Making the Most of Disney Theme Parks as an Adult
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. WHEN YOU CLICK ON THESE LINKS WE RECEIVE COMPENSATION, AT NO EXPENSE TO YOU, THAT HELPS THIS BLOG RUN. ALL OPINIONS ARE OUR OWN.
It might surprise families, but Disney theme parks are actually quite popular for adults without kids. Disney World has repeatedly been ranked as the #1 domestic Honeymoon in the United States. Realizing this growing demographic, Disney has been doing more in the recent years to cater to childless adults. You can enjoy the parks in a lot of the same ways you did as a kid, but there are also many more new experiences now that you have disposable income, no curfew, and an ability to drink. We have been to Disney parks twice in the last year: to Disneyland for a 2nd smaller Honeymoon and to Disney World for my birthday. Here is our guide to making the most of Disney Theme Parks as an adult.
Our number one tip for going to Disney is to maximize fastpasses. While we love the atmosphere of Disney Parks, the reason we go – and why most people go – is the rides. Going without kids means no more worrying about height limits, where to park the stroller, or who is afraid of what ride. You can do all the rides you want and as many times as you want. Want to ride Space Mountain 5 times in a row, do it! The best way to get on as many rides as possible without much wait, is to use fastpasses to their fullest.
If you are unfamiliar with fastpasses, they are virtual queuing system. You can reserve a time to go an attraction, and instead of waiting in line, you can get onto the ride (almost) immediately. Much like making a reservation at a restaurant. This is a free system (unlike at other amusement parks). Since the two American Disney parks have different fastpass systems, I will explain how to maximize fastpasses at each park separately.
While Disneyland still relies on a paper fastpass system, they recently added a digital Max Pass program. Unforunately, you have to pay extra for Max Pass, but is completely worth it. It costs $10 per day per person and allows you to make fastpass reservations on your phone, rather than by picking them at kiosks located in front of the rides. You are allowed to have one fastpass at a time, but as soon as you use it you are allowed to make another one. Meaning, that as soon as you scan the fastpass and are waiting in the fastpass line to get on the ride, you can get your next. Often times, you can score a fastpass for 10 minutes later.
While using Max Pass, we were able to just hop from ride to ride with minimal waiting or extra walking to pick up a paper ticket. Since it is digital, you can cancel a fastpass and pick up another one at an earlier time if it becomes available. These are fastpasses that the paper system does not have access to.
Max Pass also comes with PhotoPass (which used to cost $39 a day), already making the price of Max Pass worth it. With PhotoPass you get access to any pictures the photographers walking around the parks take of you and the photos from rides. That is how we got all of the pictures of us in this article.
Disney World no longer has a paper fastpass system, it is all digital and connected to your entry ticket. You can either schedule fastpasses on your phone or at the kiosks scattered throughout the park. You are allowed to select 3 fastpasses in advance for each day and once you use those up, you can get more. After that first 3, you are only allowed to have one at at time, but you can get a new one once you use or cancel the previous.
If you plan your trip early enough in advance, you can choose your fastpasses either 30 days prior (or 60 days if you are staying at Disney resort). To get the most popular attractions (i.e. Flight of Passage), you need to get the fastpasses as early as possible. We booked our trip just a week in advance, so most of the good fastpasses were gone.
If you could not get the fastpasses you want, check again once you get to the park. In the mobile app, you are able to reschedule fastpasses. Peoples plans change and likely someone will cancel a fastpass for the time that you wanted. If you continuously reload the app, you will eventually get a better time or find one available for better attraction. It took a few hundred reloads of the app, but we managed to get a fastpass for Na'vi river journey (avoiding the 3 hour wait to get on that ride).
Use single rider lines
Can't get a fastpass to a ride you really want to go on, split up your group and go through the single rider line. Depending on the attraction, you might still have a bit of a wait, but you will get onto the ride faster than if you got in the regular queue. You might even get lucky and get seated right next to the person you are with anyways. Not all of the attractions have single rider lines, but those that do are usually the most busy/popular rides.
We were able to ride Expedition Everest 5 times in a row (essentially until we got sick of it) within 45 minutes, when the regular line would have taken 75 minutes just to ride it once.
Take on some challenges
Since you have complete control over your trip and do not have to worry about logistics of children and their changing moods, you can spice up your trip a bit and challenge yourself. While you do not get a medal for any of these, it can be an incredibly fun experience. You will likely learn more about the parks in the process. If you go to Disney regularly, this is a great way to differentiate your trips.
Drink (or eat) around the World
At Disney World's Epcot World Showcase, there is a popular challenge of drinking an alcoholic beverage at each of the 11 country pavilions. This includes a Mexican margarita, Norweigan vodka, Chinese cocktail, German beer, Italian wine, American craft beer, Japanese sake, Moroccan cocktail, French Ice cream martini, British Black-and-Tan, and finishing with a Canadian beer. Yes, quite a lot of alcohol... you might want a partner so you can share the drink and the cost.
If you don't drink, you can instead eat a snack/dessert at every country – or if you want to make the drink around the world challenge harder, eat AND drink at each of the 11 countries. Some of our favorite snacks were nachos from Mexico, ice cream macarons from France, baklava from Morocco, a pretzel from Germany, and gelato from Italy.
This challenge is a great way to explore the World Showcase at a more leisurely pace and make memories with friends.
Finding the Hidden Mickeys
Scattered throughout the parks, you can find hundreds of the iconic Mickey head shape hidden in plain sight. There is island shaped like Mickey along the Kilimanjaro Safari, a Mickey made out of items in queues, paintings with subtle Mickey patterns, and round windows forming a Mickey shape. Compete against your friends or yourself to try to find as many Hidden Mickeys. Hidden Mickeys are a feature of all of the Disney parks worldwide.
All parks (or rides) in one day
Try to hit all four parks in Walt Disney World in one day, or ride all of the rides in Disneyland. There are quite a few videos on youtube of people attempting WDW47, trying to ride all 47 rides in Disney World. The exact number of rides has changed throughout the years, so when you go, the challenge might be WDW46 or WDW48+. If you do attempt this, you are guaranteed to learn a lot about the parks – the fastest route between rides, busiest times of the day, and discover rides you never knew existed.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible" - Walt Disney
Photo scavenger hunts
If you are visiting Disney with a larger group, or even just your partner, compete in a photo scavenger hunt. Some popular scavenger hunts include taking pictures with the most characters, a hat from each Epcot country (you don't have to buy them), or all the different costumed Mickeys. Divide into groups, give yourselves a time limit, and then meet back to figure out who won.
Make up your own Challenge
None of these interest you, or you want to do your own spin on a challenge – no one is stopping you. Unless your challenge is to sneak into cast member only areas, then yeah, someone will stop you.
Love chocolate? Try to find and eat as much chocolate as you can in the park. Your favorite animal is a Zebra? Did you know that Disney World has all 3 species of Zebra scattered throughout Animal Kingdom, try to find and take a picture with them all.
There are several rides that assign you a score – Toy Story Midway Mania, Buzz Lightyear, Test Track – visit all of these and aggregate the scores. Compete against your friends or partner to see who is the best.
Don't think you can do all the rides in the park – divide the rides into categories and do all within your chosen category. You can attempt to ride all of the dark rides to stay inside on a rainy or especially hot day. Or you can try to ride all water-based rides, including ones that get you wet or just involve water. All princess-based rides. All mountain-based or railroad-based rides. All atrractions that were original when the parks first opened. All of the shows.
There are so many ways to customize a challenge to your own interest. Maybe even try timing yourself and seeing if you can beat your time your next visit.
Stay as late as you want
Whooo! No bedtime. You can completely control when you go to the parks and how long you stay. If you are used to waking up at 6 am every morning and would not mind to continue to do so on vacation, use that to your advantage and get to the parks when they open.
Or you can close out the park and stay long past most families who have tired and cranky kids. Most families will stay till the fireworks show (if that) and head back to their hotel. This means that the crowds and lines will significantly die down. Use this time to get in the last few rides you missed or to just enjoy the more relaxed mood of the parks in the dark.
go on a Behind-the-scenes Tour
Okay, now we know that Disney is not actually some magical land filled with real princesses and all of our favorite characters, might as well dispel some of the other magic on how they operate the parks. Going on a behind the scenes tour and uncovering the magic, will likely provide you with a greater appreciation for all that Disney does. Walking around the parks you often do not realize all of the work that cast members do everyday.
Disney offers a few behind the scenes or VIP tours of the parks or certain areas. We went on the Wild Africa Trek, which takes you to some special places at Animal Kingdom. You get to see the Hippos be fed, walk on a rope bridge above crocodiles, go on a private safari, and have lunch on the Savannah.
Check out our post on Disney's Animal Kingdom's Wild Africa Trek Experience
Stay off property ... or on property
Let's face it, some of the magic of gone from when you were a kid. You do not need to stay on property to get the experience of Disney when you enter the parks. You can choose to be a bit more practical to save money. Disney resorts are expensive! Since you are now footing the bill and maybe cannot afford $500 a night, go with one of the many great hotels in the surrounding area. Many are a short uber ride away (to save money on parking) and you can be in the parks before you know it. You still have free reign of Disney's transportation system to take you between parks or resorts during the day.
Or, if your parents were frugal like mine, and you never got to stay on property – use this as your chance to do just that. Despite the higher price tag, there are several advantages to staying on property. Now that you are using your own money, make it your dream Disney trip. You can be surrounded by Disney theming your entire trip. A complete escape from the stresses of the real world. You know you can expect the best customer service from Disney.
Try out some new food
Long gone are the days when you survived off of hot dogs and mac and cheese, or if you had super frugal parents – a brown-bagged PB&J sandwich. There is no one there saying you cannot eat 3 different sweet snacks and call it lunch. You can eat what you want and when you want to eat it.
Believe it or not, Disney has a lot more than quick-service chicken fingers. Disney is home to several world-class restaurants and many must-try meals. Check out Disney Food Blog for great recommendations.
My favorite meals, which I think about weekly, are the naan bread service at Sanaa in the Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Monte Cristo sandwich at the Blue Bayou in Disneyland.
Go during an off-peak time
Unless you are a teacher, the best part of being a childless adult going to disney is you can go during the least busy times. The parks fill up around school breaks and are relatively empty the rest of the year. With the surge of annual passholders, don't expect a completely empty park. There will be, however, shorter lines and a less hectic atmosphere. Extra bonus is accomodations and flights are likely to be cheaper!
The best times being end of August through end of September, or mid-January to mid-February.
To figure out how busy the park is likely to be, we use Undercover Tourist's Crowd Calendars.
feel like a kid
"That's the real trouble with the world. Too many people grow up" - Walt Disney
You are at Disney World, you can act like a kid! Relive your childhood nostalgia. No need to worry about anyone judging you, since everyone around you is doing the same.
So much about Disney is immersion and a bit of imagination, so let your brain just be immersed and have fun.
Have you ever been to Disney? What are your favorite things to do in the parks?