As I approached the Mickey- and Minnie-clad gates of Walt Disney World, I wondered if my husband and I would be the odd ones out in a sea of children (like in The Little Mermaid when Ariel swam up to land only to realize she was a fish out of water). This was for a myriad of reasons, including: A) We’re taller than the average third grader, B) we’re not inclined to pee our pants in a fit of excitement when we meet Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and C) we don’t fantasize about milkshakes for every meal (ok, maybe we do).
To put it plainly, we’re adults (and don’t have kids), so we wondered if Walt would be able to meet our taller tastes for spas, spectacles, and upscale dining. Fortunately, his vision involved all ages when he built his second and largest resort (about the size of San Francisco) on the fringes of Orlando, Florida. And like every big city, there’s a beat for every size and stripe, even well-traveled kids at heart.
Viewfinder Tip: Due to Walt Disney World’s scale, stay close to the park you plan to visit most frequently for easy access.
A flight delay pushed our arrival time to a bedtime hour. Intent on doing Disney differently than my childhood version, I checked into my hotel and wandered outdoors to find Disney’s BoardWalk, an Atlantic City throwback twinkling in the backdrop of an inky sky. Much to my surprise – it was pretty late – a vendor was still there. We snagged her last two beers and sipped to the beat of ’80s and ’90s tunes pumping out of the Atlantic Dance Hall.
(Note to self: adult Disney has dance clubs – good thing I packed my party shoes.)
Disney BoardWalk at night
The next morning, we sprung into action. Our five-day trip would center around Epcot and travel through Disney’s walkways and waterways to indulgences like the spa – purposefully first on our agenda – to start the trip in a serenity state. We had a couples massage booked in the afternoon at Senses – a Disney Spa at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, yet arrived in the morning – keener than kids beholding the Magic Kingdom – to luxuriate pre-treatment.
Just re-opened in July of 2013, Senses is an oasis of calm layered in earthy tones and textures. Contemplating the spa pre-visit, I half expected to be met by a Mouseketeer masseur and find Minnie’s silhouette stretched over every wall. My assumptions were totally off. In reality my attendant was as calm as a flowing stream, and there were no Minnies in sight. It was just me (eyes covered in cucumbers of course), my heated lounger, a whirlpool, and a steam room.
(Note to self: adult Disney has spas; book the entire day off.)
Just a boat ride away, we had a post-spa date with downtown Disney, sparkling like a cityscape in the distance (probably because it’s the size of a city). Sharing waterfront real estate with shops, pubs, restaurants, a House of Blues, bowling alley, and movie theater, Cirque du Soleil’s exclusive Disney show, La Nouba, glows steps from the lakefront in a white-as-snow big top.
I’m a HUGE Cirque du Soleil fan, and wondered how the Cirque-Disney collab would play out in an all-ages arena. Here’s the deal: clowns are funny, tightrope cyclists who ride across a string are awe-inspiring, and acrobats who twirl and twist at death-defying heights are enchanting – regardless of viewer age. What’s more, I spotted a bevy of couples spectating and sipping wine in their date-night duds, reminding me that Mickey and Minnie were some of the original supporters of the arts, and fancy a cultured night on the town.
(Note to self: adult Disney has sophisticated spectacles.)
Finally, to food (and drink). While Walt Disney World has its fork firmly planted in upper crust dining in restaurants like the contemporary California Grill and the intimate Victoria & Albert’s, as Epcot World Showcase enthusiasts, we turned into repeat visitors at La Cava del Tequila in Mexico and the Rose & Crown Pub in England. Hello! Guacamole and a pint in the same night!
Turns out, our pints came with a bonus. Arrive at Rose & Crown late enough (ideally between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) and BANGers and mash takes on a whole new meaning via Epcot’s nightly fireworks show, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Thanks to this prime viewing area perched over the World Showcase Lagoon, the pub became our place because there’s something so ‘perfectly Disney’ about dining under a canopy of light. Add in a bevvie, and the magic of adult Disney dazzles before you.
What adult Disney distractions do you dig?