Disney has a target audience: kids. Obvious, right? It’s is an empire based on innocent entertainment, providing a fun tutelage for impressionable youth that emphasizes the wholesomeness of families of all sorts and the satisfaction that comes with being resilient, agreeable and adventurous. Lions, toys, talking cars… all come together under the umbrella of characters that define Disney as a family friendly kingdom (pun intended).
At the core of Disney is friendship and connectedness—again, obvious. Its theme parks are very literally built around these ideas, physical manifestations of the pureness of childhood pleasures. As a commercial tycoon, Disney has very smartly intertwined that pureness with society’s need for bigger, better, and faster. So to attract even more attention and devotion from Disney fans and the general public, the theme parks have evolved into an epic hub of shows and rides that appeal to the young and the young-at-heart.
So what about the rest of us, who aren’t quite grown up yet? Who maybe don’t travel as a pack with our families, or aren’t Disney-obsessed but do like roller coasters? We’re too old for the typical children’s rides but not quite old enough to just “appreciate” when there’s still a chance to participate. We like and respect the brand but also want to get some thrill out of it.
Last week I, a childless young woman, set a goal: to conquer three Disney Parks in one day sans family and have fun doing it. I like Disney enough to visit, obviously. I’d previously only been once, when I was 11, with a younger brother and cousin in tow, so my expectations were limited only to what I’d read while browsing Pinterest trip tips. Strategically, I downloaded the Disney World app, made my FastPass+ selections and donned my MagicBand in preparation to take on Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Epcot like a true Big Kid.
Here’s a quick guide to Disney’s teenage- and twenty-something-friendly rides at each of those parks:
Okay, so Animal Kingdom is basically a zoo. But that actually allows it to be pretty damn fun for any age. Sure, it has Disney-themed merchandise and you’re reminded of the company every twenty feet, but the nature walks through the park are really great and you get to see a lot of happy, healthy animals. Parrots open the park every morning (when I was there a couple refused to fly dramatically, which was hilarious) and the Tree of Life is an awesome centerpiece. There are three Big Kid rides at Animal Kingdom that make it worth the visit:
Hands down the best because giraffes. And elephants. And a ton of other animals that you can try to spot while you’re in the truck. Go first thing in the morning when the animals are really active and you can see them get fed.
Kali River Rapids
Sort of exciting but your stuff will get wetter than you do. As far as log flumes go it’s underwhelming, but it’s a better option than continuing to feel like you’re suffocating in the Florida humidity.
Okay, this is a real roller coaster. Yes, it has the ridiculous special effects trademark of Disney. No, it does not go upside down. But hey, it’s a big coaster of the traditional sort that Disney’s daring to offer so why not try it? The line isn’t terrible because the mountaineering-theme feels much like I imagine Nepal/Yeti territory would.
"The Most Magical Place On Earth" is really, really cheesy. While I give so much credit to the Cast Members for maintaining constant smiles, their costumes are a bit too enthusiastic for my taste. If you can get past all the stuff, the rides are actually pretty good. Bypass the elaborate details and shows and use your Big Kid advantage (longer legs) to hurry to the rides worth the wait.
Pirates of the Caribbean
Solid sound effects and creepy realistic figures but it’s nice and cool inside and the set is wild.
Inferior to the Kilimanjaro Safaris because the animals are robots, but the boat ride is nice and the captain-type-figures at the helm are really punny, so this is a nice ride to go on when a break feels necessary.
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
I mean, you have to go on at least one of the spinny rides! There are three, FYI.
Hands down the best log flume ever. The storyline is cute but negligible because the drop is really the only thing that matters, here. It’s a ten-minute buildup to a really smooth ride into a patch of briars, which looks really cool both to riders and spectators. So worth a FastPass+ or even a second ride.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
It’s not a hugely memorable one, but hey, it’s a rollercoaster! The wait is usually insanely long and I don’t think skipping the main line would make it worth it, but it’s fast and fun, which is essentially the entire point of a ride like this.
This coaster is also worthy of using the FastPass+ on because the line inspires intense claustrophobia since it’s long and dark and noisy but the ride is spectacular. Also dark and noisy and claustrophobic, Space Mountain is a tight indoor coaster that gives you whiplash. Colored tunnels and pinpricks of light resembling stars set the mood. The speed will likely satisfy what you’ve been craving all day.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Go with someone competitive. It’s just pointing lasers at stuff for points. Make sure you’re the one spinning it and go win. That is all.
Epcot is the best place to eat. Honestly, go just for the food. Test Track and Living with the Land and Spaceship Earth are fun and appeal to those who like to explore and learn new things, but .The Coral Reef restaurant gives you the chance to eat fish in front of fish, which sounds morbid, but eating next to a giant aquarium is a crazy opportunity. Also important: The World Showcase has so many countries featuring so many different types of foods (and drinks!) that kids just wouldn’t appreciate. Germany has good beer and pretzels. The UK has Guinness on tap. Mexico has margaritas. France has a scale model of the Eiffel Tower and Italy’s Venetian bridge looks pretty damn accurate.
I think that the attractions at Epcot are the biggest pool of proof that Disney has not forgotten the Big Kids. We might have a broader sense of the world than most Little Kids and thus expect more from, but what the parks lack in thrill they make up for in culture. Disney is massive, and “world” is a term appropriately attached to the place; there’s an access point for every demographic, even the lost in-betweeners.