Disneyland for Teens: Where To Discover The Magic

By Ellen Parlapiano

Walt dreamed up Disneyland for his two little girls, but “The Happiest Place on Earth” has plenty to offer big kids as well. When we recently visited with my 17-year-old daughter and 20-year-old son, they were both charmed and thrilled by this classic park.

Though tiny in comparison to Disney World in Orlando (where we’ve been vacationing since the kids were tots), Disneyland’s intimacy is what makes it so special -- and so appealing to teenagers. The easy-to-navigate layout makes it a snap to race from Space Mountain to Splash Mountain, even though they’re in different parts of the park. And when they’re done in Disneyland, kids can dash over to Disney’s California Adventure, just steps across the promenade from Disneyland’s gates. The experience brings park-hopping to a whole new level!

Both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park are connected by Downtown Disney, a lively outdoor mall with everything a teen could possibly need to survive -- pizza, ice cream, smoothies, frozen coffees, awesome shops and a multiplex movie theater. Kids will definitely want to hang out there at night, after the parks close.

Since everything’s so centrally located, you only need a couple of days for a Disneyland Resort visit.  And now’s the time to go, with Disney extending its Year of a Million Dreams through 2008. Each day, Disney cast members randomly bestow prizes on lucky winners who might get to spend a night in the Disneyland Dream Suite (once Walt’s private apartment), attend the star-studded premiere of High School Musical 3, or be a Grand Marshal for parades at Disney parks worldwide. 

So treat yourself and your teens to Anaheim’s Disney magic. Here’s what to see and do when you get there.


Wild Rides: Conquer the four mountains: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, and The Matterhorn. Then accompany an audioanimatronic Harrison Ford through Indiana Jones’Adventure and blast off for Endor on Star Tours. 

Calm, but Classic: The brand-new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage is Disneyland’s newest and hottest ride. It replaces the old Submarine Voyage ride, which has been closed since 1998.  It offers the perfect combination of high- and low-tech features: You view cool underwater videos of Nemo and friends through the portholes of the very same subs used in the original ride. Head there first thing in the morning, because lines build quickly, and there’s no Fast Pass for this attraction. Also check out the newly renovated Pirates of the Caribbean, where Captain Jack Sparrow, Davey Jones, and Barbosa now lurk.

Showstoppers: Tom Sawyer’s Island has been transformed and re-named Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island, in honor of the rowdy costumed buccaneers who have taken it over. Captain Jack Sparrow and his crazy crew have swordfights all day long, to the rousing Pirates of Caribbean movie soundtrack. (The actor who plays Jack is a dead-ringer for Johnny Depp!) If you don’t feel like taking the raft over, score a spot by the fence facing the island, where you can see and hear all the swashbuckling action from shore.

Chowing Down: There are lots of fast-food options throughout the park. My kids especially loved the Mexican fare at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante, and snacking on   Mickey-shaped soft pretzels in Fantasyland (walk toward the Small World ride, and look to your left). But if you want to impress them with a sit-down restaurant, make it The Blue Bayou, located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride. And make sure you order the Flying Dutchman Cookie boat for dessert!


Wild Rides: The Twilight Zone Terror of Tower drops you 13 stories, and the random sequences will shake you up while giving you a new experience each time you ride. (Alert: Teens will want to go on this over and over.) The Grizzly River Run white water rafting ride offers new thrills each time too -- depending on where in the raft you sit. But one thing is certain: You will get wet. In the Paradise Pier section of the park, the teen favorite is California Screamin’, a high-speed coaster that zooms you upside down. Kids will also want to try the Sun Wheel (a Ferris wheel with cars that slide back and forth), the Maliboomer (which launches you 180-foot up in the air), and Mulholland Madness (a mini-coaster with some harrowing hairpin turns).  

Calm, but Classic: Soarin’ over California takes you on a relaxing sightseeing flight through the Golden State. And in the totally awesome (and very funny) Turtle Talk with Crush, the animated surfing terrapin from Finding Nemo interacts with the audience and answers individual questions. (Our family is still trying to figure out how the Disney Imagineers did that!)

Showstoppers: The High School Musical 2 parade rocks the park 3 times a day, and is a must-see for ‘tweens and teens. When we were there, even teenage boys were racing to catch a glimpse of the Wildcats!

Chowing Down: We all loved the sandwiches and bread bowl salads from the healthy yet hearty Pacific Wharf Café in the Golden State section of the park. It’s right near the Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill and Taste Pilots Grill, in case teens would rather have fast-food staples like tacos, burgers and ribs.  


Shop Till You Drop:  Head to Disney Vault 28 for vintage clothing and accessories. Along with unusual character attire, this funky, high-end boutique has an ample selection of non-Disney apparel for gals and guys.  (My daughter bought a very cute retro halter dress, which has been getting plenty of compliments back at her high school.) Prices can be steep here, but there are lots of sale items, plus less expensive things like hats, sunglasses, and bling rings. Teens will also flock to Sephora, Quicksilver Boardriders Club Store, and the ESPN Zone Studio Store -- places that are as much about the vibe as the products. 

Chowing Down: For on-the-fly snacking, kids can guzzle a smoothie from Jamba Juice or scoop up a cone from Haagen-Dazs. La Brea Bakery Café is a great choice for a quick breakfast or lunch. And at dinner, try the ESPN Zone (where you can watch sports on big screens), Tortilla Jo’s (with a handmade tortilla station) or Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria (for thin-crust pizza and yummy pastas). 


On Site: For convenience, you can’t beat the three Disney hotels. Each has its own personality, and is just a short walk away from the park gates and Downtown Disney. The Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is patterned after the elegant lodges you’ll find in California’s national parks. It has the most luxurious (and expensive) accommodations, along with a great waterslide pool and a nifty private entrance into the California Adventure Park. Rates start at around $250 per night.) The more moderately priced Disneyland Hotel has a Never Land-themed pool and a classic feel (after all, it was the original on-site Disney hotel). It’s located at the entrance to Downtown Disney, making it a cinch for teens to get back quickly when they want to stay out longer than you. Rates start at $189 per night. Paradise Pier is Disneyland’s budget option, overlooking the boardwalk area of the California Adventure Park. (Rates start at $179 per night.)

Close by: There are also 37 Good Neighbor hotels that are a short shuttle bus away from the Disney parks. You’ll find a variety of accommodations, from economy to suite-style, as well as great Disney-sanctioned deals.  

For Special Occasions: If your family is celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary, consider splurging on the one-of-a-kind Pirates of the Caribbean Suite, high atop the Sierra Tower at the Disneyland Hotel. From the moment the doorbell plays “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me,” you’ll know this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill room. This spectacular space is fit for a pirate king or queen. It features beamed ceilings, wide wood-plank floors, 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms (one with a whirlpool tub and steam shower), a living room with marble fireplace, and a dining room with a candelabra and a mahogany table. There are multiple flat-screen TVs, and the opulent master bedroom has an amazing, 4-poster canopied bed. (I urge you to call dibs on it before the kids claim it!) The only thing that’s missing is Johnny Depp himself. Of course, the suite (which sleeps up to 6) carries an equally posh price tag, with nightly rates starting at $2,500. But even if you can only swing one night, think of the memories you’ll make commemorating a Sweet 16 or 50th birthday here.

Disney Deals:

For 2007: Guests receive one additional night with the purchase of a three-night stay vacation package at one of the Anaheim-area Good Neighbor hotels when booking by 12/14/07 and traveling by 12/16/07. Packages start at $315 per adult for Disney hotels and $227 per adult for Good Neighbor hotels. They include Park Hopper Bonus Tickets, with Early Entry to Disneyland an hour before official opening, so you can ride the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and interact with Disney characters in Mickey’s Toontown Morning Madness.  To book, visit www.disneyland.com.

For 2008: 2-night Disney Resort Dream Vacation Packages at Disneyland’s resort hotels start at $424 per adult.  2-night Disney Good Neighbor Dream Vacation Packages at one of the nearby Good Neighbor Hotels start at $269 per adult. Both packages include Park Hopper tickets, with Early Entry to Disneyland one hour before official opening, so you can ride the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, and interact with Disney characters in Mickey’s Toontown Morning Madness. To book any of these packages, visit www.disneyland.com.

Ellen Parlapiano is an award-winning writer who has covered family travel for magazines such as Family Circle, Parents, Child and Working Mother. She lives in Eastchester, New York with her husband and two children, and has traveled extensively with her family.


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