Disneyland Paris: Know Before You Go

Disneyland Paris Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris

For Disney lovers, Disneyland Paris is a dream vacation destination. That’s why I included a stop there on our recent mother/daughter trip to Paris. We spent three amazing days and nights exploring its two theme parks: the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Now, we would like to share what we learned with you, so that you can have an awesome trip, too. Here is our list of what you need to know before planning your visit to Disneyland Paris.

Stay in a Disneyland Paris Hotel if You Can

Newport Bay Club

Newport Bay Club, our onsite Disneyland Paris hotel

Even though the Disneyland resorts are more expensive than their off-property counterparts in the Val d’Europe area, there are some important benefits that come with staying “on-property.” First, you can walk to Disney Village (similar to Downtown Disney) and both theme parks within 15-20 minutes from all Disneyland Paris hotels. Second, you can take advantage of money-saving meal plans that aren’t available if you stay at an off-site hotel. In addition, staying in a Disney hotel immerses you in the Disney “bubble” that makes you feel far away from the troubles of the world.

The most important benefit to staying on-property, however, is the Extra Magic Hours benefit. Visitors to Disney World will recognize this benefit, which allows Disney hotel guests extra hours in the park not allowed to other guests. At Disneyland Paris, guests staying in a Disney hotel get to enter the main park 2 hours before it opens. This extra time is priceless. We were able to walk on to rides like Peter Pan that later had waits up to 100 minutes. There were also lots of characters out, so we got these visits completed before the parks became too crowded. We would have missed out on a lot of rides and experiences without these extra hours in the parks.

Time Your Visit Properly

The best time to visit the theme parks is during the week when school is in session for European kids. We saw a massive increase in visitors once the weekend hit, which made the lines for both food and rides almost intolerable. You should also take note of European Bank Holidays when making your plans. Avoid these long weekends like the plague, as it seems like every family in Europe chooses this time to visit Disneyland Paris.

Fortunately for American visitors, the school year in most European countries extends into the first week in July. This gives you plenty of time in June to visit before the hordes of European families descend on the parks for their summer vacations. The weather at this time of year is also better than at other “slow” periods. You should bring a poncho or umbrella and a light jacket, though, since rain is still possible and since mornings and evenings can get chilly.

Check More Than One Disney Site

This one sounds a little tricky, but it can save you big bucks when booking rooms and buying tickets. When you visit the Disneyland Paris website, you can choose your country in the “Change Language” section at the top of the page. Be sure to check room rates and ticket prices on the sites of other English-speaking countries since Disney puts out different prices for different countries. By buying our park tickets on the UK website instead of the US one, I was able to save roughly $100 on a 3-day/2-park ticket for two people. Be sure to check currency conversion rates before doing this, though, since prices are shown in that country’s currency.

If you can read a language other than English, check out the Disneyland Paris website in those languages, too. This will give you access to more savings possibilities.

Avoid the Hotel Shuttle Bus

We took the shuttle bus from our hotel to the parks just once during our visit, and it was the biggest mistake we made. I can say without reservation that if there is a bus service to Hell, it is modeled on the Disneyland Paris shuttle bus. People from countries with varying ideas of polite behavior were shoving each other to get on. A man trying to get his disabled child and wheelchair onto the bus was nearly knocked off by a group trying to push past him. And just when I thought the bus was packed beyond the point of safety, the driver stayed put to let more people on.

It was so packed that there was not even a place left to hold onto. We literally had to rely on being squished in like sardines to prevent us from falling over. It felt like the longest ride of my life, even though it only lasted about 5-10 minutes. During the whole ride, one large group sang what I think were football-related songs at the very top of their lungs. Honestly, there were 18th century prison ships that were probably more comfortable, and possibly safer.

If you can, then walk to the theme parks from your resort. As you can tell from what nearly happened to the family with the disabled child, disabilities were not respected at all. The driver made no move to help them, and there were no safety straps in use for wheelchairs, like those in use at Disney World. So, even if you have a disability, I recommend avoiding the shuttle bus. The paths to the theme parks are fairly flat and easy to navigate for people with wheelchairs and other mobility equipment.

What to Expect With Food

Disneyland Crepes

These crepes were the best food we ate at Disneyland Paris

I had hoped, since it is located in a country known for its culinary delights, that the food at Disneyland Paris would be unforgettable. The reality was a real let-down.

We only tried few restaurants during our short visit, but we weren’t wowed by any of them. Most of the counter service restaurants served typical theme park foods, like hamburgers and pizza. But the Parisian versions of these items were not even as good as their Disney World counterparts. I had hoped to find a few French offerings to try, but I was sorely disappointed. To be fair, the park is trying to accomodate the tastes of a very diverse part of the world, but I still think they could have done a better job of it, though.

Portions, however, are huge, especially if you order a set-menu meal. The food serving sizes were much bigger than expected. But the drink servings were tiny, which was one of the few noticeably European aspects of dining there (the other was the prevalence of mayonnaise as the condiment of choice.) Pack a water bottle to stay hydrated. Otherwise, you’ll blow your budget buying overpriced drinks all day.

I also highly suggest eating outside normal meal times whenever possible, especially if the parks are busy. Lines for food at counter service restaurants were up to an hour long on our busiest day there during typical meal times. Around 2pm, the lines had almost disappeared. It is also easier to get dining reservations for table service restaurants at “off” times, which are required if you want to eat at them.

On a happier note, some of the “street food” in Disney Village was pretty good, if overpriced. We both enjoyed some downright delicious Nutella and banana crepes from one of these vendors.

The Attractions are Different

Phantom Manor

Phantom Manor, a super-spooky version of the Haunted Mansion

With few exceptions (like the carousel and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast), the Disneyland Paris versions of your favorite rides from the American parks are quite different. Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain (called Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain in Paris) are much more intense than their American counterparts. Big Thunder Mountain is much faster here, and has a slightly bigger drop. But Hyperspace Mountain goes upside down, making it a lot scarier than its American cousins. Even the Casey, Jr. train is faster than its Californian counterpart.

Phantom Manor, Paris’ answer to the Haunted Mansion, is way scarier than either U.S. version. It has some really gruesome scenes that would probably terrify very young children. We loved it, however, and rode it at least 4 times.

Peter Pan and Small World are similar to their American versions, with a few small differences in detail. We found the interpretation of American culture in Small World to be quite funny, with its focus on the Wild West and Hollywood.

There are also several walk-through attractions that aren’t present in the U.S. parks. Some of these feel like afterthoughts and aren’t that great (I’m looking at you, Aladdin). But a few of them are pretty cool and worth a wander through, like the Nautilus submarine and La Taniere du Dragon (a dragon cave underneath the castle). These are great places to visit when lines are long, since they’re often not too crowded.

Also, in case you weren’t aware, French is prevalent here. At least half of the words spoken by characters on rides or in shows is French. The other half is English. We thought it was pretty cool to hear our favorite characters speaking another language, but be prepared not to understand everything that is said, unless you speak French, of course.

Fastpass is Way Different

Unlike Disney World in Florida, Disneyland Paris still uses paper based Fastpasses that you have to collect near each attraction entrance. Also unlike the Florida parks, very few rides offer the service. In fact, only ten rides between the two parks offer Fastpasses. This means you’re going to be waiting in some lines.

The system works the same way it used to in the Florida parks. You go to the attraction you want to ride, find the Fastpass ticket dispensers, insert your park ticket, and receive a Fastpass with a return time. Then, when your time is up, make your way to the attraction entrance.

Be aware that the park attendants were strictly enforcing Fastpass return times during our visit. If you were more than 5 minutes late for your Fastpass window, they were not letting you in. Making this worse was the fact that the return time windows were only 30 minutes long. Since there are so few Fastpass rides, the tickets go quickly, so be sure not to miss your valuable return time or you will be disappointed.

A further note on lines: The posted wait times were wildly inaccurate during our visit. If it’s busy, assume that wait times are double the posted time. This way you don’t take a chance of missing a Fastpass return time while stuck waiting in line for something else.

Final Thoughts

Entrance

Blue and silver decorations are everywhere for the 25th anniversary

Despite a few minor annoyances (like the shuttle bus), our trip to Disneyland Paris was the stuff that dreams are made of. The parks were decorated for the resort’s 25th anniversary, which made this the perfect year to visit. The Disneyland Park itself may be the most beautiful of all the Disney parks that we have visited, which the blue and silver anniversary decor greatly enhanced.

If you’re a Disney fan or theme park lover, you should definitely put the Disneyland Paris resort on your bucket list. It is easy to fit in to a larger European vacation, like we did. If you can make it this year, while the anniversary celebration is underway, I highly recommend it.

In the meantime, watch for our upcoming posts regarding our trip to the Paris region.

If you have any questions about Disneyland Paris that weren’t answered by this post, feel free to ask them in the comments. I promise I’ll reply within 24 hours!

And, if your travel plans include a trip to the Walt Disney Resort in Florida, check out our post about saving money on your vacation there.

 

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