It might sound preposterous to suggest to any sane, full-grown adult that a Disney vacation would be enjoyable without little ones in tow. But I’m not suggesting you go to Disneyland or Disneyworld. Instead, consider a vacation through Adventures by Disney, which travels to 36 destinations worldwide. They’ve been in business for 10 years (which I was shocked to hear, as I’d never heard of them) and recently won the World Travel Award for North America’s Leading Tour Operator.
After eight days in Ireland with Adventures by Disney, I’m a total convert. While the Disney name evokes cartoons and theme parks, these international tours are decidedly more grown-up than you might expect. I’m not signing up for any cult-like Disney fan clubs (exhibit A, exhibit B) just yet, but I was thoroughly impressed with how thoughtfully planned and luxurious our trip was. We had a lot of craic – that’s Irish for fun. Here are ten reasons to consider Adventures by Disney for your next vacation — even if you don’t have kids.
I felt like a bona fide Disney Princess upon arriving at Dromoland Castle, with an incredibly touching surprise greeting, as furry friends met us at the gate and the entire staff was lined up outside the front door to greet us even in the rain. Never have I experienced such a grand welcome. To continue pampering yourself, I highly recommend an organic seaweed facial on your free day at the Dromoland spa. And you can’t miss a walk through the walled gardens, pictured below. You feel like a VIP at all the properties, with express check-in and the best rooms.
Even the snobby food writer in me was thoroughly impressed with the quality and variety of our meals. We tried local favorites like black pudding, Irish stew and even made our own scones. Meals on our own came with a bevy of suggestions from our guides too. The lavish tasting menu at Earl of Thomond was the pinnacle of my Irish culinary experiences: warm rabbit and pistachio terrine, black truffle quail egg consommé, foie gras melting onto a filet of Irish beef. The formality of servers in tuxedos, velvet wallpaper, Waterford crystal chandeliers, and live harp music certainly added to the royal ambiance.
Plenty of booze
Between our afternoon visit to Guinness Storehouse, where we learned how to pour the perfect pint (then promptly drank it) and the plentiful Irish coffee after dinner, there was never a shortage of alcohol.
Grown-up ghost tour
The brave ones in our group took a PG-13 ghost tour one night to Muckross Abbey (pictured below) and wandered among the graves, learning of banshees and trying to capture ghostly orbs in our photographs. Don’t cut the old yew tree, or legend has it that the tree will bleed red sap and you’ll die within a year.
While Adventures by Disney affords families a wonderful chance to travel abroad together with activities that are appealing for everyone, there are minimum and suggested ages with each trip. No need to worry about crying toddlers on coach buses. All the children on my trip were quite well-behaved and infused a touch of whimsy and wonder into our group.
Enthusiastic, whip-smart guides
Our guides, two vivacious redheads, were fun, knowledgeable and poised. They would transition from patiently interacting with children to waxing poetic about Irish folklore and cracking jokes in a heartbeat. One night, Jackie revealed her operatic singing talents with a tear-jerking rendition of “Danny Boy,” and Kelley would boogie up and down the aisles of our coach bus handing out fudge and Disney pins. They worked incredibly hard to anticipate everyone’s needs and create Disney magic.
You cover a lot of ground
We started in Dublin and headed southwest towards the charming Killarney (pictured below), ending our trip in County Clare and visiting 10 of the Republic of Ireland’s 26 counties along the way. The tour moves at a brisk pace, but you never feel rushed, even if you are the last one on the bus because you’re buying a newsboy cap after trying on all the hats at Muckross House (pictured at top, guilty as charged). Nobody loves spending hours on a coach bus, but you can’t complain about Ireland’s lush verdant landscape.
Disney understands that we don’t need to be chaperoned everywhere, so there are several optional activities and loads of free time to rest and explore at your own pace. Whether it’s shopping, visiting museums or hunting down the best ice cream that you fancy, you’ll have a chance to do whatever your heart desires.
You’ll feel like a kid again
It may seem silly, but our guides calling us “adventurers” really brought out my enthusiasm for exploration even when I was feeling a little jetlagged. Seamus the Sheep made an appearance each day to give us a cute Disney-inspired pin commemorating the day’s adventures, which we all wore proudly on our Disney lanyards. Remember how excited you were to earn Girl Scout/Boy Scout patches or stickers in elementary school?
From handwritten notes and candid photos slipped under the door to a swarm of stuffed animals for the kiddos, Disney aims to delight at every turn. The biggest surprise of all? How tightly our group bonded in just one week, sharing experiences of a lifetime.