectations. However, once again I was wrong.
This 18-minute attraction was more like an adventure than a ride. I felt like I was part of a Star Wars movie. Cast members brief you on your mission before you board a ship to escape The First Order, and come face to face with 50 stormtroopers. It was remarkable to see real actors taking part.
I can’t recommend this ride enough, it is completely different to any other ride that I have experienced. It is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Disney World Florida. See height restrictions here.
12. Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run
While Rise of the Resistance was my favourite ride, riding the Millennium Falcon was a close second. This thrill ride offers different experiences depending on where you are sitting.
There are four options to choose from, pilots, navigator, gunner or engineer, so if time allows I suggest riding it more than once. If you only have one shot – you have to be the pilot! See height restrictions here.
13. Star Tours
Star Tours was the first Star Wars attraction to launch in Hollywood Studios. I didn’t think it was as good as the two other Star Wars rides, but it is a good simulator, and one that most children should enjoy. You will also find it has minimum queuing time, compared to the newer rides, so I suggest not using Genie+ to pre book this. See height restrictions here.
13. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Based on the TV show The Twilight Zone, this ride is one of Hollywood Studios most terrifying. As you get stuck inside an old lift, you know that something scary is going to happen…
The sound of cables snapping just before the lift drops suddenly is one of those moments I won’t forget in a hurry! It is definitely not for the faint hearted – but one that teens would probably love! See height restrictions here.
14. Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith
This thrilling coaster has three inversions – 2 rollover loops and one corkscrew. It is arguably the most intense ride in Disney World Orlando with 32,000-watt audio system blasting Aerosmith songs throughout the ride. It is not for the faint hearted but it is one of the best things to do in Disney World Florida for thrillseekers. See height restrictions here.
Things to do in Animal Kingdom with teens
Animal Kingdom surprised us the most. It has a completely different feel to the other parks, and you could be forgiven for thinking you are in the African bush or a South American rainforest, rather than a theme park in Orlando.
Despite being known as a zoological theme park, there is a lot more to Animal Kingdom than its 1,700 animals. However, there is no doubt that the Kilimanjaro Safari is one of the top attractions in the park.
15. Kilimanjaro Safari
This wonderful safari takes you through the African Savannah in a safari jeep. During our visit a rhino decided to park himself in front of our jeep and wouldn’t let us past. I love that each safari is unique, and you never know how much or little you will see.
There are 34 different species in this 110 acre wildlife reserve, and you will come up close to many of them over the 18 minute trip. Expect to see giraffe, hippos, elephants, zebras and lots more.
16. Avatar Flight of Passage
The land of Pandora is an attraction in itself. The landscape is filled with massive trees, waterfalls and lush forests, and is a worthy place to house one of the best things to do in Disney World Florida.
Avatar Flight of Passage is a thrilling simulator ride where you get to glide through the world of Pandora on the back of a banshee. This is not only the best simulator ride in Disney World Orlando, it is arguably one of the best throughout Florida’s theme parks. See height restrictions here.
17. Expedition Everest
Walking through the Nepal-inspired streets in the land of Asia, you can’t help but be impressed with the sight of Mount Everest in the distance. The Everest-themed rollercoaster is just as impressive! We loved riding this coaster. It is thrilling, fast, but lots of fun. It was our favourite rollercoaster ride in Disney World Orlando. Spoiler Alert – it goes backwards! See height restrictions here.
18. Kali River Rapids
Water ride lovers will enjoy Kali River Rapids. It is not one of the best water rides in Disney Orlando, and it is quite short, but it is welcome on a hot day. You can expect to get soaked, so I recommend renting the nearby lockers for valuables, or wearing a poncho. See height restrictions here.
Dinosaur lovers will enjoy Dinosaur. As well as a thrill ride where you have to capture a dinosaur before it becomes extinct, the walk through / queueing area has interesting fossil exhibits and a massive dinosaur skeleton. The ride is in the dark at times, so could be scary for younger children. See height restrictions here.
20. Maharajah Jungle Trek
The Maharajah Jungle Trek is a self guided walk where you cross a towering footbridge, get up close with Komodo dragons, water buffalo, bats and tigers, and see over 50 species of birds. The average time for the tour is just 20 minutes, but you can walk at a pace that suits you, and take as long as you like to enjoy it.
21. The Circle of Life – Lion King Show
This show was recommended to me by many people but unfortunately it was fully booked when we tried to see it. I suggest getting in the queue at least 30 minutes before it starts, to ensure you get a seat. It is packed with acrobats, singers and parades with songs and characters from the Lion King. It also allows you time to rest your legs for 40 minutes.
22. Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
We didn’t get the opportunity to see the Lion King, but we did manage to see the Indiana Jones stunt show. This 25-minute show features stunts that were seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and producers explain how the stunts were made. This wasn’t my favourite Disney show, but it is worth seeing, and teens will love the live stunts. It also provides a welcome relief from standing and the warm temperatures.
23. Pre book a unique lunch at Animal Kingdom
We all know that teens love to eat, and there are many unique dining experiences at Animal Kingdom that teens and tweens will love. The ribs are legendary at the Flame Tree Barbecue, while the Rainforest Cafe is the most popular restaurant in the park. Pre booking is essential but children will love the themed menu, animated animals and rainforest themed restaurant.
Things to do in EPCOT with teens
Did you know that EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow? For teens or tweens interested in the future, EPCOT will surely please.
EPCOT is also home to The World Showcase, where 13 different countries are represented. I loved exploring the different lands, the likeness is uncanny. There are also numerous dining options here, and the restaurant quality is really good. I suggest booking dinner here and staying late to catch the fireworks and laser show – it is an incredible spectacle.
24. Mission Space
Ever wondered what it is like to be an astronaut? Well Mission Space certainly gives you an idea! This incredible ride simulates what an astronauts experience on board a space shuttle. The G-force and simulation of zero gravity was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
There are two missions available, the more intense Orange Mission which we took, or a less intense Green Mission for younger children, or those who suffer with motion sickness.
Note we did feel motion sickness on this ride, in fact this was the first ride where I have ever seen sick bags provided! Notwithstanding, if this is not an issue for you, it is a ride I can highly recommend. See height restrictions here
25. Test Track
Test Track is a must for car enthusiasts. Teens will enjoy creating their own virtual concept car and then taking it for a spin around the Test Track, where they can reach speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. After each test you can check the scoreboard to see how the car performed. See height restrictions here.
Soarin’ is a simulator ride that glides you over the wonders of the world. This is one of the parks most popular rides and although it is not a thrill ride, it is popular with teens and tweens. See height restrictions here.
27. Have dinner in a faraway land
Whether you fancy steak frites in France, a tagine in Morocco, or pizza in Italy, the choices in EPCOT are endless. Older kids and teens will love the variety, and it makes a change from the American restaurants in most of the other Disney theme parks. I recommend pre booking dinner, but give yourself plenty of time to secure a prime spot to watch the fireworks and light show afterwards.
28. Don’t miss Harmonious the Fireworks / Laser show
Harmonious is one of the largest nighttime spectaculars ever created for Disney Parks. The show is a medley of classic Disney music and visuals with floating screens, moving fountains, lasers, lights and of course, fireworks. This show lasts about 20 minutes and is one of the best things to do in Disney World Florida.
More things to do in Disney World Florida with teens
29. Shop and dine at Disney Springs
Teens love to shop and with American stores such as Under Armour and UGG much cheaper than at home, teens will be in retail heaven. There is also a Zara store, as well as Anthropologie, and a Christmas shop for the ultimate Disney souvenirs.
There are many dining options here too including the scenic Boathouse and the Irish bar / restaurant Raglan Road. I’m not usually one for visiting Irish bars on holidays but we loved the food and live music here.
30. Splash out at Disney’s water parks
As well as four main theme parks, Disney World is home to two waterparks – Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Expect 6-foot swells in Typhoon Lagoon – which is home to North America’s largest wave pool, as well as 11 other attractions. Disney’s Blizzard Beach is currently closed but expect updates on reopening soon.
Top Tips for visiting Disney World Orlando
Stay at a Disney Hotel and reap the benefits
It was only during my visit that I realised how much more beneficial it would have been to stay in one of the Disney Hotels. As well as enjoying Disney Magical Hours, the advantage of being able to pre book individual lightning lanes for top rides on Genie+ an hour before regular visitors is a massive bonus, and I can only assume it would have saved us a lot of queueing time.
It is also worth noting that Disney’s magical hours don’t only apply to early morning visitors. Selected Disney hotels can enjoy admission until 11pm and even later, so you can enjoy the most popular rides without queues! See more here.
Other benefits include Disney character encounters, and the ability to pre-book your park days without having to have to park tickets paid in full.
I hope you enjoyed my top things to do in Disney World Florida and it helps you make the most out of your visit. If I have missed any of your top tips and tricks, I would love to hear them, please comment below to help out future visitors to the parks.
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