escape reality: disney world or land after work

Magic Kingdom, Disney World, Orlando, FL

Think that the Happiest Place on Earth is any less happy when you’re there for work? It doesn’t have to be. There are lots of options if you’re in the area for work and with a little know-how, you can treat yourself to a mini vacation after hours that doesn’t break the bank or leave you feeling deprived of fun.

So, I’ll admit – traveling to Florida for work can feel like a real drag at times. I remember once when I was sitting in the hotel dining room for breakfast, wearing a suit, hoisting my briefcase over my shoulder and suddenly having the sensation that I was the only person in the whole room who was NOT on vacation. This feeling is increased exponentially if you’re staying near Disney World in Orlando and the same is true if you’re working in Anaheim, CA near Disneyland. I’m such a die-hard fan of these parks, though, I’ve gotten to where I just embrace it and stay on-site whenever possible – even if I’m not able to go to the parks during the day, which is a given unless you take the day off. But, this way you can absorb some of the vibe after hours at no additional cost. There are in fact many options.

So, let’s say you’re in Orlando and you want to ride some rides. Disney World has just launched afternoon and evening tickets at a reduced price. Fall and Spring are 2 times of the year that you can really enjoy the parks as a grown-up without being inundated by families (I’m usually one of those families, so I’m not discriminating), which means you can get a LOT more done in only a few hours. Arrive by 6pm, ride some rides, maybe take in some fireworks or a show or 2, and then head over to one of restaurants for dinner. Going for dinner AFTER rides buys you a little extra time even if the parks are closing early that day because restaurants stay open later than general park hours. Putting dinner at the end of your visit makes the most of the time you’re there for all of the other attractions.

If you don’t care about rides, try heading to Disney Springs, which offers more stores, restaurants and entertainment venues than you can really imagine and there’s NO admission required. Anyone is welcome. But, make no mistake – they’re affiliated with the parks. If you’re a park guest with a meal plan, your plan is good at these restaurants. Many of the stores sell exclusive park merchandise, too, so you’re not dealing with knock-off souvenirs, or the “I just picked this up at the airport” version, which is legit merch in many cases, but let’s face it – a little like cheating. There’s no line to get into Disney Springs and the same is true of Downtown Disney at Disneyland. However, Downtown Disney in California and Disney’s Boardwalk in Florida have something unique about them – they’re nestled amongst some of the on-property hotels where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the parks, too. Treat yourself to an excellent dinner at one of the free-standing restaurants and then maybe take in some dueling piano bar action, for example. You’ll quickly forget that you’re traveling on business. Your FOMO will be banished – because you actually ARE having fun. And, still getting the job done.

Fancy some free fireworks while you dine…?

The Disney resorts (aka hotels) are spectacular. And, their restaurants are extraordinary. They’re usually expensive, but in my opinion, they’re also held accountable for a very high-quality experience. Take the time my friend and I popped into California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Hotel without reservations or park passes. We waited a bit for a table (~an hour?), but we had cocktails while waiting, so it’s a little hard to tell. When they finally grabbed us to say they had a 2-top open up, but that it was only 4 feet away in the lounge area, we thought: Oh, this didn’t pan out too well. But, the picture above was taken during the Magic Kingdom evening fireworks – I don’t think there was a better table in the house. And, the dinner was fabulous. Another time, we wandered over to Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort to duck into Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto – talk about an escapist experience. Work was instantly OVER for the day! They have a similar bar/restaurant at the Disneyland Hotel in California, in fact that was the inspiration. And, it’s similarly free to get into.

“All of our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Walt Disney

Here’s a great option and the one that I’ve come to tap into the most lately – do your work and THEN grab a like-minded colleague and pick up a night or 2 yourself at a park hotel. It’s barely a splurge if you’re able to split the hotel expense. And, your airfare is covered by the business trip, right, so it’s really quite economical? If you’re not traveling M-F, you’re probably saving the company a little bit of money, too, with the Saturday night stayover. There are so many fun reasons to be a kid again for a day – or, be an adult by indulging in excellent food, wine and shopping sans itty-bitties. As I mentioned, not only is the fall a great time for the parks, but you can take in the transition of the parks as they transform themselves for Halloween and then for Christmas. I really think the parks are at their finest during these phases – and, they go on for a long time each year. Plenty of time for a savvy business traveler like you to sneak a peak before the holiday travelers arrive (e.g. Christmas starts happening on Nov 8th….they just need the briefest breather after Halloween).

There are so many events every year, ONE of them is right for you:

  • Food & Wine Festival (Sep – Nov)
  • Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween (Sep – Nov)
  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas (Nov – Dec)
  • Disney Marathon Weekend (Jan)
  • International Festival of the Arts (Jan – Feb)
  • International Flower and Garden Festival (Mar – June)
  • …….and, these are just what’s happening in Florida. California does much of the same.

And, this doesn’t take into account all the little touches they do for day-of holidays like St. Patrick’s Day. I was once in Orlando for a meeting that ended on March 16th, so a travel partner and I thought: Why travel on St. Patty’s when we could just move over to Disney World for a day? There’s no month-long build-up to this long feted holiday where EVERYONE is Irish for the day. Yet, there was no shortage of green beer (extra stands set up every few feet) and Irish bands played all day to a less and less intelligible, kilt-clad crowd on March 17th.

It’s also possible that your conference center is a Good Neighbor Hotel and they offer free transportation to and from the parks and discounted park tickets. I’ve attended more than one large meeting at Caribe Royale and, while it’s not an official Disney property, they are in fact a good neighbor – you’ll hardly know the difference and you should certainly take advantage of how easy they make it to indulge. True story – I once took my family along to a conference at this resort when my son was very young and while we were there, he came down with the WORST double ear infection. The park shuttled us to a pediatrician who saw us quickly, then they kindly took us back to the hotel to rest. They even carried my husband to a local pharmacy to fill the scrip. All at no charge – the parks and their Good Neighbors take hospitality to a new level.

I’m clearly a fan and I have work colleagues who are similarly fans – or, we’re all enablers….it’s really impossible to discern. But, even if you think you don’t “like” Disney – Do you like great food? Do you like fun drinks? Do you like to be around people having fun? Let loose, get lost in a little bit of theme for the moment and get back to your regular routine the next day (or, Monday if you’re lucky). There’s always time to be an adult – take a MINUTE and be a kid again.

Halloween? No, this is the Disneyland Haunted Mansion during “Nightmare Before Christmas” – they transform the whole RIDE, not just the outside. Spare no expense.