Tips for Adults Doing Disneyland
Taking a trip to Disneyland as an adult without kids is totally normal…so says the childless couple of Annual Passholders. This post offers tips for visiting Disney California Adventure and Disneyland minus kids, and offers many relaxed, romantic, and unique experiences geared towards adults.
Disneyland Resort is a popular honeymoon destination, there’s a surprising amount of things to do for adults in what’s normally the kingdom of childhood dreams and fantasy. It might surprise families, but Disneyland Resort has become increasingly popular for adults without kids. While there once was an unfortunate stereotype that childless adults who visit Disneyland are odd, and that’s still a cliched “joke,” the reality is that social media has made the Disney parks more accessible to people of all ages.
Adult Millennials, in particular, have embraced Disneyland as a “cool” place to visit, so whatever stereotypes that might exist are outdated. (So the joke’s on authors of mainstream articles who frame their Disneyland experience as wading into uncomfortable territory, and then feign surprise when they had a good time.)
As with families, many adults who enjoy visiting Disneyland appreciate the brilliantly themed environments, the escapist atmospheres, fun attractions, wonderful details, fun dining, and other options. By and large, adults enjoy Disneyland and DCA for a lot of the same reasons as families.
However, they also enjoy some different experiences at the parks and hotels, and this post covers those. Note that these experiences aren’t reserved exclusively for adults traveling without kids–with great childcare services at Disneyland Resort, an “adults-only” date night can be perfect for parents, too.
The first question when planning this type of a trip is where to stay? If you’re doing an adults-only vacation to Disneyland, the first question you have to answer is whether this is really a Disneyland trip or a Southern California trip. If the latter, maybe you want to stay at a resort on the beach, a posh pad in Beverly Hills, or a trendy boutique hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.
If it’s truly a Disneyland trip, you then have to decided whether you want to stay off-site or on-site. We cover all of these options in our Disneyland-Area Hotel Rankings & Reviews post, but we’ll give you a quick summary here. For off-site hotels, our favorite ‘adult’ options are Hotel Indigo Anaheim and Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim (previously Hotel Menage). Both have a trendy vibe, and good options on the dining and nightlife fronts. (Residence Inn Anaheim Resort also ranks reasonably well in this regard, but it’s more family-oriented.)
In terms of on-site hotels, we’d only bother with Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. The upside of the latter is having Trader Sam’s on-site, with self-referential design that focuses on the history of Disneyland and Walt Disney. It’s whimsical, yet it’s historically-so, making Disneyland Hotel perfect for the adult Disney fan.
The Grand Californian is the resort’s flagship hotel, and offers a nice melding of Arts & Crafts theme (often thought of as ‘rustic’) along with sophisticated elegance and luxury. Objectively, it’s the nicer hotel of the two, and an entrance into Disney California Adventure is also appealing. Subjectively, we’d say which of these you’ll favor is a matter of personal preference. Sarah’s favorite is Disneyland Hotel, whereas I’d give the edge to the Grand Californian. In either case, we both think it’s a really close call, and we’ve enjoyed our stays at both.
If you are unsure of which hotel might be best for you–or need personalized help with any aspect of your trip–we recommend contacting a no fee “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (basically, Disney’s term for a travel agent) to get a quote and to help you plan. They get their commission from Disney, so none of the authorized (key word) planners will charge you for booking their trip and helping. Here’s one such recommended Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
An emphasis on dining is one thing that can really make a trip to Disneyland more adult. Not because kids dislike eating (to our knowledge, they do), but because there are so many ways to make the experience a ‘foodie’ one, which is generally an adult thing.
There are a lot of nice table service restaurants at Disneyland Resort, with a decent mix among the parks, hotels, and Downtown Disney. If you’d prefer something more casual, we think Cafe Orleans and Carnation Cafe are both great in-park options. For the height of in-park fine dining, Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure and Blue Bayou in Disneyland are good picks.
If you’re doing an adults-only trip, we’d also recommend making an effort to eat at restaurants outside of DCA and Disneyland. If you’re really ambitious, make it your goal to eat at least one non-theme park meal per day. Not just because the food tends to be better, but also because these restaurants skew more adult. Catal, Steakhouse 55, and Napa Rose are the main options in this regard.
Our go-to for this has become Napa Rose, where we’ve done the standard dining room, the lounge, and the Chef’s Counter. The appeal for us is that Napa Rose is outside of the parks, so the atmosphere is typically a bit more befitting of a fine dining restaurant. If we are going to drop a lot of money on a meal for a “date night,” we prefer this type of atmosphere over something more casual. This is our go-to special occasion restaurant, and we think it’s one of the best restaurants in all of Orange County, California–not just Disneyland Resort.
As far as other nice table service restaurants go, there are over a dozen options at Disneyland Resort that we’d categorize as ‘good for adults’ thanks to a mix of high-quality cuisine and pleasant atmosphere. You can read about all of the options in our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. Even if you are on a trip with kids, you might consider getting a babysitter and having a date night at one of these restaurants.
One thing worth noting for those who aren’t Disney regulars: some restaurants at Disneyland are character meals. These include Goofy’s Kitchen and Ariel’s Grotto. If you’re not interested in meeting Disney characters, you should avoid these restaurants. Generally speaking, they are loud, pricey, and serve subpar cuisine for the price. We happen to enjoy character dining, but we’re big Disney geeks who get kicks out of that sort of thing. Just know what you’re getting yourself into before booking these restaurants.
In general, we seem to find fewer children at the resort-hotel restaurants late at night. Families generally eat earlier and in the parks, so going at the end of the night can be a respite from kids (if they bother you).
The sub-header says “Nightlife” because we’re all about fanciness here at Disney Tourist Blog, but in reality, this is simply about boozing it up at Disneyland Resort, a feat that can be accomplished day or night. For more suggestions on this adult pastime, consult our Disneyland Bar Crawl Guide, which will assist you with putting together a ‘Disneyland Drinking Debauchery’ itinerary.
There are a ton of options in terms of drinking, albeit none inside of Disneyland Park. However, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the three hotels have you covered in this regard. If you’re willing to venture out onto Harbor Boulevard, you’ll also find some bars in off-site hotels. If you’re even more ambitious, take an Uber and head to Noble Ale Works, Rio Vista Lounge, Bruery Tasting Room, the Anaheim Packing District, or Old Towne Orange.
For a truly unique nightlife experience, we recommend Trader Sam’s at Disneyland Hotel. Located near the pool in a satellite building, Trader Sam’s is a themed tiki bar that features interactive effects, tons of detail, and references to classic Disneyland attractions. Even if you don’t drink, it’s worth going here solely for the entertainment value. (Just order an appetizer and non-alcoholic drink–it’s totally worth it!)
Are certain Disneyland attractions more adult than others? I think there are definitely ones that won’t appeal to adults without kids (Disney Junior Dance Party, for instance), but those are the exception, rather than the rule. By and large, the attractions are a constant. They’re the main draw of Disneyland, and you should experience the attractions that you most enjoy, or the ones you most expect to enjoy.
One thing we would caution against is looking past the rides that are typically considered ‘kiddie’ or rite of passage type rides. Dumbo might not be your first choice of a ride as an adult, but much like wearing mouse ears, there’s a sense of innocence and whimsy about it that’s truly appealing.
Same goes for a ride through hell on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, relaxing boat ride through the Storybook Land Canal Boats, or being seated in a cage on the Casey Jr. Circus Train all remind you that you’re a kid at heart. Beyond embracing your inner child, one thing that slow-moving outdoor attractions offer are great photo ops.
At the other end of the spectrum, doing thrilling attractions is always fun, but not necessarily adult…unless you count pretty much anyone over the age of 8 as adult. In reality, even the more intense Disneyland rides are fairly tame. Basically, we’d suggest doing whatever attractions you want.
We do have one recommendation for doing things that are not actual attractions. What this means is slowing down and doing things that aren’t listed on the park maps. Wander through a quiet alleyway in New Orleans Square and savor the details of the architecture, go on a snack crawl of the bakeries and snack stands throughout the park, sit on the upper level of Hungry Bear Restaurant and watch the boats on the Rivers of America float past. Heck, take two Grand Circle Tours of Disneyland. Enjoy a more leisurely experience and do things that you might not necessarily be able to if you had kids wanting to race to the next attraction.
The possibilities are endless, and these self-driven explorations will give you a greater appreciation for Disneyland. Not only will you have a lot of fun in the process, but you’ll see why Disneyland isn’t the simple kiddie park many people degrade it as being.
There is no shortage of special activities at Disneyland for adults. Along the lines of exploring the parks listed above, consider a guided tour of Disneyland. Sarah recently did the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps,” and really enjoyed the history–and the experience of stepping inside Walt’s Apartment. Other tours of Disneyland seem to come and go, with the “Grand Circle Tour” the only other unique one currently being offered.
Outside of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, there are options for lavish, adult-oriented options. The problem will be the amount of money you’re willing to shell out for such activities. Options range from things as like a couples trip to the spa to Afternoon Tea at Disneyland Hotel.
It’s difficult to list all of the special experiences you can have if you’re willing to pay a bit extra because there are simply so many. Disneyland is quite adept at extracting as much money from guests who have it and are willing to spend it. Basically, if you have the resources and want to do something, there’s a good chance there’s a way to make that happen.
One such example of this is the 21 Royal “Culinary Adventure.” This is one of those “if you have to ask how much it costs, it’s too expensive” type of things. This experience begins with guests being escorted from the Grand Californian into Disneyland, where they head above Pirates of the Caribbean into the former Disney Dream Suite for cocktails followed by said culinary experience. Oh, and the cost is $15,000.
Less costly options obviously exist. You can do photo sessions (we recommend contacting a local photographer rather than a Disney one), and doing a shoot at one of the resort hotels. If you’re simply looking for a special way to enhance your trip, Disneyland has teams that work with you to provide your significant other flowers, gifts, and specialized experiences that can help define a trip.
All in all, there are a lot of ways adults can get more enjoyment out of a Disneyland trip. Minor tweaks can make a big difference in the overall tone of a trip, and you can have entire days of experiences that are a significant departure from a more family-oriented itinerary. On the other hand, adults can also enjoy a day at Disneyland or Disney California Adventure that is identical to what a family would experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and the variety of options and customization that a Disneyland experience can contain is part of the allure!
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Do you agree or disagree with our tips for adult experiences at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure? Suggestions of your own to add? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
Maybe a little wierd. seriously, i’ve spent 5 minutes without my kids in a theme park and went from having a great time to ‘what am i doing here?’ in Magic Kingdom anyway, i could still enjoy things here and there in the other parks.
But at least you bring a child-like appreciation to it all. I can’t stand hearing people who complain about kids in a disney restaurant! grow up and get out of the theme park if you are too narcissitic to realize that Disney is the one place where children are welcome at fine dining establishments.
My kids- 7 and 10 – are already more interested in Universal, and our recent trip lacked the magic of seeing younger children’s eyes pop at the wonder of it all. I might take them back one more time before my son feels too old for jedi knight training – I found even 45 minutes early midweek after Thanksgiving was still not early enough to get him signed up.
Unless you’re and adult like me, who has NEVER been to Disney EVER. So all that kid stuff? Heck yeah am I doing it. I don’t care if I’m judged. Disney is as much for me as it is for people with kids. It’s the Disney bubble, as soon as you cross through you’re a kid again.
The only benefit is you can buy what ever you want with out begging your parents and can drink. Lmbo.
All great advice. I’m infertile, so thus we have no kids, but are big kids ourself. We went to Disneyland in June 2014, so it’s been a while, but I’m sure some of my advice will hold true.
1) Adults need “rest” periods as well, but unlike kids, we don’t need naps or “pool time.” But thankfully, Disneyland is built in such a way that allows for downtime while still taking something in. When you are feeling tired, like in the middle of a hot day or later in the evening, that’s the time to do some of the slower rides or take in some of the concert/parade/musical events. Some good ideas for those are watching a show at Tomorrowland Terrace (like Tomasina), or watching the Tiki Bird show while noshing on a Dole Whip when it was in the middle of the day and super hot, or sitting in the air-conditioned Animation Studio in Hollywood Land, or just sitting on a bench taking it all in.
2) On days where Disneyland is open to 11, most of the families pour out after the fireworks. Thus, heavy user rides like Thunder Mountain, Pirates, Splash Mountain have virtually no line ups. One evening, I was able to go on Thunder Mountain numerous times in a row during that window, and still see Pirates of the Caribbean again.
3) Don’t waste time strolling Mainstreet until 11 pm. They stay open one hour past close.
4) To accommodate for the late evenings, my husband and I didn’t get there as the gate opened. We slept in and ate breakfast at the hotel. It allowed us more stamina to stay up late. If you have the stamina to go as the gate opened, and stay late, all the power to you.
5) I think this is worth saying: be mindful of the children and their experience. For certain rides, if you have a chance to put them in the seat or row ahead of you, do so. Let them enjoy the experience as a kid, rather then block their view to have the “best experience” yourself. It’s easier to see over little heads, and there is a joy in seeing children excited about the adventure. Stand in the row behind during the parade, and let the children stand or sit in front of you. If you are the last person in a character line, and a little child comes up and wants them to see Goofy, let them take your spot. This is more so if this is not your first time at Disneyland. You had your first experience moment; let the kids have theirs.
Paying for only two tickets, it is more cost-effective to get the max pass so you can easily make ride reservations on your phone. Save a good bit of time, especially on a busy day.
I was surprized at the difference, Much fewer little kids than at WDW.
Getting ready to honeymoon at WDW and can’t wait. We’ve been married for a year and a half and it’s our 3rd honeymoon, but I like to think that if you live right, every day is a honeymoon! Enjoyed the article!
I don’t have kids yet, but I’m pretty sure Disney is more fun when you don’t have little ones with you lol
We love taking our four kids but we also love adult trips! We usually make sure to rope drop and then spend the morning racing to get a lot of attractions in before lines build since we traipse around the park quicker without kids. We also take advantage of single rider lines. Then we can have a more chill afternoon exploring, visiting stores (not fun with kids who want to buy/break everything), and doing table service meals. And then run around again at night when crowds ease. I don’t think we really do different attractions without kids–we just can do them more efficiently so that we have more downtime to do other things too
We also love trying snacks when we don’t have kids since it’s much cheaper to split stuff between the two of us than when we have to feed children too; same goes for nicer table service meals.
Similarly, we’ve done dining packages when we go without kids – i.e. Blue Bayou/Paint the Night when that was running. I’d do Fantasmic Blue Bayou package in a heartbeat but we haven’t made it back while Fantasmic is running.
We’ve used lots of the tips from this blog re dining, one-day plans, etc. to plan excellent visits with and without kids! And we are doing our first WDW visit (to run the half marathon) soon, without kids, partly to see if we think it’s worth hauling the kids to Florida for WDW or if we will just stick with SoCal since it’s closer.
In regards to Fantasmic packages, we did the River Belle package with the premium upgrade, that grants you an 8pm seating outside, and then you get to stay at your table to watch the show. The food wasn’t fancy, it’s BBQ, but it was solid BBQ. The view was slightly off to the right, but the benefit of getting to sit comfortably was tremendous. The phone charging stations at each table were also a bonus. I would highly recommend going this route if you’re going to splurge anyway.
Great tips, especially about slowing down and enjoying the ambience. My husband and I ended up spending 45 minutes listening to the jazz combo in New Orleans Square (I think they are called the Royal Street Players) and just soaking up the atmosphere. DH spent another 15 minutes talking shop with them about their gear and influences and almost got talked into staying in town an extra few days for a hiring fair at the park.
It was our first trip together (and his first ever) and it made the day extra special for us both as tourists and musicians.