The Walt Disney Company has always been trying to expand the Disney brand experience outside of their theme parks. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Disney unsuccessfully tried to build different types of theme parks with the unrealized Disney’s America concept and the Port Disney project, which eventually morphed into Tokyo DisneySea. After these missteps and the eventual failure of the DisneyQuest concept, (which eventually lead to the closing of the final location at Walt Disney World), the company smartly changed course. Instead of trying to build Disney around the world, why not take people around the world “the Disney Way?”
The first step of this initiative was Disney’s launch into the cruise business in 1998, with Disney Cruise Line. The executives noticed the success of the cruise division and looked for a way to replicate the model, but somewhere they didn’t have to build multi-million dollar cruise ships. There are iconic places around the world that people want to visit, why can’t Disney take them there. IRL.
That’s how I imagine Adventures By Disney was born.
Starting in 2005 as part of the Disney Cruise Line division, Adventures By Disney offered structured trips for families to iconic locations in just two locations, Wyoming and Hawaii.
We found out about the program through our membership with Disney Vacation Club (DVC), since DVC members were offered the opportunity to trade vacation points for Adventures By Disney vacations. By this time, Sharon and I were already living in Central Florida and didn’t need our points to stay at Walt Disney World anymore. Why not trade them for a vacation somewhere we always wanted to go – the Grand Canyon.
Our First Adventures By Disney Trip
We took our first Adventures By Disney trip in 2007, on the American Southwest trip. The itinerary is so classic that to this day it hasn’t changed very much. On the trip, you visit Sedona, Grand Canyon National Park, Monument Valley, Moab and Arches National Park
At this point, I feel the need to make it known that, to date, we’ve only traveled on “Adults Only” Adventures By Disney trips. These are specific travel dates that Disney leaves open for adults only, usually scheduled for when the kids are back to school from break. While every ABD trip has two travel guides (a huge difference from most group travel companies), one of the guides is assigned to keep the children on the trip organized. On the adult only trips, while some adults do need some babysitting, the guides have seemingly enjoyed spending time with adults and not having to corral a group of kids for the majority of their day.
I can’t overstate the wonderful time we had on this trip and this is from two people who are not usually “people persons.” Our guides made sure that we all got to know one another, to the point where when we were on our own for dinner, the entire group decided we’d rather all eat together. That’s saying something.
I also realize that we have many of our “iconic” travel pictures from this trip. From one of our first “staged” photos at the Grand Canyon:
to Sharon’s “Run Forest, Run!” moment in Monument Valley:
and finally what may be one of my favorite pictures of the two of us, captured on our hike back from Delicate Arch by one of our Adventure Guides:
At the end of the trip, our guides put together a photo montage of the trip and in classic Disney fashion, it was quite the tearjerker.
Needless to say, shortly after returning home, we looked to book our next trip.
Trip #2 – Disneyland!
I think it’s safe to say that for a lot of our lives, we’ve been Disney dorks. Going on a Disney led trip through the place where it all started was a no-brainer. Even though we’d recently been to Los Angeles and Disneyland, this trip seemed to be too good to be true. We booked an adult only trip for the following year.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the timing of this trip couldn’t have been worse, as it was just weeks before the closing of our favorite location at Walt Disney World (and part of the reason we moved to Orlando), The Adventurers Club on Pleasure Island. We even shared our mourning of the closure by wearing matching shirts when visiting the Imagineering headquarters (and meeting Lucky, the dinosaur.)
Looking back, it’s amazing we got to see the Walt Disney Studios, Jim Henson Studios, Walt’s Apartment, the train roundhouse and a private visit with Tigger where he stole our group’s sign. We did get to do some cool things on the trip but with the Adventurers Club closing in just a few weeks and wanting to be there to savor every moment it was still open, our hearts weren’t truly into it.
Trip #3 – Make It Or Break It Time
After our first fantastic trip and the somewhat tarnished memories of the Disneyland trip, we decided to give Adventures By Disney one more shot. We wanted to visit Ireland but by the time I got my vacation time approved, the adult only trip was booked up. Drats!
I had to find another trip that I could book for as many points, or less, that left for the same time period. There was only one option available. The U.S. and the Canadian Rockies.
Let’s be clear, I’m the mountain person in the family and I was totally stoked about getting the chance to visit Glacier and Banff National Parks. Sharon, not so much. So why did we end up loving this trip so much? First of all, we had a wonderful group of people with us, many of whom we still keep in touch with on Facebook (and in person when we get the chance). It didn’t take long for the group to gel but when you have fourteen people hanging out in the hotel lounge at the end of a full day of touring, just to chat and get to know each other better, that’s special.
This area is also some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see (and ignore whatever comment Sharon adds in here, it is amazingly beautiful.)
I want this to be my profile picture forever (maybe without the dated denim Mickey Mouse jacket).
Just so you know these pictures were before #nofilter became a thing because in 2010 we really didn’t have filters to apply to pictures.
We returned home and started planning our next ABD trip.
Trip #4 – Ireland Here We Come!
Part of the reason we wanted to go to Ireland was that we couldn’t go the year before. We got the chance and jumped on it!
What did we learn? Ireland is very green because it tends to rain. All the time. It’s also where they make Guinness and where you can pay to hang backward and kiss a stone.
Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t hate it there; not at all. It just wasn’t our best trip ever but we’ve had worse. How bad could it be, the castle we stayed in had Wi-Fi!
Trip #5 – What the heck – How far can we go?
We’d always said the reason we went on these trips was to have someone plan trips we’d never be able to organize. So why not take one where we go halfway around the world, to Australia.
The Adventures By Disney Australia trip was, by far, the most complicated trip we’d ever taken with them. We’d be covering five cities over almost two weeks. For us, that was the longest we’d ever been away from home, since ever. So long that we arranged for housesitters to watch our house/dog while we were gone (we heartily recommend the agency where we found them). This was a big deal.
This trip was amazing on so many levels. I threw a boomerang, successfully!
Sharon played the Didgeridoo, not as successfully:
However, she did manage to hold a Koala and not drop it:
This was also the trip of several “lasts”. Like the last time, you’ll ever see Sharon sea kayaking or the last time Sharon will ever zip line (Note from Sharon: OMG, that was scary – I thought I wanna gotta DIE on the zipline).
It might also be the last time I’ll ever try to surf.
But it will most definitely not be the last time we return to Australia. Going to Sydney for New Year’s Eve is now one of Sharon’s Bucket List trips. So I have to make that happen!
So Why Did We Keep Going Back?
The reason we kept going back to Adventures By Disney was that the experiences we had couldn’t be repeated any other way. Oh, we could have gone on the same trips by ourselves, but they wouldn’t have been the same. The reason these trips work so well is due to the wonderful guides. They can make or break the trip and we have been fortunate to have some amazing guides. I don’t just mean mean like “they remember us after the trip” amazing. Like “they remember our name and ask how our spouse is doing when they see us five years after the trip” amazing. I’d like to think that’s because we make such a wonderful impression but I’ll go with that these are some awesome human beings.
I’m actually shocked that it’s been four years since our last trip. It’s time for a new adventure. I was just looking at posts from Jeremiah G.’s special Animal Kingdom 20th Anniversary ABD trip to South Africa on Laughingplace.com and was reminded how amazing these trips can be.
Now I don’t think that Sharon wants to go to South Africa anytime soon but she knows that I want to go to Southeast Asia. As it turns out, Adventures By Disney does have a trip to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and I’ve been hankering to visit those places ever since my dad made his trip there. I might have even convinced her to make the trip for my next “birthday that ends with a 0”!! W00T!!!!!
As I mentioned above, it’s been several years (over 4) since our last Adventures By Disney trip. For some of the trips we’ve been on, the itineraries have changed somewhat, like the Australia trip no longer travels to Tasmania, which is a shame as the location is magical. I also noticed that the hotels Adventures By Disney are staying at have been upgraded such as that at in Sedona, AZ they now stay at the ultra-fancy Enchantment Resort instead of the the Kimpton Amara located downtown. The same goes for the other trips we’ve been on in Ireland and Australia. The hotels, and the price of the trips, have gone up to suit a more upscale demographic. The value of trading DVC points for trips has also gone down, where it’s no longer a value to trade points, but a devaluation to do so.
As five time Adventures By Disney experts, we have our own views on the pros and cons of taking one of these trips. Since we’re seriously considering our sixth trip, I’ll let you guess whether we think they’re a good idea or not. Of course, for everyone, Your Mileage May Vary.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary