Adult Disney. It’s a thing. And nowhere is it more of a thing than on the Disney cruise lines. In fact, it’s so much a thing on their cruises that you can even bring all of your kids, and it’s still Adult Disney.
For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, contrary to popular belief that you only go to Disney for young children and leave it in the same pile of used-to-do’s as the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny, there is actually a version of Disney that is catered to grown-ups. Their trick is that they sneak it in, camouflaged in the background. Kind of like the adult humor in Pixar movies or that shot of espresso in my venti chai tea latte.
Don’t get me wrong: I know that their main market is young kids. I was one of them. Remember how as a child, when the sun was setting and you were walking along a Florida suburban street with your aunts and cousins and grandmother, and while it was super cool to see family and all, the real excitement was you were going to go to Disney World? No? Just me? Okay, well, I remember looking at my shadow on the street, and how long it was, how tall I was in the Shadow Realm, and daydreaming about what our day at Disney would be like. I don’t remember much of the actual time at the park, but I remember that walk, anticipating it.
The thing is, we might not even have gone to Disney that time — sometimes we would just go to Florida to see the family — but that’s what Florida was to me as a kid. It was amusement park rides that were slow and easy and filled with stories and music and wonder. It was characters that I knew from the TV screen walking along the street and waving hello. It was the future, through the lens of Epcot. It truly was a magical place (apologies to fans of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).
Later in life, as a young mom, I went back to Disney several times with my own kids. Fun fact: as a recently divorced mother of three, I got along so darned-tootin’ well with my ex that we all went to Disney World together. We stayed in a suite at one of the resort’s theme hotels. We split up who rode the rides with the older boys and who gathered character autographs with the little girl. We took silly photos of one another in Toon Town. And of course, we gave each other breaks to go relax in the room while the other one wore out the munchkins. It was an absolutely pleasant platonic time.
But even then, Adult Disney was still invisible to my eye.
It was still about the kids, and when I had a break from the kids, it was about leaving Disney to go back to the room, and retreating there felt like retreating from Disney. And that was the point.
I didn’t see it because I figured my job at Disney is to be Mom, and give the family a good vacation. I didn’t see it because I didn’t think I was the target audience. I didn’t see it because I was too focused on making sure the kids got to see all the characters they wanted to see, and rode the rides that wouldn’t freak them out (and sometimes, which ones would freak them out just enough), and got food that they would actually ingest.
So I viewed it through mothering eyes, the way you approach an episode of Barney or a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal. You endure it from time to time, telling yourself “everything in moderation”,. You plug your nose and bear it. You know … for the kids …
But when the munchkins reached a certain age, and we joined my parents and sister’s family on a Disney cruise, lo and behold — the veil was lifted.
There it was, undeniably and irrefutably: all the things that Disney does so well to make things amazing for the kids, is actually what they’re doing for the adults.
Adult frickin‘ Disney, for the win!
Simplicity is Genius
There are many different scales that one might use to judge why Adult Disney is so incredible, but I think there’s a strong argument to be made that Ease of Use ought to be at the top of the list.
I’m usually guarded with my use of superlatives (the “best ____ of all time”, or even “the top 5 ___ of all time”, line of questioning tends to make me twitch), but I have to say, nobody is better at “keeping it simple” than Disney. From what I’ve seen of resorts and hotels around the world so far, they are the one to beat.
First, your luggage concerns become a distant memory. Your stack-o-stuff is collected at registration, and you’re given directions to your room but told not to worry, your things will make it there, and your job is to simply start your vacation. (Perfect scenario for the “Everything Must Go” packing method.)
Next, the trinkets. Your initial collection of goodies includes stickers, badges, room keys for everyone, phones for the adults and older kids (so they can wander around the ship with only the very lightest of supervision), and passes for all the kids to areas of the ship that are exclusively for their particular age groups.
Which is a convenient segue to the third, and perhaps most critical, Adult Disney secret: Disney-fied child care. Constant, quality child care is part of your daily rate, and not just babysitting, but all-Disney-all-the-time-entertainment specifically geared toward your child’s interests. They up the ante even more for kids 6 years and up, by declaring that no adults are allowed — the kids have to “authorize” the parents to come inside to talk to them. If you’ve been a really, really good Mom or Dad that day, maybe you can spend a few minutes playing games with them. But you have to earn it.
In other words, you check into the cruise a minorly stressed-out, moderately beleaguered, ever-committed parent taking your kids on another Disney experience, and they hand you sweet, sweet relief.
Adult. Frickin’. Disney.
Who Needs Blue’s Clues When You Can Booze Cruise?
Bad Dad jokes aside, it’s no joke that Adult Disney is shorthand for Adult Beverage Disney.
You walk onto the boat and are greeted oh-so-friendly-like, in true Disney sunshine style, with an offer to help you find exactly where you want to go … or perhaps you want to simply make your way to that bar across the mouse-eared carpet … because you kind of look like you do … (Okay, they didn’t say that verbatim, but if we all came with thought bubbles …)
In fact, upon my arrival with my crew of little people, the rest of the adults (mother, stepfather, sister, brother in-law) were in the lobby waiting for us, with cocktails as big as my head in their hands.
Pretty much every corner of the ship was set up for constant access to libations, except the kids’ areas of course … but even those weren’t too far away from a bar. So you can get up in the morning, get everyone fed, get the kids off to their Disney area, and get yourself to the day drinking and an available deck chair. No responsibilities, just 100% kid-free, carefree awesomeness.
Now that’s my kind of Mickey Mouse Club.
Food, Glorious Food
Like other cruises, the Disney cruise experience focuses on making sure you have a damn fine meal to look forward to every evening, and buffet options for breakfast and lunch (and free soft serve ice cream stations throughout the main deck, which my kids thought was perhaps the best part of the ship — to this day, when we talk about whether to do a Disney cruise again, they get excited about the ice cream).
Dinnertime was my temporary exception to being in Adult Disney mode. We wanted this to be family-time, where the grandparents could hang out with the grandkids, and we could all share stories about what we did that day, and what event we were going to do after the meal (they had movies and performances every evening, like all cruises do).
Each night we went to a different place, ranging from a Finding Nemo theme to my favorite, the art of animation. There was something super cool about being surrounded by behind-the-scenes homages to the artists behind the commercialism. Not in a Metropolitan Museum of Art way — I mean, this was very Mickey Mouse (did you really expect anything else?) — but it still spoke to me. And the quality of the cuisine was absolutely stellar, if memory serves it was classified as four-star (with a five-star restaurant available by special reservation, and in true Adult Disney fashion, for 18+ guests only).
I’ll let you in on a little secret about me: behind my all-business, snarky, minimalist exterior, I cannot resist puppets and stuffed animals.
I love them. Everything about them. Their adorable faces and bodies that resemble the real thing but are WAY cuter, how just looking at them you can imagine their soft plushy feel and what it’s like to hold them close, their ability to turn a lonely bed into an unbelievably charming “awwww” factor … they are awesome. Want to worm your way into my heart? Give me a huggly wuggly something-something. I don’t even care what it is, as long as it’s not scary. (Although admittedly, a stuffed Weeping Angel would be pretty rockin’. I’d snuggle that.)
So I was, of course, completely charmed by the cloth creatures that appeared in our room, night after night. Swoon. And, gush. These are not unique to Disney cruises, pretty much any cruise worth its salt will do the towel origami thing where they twist your fresh ones into different shapes like swans or sailboats. The Disney twist is to lean into their market space, and go with adorable, quirky Muppet-like beings.
Hush now, all you who think this is for the kids. No way. This is for those of us who understand childhood so much better now that we’re not in it, and love those sense memory touch-points that can take us back there. This is without a doubt part of the magic of Adult Disney.
Sometimes they used towels, other times they have fun with blankets to give the creature a bit of color for effect (a la Creature 1, above). In our case, they even grabbed random accessories from my bedside table to up the cuteness factor by a factor of approximately 26,000 (Creature 2). As awesome as all of that was, I’d say my favorite part was how they put them in different spots of the room each night, which is the closest I get to an enjoyable jump scare (Creature 3).
And granted, these guys weren’t exactly snuggly … but they looked snuggly. They seriously looked like they were straight out of Jim Henson’s workshop, and I don’t know about you, but I think all of Henson’s creations have got to give amazing snuggles. Yeah, even the skeksis. (Just me again? Okay. Huh …)
I’d be remiss to not also quickly mention that the rooms themselves were lovely. Perfect size for myself and the three youngun’s, everyone had their own space, and there was even a dividing curtain so I could continue to keep my light on and write through the evening after they fell asleep.
But really, it’s all about the Muppets.
When I was little, I really liked to sing. It was actually kind of embarrassing … for everyone who wasn’t me. I wanted to sing, I loved to sing, so I SANG! Here, there, and everywhere! In family rooms and kitchens and bedrooms and public bathrooms … singing was the best. And one of my favorite songs to sing was, of course, the Mickey Mouse Club Theme Song.
Mickey Mouse club
Mickey Mouse club
We’ll have fun
We’ll meet new faces
We’ll do things and
We’ll go places
All around the world
Who’s the leader of the club
That’s made for you and me
Hey! there, Hi! there, Ho! there
You’re as welcome as can be
Mickey Mouse (Donald Duck!)
Mickey Mouse (Donald Duck!)
Forever let us hold our banner high
(High! High! High! High!)
Come along and sing the song
And join the jamboree!
It was also the source of one of my favorite inside jokes:
M – I – C …. (See you real soon!)
Kay – Kee – Why (Why? Because we like you –)
Wait. Kay Kee Why??
I loved interrupting myself and asking this question, dragging out the “why” in a long wail, more like “whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?”. I thought that joke was HI-larious. (It still kind of cracks me up.)
I mention this because, full disclosure, I am quite aware that my unbridled affection for Adult Disney is, without a doubt, partially driven by my having grown up around Disney things, and having absolutely loved them. Going to Disney was like winning the lottery when I was growing up. The associations of Disney = Good Things are deep, and strong.
Then I got older, and lost a little bit of that magic — it became more about trying to create magical moments for my kids while coping with crowds. And willfully ignoring the screaming babies. And irritated, impatient, icky adults. And corporate greed. And endless lines. And crappy food. And so on.
And then came my Disney cruise — an experience that deftly eliminated all of those magic-suppressing factors, leaving me with just the Good. Just the fun. Just the bliss.
Like when I was a kid, and Disney was all fabulous, Adult Disney made it all fabulous, again.
Kay-Kee-Why, Adult Disney. Kay-Kee frickin’ Why.