Disney for Grown-Ups: The Best Secrets of the Parks for Parents
Whether you’re traveling with the kiddos or not, grown-up good times are hiding in plain sight at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Here’s the insider take on how to proceed when you wouldn’t mind some fun of your own.
Get an adult beverage
Oga’s Cantina at the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge became instantly famous for selling the first publicly available booze at Disneyland—and the cocktail menu is, well…out of this world. Exhibit A: The Fuzzy Tauntaun, a neon orange concoction topped with a certain “Buzzz Foam” that numbs your mouth while heightening the drink’s sweetness and shivery-ness—a bizarrely fun combo. (On the other hand, the margarita-like Outer Rim clearly hails from a galaxy not so far away).
But what few people realize is that—just across the way at Disney California Adventure—there are more specialty cocktails on offer at the Lamplight Lounge on Pixar Pier (check out the Cinnamon Toast Cocktail), to say nothing of the many Italian and California wines by the glass at Wine Country Trattoria and the excellent craft beers at Bayside Brews (where the Mickey-shaped pretzels are musts, too, especially when you factor in the house jalapeño cheese).
In Florida, go for the Dad’s Electric Lemonade at the Tune-In Lounge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios—or the Dalang’s Delight (a rummy citrus blend) at the Nomad Lounge in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Make a dining reservation
If you've been hauling kids around a theme park for hours, you’ll be more than ready to sit down to a real meal instead of standing at a take-out window with burgers and chicken fingers. But you don’t want to take your chances on snagging a table because most sit-down restaurants inside Disney parks book up well in advance. Walt Disney World will let you reserve its restaurants up to 180 days in advance. And at the Disneyland Resort, you can book up to 60 days in advance. Reserve extra early to get a table at the old New England-y Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, one of the fastest-booking venues. Meanwhile, at Disneyland, the most popular dining experience is the Cajun- and Creole-inspired Blue Bayou, where you can watch the boats take off for Pirates of the Caribbean. At Disney California Adventure, the top spot is the elegant Carthay Circle. And for a real fine dining experience—including wine pairings—check out Napa Rose in the Disney’s Grand Californian hotel.
Show up at rope drop
Now, bear with us, because we're about to recommend that you get to the parks at least an hour early (90 minutes is even better). But we swear, this hack is worth the sacrificed sleep. "Rope drop" is an expression that Disney fans use to describe the moment when the theme parks actually let their guests head onto rides (generally earlier than the actual posted opening time). For example, at Disneyland, you can enter the park about a half an hour early, stop at Starbucks, get a latte, then take a leisurely stroll up Main Street USA until you get to the state of Walt Disney—the hub that branches off to the different lands. At this point, you're still not going to get into the various lands—Adventureland, Tomorrowland, etc.—but by the time the park officially opens, you'll have at least a half hour’s head start on everyone else, so you can literally just walk onto rides that will be soon be mobbed. Put otherwise: The day is young, you’re sipping your coffee, no one’s grumpy yet, and you don’t have to wait in any lines.
Take advantage of Rider Switch
One of the most aggravating things about hauling little kids around a theme park is figuring out what to do with them when they’re too small for a ride you want to enjoy. So Disney will let parents switch off without having to wait in line more than once.
The first rule of Rider Switch is to ask the attendant at the entrance if the option is available for that ride. If so, then the entire family should go to the greeter and get a Ride Switch pass. Then, the person with the pass waits with the littles in a designated area. Meanwhile, everyone else takes the ride. Afterward, the grow-ups pass the child-care baton and parent B gets to go on the ride without having to wait in line a second time.
On the other hand, if only one parent wants to experience a particular attraction, some rides have single rider lines, which function almost as express lanes. (The system is designed to fill empty seats most efficiently.) Not every ride has a single rider line, and those that do change periodically, so check the website or ask when you arrive.
Ride the railroad
Whether you’re a legit train buff or just want a little downtime, riding the rails around the park is an easy way to take a break from the madness. The Disneyland Railroad takes a pleasant route around the park, and doubles as a great way to get back to the park entrance at the end of the night. For now, the train at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is closed for construction of the Tron coaster in Tomorrowland.
Enjoy the architecture
At Disneyland, duck into Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, even if you’re not staying there. It’s modeled after the great national park lodges, complete with soaring ceilings, massive beams and fireplaces, stained glass and comfy lounge chairs that just beg you to sit down and set a spell. You can get yourself an adult beverage, and you should do just that if you plunk the kids in front of the cute little Disney cartoon-showing TV. There are even kid-sized rocking chairs. True architecture buffs should try to catch one of the free periodic architecture tours of the complex, though—let's be honest—the average kid might revolt at that point.