“Disney World – Why would you go there without kids?”
This question is asked by many a person who thinks a Disney vacation is something you only do with a young family. For diehard Disney Parks fans, the idea of visiting the parks and resorts without kids is a celebrated option. For diehards with children, it is a dream that may someday be realized only when the kids are grown and out of the house!
Sure, there are plenty of “family” rides and theme park snacks in the Disney parks, but there are a great many attractions, entertainment, restaurants, and resorts that not only appeal to adults, but specifically cater to a slightly older crowd. In this multi-part series, we’ll hop through the Walt Disney World parks and resorts, plotting out a course for the mature Disney guest.
Let’s just settle something up front, before we really begin. When you take the kids out of the equation, you are left with two general types of vacationers – the early riser who likes to get a jump on the day, and the sleep-in type, who prefers to catch a few extra winks before moseying out of bed. I happen to fall into the first category. I have trouble sleeping late on vacation, especially when at Disney, knowing there is so much to see and do. But my suggestions here in this series will cater to both vacation types as best as possible.
Also please note – several of the experiences I discuss here may be temporarily unavailable due to COVID restrictions, or park improvements and refurbishments. But as the world, and the theme parks, return to a satisfying sense of normalcy, more and more of these experiences will return. I recommend the services of a Disney travel planner to help you navigate the vacation planning waters. Check out Far Beyond Infinity Travel, and be sure to contact them at [email protected] for a free no-obligation quote request. I’ll link to them again at the end of this article.
First up: Magic Kingdom
Unless you are a WDW local and visit the parks regularly, then a trip to Magic Kingdom will be one filled with must-dos and must-eats. For this reason, I strongly suggest arriving at the gate by rope drop. Don’t worry, the whole day won’t be a rat race – I have built in some down time along the way to recharge your battery (and your phone).
If you’re a coffee person (and you didn’t fill your resort mug on your way to the Monorail), stop into Starbucks on Main Street on your way in. But don’t spend too much time there – hustle through and turn left for Adventureland. Don’t worry, we’ll revisit Main Street later. We’re gonna fill the morning with a few key attractions, before the lines grow.
My preference is to start my day in Adventureland and Frontierland, then work my way around Liberty Square and Fantasyland to end in Tomorrowland at night. But you can easily reverse this order, or come up with your own scheme. Just try not to retrace too many steps, or you’ll use too much time (and energy).
Pirates of the Caribbean
First up to the plank – pull up anchor in yer dingy for the shadiest sail to hit the seven seas. This ain’t no Small World cruise.
Sure, Pirates is one of the classic attractions to come out of a previous generation, but Walt’s Imagineers put plenty of adult humor into this otherwise family friendly ride. The dimly lit town scenes put a romantic focus on the hijinks of the old pirating days. Yo ho ho!
This attraction is hit or miss with kids, but is usually popular with adults. The Jungle Cruise skippers serve up a good portion of wonderfully terrible jokes, full of “punny” humor. Adults usually enjoy this attraction more than kids. If you are a connoisseur of deep Disney storytelling and hidden Easter Eggs, then read up on the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (SEA) to unearth a wealth of adventurous history.
And if the SEA is your jam, you should plan for lunch at the Skipper Canteen just across the eway, where the SEA story continues on. But don’t eat lunch yet, there are a few more attractions to do before the crowds swell.
A mid morning Dole Whip float will charge your battery and carry you through to lunch. Alternatively, you may find a churro stand in Frontierland before you hit “the mountains.”
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
If you love a good rollercoaster (and being stuck on a runaway train) then you’ll enjoy your trip on the “wildest ride in the wilderness!”
There are no inversions or blastoffs, but this classic coaster has lots of dips and turns that give the joy of a thrill ride, without the fear of heart stopping loops and heights. And if you are into the SEA, you’ll find a connection here as well.
Do you like getting wet? This is the only attraction in Magic Kingdom that will truly cool you off. The story of Br’er Rabbit is a charming one, and the planned reimagining to The Princess and the Frog promises to be equally magical. The flume drop photo-op is second to none in the park.
Think ahead if you plan to dip your toe in this attraction, and bring a poncho or a strategic change of clothes. No one likes to chafe the afternoon away in wet shorts!
If you are still with me, then join me on the Haunted Mansion – the last attraction we’ll do before lunch. This attraction is so dark, and the “Doom Buggies” are such private vehicles, that it’s a natural place to be cozy with your partner. It’s easy to forget the Disney Cast members are always watching guests while on the ride.
Just don’t become a permanent resident – they are always looking for one more.
Ok, finally time to eat. If your timing is right, you’ll be a bit on the early side for lunch, which is perfect to beat the crowds. Adults will especially enjoy one of two choices here.
I mentioned this place above. The eclectic atmosphere of this jungle-bound outpost offers a varied selection of foods to fit a more adventurous palette. And if you like to geek out on the SEA, you’ll find plenty of clues and correlations to take note of.
I find that my kids don’t have the patience to follow me on my deep dives, so this jungle oasis may be better enjoyed without the little ones. Plus, they serve a great selection of adult beverages.
Columbia Harbour House
If you prefer your lunch to be a bit more brisk, but still want to get off your feet for a bit, Columbia Harbour House has you covered. This slightly nautical New England themed eatery serves up more than chicken fingers. Seafood is the specialty here.
Try the salmon, it’s delicious. Don’t believe me? Ask the fishes!
An Afternoon Stroll
Ok, you’ve been hoofing it around the Kingdom all morning, now you’re recharged from lunch. Let’s take it down a notch and do a couple leisurely activities while we work off our mid-day meal. I know a couple spots – hidden in plain site – where you can take a relatively quiet stroll, away from the major bustle of afternoon crowds.
Tom Sawyer Island
Just across the Rivers of America from Columbia Harbour House, you can hop a log raft for a quick visit to Tom Sawyer Island. This out of the way nature-filled gem is both blessed and cursed with limited accessibility. Many guests are only mildly interested in exploring the trails and caves, and the idea of waiting for a boat to access the island is just enough to discourage many guests from visiting. This is the perfect scenario for a couple who just want to walk and explore while they digest.
Tom Sawyer Island is extremely Instagram-friendly, so get out your iPhones!
Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse
Speaking of Instagram, the views from the top of the oft-overlooked Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse are true hidden gems. You can frame a view of the castle or one of several other nearby attractions through the lush looking foliage of the tree itself.
Like Tom Sawyer Island, guests can explore this rarely crowded attraction at their own pace. No need to rush!
Walt Disney World Railroad
Backtrack just a little from the treehouse, in between Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain, you can grab a snack and hop a ride on the Walt Disney World Railroad. The iconic WDW train will make stops in Fantasyland and Main Street USA, before returning back to Frontierland. Use this train as a relaxing way to make your way back to Main Street. If you like, stay on past Main Street and do an extra loop around the park. You can stay on the train as long as you wish!
Note here: the WDW Railroad is temporarily closed while construction continues on the Tron Lightcycle Run rollercoaster in Tomorrowland. As of the posting of this article, a reopening date for the railroad has not been announced, but rumors suggest it could reopen before the end of 2021.
Back to Main Street
I promised you we would return to Main Street, and now is the time. Fresh off the train, grab yourself a drink and a hot popcorn and wander through the heart of yesteryear in this charming time capsule of a simpler time in America. Photo opportunities abound, as you are hugged on both sides of the street by turn of the century shops and eateries, and kissed on either end by Cinderella Castle and the Main Street Train Station. I love to take my time and really enjoy this setting, but unfortunately my kids prefer to rush me through.
The Dapper Dans
This iconic barbershop quartet makes their way around Main Street at select times in the day. So many guests wander right by the Dapper Dans on their way to the next big ride, but for me, these guys are appointment viewing. A simple 20 minutes is all the time it will take for these guys to put a huge smile on your face. Each one brings something different to the group. Individually, they are great, but together they are truly exceptional. Grab a times guide on your way into the park so you can plan to be on Main Street to enjoy the Dapper Dans.
Also, they are happy to take photos with guests after they perform. Instagram score!
At this point in your day, you may have worked up an appetite, and your legs may be wanting a break. As adults at Magic Kingdom without kids, you have a choice to make here. You can have dinner in the park, then continue on your way into Tomorrowland, or you can leave the park for dinner at one of the Monorail loop resorts, and perhaps return later in the evening.
Evening Scenario 1: Dinner in the Park
Sometimes the idea of leaving the park, going to a resort, then fighting your way back after dinner just feels like too much work. If that’s the case, then stay in the park, walk over to Fantasyland, and have a romantic dinner at Be Our Guest. This amazingly themed dining experience will put you right inside Beast’s castle, where you can explore several iconic scene locations from the film. My favorite room is the West Wing. It’s just dark and spooky enough to make dinner a true event.
When you finish dinner, you’ll still have a few hours in the park to take in a couple select Tomorrowland attractions and enjoy the fireworks at dark. But before you go too far, see if Gaston is still hanging around the tavern nearby. This larger than life vanity case is a favorite among fans. Ladies like to pose with him, and guys like to out-muscle him. Either way, he’s always one of the most entertaining characters you’ll meet in the park. Gaston’s hours change and he’s not always out at night, so check your times guide when you arrive at the park. You might do better to meet him before dinner.
At this point, Tomorrowland is the only land you haven’t yet set foot in. This was by design. Tomorrowland is neat during the day, but this fantasy spaceport really shines at night. Let’s take in a couple attractions as we round out the day.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
This gentle glide around Tomorrowland is one of the most underscored experiences Magic Kingdom offers, yet it has accumulated an amazing cult following. It’s hard to put into words, the amount of relaxation that can cram into a 10-minute ride. Keep your camera handy, as you’ll be treated to stunning views of Tomorrowland, a concept model for Epcot, and of course Cinderella Castle.
But don’t try bringing a drink on board – you will be asked to discard it. We found this out all too painfully when we had to dump our smoothies we had barely touched. And it was so hot that day!
Space – the final frontier. How appropriate that last attraction on this marathon day should be this race through space. The lack of lighting within the attraction keeps the thrills high and the little children low. Go ahead, scream like a kid! No one can hear you (or see you for that matter).
If the line for Space Mountain looks long, try using the single rider line. It usually cuts down on the wait time by more than half.
Many nights at Magic Kingdom, there are two fireworks displays. The earlier show is always more crowded than the later show. If you want to end your day watching the magic in the sky, I suggest waiting until the later show. Most families settle in for the earlier show and then hit the exit, so the earlier show will be more crowded. Use this time exploring Tomorrowland instead, or make a trip over to another attraction you may wish to ride with shorter lines during the fireworks.
When you catch the later show, try to watch somewhere other than Main Street, so you won’t get caught up in the mad dash for the exit once the final rocket pops. In fact, if you linger just a bit, you’ll find the park will clear out quite quickly. You’ll have the chance to take some photos in a relatively empty park. Another Instagram score!
Evening Scenario 2: Late Dinner Out
If your feet aren’t screaming too loudly, and you can squeeze a couple more hours in the park before dinner, then this option is definitely worth considering. Grab a snack to tide you over, and enjoy the Tomorrowland attractions mentioned above. Do some shopping on Main Street on your way out, then head over to the Contemporary Resort for dinner at the California Grill. The trick here is to get an advance dining reservation for a dinnertime that corresponds with one of the Magic Kingdom fireworks displays. If you time it right, you can watch the fireworks while you eat. You’ll enjoy a prime view of the show while having a relaxing (and romantic) meal while letting your body recharge. Plus, you won’t be rubbing elbows with several hundred of your closest neighbors.
Planning for this dining experience, and many Walt Disney World resort experiences, is much more easily achieved with the help of an authorized Disney vacation planner. I highly recommend using Far Beyond Infinity Travel for your travel planning. They will help you fill your vacation tank with magic, from the resorts, to the parks, to the restaurants, even to the airport – all at no charge to you. Check out Far Beyond Infinity Travel, and be sure to contact them at [email protected] for a free no-obligation quote request.
Wow, who knew wandering Magic Kingdom WITHOUT kids could be so inspiring (and tiring). Head back to your resort and get a good night’s sleep. We’re going to Epcot next!
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