When you think of a Disney vacation, images of Mickey Mouse, Space Mountain, and lots and lots of churros in California or Florida most likely come to mind. But Adventures by Disney isn’t that kind of trip. These family-centric holidays are authentic, adventurous experiences in some of the world’s most awe-inspiring places, like trekking up Machu Picchu, gawking at the Sistine Chapel, and whitewater rafting down the Gallatin River. The latter is one of the many (and I mean many) things we braved on our family’s recent trip to Montana with Disney’s guided tour division Adventures by Disney (AbD).

Yellowstone with Disney

Take an abundance of natural beauty, great big skies, and a massive array of outdoor activities, then throw in a historic National Park, rugged cowboys, gushing geysers, giant bison, and huge platters of yummy comfort food, and you have Montana. That said, navigating the area can be a great big challenge, especially if you want to do it all and do it right. Thankfully our pals at AbD created a hassle-free vacation; you just need to show up with a sense of adventure, and they’ll handle the details. Scroll on for all the reasons you should take that famous Disney magic on the road to Montana. (Photo via Sunny Chanel)

Disney White Water Rafting

1. You’ll stretch out of your comfort zone. “It’s called Adventures by Disney, not Vacations by Disney,” our guide said between outings. This kind trip is not for the confirmed couch potato. While you can always opt out of any or all of the excursions, why would you want to? Each one of the activities highlights the best of the area, and they range from the thrilling to the educational (and sometimes they’re both). During our week with AbD we went hiking, glamping, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, fly fishing, and zip-lining, and spent two glorious days exploring Yellowstone National Park. That’s me grinning ear-to-ear in the above photo, totally lovin’ something I never thought I’d do. (Photo via Adventures by Disney / Matt Stroshane)

Disney guides

2. The guides rule. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, we said goodbye to the chore of having to drag our bags from here to there. Being a chronic over-packer (yes, I packed 14 shirts for seven days, because, options), this made my day. The team deals with lugging all the luggage throughout the journey, and they do SO MUCH MORE. The guides are like camp counselors, always at the ready with Band-Aids, water bottles, and afternoon snacks. Most importantly, our fearless leaders (like our guides Lauren and Doug, pictured above) are groomed by Disney, so they bring that “Happiest Place on Earth” mentality everywhere they go. They’re like instant BFFs sprinkled in pixie dust — and wearing cowboy hats, natch. (Photo via Adventures by Disney / Matt Stroshane)


3. Yellowstone is absolutely spectacular. If you haven’t been to one of the most breathtaking national parks in the country, then you need to visit Yellowstone STAT. During our trip, we toured the legendary park over the course of two days by foot, bus, and stagecoach (yes, stagecoach!). Accompanying us was a local expert who had an immense wealth of knowledge on the animals, trees, and geological wonders that we witnessed. So we didn’t just see stunning places like the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, Lamar Valley, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Fountain Paint Pot Trail, Grand Prismatic Spring, and Old Faithful geyser; we were also given background information and an education on their importance. If you have kids with you, these tours will be particularly powerful, as they make for a field trip beyond your wildest dreams. Tip: Bring your best camera; there are photo ops *everywhere*. (Photo via Sunny Chanel)

Under Canvas

4. You’ll go glamping in style. There was no roughing it on this vacay. Instead of camping, we partook in the far more comfy option of glamping. Under Canvas, a glamping resort with locations in various parts of the country, offers luxury safari-style tents for travelers who want a compromise between nature and nurture. The plush beds are comfy and the pellet heater keeps you toasty; best of all, you’ll find a real toilet and hot-water shower in the tent. Kids can opt to sleep in the adjacent teepees with cots, living out their Old West fantasies. Plus, there are classic activities like cornhole and volleyball and various campfire pits ideal for nighttime s’mores-making (which of course was on the Disney agenda). Located minutes from the entrance to Yellowstone, the resort is a perfect spot to hang your hat. (Photo via Sunny Chanel)

Adventures by Disney Montana

5. Home is on the range. The transition from glamping to dude ranching is a surprisingly smooth one. Located in Big Sky, the 320 Guest Ranch boasts a comfortable collection of log cabins with all the modern conveniences. Situated on 320 acres of pristine Montana land, the ranch has a restaurant and bar serving up comfort food, Montana brews, and impressive breakfast spreads. We’re still dreaming of their freshly baked cinnamon buns smoothed in icing and their spicy homemade chorizo. The ranch is also home to dozens of horses, so horseback riding through the gorgeous mountains next to the ranch is a must. Our group of six, led by a very sweet wrangler, took a leisurely two-hour journey on our horses (Skeeter, Spanky, and Shooter) along winding trails that led us to totally stunning views and vistas. The hard part was explaining to my daughter that we were never going to buy her a horse. (Photo via Adventures by Disney / Matt Stroshane)

Ousel Falls Montana

6. Unexpected joys abound. In Big Sky, Montana, we took a relaxing hike with an epic surprise ending: the stunning Ousel Falls. After seeing the wonders of Yellowstone, we didn’t think anything else could impress us, but we stood with our feet in the chilly river water in absolute awe. There were other unexpected discoveries too. While my daughter was thrilled with zip-lining through the Montana forests, my hubby and I, to our surprise, totally fell for fly fishing. The two of us, along with our fishing guide, waded deep into the Gallatin River — the same river that Brad Pitt fished in in The River Runs Through It — and learned the basics of the oddly meditative sport. Each of us caught two trout, which we promptly released back into the water. It was a thrill; plus, we looked pretty cute in our waders. (Photo via Adventures by Disney / Matt Stroshane)

Disney Montana pin

7. It’s Mickey lite. You might be surprised by the lack of Disney-ness on an AbD trip. Mickey won’t be there tucking you in at night, and Donald isn’t hanging by the pool ready to go for a swim. The branding is subtle, especially with a trip to someplace like Montana. You might hear Woody from Toy Story singing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” on the bus, and the Junior Adventures may watch the animated film Big Hero Six during a kids-only dinner, but that’s about it… except for one key signature AbD touch: Every day you’re given an exclusive Disney pin that reflects the day’s adventure, from “Montana Welcome” to “Goo Goo for Geysers,” featuring Disney faves like Pluto, Goofy, and of course, Mickey. (Photo via Sunny Chanel)

8. You’ll make bonds that’ll last forever. There’s a particular kind of traveler who opts to jet off with Disney; they have a certain sense of positivity and an adventurous spirit that brings them here. After a week, you and your fellow explorers — who hail from all over the country — become like one big extended family (but without any dysfunction or emotional baggage). Most nights you dine as a group where you have the chance to share your day’s adventures. As for the food, all dietary needs accommodated; on our trip, we had vegans, vegetarians, and a few with serious food allergies. When it’s time to say goodbye, emails and Instas are exchanged, tears are shed, and plans are made to meet up again. As a group, you’ve experienced so much together that it’s impossible not to forge bonds. But AbD isn’t just for families. They wisely offer adult-only trips that have slightly different itineraries, such as wine and beer tastings. The adults-only tours have been so successful that they’ll be introducing more of them in the near future. (BTW, they also make for an unforgettable honeymoon option.) Personally, I’m currently working on convincing my husband that their Japan trip would be a perfect anniversary trip. Wish me luck! (Photo via Sunny Chanel)

What Adventures by Disney trip would you most want to go on? Tweet us @BritandCo!