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Disney Food for Families: 10 Tips for Dining with Teens at Walt Disney World

A new post in our Disney Food for Families Column by Erin Foster:

In the early days of my family’s Disney travel, we routinely went to at least one character meal every day, sometimes two. On my twins’ sixth birthday, we even ate at three character meals in one day. My waistline is still trying to recover!

Bonding at the Food & Wine Festival

But now that my girls are older, the character meals hold somewhat less appeal for them. My daughter Charlie, now 14, even went through a phase where she was (Yikes!) “too cool” for characters. My challenge has become, “How do you keep the magic of Disney Dining alive without relying on the classic character meal?” In other words: How do you make Disney Dining fun for teens?

Idea #1: Make the vacation about the food.
I have been to Walt Disney World twice with just Charlie during the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. We spent a couple of days working our way around the World Showcase booths, trying to sample at least one or two things from each represented country. This sparked some interesting discussions about food taste, texture, and preparation styles. We had bonding moments over our mutual favorite: the beef with chimichurri sauce from Argentina stand. More please. And we shared belly laughs when a duck dipped her beak into our cup of cheddar cheese soup. We decided that she couldn’t get a reservation at Le Cellier either.

Idea #2: Focus on the non-traditional Disney magic.
Several of the restaurants at Walt Disney World have incredible themeing or cast member interaction, but without the little-kid vibe of the character meals. These include the Whispering Canyon Cafe, Sci-Fi Dine-In, Teppan Edo, and the 50s Prime Time Diner. These playful, but not pandering, environments give older kids permission to be silly without embarrassment.

Fancy sandwiches at the Grand Floridian tea

Idea #3: Treat older kids like grown-ups.
Disney’s signature restaurants are a great place for kids to practice their manners without fear of reprisal. As soon as my girls were past their singular devotion to nuggets and fries, we started taking them with us to all of Walt Disney World’s fine dining establishments. They can practice using the right fork, speaking clearly to the waiter, trying unfamiliar dishes, and generally being an adult situation, but without the dirty looks you might get at a non-Disney venue. I’ve even taken my girls several times to tea at the Grand Floridian and to dinner the super swanky Victoria & Albert’s, both with great success.

Idea #4: Let them be lazy.
Two words: Room service. While we’re normally an up-at-the-crack-of-dawn-for-rope-drop family, there’s definitely something to be said for letting teens sleep in on vacation. They will love you forever if you surprise them with room service juice and Mickey waffles so they can be fancy in their jammies.

Idea #5: Let them dine on their own.
You have to gauge maturity level and comfort, but many teens are ready to be on their own in the parks for at least some of the day. Give them some cash, or allow them charging privileges on their room key, and let them handle a few meals on their own – from making reservations to calculating the tip. This can be a great way to build confidence or to have overscheduled siblings reconnect without parental interference.

Raglan Road shrimp risotto

Idea #6: Involve them in the process.
This is not ground-breaking news, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that this is the kids’ vacation too. What would indulge or relax them during their break? Be sure to work some of their priorities into your plan.

Idea #7: Try something new.
Families who have been Disney-goers since their children were young inevitably develop family favorites. While it’s great to revisit those time-honored spots, sometimes teens might associate them with feeling of being babyish. We try visiting at least one or two new restaurants each trip. My girls have very different impressions of restaurants they “discovered” when they were older than those they have known their whole lives.

Idea #8: Have an activity with your meal.
A unique experience will certainly make a memorable meal for your teen. A sports fan will love watching the big game while dining at the Boardwalk resort’s ESPN Club. A budding musician will have a great time at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch. An artist will be heaven getting tips during a Dine with an Imagineer experience at the Flying Fish. Dancers can get in step with the entertainment at Raglan Road or Restaurant Marrakesh.

Funnel cake, the perfect alternative to lunch

Idea #9: Break a few rules.
Sure you eat encourage healthy eating habits and balanced choices, but every rule needs an exception. Skip lunch and indulge in a feast of funnel cake instead. Or go to Beaches & Cream and order nothing but the Kitchen Sink for dinner. They may not tell you, but in their heads you’ll be the coolest Mom or Dad in town.

Idea #10: Take them to a character meal anyway.
Even though my girls now “understand” the characters, there’s something about the Crystal Palace that makes them forget what they know, if only for a little while. They may “too cool” to go to a character breakfast, but once we’re there, they’ll still give Tigger a big old hug.

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11 Comments

  1. Dannette Kelly says:

    Yes! These are great ideas. Idea #1 got my attention right away. I have 17,15, & 12 year olds. The last time we were at Disney the comment was …”I have noticed that the trip is more about the food lately” from my 17 yr old. She was exactly right.

    #2 Whispering Canyon has a fabulous milk shake policy…you can try all those cool flavors. They brought my 15yr old son a tiny version of each! The surprise and then the fun of tasting them all was great.

    #4 Especially when you are visiting on a holiday. We always do room service breakfast on a holiday morning. This year it was Christmas Day breakfast at 7am and then back to bed by 8am, till noon and time for a fabulous lunch.

    #9, Absolutely! Order desert first and salad last.

    #10 You have to do this… no matter what! I do have to do a little negotiating on this sometimes. My 15yr old son has to be reminded that his 12yr old sister has to have the same opportunities he did as a youngster to hug Tigger.

    Thanks for your great ideas! The Mom!

  2. Brenda says:

    Great column today! Thank you! As the mother of a 12 year old I am running into some of these issues – I was informed that we no longer needed to do the princess breakfast, I (of course) asked well what about me? I like the princess breakfast. Anyway this gives me some great ideas for our trip in October! Thank you :)

  3. I love this article – and was so glad when Brighid was old enough to appreciate the Food and Wine Festival. It is still one of her favorite things to do at EPCOT – even when Mom’s not in tow!

  4. Josh says:

    Wow Erin! Great job hitting some important key points.

    You missed having dessert for breakfast as that’s every kids dream. ;)

    Also, I could sit in the Sci-Fi Dine-In all day watching the movie rell so thanks for including that!

  5. Great tips! I’m touring with a teen and tween this summer, so I appreciate the input.

  6. EEFoster says:

    Danette – I love your idea about the holiday room service – makes perfect sense. Also, we were once at WDW during the series finale of a favorite program. We ordered in room service dinner and had a viewing party in the hotel room. The kids loved it!

    Brenda – The article says “teens” but I too found that some of these issues started coming up at age 11 and 12.

    Anna – I’m thinking the next phase is when they go to Food & Wine and don’t want Mom’s company. I am not looking forward to that day.

    Josh – Well, I did mention having dessert for lunch or dinner. In my book, half the breakfast foods at WDW count as dessert. :-)

    Hedy – Thanks so much for the kind words.

  7. Shayne says:

    Great article! My kids are Disney veterans now, and I sat down with my 9 year old the other day to plan dining for our trip this December to celebrate his 10th birthday (12/21) and Christmas. It was interesting to see the new places he wanted to try (Garden Grill, Teppan Edo), the places he wanted to return (Chefs de France surprised me!) and also some of the old favorites that he was willing to by-pass this time (like Crystal Palace…sob!).

    As they get older, I look forward to implementing even more of these tips!

  8. AJ says:

    Danette — Awesome ideas! Thanks for the input! Milkshakes for serious!

    Brenda — I know! They have to remember how much WE love those character meals!

    Anna — I am a believer that the F&W Festival brings generations together and will someday be the instigator of world peace. ;-)

    Josh — Sci-fi is one of my favorites, too, but I don’t think I could sit there all day! I DO get tired of that reel!

    Hedy — Cool! Can’t wait to read your reports!

    Shayne — So excited about your upcoming trips!!!

  9. James (Disneynorth) says:

    Did they remove the adults only rule from V&A’s? Or did they lower the age limit? I know you have eaten at the chef’s table Erin, but have you eaten in the dining room too with the kids?

  10. EEFoster says:

    Guests are required to be 10 years old to dine at V&A. I’ve eaten with my kids both at the Chef’s Table and in the main dining room. In the four times I’ve been there, I’ve seen about half a dozen teens other than my own kids.

  11. Mary says:

    For the past 4 or 5 years, we’ve made our trips about the Dining and Food! My daughters are 15 & 13 and once they did all the character meals after the first couple of trips, the appeal became more about the variety of food available that they might not ever have tasted at home. Thanks for the report reinforcing that we were on the right track.

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