Visit These Theme Parks to Have Tons of Budget-Friendly Grown-Up Fun

FrozenShutter / Getty Images

FrozenShutter / Getty Images

It’s no secret that adulting can be hard. There are chores, jobs, bills and responsibilities that can feel smothering. But what if you just want to let your hair down and have some good old-fashioned fun? Recapture your youth and head to a theme park! All across the country, the best amusement parks have a combination of thrill rides, challenging games, endless nostalgia, upscale cuisine and late-night entertainment geared to the 21+ crowd. Why should kids get to have all the fun? Learn the theme park secrets only insiders know.

Preston C. Mack / Disney World

1. Drink Your Way Around the World — Epcot

It’s no secret the best way to get a feel for a destination’s culture is the local food and drink. Home to the World Showcase, Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida has 11 different pavilions representing countries around the world. You can sample everything from craft beers in the U.S. and Canada to margaritas in Mexico, the Biergarten in Germany, fish and chips in England, an ice cream martini in France and sake in Japan. For the more sophisticated palates, there’s also Moroccan cuisine and Norwegian fare. Come hungry and pace yourself, because there are way more bites and sips than you could possibly try in a day. Pro Tip: If you stay at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, you can actually take a boat to the park (which sure beats needing a designated driver). That’s arriving in style.

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2. Dinner and a Show — California Adventure Park

Part of the Disneyland complex, Disney California Adventure Park is a much newer attraction and has some notable advantages. It gets about half the visitors to the original Anaheim Park. There are some nostalgic rides, but the park is better known for its modern attractions like the inverted roller coaster, California Screamin’, and the impressive nighttime show, World of Color, which includes scenes from both live-action and Pixar animated films projected on a water “screen.” For preferred seating to the extravaganza, purchase a World of Color dining package which includes a three-course prix fixe meal valid at participating Disneyland restaurants and a voucher for preferred seating at the show. An even bigger perk? California Adventure restaurants serve alcohol, whereas those in Disneyland do not.

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3. Walk in Walt’s Footsteps — Disneyland Park

If you’re wondering what to do at Disneyland in California beyond the rides, take the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” tour, a guided tour of the park. The half-day excursion is likely too long and biographical for most children, but it’s perfect for adults looking to get to know the man behind the magic. Instead of rushing from ride to ride, the guided audio tour is a slow-paced look at the inspiration for the park and some of Disneyland’s secrets, along with VIP access to some attractions.

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4. Get Organized with the App — Disneyland Park

There are tons of Disneyland packages designed to save you money, combine multiple parks into one visit or offer all-inclusive dining and accommodations, but one of the most affordable and useful to save you time and money is the new MaxPass. An upgrade to the traditional FASTPASS, which lets you reserve a time to ride some attractions without waiting in line, the MaxPass integrates with the Disneyland app to let you reserve your spot at various attractions via your phone for an extra $10 per day. Since time is money, you can plan your schedule down to the minute. It also includes unlimited photo downloads from the park’s roaming photographers. The MaxPass is such a good deal, some would call it a dirty trick to saving money at Disneyland.

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5. Cozy Up to Someone at Club 33 — Disneyland Park

For the true Hollywood elite, Club 33 is Disneyland’s top-secret California VIP club. Modeled after Royal Street in New Orleans, the project was Walt’s personal spot to entertain dignitaries and guests. As such, not just anyone can join. The wait list is rumored to be over 10 years long and comes with a hefty initiation fee of $25,000. After that, membership dues are around $10,000 a year, but that’s just to get in the door, as you still need to cover the cost of your food and beverages. Each member is allocated a set number of guest passes per year, so if you don’t want to shell out the dough on your own, the move is to make friends with someone who already has an in. As they say, membership has its privileges. Another perk? It’s the only place in the entire Disneyland Park that serves alcohol. Sprinkled across the Disney parks, there are plenty of opportunities to get the VIP treatment.

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6. Walk the Walk at CityWalk — Universal Studios Hollywood

A nighttime entertainment district featuring 30 restaurants, three nightclubs, countless shops and a state-of-the-art IMAX theater, Universal CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood is date night, elevated. Billed as a place to shop, eat and play, you can try indoor skydiving at iFly or catch a performance of dueling pianos at Howl at the Moon. Enjoy tantalizing ethnic cuisine at Wasabi or Samba Brazilian Steakhouse & Lounge or check Pink’s Famous Hot Dogs off your California bucket list before getting a sugar rush at cult favorite Voodoo Doughnut or Instagram-worthy Mini Monster boba or tea. Basically, it’s a lesson in A-list living in Hollywood.

Disney Parks Public Relations: 4 / Disney World

7. Recapture the Magic — Magic Kingdom

You can’t come to Florida without a stop at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort, which still holds a special place in many adults’ hearts. It’s quite the popular place to propose, host a wedding or renew your vows, too. Make sure you steal a kiss in front of the castle with your special someone. If you feel like stepping date night up a notch, you can also opt for a romantic carriage ride through the enchanted forests of Fort Wilderness or Port Orleans. The Magic Kingdom is also a popular bachelorette party venue if you’d rather make it a girl’s trip.

Plan ahead for your travels to Florida and save money. To see Disney World, beaches and more, follow a travel guide to Florida on a budget.

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8. Know Where to Imbibe — Magic Kingdom

When you’re deep in Disney World planning, you’ll want to schedule your day around popular “big kids” rides like Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain that are incredibly busy and popular. Use the free My Disney Experience app to make FASTPASS+ reservations for major attractions and see current wait times, saving you time and hassle as you explore the park. When you’re mapping out the route for your Florida vacation, it’s important to note that only five park venues serve alcohol so you know where to give your tired feet a break: Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, Liberty Tree Tavern, Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest Restaurant.

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9. Have Some Fun After Dark — Disney Springs

Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney, is where the 21+ crowds go to revel after dark at Disney World. A themed entertainment district full of Orlando attractions for adults, you don’t want to miss popular bars and restaurants like Paradiso 37 Entertainment, House of Blues, Raglan Road, Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, Morimoto Asia and The Boathouse, many of which feature live music and shows. For more interactive elements, you can catch a Cirque de Soleil performance (until the end of 2017,) bowl, dance to the DJs, or even catch a rap battle in Exposition Park. Disney Springs was inspired by Florida’s waterfront towns and is the perfect place to unwind with a nightcap. Once you’ve had your fill of the park, it’s a great inexpensive destination just outside Disney World.

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10. Embrace African Culture — Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Cuddly creatures have no age limit, and the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction is one of Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s biggest draws. Part of the Walt Disney World theme park complex, as you tour the savanna in an open-air safari vehicle, real exotic animals roam free during the daytime. It feels like you’ve been transported right to the Serengeti without leaving Florida. You can up the adventure level even more with a nighttime experience when the nocturnal creatures come out to play. To get an even deeper appreciation for African culture, the Tusker House restaurant offers an African buffet, a diverse ethnic eatery for discerning palates.

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11. Get an Adrenaline Rush — Universal Studios Orlando Resort

Home to many more thrill rides than the nearby Magic Kingdom, attractions at Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure are inherently geared toward an older crowd. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park River Adventure and The Incredible Hulk Coaster will all make your stomach drop with twists and turns, while Transformers: The Ride 3-D will dazzle you with brilliantly high-tech flight simulations. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando for the upscale Wine Riffs pairing dinner.

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12. Mix and Mingle with the Locals — Discovery Cove

When researching Orlando attractions, don’t overlook Discovery Cove. An all-inclusive day resort that’s part of SeaWorld, the Florida park is filled with countless marine wonders. You’ll have the choice between relaxing at the lagoons of the aptly named Serenity Bay in a private cabana, or getting up close and personal with the sea life. If you’re looking to get your adrenaline pumping, you can swim with the sharks, feed the stingrays or go on a grand SeaVenture walking along the ocean floor wearing an underwater dive helmet. The experience has been described as “walking on the moon – but surrounded by fish.” Don’t worry, there’s a lazy river to relax in, too.


13. Relax and Rejuvenate — Hersheypark

A Pennsylvania amusement park for chocoholics, Hersheypark is essentially Willy Wonka’s magical world brought to life. Here you’ll find rides like the Ferris wheel, carousel and rollercoasters, along with characters galore and The Boardwalk waterpark. The area surrounding the park also has some unique attractions for adults including The Butterfly Atrium at Hershey Gardens, falconry lessons at the nearby Hotel Hershey and of course the indulgent chocolate spa treatments at The Spa at Hotel Hershey. For the ultimate in luxury, opt for one of the all-day packages that include everything from cocoa baths to fondue wraps and sugar scrubs. It’s true revitalization for the body and soul.

It may have luxe options, but a trip to Hersheypark is still more affordable than visiting Mickey Mouse. It’s a great fun and cheap Disneyland alternative.

Theresa Montgomery / State of Tennessee Photographic

14. Embrace the Southern Charm — Dollywood

The older set may appreciate Dolly Parton’s legendary contributions to country music, but if her Tennessee tunes don’t do it for you, there are still plenty of other attractions to whet your whistle. While the kiddos are riding the rides and getting wet and wild at the waterpark, mom and dad can enjoy the mouth-watering Southern cuisine, world-class dinner shows and a picturesque setting nestled in the Smoky Mountains. The perfect balance of nature and nurture make this a well-rounded trip — Dixie style.

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15. Feel Your Stomach Drop — Busch Gardens

Claiming to have Florida’s best thrill rides, Busch Gardens’ coasters are no joke, with countless free falls, inversions and drops that will leave your insides in a tailspin. When your stomach needs a break, explore the endangered animal sanctuary and one of the largest zoos in the country. You can even get one-on-one time with exotic creatures at the animal hospital and feeding center. Experience 300 different species, from adorable sloths to kangaroos, elephants and giraffes. It’s a trip across continents without leaving Tampa.

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16. Go Beyond the Casinos and Clubs — Las Vegas Strip

One could argue the entire Las Vegas Strip is a playground for adults, but if you need a break from the debauchery of gambling and gaming, there are a number of rides and experiences to help you sober up (or enhance your buzz). MGM Resorts offers a “3 for $57” package of some of its best attractions. Select from the Adventuredome in Circus Circus, Shark Reef Aquarium in Mandalay Bay, Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage and the Big Apple Coaster at New York-New York.

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17. Not Your Little Brother’s Ride — Six Flags Magic Mountain

Thrill rides like Goliath, Twisted Colossus, Viper, Sling Shot and Apocalypse may sound intimidating — and they should! They’re some of the most heart-pumping, record-breaking roller coasters in the country with height minimums that most kids would not meet, some reaching speeds of 70 mph. Whether you’re hanging upside down, flipping and zipping your way through the air, or mimicking the feel of skydiving, the scream-inducing, stomach-dropping rides are a surefire way to let loose that will have the California kid in you feeling giddy.

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18. Turn Up the Bass — Sea World

Sea World San Diego has always had a number of entertainment options — from sea lion comedy to high-flying dolphin acts — but their latest and greatest is the dazzling after-dark show, “Electric Ocean.” Sea creatures and world-class DJs collide to turn the venue into a bumping nightclub where Cirque de Soleil meets lights and laser show. Don’t miss the chance to experience IllumiNight with high-flying acrobats, sultry dancers, and musicians galore at a show that’s past most children’s bedtimes.


19. Get Nostalgic — Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California holds a special place in many people’s hearts as a venue they remember lovingly from their childhood. Some of the shows might not thrill the kiddos, but adults will appreciate exploring the schoolhouse, stables and ghost town for a fascinating glimpse into California’s Old West past. For a more modern attraction, Knott’s also has VR Showdown in Ghost Town, a virtual reality experience to take on the bad guys on the Boardwalk Arcade. When you’re ready for a refreshment, the park is known for its tantalizing culinary delights, headed up by executive chef Bobby Obezo, who has been overseeing the operation for 29 years.

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