By Kara Williams, on February 16, 2014

Walt Disney World Resort with Tweens

My 13-year-old daughter is too old for a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique princess makeover, and my 11-year-old son no longer plays with his (once-beloved) Buzz Lightyear action figure. But the Walt Disney World Resort remains magical for my “big kids” because our visits to Magic Kingdom and other Disney theme parks in Orlando focus on maximizing time to hit as many thrill rides as possible. Instead of waiting in line to snap a photo with Snow White or jostling with crowds to watch a Main Street parade, we’re off experiencing the most exciting coasters, water rides, and spinning attractions on-site.

If your brood likes action as much as we do, consider these tips to make the most of your time with your tweens at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel

Special perks abound for guests who are staying on property. Among them: complimentary Disney’s Magical Express bus service from the Orlando airport to your hotel; complimentary transportation to the theme parks via bus, ferry, or monorail (or free parking at the parks); and extended hours at the parks. Resort hotels range from value-priced Disney’s All-Star Music Resort to deluxe villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Staying off-site might be cheaper (check these hotels), but I’d rather pay a little more for the convenience of being nearby.

Use FastPass+ for premium rides

If you’ve visited the Walt Disney World Resort since 1999, surely you’re familiar with the special FASTPASS tickets you can use to bypass the “regular lines” at coveted rides such as Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom or The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. New for 2014, those paper tickets are history. A new digital FastPass+ service lets guests make reservations for specific times they’d like to go on a ride (in one-hour windows). If guests prefer, they can let the FastPass+ system give them the “first available” reservation, and go from there. The new FastPass+ service now applies to making advance reservations at restaurants, character meet-and-greets, and special VIP areas for watching parades and fireworks, too. In short, it makes scheduling a visit with kids a whole lot easier.

Tweens love Splash Mountain

Guests at Walt Disney World Resort hotels can make FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days prior to their visits; when they check-in, they receive MagicBand wristbands to check in at FastPass+ entrances. Chips on these wristbands store each guest’s information for the duration of that guest’s stay. Guests who are not staying on property use FastPass+ kiosks for reservations that day. Another great aspect of the new FastPass+ system: You can make changes to your timed reservations whenever you want, via the in-park kiosks or the My Disney Experience mobile app.

Because the FastPass+ service is so new, I recommend keeping on top of all of the latest FastPass+ options by checking the FAQs on the official Walt Disney World Resort website, calling Walt Disney World, or emailing the women who serve on the Disney Parks Moms Panel before your visit.

Set your priorities, but be flexible

Our last visit to the Walt Disney World Resort took place during Christmas break, when crowds were huge. Our primary plan was to go to Magic Kingdom to hit some of our favorite rides (Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), then motor to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith and the stomach-lurching The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Backup options were to scoot over to Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the exciting Expedition Everest and Primeval Whirl coasters or to Epcot for the winding Test Track ride. All of these attractions are great when it comes to pleasing tweens and teens who appreciate adrenaline-pumping thrill rides.

Viewfinder Tip: If you go on the Kilimanjaro Safari in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, plan your tour for first-thing in the morning, when the animals are most active.

Alas, the crowds prevented us from doing everything on our list. Instead, we improvised. We used the old FASTPASS service to reserve spots on Splash Mountain and Space Mountain, and otherwise filled our day with some of the tamer rides: Mad Tea Party teacup ride, Prince Charming Regal Carousel, The Haunted Mansion, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. No, these rides didn’t offer the same adrenaline rush as some of the ones my “big kids” love, but the rides were fun. We laughed. We smiled. We made a bunch of memories together. That’s what I think the Walt Disney World Resort is all about–making magic with your family in one of the most magical places on Earth. Your kids never are too old for that.

What are your favorite rides at the Walt Disney World Resort?