Why Adventures by Disney Makes the Best Vacations—for Adults
No, Mickey doesn't drive the bus, but Disney magic does turn these global trips into amazing getaways for travelers of all ages
Is Adventures by Disney worth it?
Most people hear Disney and think princesses, talking rodents and amusement parks. So it may come as a surprise to learn that Disney also runs national and international tours through its tour company Adventures by Disney that are as much fun for adults as they are for kids—maybe more so, since adults can simply sit back, relax and let the professionals plan all the details.
And no, these aren’t trips to theme parks or regular family vacations—they’re journeys to some of the best places to travel in the world. Trip options (there are 40 destinations in all) encompass everything from exploring Machu Picchu in Peru to taking safaris in South Africa to hiking Yellowstone National Park in Montana, not to mention enjoying all the fabulous highlights of Europe, with trips to Paris, Rome and London, to name a few.
So, is Adventures by Disney worth it? I’ve tried out several of these trips both in the United States and abroad, and I’d say absolutely. Disney’s famed planning prowess and attention to detail, plus its unique ability to offer special access to some of the world’s most impressive sights, makes it an amazing option if you’re looking for group travel. Here’s why an Adventures by Disney trip may turn out to be the best trip of your life, even if you’re taking an adults-only getaway.
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The company organizes everything
And I do mean everything. Mickey doesn’t make an appearance on these trips, but Disney’s ability to move people and create great experiences is evident every step of the way, similar to how they create seamless experiences at the various Disney parks and hotels. When I traveled to Italy with Adventures by Disney, this meant that our bags magically moved from a villa in Tuscany to a hotel in watery Venice while our group of about three dozen kids and adults whizzed through the countryside. We didn’t even have to think about it—we simply enjoyed packed lunches in our first-class train cabin and then hopped onto gondolas (yes, with musical accompaniment!) to float around Venice.
On an Adventures by Disney trip to Peru, the guides joked that a fairy named Inca Tinka, like an Incan Tinkerbell, would spirit the group’s bags from place to place. And any tickets to events and transportation were taken care of—there was no worrying about any logistical details.
Local guides go the extra mile
I’ve traveled with several group tour companies, and I can tell you from experience that Adventures by Disney guides are truly a cut above. Disney has a rigorous hiring process, and the highly trained experts they employ know the areas inside and out. Every tour has two guides: one who is in charge of logistics and moving the group, and one local who speaks the language and helps with day-to-day transactions. They also add specialists at each location—for example, an art expert who has tons of stories just for the Uffizi in Florence.
Reader’s Digest executive editor Aviva Patz, who recently traveled with her husband on an Adventures by Disney trip to Peru, adds that the guides really go out of their way to make your travel dreams a reality. “A woman on our trip wanted to see a local healer/shaman, and they hooked her up,” she says. “Another woman wanted to see rainbow mountains, and they helped her get there too, even though it wasn’t on our itinerary.”
The guides anticipate your needs
The first day in a new country can often be overwhelming, and Adventures by Disney anticipates this. In Italy, we received chocolate bars to help fight the jet lag and folded tote bags to bring home souvenirs, but the best perk of all was a local Italian guide who provided both translation services and recommendations on where to eat. When someone’s child had a toothache, she even accompanied them to a clinic for help!
In Peru, says Patz, the bus was stocked with everything from snacks to masks to bug spray, and when guests felt a little woozy in the high altitudes of Machu Picchu, the staff had packets of electrolyte powder on hand for those in need. And at one of the sites, just when group energy was beginning to flag, Patz’s guide mentioned that there are sometimes local vendors in the area and they might see one. Sure enough, one of the guides had clandestinely set up shop on a blanket around the corner and proceeded to “sell” tangerines to the group—for the price of a rock, which kids and adults alike enthusiastically collected.
Local experts are also a lifesaver when it comes to troubleshooting. When the airline didn’t get Patz’s suitcase onto the connecting flight within Peru, the guides arranged for pickup at the airport two hours away. As far as Patz was concerned, her bag just magically arrived in her hotel room.
You get VIP treatment at top attractions
For me, the highlight of my three Adventures by Disney trips culminated in access to a storied spot in Rome: the Sistine Chapel. Our group of about three dozen people, and only our group, had access to the chapel after hours. No crowds or pushing or lines or any directives from guards to move along. We simply were able to stare at the fantastical frescoed ceiling in quiet. And our amazing guide even received permission from the guard to take two pictures, despite the fact that the Sistine Chapel is one of the places where pictures are forbidden during regular visiting hours. This experience was truly “magical” and why Adventures by Disney is worth it when considering the cost of the trip alone.
The trips are made for adults (no, really)
If you hear Disney and automatically think kids, it may come as a surprise to hear that Adventures by Disney is great for adults. I’m not talking about just families either. The company has 38 adult-exclusive trips, which include wine tasting, cooking classes and elegant dinners out. One Australia adventure I checked out also had snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and a private tour and dinner at the Sydney Opera House on the itinerary!
And great news for parents: Even if you’re traveling with the whole fam, there are adults-only dinners where you get to relax while the guides entertain kids with their own dinner, activities and private showings of Disney movies. In Peru, says Patz, she and her husband (who actually traveled sans kids) participated in a Pisco Sour cocktail-making demo while the kids on the trip made pizza. On my Italy adventure, the kids taste-tested the local soda while the grown-ups enjoyed a relaxed dinner. (The older teens were free to join either group, which was great for my family.)
Itineraries take you beyond the obvious sites
Another highlight for Patz on her Peru adventure: getting off the beaten path without having to consult a map. In addition to obvious highlights such as Machu Picchu, her trip included memorable stops. In the Sacred Valley area, she got to visit a local ceramics studio and meet the ceramists; she participated in a music workshop in which she tried out traditional instruments and even crafted some of her own. Patz got to pet and feed alpacas and watch a private performance of a traditional Peruvian ceremony, and she also got to see local weavers—mostly women, some older, some with babies on their backs—demonstrate different types of weaves from the fur of local animals, alpaca and vicuña, and enjoy a scenic picnic lunch catered by one of the best restaurants in town.
It opens up the world in an incredibly accessible way
Adventures by Disney is also worth it for the wide range of destinations they have available as group trips. There are river cruises on the Seine and Rhine, deep dives into Japan and China, and quicker trips to the national parks in the United States and Canada.
And if you want some Disney flavor in your trip, that’s certainly an option too. Their newest offering is one I’m really excited about: a trip through Colombia with a nod toward the movie Encanto. It includes arepa making, a coffee-farm visit, tours through Cartagena and a visit to Proyecto Tití, which is sponsored by the Disney Conservation Fund and helps cotton-top tamarin monkey conservation. There’s also a hike in the Cocora Valley, which was an inspiration for the movie.
They bring the fun factor
Unlike some tours, where a guide typically offers a straightforward history lesson, Adventures by Disney guides add a playfulness that you might think is geared toward kids but actually makes the experience a delight for adults as well. In Peru, at the ancient Inca fortress and UNESCO World Heritage Site Sacsayhuaman (which the guides jokingly pronounced “sexy woman,” leaving the kids on the trip in embarrassed hysterics), guides told about the history of using quipu or qunas, colorful ropes on a stick, to communicate across long distances via courier. Depending on the color of the ropes and the placement and type of knots they held, they warned of invasions and relayed other urgent news. The guide just “happened to have gotten his hands on some,” and everyone in the group got to touch and feel (and bring home) this cool keepsake.
A visit to an alpaca farm was “Disneyfied” with a selfie contest; bus rides were made more entertaining with games of Name that Disney Tune, including some golden oldies for the grown-ups; and on the last night, guests participated in a “llama gift exchange” that sent everyone home with souvenirs purchased by their fellow travelers.
You’ll make new friends with similar interests
Another highlight that makes Adventures by Disney worth it when considering a group trip? The sense of camaraderie that comes from exploring with like-minded travelers. Everyone on one of these trips has a passion for the destination, as well as an appreciation for Disney’s spirit of fun and its ability to both delight and surprise.
Patz notes that the guides proactively foster relationships too. “They grouped families for different activities and also mixed up groupings, so we got to know everyone. We went white-water rafting with one family and traveled around Machu Picchu with another.” This allowed her and her husband to meet people easily and make new friends on the trip.
As for me, my Facebook feed is filled with faces I met on the Italy, Montana and San Francisco trips I took over the past decade. This is, hands down, one of the best souvenirs of an Adventures by Disney trip.