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16 valuable tips for Disney with teens

Disney, Los Angeles, USA road trip with teens

Disney with Teens - are they too old?

Before visiting Disneyland Paris a few years ago, I had been a bit scared that the Disney park and brand would be aimed at under 10’s and Mickey Mouse/Princess themed. We now knew better. Disneyland Paris had life-sized pirate ships amazing jungly worlds to explore and thrill rides galore. Surely the American original would be even bigger and better?

Disneyland Los Angeles was the last, and most hotly anticipated stop on our USA road trip adventure. It had been booked originally as a 15th birthday present, but with the intervention of Covid was now a 17th treat. Still, plenty of time to research those favourite rides!

Things we had to think about:

  • where to stay? Parts of Los Angeles have something of a non-family friendly reputation.
  • which Disneyland do you pick? Turns out there is more than one, even in LA.
  • what to do about feeding the hordes without breaking the bank? Did we need to source, construct and carry the dreaded sweaty packed lunch?
  • planning an achievable ride itinerary in light of summer holiday queue times (we feared the worst). Would we need a fast pass?
  • should we waste precious potential ride time on experiences, parades and fireworks?
Disneyland, Disney with teens
Making the Disney dream come true

Pre Trip Planning

Where to stay?

Disney dream room: We wanted our accommodation to be within walking distance of the park, to include breakfast and a pool, and ideally come in at under £150pn. allowed us to view our options on a handy map, with little price tags on each dot. 

Distance: We selected the Best Western Stovall’s Inn as the closest affordable option that didn’t involve waiting for a shuttle (we’d left Disneyland Paris on the last bus and nearly missed it due to the enormity of the crowds). The motel was a 20-minute walk from the park entrance. My fear was that walking in Los Angeles would be like something out of a horror film. We had all watched the room of doom, Hotel Cecil documentary and seen the homeless crowds of skid row amassing outside. And did they even do pavements?

Pool: It had a pool, adding in another free teen holiday activity. Tick.

Food: Breakfast was included so no need to waste time faffing around looking for food before hitting the park.

The food plan

The night before: The pedestrianised Disney Park food area by the entrance gates is open to everyone, no ticket required. You get a sneak preview of the main event with a Disney themed dinner amongst sparkly lights, street cafés and Disney paraphernalia.

Eat a big (free) breakfast: Getting enough food fuel into your teen for a full-day Disney-fest is essential. Ideally fill-your-boots buffet style.

Lunch: The lunch food plan was to not carry it with us. Finding shops to source the ingredients the night before, making sandwiches in a hotel room and lugging them around all day as they turned ever more limp was impractical and no one’s idea of fun. Take away kiosks would be our budget option friend.

Between-meal Snacks: These are a hungry teenager essential. I could throw a bunch of nut bars and water bottles into one backpack, so 3 of us could be bag-free for the rides. We could snack in ride queues to keep us going and limit the number of retailers we had waste time and money seeking out.

Chip dinner: We would splash out on a burger style dinner for tea as a treat for the 10 hours-in famished.

Disney Tickets

Disney with teens
Travel around the world in one block

Tickets choices

Choose your park: Booking your ticket is not as easy as it sounds. You have to pick your Los Angeles Disney park (Adventure or traditional). Or, for an extra fee, both. Traditional seemed most appropriate when visiting the park’s birth place.

Choose your day: Some days are cheaper than others, so if you have flexibility (we didn’t) its worth avoiding peak times and prices. Saturdays seem to be the most expensive. I couldn’t find any 2-for-1 or adults for kids prices offers, only packages if we were prepared to stay in a Disney hotel, which was way out of our price league. 4 full priced tickets it was! Still, we’re not exactly in the area very often.

Choose your add on’s: Then you have to decide if you are prepared to go an extra $30 each for a fast pass, which essentially lets you push in to the front of the line. Could we afford not to? Would we be wasting the £150 entry ticket, queuing all day?

Book your park: You need to buy a ticket and then also make a park reservation in advance for your date of choice. There must be some very disappointed people out there who are unaware of step 2.

Disney with teens top tip #1

Do not forget the second step! Also, check park availability before you book the ticket just to be sure they are going to let you reserve your park of choice on the day you want to visit, before you lay out the cash.

To Genie or not to Genie?

In Paris in 2018 we were still operating under the old Disney system where everyone had access to a fast pass with their general entry ticket. This meant you could book a timed slot in the fast lane for any ride, one booking at a time. This was something of a crowd equaliser and we liked the fact that everyone was getting a fair crack of the queuing whip. Times had changed – the fast passes had been rebranded as Genies and cost money.

I’d read that queues for each ride can be over 2 hours and you might only fit 4 or 5 in a day. It seemed wise to go for the $20pp Genie+ package (now $30pp) which lets you join the Lightning Lane fast queues for 8 named rides once /day. This includes most of the top hitters.

You can only line the next ride up when you have used the previous booking (unless your slot is 2 hours in the future, in which case you get to book another fast pass whilst waiting).

Using the app

The next job is to associate all of these ticket/reservations/Genie passes with an app on your phone (be warned there is more than one Disney app). I spent a week emailing Disney beforehand as I couldn’t see my tickets on the app. Being a worldwide corporation with many divisions means the people you are communicating with are never in the right department, or even the right country, and as a result are generally unable to help you with seeing your tickets. I worked it out on my own in the end (I was using the wrong Disney app) but it was no walk in the park. Do not leave this to the morning of the big day!

I also printed everything off to take to the gate in a belt and braces style in case of catastrophic phone loss/damage/signal failure.

Disney with teens top tip #2

You can track queue times live on the app to pick ones you are prepared to wait in. It’s worth knowing that these are shortest at the start and end of the day.

Ride Selection

Whale, Disneyland Anaheim
Looks novel but was this the ride for us?

We needed to pick the best rides for teens, but throwing in a bit of traditional Disney magic.

Disney in a day? Before checking the park map, we weren’t sure if we were going to get round the whole Disneyland park in one day. We’d managed it at theme Parks in the UK but this was America, which was quite big. Also, people must be buying 7-day tickets for a reason? But once we had a proper look at a combination of Google maps and the app’s interactive online version, we could see that it wasn’t actually that big. Disney had actually fit 2 parks right next to each other in one city block. We could do this!

Timings: The Disney day lasts from 8am to midnight – 16 hours!  With queue times of approx. 2 hours that gave us a top outcome of 8 rides, maybe more with our Genie ticket.

Ride list: With a penchant for water (me) and white-knuckle hyperspace (everyone else) we had to draw up a list of rides which we were all happy with. This was our short list (handily all included in our Genie Pass):

  • Big Thunder Mountain railroad – rollercoaster with tunnels and water splashing potential
  • Splash mountain log flume – chance to get very wet
  • Matterhorn – bob sledding round a fake mountain
  • Space mountain – this would be fast and dark but it was 3 against 1
  • Indiana Jones – jungle roller coaster action
  • Haunted Mansion – not sure what to expect here in terms of spookiness, this being kid-friendly Disney and all. (In Alton Towers, there is genuine fear and Saw film themes are involved.)

Anything else would be a bonus. Fireworks were at 9pm, so we should have managed all of our ride dreams by then. Maybe we could sit at an outdoor café and watch from a table with a wine in our hand, like we did in Disneyland Paris?

Disney arrival -game plan versus reality

Disney Eve

Palms lining Anaheim Los Angeles, Disney with teens
Palm fringed streets of Anaheim

Driving into Los Angeles is somewhat traumatic. The 14 lanes of traffic were pretty stationary, which gave us a fighting chance of being ready for our exit, but lane weaving was fraught.

Having made it through this real life roller coaster ride, we were mightily pleased to find ourselves driving along a palm-lined boulevard into Anaheim.  People were strolling along the pavements which were dotted with cafes. Brilliant! My previous trip to downtown LA had involved pizza take outs where servers hid behind metal grilles. We were clearly in the family-friendly end of town. Phew.

Arriving a bit late to make it into Disney town, we opted for a pleasantly unbarred pizza place at the end of the street. We were not the only ones to have found it. Pizza is clearly a pre-Disney plan for many families coming to town living the American dream. Most people in the queue were waiting for take outs and we only had to wait 15 minutes for a table and for tasty pizza to be ours (albeit at $25 per pizza).

Disney with teens top tip #3

Food is easy even for a late arrival in town. 

Disney entrance plaza dinner or local pizza are both winning options.

Back at the hotel after dinner, we found the pool in the carpark and it was still open. We enjoyed touring its Disney-themed sculpted-hedges and watching the Disney fireworks from our loungers in the dark.

Poolside Topiary
Poolside Disney Topiary

Disney with teens top tip #4

Fireworks viewed from a cartoon-topiary fringed pool is a great way to start your Disney trip.

Ride revision

Much like a holiday exam, the night before we revised the key rides we wanted to go on and noted those that were closed (the Matterhorn, which had been in my top 3 – gutted). We studied our agreed ride plan to ensure we knew exactly where to head when the gates opened and that dithering did not put us at the back of the queue for ride 1, Big Thunder Mountain.

The boys were tasked with planning a route around the park, but this was a step too far and we agreed to just jump on whichever ride from the list appeared to be the closest and most fun. Spontaneity / laziness won the day! 

Disney park map

Disney with teens top tip #5

Pick your priority rides the day before to upfront any arguments around what constitutes fun (everyone gets one non-negotiable?)


To get the most bang for our buck, we rose at 6.45 with a view to breakfasting and getting to the park 30 minutes before gate opening. Scuppering our best laid plans, the breakfast queue was already out of the door and into the car park. We were not alone in hoping to stock up on nearly inedible but “free” food before hitting the monetary wipeout that is Disneyland.

Possibly as a result of the time-specific mass catering, breakfast was a bit prison-like. Pasty white rolls were dolloped with a thick pale liquid (“gravy and biscuits”? an un-delicious combo of scone and white sauce in UK culinary parlance). There were no all-you-can-eat buffet revisits here, but we were not too upset by this in the circumstances and ate as much as we could stomach from our single foray.

The Genie passes were due to go live at 7am. The app seemed to be dormant and non-responsive to my Mountain booking requests. Were my tickets even valid? Yikes!

Disney with teens top tip #6

Get up super early if you want to be at the front of the free breakfast queue and thus at the park for opening time.

Park arrival

Disney map

Despite the breakfast delay we still managed to be at the front(ish) of the entrance queue when the turnstiles opened. After a tense 30 minutes of waiting to get in, it turned out that my printed tickets worked – and we would be allowed to go to the Disney ball (again, phew!)

Genie Pass

Disney with teens top tip #7

It is worth syncing family phones so one person books all 4 passes at the same time.  

Resisting the urge to aimlessly join the throng as it surged past us, we stopped in a concerted effort to raise the Genie from the dead. It was now working. It was 8am – an hour later than advertised, but Hallelujah! We booked our lightning lane slot for the railroad and practically ran towards it, only to be informed by the attendant at the foot of the mountain that the ride was temporarily closed. Plans foiled, we then had to work out how to release ourselves from the shackles of our fast pass booking in order to select another ride.

Disney with teens top tip #8

Anyone booking a pass will need a fully charged phone all day. Bring a portable charger (and your reading glasses – parents).

Space themed fun

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Whist I was madly trying to refresh the Genie app to bag a new ride, crowds with clearly predetermined destinations were flowing past us. We blindly followed in the direction of the masses. Before even seeing which ride we were headed for, shouty marshals manipulated the crowd into an orderly queue. We had arrived at the Galaxy’s Edge and inadvertently joined an already titanic line for a ride we didn’t have on our list, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. A single lightning lane pass for this ride is $25pp and it does not feature in standard fast pass packages. At least with the park having only just opened, this would be the shortest the line would be for the day.

Controversially, we’d decided not to go for it as it was an “experience” rather than a ride. In other parks this has meant meandering through an interesting landscape but with no actual carts to get in. Or standing in a queue for 90 minutes for a 3 second photo op with Darth Vader. 

Backstory: So each ride has its own backstory. In this experience guests unwittingly (unless they have read the write ups) walk into the middle of a battle between the Resistance and the First Order in the ancient ruins of the Black Spire Outpost at the Galaxy’s edge. Guests are the new recruits.

The Disney website bigs its brand new Resistance right up, describing it as a “massive attraction with multiple ride systems unlike anything you’ve ever experienced at Walt Disney World Resort… or anywhere else in the galaxy!”. In reviews the ride is hailed as a technical masterpiece, containing 65 animatronic figures, with voice overs from the original film actors.

Our fast pass failure meant we had indeed stumbled across the best theme park attraction ever (and I am no Star Wars fan). There are many different stages to the experience:

Caved entrance: You start your celestial adventure by entering a cave system, cleverly designed to hide the length of the queue, and wind your way through the tunnels to the control centre. En route an alien hologram will brief you on your mission.

Transporter pod: Exiting the caves, you are led past fighter ships and through what literally feels like the alien desert set from a Star Wars film, before boarding a resistance transport ship (a small, domed pod, a bit like a cable car). Another alien in the driving seat explains the battle scenario you are facing. The pod then transforms into a motion simulator experience as you are flown away to your destination (I was not totally following the plot at this point).

Storm trooper room: Your pod is apparently ambushed and is pulled inside an enemy ship. You file past an army of stormtroopers in a cavernous black room with a shiny and very effective reflective floor, where you are taken prisoner and marched by in-character guards to the interrogation rooms.

Ship 2: you are freed and embark on an 8-person ship which whisks you around the Starship destroyer, under fire from stormtroopers and other giant baddies.

Escape pod 3: Finally, you enter some kind of spaceship corridor where your family are invited to enter their own mini-escape ship and shoot lasers in your own intergalactic battle.  It was in all a totally absorbing experience and worth joining a real queue for.

Score – 10/10 a top score for the sheer variety and quality of the sets and experiences. Totally unique.

Disney with teens top tip #9

Do not miss Rise of the Resistance! Head there first for the smallest queue of the day as its not in the Genie.

Space Mountain

Space Mountain, Disney with Teens

Whilst snaking through the Star Wars cave system, I had managed to refresh the app. Our unused Big Thunder railroad pass had finally disappeared and I’d managed to secure a fast pass for Space Mountain. Fortunately, we were out of the Star Wars ride in time to use it (I was watching the clock nervously as time ticked away, which added a bit of an edge to things. Miss your slot and I imagine you’ve thrown away your fast pass for that ride for the day.)

In the past I have been stung, almost literally, by the hyperspeed involved in these space rides. I have had my head rattled against rigid head rests too many times. But I was prepared to take one for the team and join the family in this Disney Space adventure.

One of Disney’s strengths is to make a queue feel like part of the fun. You are constantly moving through different scenery, building excitement for the main event. In space world, you enter a large hangar, lit in reds and oranges with regular space tannoy announcements, as if you are embarking on an actual intergalactic trip. Edge around an enormous silver spaceship which fills 2 storeys in the centre of the room and enter your space cart. Initially, blue lights lead the way along an uphill track. The galaxy swirls in front of you and then all is dark. Not being able to see the rails ahead of you means you are unable to prepare your body for the turns – adding to the shock factor/ fun (delete accordingly). As expected, the space rollercoaster odyssey was fast and furious, dark and twisty and fortunately not too painful on the head.

Score – 8/10 – great queue setting, exhilarating blackout roller coaster ride

Star Wars: Millennium Falcon – Smugglers Run

Backstory: In this space adventure, you get to control the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon itself. Each player chooses one of three jobs—pilot, gunner, or engineer and then boards the space capsule. The mission here is to steal precious cargo from the First Order.  

 The queue wraps around the constantly impressive ship, then continues through an engine room to a command centre.

Entering our capsule, we pressed some buttons, and pulled levers as the pod shook and a panicked narrative filled the air. I missed this, but apparently any “damage” afflicted to the ship during your turn affects the lighting conditions in the exit corridor (maybe my shoddy shooting meant it was too dark for me to notice?).

Score – 6/10 Like being in a live action shoot’em up, in space. Once again, I was a bit lost mission-wise and not a crack shot. I did like the pod though. Good for teenage gamers taking it to the immersive next level.

Alien Landscapes - Galaxy's Edge

One of the Genie plus sides is it gives you the chance to pause between queues, as it is effectively saving your place in the line. This gives you time to relax and take in some of the incredible scenery. Standing under the enormous, possibly life-sized Millenium Falcon was enough to make you feel like a traveller in space and time (or Antman).

Wandering like extras in one of the films through the other worldly markets in Galaxy’s edge, we felt compelled to buy the alien versions of Earth Pepsi and Sprite, “thermal detonator soda bottles”, as Star Wars souvenirs.

Disney with teens top tip #10

For drinks, save fat cash by bringing your own water bottle or buy refillable detonator to double up as your souvenir.

In the cavernous shop there are severed alien heads on plaques and pickled extraterrestrial snakes in huge glass containers. 

In a steam punk style robot junkyard, you can build you own from old parts for $99 plus tax (more money that we had left after the entrance tickets).

Lunch - Ronto Roasters

Loving the post-apocalyptic vibe, we stayed in the Galaxy’s Edge zone for lunch, purchasing some $12 “alien meat wraps” (very tasty – like chicken in fact). We were able to refill our water bottles and detonators at the many filling stations so saved a bit of cash. Repeat purchases of a round of 4 drinks in the LA heat can burn a serious hole in your pocket.

Be warned there is literally no seating. We found a shady spot on the floor for our galactic dining.

Disney with teens top tip #11

The alien wraps are the best – filling, tasty, alien themed and maybe not even that bad for you.

Jungle rides

It was time to move on from space to more earthly realms. Who would have thought that a block in downtown LA could be so tropical, like an urban jungle in fact?

Jungle Cruise in Adventureland

Backstory Set in a 1930’s British explorers’ lodge, you will be taken on a cruise of all the world’s jungles. Apparently, the original plan was to use real animals along the banks for, well, realism, but the idea was abandoned once someone realised they would probably be asleep during the day. I would have thought the danger of containing them/ child-eating potential might also have been something to bear in mind.

For authenticity, Disney imported tropical plants, padding them out with uprooted local orange trees, replanted upside-down and growing vines on their exposed roots. This works a treat!

The line starts in the lodge, a wooden waiting cabin fitted out with old radios, typewriters, boardgames and pinned insects. Period music and jungle announcements are made over speakers to set the scene in audio. 

On board the river raft, you glide (on a submerged track) past crumbing temples, fake tigers, cobras, giant spiders and a herd of animatronic elephants. Skim past waterfalls and watch static monkeys invading a safari camp.

Score 6/10 – not a fast one and the boat host’s jokes are deliberately corny but I loved the 1930’s and jungle styling.

Indiana Jones in Adventureland

Disney, Los Angeles, Disney with teens

Back story: For this ride, you will find yourself transported to the lost Delta of India, circa 1935. You will be accompanying Indiana Jones himself through a subterranean lost temple guarded by a supernatural power.

The queue leads through jungle, then a dimly lit temple chambers and booby-trapped passageways. Your trucks are subject to mechanical failure resulting in rapid descents, shuddering and general twistiness. As you travel past lava pits, across rope bridges and through crumbling corridors, you are attacked by huge snakes and will find yourself directly in the path of a bone-crushing boulder. Blow darts appear to be fired in your general direction.

Score 8/10 – for the fabulously jungle themed landscaping and nerve-jangling rollercoaster ride. High scorer on setting, visuals and thrills.

Disney with teens top tip #12

As you exit the ride, don’t miss the abandoned jeep, the actual vehicle used in the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Pirates of the Caribbean

Backstory: This ride, set in 17th and 18th centuries, tells the salty seadog tales of a band of Caribbean pirates. The twist here is that was the ride was the inspiration for the films, not the other way round. Did not know this!

We hopped in a boat and drifted along past tableaux of singing, swashbuckling pirates and troublemaking rats. Strangely at one point you sail past a subterranean café, which might be one to try next time for its watery views. The ride has been around since the 1960’s and feels a bit dated, even with the addition of Johnny Depp.

Score 5/10 – Quite slow with no thrill element.

Old time USA

Not all the Disney lands are fantasy. Many are based on the traditional US of A. Historic paddle steamers, rocky mountains and local wildlife all feature in Frontierland, Old Orleans and Critter County.

Big Thunder Mountain railroad in Frontierland

Big Thunder Mountain, Disney with teens
Big Thunder/ Bryce Mountain

Backstory: In the 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain, which rises above the plains in the American Southwest. Its quirky orange pointy rocks are straight out of Bryce Canyon’s playbook. The small mining town of Rainbow Ridge was goldrushed by prospectors and the railroad was constructed to transport the ore out of the mountain. The twist is that not only was the mountain sacred to local Native Americans, it was cursed. The unhappy mountain’s ensuing earthquake caused the town to be abandoned, leaving spooky driverless carts to race around the mountain on their own. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad allows those who dare, to ride the possessed carriages.

As soon as the railroad reopened, we Genie fast-passed it and got to ride around the mine mountain after all. We queued along rickety wooden walkways and took our seats in the haunted trucks, before being whizzed around the mountain at suitably fun speeds.

Score 8/10 – great, but not quite as good as Paris where you get wet when your track goes through the water. It came into its own during the fireworks though…

Splash Mountain in Critter County

Backstory: The Br’er Rabbit themed log flume ride is based on the 1946 Disney film Song of the South. The hollow tree stump on top of the mountain is modelled on Br’er Fox’s lair.

The ride is currently closed for retheming, due to open in 2024 as Tiana’s Bayou adventure.  Apparently, the song of the south painted too rosy a picture of life on the plantations, which wasn’t playing so well with a modern audience.

Bob around in your own plastic tree trunk up into the heart Bre’rs lair, past some old-school Disney singing bears (Zipidee doo dah) before being shot down a 52-foot super wet flume. It does everything it says on the tin. Loved it (soaked through).

Score 8/10 – The traditional Disney characters get marks for old school authenticity, and you get a great vertical soaking at end (including shoes – beware if you have 12 hours to go!)

Disney with teens top tip #13

Consider leaving the wettest rides to the end of the day to avoid wet shoe/blister scenarios and potential whining.

Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansion, Anaheim, Disney with teens
House of horror

We were crushing our ride target for the day and it was only mid-afternoon – time for some spookiness. We were loving the ivy trailing from the trellised balconies of the abandoned ghost house.

Backstory: As with many things Disney, it turns out its authenticity comes from being based on a real world doppelganger. The home was inspired by the now-demolished Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore. Built in 1803, the white brick mansion featured Italianate columns and cast iron wraparound porches.

The  mansion is a pretty sight to behold as you snake through the queue waiting to meet your doom. A riderless coach adds to the drama. Inside, in the holding room, there is a clever visual effect where the ceiling expands impossibly far upwards. You then pop in your death buggy which travels past a variety of graves and a ghostly table where spooks have come to feast.

Score 7/10 – great exterior, some nice spookiness and mild thrills but not proper scary if that is what your teen is looking for.

Paddle Steamer

Backstory: The Mark Twain is another authentic reproduction, this time of the historic paddle boats that ferried people along the Mississippi, complete with working steam engine. This journey, however, will take you around all the Rivers of America.

We waited in the covered loading area, alongside various cargo deliveries and flags, before embarking on our 12-minute cruise. On board, take a stroll along the deck, climb wooden stairways leading to 3 levels, wander through the (sadly not open for business) mirrored saloon bar then grab a chair in the bow, watching the distant fantasy lands drift on by.

Score 6/10 –  sedate old worlde charm. Slow but pretty.

Disney with teens top tip #14

Kill 2 birds by resting legs on a coveted chair and snacking whilst sailing.

In the Old American themed zones we tried out a few non-fast pass rides with small queues. We raced some vintage American cars, floated round a Native American themed water ride and hopped on a mini-me version  of the Big Mountain. 


It's a small world

Our eyes were collectively caught by a golden façade shimmering in the Californian sunshine. What was this gleaming castle-like structure before us? It didn’t look like a teen thrill ride but we were drawn towards it like magpies. Google told us that the turrets and twiddly gold pieces on the exterior façade of the Small World ride were covered with real 22-karat gold leaf. The original plan was to simply paint the exterior, but with the danger of fading and oxidizing, it worked out cheaper to use real gold.

Backstory: Originally created by Walt Disney in support of UNICEF, the ride was ambitiously designed to spread the message of world peace, no less. The water ride features over 300 animatronic dolls in traditional costumes from cultures around the world, singing in quite squeaky voices and on slightly annoying repeat, the attraction’s title song.

The fabulous façade incorporates designs based on the Eiffel Tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal and a 30-foot giant German cuckoo clock.

And the internationalism doesn’t end there. The river in which you ride contains water from around the world.  Disney, a bit like Willy Wonka excited by his inventions, invited 16 children from across the globe to its opening. A vial of water from oceans equally far and wide, was symbolically poured into the ride’s canal.

We lightning-laned along the animal-shaped hedges and boarded our brightly coloured boat. Bobbing into the surreal white castle we were duly serenaded by the dolls. Neon flowers and hordes of international puppets swayed about electronically throughout. The slightly uncomfortably outdated national stereotypes may be updated in the current refurb.

Score 5/10 – Torn in 2 over this one. Loved the shiny façade, blue rivers and neon foliage but the weird large headed dolls were annoying on the ears. Definitely not one for every teen.

Dinner in an Olde English pub

Dinner was outside an Olde English pub next to a Southern Belle of a paddle steamer – very Disney. Tea was chip-based but still cost around £60. We ordered ahead on the app, and nearly lost our dinner, not quite manging to get there before they called it out. Although nominally and façade-wise it masquerades as a plastic version of an English Pub, it is very much like a McDonalds on the inside, self-service collection bar included.

Disney with teens top tip #15

Save your money and go back for a second alien wrap for tea (or seek out the Pirates of the Caribbean underground riverside restaurant, that serves parents wine).


Famous as they are, we wondered if we had the time to fit these in. As evening draws in, it turns out it would be  impossible to miss the parades even if you tried.

Spectators assume their positions along routes hours beforehand to bag the plum spots. When full, these roadside viewing areas are taped off, separating the moving crowds from the spectator pavement sections. Any path you may want to take across the park which doubles as a parade route will be closed off like an annoying maze, or made one way, with a Disney official waving their light sabre in your face shouting “THIS WAY SIR”. There is no stopping for a drink on Main Street. You will be implored to keep moving in whichever direction you happen to be facing. It feels like you may never be allowed to stop marching yet have no idea where they are taking you. Things got a bit shouty at this point.

Despite being constantly shepherded forwards, we did manage catch a glimpse of the floats. A lit-up caterpillar and smoking dragon went by as we waited to cross one of the roads. 

So, no leisurely parade/ show spectator drinks for us. Apparently, even if we had been allowed to stop, alcohol supplies are limited. Only 2 venues have recently been allowed to serve drinks in the park. Although a handful more are joining the party in 2023, there is still a general family fun/ anti-drinking ethos at play, in line in Walt’s original vision.

Lasers, lakes on fire and a firework finale

Disney, Los Angeles, Disney with teens

Having finally made it out of the parade throng, we were permitted to pause on a bridge where, between the heads of a thousand others, we spied Micky Mouse conducting a laser show over a lake which appeared to be on fire. The Mark Twain was lit up like a party boat.  Due to the size of the crowd, non- adult height people did not stand a chance of getting a look in over taller heads. 

The fireworks were due to start.  Rather than just standing in the huge crowd, and not seeing much we had the bright idea of watching them from the queue of Big Thunder railroad on the basis that 1. The queue would be small as everyone else would be watching them properly and 2. Catching the show from a rollercoaster would be pretty cool if we timed it right.

We could hear the booming in the sky and caught the odd celestial twinkle from sections of the queue. As the line moved inside, the frustration levels increased. Were we missing the end of the show? 

Serendipitously, the firework finale started just as we stepped into our cart. We whizzed around watching stars explode in the sky around us. As we crested the very top of the Thunder railroad track, the final crackle of magical Disney thunder filled the air and the skies were showered with a million sparkles. 

Disney with teens top tip #16

Watch the fireworks from a rollercoaster for the best views in town.

Lessons learned

  • Go early for breakfast.
  • Definitely add on a Genie – it averaged out our queue time to about 30 minutes and about half our rides were fast tracked.
  • Take time to wander the fantasy worlds between rides. The Genie system is good for allowing you to do this as you wait for your slot.
  • Despite being a fantasy land, the park is often grounded in interesting all-American reality.
  • Balance planning and spontaneity (ride closures will feature).
  • 16 hours is a long day. Pace yourself and allow (sitting) downtime to soak it all in. People watching whilst your teens go on the scary space ride for the second time is pretty fun in the sun.
  • One day is enough – 2 would be a killer!

Disney with teens summary

Which teen would not enjoy wandering round earthy and fantasy realms populated with characters and backdrops they have grown up with, from the aliens in Toy Story to the iconic Disney Castle? You can’t fail to be blown away by the film set landscaping.

This being the epicentre of whole-family fun, not all rides are designed with teens in mind, but the many space, jungle and water rides are perfect for your older adventurer. The most recent additions invariably have the biggest wow factors and we would always add these to our must-see list on any future visit on this basis. The storm trooper room and Galaxy’s Edge were indeed light years, not just the real life 70, ahead the rest. I would totally recommend embarking on your teen Disney adventure. May the force be with you, to infinity and beyond!

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Disney with teens
Disney with teens
Disney with teens

7 thoughts on “16 valuable tips for Disney with teens”

  1. Even as adults we love to visit Disney. So I am not surprised that there was lots to keep teens engaged. Good tip about checking about park availability before committing to buying tickets. Sure looks like some rides everyone would enjoy! And we would definitely look into a Genie pass to save our place in line.

  2. I haven’t been to Disney since I was a teenager myself! But there sound like such great tips. Disney is definitely the kind of place where it helps to have a plan going on.

  3. I love how you navigated Disneyland’s ride selections with teens! Your approach to maximising fast passes and ride choices is brilliant. Thanks for the valuable tips and for sharing your adventure!

  4. Totally agree with your tip #5, having an itinerary is a great idea, especially when it comes to picking priority rides beforehand to avoid any arguments later. I know for sure that I have lost precious time before trying to agree which ride to go for.

  5. I love how Disney is fun for all ages. It’s been soo many years since I last went, Pirates of the Caribbean is the best! Would love to get back there again, thank you for sharing this informative guide 🙂

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