Please welcome guest poster Eric K., who is excited to share about his first trip to Disney as an adult without children (and why he now finally understands us Disney Adults!):
A few weeks ago, my son came up to me with an unusual look on his face. He approached me rather slowly which led me to believe that something was up. Having no idea what was going to happen next, I started to feel anxious. Assuming the worst, I figured he did something wrong and was ready to fess up. In my mind, I quickly came to peace with this because, hey, at least he’s gonna own up to what he did.
When he finally sat down next to me, he looked me in the eyes and uttered the phrase every parent fears…”Dad, can I ask you a question?”
I knew it. The time had finally arrived. It was now time to answer THAT question. Have THE talk. You know the one. The one that I hated having with my own Dad back in the day (which I’m sure he didn’t enjoy either). But I was ready to take this head-on…or so I thought.
And then I got blindsided. He didn’t ask THE question…and in hindsight, I kinda wish he did.
Instead, he asked me something I was totally unprepared for. With all of the innocence that can come out of a 9-year-old boy’s mouth, my son asked me – “Dad, what is the hardest part about being a Dad?”
It took most of my self-control to keep myself from responding with my best and most sarcastic Dad Joke with the hopes to buy some time to think. But I knew he wanted a real answer, so my mind started cycling through a hundred different and hopefully acceptable answers. For whatever reason, I kept coming back to the same thought and decided to go all in with it. Right or wrong, I told my son that the hardest part about being a dad (or a person in general) is when you have to admit you were wrong about something, own up to it, and face the consequences.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, my son blindsided me again with his response. In his most confident and reassuring voice, he proclaimed: “I’m going to be the best Dad ever because I’m never ever wrong.”
I’ll never admit this out loud, but I did laugh a little inside and die a little at the same time.
Oh, this post is about Disney. Trust me, there’s a connection here and this is where it all comes full circle. Wanting to be the best example possible for my kids, I’m going to practice what I preach. I’m going to do something personally uncomfortable because it’s the right thing to do.
I need to make a formal apology to a former friend of mine whom I have not spoken with in years. For the sake of this post, I will call him Greg. I worked with Greg for over 10 years and he was (and I’m sure still is) a very likable person. But there was this one thing about Greg that drove me crazy…
Greg was THAT guy who, for whatever weird reason, was one of those Disney Adults who enjoyed going on annual trips to Disney WITHOUT HIS CHILDREN.
For those of you who are still reading, this is the time when I try to sneak in my embarrassing confession. Greg, I was so wrong about you the entire time. What I once mocked you for and teased you about behind your back…I am sorry.
Having just returned from a week-long trip to Disney World as a legal and consenting adult without my kids, I am excited to proclaim that I now get it. I am now one of those Disney adults. I get everything that Greg was so excited to talk about that I tried to avoid at all costs. I experienced one of the best, if not the single best vacation experience of my life.
So, without further ado, I am excited to tell you about my favorite memories and experiences during my VADWAACAWNK (Vacation At Disney World As A Consenting Adult With No Kids) in 5 categories: Resorts, Parks, Dining, Special Events, and the Marathon Weekend.
Animal Kingdom Lodge
As a former frequent business traveler, it takes a lot to get me excited about a hotel/resort. A hotel room is a hotel room. The bed is still uncomfortable, there are never enough pillows, the AC never gets cold enough, and there’s always something happening in the next room or outside in the hallway that makes it difficult to fall asleep.
When we booked our stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I sort of intentionally set my expectations pretty low on purpose. After all, AKL is one of a million places one can stay in Disney, and what normal person wants to spend time in a hotel room when they’re on vacation?!
Boy was I wrong. I don’t know if I’ll remember very much about the hotel room itself down the road (even though it was full of creative decor to match the overall Safari theme of the resort), but I will never forget the feeling of waking up in the morning and drinking a cup of coffee outside on the patio while watching the Giraffes and Zebras showing off for the crowd. That experience by itself made my stay at AKL completely worth the expense. And when you combine this with the very short walk we had to get to Sanaa (stay tuned for my thoughts on that dining experience), AKL blew me away and offered a completely unique and admittedly unexpected hotel experience in the best ways possible.
Disney’s Riviera Resort
If I had to compare my stay at AKL with a famous Disney living space, Casa Madrigal was the first thing that came to mind. I would imagine both experiences would provide the same unique and vibrant feelings where everything is full of life and full of happiness. By contrast, staying at the Riviera Resort (in my mind) would most closely compare to what it must feel like to walk inside Elsa’s Castle for the first time.
Everything about this resort made me feel like I was staying in a castle built for royalty. The room itself was magnificent (and had two full showers for some reason) and the additional amenities around the resort like the pools, water fountains, and even the artwork gave me a small taste of what it must feel like to live like a King.
Two of my favorite Disney “experiences” happened thanks to our stay at the Riviera. The first was my introduction to the Skyliner as a fun and convenient transportation method (someone should build these things all over the country) as well as two separate dining experiences at Topolino’s (that view from the top floor…wow!)
I must say I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to stay at two completely different and very unique resorts. There is really no way to compare the two against each other because of their vast differences, but those differences are what made each resort completely worth the price.
In my almost 42 years on this planet, I have only been to Disney World two times. Once as a child and once with my kids. In both cases, I did not visit Animal Kingdom. Before the start of my vacation, Animal Kingdom was the theme park experience I was the most excited about. I really didn’t know what to expect about the experience itself (which only added to my excitement), and seeing the Tree of Life in person was something I have been looking forward to for a long time.
I could write an entire blog post on everything I loved about Animal Kingdom, but for the sake of this post, here are my highlights:
Kilimanjaro Safaris. Much like my feelings about staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, I just loved how I was able to observe these animals in habitats that look and feel nothing like a typical zoo.
The animal trails. After the Safari, we spent time exploring the various trails around the Tree of Life and the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Having only a typical zoo experience and not knowing what to expect, I was so impressed at the accessibility and variety of animals along the trails. I was also very impressed by the eagerness and excitement I felt from the various zookeepers while they answered my millions of questions. Overall these trails are probably the most underrated experience of the entire theme park.
Expedition Everest. Speaking of heading into rides having no idea what to expect, I can’t even imagine the look on my face when we got to the top of the track on Expedition Everest. Fully expecting to somehow keep moving forward or maybe even around the “broken” part of the track, well, I did not at all expect how the roller coaster itself made it back to the station. SO good!
Avatar Flight of Passage. This was one of the most exciting and thrilling theme park experiences ever. Once again, I had no idea how the ride ‘worked.’ In fact, I still haven’t even seen the movie. Thankfully the pre-ride experience got me quickly up to speed on something called a Banshee and how to fly one of these things. I must say that the ride itself made this adventure feel about as life-like as possible.
Finding Nemo: The Big, Blue… and Beyond! This musical was incredible. This was one of my many Disney experiences where my expectations were low going in which turned out to be completely wrong. I loved this performance! I was shocked at the incredible level of talent of the cast members and the intricacy of the set, costumes, and props.
After all of that, the only thing that could possibly make my experience at Animal Kingdom any better would be a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience. Perhaps a Tiffin’s review is coming up later on….
Now that I can proudly call myself one of you Disney Adults, I feel safe admitting this out loud. Before my trip, the Magic Kingdom was the park/experience I was looking forward to the least. Aside from Space Mountain, I felt that the rest of the park was catered very specifically to kids and to adults who have a lot more money to spend on souvenirs than I have. And just the thought of me somehow being forced onto the Mad Tea Party makes me sick to my stomach and dizzy.
Once again, I was wrong about everything (this is becoming a pattern) and so very pleasantly surprised with the entire experience! In particular, these were some highlights:
Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. My favorite “ride” turned out to be the Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor (thanks to THAT GUY). I was genuinely impressed at the humor and the cast member’s ability to roll with some punches from the audience.
The Classics. I also had my first Haunted Mansion experience and was able to enjoy the classics like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Jungle Cruise. My Jungle Cruise experience deserves a special shoutout. As a connoisseur of dad jokes myself, I couldn’t help but appreciate the humor of my tour guide, which made the entire experience very memorable.
I Lava You. My second shout-out goes to probably the best theme park snack/dessert I’ve ever had. I say this with the utmost respect to the legendary Citrus Swirl, but the I Lava You ice cream float rocked my world.
If you are sensing an overall theme to my content, it’s probably related to my completely incorrect expectations about Disney. My experience at EPCOT falls right in line with this trend. Up until recently and for reasons I can’t fully explain, I had always thought that EPCOT was the “boring” or “overly educational” Disney park that parents would bring their kids to if they were misbehaving during their vacations. However, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, and Harmonious proved me very wrong once again.
Cosmic Rewind. This was easily my favorite ride out of everything I went on. After our first of three times on the ride (the third time we ended up being the very first people through the gates and the first train off the track…that was cool but a story for another time), I commented that the ride was like Space Mountain on steroids. I’ve never had more fun waiting in line for a ride since there was so much content to soak in and experience. And if you’ve never played air guitar while sitting on a roller coaster going full speed, mostly in the dark, all while blasting an overly catchy 1980s pop song, well, you haven’t lived!
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. Ratatouille is a Disney movie that I never would have imagined could translate perfectly into a thrill ride at an amusement park. I should have realized how much fun can be had while pretending to be a rodent running for dear life in the middle of a busy kitchen. This was my first ever experience on a ride vehicle where the carts on the train somehow disconnect in the middle of the ride and where the main visual element of the ride was a movie screen. I loved the overall design and uniqueness of the ride and would absolutely wait in a long line the next time around
Harmonious. One of my very best friends (you might know her as the owner of this blog!) once told me that of all of the things you can experience while at Disney, the Harmonious fireworks are one of the absolute best 30 minutes you can spend in the park. She was spot on. I’m struggling to find the right words to describe how I felt during these fireworks, but the combination of the music, the colors, and being able to see pretty much the entire World Showcase lit up at the same time, well, it was just the perfect way to end that night. Oh, having a couple of glasses of Bordeaux wine before and during the show certainly did not hurt.
Of all of the Disney theme parks, Hollywood Studios is the one I knew the very least about before my trip. And in perhaps a surprising turn of events for a post-visit Hollywood Studios review, I am not going to talk about Rise of the Resistance…yet. Instead, I want to begin by talking about my favorite Disney/Pixar series of all time. Toy Story. Yes, I am a Toy Story guy through and through.
And once I found out about Toy Story Land, it was game on! Speaking of game on, I very rarely feel the need to take a selfie (for obvious reasons if you know me lol), but in Toy Story Land it was game on (again)! Apparently the selfie game is another mark of us Disney Adults.
Toy Story Land. I absolutely loved how this section of the park gave me the very real feel of walking into Andy’s backyard as one of his toys. Even though I didn’t have the chance to ride Slinky Dog Dash, I had so much fun taking pictures with the characters and playing Toy Story Mania. And I almost won! Not too bad for a first-timer.
Tower of Terror. I was told that a first-timer like myself cannot spend time in Hollywood Studios and not wait in line for Tower of Terror. Well, thanks to an after-hours pass, I not only rode Tower of Terror – I only had to wait in line for less than 10 minutes. Tower of Terror is the exact type of thrill ride I love. My favorite part of the ride was during those stress-filled seconds when we got to the very top door. As soon as the doors opened we could see fireworks going off in the distance. And at the almost exact second I let my body relax to enjoy the view… we were gone.
Rise of the Resistance. And for my grand finale, I will provide my thoughts on Rise of the Resistance. I think the best way to understand my upcoming comments is with some brief personal context. Up until this specific vacation, I did not care for Star Wars – it just wasn’t my “thing.” I have still only ever seen the ‘first’ three movies. Now, with that context in mind, I will say this about Rise of the Resistance:
It was the best theme park ride and overall ride experience I’ve ever been a part of.
It was so unexpectedly amazing that I can’t help but consider myself a Star Wars fan now. Going into the ride, I had no idea what was going to happen. I was 100% in the dark and I am so glad that I was! I had three very specific “no way” moments during the ride (my language was much more NSFW in the actual moment if that helps you better understand how I felt).
The first moment happened after our journey on the transport shuttle. I was shocked when the “wrong” door opened revealing that the ship had somehow moved and we were now inside a room full of very intimidating life-sized Storm Troopers…WOW!
The second moment started when we were all lined up to enter what I soon found to be a prison cell. At certain points I was kind of scared at the possibility that I was really in trouble for something…the cast members were that amazing and intimidating. My jaw dropped while inside the prison cell when the wall next to me started to open from being cut into from the outside. I was so engaged in the experience by then that I actually felt an intense sense of relief that there was a way out of this mess.
Finally, I have a vivid memory of feeling total shock and amazement when we entered the room with ‘full-sized’ AT-AT Walkers (yes, I had to Google what those things are called.) It was the scope and the size of that part of the ride that blew my mind in the best possible way.
I can think of a few more memorable moments from my first time on Rise of the Resistance, but for now, I will leave all of you passionate Star Wars fans with the satisfaction of knowing I am now one of you!
If you enjoyed what you read and are holding out hope for more content, stay tuned. Part two of my VADWAACAWNK review and how to feels to be part of these Disney Adults will include my musings on dining, a few special events (including New Year’s Eve and other after-parties), and my first-ever Disney Marathon weekend. As a runner. By choice. Who actually finished (the 10K). To infinity and beyond….
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Eric’s vacation! Do you wish more people would have experiences like this so they can start understanding Disney Adults?