Chances are, if you were ever a kid, you spent a good chunk of your birthday wishes and letters to Santa asking for a trip to a Disney park -- most likely Disney World's Magic Kingdom. As we age, it's easy to feel like the magic of Disney wears off; that the "Happiest Place on Earth" is a facade and something only for children to experience and believe in. In fact, in early 2014, graphic artist, former Disney animation storyboarder, and longtime Disney fan Jeff Hong created his satirical art series Unhappily Ever After, where he features classic Disney characters plucked from their fairytale lives and dropped into what could be their reality, if they were real. Then, in 2015, renowned street artist Banksy opened the doors to his pop-up art experience, Dismaland, a bemusement park that showed a twisted, somewhat socially apocalyptic version of a Disney park.
But growing up doesn't have to mean shedding your mouse ears or suspending your belief in the magic of Disney (or that the world is a happy place). There are plenty of ways to enjoy the multiple sides of Disney as an adult. So, whether you've never been or just haven't been since you were a kid, we've got the insider tricks and tips to bring out your inner Mouseketeer. You may be visiting with your own children, or you may be ready to give Disney a second shot, this time as an adult, but we promise there are ways you can enjoy Disney even as a jaded grownup. (Hint: Booze is involved.)
We think you'll find it's not such a small world after all.
Got any more tips to share? Let us know in the comments!
Get Your Food and Drink on at Epcot
One guaranteed way you did not experience Disney as a child was through the booze. You probably didn't even know that Disney sold alcohol because you were too busy running around the park like a madman. With the exception of the Magic Castle (where you can only grab a drink at the "Beauty and the Beast"-themed restaurant, Be Our Guest), it's surprisingly easy to get your drink on in the parks -- especially at Epcot. Epcot is Disney's world showcase where you can check out the culture, clothes, and cuisine from a dozen countries around the world. Each spot also has it's own special alcohol, creating a fun, though unofficial, around-the-world bar crawl that you can track via stamps on your park passport. If you need more of a reason, come during Epcot's epic International Food and Wine Festival (which runs for two months, starting in mid-September), when they really pile on the food, drinks, and entertainment.
Bonus: Since this park lacks the number and level of rides found in the other Disney World parks, there's also fewer kids running around.
Where to Stay: Disney Boardwalk Villas are in walking distance of Epcot.
Hit the High Seas on a Disney Cruise
In addition to a whopping 11 theme parks around the world, Disney also owns its own cruise line. Cruises depart from Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dover, Miami, New York, San Juan, San Diego, Port Canaveral (near Orlando), Galveston, and Vancouver, hitting up the Caribbean, U.S. west coast, Europe, Mexico, and more. The cruises are family-friendly affairs, but they're also a great way to see that Mickey can be as romantic as he can rambunctious. Plus, if you are worried about running into loads of kids, parents tend to drop their kids off at one of the dedicated kids' clubs (hey, parents need vacations, too). There are also plenty of spots on board where there's a strict no-kids policy, like the spa, certain pools, bars, and some restaurants. When you dock, you can make your excursions more adult-friendly by choosing activities that, well, aren't very family-friendly.
All-in-all, Disney cruises are a great way to maintain a high quality of cruising (think: service, food, entertainment) and to reintroduce a little mouse magic into your life.
Spend the Day and Night Exploring Disney Springs (for Free)
Disney Springs, formerly Downtown Disney, is a walkable promenade broken up into four "neighborhoods," each full of boutique shops, restaurants, bars, and different entertainment venues. Shops include the likes of Anthropologie, Art of Shaving, MAC, and Sephora, while entertainment options span from international acts at the House of Blues to an acrobatic Cirque du Soleil performance. While Disney Springs is open to all ages, it is a decidedly adult destination within the Disney World realm.
Where to Stay: With beautiful grounds and a riverfront setting, Disney Port Orleans Resort is a free and scenic, 20-minute boat ride from Disney Springs.
Complete the Monorail Bar Crawl
Another unofficial, though widely worn, trip through the drinking world of Disney is the Monorail Bar Crawl. Disney's monorail system is a fast and easy way to scoot from the park to three on-site hotels: Polynesian Resort, The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, and the Contemporary Resort. It's also a fantastic way to get your drink on, soak up some live music, and watch the sky get lit. Just park at one of the hotels, hop on the monorail, and then hop off again at each stop to grab a drink and bite to eat. Each resort has it's own theme and offers up a signature drink and appetizer. You can stick around for some live New Orleans-style jazz takes on popular Disney songs in the afternoon at the Grand Floridian, or watch the fireworks from Disney's Contemporary Resort in the late evenings. If you are feeling frisky, make an extra stop to the Wilderness Lodge via the boat to visit the Frontier Bar and watch it's version of Old Faithful explode into the air.
The best part: No park ticket required.
Where to Stay: Part Neverland (totem poles and a Peter Pan kids' club) and part Hawaiian resort (nightly luaus and a Volcano Pool), the 853-room Polynesian remains one of Disney's most popular Deluxe-category resorts.
Be a Kid Again at Magic Kingdom
When most people think of a Disney park, Magic Kingdom comes to mind. This is where the fairy tale castle is, where you'll find the iconic Space Mountain, and where you can learn to be a kid again -- with some adult improvements. Unfortunately, outside of Be Our Guest Restaurant, you'll have to go dry for this one. We recommend snagging a fast pass that allows you to skip the lines. These are absolutely free, but there's a limited number. To sign up for one, you'll need to buy a park ticket at least six weeks in advance and apply for your fast pass. While some rides may seem a little childish, there's still fun to be had in the Haunted Mansion, in Space Mountain, or even on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 'coaster. Even the grumpiest of folk can't deny how magical the nightly light show against the Magic Castle can be.
Where to Stay: Stay at the Disney Resort, Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel, or the Hilton in the Walt Disney World Resort to gain access to "extra magic hours" where you have exclusive access to the park one hour before it opens and a whole three hours after it closes.
Ride Into the Moonlight at Animal Kingdom
If you are looking to stay out past most kids' bedtime, you'll want to head over to Animal Kingdom, where you can drink like a fish and pump up your adrenaline until 11 p.m. -- and check out tons of exotic animals. Here you'll also find adults hopping on the seriously scary Everest roller coaster, witnessing the extinction of the dinosaurs on a pitch-black EVM ride, tripping out watching the animals on the tree of life, and taking part in some of the free (and open to all) night activities at the Animal Kingdom Lodge -- night-vision goggles and s'mores, anyone?
Where to Stay: Modeled after an East African safari lodge, with giraffes and gazelles that freely roam the grounds, the 762-room Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the Disney's most unique resorts.
Laze Your Days at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach
Though the beach isn't too far away, you're never too old for a water park. While you may have avoided that boring lazy river as a child, finding a tube to float in with the sun on your face and a drink in your hand can be about as good as it gets as an adult. Plus, just in case the mood strikes (and you haven't had too many boozy beverages), there's always a daring water slide or raft ride to spice things up a bit.