Orlando, Florida Thrills Teens, Too - My Family Travels

Theme parks amuse everyone, but sometimes your teen may feel a bit "been there, done that," so Family Travel Forum has a few ideas to keep him pumped about your trip to Orlando, FL.

So you’re heading down to Orlando, Florida one more time. Just as your teens were introduced to Minnie and Mickey years ago, the youngest of your clan now deserve the same opportunity to meet the mice, ride Space Mountain and take it all in. And although you don’t mind repeating the experience (after all, “It’s a Small World” never gets old!), your sullen teens have been there, done that, and made sure to let you know. Fear not. 

There are more themes in Orlando than Walt ever imagined, even for youngsters who think they ought to be traveling sans parents. Although it may not always appear to be true, older kids do indeed appreciate learning experiences while on vacation. And multi-dimensional Orlando rules when it comes to engaging the teens while entertaining the little ones.

For Your Dr. Doolittle

By its nature, SeaWorld is the most educational of the Orlando theme parks. The standard visit, with the Shamu show and the new Kraken floorless roller coaster, can make for an amusing day. But for any teen with even a modest interest in marine life, the Marine Mammal Keeper program should not be missed. 

The program is as it sounds – participants 13 and older spend the day in wet suits, tending to manatees, beluga whales, dolphins, and seals at various staging areas throughout the park – preparing food for the animals, feeding and training them. Working alongside professional trainers, guests move from the kitchens, where hundreds of pounds of fish are weighed and prepared for mealtime, to the tanks, where a snappy hand signal sends an animal swimming.

Throughout the eight-hour experience, the focus is on education as well as participation. Trainers outline the nature and characteristics of the animals, and discuss their behavior and personalities. It’s quite amazing to realize just how “human” these creatures are, each with their own temperaments, preferences, and occasional bad days.

As is the case with many of the particularly unique experiences in Orlando, the Marine Mammal Keeper program, at $399 per person, isn’t cheap. But for marine animal enthusiasts, or even your average adventurous teen, it’s worth it. A T-shirt and lunch are included. And what makes the program extra special – the fact that each session is limited to only three participants – is also cause for note: book early! For more information on the Marine Mammal Keeper program, call 407/351-3600; 800/327-2424 or visit www.seaworld.com.

For Your Speed Demon

But maybe spending the day in a wet suit isn’t your teen’s idea of a good time. Perhaps he or she would prefer jumping into a fire-proof auto racing suit, strapping on a helmet, and climbing behind the wheel of a NASCAR stock car. Oh yes, and driving 130 mph!? 140 mph!? At the Richard Petty Driving Experience based at the Walt Disney World Speedway (near the theme park), anyone over 18 with a driver’s license, and some familiarity with a standard transmission, can strap in and fly around a professional race track, in a professional race car, with no one in the passenger seat telling them to slow down! Trust me, it’s awesome.

OK, there’s a little more to it than that. First, participants sign some liability waivers (don’t worry, no one has ever gotten hurt), sit through a safety lecture, and learn important hand signals and rules of the track. When the time comes, drivers aren’t all alone out there, though they are indeed alone in their car. Each participant is assigned an instructor, whom they will follow down the pit road at a strict three-car length. Out on the track, the instructor slowly increases speed. So long as the participant maintains the three-car length – not tailgating, not falling too far behind – the instructor puts the petal to the metal; it’s your job to keep up! 

The Rookie Experience, which includes eight laps and the thrill of a lifetime for speed demons young and old alike, is $399, and reservations are usually required. For those 16 and who can’t be talked into the driver’s seat (most hesitant bodies thank the folks who encouraged them later), an $99 Ride-Along Program is fun, too. Participants ride shotgun with an instructor for a few laps, and end up reaching faster speeds than if they were driving (160 mph!? 170 mph!?) Once you’re there, you’ll probably want to do both. For more information on the Richard Petty Driving Experience, in Orlando or one of two dozen other locations throughout the U.S., call  800/BE-PETTY or check out www.1800bepetty.com

For Your Party Animal

In the evening – surprise – Orlando nightlife heats up. Although your teens obviously won’t be hitting the bars and dance clubs that Disney’s Paradise Island have become famous for, they will want to do their own thing at night, with or without you. The parent’s answer to Paradise Island is Universal Studio’s CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex which features a number of themed restaurants, street performers, live bands, an all-around festive atmosphere, and a nightly fireworks display overhead. It’s a pedestrian-only outdoor mall, perfect for a teen night out, simply strolling around, taking in the scene.

For Your Coaster Enthusiast

CityWalk is adjacent to the Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, home to the fiercest roller coasters in Orlando (hands down) and the 3-D Adventures of SpiderMan ride, which can’t be done justice in an article like this – it really has to be experienced to be believed. If Space Mountain will thrill the young ones, Islands of Adventure will surely leave the teens a little off balance, and all smiles. For more information on the Universal parks and facilities, call  407/363-8000 or check out www.universalorlando.com

For more information on all that Orlando has to offer teens and the rest of the family, or to check out the seasonal hotel and event specials call the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 407/363-5872.

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