There are adults—and we know a few—who think Disney is childish, or see it as the place you bring your children to create memories they’ll cherish forever. These are the adults at Disney who aren’t smiling—and for good reason: they’re focused on everything except having a good time: planning, coordination, meals, snacks, Meet & Greets…. It’s a lot to do and think about in between having a good time, which is a much more pleasurable thing to be thinking about. So, that’s what we’re going to do: focus on having a good time. And that begins with not bringing kids. Or moms, or dads, or relatives or even friends. Let’s focus on you and a romantic Disney date with your partner…
There are play dates and then there are play dates
When you don’t need to think about anybody but yourselves, you can do anything—and at Disney, you can! Start with breakfast. Start with breakfast with a Bloody Mary at the Disneyland Hotel’s Steakhouse 55. Start with breakfast in Cars Land at Flo’s V8 Cafe in Disney California Adventure. Start with a Starbucks coffee and run to Space Mountain…!
When you as a couple decide to go to Disney unencumbered, it’s easy to get a bit drunk (metaphorically speaking, for the moment)—or silly—just thinking about a Disney day all to yourselves. Images whirl like the Astro Orbiter and you can envision doing everything you’ve every wanted to do since you were twelve. Except… in reality, you can’t run in four directions simultaneously or enjoy every snack option available without suffering the consequences (fyi, kids aren’t the only ones who get sick when they overdo it!). What you most want to avoid is consequences on your big Disney date.
A little bit of structure goes a long way—and so do reservations
Planning is fun when you’re planning fun things, so think about your day: Are you going to go for all the “E Ticket” attractions or just tool around and play things by ear? The former will benefit from a bit of planning, as in FastPasses, but you can also try your luck. It comes down to priorities, which are best established before you’re running in four directions simultaneously and realize your partner is running in a different direction.
Daytime is funtime. But there’s a certain point—let’s call it “cocktail hour”—when you want to be starting to switch gears. That might be late afternoon, early evening, or late evening. It’s whatever time you want to be sitting and looking at each other with all the happiness of the day you shared together sparkling in your eyes and smiles.
However: As with the more popular attractions, if your Disney date is going to involve dining at a signature restaurant, reservations are recommended.
And speaking of reservations…
When time isn’t a factor, you can stretch your day of romance well into a night of romance if you can afford the time and expense of spending the night at a Disneyland Resort hotel. It’s true: the magic lives on.
When you can make a night of it—and another day—you can temper one of the two days with a little more time spent taking it all in instead of constantly weaving and dodging at breakneck speed to get to whatever’s next. You can make sure, for instance, that you’ve gotten all the right selfies to remind you of your favorite memories—and even before you leave! Selfies are one of the best souvenirs there are, and a fun way to relive the highlights as you’re waiting for your drinks and bites to arrive.
Drinks and bites—and then some
Depending on weather and locale, there are some spots worthy of settling into for a spell and enjoying a magic elixir or two:
Disney California Adventure (DCA)
Between Buena Vista Street and Paradise Pier, there are more than a few possibilities for enjoying a relaxed and intimate setting, each unique in theme, menu, and ambience. These are our favorites:
Ariel’s Grotto, overlooking the Boardwalk, has a fanciful, romantic theme that takes you back to a simpler time when holding hands and blushing over a soft ice cream was the kind of date one dreamed of.
Carthay Circle Lounge is a sultry, smoky and sensuously decorated throwback to the iconic Los Angeles theatre that premiered “Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” No matter how you’re dressed or how fatigued you may feel, the Carthay Lounge will rejuvenate and seduce both, with a sense of seclusion and a menu of classic cocktails and signature small bites.
Wine Country Trattoria, at the Golden Vine Winery, sweeps you into a Napa frame of mind between its vineyard setting and two romantic terrace options for feeling like you’re in a Mediterranean getaway. An impressive selection of wines and wine flights, as well as a full bar, will lift you into your second wind with ease.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
The Animal Kingdom experience tends to be a rugged one, but ever since the park expanded its hours into the night, it’s exotic, romantic side can be enjoyed without the need for sherpa or sunscreen. The soon to open Avatar-themed expansion, “Pandora”; the “Rivers of Light” water show, and an after-dark version of Kilimanjaro Safaris, makes Animal Kingdom a viable date-night destination.
Nomad Lounge, Tiffins’ casual counterpart, feels like a spa dressed as a treehouse and cloaked by the jungle. Its wraparound patio and indoor rotunda invite the weary into a relaxing and intimate atmosphere with cozy rattan seating and spacious lounge areas, replete with throw pillows and candles to make one feel at home. And if that’s not enticing enough, the cocktail menu is a treasure trove of hidden delights. Seriously: the Nomad Lounge’s cocktail menu is something to be behold and we highly recommend beholding it.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
There are more than several watering holes and mixed drink opportunities throughout the park, but few, in our opinion, live up to a romantic or intimate experience. This is our top pick, and it would make the top of our list in any Disney setting:
The Hollywood Brown Derby is a remake of the iconic original in Hollywood, CA, and it lives up. From its red awnings to the celebrity caricatures on the walls, the patio seating to its tiered dining room settings, and even down to the posture and attitude of the wait staff, the Brown Derby essence lives! And its key to immortality—and least, for Us—is the classic martini served in the traditional Hollywood style: table-side, shaken in individual chilled shakers, then properly poured into chilled martini glasses. Whether you’re in a spacious leather-upholstered booth or an intimate table for two, you will find yourself toasting your fame and fortune as so many Hollywood legends have done since the Derby first opened in 1926.
With every country in the World Showcase having its own signature restaurant, choosing can be difficult. However, when a romantic atmosphere is what you’re after, some definitely hold more appeal than others.
Coral Reef is part of The Seas experience in Future World and lives up to its name in every way: this is an undersea experience, from its full-length floor-to-ceiling aquarium wall to its fanciful oceanic decor and low-light illumination. Request a table for two next to the glass window, or a booth. But with its amphitheater-style tiers, every table offers a clear view of all the undersea action. The lunch and dinner menus are identical and feature mostly fresh fish and seafood prepared with a modern flair. But don’t feel you have to have a full meal: a magical experience can just as easily be had with a signature cocktail (or two) and a couple of appetizers. Don’t pass up the charbroiled octopus—even if you’ve never had octopus and the mere thought terrifies you. Reservations are highly recommended.
Morocco has two restaurants, Restaurant Marrakesh and Spice Road Table. Marrakesh is a full-fledged, full-bodied Moroccan experience, from its authentic menu to the belly dancers who will entertain throughout the meal. Spice Road is a more modern take on Moroccan cuisine, offering a tapas (small bites) menu that can be enjoyed overlooking Crescent Lake as the ferry boat passes on its way to and from France. Both restaurants are full table service and have a signature cocktail menu along with a full bar.
Les Chefs de France is one of two signature restaurants in France. Monsieur Paul is the more pricey—as in, very or (très!). The former is comparatively inexpensive, though still on the pricier side—and particularly if you fail to resist the wine list. But when in France…. And in the name of romance, it might be worth just saying c’est la vie in the name of joie de vivre.
If the above selection seems arbitrary, to some extent it is, but only because of our own taste and experiences. Any of Epcot’s World Showcase restaurants can make for a romantic, fanciful and date-worthy experience, but timing is everything, and reservations can make all the difference. A crowded dining room of irritable parents with hyperactive kids will suck the romance out of any romantic atmosphere in a matter of minutes, so plan accordingly. By avoiding peak meal times—or even seasons—you can feel like you have the place to yourselves and all the time in the world to enjoy it.
And then there’s always the hotel…
Some of our favorite lounge spots are on hotel premises and are as varied and unique as the Disney Resorts themselves. If you’re looking for a solid break from the day before heading into night, or are looking to enjoy a nightcap to top off an exhilarating day and a romantic dinner, there’s a lounge setting to suit your needs, desires, and location.
In addition, many of the resort restaurants have their own bars and lounges.
If you’re staying for a while, take some time to explore. There’s nothing like taking full advantage of your time at Disney with an evening stroll, a pub crawl—or both. And, depending on where you’re staying, Disney transportation is usually available.
When you can start the day and end the day with Disney in your hearts, and your smiles stay awake longer than you do, you have achieved the ultimate Disney date.