Teens sometimes get a bad rap. People think they’re hard to please and harder to travel with. But the key to traveling with teens—and keeping the whole family happy—is to find destinations where teens can have the independence they crave. Here are five teen-friendly summer vacation ideas.
1. Take a cruise.
I learned this from another parent onboard our first Disney cruise. My kids were 8 and 10, the perfect ages for the Disney Wonder.
So I was shocked when I struck up a conversation with the parents of an 18-year-old who had been vacationing onboard the Disney Wonder annually since their daughter was 10. Why? Because being on board the cruise ship was a safe place for her to feel independence and her parents to relax knowing that she couldn’t get too far away from them and that the 2-to-1 passenger to staff ratio meant that there would always be someone watching what she was doing.
The Disney Wonder is a small, cozy little ship. The new mega-ships like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships, are even better for teens. There is so much more to do—it’s not possible to do half of the activities or attend half of the events even if you give up sleep altogether—so a teen would have to work hard to be bored. And there is still all of that staff and that limited area to keep an adventuresome teen in check.
2. Visit a city.
You won’t want to give teens the independence to travel without if you visit a big city such as New York City, Chicago or even Washington D.C. So give them power instead. Let them be the tour guides. Give them a budget and let them do the research to see what’s available and determine what they want to do. (I’ll bet five bucks a teen-led trip to Washington D.C. includes a visit to the Spy Museum.)
This solves several challenges to family vacations with teens: parents don’t have to try to figure out what their uncommunicative teens will want to do, teens can’t complain that they didn’t want to do whatever is on that day’s agenda and if they get bored, they have only themselves to blame.
3. Head to the mountains.
In the winter, the ski resorts of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are beautiful but expensive. In the summer, they’re still beautiful but much more affordable. And there are plenty of things to do to keep teens moving and leave them worn out at the end of the day. Kids who crave challenge can learn to mountain bike while those who prefer a low-key activity can simply take a hike. Just remember to pack plenty of snacks to keep those teen appetites in check.
4. Let them party.
The Atlantis resort in the Bahamas knows that teens crave cool and few spots are cooler than Crush, the teens-only club at the resort. It’s got a soaring floor-to-ceiling tree filled with video game monitors, computer social media stations complete with photo editing software and Facebook interface, iPads, private gaming rooms and more, as if I need to say more. (As one mom put when we toured the spot before its official opening in 2010, “It’s a teenage boy’s wet dream.”
Fortunately, Crush is only open in the evenings (4-8pm for tweens ages 9-13 and 8:30pm-midnight for ages 13-17) or you would never get the kids outside to enjoy the water park or swim with a dolphin.
5. Amuse them.
If your teens feel the need for speed, don’t give them the keys to the car. Indulge them with a visit to an amusement park. Coaster lovers can do no better than a visit to the coaster capital of the world, Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. Like a cruise ship, Cedar Point is small enough and self-contained enough to give teens the independence they seek. And coasters such as the Top Thrill Dragster—which shoot riders straight up into the sky at 120 miles per hour—surely will sate their need for speed. Best of all for parents, Cedar Point is an affordable family vacation option.
If you prefer a bigger family vacation destination, such as Orlando, Florida, there are plenty of ten-friendly amusement park options, with Universal Studios at the top of the heap, followed closely by Disney’s Hollywood Studios and its Aerosmith-themed Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or the Chevy Test Track at Epcot.