I’m not sure exactly when it happened… but it did.
Somewhere along this journey we call "life," I became a senior citizen. If you asked me today how old I am, there’s something inside my brain—the left side to be sure—that would answer "19." The left brain still remembers the days of leaping fences and taking stairs two at a time. The right brain just stares at the left side, shakes his head slowly and makes that "tsk-ing" sound.
Before I go too far down this road, let’s establish what defines a senior citizen. A quick Google search points to a Wikipedia page with which I take significant issue. First, it states that a "senior citizen is a common polite designation for an elderly person." Wait just a second… elderly? What’s so polite about that? Not so fast, sonny… I may have to hit you with my can of Metamucil.
It goes on to say that a senior is "over retirement age." Really? What, exactly, is retirement age? You can join the American Association of Retired People (AARP) at 50 years of age. I know several people that retired from full-time employment well before the typical retirement age of 62…or 66…or whatever number the government is using these days. I also know of people that continue to work well into their 70's. So which is it? Are you considered a senior at 50?
As you can see, determining if one has entered seniorocity… er… seniorness, is very difficult. Fear not—because in yet another public service for you, my faithful readers, I have devised a simple test that will accurately determine whether or not you qualify as a card-carrying, early-bird special-hunting senior. If you can answer yes to three of the following four questions, you’re a senior. Ready?
How’d you do? I should note that originally there was a fifth question that had to do with graying hair. I’ve often said that gray hair is a sign of intelligence and I can tell you I’m getting smarter every day. I had to remove this question in the interest of fairness. It seems many folks suffer from premature intelligence, even gaining these smarts in their late-twenties or early-thirties—certainly not seniors. I’m also aware that a number of us also become somewhat follicly-challenged later in life so the hair color test had to go.
"So what does all this have to do with Disney?" I hear you ask. Nothing… and everything. You see, the trip to senior citizenry is a slow and gradual one but it does yield a number of changes in how one approaches Disney’s resorts and theme parks. When the announcer says, "Ladies and gentlemen; boys and girls of all ages…" he means it. Disney is for the young and the young at heart. I’ve lost none of my affection for a trip to Walt Disney World but advancing years have certainly changed the way I vacation there.
For some, and I include myself in this group, being a senior brings with it a few physical challenges. My back, knees and shoulders now bear the results of the abuse I inflicted upon them in my youth. In the words of Indiana Jones, "It’s not the years… it’s the mileage."
So how are senior trips different than any other? Let’s distinguish. In my early years of visiting Walt Disney World, my wife and I brought along our pre-school aged children. They quickly became school-aged, then young adults, and now adults with spouses and children of their own, our grandchildren. Yet we still vacation together at Walt Disney World and I love and appreciate those vacations as much as those early ones. But we also vacation solo.
Now when I say "solo," what I really mean is a trip with just me and the ol’ ball and chain—the missus, the little woman, my better half—you know what I mean. These trips are no more or less enjoyable but they are certainly different. There’s a certain sense of freedom and spontaneity when you don’t need to rush to ride Dumbo. When you can stroll a bit, literally stop and smell the roses, and take advantage of some of the things Disney offers adults. To better explain, I’ll try to offer my perceptions and experiences in the three main components of a Disney vacation: the resorts, the restaurants (and lounges), and last but certainly not least, the theme parks.
As a final word, please understand that I do not visit Walt Disney World looking to find fault. I certainly offer opinions, but I try not to overreact when I come upon a burned-out light bulb, a ride closed for refurbishment, or discover my favorite restaurant has changed the dessert menu. In my first visit to the World, I enjoyed the escape from real life and marveled at how Disney "assaulted my senses." All these years and 30-plus trips later, I still do.
Let me state emphatically that I am not a resort snob. I’ve stayed in Value, Moderate, and Deluxe resorts and I can truthfully say I’ve enjoyed them all—obviously, for different reasons. Some may choose a Value resort for its theming, while others would prefer to put their vacation dollars to work somewhere other than a room they’ll spend very little time in. I understand both completely.
The difference now, as a senior, is I no longer need to have the theming of a Pop Century, Art of Animation or All Stars resort as a form of entertainment. I much prefer the more subdued theming of the Beach Club, Boardwalk… or Animal Kingdom Lodge.
We’re Disney Vacation Club members and the Boardwalk is our home resort. It’s no secret that I’ve become a Crescent Lake Snob and that’s due primarily to its location. The ability to walk to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios perfectly fits with my priorities for a Disney World vacation. Epcot is my favorite park and I could easily close every day with a coffee and pastry from the Boulangerie Patisserie followed by viewing Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. I mean… who wouldn’t?
Once Illuminations has concluded, it’s a short walk back to my resort where I absolutely love the sights and sounds of the Boardwalk at night. A post-fireworks double chocolate waffle cone from Seashore Sweets followed by a few minutes with a comedian/juggler/magician is as enjoyable as it gets.
I also find that as I’ve aged, I have a greater appreciation for the resorts themselves. I enjoy spending more time on a balcony watching the world go by… or simply relaxing at the resort. Think about settling in with a book on a chilly morning next to that huge fireplace in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge; or taking up in a wicker rocker on the back porch of the Boardwalk and spending an hour doing nothing but watching the Friendship boats cruising by on Crescent Lake; or spending time on your balcony at the Animal Kingdom Lodge watching antelope play—not to mention giraffe, zebra, Ankoli cattle, okapi, and many more.
There was a time when I could live on burgers and fries during a week at Walt Disney World. Ah, I still could—who am I kidding? I guess the difference now is that a Disney trip is no longer just about the theme parks and the attractions—it seems almost a waste not to sample of few of the more unique restaurants on site.
We all have our favorites but I’m typically drawn to fare I can’t get at home. I know some will complain that much of the more exotic fare at Walt Disney World has been "dumbed down" a bit to accommodate the masses but I’m OK with that. Jiko – the Cooking Place (shouldn’t that be "the Eating Place"?) has become a favorite and the only place I’ve ever tried ostrich. I enjoy the California Grill for its always-changing menu and its spectacular views; Boma and Sanaa for their exotic flavors; ‘Ohana for the firepit and mountains of grilled food; Narcoossee’s for its… well, just because I like it.
I still thoroughly enjoy a Pecos Bill’s burger or the Anchors Aweigh from Columbia Harbour House but I find that each trip now has to have at least one meal where my server has an authentic French accent (or Italian, British, Japanese…)
Sometimes I kid myself and say there’s no real difference in how I toured the parks in my thirties and how I do it today. In my heart, I know that’s not entirely true.
I still love all there is to most of the thrill rides. I relish every minute on the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Test Track, and Soarin'. However, with a slight nod to my advancing years, I now stay clear of a few rides I used to enjoy.
I now give Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster Starring Aerosmith a wide berth. Face it… the only people that should be upside down are performers in aerial stunt shows and gymnasts—and I am neither.
Space Mountain is another ride I now avoid. Even when I was riding it, folding a 6’ 2" frame into those little rockets was never comfortable. Now, I find that the darkness that was once a thrilling component of the experience only hides the dips, turns and drops and won’t let me prepare my body. The result is this ride is a bit rougher on the back than I care to endure.
So, to net all this out… Disney for Seniors means spending a bit more time enjoying the resort’s amenities, dining a bit more frequently at a few of Disney’s finer establishments and spending less time (or no time) on a few of the more intense attractions. Sounds like it’s something I can live with.
I can recall a trip, quite a few years ago, when the wife and I were walking through a theme park, probably trailing our kids as they raced off to the next attraction. An older couple, obviously seniors, walked by us hand in hand. They were strolling, chatting and smiling… obviously thoroughly enjoying each other as much as their surroundings. Barb and I looked at each other, smiled and said, "That’s us in a few years." We were right.
Thanks for reading.
(Send an email to Steve Russo)
Steve's a Disney Vacation Club member that has been planning Walt Disney World vacations since 1984. Along the way, he's tried to learn everything he could about the Disney World resorts, restaurants and theme parks. He brings you that knowledge via planning tips and insights, often delivered with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
His three children are now grown but still vacation at Walt Disney World with Mom and Dad. The clan has increased to include a daughter-in-law, two sons-in-law and grandchildren. Steve is now retired and he and his wife, Barbara anxiously await their next visit to the World.Steve is the author of So... You're Going to Disney World: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the planning process.