WHERE FANTASY COMES TO LIFE
Disney offers so many fun fan experiences within its iconic (albeit pricey) theme parks and beyond that it's sometimes hard to keep track of them all. Do you feel like taking a trip to a galaxy far, far away or venturing into a majestic kingdom full of princesses and talking animals? From informative tours to virtual-reality missions, these unique experiences are worth the price for Disney enthusiasts.
FLY INTO STAR WARS: GALAXY'S EDGE
Grab your lightsabers, because the eagerly awaited "Star Wars" land is opening at both Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida in 2019. Disneyland’s 14-acre themed area will open in the summer, followed by Disney World’s in the second half of the year. Both locations will invite guests to ride Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run, where they can engage in an epic battle inside the iconic starship; explore the planet Batuu; and, yes, even have a drink in the cantina.
TAKE A DISNEY CRUISE
There are four Disney Cruise Line ships — Wonder, Magic, Dream, and Fantasy — that accommodate thousands of passengers for family entertainment, including favorites like the AquaDuck water coaster and deck parties with Disney characters, as well as adults-only activities. Prices vary depending on the length of the cruise, the season, and other factors. While the cost can be steep, there are ways to save on a Disney cruise.
WALK IN WALT'S FOOTSTEPS
Get clued in to all sorts of Disney history and trivia on this guided, three-hour tour of Disneyland. It winds through notable parts of the park that relate to Walt Disney himself, including some areas not typically accessible to guests. The tour includes a meal, a pin, and, itinerary permitting, access to two rides without waiting in interminable queues. This add-on is $109 for guests 3 and older, although it best suits older children and adult Disney enthusiasts who don't mind a lot of walking.
HOLD THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM
Disney World offers the Keys to the Kingdom guided tour, where guests get to explore backstage areas and the underground "utilidor" tunnels that help Disney "cast members" navigate the Magic Kingdom. The five-hour tour features plenty of history and insider intel. Lunch and a keepsake are included in the $99-per-person fee (on top of park admission).
INDULGE AT THE NAPA ROSE CHEF'S COUNTER
Napa Rose, helmed by Chef Andrew Sutton, is the highly rated restaurant within the Grand Californian Hotel, meaning you don't have to buy a ticket to the park to dine. Patrons sitting in one of 14 exclusive seats at the chef's counter can enjoy five to seven courses from a prix-fixe menu. This special-occasion meal is $100 per person, with an optional wine pairing for $45.
BECOME AN UNDERCOVER STORMTROOPER
The Void makes location-based virtual-reality games, where players interact with objects in the real world while seeing a VR skin that plunges them into a far-off land. In the company's Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire experience, players go on an undercover mission for the Rebellion while incognito as a Stormtrooper. You can actually walk through the space, touch physical objects, feel temperature changes, and shoot a blaster. Although it costs $30 or more for about 15 minutes in virtual reality (the price varies by location), the overall experience is longer. For Star Wars fans or those curious about VR, this is a must. It's available in nine cities, including Las Vegas and West Plano, Texas, as well as Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, with more on the way.
ATTEND A FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL
The annual, multi-day Epcot International Food & Wine Festival offers Disney World visitors the chance to sample food and drinks from around the globe. Although you have to pay for whatever you try, park admission grants you access to the festival. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are on offer, as are cooking demos, wine tastings, and the Eat to the Beat concert series.
Not to be outdone, Disney California Adventure has its own foodie fest included in park admission. Kiosks offer samples of California wine, beer, and food. Demos by celebrity chefs and gourmet dinners are available at an extra cost.
GO ON A PIRATE ADVENTURE CRUISE
This one's for the kids. For an additional $40 to $50 on top of Disney World admission, children 4 to 12 can go on a two-hour treasure hunt with a swashbuckling guide. Choose from two adventures, both of which involve sailing on a park waterway while hearing an old pirate's tale. The price includes the pirate booty (should they find it) and a snack.
GO ON A WILD AFRICA TREK
If you feel like splurging, one of the best-rated add-ons is the three-hour Wild Africa Trek at Disney World's Animal Kingdom. The adventure is split between walking and riding in a safari vehicle, and guests encounter majestic animals including hippos and crocodiles. The price varies but usually is about $190 to $250 a ticket (on top of admission to the park). It includes African-inspired snacks and a souvenir photo.
DRINK A TOAST TO TRADER SAM
Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar is located at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, meaning you don't have to buy a ticket to the park to go. The bar is just as magically themed as the park and offers a variety of bar food and tiki drinks. Order the wrong one, and you'll incur the wrath of the gods, resulting in special effects like volcanic eruptions and terrible storms.
ENJOY A DOLE WHIP
Dole Whips, consisting of non-dairy soft-serve in pineapple juice, are among the most popular foods guests can enjoy at the resort. They are both delicious and refreshing. If you happen to be at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, you can stroll over to Coffee House and order a Dole Whip with rum.
DRINK A MANHATTAN AT CARTHAY CIRCLE
Carthay Circle Restaurant — located inside a replica of the Carthay Circle Theater, which showed Disney's first feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" — is one of California Adventure's best dining options. It also offers a full bar, which can be hard to come by in Disney parks. When you order a Manhattan, it comes served with a perfectly spherical ice cube, made with a special device, which you may get to see in action. It doesn't hurt that the bar is gorgeous, invoking Old Hollywood vibes.
VISIT ON AN UNOFFICIAL THEME DAY
Disney fans frequently arrange to flood the park with similar sartorial choices on select dates. Dapper Day is when guests don midcentury fashions, while Bats Day is for goths in all black. There's a Tiki Day, as well as Gay Days Anaheim for the LGBTQ community. To participate, you just have to buy a pass for that day and dress accordingly.
GET YOUR MOUSE EARS STYLED
The old-timey Harmony Barber Shop is a functioning barber shop located on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. The staff of smartly dressed licensed cosmetologists offer adult haircuts for $19 and kids' 'dos for $18. It's perhaps best known for the My First Haircut package, with Mouse Ears and a certificate for $25.
EXPERIENCE FAIRYTALE DINING AT CINDERELLA'S ROYAL TABLE
Join Cinderella and her princess friends in her picturesque castle for a meal. This Disney World experience is available at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, but guests who choose later seatings (be sure to book far in advance) get to see the fireworks from inside the castle. Children are encouraged to dress up for photo ops with characters. Dinner is $73 for adults and $43 for children.
GET A PEEK AT THE BACKSTAGE MAGIC
It's not cheap ($275 per person), but this seven-hour tour takes true Disney fanatics 12 and older behind the scenes of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Visitors can see the inner workings of the audio-animatronic stage show "The American Adventure," travel through the "utilidor" tunnels, visit the artisans who make the sets and costumes, see one of the world's largest laundry facilities, and enjoy a family-style barbecue lunch at the Whispering Canyon Cafe.