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In the years before on-demand and streaming, kids were more of a captive entertainment audience. In the summer of 1989, it was all about “The Little Mermaid.” In 1991 came “Beauty and the Beast.” Disney followed with juggernauts “The Lion King,” “Aladdin” and “Toy Story” in 1992, 1993 and 1995, respectively. Those blockbuster successes weren’t isolated to 90 minutes of on-screen enchantment. The characters infiltrated Happy Meals, the toy aisles, music and more to turn an entire generation of kids into Disney kids.
And the millennials who were kids during these formative years are now the 30-somethings holding the entertainment dollars, so it’s no shocker that basically all those movies have enjoyed a (successful) 2019 reboot.
But enjoying the world of Disney is not limited to the movie theater, and there’s a definite trend of millennials flocking to the Disney parks, with or without kids. In fact, the first Disney hotel rooms built intentionally for visitors coming without kids is set to open later this year in the form of two-person studios at the European-themed Disney’s Riviera Resort. If that isn’t proof this is a real thing, I don’t know what is.
Recently, there’s been lots of online chatter about how “childless millennials” are ruining Disney for the families. I’ve read things like “they don’t belong there,” or how they should “take a real vacation,” and how they are making the lines longer for families with kids — you know, the ones who should be at Disney in the first place.
But here’s the thing: That’s garbage. Disney World, Disneyland and even Disney Cruises simply aren’t just for kids. These days, the parks are designed to attract adults as much as families. In fact, I know many families who look forward to their kid-free Disney trips, in addition to the ones where the whole crew comes because there are activities and amenities that support both types of visits. Sprinkle in the reality that Disney characters played a role as a cultural phenomenon for today’s 30-somethings and it shouldn’t be a shocker that Disney is a no-kids-required destination for fun.
Take for example the Epcot Food and Wine Festival that will now run for longer than it ever has before — for 84 straight days beginning Aug. 29. Disney has family-friendly offerings peppered in the festival, but let’s be real about who the target market is for mimosa flights, raclette and Bailey’s milkshakes (you’ll find those as soon as you get off the Skyliner and enter Epcot in the Ireland set-up, in case you were curious).
Then there’s the $170 “Highway in the Sky” dining experience that really sounds like equal parts eating and imbibing. Kids are technically allowed on this tour, but it is only recommended for those 12 and up, and the whole purpose of the event is to eat … and to drink your way around the monorail loop with stops at the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian.
It’s not just the seasonal festivals and tours that cater to adults. There are plenty of permanent offerings at Disney that are clearly meant for grownups. For example, Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian switches to 21 and up after 8pm (and it’s a fan favorite).
There’s also the new (and very popular) Oga’s Cantina located within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which is actually the first place to publicly sell alcohol at Disneyland. You’ll even find award-winning fine-dining establishments, such as Victoria & Alberts, where kids under 10 aren’t even permitted — and meals will set you back hundreds of dollars.
Beyond Disney’s food and beverage programs, I don’t know how many kids are able to save up their allowances to build a $200 custom lightsaber, which is one of the big draws in the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. No, that just screams nostalgic adults with money to burn.
The thing is, childless millennials who come to Disney aren’t taking advantage of — or ruining — something made exclusively for kids and families. Even if that was Walt’s original intent for the parks in the 1950s, it simply isn’t what the parks are today. Here in 2019, Disney parks are intentionally catering to a variety of demographics. Not only that, but today’s young adults like to mix it up. They might go all-in on Disney on one trip and hike Iceland on the next.
If, as a parent, you find yourself irrationally angry at the carefree group of childless adults who are ahead of you during a multihour wait for Flight of Passage, Slinky Dog Dash or Mine Train, I have bad news: It’s not them you should be frustrated with. Instead, you should take up your frustrations with Disney, because the brand empire is specifically marketing to them with adult-centric activities, meals and now even hotel rooms for couples.
Plus, the parks aren’t just a few “It’s a Small World”-type rides and a handful of hotels. Disney World alone is the size of San Francisco, presumably large enough for everyone who wants to spend cash in exchange for some well-marketed thematic fun.
My advice? Maximize the heck out of FastPass+, buy-up to packages that increase happiness and reduce waits and book some nice dining experiences the entire family can enjoy (here are our favorites). When deciding when to visit, consult a crowd calendar and try to avoid Disney during the extremely peak weeks when the parks are overrun by other families on school break.
A final recommendation, if you can sneak away for a couple nights, is to give a kid-free theme park trip a try for yourself. You may quickly realize why travelers without children enjoy going, as it’s kind of a blast when you aren’t worrying about strollers, meltdowns and nap times. One might say kid-free visits to the happiest places on earth are, well, magical.
Featured photo by by Summer Hull / The Points Guy
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