Mission Impossible: No mouse, no kids, no problem
A theme park-free, kid-free visit to Walt Disney World is not only possible, it’s a lot of fun
Walt Disney World is for kids, they say. Leave the vacation kingdom to the short-pants set, and grow up, they say.
I say they don’t know Walt Disney World.
One angry mom’s Twitter tirade against childless couples visiting central Florida’s vacation destinations recently went viral, sparking a debate about who has the right to strap-on a MagicBand and queue up for some Mouse-centric entertainment. The somewhat profane rant, summarized and sanitized, posits that “Walt Disney World is for children! People without children need to be banned!”
A message to Mad Mom, and to any other child-free couple, group or gathering: With a few insider’s tips and a willingness to forgo Space Mountain, adults can leave the kids at home, never set foot inside one of Disney’s renowned theme parks and experience a top-notch getaway packed with unequaled customer service, convenience, color and culture.
With a few simple guidelines established, ParentingNH’s Dad on Board columnist embedded in the central Florida vacation destination recently to put that theory to the test.
- Leave the children at home.
- Don’t set foot in a single theme park.
That’s it. And spoiler alert: Not only is a parents’ getaway possible, it’s a great option.
First stop: your pillow. Disney owns and operates more than two dozen resorts on-property, ranging from value-level to deluxe. For a kid-free, park-free experience, convenience and access to activities is a priority, which is why the Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa is a natural choice. Located just across Lake Buena Vista from Disney Springs, a stay at this Disney Vacation Club resort — themed to look like the New York horse racing destination — puts you within walking distance of a diverse and extensive roster of dining, sipping and entertainment options. Depending on time of year and room size, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa ranges from a low of $398 a night for studio accommodations.
An equally rewarding home base is Disney’s Boardwalk Inn. A lively spot embracing Crescent Lake just outside the International Gateway entrance to Epcot and a short walk to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk transports guests to turn-of-the-century Atlantic City. A handful of dining options and nightly live entertainment in the form of boardwalk buskers makes this resort a vacation unto itself. A night at the Boardwalk Inn, standard-view, starts at $506. Upgrade the room or switch to Boardwalk-view, and prices shoot higher than the fireworks over Cinderella Castle.
There are more reasonable options. Disney’s All Star Music Resort, for example, starts at $99 per night, depending on the time of year.
Pro tip: The beauty of traveling to Walt Disney World without kids is that mornings can be lazy, sleep can be plentiful and naps can be had. However, in this case — get up. Rise early and head for the Boardwalk Bakery for coffee and pastries. The wrought-iron tables and chairs
provide a front-row seat to the brilliant sunrise that’ll bounce off of the Swan and Dolphin resorts just across the way.
With endless dining opportunities from one end of the expansive property to the other, it’s easy to find something to eat. Sure, there are buffets where every character from Winnie the Pooh to Goofy will sidle up to your waffles for a photo op, but since the kids are back with the in-laws, why not splurge a bit? Look closely and you’ll find plenty of menus without chicken nuggets or pizza on them. Your first choice in this case should be The Wave… Of American Flavors located just off the lobby in the Contemporary Resort.
Sure, you’ll be in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom, but with a little self-control you can avoid Mickey’s home base. Step off the monorail, head down the ramp into the restaurant proper, and you’re just minutes away from the Bacon and Eggs.
Typically, I wouldn’t get quite so excited by bacon and eggs, but this isn’t your Denny’s style breakfast fare. This is Bacon and Eggs (note: capitalize it, and you’re ordering the right item). This appetizer, which is substantial enough to serve as an entrée, is actually maple-lacquered pork belly with a ‘perfect egg’ (poached low and slow so it takes on a custard-like texture) served over Tillamook smoked cheddar grits. At just $14 — a pittance in Disney dining prices — it’s not only a bargain it’s the most delicious thing you may eat on Disney property.
And yes, I’m looking at you, candied bacon-on-a-stick in Frontierland.
Pro tip: Pair it with the restaurant’s whiskey flight to paint your palate with even more depth. Choose from several bourbons for a smoky, spicy element. Sip, savor, add a couple drops of water and
try it again. New aromas and characteristics will reveal themselves, working perfectly in concert with the pork belly and maple flavors. Remy would be proud.
Another Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR)-worthy option is The Boathouse, located in the Landing section of Disney Springs. A sophisticated spot for steaks and seafood, it sits just over the lake and is surrounded by a flotilla of classic watercraft. Start with an array of oysters — described and categorized thoughtfully by where they were harvested and served with vivid tasting notes — at $3.50-$4 each. The Boathouse Lobster Clambake does an admirable job of recreating the flavors of the Maine shoreline. For $38 you’ll get half of a 1¼ pound lobster, middleneck clams (in New England speak: tiny steamers), red potatoes, corn on the cob, Andouille sausage and a ciabatta crostini. Gibson’s Heritage Steaks are also available, ranging from the N.Y. cut at $29.50 to the $62 porterhouse. For slightly less, the Filet Mignon Sliders (two for $14), unadorned aside from splashes of maître d’ butter, will add some turf to your surf.
Step outside of the Boathouse, take a quick right, and you’ll be standing next to a fleet of squat, weirdly tall cars — these are the renowned Amphicars. Designed to drive from dry land into the water, these vehicles are available for tours in and around the waters of Disney Springs, affording guests an utterly unique view of the place. A 20-minute tour, which starts with a flourish and a splash into the water, is $125, and includes your own car captain (you can’t pilot it yourself) and room for three guests.
If you’ve opted to stay at the Boardwalk Inn, you’re a five-minute walk (or an $8 Uber from the Saratoga Springs Resort) from the Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course. Eighteen holes ($14) of creative mini-golf pits participants against challenging (and sometimes moving) obstacles straight from the minds of Disney’s Imagineers. Tests range from challenging uphill approaches to several soaking elements that give new meaning to “water feature.”
Since the opening of the new Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the resort is pretty much Vader/Skywalker central. However, the theme parks — and reality itself, truth be told — will never seem further away than when you’re spending 45 minutes foiling the Sith at The Void: Secrets of the Empire. A virtual reality experience ($29.95) drops would-be rebels into the world of ‘Star Wars’ in a completely convincing adventure. Friends-of-Skywalker types don a 25-pound vest and VR helmet, which transports them to the molten planet of Mustafar, where they must recover Imperial intelligence. I think. We spent our time on Mustafar shooting at anything that moved, including entire battalions of Stormtroopers and a few massive lava monsters.
Good news: The VR vest is quite slimming. Sort of like space-Spanx.
The VR tracking is also quite accurate. With a flick of a switch, we were transported into a world where we walked through hallways, picked up blasters, balanced above rivers of fire and fought for our lives.
Pro tip: A lazy afternoon of strolling through Disney Springs will bring visitors through scores of stores, pubs and nosheries. While you’re shopping, stop in at Chapel Hats, near the Landing. The right lid will keep the strong Florida sun from frying your dome, and Chapel Hats has a dizzying collection of top hats, floppy hats, scally caps and steam punk toppers.
When the sun goes down the artists come out to play. Live music, in the form of well-equipped, talented, professionally produced buskers will keep your toes tapping from the Marketplace to the West Side. Over at the Boardwalk, comedians, magicians and musicians draw crowds and keep families enthralled all night long — at the very un-Disney price of free. That’s not to say you won’t drop a few dollars while strolling along the Boardwalk’s boardwalk. Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margarita’s is just a few steps from all the action, and a Captain’s Seaside Sensation (pineapple smoothie with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum) will set you back $14.
Pro tip: Once the sun dips below the Beach Club, hit the Boardwalk and seek out Coney Island Chris — a master at keeping guests both screaming with laughter and squeamish with his edgy, fun and freakish antics.
So, dear Mad Mom Tweeter, Walt Disney World isn’t just for kids. Not that it isn’t an ideal family destination, as generations of increasing attendance, unending additions and construction projects and rising revenues will attest, it is. But if your definition of family includes people who remember when Mr. Toad had a wild ride, you’ll be fine.
Now get your kid out of my way — that photo with Pluto isn’t going to take itself.
Bill Burke is a writer who lives in New Hampshire and travels often to Walt Disney World — sometimes without his daughter. He is the author of the “Mousejunkies” series of Disney travel books, the Dad on Board columnist for ParentingNH, and managing editor of Custom Publications at McLean Communications.