Everyone who loves theme parks has a Disney story. Mine is about joining the adults in Disneyland Club, actually Disney World, on a spontaneous visit I tacked onto a work trip. And I went by myself!

We may dream about going to Disneyland or have visited with our parents, our first boyfriend, or our first child. The parks consistently deliver whatever your age. I grew up loving Disneyland, which was less than an hour from my parent’s house. We went at least once a year, aided by my Uncle Jim who was a background painter for some of the earliest Disney animated features. He would send our family coveted E-Ticket books, which meant we could go on the best rides. I like the current system, as expensive and intense as it may be, but once you’re in you’re in – sort of (I’ll get into that later.)

There are memes about how ‘cringe’ adults in Disneyland are. We’re supposed to have grown out of it. I’ll leave the meme arguments with the Millennials anxious about their place in the world. I get it and support discovering comfort where you can find it – without infringing on or judging someone else. I’ve been around long enough to have had a wide range of Disney experiences and the most recent was something I never imagined I’d do until I did!

Two restaurants in Disney Springs and Epcot after dark.

Two restaurants in Disney Springs and Epcot after dark.

When I accepted a press trip to Florida I wondered if I could finally get to Disneyworld and see Animal Kingdom, especially Pandora. My partner couldn’t get away and didn’t feel as drawn to the park. Working quickly, I tacked two days onto the trip to fly to Orlando, but I didn’t pay attention to the flight cancelation restrictions or the weather trends for fall.  When storm warnings in the Gulf emerged and the press junket was postponed, I had a decision to make – eat the expense and stay home, or salvage what I can and go. With a shade of guilt, I choose the latter.

I went all in for Disney on this trip. It was fall and I packed my ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ hat, purchased years earlier. A friend offered me a Minnie Mouse T-shirt. It was several sizes too big, so I customized it adding trim to the V-neck and sleeves, rolling the latter up to fit better. The long hem rose to brush the top of my matronly hips. Then, since it’s Halloween season, I indulged in several pairs of garish socks, their colors chosen to match the T-shirt print of Minnie in a pumpkin-emblazoned dress of purple and orange. I find affordable socks at big box stores in my neighborhood. Then I pack my Dia de Muertos t-shirt and a ruffled skirt along with a pair of fuzzy mouse ears – in complementary colors, of course. As an adult in Disneyland, will I have the nerve to wear all this kitsch?

Author proudly joins the adults in Disneyland club.

Author proudly joins the adults in Disneyland club.

What gave me confidence was remembering my last adult in Disneyland adventure where I noticed girls in Disney character dresses. Others wore various hats and backpacks all branded with mouse ears. That trip was a surprise Disney Birthday trip for my boyfriend. We’re huge sci-fi fans, and ever since they opened, we longed to see the new Star Wars rides and buildings.

The day trip began as we ran into the park early and tried to get onto the new Star Wars ride. At the time there was a tricky app lottery system for entry. We got into the virtual queue but couldn’t get onto the ride. Still, we had a blast running around and taking in everything new since our last visit years ago.

Inside the Disneyland Star Wars plaza.

Inside the Disneyland Star Wars plaza

A complete Star Wars debacle was averted when we walked into the Tatooie Bar. Nothing feels as wild about being an adult in Disneyland than drinking a spacey cocktail right after breakfast. We stayed at Disneyland until 8:15 pm when we finally got a notification that we could get on the ride. Running across the park, I slid up to the ride entrance where a phalanx of uniformed staff prevented anyone from going in! The ride had broken down and was closing early for the night. After that, you’d think I’d have sworn off the whole Disney dream, but it was reborn in Florida.

Save time to wander the different hotels and resorts in Disney World.

Save time to wander the different hotels and resorts in Disney World.

Going Solo as an Adult in Disneyland or Disney World

  1. Scan blogs and the Disney website for your park and make a mental note of which rides to prioritize.
  2. There are dozens of ways to work the Disney ride systems – some free and others not. I suggest reading blogs about different strategies. You can buy into passes or day-of individual ride, time-regulated tickets. I did this in Epcot for the Guardians of the Galaxy ride after waiting for the line drop, the first entry of the day. It was the only option I had that guaranteed I’d get on and once purchased, I had time to walk over and into the racing ride next door – right onto the ride – twice!!
  3. There’s a great new system in Disneyworld – Single Rider lines. Families often split up, one watching kids as the other rides solo, while maximizing their time in the park. The Single Rider system is wonderful. The lines, when they exist, are usually short. I walked onto rides several times in the day and covered far more than I planned to.
  4. Pixie Dust! Be nice to the attendants and they may show their appreciation. More than once I walked up to attendants at ride entries and politely asked if there was a Single Rider line – even when I suspected there wasn’t.  Several times those attendants found me within seconds and asked if I was at the park by myself, then led me onto the ride. No line, no wait, and good vibes all around.
Full fledged adults in Disneyland regalia.

Full fledged adults in Disneyland regalia.

  1. There are elaborate strategies for getting into restaurants. Hope for Pixie Dust to descend. I discovered the Space-Station-themed restaurant, Space 220, in Epcot the night before I entered the park. No seats were available online. However, knowing that plans can change, I walked up to the hostess outside the entry minutes after the restaurant opened for the night and admited that I knew reservations were full, then asked if there were any cancellations. She paused with a smile and stared into her iPad for a few moments. “Not in the restaurant but we do have a seat in the lounge.” Taken! I had a perfect snack and spacey drink while seated next to an Orlando teacher with an annual pass. She ordered several appetizers and drinks – celebrating getting through another day of teaching. I hadn’t wanted the prix fixe 3-course meal anyway, so this was a perfect start to the evening.
Epcot night concert just before the fireworks.

Spontaneous stop for an Epcot night concert just before the fireworks.

  1. Don’t miss Disney Springs – but know that weekend nights get packed. This was my introduction to Disneyworld. I’d flown across the country, checked into my hotel – not a Disney property – and walked into the Disney Springs experience. The cluster of shops, bars, and restaurants overflowed with date-night locals, families, and small groups. It was a great introduction to the Disney-fication of a night out without the expense of a theme park ticket.
  2. To keep the trip affordable and time effective, for my last two days, I chose one of the Sports-themed Disney World hotels for its proximity to Animal Kingdom. It was very comfortable, brightly decorated, and filled with happy families. I forced myself up very early to catch the first bus to the park and watched as buses pulled up to take others to the various parks. The Disney bus system is only available if you stay within Disney World and is worth any added hotel expense (not much in this case.) I saved money and the downtime of waiting for ride shares. Also, find a way to ride the free boats around the lagoons and fit in a Sky Gondola ride.
  3. I grazed through the parks and seldom sat down for a full meal. I didn’t want to spend time eating a big meal or sitting by myself while I waited. That’s not true for everyone but it worked well for me and it helped me walk off my calories.
Mini Mt. Everest over the Ganges - inside Animal Kingdom at Disneyworld.

Mini Mt. Everest over the Ganges – inside Animal Kingdom at Disneyworld.

I wonder if this trip will be my last time seeing the park through adult eyes. My partner has grandchildren and he has blossomed into the kindest and most hands-on grandfather. One day, we’ll still be adults in Disney but tethered to little ones.

Author ready for her next Disney adventure. Are you?

The author ready for her next Disney adventure. Are you?