The internet has had it out for Disney Adults the last few years.
“Disney adults are the most terrifying people on the planet and they need to be stopped,” The Tab, a UK paper, sneered in 2020.
“Adult Disney fan told to ‘grow up’ for crying after hugging Goofy,” the New York Post headlined a story about a viral TikTok. (Some thought she was crying only because Walt Disney World in Florida had lifted its pandemic ban on character-guest hugs, but the woman explained in her caption that she was emotional because Goofy was her late dad’s favorite character.)
Michael Arnold knows how half the internet feels about millennials who love the House of Mouse, but he pays it little mind. As he sees it, we all choose to spend our disposable income differently ― look at the people shelling out $820 starting price for NBA Finals tickets ― and the way he chooses to spend his is no one else’s business, really.
For him ― and so many other adult-aged Disneygoers, the park is escapism at its best ― and who doesn’t need a little escapism in hellscapeish 2022?
“Disney does a fantastic job of submerging you into the story,” Arnold, who runs the fan blog A Castle A Dream And A Mouse, told HuffPost. “When you’re at the parks, it’s easy to forget there’s a great big world ready to chew you up out there.”
Arnold says that the parks are a salve to his mental health. “I grew up in a pretty toxic environment and then immediately joined the military and deployed to Iraq,” he said. “Walt Disney World is a great way for me to take some time away from the mental realities that are my life and recharge emotionally.”
Arrianne Boyd, Sarah Gilliland and Liz Mangus are regular park-goers who've learned the tricks to making the most of the park. (Photo: Courtesy)
That’s a sentiment understood by quite a few communities: In a HuffPost article on Disney’s recent wishy-washy response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, one queer woman said she loves going to Disneyland because “you can hold hands with your partner” without the fear of being harassed. In a Vox article from April, immigrants and non-white Americans talked about how they savored trips to Walt Disney World growing up because the parks felt synonymous with the American Dream.
Still, that kind of nuanced reading of Disney Adult’s relationship with the park usally gets drowned out by shouts of “Grow up, Peter Pan!”
Carly Terzigni, a theme park, food, and travel writer who lives in Connecticut, gets why Disney Adults get side-eyed ― or at least why people can’t wrap their heads around why grown adults would pay good money to endure hourslong wait times and walkways jam-packed with strollers and crying toddlers.
But having been a Disneyland passholder when she lived in Southern California, Terzigni knows it’s possible to do Disney parks at a leisurely pace.
“In LA, it’s part of the local culture to head into Disneyland for a few hours in the evening, grab a drink, and just walk around,” she said. “For me personally, and this may seem overly simplistic, but Disney is just fun ― and I like to have fun. I’m sorry that it seems to offend people!”
Plus, as many Disney Adults will tell you, Walt Disney designed the parks to be inclusive of all ages.
“To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land,” he said at the opening of the park in 1955. “Here, age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”
The Walt Disney Company even leaned heavily into marketing to childless “Disney Adults” in the 1990s, as a recently unearthed ad from the era posted on TikTok shows.
If you hate Disney, you might not be doing it right, said Carly Caramanna, a 35-year-old travel writer who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California, and has passes for both the California and Florida parks.
“Visiting Disney nearly requires a college level course, but even a little research will make your visit infinitely better,” she said. “For instance, it’s very easy to have a lackluster meal ― a Disney pretzel on the go ― but also just as easy to have something wonderful.”
Caramanna has a point. What if instead of rolling our eyes at Disney Adults, we asked them to explain their love for the parks, and get their best-kept secrets about wait times and drinking at the park? Below, Disney adults tell HuffPost about how to get the most out of the park if you’re going sans-kids.
You don’t need to ride every ride or get there at 8 or 9 a.m.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to get to the parks early, ride every ride, and stay there for 15 hours, said Justin Hermes, a 30-years-old from Illinois who has an annual pass to Walt Disney World and runs the site themickeywiki.com.
“Enjoying the small things like strolling down Main Street, getting a snack in World Showcase, or exploring the trails at Disney’s Animal Kingdom can often be more rewarding than sprinting to the newest big attraction, or waiting in line for two hours.” he said. “The difference in a Disney park really is in the details, and if you take the time to explore, it can really make for a great experience.”
Disney is less fast-paced when kids aren’t with you. There’s more of “a vibe,” Arnold said.
“This is simply because you aren’t stopping at every bathroom, trying to cram in every character meet, or you may not feel super restricted on where you’re dining,” he said. “Let’s be honest ― heading over to the Grand Floridian for a nice dinner after a hot day at Magic Kingdom definitely feels easier to do without strollers.”
Justin Hermes (left) and a friend on the Haunted Mansion. He runs the site themickeywiki.com. (Photo: Justin Hermes)
That said, do a little planning ahead.
Wrangle your group together before you go ― or start a group text ― to decide what rides, restaurants and activities are must-dos. If you’re shelling out hundreds of dollars for tickets, you want to make sure your friend dying to eat at Blue Bayou and your friend who’s jonesing for that free-falling feeling on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride both get what they want.
To really level up, download the Disneyland or Disney World app and make a collective list of everything you want to do, said Liz Mangus, a 37-year-old from Utah who has a Magic Key annual pass at Disneyland.
“Don’t make a rigid schedule for the day ― it will inevitably change with crowd levels and ride closures ― but knowing your ‘can’t miss’ items creates a checklist that will guide you through the day,” she said. “This also allows you to focus on having fun instead of stressing in the moment about the next thing to do.”
Arrianne Boyd, a 35-year-old who lives in Liverpool in the UK and visits Walt Disney World often, stressed the importance of making dining reservations early on.
“You can do it as early as 180 days out. Do so quickly for the top restaurants,” she said. “If you miss a reservation, don’t worry, you might get lucky nearer the time as people change plans and cancel. It’s always worth a refresh!”
Liz Mangus recommends creating a "can’t miss" checklist that will guide you through the day. (Photo: Liz Mangus)
Get your drink on.
“Drinking Around the World” at EPCOT gets a lot of fanfare, but each of the parks at Disney World and Disneyland (along with the hotels and Disney Springs and Downtown Disney) offer some quality bars, lounges and drink menus for the 21-and-up set, according to Terzigni.
“A bar or a lounge is a great way to escape the crowds for an hour or two especially if it’s indoors ― hello, air conditioning,” she said. “In general, I think responsibly incorporating drinking into your Disney vacation is a great idea.”
Some of Terzingi’s favorite spots? The Nomad Lounge in Animal Kingdom, Wine Bar George in Disney Springs, Lamplight Lounge in Disney California Adventure, and BaseLine Tap House in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Sarah Gilliland, a 35-year-old Walt Disney World annual passholder and travel writer from Birmingham, Alabama, recommends checking out the “Sangria University” class at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.
“It’s a 90-minute class held on Saturdays and Sundays that includes a discussion of the history of sangria, a tasting of the four in-house sangria varieties offered at Three Bridges Bar and Grill, and a light appetizer,” she said. “Activities like Sangria University are the perfect way to blend adult fun with the quality and service we’ve come to expect from Disney.”
Get all the good rides in when parkgoers are busy watching parades.
During parades, wait times for popular attractions like Rise of the Resistance or Space Mountain often shorten dramatically, said Tonya Cauduro, a 52-year-old Disney fan who lives in Texas and runs the vacation-planning site All About Mickey. The same is true for firework shows at night.
“Ride the attractions during the first parade and any early fireworks shows; that’s when the families with small children will be crowding the viewing areas,” she said. “If you want to see them yourself, watch the later shows after all of the families have left.”
Get lunch or dinner at one of Disney’s better restaurants.
Food for the day doesn’t have to be chicken nuggets and french fries.
“There’s a time and a place for Mickey pretzels, but I don’t make it a regular occurrence,” Caramanna said. “It’s surprising to many, but Walt Disney World is home to Michelin-rated chefs, an AAA Five Diamond Award winning restaurant, and countless other gastronomical standouts.”
Don’t buy the pricey bottled water when you can get it free.
Disney Park guests walk an average of 7-10 miles per day, so staying hydrated should be a priority, said Leesa Johnson, a 43-year-old Magic Key holder from San Diego, California, and a former Disneyland cast member.
That said, don’t waste your money on pricey bottled water. You can bring your own water bottle to both parks and refill throughout the day.
“Make use of the park’s bottle-filling stations,” said Johnson, who runs the Disney fan YouTube channel “Walt’s Chili Bowl.” “These bottle-filling stations are located throughout the parks and deliver cold, filtered water. Do that, and you’ll save some money to go toward Mickey Mouse ears with your name embroidered on the back ― admit it, you want one.”
Make the most of waiting for rides by playing games in line.
Depressingly, you’ll be spending much of your day waiting in lines — but try to make the most of it by playing games. While the smartphone game Heads Up! is easily the most popular line-waiting game, Johnson recommends a few that are more old school that won’t use up your phone’s battery life: I Spy, 20 Questions, Who Am I, Make Me Laugh, Charades, Telephone and Would You Rather.
“These are a great way to pass the time and laugh and connect with the people you’re with,” she said. “If you are using your phone, the Disney parks app has fun games that were specifically created to be played while you wait in line.”
Go during “low season” to avoid big crowds.
“Low season” ― when the parks are generally less crowded ― is generally January to February and September to November, according to Boyd.
“I aim for the last week of November before Thanksgiving. Americans go for Thanksgiving weekend and it’s busy,” she said. “The week I go has super low crowds, low wait times for headliners and low room rates on site at Disney hotels.”
Boyd recommends sites like AllEars.net to review crowd calendars before you go.
Making an overnight or few days’ trip of it? Consider taking a midday break at your hotel.
If you’re staying overnight, Cauduro says to go early, take a midday break back at your hotel and then return and stay late at the parks.
“The last time we went to Walt Disney World in Orlando, we booked the last reservation for Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge ― the park was closing but we were allowed to stay by showing our reservation in the Disney app,” she said.
“Before and after our reservation, we took dozens of photos of the area and were able to hear all of the sounds that would normally be drowned out by crowd noise,” she said. “Highly recommend it!”
Tonya Cauduro took this shot of the Millennium Falcon after hours at the park. (Photo: Tonya Cauduro)
Or be fancy and take your break at a Disney spa.
When Terzign and her husband went to Disney World on their honeymoon, they booked a couple’s massage at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort. Now, she can’t recommend it enough. (At the California parks, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel has Tenaya Stone Spa.)
“We just thought it would be a fun add-on, but as it turns out, it was a great way to recharge halfway through a hectic Disney World vacation,” she said. “My husband says he’ll never do a week in Disney World again without a massage built into the itinerary.”
Don’t rule out character dining.
Yes, you’re an adult, but don’t you secretly want a cheesy photo with Gaston?
“Give character dining a chance,” Boyd said. “You can can see your fave routine characters whilst stuffing your face and kill two birds with one stone before getting back out to ride the thrill rides and buying outrageously overpriced merch!”
Go for a buffet one like Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom or Chef Mickey in the Contemporary Resort to maximize cost versus food, she said.
Don’t try to be “cool” and just give yourself over to “the magic.”
Cauduro has traveled to the parks with adults who feel that they won’t be impressed by Disney ― and every single time, she said there’s something that grabs them.
“It may be a song that sparks a memory, a character that gives them special attention, the smell or taste of the great food at the parks or simply the joy of Disney cast members serving top-notch customer service,” she said.
If you map out a day plan that caters to your interest and don’t put too much pressure on yourself, a theme park could be just the kind of break you need.
“We’re all real-world numb from social injustice, gun violence, the pandemic and climate crises,” she said. “A visit to the parks asks you to let all of that go for a little bit. It invites you to revisit the carefree days of your childhood and we all need that.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.