Going to a Disney theme park is sort of a rite of passage for an American child. My parents took me and my two younger sisters to Disneyland when I was 13 (we lived on the West Coast), and we had such a fabulous time. I then had the opportunity to go to Disney World with my church youth group when I was 15. Again, I had a great time, but I didn’t set foot in a Disney park again until I was 39. I just had no overwhelming desire to go back..but then again I had no idea there were so many great things for adults to do at Disney World.
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I have a lot of co-workers who love going to Disney World regularly, and to be honest, I didn’t understand it. I mean, Disney is for kids and families with young children, right? Wrong. Sure, there is A LOT for kids, but there’s also a Disney for adults. And no, I’m not referring to pub crawls or “drinking around the world” at EPCOT. I don’t mean that kind of Disney World for adults.
Disclaimer: I don’t drink, so if your interest is in how to get drunk at Disney World, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I’m talking about things like dining, shopping, shows and events. Here are my favorite things to do at Disney World for adults.
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Things for adults to do at Disney World
Enjoy some fine dining
I’ll admit it. One of my favorite things to do at Disney World is eat. I love the restaurants, and I love the snacks. There are even a lot of great quick service options. I love that there are great vegetarian dishes for me and a lot of gluten-free options for hubby. I love that the chefs at Disney World will make special gluten-free Mickey waffles for hubby and help my niece make food choices to avoid anything with tree nuts.
The single best Italian meal I’ve ever had outside of Italy was at Via Napoli in the Italy Pavilion in EPCOT. Not joking. It was beautiful…and the service was wonderful. Chefs de France also ranks (in my book) as one of the best restaurants in Disney World for adults.
Here are a few other recommendations from my family to yours:
- Sanaa, Animal Kingdom Lodge
- The Wave, Contemporary Resort
- Tutto Italia, Italy Pavilion, EPCOT
- Nine Dragons, Chine Pavilion, EPCOT
- Biergarten, Germany Pavilion, EPCOT (also includes live entertainment!)
You’re probably sensing a theme…EPCOT and Disney World resorts are great for dining.
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Explore the resorts
Confession time: I have never stayed at a Disney resort. I know. I’d love to, but I just can’t do it…at least, not yet. I love saving money on travel so that I can travel more, and vacation rentals are so easy to come by in the Orlando area. In fact, Kissimmee, Florida, has trademarked the slogan “The Vacation Home Capitol of the World™.” When we take our multi-family Disney World trips, it just makes sense for us to rent a large house and split the cost so we can all stay together while saving money on our Disney trip at the same time.
Having said that, the Disney World resorts are pretty amazing, and they’re worth exploring especially for their great dining options. And at Christmas, Disney decorates the resorts beautifully. Actually, beautiful isn’t strong enough of a word for Disney World resorts Christmas decorations. They’re jaw-droppingly stunning.
You can also find great shopping and entertainment at the resorts themselves or nearby. For example, the BoardWalk is a quarter-mile long promenade full of dining and entertainment options between EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Interested in staying at a Walt Disney World Resort? Find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
Check out the special presentations in the World Showcase
The World Showcase at EPCOT isn’t just about food. Okay, it’s a lot about food, but not only food. Each of the country pavilions–Mexico, Norway, United Kingdom, Italy, United States, Morocco, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, China—has some kind of special attraction, presentation or show featuring their country and culture. Hubby and I haven’t seen all of them yet, but we make it a point to do one or two each trip.
For example, in the China pavilion you can watch a 14-minute, 360-degree film called “Reflections of China.” A new film called “Wonderous China” was announced in August 2019, but no specific launch date was announced at that time.
Bonus: The World Showcase is also a great place to find a special souvenir. We found lovely blown glass Christmas tree ornaments in the Germany Pavilion and even had the year etched into it so we would always remember that particular trip.
Attend a performance of the Voices of Liberty
We love the amazing a cappella group Voices of Liberty. They perform in the American Adventure Pavilion in the rotunda right near the entrance to the American Adventure show (see more information about cultural presentations and shows above). The American Adventure is similar to the Hall of Presidents in style (video with music and animatronics), but of the two I prefer Hall of Presidents.
I would say bypass The American Adventure and see the Voices of Liberty instead, though of course you can do both. I’d venture to say that the Voices of Liberty alone are worth a stop at EPCOT. The show is about 15 minutes long, and I cannot describe to you how beautiful their voices are. For the best sound, sit under the rotunda or as close as possible.
Attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
We did this for the first time on our last family Disney World trip and really enjoyed it. No, it is not cheap, BUT I will tell you this: my father, who is not (how do I put this?) a go-out-and-do-a-lot-of-stuff kind of man, said that he thought the fireworks alone were worth the price of the ticket. That’s astoundingly high praise right there.
Hubby and I loved that our Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party ticket got us into the Magic Kingdom at 4 p.m., well before the start of the party, and gave us a chance to walk around a little, do an attraction or two and then meet up with my family for a quick dinner, before the official party start time at 7 p.m.
For me, the party is about doing things other than rides: the parade, the fireworks, the snacks, shopping for event-exclusive merch, etc. It’s perfect for adults who want to experience something at Disney World beyond the rides.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party also comes highly recommended, though I have not had the opportunity to go yet. I’d love to, but working in higher ed means I rarely get time to travel during the academic year. Maybe someday…
Shop till you drop at Disney Springs
My sister will tell you that this is one of her favorite things to do on a trip to Disney World. Disney Springs is a very large outdoor shopping and entertainment center, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever been to before. You’ll find some outstanding dining and shopping options here, including the expanded Disney Store. Seriously, it’s huge.
We like to schedule a Disney Springs day midway through our trip. It gives us a chance to take a little bit of a breather from the parks, while still “doing something Disney-ish.”
Enjoy dinner and a show at Raglan Road
Raglan Road is an Irish pub at Disney Springs with great food and live entertainment. It is loud, but it’s wonderful fun. Raglan Road was a highlight of our last trip.
If you want a table with a view of the show you will need to make that request when you check in…and be prepared to wait. Only about 20% of the tables have a good view of the entertainment. We waited an hour past our reservation time to get a good view (to be fair, there were 9 of us!), and it was totally worth it.
The food is also really good. And in true Disney fashion, they had wonderful options for the vegetarian in the group (me) and gluten-free hubby. They even have gluten-free onion rings! My father (again, not someone prone to effusive praise) said Raglan Road’s fish and chips is the best he’s ever had…and he grew up in Seattle!
Enjoy the fireworks
Pull up a patch of street, sidewalk or railing and prepare yourself to have your socks blown off. In my opinion, the best fireworks show is at the Magic Kingdom. Happily Ever After includes beautiful projections on Cinderella Castle. It’s hard for me to describe this show other than to say, you really can’t miss it. It generally runs nightly at around 9 or 10 p.m. depending on the day of the week and the time of the year. Make sure you check the schedule the day you are at the park.
Hubby’s favorite nighttime show is at EPCOT, but the “IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth” show is going away very soon. Sept. 30, 2019 is the final performance. On Oct. 1, 2019, EPCOT will debut “EPCOT Forever,” which is supposedly temporary, but will continue into 2020. EPCOT evening shows are also nightly, but the exact time can vary. Make sure you check the schedule.
Shop Magic Kingdom’s Main Street right at park opening
Hubby and I love to do Magic Kingdom first thing in the morning the first day of a Disney trip. The crowds are manageable…and the bulk of the people there that early will be voluntarily cramming themselves like sardines onto the bridge that leads from the Hub (the roundabout in front of Cinderella Castle) into Fantasyland to get to the standby line for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. Yep.
While the majority of the guests at the Magic Kingdom are making themselves miserable, it’s a great time to peruse the shops on Main Street for T-shirts and souvenirs. Later in the day these shops will be packed. While everyone else is running for the rides and other attractions, consider doing your souvenir shopping when you’ll actually have some room to walk around and breathe.
Grab a coffee and people watch
I’m not one of those people who can do the parks from rope drop to park closing. We take a much more relaxed approach to touring Disney World. Sometimes we go out first thing in the morning and are done by late afternoon; other times we start in the early afternoon and wrap up a day at the parks after whatever evening show is on that day. And even then, especially near the end of the trip, I’m often looking for a place to just sit and take a breather and watch the tourists go by.
So, if you’re like me, and you’re ready to take a break, grab a coffee at a Joffrey’s kiosk or at Starbucks (buy a park exclusive mug!) and do a little people watching.
Bonus: Squirt water at the people coming off the Kali River Rapids
So, at the Kali River Rapids, a water ride in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, there is a bridge over the area where the riders queue up in their ride vehicles to disembark. Because Disney World is awesome, they equipped the bridge with squirt guns so that you can take a break from touring the park to take aim at the unsuspecting people below you. They think they’re done getting wet because the ride is over and then – POW! – squirt gun. It’s fun for the whole family, or at least the most immature in the family who get extreme pleasure from shooting strangers with squirt guns. I’m referring to me and my sister.
Though it is very tempting to hog those squirt guns and stand there for about an hour, don’t forget to share with others.
- Try an adults-only getaway night at a deluxe resort.
- Book a massage or facial at the Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian.
- Indulge in luxurious signature dining at California Grill or—for the ultimate in fine dining—try the AAA Five Diamond Award Victoria and Albert’s.
- Get to know the Disney World theme parks better with a guided tour like the 5-hour Keys to the Kingdom Tour or the Savor the Savanna: Evening Safari Experience at Disney Animal Kingdom Theme Park.
- Enjoy dessert and a great seat for the fireworks at a dessert party like the Frozen Ever After Sparkling Dessert Party with guaranteed seating for EPCOT’s nighttime spectacular and a ride on the Frozen Ever After attraction in the Norway Pavilion.
The bottom line: Walt Disney World for adults
Walt Disney World is for kids of all ages. From great dining and shopping to special events and guided tours, you’re sure to find a lot to do at Disney World that you will love and no doubt make you want to return soon.
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