It seems strange for me to think about but, until just a couple of years ago, I had never before visited a Disney Park. After my first trip to Disneyland in Anaheim though I was hooked and it has since become an important part of my travel life. Some will poo-poo it, but that’s their issue not mine. I love visiting Disney Parks for many reasons, but at its core the experience is pure and innocent fun, the likes of which is all too rare to find. Even though I had visited Disneyland several times in rapid succession, the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida eluded me, until a few months ago when I finally had the opportunity to visit. Although very different from Disneyland, Walt Disney World is also a lot of fun to visit as a solo adult. Those differences are important though because traveling to Walt Disney World is not a casual experience. No, it requires planning but that level of detail is different if you’re over the age of 30 (or 40) without kids in tow. My first trip there was a solo trip, which turned out to be the ideal first introduction, even if it did have some drawbacks. Today I want to share my experience and what lessons I took away even as I mentally prepare for repeat trips. My first visit to Walt Disney World was part of on ongoing project with Marriott, The Americas to highlight a variety of different experiences around the country, from major cities to National Parks and, yes, even Walt Disney World.
Disney Parks Have Always Been For Adults
When Walt Disney first conceived the idea of Disneyland, the intention was always to create a safe place where visitors of all ages could have an incredible experience. Not satisfied with making a kids park where adults were largely bored, the result is an entertainment experience that has stood the test of time since 1955. At the time, it was a concept well ahead of its day and almost every resulting theme park that has opened since Walt first cut that ribbon to Disneyland has copied the model. With only a few exceptions, most of the rides in Disneyland, even the original 1955 attractions, are just as much fun for adults as they are for kids. This naturally holds true for not only Walt Disney World, but all of the Disney Parks around the world. Everything I decided to try was fun, really fun, and not once did I feel out of place or odd for wanting to enjoy the attractions. Far from it, I was one of thousands of adults in the parks out and about wearing Mickey ears and reveling in the pure and unbridled joy that is Disney.
WDW Easier to Manage Alone
Kids are fine and I have young relatives that I like and love. But, for me at least, first experiencing Walt Disney World was a lot easier as an adult traveling alone. Forget for the moment that I don’t even have children, but short little bundles of energy naturally only slow down the real theme park enthusiast. This isn’t just about kids either, it was also better for me to be without another adult to join in the fun. I needed to be alone so that I could race around the four parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, which I did with a certain kind of determination that in decades past would have landed me in the loony bin.
I approached my experience at Walt Disney World through a lens of pseudo-scientific discovery. I did my research and put together a plan of action that would’ve made Eisenhower proud. Focusing on one park per day (mostly) I went through the FastPass+ system and knew exactly what to do and when. Even though it was exhausting, by the time my first visit to Walt Disney World came to a close, I felt like I experienced everything on my to-do list and had a good working knowledge of the resort. I need to highlight the word “exhausting” though. I was a man on a mission, literally running around the parks at certain points. This is not something I could have achieved with someone else along for the ride. I needed to be alone and, in the process, I had an amazing experience.
Staying On-Site and Fun Adult Activities
I cannot emphasize this enough, no matter where you decide to spend the night I personally think it’s absolutely essential to stay on-property when visiting Walt Disney World. The perks are too incredible to ignore and since there is somewhere to stay at every price point, there’s no excuse not to as long as you plan in advance. Not only is it convenient but Disney rewards on-site guests with complimentary transportation, earlier FastPass+ reservation windows and more. Plus, being able to easily take a mid-day break in your hotel room is a necessity in the heat and humidity of Orlando. For my first visit to the Walt Disney World Resort, I had the great pleasure of staying at the Swan and Dolphin. Part of the Marriott family, the resort features all of the perks included with any on-site hotel, including an incredible location. It’s in the Epcot area of Walt Disney World, next to Disney’s BoardWalk. Epcot is very walkable, but there’s also a complimentary boat that can quickly take you not only to Epcot, but also to Hollywood Studios. The other two parks, Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom are easily accessed via the complimentary bus system that leaves in regular intervals from the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Not once did I feel inconvenienced, in fact the location really was ideal for me and my purposes. It’s also nice to be able to return to one’s hotel room easily and quickly during the day to rest and recharge.
This leads to my next point, that unlike in Disneyland there are many experiences and activities geared solely towards adults. The first one that I want to highlight was even conveniently located in my hotel, Kimonos. No, I didn’t visit for the award-winning sushi menu (routinely named the best in Orlando) I was there for their nightly decent into madness otherwise known as karaoke. Accompanied by new friends and fortified with the sake served in Kimonos, I joined in the fun as the lounge transformed into one of the most active karaoke bars I’ve ever visited. It’s a night I know that I’ll never forget, but is not your typical Disney experience. Aside from Kimonos, there are many spots that are geared towards adults throughout the property from Disney Springs to the BoardWalk and of course the many beverage options offered in Epcot, like the Japan pavilion’s violet sake. No matter your interests, from bowling to karaoke and everything in between, Disney World is incredibly fun for adults.
In the title of this post I mentioned drawbacks and there was one notable one that I want to talk more about today – I was alone. Sure, from a logistical point of view it made more sense for me to first experience Walt Disney World without being encumbered by other people and their own particular interests. I’m very used to traveling alone in all corners of the world, so much so that I think I forgot how nice it can be to share travel experiences with other people. Just weeks after my first trip I once again found myself in the Most Magical Place on Earth, but this time I wasn’t alone. The difference in my own enjoyment couldn’t have been more dramatic. No, I didn’t do nearly as much as I had on my first trip, but I had more fun. Whether it was a leisurely lunch in Animal Kingdom, singing karaoke until midnight at Kimonos, or eating our way around Epcot, everything was so much better when shared with other people. Naturally, it wasn’t the first time in my life that I’ve had this revelation, but this time it was a realization that occurred at a very important point in my life. Those few days spent experiencing the very best of Disney World with other like-minded individuals was as much fun as I’ve had in a very long time and I already know is a trip that I’ll try to replicate in the future. Sure, the Disney Parks are a lot of fun traveling alone if all you want to do is experience the rides and magic for which Disney is so very well known. But, if you want to fully embrace the spirit of Disney, then I think you have to visit with someone else, whether a significant other, group of friends or family members. Seeing joy and happiness firmly emblazoned on the faces of other people is so much more enjoyable than looking in a mirror, and at Walt Disney World those feelings thankfully occur almost constantly.