How to Go to Disneyland as an Adult and Not Want to Die

The second best decision was sticking around for the Electrical Parade.
The second best decision was sticking around for the Electrical Parade.
Paul Hiffmeyer

I imagine it’s gratifying to bring your offspring to Disneyland — seeing the joy on your child’s face as he soars through the air on Dumbo’s back for the very first time; snapping a photo as he rapturously embraces an adult stranger in a Mickey Mouse costume; watching the tantrum tears well up in his eyes when you won’t buy him one of those stupid balloons that has another stupid balloon inside it. Only 160 bucks (plus souvenirs and snacks) and 60 years of tireless imagineering could facilitate a ride on such a thrilling roller coaster of emotions.

Having grown up in Florida, I’ve been to Disney World more times than I can count, but this was my first visit to Disneyland and my first visit to either park as an adult. After a day spent alongside sad dads marooned with strollers, frustrated mothers relentlessly escorting children to and from the bathroom and toddlers so exhausted they start to look like little demons, being a childless adult at an amusement park makes for pretty ideal conditions. Instead of toiling to show a small, helpless person a good time, I was able to concentrate on the whims and desires of a slightly larger helpless person: myself.

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With no toys to pack or car seats to buckle, we set off for Anaheim bright and early (for us), 7:30-ish on a mid-June Friday morning, and arrived shortly after the park opened at 8:30 a.m. Getting to the parks early, at least on a weekday, is a good strategy. We entered California Adventure — no lines, no waiting, and the queues for several rides were as short as 15 minutes. But with no pipsqueaks tugging at our pant legs, we were able to take a moment to strategize — even if that makes me sound about as fun as Danny Tanner in the episode of Full House when they all go to Disney (and that little piece of shit Michelle gets to be princess for a day).

Strategizing is a good strategy. So sit down with your significant other and each of your inner children and come to terms early with the fact that you will not in a single day do everything you want to do, especially if you are attempting to visit both parks. There are no lines short enough, or 35-year-old feet strong enough, to make all of your dreams a reality. It’s very good news that you have matured beyond an age when this reality feels like the end of the world. I even threw a small temper tantrum to give my husband a taste of what he was missing — and all he had to do to get me to relax was buy me a cocktail. But we will get to that later.

I emerged from California Adventure wishing I could live in Cars Land.EXPAND
I emerged from California Adventure wishing I could live in Cars Land.
Paul Hiffmeyer

If you haven’t visited in a while, take a moment to familiarize yourself with Disneyland’s Fastpass program. More egalitarian than line-skipping systems that require people to pay extra for preferential treatment and shorter lines, Disney’s system basically allows you to make an appointment to return to a ride at a specific time. You’re then rewarded for deferring gratification, like a very grown-up person, by being routed into an express line upon your return. Get the Disneyland app, figure out which ride is most in demand and get a Fastpass for those rides. We sort of botched this and ended up getting a Fastpass for Splash Mountain — which we’d both been on numerous times in the past — instead of the new Star Wars–themed Hyperspace Mountain, which had at least an hourlong wait all day because it probably fucking rules. [Ed. note. It fucking does.]

Rest assured that you and your significant other will not be the only childless adults at Disneyland. You may, however, be the only childless adults at Disneyland who aren’t wearing matching Daisy and Donald Duck hats or commemorative T-shirts from your somewhat recent Disneyland nuptials. Wearing Disney-themed gear to Disneyland is about as dorky as wearing a band’s T-shirt to a concert (or, worse yet, buying one from merch and immediately putting it on), but it’s liberating to realize that dorkiness doesn’t exist at Disneyland. Or so we told ourselves.

I can’t imagine not being delighted by the attention paid to every detail of every attraction and everything in between at Disneyland. Watching any of the Cars franchise movies sounds like a horrible nightmare, but I emerged from California Adventure wishing I could live in Cars Land, specifically in the motor lodge with the little bungalows shaped like traffic cones. The Cars roller coaster, Radiator Springs, was among the most fun of the newer rides. Later, my husband and I spent the pre-fireworks twilight hour riding nearly every ride in Storybook Land like a pair of goofballs, but no one judged. And, really, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is sort of dark — sure, he drove like an a-hole, but he didn’t deserve to be damned to hell. 

Having a lunch of pork-cheek tostadas, twice-cooked beef tacos and a not-too-saccharine Sidecar at the delightfully empty bar inside Carthay Circle was the first best move we made.EXPAND
Having a lunch of pork-cheek tostadas, twice-cooked beef tacos and a not-too-saccharine Sidecar at the delightfully empty bar inside Carthay Circle was the first best move we made.
Paul Hiffmeyer

As we all know, Disneyland proper does not serve alcohol, which makes it the second happiest place on Earth behind California Adventure, which does serve alcohol. We were ready for a beer right around lunchtime, and were disappointed to discover that, in addition to lines for rides, there were lines for bars and restaurants. California Adventure’s outdoor cocktail bar, Cove Bar, had a 20-minute wait to be seated. Remember when I said I threw a tantrum? This is when it went down. The situation was diffused when a polite manager-type person with a headset suggested we try to grab a bite/drink at the Carthay Circle restaurant near the park’s entrance and, on our way, spotted Beverly Hills, 90210’s very own Brian Austin Green. 

Having a lunch of pork-cheek tostadas, twice-cooked beef tacos and a not-too-saccharine Sidecar at the delightfully empty bar inside Carthay Circle was the first best move we made. The second best decision was sticking around for the Electrical Parade and the fireworks. No amount of cynicism is more powerful than pyrotechnics meticulously timed to music.

According to the pedometers on our iPhones, we walked between 10 and 13 miles in a single day at the two Disney parks. Tired, sore and drunk from overpriced, postpark wine at the hotel bar, we settled in for sweet dreams of fireworks, princesses and Brian Austin Green. And then we slept in because there was no one to stop us.

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DISNEYLAND

Getting there: It’s just a zippy drive on the 5 freeway, south of Los Angeles.

What to do: Stick around for the Paint the Night light parade and the fireworks. No amount of cynicism is more powerful than pyrotechnics meticulously timed to music.

Where to eat: Having a lunch of pork-cheek tostadas, twice-cooked beef tacos and a not-too-saccharine Sidecar at the delightfully empty bar inside Carthay Circle was the best move we made.

Where to stay: NOT at the Disneyland Resort — nearby hotels with shuttles to the park are, no joke, $200 cheaper.

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