It’s called Adventures by Disney (ABD), but you won’t find many princesses or mouse ears on Disney’s guided family tours in destinations around the world. Yet the Disney spirit remains strong, hidden within what might be the most Disney characteristic of all: a real verve for storytelling.
Before I went on my first Adventures by Disney tour (a Peru tour that included Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley), I knew that storytelling was a big focus of these trips. But that didn’t seem so different from any other tour; after all, tour guides by and large are pretty good at sharing stories and information, regardless of the tour company.
It wasn’t until I experienced Adventures by Disney storytelling in action that I realized what goes on during Disney’s tours is a next-level approach to exploring the world through stories. And since ABD is one of just a handful of tour companies geared towards both kids and parents, that focus on engaging young and old alike is especially important.
Seeing Disney’s Storytelling in Action
My aha moment about Disney storytelling came at an Inca site in the Sacred Valley. We weren’t the only tour group there, and as I walked by two groups from other tour companies, I could hear the guides listing facts and dates, building a solid foundation of understanding for their guests.
Then I approached our group, where the Adventure Guides had brought costumes and enlisted some of the kids to help act out the story in a funny and fascinating performance that brought 500-year-old historical figures alive. It was an unmistakable Disney difference.
Immersive Storytelling Is Part of the Adventures by Disney Difference
Our tour’s Adventure Guides found ways to turn facts into three-dimensional stories again and again. They did it in hands-on ways, from hosting an impromptu dance party to sharing tiny models of Inca farming tools and leading treasure hunts. Instead of telling kids about traditional dying and weaving, they brought us to a textiles center where kids got to mix their own dyes and color wool, then dress up in traditional clothing for a modern Inca fashion show.
Immersive storytelling kept everyone engaged. No one was expected to just stand there and absorb information for more than a few minutes at a time—another sign these trips are made for families and people of all ages and learning styles. Here’s how Adventures by Disney does it.
1. The Adventure Guides tell stories that speak to kids and adults simultaneously.
Watch a Disney (or Pixar) movie as a kid and you’ll have one experience. Watch the same movie as an adult and you won’t believe how much you missed watching it when you were young. Like the best Disney movies, ABD’s Adventure Guides manage to speak simultaneously at a kid level and an adult level, keeping everyone interested.
Whether we were at a market or Machu Picchu, the guides found just the right anecdotes and details to keep kids engaged while also speaking to the experiences and interests of the adults in the group—adults that, by the way, ranged from college-age to mid-50s.
2. Adventures by Disney makes the past feel present.
Adventure Guides also, to the delight of not just the kids, would pop in and out of character, becoming a fruit seller by the hiking trail right when people started to flag on a long walk, trading rocks for sweet and juicy mandarins; or slipping into the character of a long-distance runner, delivering an important message just as we were talking about chasquis, the athletic messengers of the Inca empire.
The guides embodied the difference between showing and telling every day, and in so doing made the past feel alive in a way that kept everyone on the tour curious and open to the world around us.
3. They don’t gloss over the hard stuff, but they do keep it age-appropriate.
Peru has not had an easy recent past, and I was interested to see how the Adventure Guides would navigate some of the sadder and scarier parts of the country’s history (for instance the destruction and killing by the communist guerilla group Shining Path in the 1980s). In fact, before going on the trip, I wondered if Disney’s guides might just skip over this part, and maybe focus exclusively on Peru’s Inca history.
But they didn’t. The Adventure Guides found ways to speak about ancient history, the recent past—including Shining Path—and the challenges and successes of modern day Peru in ways that gave everyone a full picture while still being on the level these particular kids could handle. They did it by speaking gently about difficult things, and using particular turns of phrase that adults would recognize as having more meaning than kids did.
4. Adventures by Disney turns the tables.
On vacation, sometimes kids are just along for the ride. But on Adventures by Disney trips, kids often get to take the lead. At least once every day, the Junior Adventurers were called on to act out a story, lead the group holding the “paddle of power,” or hang out as a group. And there was an additional benefit: By fostering this community of kids, ABD gave parents and adults a little more freedom, too—which made it feel more like vacation for all of us.
5. They answer kids’ questions.
Shout out to all those parents and caregivers who have very curious kids—those who ask dozens (or hundreds) of questions every day. I have one of these kids, and it was both a relief and a delight for there to be guides who were amazing with kids and knowledgeable about the destination. It also meant I got to have my own experience, and ask my own questions, while my kid soaked up information like a sponge from the endlessly patient Adventure Guides.