The Best Disney World Thrills & Chills for Couples, Friend Groups, and Solo Travelers

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The Best Disney World Thrills & Chills for Couples, Friend Groups, and Solo Travelers

Though many of us were fortunate enough to first experience the wonder of Walt Disney World in Orlando as children, there is still plenty to do at the parks and neighboring resorts as adults—with or without kids. On a recent trip to Disney, we were able to speak with a number of cast members and experts about what couples, friend groups, and solo travelers can do to level-up their Disney World experience, and had the opportunity to try a few of these thrills and chills out for ourselves. Spoiler: Yeah, it was a blast.

Thrill Rides

Something that Disney World has leaned into more in the past few years are its thrill rides. While most attractions are family-oriented, there is now a marquee coaster at each of the four parks: TRON Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios, and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom. And Hollywood Studios is also home to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which, while not a coaster, is still one of the most thrilling rides you’ll find anywhere.

As a bit of a coaster chicken, newest ride TRON was a leap for me (I won’t do Everest because of the backwards track, although I’ve only heard enthusiastic reviews!) Sitting on what is essentially a motorbike, riders are shot off at 60 mph from the starting track for a whirlwind experience. TRON is fast. It’s a fairly short ride, but its speed, dips, and turns leave a heart-pounding impression.

At the park, we spoke with Steven A. Miller (Senior Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility), about TRON, because—as he said—“I love TRON! I never would have thought that we’d have such a thrilling attraction being added, but it’s such a perfect thing. The whole idea is that you’re immersed in the world of TRON, you’re transported to the game grid and the goal is that you’re racing against the other team. You have to be the first to capture the eight energy gates. Whoever goes through those eight energy gates first is declared the victor. It’s a fast ride and it’s a fast experience. It’s one of the fastest attractions we have at Disney parks around the world.”

The Imagineers worked with TRON composer Joseph Trapanese for the ride as well, Miller revealed. “He revisited the work and created a whole new soundtrack for not only the ride, but also when you walk up. It’s a very epic score because you’re going to play a game, you know? You’re launched into that upload conduit, taken into the grid, and oh man… you just hang on.”

For those not quite ready to take on the parks’ most intense rides, fantastic stalwarts like Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom, or even the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in Magic Kingdom remain really fun to return to multiple times (Flight of Passage is also great for solo travelers as you are not locked in to two or four-seater cars, and can often move up quickly in line). And for something far more chill—especially on hot summer days—EPCOT offers some of the most soothing (and educational) rides with some of my personal old-school favorites such as Soarin’, Living with the Land, and Spaceship Earth, which are relaxing without being super kid-oriented. Finally, elsewhere, in a Galaxy not so far away….

Unique Experiences

For those traveling without very young kids in tow, Disney World offers some under-the-radar experiences to take your appreciation of the parks up a notch. Much has been said from us here at Paste about the truly excellent and immersive experience of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, from the rides to the exceptional amount of detail put into every corner of the area—all of which is worth exploring in-depth (including Oga’s Cantina, which is a must). But over at Animal Kingdom, there are also some unique, behind-the-scenes tours that can give you a new view of the wildlife that calls Disney home.

On our Kilimanjaro Safari ride (an 18-minute open-air trip through the park’s savanna—included with park admission to Animal Kingdom), we were joined by Animal Operations Manager Buck Lyman, who provided some fascinating insights into the way animals are integrated into the park. I had a number of questions about conservation and how the animals come to be at Disney, and learned Animal Kingdom has a gold-star accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is focused on protection, research, and education. (More on that in a moment). It was also great to learn some fun tidbits about the animals we encountered on the safari, like the fact that hippos are drama queens, finding a Hidden Mickey in the flamingo enclosure (hint: it’s in the water…), or how the barns and enclosures work behind-the-scenes (the animals are often given a choice to go into enclosures during inclement weather, but each species is on a strict care regimen to ensure their safety at all times).

In addition to Kilimanjaro Safaris, you can also purchase upgrades for more comprehensive tours that bring you even closer to these majestic creatures. While we didn’t have time to take the Wild African Trek ($199 per person), the private 3-hour tour has you following a guide through grasslands, across a rope bridge, and on a safari vehicle for a view of the park and its animals that sounds like a truly VIP experience for adventurers looking to splurge a little.

However, we did get to experience Caring for Giants ($35 per person), a 1-hour tour that showcases the elephants at Animal Kingdom. We learned so much from Education Coordinator Julie Callihan as well as Conservation Manager Dr. Zak Gezon about how the elephants relate to one another in their herds, and how—along with the Disney Conservation Fund—the park’s research efforts have led to non-lethal solutions for deterring elephants from destroying crops in Kenya by putting bee houses on the outskirts of the farms. Yes, bees! It turns out, elephants hate bees! It was also fascinating to see how the parks use both the natural Florida habitat in conjunction with a few “Disney real” pieces (like a “baobab tree” used as a structure to provide water or store food) to create the right environment for its animals. Truly, I could go on and on, it was a wonderful tour (and you can learn more about the elephants here and here).

Meanwhile, if you are visiting EPCOT during one of its festival seasons, there are also a host of ways to level-up your time. The International Food and Garden Festival was in full-swing when we visited, and Proprietor/Business Relations Manager Rick DeCicco pointed out a few things not to miss. The first were five new topiaries for the garden festival (beautiful and great photo opportunities), as well as a number of tasty eats throughout the park, from muffuletta and spicy chicken gumbo to burrata panzanella salad and avocado toast—there are no bad options. “While the portions are healthy, they are sample sized,” DeCicco told us. “So, a lot of them are shareable, and we encourage that. I always say that we want people to take chances and try something that they might not normally try. Because if you don’t like it, you’ll find something that you love at the next stop.”

Thanks to DeCicco’s advice, we were able to take advantage of the free “passports” around the world for the Garden Graze. If you get your book stamped at each kiosk, you get a small treat and commemorative prize at the end—but the real fun was just in trying out so many different options as my husband and I strolled the park. In total, we spent $50 for both of us on a very long and lingering lunch that left us stuffed.

Food, Drinks, and Shopping

Speaking of the Garden Graze, Disney World has done an exceptional job in recent years of expanding its accommodations for food allergies and general dining preferences. As a vegetarian (well, pescatarian; I do eat fish), I was genuinely blown away by not only the number of selections I could find at any EPCOT kiosk, but how sincerely delicious they were. The passport highlighted vegetarian options so that they were easy to find—and we made a beeline for them. Even better, they weren’t just salads and vegetables; yes, vegetarians and vegans like to eat (Impossible-brand) pulled pork bites and lumpia, too!

This inclusive ethos extends to restaurants at the parks and resorts as well. From delicious fast-casual dining like The Mara (Animal Kingdom Lodge) to wonderfully flavorful offerings at both Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) and Paddlefish (Disney Springs), we did not have even one mildly disappointing dish. The crab guacamole at Paddlefish was a particular standout, as was something as simple as the African bread sampler at Tiffins. Everything was excellent. The last time we visited Disney World, my one complaint was the lack of vegetarian food options and some of the quality of what we did find—no longer! Eating may have actually been my favorite event on this most recent trip, I am truly dreaming about some of those dishes…

In addition to great food, Disney World also has a number of fun bar-hopping options for patrons (all of which include a very expansive and tasty array of mocktails wherever you go), and will be opening up a new space called Summer House soon in Disney Springs. According to Marketing Strategy Associate Alexis Gossom, the new restaurant will have “beautiful views of the water and really delicious different treats and cookies,” making it a great option alongside the Coca-Cola store’s rooftop bar, STK, Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar, and other spots that are perfect for both hangouts and photo ops.

As Disney World’s shopping district, Disney Springs is pretty much a theme park unto itself, with specially crafted aesthetics that make every restaurant and store you visit an event. We had the opportunity to speak with K-M Lezotte (Senior Manager – Brand Merchandising), about the shops at the parks and Disney Springs and the creativity behind them. He explained how the merch team looks to create “tangible memories” regarding guest experiences at the park. “It could be that you go on TRON for the first time and you’ll love that attraction. You experience it with someone who is meaningful to you, […] so you want to take that item with you and you bring it home. It becomes kind of a collectible for you, where it captures a specific moment in time. Maybe it’s a photo frame, and you smile and you don’t even remember why—it’s because it’s bringing back that memory. There are very few other places in the world where you go to buy merchandise that have an experience tied to them, and we take that very seriously.”

When asked what has stood out the most for him in his 37 years with Disney, Lezotte pointed to Animal Kingdom. “It’s about the animals, it’s about the environment. It’s about how we continue to move forward in unison with the environment as our generations continue on,” he told us. “That direct connection there, I think, is probably one of the things I’m most proud of—being able to work with suppliers who are focused on the environment.”


Yes the fireworks are easily enjoyed by people of all ages, but it bears mentioning that the new Happily Ever After show at Magic Kingdom is one of Disney World’s most engaging evening events. The show projects Disney character favorites onto Cinderella’s castle during a familiar song medley, but is elevated by many blink-and-you’ll-miss it appearances and nearly hidden surprises that make seeing the show multiple times worthwhile. The way the fireworks are integrated with the show also keep things exciting; the explosions are more in support of the projection than the other way around, which honestly works much better (fireworks are great, but usually once you’ve spent a few minutes with them, sometimes you start thinking about whether you should leave now to avoid the crowds…) Happily Ever After’s focus on romance, especially to cap off the show, also makes for a very sweet and emotional moment by delivering some of that ol’ Disney Magic.

And that may be the most important thing about visiting Disney World as an adult: losing yourself in the childlike wonder and excitement. We are living in weird times… immersing yourself in an Orlando bubble for at least a few days with both new and familiar thrills and chills can make you feel like a kid again—and that’s something to celebrate.

Allison Keene is a writer and the former TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV.

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