Any parent of a teen will tell you that planning a family vacation can be a hassle. They can decide they are too old for something their younger siblings are eager to experience. The announcement of a Disney World vacation might be met with eye rolls and muttering about kid stuff. But point them at these attractions, and their mind could change in a hurry.
First, the venerable Space Mountain. The oldest of the Disney World thrill rides, it still holds up well. Your teen will ride a rocket car through the darkness of space. Veteran roller coaster fans will tell you that while there are faster and wilder coasters, shooting through the dark adds a whole new level of excitement.
Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
Close to Space Mountain you will find the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. No, it’s not a thrill ride, but it’s hugely popular with all ages. Your ride car is equipped with Space Ranger ‘weapons’ that shoot beams of light at targets scattered all through the ride. Trying to beat each other’s scores will have almost any family laughing at the exit.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Across the park you will find Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Set in a desert mining town, you ride a runaway mine train. It’s a roller coaster on the ground, with lots of fun sights along the way. Watch for the dinosaur skeleton!
Splash Mountain would seem pretty tame compared to the others… if it weren’t for that long drop at the end. You ride in placid waters, except for a few dips to tease you, looking at scenes from Song of the South. Most of the ride is no more exciting than Small World, until you get to the end. Visitors to the Magic Kingdom often crowd the area outside the ride to watch the brave take the five-story plunge down a steep flume. You will be wet, but it’s quite a rush.
Do you have any aspiring Mario Andrettis in your family? Then you want to head straight to Test Track. This ride shows the testing that cars go through before being marketed. The portion of the attraction inside the building is very entertaining, and once you get outside, whoosh! Reaching speeds up to sixty-five miles per hour, your car zooms around the track, including banking on a curve that has you nearly on your side. Even younger kids can often be heard begging to ride it again.
Not far from Test Track is Soarin’. While it doesn’t provide the sort of thrills a roller coaster does, this attraction is fun for young and old by taking you up into the air to simulate hang gliding. The sensation is glorious, and not to be missed.
Mission: Space is at the top of many people’s lists for exciting rides. Certainly it is thrilling, and the astronaut theme is very well done. But I will add this caveat – this ride sometimes leaves people feeling dizzy, with headaches and nausea lingering for hours. Because of this, Disney offers two versions of the ride, one milder than the other. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is right for your family.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Tower of Terror
The Tower of Terror. The name says it all. Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame tells you the story of the haunted hotel before you board an elevator. Eerie scenes featuring long-departed guests are visible as the elevator makes its way through the hotel. Then when you reach a long shaft, the terror starts. When the ride first opened, it featured a long fall to the bottom. Then they changed the ride so that at the end of the drop, you were hauled back up and sent shrieking down for a second time. The current ride is even scarier. After the first drop, you go back up in a random series of rises and falls. No two rides are exactly the same, so you never know what to expect.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
Being personally invited to an Aerosmith concert by the band members themselves would be exciting for any teenager. They get to live that dream on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. After the invitation, a stretch limo comes to take you to the concert. Like Space Mountain, the darkness and loud music enhances the thrill as you wind up and down and around.
Flight simulator rides are at every shopping mall these days, so why am I recommending Star Tours? Because it’s just plain fun. It has wilder drops and turns than you’ll find on a run of the mill simulator, and the humor makes it worth every second. Your droid shuttle pilot admits it’s his first solo flight, and in his confusion, you wind up riding along with the ships attacking the Death Star. Throw in that your pilot is voiced by Paul Reubens, better known as Pee Wee Herman, and you’ll be laughing as you squeal with excitement.
Dinosaur is not fast, and has no screaming curves, but it has plenty of thrills anyway. You ride in a Land Rover that has traveled back in time and find yourself dodging dinosaurs. The ride is dark and bumpy, with lightning flashes adding to the feeling that there are things watching you. Hungry things.
Kali River Rapids
“You will get wet.” Many rides come with this warning, and on the Kali River Rapids, you’d better believe it’s true. During your ride in a giant inner tube raft, not only will you be soaked by the dips and turns, but pipes along the way blast water at you. And watch out for bridges, because other park visitors can shoot water, too. As an aside, your teen may have as much fun with that as they do the ride itself.
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Of all the parks, the Animal Kingdom seems to have the fewest traditional rides. Most of the park is given over to attractions that feature animals in natural environments. While all are interesting, I think the one that would be the most appealing to a teen is the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walking path lets you see tigers, as well as komodo dragons, gibbons and tapirs, up close. Viewing stations allow you to get so close you can see a tiger’s whiskers twitch. Try to see them in the early morning, and you might be rewarded by the sight of tigers splashing and playing in the water.