Let’s get something straight: Disneyland is not just for the kids. In fact, nothing Disney-related is just for kids, truth be told. That said, while both California’s Disneyland and Florida’s Walt Disney World are wildly popular with families from all over the world, Disneyland is frequented by a large young adult crowd, particularly SoCal residents who are passholders. Full disclosure: that includes me.
Friends of mine have expressed their confusion about why I love Disneyland so much. And sure, it’s not for everyone. But if you mistakenly believe that the park(s) are only for children, you’ve got a lot to learn. Here’s a quick guide to enjoying Disneyland as a child-free adult:
Start at Disneyland and visit California Adventure in the afternoon
Get there about an hour before park opening (parking takes awhile) and head to Disneyland first. The kids around you will be cheerful, awake, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. By afternoon, when kids are tired, cranky, and ready for a nap, cross over to the considerably more adult-friendly California Adventure Park. Not only are there fewer kids and more adult rides, there’s the little perk that…
…California Adventure has a liquor license
Which means you can make the happiest place on Earth EVEN happier, with an extra special something in your drink. Best place to go? The Cove Bar by the pier, which serves signature cocktails and appetizers like lobster nachos. Pro tip: swing for your own early happy hour (between 12-2pm) to avoid what can – and will – become a loooong wait.
Skip the fireworks (and parades)
Parents use these shows as a respite from the endless walking, particularly for their kids — who are, by this point in the day, undoubtedly exhausted. Translation: while they’re distracted, you’ll have full reign of the parks! The rides won’t be EMPTY during these shows, but you’ll likely find a sweet spot in wait times (as well as a reprieve from screaming toddlers.) Fun fact: if you want to see the fireworks, you can see them from quite a few places in the park(s), not just from the prime strip of Main Street.
Avoid ToonTown like the plague
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve ridden the zany Roger Rabbit adventure alongside giggling toddlers, but this part of Disneyland Park is THE KID ZONE. Unless you want to trip over ankle biters (or have your own smacked by stroller wheels), steer clear.
Avoid weekends and spring/summer break
Kids will over-run the park any time of year, but spring break and summer are the most popular time for families and school-aged kids to visit. If you can, visit in the middle of the week and not around any major holiday.
Fastpass early, fastpass often
I recently visited Walt Disney World for the first time, where I was surprised to find that I had to reserve my fastpasses in advance. (What?!) My Orlando comrades might be blinking in confusion at my surprise, but we Disneyland vets are used to just showing up and grabbing fastpasses for whatever our hearts desire throughout the day. In fact, you CAN’T book a fastpass in advance at Disneyland. On each fastpass (FP) you get, there will be a time bracket designating when you can return for the ride, and when you can get another one. My advice: get another FP as soon as you’re allowed. Plus, you can hold a FP at Disneyland Park and California Adventure at the same time (one at each), so I recommend grabbing one for the brand new Guardians of the Galaxy ride (which, heartbreakingly, replaced the old Twilight Zone-themed Tower of Terror) at California Adventure and Hyperspace Mountain (Disneyland) first thing in the morning. These are the two most popular rides, easily garnering wait times of 2+ hours….so if you’re smart about it, not only can you zip onto these rides with minimal wait, you can quite possibly sneak in a SECOND go-round in one day.
Utilize the single-rider option
If you’re flying solo or with a friend, the single-rider option is well worth the saved time. You’ll each likely walk right onto the ride, with the satisfying feeling of marching past scores of families waiting in the mile-long standby line. The only downside is that not every ride offers a single-rider option; but the ones that do (Radiator Springs Racers, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, Matterhorn Bobsleds…) are major attractions.
Enjoy a romantic, classy date
Being a grown-up kid is great fun: you get to enjoy the best of both worlds. And what better way to do that than by sipping a martini in Old Hollywood? California Adventure’s Carthay Circle restaurant is on the second floor of the Carthay Circle Theater, a replica of the theater where Snow White premiered in 1937. Prices are on par with a 5-star restaurant AND a Disney theme park, but hey, you only live once amiright? Or, you can dine on fancy Italian food and wine on the cozy, fire-lamp-warmed patio of Wine Country Trattoria. Plus, both of these restaurants participate in the World of Color dining package option, where you can reserve a table, a 3-course meal, and a VIP spot to watch the fantastic water and light show.
Speaking of World of Color…see it
Get a fastpass early in the day to ensure you have a good viewing section (you can hold other fastpasses for rides throughout the day, even if you have this one.) Then get there as early as you’re allowed, and score a spot in front of the railings if you can (so your view isn’t obstructed.) World of Color is an excellent water and light show that tells a poignant story through Disney’s beloved stories, and on my short list of “must dos.”
Visiting families tend to retire to their nearby hotels after the 9pm fireworks show, and lines will shorten – a bit. I consider the “magic hour” to be 11pm to midnight, when Trevor and I usually race around and pack in all the big rides before closing. Pro tip: you can get in line any time before the park actually closes and still ride the ride (they’ll just close the line behind you.) In fact, the park’s closing time is really only the signal to start making your way to the exit; the shops remain open for one hour after rides stop accepting people in line. So if you want to get that gorgeous nighttime photo of Sleeping Beauty Castle in all her purple and blue-lit glory, or walk around and enjoy an empty, magical park, do it around 30 minutes after official closing time.
Don’t forget Downtown Disney
Escape the crowds temporarily (or round off the night) at Downtown Disney, where there are plenty of food and drink options for adults, including sports bars, the iconic Rainforest Cafe, and plenty of shopping to do away from (most of) the kids.
The original post first appeared on Trip.com.