This needs no introduction. It’s Disneyland, and you’re either longing to go there, or you have no interest in it at all. And if you’re a sucker for Disney magic, once you’ve been, you’re hooked.
At the age of 40, I finally realised a lifelong ambition and made it to Disneyland Paris in May 2018 – here’s my review, and few hints and tips if you’re thinking of experiencing the magic as well.
I don’t need to grade this – it’s Disneyland, and everything about it is the best of the best. Five out of five for everything. I’d live there if I could.
The cost is the stumbling block, but there are lots of ways to enjoy Disney – spend thousands, or spend a few hundred. There are lots of options, and I’ll explain a few as we go through the different aspects of our stay.
Driving is probably the cheapest way to do it, as long as you have all the required kit for driving in France, and are confident on European roads. There are fees for the Eurotunnel or ferry crossing, tolls on the French motorways, and the cost of fuel to factor.
You can fly, which gets you to Charles de Gaulle airport, so you’ll need some transport on the other end – there are bus and taxi services to choose from.
Eurostar is by far the most convenient, and if you go directly to Disneyland, it’s the most expensive. There are ways to get around the priciest tickets – changing to a local train at Lille is one way to do it. We went directly from St Pancras, and as first timers, it was very easy and very convenient.
Where to stay
So many budgets, so many options. You can go with a Disney hotel (there’s a range of prices), which also have a number of useful perks – Extra Magic Hours is one, which gets you into the parks 90mins before they open in the morning. We stayed in Sequoia Lodge, a Disney hotel about 10 minutes’ walk from the park, and in a “Golden Forest” room which included breakfast. There was also a swimming pool, and it was great to have the option for a break from the crowds and the queues.
You can stay in a non-Disney hotel (shuttle buses are provided), or you can stay in Paris and travel in for the day.
What to do
Disneyland an incredible place. There is so much to look at; the rides, parades and attractions are terrific; the attention to detail is astonishing; and every member of Disney staff you encounter (known as ‘Cast Members’) is committed to making the Disney magic a reality. They are without exception friendly, happy to help, and always in character.
Some people plan their schedule to the last detail, others just do what they feel. As it was our first time, we decided to go with the flow, wander around and see what took our fancy. A really helpful tool for doing this is the Disneyland Paris app, which gives you a brilliant, interactive map of the parks, with detailed information about each ride and attraction, including the current queue time.
Every ride we went on – and in spite of the queues, we went on a lot – was a brilliant experience all its own. We loved Thunder Mountain, Ratatouille, Hollywood Hotel Tower of Terror, and we enjoyed Buzz’s Laser Gallery so much that we went on it twice. Pirates of the Caribbean is incredible – they have accurately and believably recreated a whole night-time Caribbean seaport to queue through at the start of the ride, followed by an immersive sail through a world of plundering, swashbuckling and rum-swigging, and Captain Jack Sparrow, of course. There wasn’t a single ride that we regretted queuing for.
So many of the rides are open to smaller children – they certainly won’t feel left out, or that there’s lots they can’t go on. There’s also a lovely baby queuing system in place, so that if one of you has to hold a baby while the other one rides (alone or with other children), the other adult can get straight on the ride afterwards without having to queue again.
Meeting The Characters
There were lots of opportunities to meet characters, and in lots of cases the queues were long. We waited an hour for Buzz Lightyear – but you can be lucky. We found queues for Jafar, Stitch, Goofy, Donald Duck and Jessie from Toy Story that were shorter. It gave us some lovely memorable interactions and some fab signatures for the boys’ autograph books.
If you’re in a Disney hotel, you will probably have a character in the foyer at breakfast time; and you meet some characters in the park early, if you take advantage of your Extra Magic Hours.
Food and Facilities
This is where it gets expensive, and there are limited options. You’re not allowed to picnic anywhere in the parks. No-one says anything about the odd snack here and there in queues, but for meals, you are obliged to buy food in the parks, and it really isn’t cheap. Lots of people staying in Disney hotels choose to go with buying a meal plan, which gives you B&B, Half Board or Full Board options, from a range of outlets depending how much you want to spend.
I was reluctant to book a meal plan because our children eat like little birds, and the cost of full child meals made me wince. So we went for the breakfast option that came with the hotel we had chosen, and “winged it” for everything else.
There is also the facility to book restaurants across the resort, for the whole of your stay – and this is where I wish I’d been more clever. If we go again, I would want to plan in a little more variety and book some tables when they open, 60 days in advance.
It’s really buggy friendly, accessible and there are nicely-kept toilet and baby changing facilities all over the place.
How long did it take?
With two little boys – ages 6 and 4, and 1.05m and 95cm respectively – there was loads to do, and we did a lot of it in three full days and one half day. Had they both been taller, there were several other rides we could have gone on, and there were a couple of live shows that we didn’t make it to as well. Depending on your kids’ stamina, I’d say three to four nights will give you the best chance of getting around the majority of DLP, particularly if it’s your first time.
But do be warned – the place is huge. You will walk for miles. If your children aren’t used to walking, then a buggy looks like an excellent idea. Ours were fine, but absolutely exhausted every evening.
When to go?
It’s tricky – there are lots of great reasons to visit any time (Halloween, Christmas, themed events like the Summer of Marvel). It’s very cold in the winter (often minus figures), pretty hot in the summer (high 20s). We plumped for May for a couple of reasons – nice weather, and French children are at school, so local families are less likely to be visiting during the week, meaning the park is a little quieter. The downside for us was that because of the light evenings, the lightshow and fireworks weren’t on until 11 pm. The kids just about managed it one night (and it was definitely worth it).
If you can, go. It’s wonderful, and you’ve got to be a pretty hard-hearted sort not to feel a little bit of that magic when you see Sleeping Beauty’s castle illuminated by the light show and fireworks. The whole experience is so good, so happy, and so positive, and worth every penny for the joy and happiness on our boys’ faces (and on mine, I have to admit). I would go back in a heartbeat, and if left to my own devices, I would have rebooked within hours of getting home.
If you need no persuading, or have already booked your ticket to the magic, some of these tips may come in handy:
We visited in May Half Term 2018 and paid full price for Eurostar, hotel, meals and park entry. We booked with www.magicbreaks.co.uk
Reviewed by Rebecca Chamberlain. Rebecca also blogged about this on her own website, if you’d like to read more: RLC Words: Disneyland Paris and Why Kids Just Don’t Appreciate It
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