Disney World is billed as “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” and that’s easy to believe when you see the looks of wonder and joy on children’s faces when they meet their favorite Disney characters in person or watch the fireworks and lasers light up the sky.
But how do you have a magical time for yourself when you aren’t visiting Disney World with kids?
Here are my top 11 ways to enjoy Disney World as an adult:
1. Check out a behind-the-scenes tour to see how the magic is made. Over the course of each year, Disney World offers more than 60 different ways for you to see how they make dreams come true. These include everything from scuba diving the Epcot Seas to a starlight safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. There’s also a seven-hour Backstage Magic Tour that includes a visit to the underground passageways beneath the Magic Kingdom.
During this year’s International Flower and Garden Festival, we went on the Behind the Seeds Tour and the Gardens of the World Tour, where we got a peek at Epcot’s greenhouses and met horticulturists working their magic on the dozens of topiaries and fanciful gardens scattered throughout the park. We learned about using color and texture to create different garden moods, as well as tricks for creating internationally-themed gardens with lookalike plant substitutions that work in different growing climates.
2. Enjoy an adult beverage. When you don’t have a sippy cup in your hand, you can have something more delightful to drink. If you’re in search of alcohol, Epcot will likely be your favorite kingdom. Eleven countries of cocktails, friends! From mezcal in Mexico to Gewürztraminer in Germany, the choices abound. You can drink your way around the world. For serious kid-free fun at Disney, book your visit during the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival during the fall.
In the Magic Kingdom, only four restaurants serve alcohol: Tony’s Town Square (Italian beer and wine), Liberty Tree Tavern (American beer, wine, and hard cider), Skipper Canteen (beer, wine, and a limited selection of cocktails), and Cinderella’s Royal Table (Champagne and sparkling wine).
When you’re visiting Animal Kingdom, head to Yak & Yeti or Rainforest Café. You can also get Mike’s favorite Kenyan beer, Tusker, at Animal Kingdom’s Tusker House along with other beer and cocktail choices.
The best fancy drinks at Hollywood Studios can be found at the Hollywood Brown Derby, and beer, wine, and the occasional frozen cocktail can be found at several places throughout the park.
3. Ask cast members for their insider tips. As we were heading to an Epcot dinner reservation one evening, we happened to ask a Disney cast member whether we should take the monorail or a taxi in order to make it on time. He recommended that we cab it to Disney’s Beach Club Resort, then walk through the hotel lobby to the Boardwalk. From there, we could take a short walk to the back entrance of Epcot, which placed us on the bridge between the France and England pavilions. We made it door-to-door from the Polynesian Resort to Epcot’s Canada Pavilion in less than 20 minutes!
Cast members are happy to share their insider knowledge. All you have to do is ask.
4. Upgrade to concierge level at Disney resorts. If your budget allows for an upgrade, consider booking a concierge-level room at one of Disney World’s resort hotels. This visit, we opted for the King Kamehameha Club at the Polynesian Resort. In addition to a waterside lagoon view room, we enjoyed complimentary refreshments from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Each morning started with a light breakfast featuring fresh fruit, pastries, juices, and coffee, followed by afternoon snacks that were plentiful enough to count as lunch. Appetizers, wine, cheese, and their signature aloha punch (delicious and potent!) are available daily from 5 to 7 p.m., and desserts and cordials are served during the evening Electrical Water Pageant and the Happily Ever After Fireworks Show over Cinderella’s castle, both of which can be viewed from the air-conditioned comfort of the King Kamehameha Club lounge.
Concierge-level guests at all Disney resorts receive additional treats, including expedited check-in services, special assistance with dinner and tour reservations, and nightly turndown service complete with a Ghirardelli chocolate on your pillow.
5. Take in the natural beauty. As much as I enjoy the international culture of Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom may be my favorite park these days. Avatar and dinosaurs are great, but I love the Kilimanjaro Safari. The 110-acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve features the “Big 5” you’d see in Africa — lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos, and African buffalo — along with charming giraffes, flamingos, warthogs, and wildebeests. And without the scary big game hunters.
6. Revisit your childhood favorites. There’s something to be said for reliving the Disney joys of childhood whether you have kids with you or not. During our last visit, we spent a few hours at the Magic Kingdom riding It’s a Small World, visiting the Enchanted Tiki Room, and looking for Johnny Depp at Pirates of the Caribbean (don’t laugh — it wouldn’t be the first time he showed up in person!). Fast Passes meant we didn’t have to wait in line and were able to blow in and out of the Magic Kingdom before our feet were flattened by strollers.
7. Save money on the basics. If you’re upgrading to a concierge-level room at a Disney resort or splurging for a behind-the-scenes tour, then you’ll want to save money wherever you can. This includes bringing your own snacks and a refillable water bottle with you during your park visits along with sunscreen, a poncho for unexpected rain showers, and other essentials that are much more expensive in Disney gift shops.
8. Explore the art and culture of Disney. In addition to the new Epcot International Festival of the Arts, there’s a fair amount of art and culture to be experienced at Disney World every day.
There was a wonderful Día de Los Muertos exhibit at the Mexico Pavilion during our last visit as well as the stunning “Art of Personal Adornment” display at the Morocco Pavilion. The Bijutsu-kan Gallery at the Japan Pavilion highlights the country’s obsession with all things that are cute, and at the Norway Pavilion, the Stave Church Gallery features several historical items that are being exhibited outside of Norway for the first time in history. An American Indian art exhibition is opening at the America Pavilion later this summer.
You can also find several exhibits on the history of Disney’s animation throughout Disney World, including an entire hotel — Disney’s Art and Animation Resort — that will fascinate artists and art lovers of all ages.
9. Use the amenities you never had time for when you visited Disney World with kids. From spas and salons to fitness centers and fluffy robes, Disney World resorts have plenty of treats you’ll have time to enjoy on your own. Even if it’s just a quick pedicure after walking miles around each kingdom, it’s a wonderful way to treat yourself without children tugging at your sleeve.
10. Dine like a princess (or prince). In addition to the chicken nuggets and ice cream, Disney World offers some outstanding grown-up dining options. On this trip, we enjoyed prime beef tartare and filet mignon for dinner at Le Cellier, the award-winning steakhouse in Epcot’s Canada Pavilion.
Other Disney fine dining favorites include the scallop risotto at Cítricos in the Grand Floridian Resort, the shrimp and lobster arancini at Tutto Italia Ristorante in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion, and Monsieur Paul’s escargots en pâte feuilletée at Epcot’s France Pavilion.
11. Don’t forget to act like a kid every now and then. Even if it takes a fruity drink in a monkey coconut.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy Disney World without kids?
I really need to visit Disney. The last time I was there was when I was 5 .
What are your favorite memories from that trip, Musaafir?