How to get your teens to spend time with you

Disney Fantasy at night (photo by Eva Weinberg)
Disney Fantasy at night (photo by Eva Weinberg)

By Dana Weinberg (mother of Eva and Eileen’s traveling companion in Orlando last month)

Question: How do you make two high school senior girls happy AND get them to spend time with you?

Answer: Take them on a trip where they have a lot of freedom to wander on their own, have easy access to a lot of good food, are able to ride countless roller coasters, with time still left for the all-important laying out in the sun.

My trip to Orlando with Eva (my daughter) and Cam (her friend) fit the bill.  Our plans to sail on the inaugural cruise of Disney’s Fantasy were book ended on either side by a few days in the Disney Parks and at Universal Studios.  Arrangements had been made for us to stay in a magnificent suite on the concierge floor at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.  We all took advantage of the open, airy concierge lounge where food and snacks were always available, especially since we had scheduled late dinners (and the girls were always hungry before dinner). As we gave Eva and Cam the green light to manage their own schedule during the day, dinner became the glue that brought us together to discuss what we’d done, allowing us to share some quality time. It didn’t hurt that all of us like interesting restaurants and good food.  We shared dishes, talked about what we liked and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Recommended:  Eat in restaurants outside of the parks….Sushi and appetizers at the California Grill, stuffed lobster at Fulton’s Crab House, anything at Blue Zoo, but especially the tuna tartar (the best we tasted and we tasted quite a few versions!) with the frozen dried corn on the side (cold and crunchy)…oh, and also their frozen cheesy popcorn which made us laugh out loud as we popped each morsel into our mouths!

Question: If you only have a limited amount of time to spend in the Disney Parks and there are specific attractions that you absolutely must see, how do you fit it all in?

Answer: Use Disney’s VIP Tour Service. 

Cam and Eva spent the entire morning with us (a pleasure!) and our VIP tour guide whisked us to the front of the line for all the new and hard-to-get-into attractions. No waiting for the monorail or the bus to get from park to park…transportation by private car is so much faster.  Not interested in seeing the “royal hotel rooms” that were on the adult agenda for the afternoon, the girls set off on their own to explore Epcot’s various countries and shops.  I was confident that Eva and Cam would be safe, have a great time and would show up for snacks on the concierge floor and for dinner. Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Recommended: Epcot…the girls’ favorite park, and mine, too.  Epcot was hosting a garden show with amazing topiaries of the Disney characters and beautiful floral installations along the banks of the canals…sunning at the hotel’s beach or one of its pools….fireworks everywhere!

Question: What can one say about the Disney Fantasy?

Answer: Beautiful! Entertaining! An easy vacation!

We boarded the Fantasy and the girls immediately ditched us to explore the ship and its offerings, and to work on their suntans. Why not let them continue to enjoy their freedom.  After all, where could they go? If we really needed to find each other, the portable wave phones provided in each stateroom would allow us to communicate, assuming that Eva or Cam remembered to take a phone with them. Throughout the 3 day cruise our paths would cross…on the pool decks, at character appearances, to say “hello” at lunchtime, at the evening shows, at the quiet beach on Disney’s private island where Eva and Cam showed up so I could take her picture, etc… and at dinner. 

Every night since we had left Connecticut, Eva and Cam had been so tired from their daily activities that they were generally asleep by midnight. It never occurred to me that our last night on the Fantasy would be any different…but it was.  Returning late to my stateroom after an exquisite meal at Remy followed by a movie, I found Eileen asleep and in the girls’ room….their unpacked clothes, both wave phones and no Eva or Cam. 

I laughed at myself as all my nonchalance about freedom on the ship went out the window. I knew they were fine but I just wanted them “home”. Don’t all parents feel that sense of reassurance when their children are tucked safely in to bed?  I couldn’t sleep and the minutes ticked by…1:30, 2:00, 2:30… I admit that I did call Guest Services around 3:00 and they said they would look for Eva and Cam. When the girls showed up at 3:15, they said they had been hanging out in the main lobby with some other teens and had come back to the room because they were tired.  Miraculously, they were dressed, packed and breakfasted for our early morning departure from the ship.

Recommended: Dinner at Animator’s Palate where each diner is given a template of a person to fill in. The templates are then collected, animated and projected at the end of dinner to everyone’s delight….dinner at Remy: delicious food exquisitely presented (we did not take Eva and Cam).

About all those roller coasters…Eva and Cam rode MANY of them at Universal Studios. I rode none. We had a tour guide our first day which offered us quick-access to Harry Potter World and other popular attractions. Fading from little sleep the night before, Eva, Cam and I went back to our hotel to rally for an early evening Blue Man Group show which we all thoroughly enjoyed. We really appreciated the smaller scale of the Universal Studios parks. Of course, it was back in to the park the next morning for Eva and Cam to ride yet more roller coasters, and then back to the hotel to relax by one of the hotel’s pool before heading for the airport to fly home.

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