Most Romantic Disney Vacations
On a recent vacation, business manager Lauren O’Donnell’s boyfriend set the mood with a private boat ride. Fireworks lit up the sky, and he popped the question—at Disney World.
“I texted my friend to let him know I’m engaged,” says O’Donnell, who works at American Express Publishing, “and learned he went to Disney for his one-year anniversary last year.”
Grown-ups like to play at the Happiest Place on Earth, too, and romance has become big business for Disney. Over the past two decades, Disney World alone has hosted more than 45,000 weddings, and countless couples have vacationed at the company’s properties across the U.S.
Related: The Best Disney Restaurants
“I think that Disney has this intangible magic that envelops people, if they allow it to,” says Deb Wills, whose Disney news and travel-planning site AllEars.net has a devoted following of 145,000 weekly subscribers. “You can shut out the real world; you can suspend reality.”
But disappearing into that kind of theme-park love cocoon isn’t always easy. “Disney is Disney,” says Wills. “There are lots and lots of families.” So start by going where the children aren’t, such as a resort hotel during the daytime, when most guests are on the park rides. Or a cruise ship like the Disney Wonder and Disney Magic, on which couples’ spa treatment rooms pair a massage with champagne on a veranda with sea views.
Inside the theme parks, privacy is catch-as-catch-can on little-walked trails and quiet culs-de-sac (ahem, try wandering to the back of Paradise Pier at California Adventure).
For a more guaranteed dose of romance, book a table at Be Our Guest restaurant, opening November 2012 at the newly expanded Fantasyland. It’s the first Magic Kingdom restaurant ever to serve wine and beer with dinner, and the décor is also creating buzz: a domed dining room with views of falling “snow” that echo the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast.
We’ve rounded up more couple-friendly Disney activities, each different in mood and expense. If you aren’t swooning by the end, you may be better off at Six Flags.
Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom Lodge
Insider Access: Kilimanjaro Club concierge-status rooms at the Animal Kingdom Lodge guarantee views of the live African animals roaming the simulated veld of the “savanna” (rather than the pool or parking lot). Concierge guests are also offered exclusive tours, such as the Sunrise Safari inside the Animal Kingdom Park before it opens for the day, and the Wildlife Discovery Excursion, which reveals the hidden tricks and backstage areas of the 110-acre Kilimanjaro Safaris paddocks.
Walt Disney World: Port Orleans Resort - Riverside
The Old-Fashioned: The Sassagoula River at Port Orleans Resort is a world away from the crush of the theme parks and the drone of buses and cars. Hire a horse and buggy for a 25-minute ride along the water, and since you’ve got time to spare, opt for an unhurried ferry ride that meanders for 2 1/2 miles through the nearby woods to the restaurants and shops of Downtown Disney.
Disney Cruise Line: Wonder and Magic
Oceangoing Indulgence: Couples’ spa treatment rooms at Vista Spa Villas on Disney Wonder and Disney Magic come with private dual massages, a spacious veranda, and a canopied Roman bed from which to soak up the sea views with strawberries and champagne. The “Ultimate Indulgence” lasts a stress-melting 2 1/2 hours and includes an Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Facial and an Elemis Deep Tissue Muscle Massage. On land at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, overdo the overpampering with a private cabana massage.
Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom
Yacht Excursion: It’ll be just you two (and your skipper, who discreetly minds the water) alone under the Florida moon when you rent the Grand 1, a private 52-foot yacht that heads into the Seven Seas Lagoon, by the colored lights of the Magic Kingdom. There you’ll stay, snuggling during the Wishes fireworks display and, we suspect, reenacting “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid. More of a Lady and the Tramp fan? The resort can furnish you with a private butler and a gourmet dinner (spaghetti upon request).
Walt Disney World: Fort Wilderness
Dude Ranch Light: Don’t forget that Disney World sits amid thousands of acres of undeveloped central Florida forest and swampland. The easy-paced horseback rides on the trails at Trail Blaze Corral lead you through the cool shade of the native pines and palmettos near Fort Wilderness, with no cars, no cameras, and no distractions. There are no little kids either—for them, there are pony rides in a separate area.
Tropical Escape: More than 167,000 couples go to Hawaii each year to marry or honeymoon, and in 2011 Disney tapped into that market by opening Aulani, a full-service resort on the coast of Oahu that piles on the exclusive features. There are private poolside cabanas with fresh fruit, a spa featuring a 5,000-square-foot hydrotherapy garden, and Hawaiian-themed treatments in couples suites (side-by-side lomilomi massage, Pili Aloha duet body exfoliation). From now until December 18, 2012, Aulani offers five nights for the price of three (book by November 10).
Walt Disney World
The Cinderella Story: Disney’s Wedding Pavilion juts into the water by the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, in the lee of the Magic Kingdom. Several weddings are conducted daily under its skylit cupola, with the monorail gliding by. Disney has a dedicated planning studio, Franck’s (named after Martin Short’s character in Father of the Bride), and a floral department in a backstage warehouse. Among the anything-your-heart-desires options: a horse-drawn “glass” coach styled after Cinderella’s converted pumpkin; a dessert party with a fireworks show; and a nighttime photo session in front of Cinderella Castle.
Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
Make-Out Session: It’s not easy finding space to yourself at Disney’s parks, but there are a few quiet locales where couples can comfortably indulge in some G-rated affection. In the Magic Kingdom, seek out the little-used pathway connecting Tomorrowland with the back of Fantasyland, parallel to the railway line, plus secluded spots along the canal that leads to the Castle. In Disneyland, there are benches dotting Critter Country. And Tom Sawyer Island (in Frontierland in both parks), accessible only by ferry, is lightly trafficked and ideal for intimacy. Behave; there are kids about.
Walt Disney World
Gourmet Feast: The most acclaimed restaurant among all of Disney’s properties is the 18-table Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Here, the normally standardized Disney corporation gives free rein to its star chef, Scott Hunnel, who procures his own ingredients for a seven-course, ever-changing menu. The ultimate Disney reservation is the Chef’s Table in the bustling kitchen, where meals begin with a champagne toast with Hunnel, who then gets busy crafting the menu of up to 13 courses to suit your tastes, from amuse-bouche to the platter of house-made candies. Female diners are honored with a long-stemmed rose.
Walt Disney World: Epcot
Tunnel of Love: If you can blot out the voice of Dame Judi Dench narrating global communications history, well, you must be in love. And you two will discover that the slow-moving, dark, side-by-side ride that ascends the giant orb of Spaceship Earth makes for the perfect postmodern Tunnel of Love. Your seating even gently swivels around as you descend again, so you finish the quarter-hour respite by reclining together.
Spectacle for Two: Jostling with crowds for the evening shows isn’t much of a bonding experience, but couples can take a VIP route: Fantasmic! Premium Viewing reserves an elevated, roped-off area overlooking the fiery show on the Rivers of America. In addition to bottomless coffee and hot chocolate, you’re plied with brownies, lemon tarts, truffles, cheesecake, and coconut macaroons normally reserved for Club 33, Disneyland’s members-only club. When that show’s done, keep your seats for the nightly fireworks.
Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom
A Toast to Fantasyland: Although the Pirates of the Caribbean have been blotto in the Magic Kingdom since 1973, never has alcohol been served to vacationers. It was against Walt Disney’s personal vision. Prohibition ends in November 2012, when the Be Our Guest restaurant in the expanding Fantasyland allows couples to order French and Californian wine and Belgian beer with dinner (the menu will include, what else, ratatouille). The domed dining room has views of falling “snow” outside, echoing the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast.