Traveling With Tweens: The “Toughest Age to Please”

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When we were kids in the 1980’s, I don’t think the word ‘tween’ or ‘tweenager’ was yet invented, or even a particularly relevant concept. You were a kid who played outside or with toys, and then eventually you became a teenager who just wanted to hang out with friends, rather than actively play with them. I distinctly remember one day around 7th grade when I went to my best friend’s house, knocked on her backdoor as I had a million other times, and asked the mom if my friend could ‘play’. As the word ‘play’ came out of my mouth, it suddenly sounded so stale, irrelevant, and childish. I guess you could say that is the day I went from being a kid to a teenager, but a tween phase between those two distinct timeframes wasn’t particularly identifiable.

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But times change, and as the mother of an 8.5-year-old in 2018, with nonstop technology, media, and connectedness, I can 100% verify that the tween phase is now a thing. We are just on the cusp of it at my house, and while we can still get away with toys and playing in the traditional sense, that is likely only because of the charming almost-three-year-old who also lives here and enjoys having a playmate.

The tween phase, which is generally thought to be from around 9 to 13 years-old, is unique because these kids aren’t yet old or mature enough to have the relative freedom given to teenagers, but increasingly care what others think, and certainly don’t want to be lumped in with “little kid” activities. On the flip side, they may actually enjoy some traditional kid activities, but only if it is framed as being something unique to their age range. If a kid’s club serves children 3 – 12 years old together…forget about anyone 9 years old and up really wanting to go there.

Tweenager Kryptonite

So, how do you keep these still young, but looking to be ‘cool’ tweens happy on a vacation? Well first, I say mix in volunteer efforts to open their eyes and keep them grounded in reality, but besides that, hotels are starting to serve this tween market. In fact, they are being referred to as the “Hardest Hotel Guests to Please”.

How hotels are keeping tweens happy

The Wall Street Journal hits on this topic today, and shares some great examples of what hotels are doing to keep tweens smiling. For example, the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando has a “Future Rock Star Suite” complete with a stage and you can even borrow a Fender guitar! My ‘Voice’ watching tween would be all over this. It doesn’t hurt that this hotel is also one of the Universal Orlando properties that convey included Express Passes to all registered guests. This will help tremendously when you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is essentially tween-heaven.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

I’ve also heard of some of the larger resorts or cruise ships beginning to offer ‘clubs’ just for tweens. As an example, the Disney Cruise Line has a club called Edge that is just for guests ages 11 to 14. Edge is open from 10AM – 1AM, and features big TVs, computers, video games, daily activities, and more. This way, the older tweens have a place just for them, protected from the too-littles and the too-bigs.

In the Bahamas, Atlantis has a similar Club Rush, which is an evening club for 9 to 13-year-olds where no parents are allowed. They have video games, iPads, widescreen movies, karaoke, and dancing. Personally, I think that Atlantis nailed the correct age-range for tweens, and Disney might need to shift their tween age range down just a bit since 10-year-olds would probably prefer to not be in the same club as 3-year-olds.

The Mohonk Mountain House isn’t a well-known destination in the miles and points world, but if you are looking for an award-winning children’s program, this place is worth a look. This “house” is a Victorian castle resort in the Hudson Valley, about 90 miles north of New York City. For overnight guests, they have complimentary individualized kid programs that divide children into Tykes (ages 2 – 3), Explorers (ages 4 – 6), Adventurers (ages 7 – 12), and Teens (13 – 17) and adjust for interests and abilities.

Mohonk Mountain House

Keys to successfully entertain tweens on vacation

To me, there are two true hallmarks to a successful tween vacation. First, keep the tweens active with activities unique to that destination. This may be snow skiing, jet-skiing, horseback riding, snorkeling, or learning about marine life, but get them outside and busy. They may clutch their iPads tightly as you push them out the door, but peel them a little out of their comfort zone and watch them adjust.

The second hallmark of a successful tween program is getting them around others in their specific age range. This could be as young as 7 or 8 years and will top out around 12 or 13 years. If you group them in with kids before or beyond that tween sweet spot, you will likely end up with a tween that is either bored and disinterested or trying to act older than they need to in order to try and fit in with the teens.

Taking that leap to tweenhood

While we are just entering this tween phase, I think it is also going to also be important as she creeps towards double-digits to have her own downtime and stay somewhat connected to her friends while we travel. For now, that means on “Animal Jam Rare Item Mondays”, I try and let her get on my computer to the Animal Jam site long enough for her to get that item. That whole world of online games means nothing to me, but it is something important to her that she does with her friends.

What are your thoughts about the trend of hotels catering more to the tween demographic, and what first-hand experience do you have for successfully navigating travel with tweens?



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  1. V: I’m in the double digits now, Mom.

    The tweens are here. Thank goodness she still enjoys our adventures.

    ( You nailed the Universal appeal.)

  2. My tweens really miss their friends while we’re on vacation. Bringing a friend along makes or breaks a vacation at this point! Tough to do on a fancy vacation that involves flights, I know.

    • Yes, that would be amazing from a companionship perspective, but would also create tons of new problems for us in the sleeping arrangements department. However, meeting up with cousins and extended family is another potentially top-notch solution.

  3. While mine are full-blown adults now (and devices weren’t as prevalent-think Gameboy!), I can really vouch for giving them some space and alone time. Once they were old enough to be left alone in the room, once or twice a trip, my husband and I would go out for the evening and leave them to have pizza or fast food and watch tv in the room. Everyone was happier! Also, we often went down to breakfast while they slept and then brought up breakfast for the girls.

    And I just spent 5 days in NYC with them, and while we did most activities together, we each had individual activities as well. So the travel bug stuck!

    • Denise, yes and so glad to know that strategy worked for y’all. Some together time and some alone or downtime does seem be important for everyone.

  4. Enjoy the tween phase, the next few years go fast. Don’t worry if they are happy all the time, they are not suppose to be. I never let my children bring a friend on a family vacation..they have their friends all year and the vacations I set up is for spending family time together…whether they like it or not. They always end up enjoying themselves.

    • Susan, I can 100% believe that life accelerates as the years go by. I brought a friend on a vacation once that I remember, when I was about 14. It was the perfect age to have a friend around, but I agree they don’t usually need to bring someone along. I’m all for meeting up with families and friends on our trips, though!

  5. My oldest daughter just turned 9, and we are definitely entering the tween phase. She doesn’t want me to hug or kiss her at school drop off any more but she will still happily play dress-up with her 5-year-old sister at home, in private.

    As far as vacations go, we try to plan a mixture of activities so everyone has something they enjoy, and sometimes we split up so the kids can do different things. But we also emphasize that we’re a family, which means sometimes we have to compromise.

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