Travel insights from Rossilynne Skena Culgan, contributor to The Compass
Theme parks aren’t just for kids. From sipping Duff Beer to rocking out with the Blues Brothers to indulging in luxury spa experiences, central Florida can be a paradise for grown-ups if you know where to look.
“Both Universal and Disney have done a lot to draw in a more adult crowd,” says Jennifer Kozlow, senior premiere travel advisor who specializes in selling luxury vacations in central Florida at Glass Slipper Concierge.
There’s so much for adults to do, Kozlow says. So much, in fact, she once booked a five-week honeymoon for a client at Disney. The newlyweds never ran out of new things to see in the region, even during their stay of more than a month. They did “everything you could think to do in Orlando,” she says, from exploring Disney and Universal to taking VIP tours and staying in five presidential suites.
Even if your client doesn’t quite have the presidential suite budget, Kozlow says, there’s no shortage of fun for adults in the region’s iconic theme parks.
As a resident of the area herself, the parks are practically in Kozlow’s backyard. Plus, she’s an expert in all things Disney. Kozlow shared some of her insider tips and tricks to entertain the adults who are still kids at heart.
Special events featuring tutus, marathons, festivals and concerts
Even before Kozlow moved to central Florida, she was charmed by the Disney magic. She and a group of friends signed up for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon and planned a girls’ trip around the event.
Events like these are perfect for adults, she says, especially for bachelorette parties and friends’ trips. When wrangling a bunch of adults’ busy schedules, it can help to choose one particular event to center the trip around and solidify the date.
Runners may want to plan their trips around special athletic events like the Disney Princess Half Marathon where you’ll spot tutus as far as the eye can see, Kozlow says with a laugh, and the formidable Dopey Challenge, a fearsome feat of athletic endurance.
Foodies should keep an eye out for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which Kozlow endorses as a fun way to experience the park through food.
She also recommends keeping an eye on Disney’s concert calendar for live music from bands like Toby Mac, Jefferson Starship and The Spin Doctors.
Far from the kids’ menu — risotto, sushi and milkshakes are among the selections for adults
Kids may see food as just a necessity between rides, but adults can really take some time to savor their meals — and there’s so much to indulge in at Disney, Kozlow says.
If there’s only time for one meal at Disney, make it California Grill, Kozlow advises. The restaurant’s menu features American favorites like filet of beef, pork tenderloin, grouper and risotto, along with a list of a dozen cocktails, all with views of Seven Seas Lagoon and Magic Kingdom park. “The food is excellent; the views are phenomenal, and you get that touch of magic,” Kozlow says. “The great thing about an adult Disney vacation is that the parks are fun for everyone and every age; however, there are great restaurants with the signature restaurants at Disney by far the best.”
Even more food options await at Disney Springs, like Morimoto with a sit-down option or a quick-serve spot and Wine Bar George with dozens of wines to try. Disney Springs is also home to the beloved Gideon’s Bakehouse, whipping up nearly half-pound cookies.
Pro tip: There’s another Gideon’s Bakehouse location in East End Market, a neighborhood food hall showcasing the region’s top chefs and creatives. Though it’s outside the park’s gates, it’s a way to beat the long lines in Disney Springs.
Over at Universal, CityWalk offers shopping and sustenance. Foodies will find Burgushi (that’s burger-sushi), tacos, enchiladas, doughnuts, chocolate crème brûlée, marshmallow crisp milkshakes and lots more. It’s a favorite spot for Kozlow and her husband to hang out with friends while her teenagers explore the park. CityWalk is open until midnight, so the party can last long after the sun sets.
CityWalk is also home to the Hard Rock Live, a 3,000-seat music venue welcoming big names. Fun fact: Hard Rock’s private lounge features furniture from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Manhattan apartment, including the loveseat where he wrote hit songs.
For those who crave a cold beer on a hot day, Universal hosts Homer Simpson’s favorite bar, the open-air Duff Brewery. Simpsons clips play on flat-screen TVs around the bar, and a giant Duffman statue makes a great photo opp.
With cordials during fireworks, spas and themed details, these lodging options amp up the TLC
When guests are finally ready to sleep after all the fun, the lodging options are exquisite, Kozlow says. She recommends “named suites” at the Disney’s deluxe resorts, where travelers can take full advantage of concierge lounges, which serve breakfast, samples from resort restaurants, beer, wine, desserts and cordials at fireworks times. For optimal fireworks viewing, she says, you can’t beat the views from the concierge lounges on the 12th and 14th floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort as well as the two-story King Kamehameha Club Level at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
If visitors are looking for accommodations that are truly out of this world, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser offers a two-night immersive adventure where you’re a part of the story. Star Wars fans dive into the experience, often donning costumes and role-playing, Kozlow says. Even the cabins and suites are themed with Star Wars details. “That’s very popular right now,” Kozlow said. “We always say the Star Wars fans are the big kids in our family.”
For those who want to stay near Universal, Kozlow recommends The Ritz-Carlton, which is just a 15-minute drive from the park. The luxury hotel offers 582 guest rooms, a 40,000-square-foot spa, a golf course and even falconry classes.
And don’t forget the parks themselves with rides, theaters and entertainment
To cater to adults, both Disney and Universal offer filters on their websites for adult-specific activities to help travelers who want to skip the kid events.
A few highlights at Disney include:
- The Avatar Flight of Passage, which promises amazing aerial adventures.
- The new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, one of the largest fully enclosed coasters in the world.
- Piano performances in the Grand Floridian Lobby amid the hotel’s Victorian splendor.
And don’t miss these highlights at Universal:
- The Fast & Furious – Supercharged experience featuring actual movie props and customized vehicles.
- Men In Black Alien Attack, including some laser tag.
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster, which dashes through a raptor paddock.
- The Blues Brothers Show, full of soulful tunes.
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, a “flying theater” that zips through Manhattan and zooms over skyscrapers.
- Potterheads can board the Hogwarts Express, find the secret entryway into Diagon Alley, evade Voldemort and fly into the Forbidden Forest on an immersive coaster with Hagrid.
No matter the age, from Gen-Z Baby Boomers, there’s plenty to keep adults having fun in Central Florida. As Kozlow puts it, “there’s literally something for everyone.”
Originally appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of The Compass magazine.