Here’s a shocking statistic: Nearly one-third of the people who visit the California and Florida Disney resorts are adults without children in tow, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Disney even has an official name for this demographic: “nonfamily guests.”
Certainly, many of those “nonfamily guests” are boomers reliving old memories, but Walt Disney himself once said that Disney’s success rested in part on creating “a believable world of dreams that appeals to all age groups,” the Times reports.
And while Disney resorts do not market specifically to older adults, the increasing number of restaurants serving alcohol in California Adventure, for example, opened in 2001 adjacent to alcohol-free Disneyland, implies that Disney is not ignoring them, either.
Curious to discover whether Disneyland, aka “the happiest place on Earth,” still held appeal for someone way past the Mickey-themed pajamas years, the article’s author, Adam Nagourney, organized an expedition to the park with a few friends, including one who has been a regular visitor for years.
“Aware of the potential for mortification,” Nagourney writes, “I set up some ground rules: first and foremost, I would avoid rides that would flip me upside down or twirl me like a top. It is forgivable when an 8-year-old gets sick — and impressive to watch the Disney cleanup crew spring out of nowhere with mops and buckets — but adults know how to avoid this, and should. I also promised myself not to be goaded onto rides that frightened me. And finally, no mouse ears. No one wants that photo out there.”
If you’ve never been to Disneyland, it’s hard to appreciate the rush of happiness that hits you walking through the turnstile into what is essentially an enormous sun-sparkled cartoon, says Nagourney. Yes, it is a gaudy celebration of Americana, unrealistically perfect and flamboyantly promotional. And yes, you have to pay for it; the price of a one-day Park Hopper pass for those age 10 and over (which gets you entry to Disneyland and California Adventure) is $125, he says. But the (very dependable) weather on Nagourney’s visit was “Uncle Walt-perfect: a soothing 80 degrees without a touch of wind or humidity.”
8 tips for getting the most of “Disney for grown-ups”:
1. Get a Disney Fastpass. Don’t waste time standing in line. Grab a free Fastpass, which allows you to return to a ride at an assigned time for a minimal wait.
2. Rides that work best for adults: Soarin’ Over California (simulated hang-gliding ride that makes you feel as if you’re clipping the tops of landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Yosemite, swooping low over the vineyards of Napa, and gliding between buildings in downtown Los Angeles); Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (riders are strapped onto hard metal benches inside a large elevator and taken up into the sky, then dropped back down into darkness); Toy Story Mania (wearing 3-D glasses, riders zoom around on a tram playing a live version of video games); and especially if it’s hot, Pirates of the Caribbean (getting wet is involved). Note to self: Skip Tomorrowland (looks more like Yesterdayland).
3. Thankfully, just when you’ve had your fill of rides and hordes of young humans, Disneyland comes to the rescue with several decidedly not-for-children attractions. Carthay Circle and Napa Rose, genuine “adult” restaurants, both boast menus that rival anything at the highest-end restaurants in Los Angeles, with wine playing a major part. Many nights, a mostly adults electronic dance party strikes up outside the World of Color.
4. Avoid visiting over Christmas or spring break. Take advantage of not having children and go when kids are in school.
5. Recruit a friend who is a Disney enthusiast to take you around the park. It can make all the difference in avoiding lines, finding shortcuts and knowing which rides are duds for adults.
6. Make a list of the major attractions you want to see, keeping in mind that it’s hard to do more than six in a day. (You’re not young anymore.)
7. Choose your footwear wisely: comfortable shoes and no high heels. There is very little sitting down.
8. It might be more relaxing to spend the night in the resort rather than drive the 1½-2 hours to Los Angeles. The Grand Californian Hotel is terrific for adults but expensive ($535 and up during high season). For more options, go to disneyland.disney.go.com/hotels.