Destinations / North America / Florida

Fantastic Things to do in Orlando With Tweens: Holding on to the Magic a Little Longer

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Today I want to share with you one of the most surprisingly delightful trips we’ve taken in a while: Orlando with tweens. We put off a family trip to Orlando for so long that I wasn’t sure we’d ever do it, especially since we lean much more toward adventure and international trips.

But I’m here to report back from the field and tell you all the juicy details about why I think tweens are the best age for a trip to Orlando and how to plan your own amazing experience. We crammed in so many awesome things to do in Orlando with tweens and I’m excited to share them all with you! I also spent plenty of time researching/agonizing/deciding on the best places to stay in Orlando with tweens and I’ll share my findings with you below.

Fair warning: this is long, so grab a frozen butterbeer and settle in. But if you’re planning a family trip to Orlando, chances are you’ll be reading dozens of articles to help you prepare anyway! Be sure to bookmark or pin this in case you need to come back later.

Get ready for the magic!

5 reasons why “tween” is the best age for Disney World, Universal and the rest of Orlando

There’s a part of me that worried we had “missed the window” by not taking our kids to the Orlando theme parks and attractions when they were much younger. We decided to take the plunge, figuring “better late than never” but I’m so glad we waited. Why do I think “tween” is the best age to visit Orlando?

Older kids are tall enough to go on more rides and attractions

This is pretty self-explanatory, but tweens can do just about every ride or attraction at the Orlando theme parks. The strictest height limit in town is 54″ for The Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Of course there will be many tweens (including my own) who want nothing to do with that level of thrill, but it’s so nice to walk through the park without stressing about whether or not your kiddo will be allowed to ride (which we experienced a few times when taking the kids to Disneyland many years ago).

You can cram much more into the day, getting more “bang for your buck”

When you’re dropping hundreds of dollars for a day at a theme park, most parents want to feel like they’re making the most of the time they have! That’s much easier to do when you don’t have to stress about nap schedules or bed times (at least for a few days). Our tween was able to enjoy 12+ hour theme park days with just some brief periods of downtime.

You and your tween and more likely to have overlapping interests than you and your toddler

Boy and girl standing under Saturn V rocket at Kennedy Space Center with kids

There’s nothing wrong with going to Disney World with a toddler and finding joy in doing the things that put a smile on their face. But when you visit a theme park with your tween, you guys probably have more similar interests – whether it’s thrill rides or tie-ins to movies you’ve watched together (and both enjoyed). There are also so many other things to do in Orlando besides theme parks that will appeal more to older kids than very young ones.

Tweens are a little cheaper than teens if you’re visiting Orlando on a budget

On the flip side, if you’re debating whether you should visit Orlando with teens down the line vs going with tweens sooner it might be more budget-friendly to go when the kids are still on the younger end. There are a few ways going to Orlando with tweens (rather than teens) can save you money:

  • Teens are often basically adult-sized so you might need to bump up to a more spacious (and expensive) room for everyone’s physical and mental well-being. I have a hard time imagining my 6′ tall teenage nephews sharing one of the double beds we had in our Orlando hotel room!
  • Theme park kids meals are often a solid value. We found that in most cases our kids were happy to eat from the kids menus, which can be a savings of $5-10 per meal for quick service or as much as $30 per tween at nicer theme park restaurants. Our 11 year old ordered off of plenty of theme park kids menus, though that isn’t an option for buffet or family-style restaurants.
  • Kids under 10 can still visit theme parks on child tickets. While there’s not a huge difference for a small family, each kid’s tickets can be $10-20 cheaper depending on how many days you’re staying.

They’re still young enough to feel the magic and wonder, and old enough to remember it

Mother and son watching fireworks at Disney World with tweens

While your tween has a lot more maturity and independence than when they were younger, they aren’t too old to feel the magic and wonder of a trip to Orlando! Whether they’re casting spells in Diagon Alley or marveling at the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle, they’re still kids at heart and will treasure the experience you share.

How do I know? Instead of the usual eye rolling, all I got for four days was a constant barrage of “thank you thank you thank you so much!” And as the parent of any tween will tell you, that kind of pure joy and gratitude is impossible to top.

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Where to stay in Orlando with tweens

There are so many factors that go into deciding where to stay in Orlando! It really depends on how you plan to spend your time. Moreso than just about anywhere else, your Orlando accommodation choice can impact your vacation experience because of the perks that theme park companies throw at their on-site guests. Some families even opt for a “split stay” to maximize theme park benefits, and your tweens may be old enough to handle that complexity. I’ll go into these considerations more below.

Walt Disney World hotels for tweens

Disney World Skyliner connecting Pop Century Resort to Hollywood Studios and EPCOT Center

If you plan to spend at least two days at Walt Disney World or you’re mostly visiting to experience Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios, stay on-property at any Disney hotel. You’ll be able to enter the park an hour early and you can buy a Individual Lightning Lane for Rise of the Resistance at 7am if you don’t get a Virtual Queue spot. If you were staying off-property, you wouldn’t be allowed to buy an Individual Lightning Lane for that ride until the park opens and they might all be sold out by then.

Consider Disney’s Pop Century Resort, with its cool retro vibe and more understated theming than neighboring Art of Animation. Both of those hotels share a SkyLiner station, which gets you Hollywood Studios or EPCOT lickity split. Bus service is available to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom as well.

For tweens who love to swim, you’ll want to look into Disney’s Beach Club Resort or the adjacent Yacht Club Resort. They’re located along Disney’s massive Stormalong Bay pool complex (including sand-bottom pool, epic waterslide, lazy river and replica shipwreck) and offer easy access to Disney Boardwalk for entertainment when you aren’t at the parks. Both of these resorts can have enough bedding in their standard rooms upon request to accommodate 5 people (or 4 people who don’t want to share beds anymore). You can easily walk to EPCOT and hop on the Skyliner from there to Hollywood Studios, and bus service is available to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

Universal Studios hotels for tweens

Pool at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando with tweens

If you plan on at least two days at Universal Studios, consider staying at an on-property hotel. While Disney gives to same theme park perks to guests regardless of how much they spend on lodging, Universal applies tiers. The best perks – Unlimited Express Passes and Early Access – are reserved for folks staying at Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay and Loews Royal Pacific Resort. All three are walking distance to the theme parks, which makes it even easier to take advantage of your Early Access. You might even have the Wizarding World all to yourself!

Future Rock Star suite at Hard Rock Hotel Orlando with tweens

If you’re looking themed hotel rooms at Universal Studios in Orlando, these Premier Hotels are where you’ll find them as well. These suites all sleep up to 5 people in two separate spaces.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort pool at Universal Studios Orlando

If you’re not worried about the Express Passes or themed rooms, Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort is a good option at a reasonable price point. You’ll still get into the parks early, though you’ll have to take the free shuttle bus or walk 20 minutes to the entrance. But the design choices are fun and lively and when you aren’t at the parks you can dive in to the fantastic pool area (complete with waterslide and lazy river) or enjoy on-site bowling! Cabana Bay offers everything from standard rooms up to 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom suites that sleep up to 8 people. Check available room types for your dates.

Off-property Orlando hotels with tweens

Hyatt Grand Cypress Orland hotel - pool area

For visitors planning a diverse Orlando itinerary, it might make sense to stay at a non-theme park hotel for your whole visit. You may get more bang for your buck, be able to use hotel points, or enjoy amenities beyond what theme park hotels offer. Here are three great options to consider:

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress – We stayed at this fantastic resort and would love to return! It offers a wonderful pool area, rock climbing, kayaking, bikes and more… all without additional charges. It’s located just around the corner from Disney Springs, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, though the shuttle service is sporadic enough that you’re better off driving yourself – we snagged a deeply discounted car here. If you book a Club Level room, you can grab a quick breakfast on your way out to the parks. Alternatively, Hyatt Globalists receive vouchers for free sit-down breakfast at LakeHouse (which we paid for and can tell you is very good). If you snag a high floor pool view room, you may also see the Disney fireworks at night!

Signia by Hilton Bonnett Creek – This wonderful hotel is going through a three-year expansion and renovation that is almost complete! Its tween-friendly offerings include SCUBA lessons, dance parties and live music poolside, lawn games, and a huge pool with lazy river and water slide. It’s near Disney’s Pop Century and Art of Animation hotels and the hotel offers a very robust shuttle schedule to all of the Disney World theme parks (especially Magic Kingdom). If you have Hilton Gold status, you’ll get $30 per day of dining credit to use on-site. If you can, opt for a Disney View room.

Orlando World Center Marriott – The latest hotel refresh in Orlando is the World Center Marriott, which now includes the River Falls Water Park in addition to its existing pool area. Speaking of the pool, there’s a nightly laser show projected over top of it! By day, your tweens can play giant chess and corn hole. The Orlando World Center Marriott isn’t far from Disney World, but it is on the other side of I-4 and shuttle service isn’t very frequent so you’ll definitely want to rent a car. Choose a fireworks 2 queen room if you want to catch the shows without being in the park.

JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes – This newly renovated, ultra-luxe hotel will satisfy high-end hotel lovers. There’s a big brand new water park – just take a look at these photos to see how amazing it looks. Because it’s a little removed from the theme park areas, the JW sits on over 500 acres and has plenty of outdoor areas to explore including ecotours, falconry, fishing and more. The JW Studio has video games, foosball, ski ball, air hockey and more. Basically, this is a tween’s paradise! It’s about a 15-20 minute drive to Orlando theme parks.

There are also hundreds (at least) of Orlando vacation rentals that will comfortably hold a family with tweens! Whether you’re sticking to a budget or you just prefer to have the extra space for privacy, check out these convenient options:


7 Best things to do in Orlando with tweens

Now that we’ve established why you should visit Orlando with tweens and where to stay in Orlando with tweens, you may be wondering what to do when you’re down there! Obviously you’ll want to hit up a few theme parks, but there are plenty of awesome things to do in Orlando with tweens if you’re looking for variety in your trip.

Walt Disney World

Family in front of Walt Disney World castle at Magic Kingdom with tweens

Visiting Walt Disney World with tweens is a no brainer, and they’ll love it! Every family has different them park preferences and oceans of ink have been spilled going through the various options. I won’t rehash it all, but here are some ideas for what to do in Walt Disney World with tweens that they’ll enjoy:

  • Magic Kingdom with tweens highlights include classic rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and more
  • EPCOT has Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Reward and Test Track for the thrill seekers, but also the majestic Soarin’ Over the World and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure for those wanting lower-key fun
  • Hollywood Studios is a must-visit for Star Wars fans (I strongly recommend staying on-property if this is your priority)
  • Animal Kingdom doesn’t have as many rides but is wonderful for animal-loving tweens who might be intimidated by the massive crowds and hectic pace of the other parks

When considering how many days to spend at Disney World, it’s important to consider whether or not you want to check out all of the other great things to do in Orlando with tweens or if you want the theme parks to be your sole focus. You’ll also want to think about both your total budget and value: two days of park-hopper tickets is only a little less expensive than three days of single-park tickets. Check out the ticket options here. It’s all about balancing your time with your money!

Family in front of EPCOT with tweens

Our family had four days in Orlando and opted for a single day park-hopper ticket to visit EPCOT for the first half of the day and Magic Kingdom for the second half of the day. It was a great plan and our tween had plenty of stamina for it! We unlocked a ton of value in our Disney experience by staying in the parks from 8:30am until after 11pm.

My #1 tip is to buy Genie+ (except possibly at Animal Kingdom). There’s plenty of strategy on how to use it to derive the most value, but no matter how you slice it you’ll save more time than you can imagine and avoid your impatient tween becoming a moody tween. At $15-25 per person, it’s a total win.

Universal Studios

Boy in Ravenclaw robe walking through Hogsmeade at Universal Islands of Adventure with tweens

Families with a Harry Potter lover (or four) absolutely need to get over to Universal Studios to experience the magic of the Wizarding World come to life! The parks have tons of rides and some cool shows, but if you ask any 5th or 6th grader in my neighborhood there’s really one big draw.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure really is magical for this age group! The experience is so immersive, from favorite locations like Honeyduke’s and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to casting spells around Diagon Alley to touring the winding corridors of the Hogwarts castle.

Family casting spells in Diagon Alley at Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando with tweens

While Universal Studios Florida has more stringent height requirements than Walt Disney World, most tweens can ride most rides if they want. If you think your family will want to experience all of the awesome rides that Universal has to offer, I’d buy a two-day park-to-park ticket. If your family isn’t into rides or you’re staying at one of Universal’s Premier Hotels, a one-day park-to-park ticket will do the trick (as it did for us).

Compared to Disney World, Universal has one advantage and one disadvantage worth noting. The advantage is that the two parks are practically on top of each other. You can walk between them or ride the Hogwarts Express, but it’s just so easy to go back and forth.

Girl waiting for Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios with kids

That leads me to the big disadvantage… if you’re only visiting for one day and want to take in some of the park’s fantastic entertainment, prepare to hop back and forth a few times. While Disney World often has shows for most of the time that the park is open, Universal entertainment options have more limited schedules in general. Some of them start as late as 11am and are done as early as 3:30-4pm – even on days when the parks are open until 8.

So depending on how your day shakes out (which is sometimes out of your control depending on park hours and your own early entry status), you may find yourself jumping back and forth more than anticipated if you want to catch the shows. Speaking of which, the Bourne Stuntacular is one of the best things to do at Universal Studios Florida with tweens even if they haven’t seen the movies!

If you get early entry and/or Express Passes through your hotel, you should be able to cover much of Universal Studios and Islands of adventure in one day with a park-to-park ticket.

Kennedy Space Center

Family standing in front of NASA globe at Kennedy Space Center tour entrance

There are so many things to do in Orlando beyond theme parks, and taking a day trip to Kennedy Space Center tops our family’s list! For more than a half-century, KSC has been launching humans into space – initially on the Apollo missions, later for the duration of the Space Shuttle program and now through the Commercial Crew Program and forthcoming Artemis missions. For space-loving families, the visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral is a must-do in Orlando.

Purple-lit room with spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center with tweens

You might be wondering what there is to do at Kennedy Space Center. The answer is certainly more than you think. It’s a well-done cross between a hands-on science museum, a history center and a space theme park. There are interactive presentations and “rides” that’ll make you feel like you’re part of a mission or launch event. Stand under the massive Saturn V rocket that took the Apollo spacecraft all the way to the moon and feel the excitement of launch from the control room.

Two children wearing sunglasses in front of Mars rover MRVN at Kennedy Space Center with kids

I can’t say enough great things about our experience at Kennedy Space Center and only wish we’d had more time there! We stayed for about 6 hours including a brief lunch at the Apollo/Saturn V Center (accessible only by bus, which is included in all tickets). Our only regret is that we couldn’t stay longer to experience all of the activities! We’ll definitely return next time we’re in Orlando to check out more of KSC and try out some of the add-on activities like the Explore Tour or Astronaut Training Experience (age 10+).

From Orlando to Kennedy Space Center is about a 1 hour drive. You can either rent a car or book this tour that includes transportation. If you plan to drive yourself, I strongly recommend that you book your tickets through Undercover Tourist, as this official ticket will give you a massive discount on the rental car in addition to offering Kennedy Space Center discounts. We saved $200 on our rental car by bundling it with attractions!

Airboat tour & wildlife encounters

Most visitors associate airboat tours with the Everglades, but did you know that you can do an Airboat tour near Orlando too? There are many choices around Kissimmee, about a 30 minute drive on Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho, for short).

An airboat tour is an exhilarating way to get up close with some of Florida’s most famous residents, alligators. You’ll also have a chance to experience the state’s marsh ecosystem and see plenty of native bird species, turtles and more.

One question I had before going on an airboat tour near Disney World was whether or not an airboat tour is environmentally friendly. Based on my own research, it’s a mixed bag. Both the airboat and its massive propellor sit above the water, so fortunately they don’t shred the plants that create this unique environment. On the other hand, airboats are unbelievably loud; be sure to wear the provided ear protection. The noise didn’t seem to bother the alligators, but the lake’s birds didn’t stick around once we got too close.

Boy in sunglasses holding baby alligator after airboat tour near Orlando Florida

We saw an unbelievable number of gators on our airboat tour, ranging from fairly young ones to a massive 15 foot long gator! We also had an opportunity to hold a baby gator once we returned to the dock. I inquired about how they came to have the animal on-site and was informed that many operators have licenses from the state to keep some small alligators on-site for educational purposes. Once they hit a certain size, they’re returned to the appropriate state agency.

Our family opted for a 60 minute airboat tour, but many families visiting Orlando with tweens and younger would be fine with a 30 minute tour. Even with the provided ear protection, it’s loud.

There are several companies to choose from but realistically a lot of your experience will probably depend on your airboat captain. Ours was mostly interested in showing guests a good time and finding gators for us to see, and he did a good job at those. For our family, a captain with more interested in educating visitors about alligator behavior, local ecology and conservation efforts would have been a better fit.

Check out these tour option:

If an airboat tour doesn’t feel like your speed, whether because of environmental concerns or lack of interest, central Florida offers several other excellent wildlife encounters near Orlando. These are definitely on our list for a return visit!

Kayaking at Emerald Cut in Apopko Florida

Emerald Cut is a beautiful natural spring area for kayaking through mangroves, wildlife viewing, swimming and more. It’s about one hour north of Orlando and looks absolutely magical! I look forward to taking this amazing kayak tour, which is an ideal activity for tweens in Orlando even if they haven’t paddled before. Note that the water through much of the run is brownish red in August and September (particularly after heavy rains), which is why we opted to postpone our own excursion in October right after a major hurricane had hit the area.

Manatee swimming in Crystal River Florida

If you’re taking your tweens to Orlando in winter, seeing Florida’s famous manatees in their natural spring habitat is a must! From mid-November through March, you can see manatees at Blue Spring State Park (one hour north of Orlando) or ideally at Crystal River (two hours north west). In Crystal River, your tween will have the opportunity to snorkel with manatees! You can only swim with manatees in Citrus County, so it’s truly one of the most unique things to do in central Florida with tweens.

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ICON Park

The Wheel at ICON Park

If you’re looking for fun things to do near the Orlando airport with tweens on your way into or out of the city, ICON Park is a great pick! It offers a massive observation wheel, an arcade and more. Even our kid who doesn’t do well with heights felt totally comfortable and safe on The Wheel during our 20 minute ride.

You’ll catch great views of Universal’s Volcano Bay and you can also see EPCOT’s dome from afar. I recommend going around sunset or early evening – at night The Wheel has fun lights that add to the experience! They were just coming on during our ride (but sadly our flight called and wouldn’t let us ride The Wheel later).

The best part? Your compartment’s audio system works off of a bluetooth-enabled tablet. You can connect your phone and play your tween’s favorite tunes while they enjoy the views!

If your tween is anything like mine, it’ll be hard to resist the allure of the In The Game arcade at ICON Park. Be warned that it gets very pricey very quickly. The Museum of Illusions has a location at ICON Park as well, which we’ll check out next time we visit.

Resort time

Mother and son lounging in hammock at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando with tweens

My friend, in case you don’t already know: the hotel game in Orlando is strong. Like, unbelievably strong. Unless you’re staying somewhere very that provides just basic accommodations, chances are your Orlando hotel will offer some fantastic amenities. Be sure to build in time to use them! My kids will tell you that our time hanging out at the hotel was one of the best Orlando attractions for tweens.

As an example, we stayed at the lovely Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress near Disney Springs. On-site amenities at no extra cost included the gorgeous pools and water slide, a climbing wall, bike rentals, kayaks and even a (miniature) mini golf course. On both our arrival and departure days, we spent about three hours just enjoying all those features and it was perfect.

If you’re looking for the best resorts in Orlando with tweens but the Hyatt isn’t appealing, check out these additional options:

Pool with water slide at Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Studios Orlando

The great news is that even if you’re staying a budget-friendly Orlando hotel or vacation rental that lacks the fancy amenities, you can still give you family a chill-out resort day! Some of the resorts above – and plenty of other ones – allow day access via ResortPass. Prices start at just $10 per person, but make sure you book far enough in advance as most hotels limit the number of day guests and they often raise prices for close-in reservations. Check out all the options here, including the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress!

Late evenings out

Two children posing in front of Disney Springs sign in Orlando

Last but not least, there are plenty of tween-friendly things to do in Orlando in the evening. On ultra-late theme park days you’ll probably all be ready to go crash at the hotel, but don’t be afraid to stay out a little late on other nights!

Disney Springs

Our tweens absolutely loved spending evenings at Disney Springs, and I agree! Disney has done a great job of making it a wonderful family-friendly entertainment destination. Once nice perk of spending the evening at Disney Springs is that parking is free and many local hotels offer shuttle service (though times may be limited).

Here are a few of our favorite things to do at Disney Springs:

Catch live music – We found performances in at least five different spots! There were a variety of different genres from Latin Dance to Classic Rock to traditional Irish music, and all of the musicians were high quality. Most performances ran about 30 minutes but repeated hourly throughout the evenings. Since these outdoor concerts are totally free with open seating, it’s easy to drop in for a few songs and then wander off when your tween’s had her fill and is ready for something else.

Two children looking at cookies at Gideon's Bakeshop Disney Springs location

Enjoy sweets and treats – If Gideon’s Bakehouse is on your list of places to eat at Disney Springs, go their first to add your name to the virtual queue if necessary. Our return time was more than three hours later but we were rewarded with several pounds of enormous cookies from the spooky-themed shop. Vivoli makes delicious but pricey gelato that you can only get in Florence – though I can attest that the original is better. Take your gelato with you and enjoy it along with some free live music at the nearby stage!

Try out themed dining – Tweens may be too old for traditional Disney character dining, but the themed options at Disney Springs are fun for all ages! We loved the vibe in the ice cave at T-REX (though I can’t say the food was amazing). If your family enjoys Italian food, you can’t beat the stunning ambiance of Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante – the walk-up wait was a reasonable 40 minutes, but we were too hungry and grabbed some very good pizza next door. Adventurous tweens will get a kick out of the Indiana Jones theme of Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, which offers drinks and tapas.

Maria & Enzo's Disney Springs restaurant interior

Pro tip: You can reserve both T-Rex and Maria & Enzo’s via the dining section of the Disney World app, and you’ll want to do so well in advance for T-Rex, and ideally at least a few days in advance for Maria & Enzo’s. That said, other guests can cancel their dining reservations without penalty at least 24 hours in advance so we got lucky with a table at T-Rex about 27 hours beforehand. It was for a very late slot, but when we arrived a few hours early in the middle of the dinner rush the staff said it was fine to check in.

Hulk sculpture at LEGO store in Disney Springs, Orlando with tweens

Check out the LEGO creations – Whether your kiddo still loves a good building session or mostly uses old creations as decor, they’ll be amazed at the scale and detail! You’ll find everything from Storm Troopers to Maleficent (in epic dragon form) to Mickey himself. Since it’s Disney, there’s often a line to enter the LEGO store itself. It’s up to you and your schedule whether or not to indulge, but inside it’s mostly just a giant LEGO store with a few Disney-specific builds and a handful of uncommon Disney-themed sets.

Shop the World of Disney – I don’t normally include shopping as an activity, but this is a noteworthy exception. There are two reasons why I rate the Disney Springs World of Disney as the best place to buy Disney World souvenirs (apart from the unofficial $5.99 t-shirt shops you’ll see by the road). First, you’ll avoid wasting valuable in-park time roaming through the shops looking for the perfect souvenir. Now… this may be more theoretical than actual, since it’s hard to resist the Emporium! But hopefully doing some pre-shopping at World of Disney will streamline things.

Second, this is the largest Disney store in the world so you will find everything. There are holiday-themed section, Star Wars sections, when we visited there was a massive 50th anniversary section… You’ll find it all here. You can even get your free celebration pins for birthdays and first visits.

Pro tip: Be sure to try out the app-based self-checkout. It works extremely well and is a huge time saver!

You’ll also find tons of other shopping “opportunities” at Disney Springs, and many stores carry cross-branded Disney merchandise.

Universal CityWalk

People walking at night at Universal CityWalk with kids in Orlando

Universal CityWalk definitely has a more grown-up feel, which might appeal to some older tweens in Orlando. Note that CityWalk shares its parking with the theme parks, so if you arrive before 6pm you’ll have to pay a hefty $27. If you’re stopping by when the parks are open for Halloween Horror Nights, there’s no free parking in the evening either.

Because of the hefty parking charge and the smaller roster of offerings than Disney Springs, I think CityWalk is a great choice for dinner after a full day at Universal’s them parks. Considering Universal’s (generally) earlier closing times and the fact that you have to walk through CityWalk unless you’re staying on-site, it’s a slam dunk. So while Disney Springs may be a better choice for a stand-alone evening activity in Orlando with tweens, Universal CityWalk is much easier to explore on a park day.

For the true night owls, it’s good to know that Universal CityWalk is open until 2am (though many stores and restaurants close at midnight or 1am). In contrast, Disney Springs wraps its evenings at 11 or 11:30pm many days.

There are plenty of excellent dining options, including themed dining at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen – check out their cool welcome video. In addition to the chocolate-heavy desserts, there is a full menu of dinner options. The restaurant has its own backstory and character interactions as you dine. We didn’t have a chance to dine there, but there are plenty of visual treats to keep tweens fascinated (in addition to the culinary treats).

If you have a budding musician, consider treating them to dinner at the Hard Rock Café after your day at the parks. There’s tons of memorabilia from famous musicians, which you’d expect since this is the largest Hard Rock in the world! You can also expect to enjoy great music and a cool vibe while you dine.

One fun tween-friendly activity at the Orlando CityWalk is Hollywood Drive-In Golf. It has two different 1950’s themed 18 hole mini golf courses. The cool neon lighting allows you to play all the way until midnight! It’s not cheap, but show your AAA card for a 10% discount.

There’s also a massive Universal Studios Store at CityWalk, so there’s one last opportunity to pick up any souvenirs you forgot to buy in the park – in our case, an adorable pair of baby nifflers! There’s a nice array of themed merch including Marvel and Minions, though you won’t find quite the same product mix as in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

ICON Park

The Wheel at ICON Park at night

As I mentioned above, ICON Park can make a great evening activity for families in Orlando. The Wheel has great lighting at night, whether your up in the air or look at it from down below.

There are also tons of great restaurants at ICON Park to choose from. If your tween loves live music, check out the schedule at Tin Roof Bar. Kids are allowed before 9pm, so their periodic 5-6pm shows are a great opportunity to enjoy some tunes with your dinner.

If you’d rather have a low-key dinner at ICON Park, there’s an outpost of family favorite Shake Shack. If you’ve never had it, it’s worth stopping by for a burger and shake – and don’t forget their delicious chick’n bites!


Whew, I know that was a lot! But I hope this article has gotten you excited about exploring all of the fun things to do in Orlando with tweens. One thing’s for certain: we’ll be heading back soon to do even more!

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Thank you to our partners at Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex and ICON Park for hosting us. All opinions are our own.

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