Family vacations can be a great time to reconnect with your favorite people. But it can be tricky to make sure that everyone has equal amounts of fun, no matter what their age. Once you've decided on your destination, do a bit of homework about activities, events and must-see places in the area you will be visiting. I was invited by Disney to stay at the Aulani Resort & Spa with my teenage daughter and experience their fun amenities. I came home relaxed and armed with a list of great ideas for teens on a family summer vacation — and not an eye roll in sight.
Whether your teen is a hotshot on the high school water polo team or just loves to cool off on a hot day, water sports are a big hit with the teen crowd. If you are staying in a location near the ocean or a lake, find out what water sports are available ahead of time, so your teen can make plans. At the lagoon in front of the Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, teens staying at the resort can rent stand-up paddleboards and take a shot at one of the hottest new ways to enjoy the ocean. Kayaks, canoes and snorkeling masks are also popular items for teens that get them out in the water for some teen-style fun.
If you've got teens in the house, then you know — part of your family vacation is bound to be documented in selfies. Teens can't go anywhere or do anything without taking pictures and posting to Instagram, SnapChat or Twitter. Take advantage of his affinity for photos by sending your teen out around the resort to scout perfect places for family photo ops. Ask teens to include younger family members in some selfies, and ask for copies to help you remember the trip. Visiting a national landmark? Make sure your teen gets in the picture, too. You'll love these shots back at home, when the teens aren't so carefree anymore — trust me.
Mom knows one of the best vacation secrets is to find some spa time. A facial, a nice relaxing massage or even a pedicure goes a long way in stripping away the stress and letting vacation relaxation take over. But Mom isn't the only family member who can take advantage of spa services. Many resorts are introducing teen-only spas with a special menu of options just for teens. At Painted Sky, the teen spa at Aulani Disney Resort and Spa, guests can create their own body polish blend to take with them, have an organic facial, get a pedicure or enjoy a teen sports massage (when accompanied by an adult).
Just because you're traveling with the family doesn't mean you have to spend all of your time together. An extra-special vacation memory for your teen might be a day trip just for them. Maybe your son loves to fish, or your daughter wants to try surf lessons. Find a day that's low-key and split the family up for a bit. The one-on-one time you gain with your teen — without the rest of the family — will be something you both cherish about your vacation.
One thing teens get tired of really quickly is sitting around in restaurants, waiting. Meals on vacation may be relaxing for Mom, but they are a time killer in your teen's mind. Grab a bite to go and use mealtime as a time enjoy the surroundings, wherever you are. Take the time you would have spent in the restaurant and use it to watch the sunset from the beach, watch a movie in your room or just watch the people walk by. Grab a bite at one of Aulani's poolside spots and take it to go for alfresco dining on the beach — and the perfect sunset-watching spot.
At home, your teen may be addicted to burgers and fries — but on vacation, anything goes. Let your teen's taste buds experiment with new dishes and tasty local favorites by finding out-of-the-way restaurants that don't just cater to the tourists. Ask around about where locals like to eat, and find out a bit about the regional cuisine. Teens will be happy to try something new while on vacation, and will probably Instagram it as well.
Teens like to take a bit of vacation home with them — for bragging rights, most likely. Maybe your daughter collects T-shirts or your son's into key lanyards. Whether you are spending a week at the lake or taking New York City by storm, factor in some time for your teens to hunt down the perfect memento of their vacation.
For the teens in the family, free time may be the one thing that will keep them in a decent mood — and save the rest of the family from sighs and eye rolls. Once you get familiar with your surroundings, look for ways to carve out chunks of free time for your teen. Staying at a resort? Let your teen head down to the pool on his own, or maybe join in organized activities for teens. If your teen is tied to her iPod all day, let her chill out on a lounge chair and listen to her tunes without being asked to watch her little brother. Trust me, treating them like mini adults will go a long way in making them more agreeable to family activities.
This might not seem like a big deal, but to teens it is. Many hotels and resorts offer unlimited drink refills with the purchase of a special sports bottle or cup. Even if you aren't all about the soda at home, consider letting the rules go out the door for vacation. Buy a resort-refillable mug at Disney's Aulani Resort and Spa and hit refill stations all around the resort for a free drink refill and a great way to cool off.
Teens love spending time around a pool. Whether she loves to soak up the sun and work on her tan or get into a pickup game of water volleyball, your teen is bound to have more fun when you stay somewhere with access to a pool. Most resorts don't just have average pools, either. Add in lazy rivers, water slides and waterfalls and your teen may never leave. The Waikolohe Stream at Aulani has a fun water slide and a gentle, lazy river feature with tubes for one or two people, making it the perfect place for the whole family to enjoy as well.
Your family vacation with teens can be an excursion to remember. With the right planning and flexibility, you might even see a side of your teens that you don't see at home — minus the eye rolls.
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