Many adults think that Disneyland has nothing to offer them. They think of it as a child’s paradise and an adult’s nightmare. They imagine the “kids” section of their local amusement park, except huge and infinitely crowded. They wince at every ride crushing their knees, if they’re not too big to get on in the first place.
Others think of Disneyland as the rest of that local amusement park. An endless series of cookie cutter rides set into a sea of concrete. Coasters, bumper cars, log flumes, and then even more coasters.
Finally, there’s the group that only sees the Disney in the title. They think of princesses and talking animals, things they’ve outgrown or things that never really clicked with them in the first place.
None of these people are entirely incorrect. There is some element of Disneyland that fits each of those descriptions, but none tell the whole story. When Walt Disney started his work on Disneyland, he specifically envisioned a place that is fun for everyone and a place that strives to innovate the definition of a theme park.
While his vision has been interpreted many ways as the company has changed, it still fundamentally fuels every decision behind the parks. If anything, the parks have become more adult-friendly over the years.
Why Should Adults Visit Disneyland?
On top of the adult-friendly attractions and eateries, many Disneyland fans find that visiting as an adult gives them a ton of extra freedom that they don’t have on a child-centric visit.
They can sprint from thrill ride to thrill ride or they can meander through Main Street, U.S.A. to shop and take in the history and nostalgia. While both adult-centric and child-centric experiences have a lot of magic to offer, each has its unique charms that are worth exploring.
If you’ve read this far, you are probably at least a little curious about what Disneyland has to offer you. Whether you are interested in Disneyland thrill rides, history, or goofy attractions, take a look at 12 of the most amazing things adults can do in the parks.
A Tale of Two Parks and Many Lands
Disneyland Resort consists of two parks. Understanding the difference between the two parks can be key to deciding how you want to spend your day. First, there is Walt Disney’s original Disney park: Disneyland Park, sometimes just called Disneyland.
Disneyland does not have a kid’s section. Instead, it opts to make almost every attraction friendly to both kids and adults. Nonetheless, Disneyland offers less in the way of thrill rides than California Adventure. Its attractions rely more on immersive storytelling. Disneyland Park consists of 8 “lands” which are each themed around a different concept.
- Main Street, U.S.A. – The main thoroughfare that leads up to the iconic castle. This street evokes the “Main Street” of an idealized American town.
- Adventureland – A land themed around exploration and exotic wildlife.
- New Orleans Square – An immersive land that gives the feel of an old-timey New Orleans neighborhood.
- Critter Country – A land that evokes camping trips and woodland creatures.
- Frontierland – Disneyland’s Wild West.
- Fantasyland – A land of fairy tales and magic at the heart of Disneyland.
- Mickey’s Toontown – This land gives you the feeling of walking into a cartoon. It is filled with bright colors and physics-bending cartoon logic.
- Tomorrowland – A land that is still searching for its place in the world, the Tomorrowland theme focuses mostly on space travel and science fiction.
Second, there’s California Adventure. California Adventure is still struggling to find its voice as a theme park, but so far that voice focuses more on adults than Disneyland does. It has alcoholic beverages, more upscale restaurants, and more thrill rides that would be unsuitable for very young children. It also consists of lands, though their theming is less coherent due to the park’s shifting subject matter and tone.
- Buena Vista Street – Recreates the 1920s Los Angeles that existed when Walt Disney first moved to the city.
- Pixar Pier – A boardwalk themed around Pixar films, complete with games and a roller coaster.
- Paradise Gardens Park – This area of the park was designed to look like an oceanside theme park, like those that can be found along the beaches of Southern California.
- Grizzly Peak – Grizzly Peak, like Critter Country, is themed around the American wilderness, though this time with a focus on California’s National Parks.
- Pacific Wharf – A cross between Monterey and San Francisco, this area does not have contain any rides, but it does have a lot of great dining.
- Hollywood Land – This area is essentially a very small version of Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. It focuses on the making of Hollywood films.
- Cars Land – Finally, Cars Land focuses on the film Cars and the cultural staple that is Route 66.
Entertainment for Adults:
Let’s begin with the Sorcerer’s Workshop.
Sorcerer’s Workshop is an interactive walkthrough attraction in California Adventure’s Hollywood Land. The attraction is ideal for animation buffs, but anyone with an interest in “how it’s done” entertainment will find Sorcerer’s Workshop to be fascinating. The attraction consists of a few levels, the first of which is an interactive “introduction” to how animators make a moving picture out of many still images.
Most interactive museums outside of Disneyland have zoetropes (the wheels of still images that become animated when you spin them), so this part of the attraction doesn’t really break new ground. Still, Disneyland presents the information with its signature flair.
Next, you enter the Beast’s library from Beauty and the Beast, the dream of every bookworm. Here, you have the option to interact with a book that will give you a short personality test. At the end, it tells you which Disney character you are. Interestingly, the potential options include villains, so choose wisely! The best part about this room is the constantly changing library.
Every few minutes, the library switches between the tattered old library and the magnificent refurbished library he gives to Belle. It’s this attention to fine detail that makes Sorcerer’s Workshop so special.
Finally, you descend deep into Ursula’s Grotto from The Little Mermaid. This section of the attraction focuses, of course, on the voice. Like she does Ariel, Ursula tricks you into giving her your voice, which she places into the mouths of characters in famous Disney scenes. This gives everyone a chance to be a Disney voice actor!
Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
Of all the non-ride attractions at Disney, none have the history or gravitas of Mr. Lincoln. Whether your interests lie more in the technological or historical, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln will be one of the most memorable parts of your Disneyland experience.
Walt Disney first introduced Mr. Lincoln, a lifelike audio-animatronic of the 16th president, at the 1964 World’s Fair. The animatronic, which presented an inspiring combination of his most famous speeches, wowed audiences with its remarkable likeness to the man himself.
Shortly after the World’s Fair, the show was recreated at Disneyland. The full presentation has been tweaked many times, but Mr. Lincoln now resides inside of a larger attraction called “The Disneyland Story Presenting Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” that can be found just to the right of the Disneyland entrance.
The rest of the attraction is essentially a museum about the history of Disneyland, including many historical artifacts, memorabilia, and an entertaining film on the history hosted by Steve Martin.
None of this is mandatory in order to get to Mr. Lincoln, but it is interesting for anyone with a curiosity about how the park came to be. Mr. Lincoln still astonishes guests not only with his convincing appearance, but also with the power of his speech.
Fantasmic! is a live nighttime show that feels like real magic. The show stops everyone in their tracks, even if they were simply passing by the area. It includes a loose narrative of Mickey Mouse interacting with characters from the full history of Disney media, tied up in a performance at least as bold as Cirque du Soleil.
Fantasmic! surprises you at absolutely every turn because it uses so many different types of effects and entertainment. There’s music, lasers, film tributes, live actors, acrobats, huge puppets, and even more that you wouldn’t want spoiled.
The show takes place in Disneyland, where you watch from the banks of Rivers of America. It costs no extra money and just a little bit of extra planning. Arrive at the park when it opens and make a beeline for the FastPass station by Rivers of America.
This won’t prevent you from being able to do any other FastPass activities throughout the day, as these tickets are disconnected from the rest of the system. This takes only a few minutes, then you can continue with your day as planned.
Dining for Adults
Let’s begin with the Blue Bayou.
It is unlikely that any Disneyland restaurant can match with the fame of Blue Bayou, a Cajun and Creole restaurant in New Orleans Square. Many people don’t know the name of the restaurant, but anyone that has ever ridden Pirates of the Caribbean has passed by it.
That is because the restaurant exists inside the ride, providing the early New Orleans ambiance before the pirates arrive. At Blue Bayou, it’s always a serene evening in New Orleans, complete with fireflies and distant houseboats. The restaurant is one of the pricier options at Disneyland, but the food and authentic atmosphere makes it unmissable.
Pacific Wharf Café and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop
Maybe you can’t make it all the way to San Francisco on this trip. No problem. Disneyland brings San Francisco’s two most notable eateries to you! Boudin Bakery lends its delectable sourdough bread to the Pacific Wharf Café. Fill it with rich soups like clam chowder or buy a loaf to eat on the go.
You can’t go wrong. Then hop to Pacific Wharf Café’s neighbor, Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop, for a hot fudge sundae or banana split that will knock you over. Both restaurants are located in the Pacific Wharf area of California Adventure
Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar
Trader Sam, a shrunken head from the Jungle Cruise ride, has quite the following. His Tiki Bar, located in the Disneyland Hotel, has long been a hit with Annual Passholders, who remark on its lively atmosphere filled with Disney’s trademark attention to detail. Ordering certain cocktails has unique effects on the tiki heads, furniture, or the behavior of the bartenders.
The Krakatoa Punch, for example, causes an eruption of Krakatoa that can be seen out the fake window. If the silliness of Jungle Cruise tickled you during the day, Trader Sam’s will be just the place to enchant you at night.
Rides for Adults
Between California Adventure and Disneyland, Disneyland is clearly the “younger” of the two parks, with most of its attractions targeted to children even if they are enjoyable by all. By contrast, California Adventure is a little more grown up.
Even the most kid-friendly areas of the park, like Pixar Pier, still have adults in their target demographic. For this reason, the following rides section will focus more on the adult-friendly gems of Disneyland Park, with only two rides from California Adventure that adults tend to overlook. Here are some of the best Disney rides for adults!
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
This ride has a knack for bringing out the child in everyone. Located in Tomorrowland, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters intertwines game play with traditional dark ride elements. Each rider gets a laser, which they can use to score points by shooting that laser at targets throughout the ride.
Some targets are easy, while others require timing, skill, and knowing where to look. Aside from some mild twisting, the ride doesn’t feature any drops or sudden movements, so it is great for even the most thrill-averse adults.
Indiana Jones Adventure
Indiana Jones may not seem synchronous with the Disneyland experience, but Indiana Jones Adventure will certainly be one of the most memorable additions to your visit. The ride starts before you even get into a car, as you walk the long interactive cave to your vehicle. (Disneyland accurately anticipated long wait times for this ride, so they made the wait as interesting as possible.
Ride this early in the morning or just before close for short wait times. Otherwise, grab a FastPass.) Once you set off in your car, you wind through a series of near misses with evil spirits and booby-traps sure to make your heart race.
Although Jungle Cruise is Indiana Jones’ neighbor in Adventureland, they share very few similarities. Where Indiana Jones takes itself seriously, Jungle Cruise presents a pun-filled narrative of a jungle cruise gone disastrously wrong. Jungle Cruise is certainly suitable for children, but a child will not appreciate what makes Jungle Cruise fun.
The ride was among the opening-day attractions and features audio-animatronic animals and other jungle scenes, but the joy of the attraction lies firmly in the jokes. The narration of each ride is done live by a skipper and it is filled with wordplay and deliberately corny humor. If you love dad jokes and nearly being eaten by piranhas, Jungle Cruise is the perfect ride for you.
This classic ride, located at the border of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, loads you into a bobsled that zips in and out of a mountain as you are chased by an abominable snowman.
This ride has two different tracks that are similar in feel but have a unique construction so you can continue to be thrilled by twists and turns. Each track has its own queue, so make sure to stop by both tracks for the full experience!
Goofy’s Sky School
Goofy’s Sky School exists in a category of roller coasters called “wild mouse” coasters. If you have never had the joy of one of these coasters, you may dismiss it as a tiny rollercoaster exclusively for young children.
Like most wild mouse coasters, Goofy’s Sky School has a very small footprint, turning in on itself with layers of jerky sharp turns and sudden drops that make you feel like you’re about to fly off the track. The overall effect is a mild adrenaline rush that will keep you returning for more.
Finally, Pixar Pal-a-Round, a Ferris wheel perfect for both the daredevils and the risk-averse (though not at the same time). Based on Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel, this eccentric Ferris wheel has two different kinds of gondolas. First, it has stationary gondolas that give you sweeping views of the park and Anaheim.
These gondolas are only frightening if you’re afraid of heights. Second, they have “swinging” gondolas, a name that does not accurately convey how terrifying they are. These gondolas not only swing, they also slide on rails, flying towards the edge of the wheel before catching and swinging back and forth.
This unexpectedly frightening nature has earned the ride many nicknames over the years, but more importantly it has earned the ride many loyal fans who return for the beautiful views or exhilarating rush.
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