1. Fun

Should adults go to Disney without kids? The internet rages.

Stephanie DeMartino, 19, Olvin Balma, 21, and Heather DeMartino, 21, from Long Island, stop near the Tomorrowland Speedway on July 30, 2019 at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Millennials are now the largest group of theme park visitors, with or without kids. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published Jul. 31

The New York Post scored a cheap shot at millennials this week when columnist Johnny Oleksinski said it's "just weird" that young, childless couples clog the lines at Walt Disney World.

The column complained not just that "remaining constant 12-year-olds ... amounts to self-infantilization," but that millennials were paying a premium for a fake world when they could be taking a trip to Europe.

Cue the viral outrage.

It's true that those born between 1981 and 1996 are big fans. Some 75 percent of millennials without kids planned to go to a theme park this year, according to research from Morning Consult, a business consulting firm. Millennials in general make up the largest group of all theme park visitors at 46 percent — a nearly 10 percent increase from 2015, according to a 2018 attractions industry study.

Theme parks have responded by tapping into nostalgia with places like Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios and adding smartphone features and social media elements to the park experience.

PREVIOUSLY: At new Toy Story Land, millennial parents are Disney's target

But look around on virtually any visit to the world's busiest tourist attraction and it's not just childless millennials in line at It's a Small World.

Senior couples in scooters are there with no grandkids in sight — and they are wearing bedazzled mouse ears. Middle-aged empty nesters are there, too. So are parents with kids who left their darlings behind so they can have some fun on their own, take in dinner at Epcot or indulge in Star Wars geekery.

In fact, most people who visit Walt Disney World do not have kids in their household. A 2018 study of the demographics of Disney World visitors by business consultant Street Light Data found that only 36.7 percent of the guests had kids under 18 in their household. The report said that could be because corporate conferences are hosted in the park during weekdays, but also that Disney World "has an audience of all ages."

Melanie Pati, 35, runs an Orlando logistic company and a Facebook site for Disney fans that has 36,000 followers. She has no kids and has been an annual passholder for three years with her husband.

The complaints are downright snotty sometimes, she says. They complain these adults reliving their childhood are making it harder for families to have a good time while they wait in long lines.

"I understand someone's frustration trying to make their children happy," Pati said, "but it's ridiculous and unfair that their inability to plan and schedule and understand the natural boundaries of going to a theme park is shading their opinion of others."

She also points out that this topic can be painful for people who might have had miscarriages or otherwise can't have children.

"So they shouldn't be able to go?" Pati said. "They can't share in the love and nostalgia of their childhood memories?"

Tom Bricker, who writes for the Disney Tourist Blog, rolled his eyes and joked that "someone finally had the courage to confront us nefarious millennials" for ruining another national treasure (after they plundered chain restaurants, cable television and golf).

RELATED: Despite Walt Disney's wishes you can now buy alcohol at Magic Kingdom

"There are different layers to the parks that appeal to different ages, demographics and interests," wrote Bricker, whose site includes articles on Walt Disney World honeymoon tips and the best ways to drink your way around the Epcot World Showcase.

So what are adults doing at Disney World? The luxury hotels and dining usually top the list. And the classic attractions, fireworks and parades are still a draw for grownups.

Zoltan Bouwhuis, 54, a St. Petersburg physical therapist, has no kids and has had an annual pass at Disney since the early '90s. He gets that kid question a lot, and he has a ready answer.

"It's a like a great escape from the real world, a nice place to be away from it all," Bouwhuis said.

In a typical trip, he and his wife will spend a half a day in a park, taking in a couple of rides such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and "one of the mountains" of Disney's coasters. Then it's a nice lunch or dinner and people watching.

"That's the beauty of being a passholder. You don't have to feel like you have to cram in every minute of the day to get your money's worth," he said. "You do a couple hours in the park and just relax. And most of the hotels are destinations themselves."

Bouwhuis has noticed a more adult tone in the last few decades as Disney has worked to broaden its appeal for all ages and family situations.

You can now get an alcoholic beverage at every sit-down restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. You can sign up for tours to go restaurant hopping around the parks, meet the chefs and go behind the scenes at Epcot's flower and garden festival. And Bouwhuis goes with a big group of friends every year to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which opens Aug. 29 for a record 87 days this year.

Adult fans of Disney are puzzled by the distaste they encounter.

"I think it's odd that people watch NASCAR races or hunt or fish, but I'm not going to complain to them about it," Pati said. "Personally, I don't ride Dumbo or It's a Small World, but I would be hell bent to go on Haunted Mansion. I enjoy the costuming and the atmosphere, the rides and the cuisine and hundreds of other things associated with Disney.

"For me it's the happiness associated with memories from my childhood."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at Follow @SharonKWn.


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