Planning a vacation that appeals to tweens can be a tricky proposition. After all, they are too old for petting zoos, character appearances and pint-sized amusement park rides, but aren’t quite old enough for setting out with friends on a road trip. In fact, it can be quite difficult finding that trip sweet spot: a vacation that gets your tween excited to hit the road with the family. However, all is not lost; in fact, there are many great vacations that will appeal to tweens the world over.
1. Head to a Dude Ranch
Living life as a cowboy may not sound like a great vacation for tweens, but Kirsten Maxwell of Kids Are a Trip says otherwise. “A dude ranch is the perfect place for families to have an unplugged vacation,” she says. “Tweens will love the variety of activities at any dude ranch, from hiking to horseback riding to fishing. There are usually other kids as well, which means they don’t have to spend all their time with parents. That little bit of independence offered by a dude ranch vacation is something all tweens (and parents) will appreciate.”
Related: 10 Best Dude Ranches for Families
2. Spend Time in the Keys
Key West, Florida, generally is known for Ernest Hemingway’s cat-filled home, key lime pie and pirates galore, none of which may sound appealing to tweens. However, this popular island destination also offers many family-friendly activities tweens will like. “I think a 10- or 11-year-old would enjoy all [of Key West’s] activities, especially things like the turtle hospital, aquarium and snorkeling,” says Kath Race of familyTravelsUSA. “I was pleasantly surprised at all the kid-friendly stuff in Key West.”
3. Go to a Water Park Resort
With an indoor water park plus an indoor adventure park overflowing with activities, Great Wolf Lodge most definitely appeals to tweens. “I liked that everyone could do their own thing, and there was so much do and eat onsite that we didn’t have to leave for a couple days,” says Kim Ritter of Two Kids and a Coupon. “My adventurer did the waterslides, my gamer did the quests and, because we didn’t have to drive, mom and dad could even have a cocktail or two.”
4. Head to Clearwater, FL
It’s no secret that most tweens love hanging out at the beach, but parents may be surprised to learn that Clearwater, Florida, is a fun, family-friendly destination that easily rivals many of the Sunshine State’s other popular beach destinations. “Traveling with a tween can be fun, but tricky at the same time, especially when on a budget,” says Karyn Locke of Sand and Snow. “One of my favorite places in Florida is Clearwater Beach for its family-friendly atmosphere and freebies!” Those freebies include a multitude of festivals, a nature preserve and, of course, time on the beach. Bonus: Clearwater Beach was named one of the 10 Best Beaches for Families in 2018.
5. Visit a National Park
Our country’s national parks are easily one of its greatest treasures, some that make for the best vacations for tweens. “I think national parks are ideal for tweens,” says Eileen Gunn of FamiliesGo. “They are old enough to handle longer hikes, kayaking and other more adventurous things. They aren’t going to go running off a cliff like a toddler might so you can give them some freedom. And they are into the ranger talks and walks and can really absorb and learn from them. Aside from places where they are concerned about habitat protection, the parks are pretty laidback about letting kids go where they want to and climb what they want to and my 10-year-old really loves that.”
Related: 10 Best National Parks for Families
6. Go Beyond the Big Cities
Many larger cities offer a lot for tweens on vacation, but don’t overlook the smaller cities located nearby. For instance, just two hours northeast of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Indiana, is full of sites and attractions tweens will enjoy. “My tween and I did a mommy/daughter trip and had so much fun in Fort Wayne,” says Debra Muccio of Finding Debra. “So much to do, I was impressed and, best of all, so was she!” Think sports, culture, animals, science and so much more.
7. Don’t Overlook Disney
While many tweens may no longer be interested in character appearances and princess autographs, that doesn’t mean you should rule out all things Disney. In fact, Jodi Grundig of Family Travel Magazine recommends taking a Disney cruise, which offers a different experience for tweens than what they normally experience at a theme park. Because you are sailing on a cruise ship, tweens can experience a lot of autonomy, which is good for burgeoning teenagers. Plus, Grundig says, “Mine always love the kids’ club.”