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Aug 26, 2022

14 min. read

For many years, I was a Disney skeptic. As a single woman in my 30s, I figured Disney World was best left to seven-year-old princesses and teenage thrill-seekers. Then I visited the Orlando park. After that first trip more than a decade ago (and a long overdue follow-up pre-Covid), I can definitively say the most magical place on earth brims with grown-up delights. The park appeals to adults with curated experiences, luxe amenities and world-class dining. Here are a few of my favourites—plus some practical park pointers.

A group of people riding a train through a cave.

Thrills & Chills

Sure, Space Mountain is iconic and the teacups make an adorable Instagram post, but these adrenaline-inducing rides are truly unforgettable.

Flight of Passage

A multi-sensory flight simulator that’s both relaxing and exhilarating. Soar through the Pandoran sky on a majestic dragon-like banshee. As you dip and swerve through caves, treetops and waterfalls, fresh scents envelop you and cool water gently mists your face and body.

Tower of Terror

The original big-drop ride, this rickety elevator is arguably the most thrilling experience at Hollywood Studios. Don’t exit without buying the souvenir photo snapped at the exact moment you plummet 13 storeys in a terrifying (but totally safe) freefall.

Expedition Everest

Hands down, one of the best roller coasters in the park. Climbing Disney’s version of the Himalayan peak, your train car passes through bamboo forests and glaciers—until you spot a twisty wreck of torn track that sends you careening backwards.

Rise of the Resistance

As much a piece of storytelling as it is thrill ride, the newest attraction at Galaxy’s Edge is Disney’s most ambitious yet. With a combination of simulators, holograms and trackless riding, you’ll meet BB-8, fly on a starship, and hurl through space to outrun Kylo Ren.

A star wars millennium falcon sits inside a cave.

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

Get your Skywalker on at Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge

Whether you’re a First Order fanatic or Team Resistance, set aside a full afternoon to explore the Black Spire Outpost—a village on the planet of Batuu (located within the outer reaches of Disney’s Hollywood Studios). Opened in 2019, the six-hectare intergalactic land offers a truly immersive experience—even snack stands are emblazoned with Coke logos translated into the Star Wars language of Aurebesh.

Start your visit with a trip aboard Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a motion simulator ride that has you pilot the famed ship or serve as a gunner or engineer. After safely landing the craft, refuel with a glass of blue milk; Luke Skywalker’s preferred beverage tastes like a tropical coconut slushie (I preferred the citrusy green milk). For something a little stronger, Trandoshan Ale is a hoppy thirst-quencher.

While sipping your libation of choice, try a hand of sabacc, the game of skill and chance that cost Lando Calrissian the Millennium Falcon. Like an intergalactic carnie, a pop-up dealer patiently taught me the rules—before giddily taking the pot.

The newest attraction on Batuu is Rise of the Resistance. Leave yourself plenty of time to queue at this popular experience, during which you’ll encounter Rey, BB-8, Kylo Ren and a garrison of Stormtroopers.

After disembarking, head to the Droid Depot to design, assemble and activate the droid of your dreams. Pick parts from the assembly line conveyer belt, which is loaded with BB-8-style heads and R2-D2 legs. A complete droid runs about $100 USD.

Other must-shops include Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities, where you can pick up mini busts of Jedi legends, and the Creature Stall for cute critters like a Kowakian monkey-lizard or a cuddly penguin-like porg.

Wrap up your visit with a drink at Oga’s Cantina, the hottest club this side of Tatooine. (Make sure to reserve online in advance.) At this watering hole for starship pilots and intergalactic bounty hunters, try the Carbon Freeze, a strawberry-blueberry concoction with popping pearls, or a Bespin Fizz, the cantina’s rum-based take on a Cosmo, garnished with wafting dry ice.

A person holding an ice cream in front of a castle.

Gourmet Goods

Because there’s more than Mickey-shaped ice cream and popcorn (though you should sample them too!)

Best appetizer

Served with red cabbage kimchi and ginger-scallion oil, the Manchurian chicken bowl at Nomad Lounge is perfect with a pint of Disney-made Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale. The riverside patio is a true hidden gem in the Animal Kingdom—and a quiet respite from a sea of strollers.

Best burger

The citrus-infused orange garage burger from Disney Springs’ D-Luxe Burger is topped with braised pork belly, orange-onion jam and pepper jack cheese. The surprising mix packs a tangy punch.

Best brunch

Helmed by master sommelier George Miliotes, Wine Bar George is the ideal spot for a boozy brunch. On the sunny terrace, tuck into an artichoke omelette or steak-and-eggs frites paired with one of 140 wines served by the glass.

Best cocktail

Tiki lovers will swoon over the Hippopoto Mai-Tai. Served at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in Disney’s Polynesian Resort, it combines dark and white rum with orange curaçao, orgeat, agave nectar and fresh lime juice. (You can purchase the adorable mug too.)

Best beer

A cheery corner pub in Hollywood Studios, BaseLine Tap House pours California craft ales, lagers and ciders. You won’t be disappointed with a pint of Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing, a fruit-forward IPA brewed in Chico.

Best vegetarian

Plant-based picks are no longer the exclusive realm of table-service dining. At quick-service Satu’li Canteen in Pandora, the chili-spiced crispy fried tofu bowl is served with your choice of base—beans and rice, potato hash, noodles or salad.

Best fest

The annual EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival (July 14–Nov. 19) features 30 marketplaces of global bites and sips. Cool down with a frozen caipirinha with Leblon Cachaça from Brazil.

Dole Whip

First sold in 1986, this creamy confection is the park’s signature treat. Order it in a cone (or try a boozy Lapu Hula cocktail at the Polynesian Resort). If you can’t make it to Florida, make this DIY version at home.

Add one large scoop of vanilla ice cream, ½ cup pineapple juice and 2 cups frozen pineapple chunks to a blender.

Blend mixture until smooth.

Spoon into a star-tipped piping bag to make the iconic Dole Whip swirl. No piping bag? Use a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off.

A woman in a golf cart with a cartoon character.

Once in a Lifetime

Bucket-list experiences you didn’t know you needed

Build a custom lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Start by choosing an Imperial Era kyber crystal, which determines the colour of your blade. The rest of the process is top secret and reserved for Jedi-in-training. May the force be with you.

Say “I do” Disney-style and turn your big day into a real-life fairy tale. Disney Weddings offer complete packages including venue, food, flowers, cake and entertainment. Exchange vows under the Tree of Life or in the shadow of the Tower of Terror.

Play a round at one of Disney’s four championship golf courses, designed and operated by Arnold Palmer Golf Management. With some holes overlooking Disney Springs, the Lake Buena Vista course is a stunner. But to really test your game, head to Magnolia: In 1996, a 20-yearold Tiger Woods scored his second PGA Tour win here.

Think beyond mouse ears when it comes to souvenirs. The shops at Epcot’s World Showcase carry imported items you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in North America. Pick up a handcrafted German teddy bear from Der Teddybar, or colourful embroidered Mexican dresses at Artesanias La Familia.

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