Please note, this post was written before Covid-19 restrictions came into force in France. Check local rules and restrictions before you go.
If you read my ‘Why Choose Disneyland Paris?‘ article, you’ll know I LOVE all things Disney. There’s a certain magic in the parks and I have to say that with the assorted restrictions and lockdowns here in the UK, reminiscing about our time in Disneyland Paris (DLP) has kept me somewhat sane (well, I’m sure Hubby would say ‘sane’ is a loose definition!).
It’s always been special for us but now its more-so because it’s the first Disney park we visited as a family of three! It was a fun, if exhausting, holiday and a massive learning experience for us all. Whereas Hubby and I would go hard at the parks, arriving at opening and leaving at closing, just grabbing snacks between rides, we learned that Disney with a small person is a very different, but equally rewarding adventure. Our pace was slower, we spent time queuing to meet characters and see parades, we had to stop to rest. However, seeing the Lamb’s face when we met characters or experienced a ride for the first time was truly magical.
I celebrated my 40th birthday this year so we decided a family trip back to DLP was the perfect way to celebrate. By luck, my bestie was also celebrating her birthday there so it was extra magic. However, this time I was prepared and whilst Hubby may have teased me about all the research and planning I did, it really paid off as we got to make the most of our time at DLP and it was a more relaxed visit than the first time.
There are a number of reasons to create a plan for your Disneyland Paris holiday:
- minimise walking. While DLP is a relatively small park compared with others, the distances you walk can really add up! This can lead to tired legs and grumpy family so if you plan what attractions you want to see, you can organise a route to minimise how far you walk,
- snacks. Again, I’ll discuss the meal plans and snacks below but DLP does some fantastic snacks (I had the Lion King cookie last trip with nutella filling and it was amazing!). If you plan when you’re eating then you have an idea as to how much time you have to ride the attractions or do meet and greats. Also, some snacks are seasonal so make sure you check out what’s tasty to try before you go!,
- characters. Going to Disney and meeting our favourite characters is a massive part of the experience for us, but some are only in the park for short periods of time so it pays to check when they’re in their designated spot to avoid disappointment,
- parades and fireworks. Like with the meet and greets, the good spots to watch the parades and fireworks get busy early so find your spot and take the opportunity to rest,
- rest and play. I will be saying this a lot during this article, but you’re on your feet a LOT in DLP so planning in rest stops is a good idea. It can also be a little overwhelming and queuing can be dull, so knowing where the play areas are to allow small people to burn off those cookies and make new friends is a must,
- shopping. It wouldn’t be a Disney holiday without a little souvenir and DLP has you covered. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, it’s worth walking through the arcades or nipping in to the shops to enjoy the decor or to check out some of the fun characters they have. Our favourite was the Storybook Store with an animated Tigger,
- budgeting. There’s no way around it, a trip to DLP is expensive but if you plan your meals strategically, then organise snacks, you can save yourself €€€, which is great to then spend in the shops,
- Disney-bounding. I’ll discuss this more next week. Under 14’s are allowed to enter the parks wearing costumes but adults can still take part in the fun by ‘bounding’ their favourite character, that is, dressing in the colours of their favourite princess, or having Star Wars rebel symbols in their clothes (or are you a member of the Dark Side?). It’s fun and also gives you something to talk about with the characters.
I’m sure there are loads more reasons to plan your holiday. I enjoyed reading assorted DLP blogs on Pintrest and it got me in the mood for our holiday. Also, I shared some of our tips with our friends before their visit and they appreciated the insider info so I thought I’d share with you and hope they make your Disney experience a little extra magic. I’m doing this as a two-part blog post, with a ‘before you go’ post now, then next week I’ll discuss how I planned our time while in the park, including a FREE copy of my planner to help you organise your trip.
Booking and Getting There
- Before you book, check if there are any holidays – both UK, European AND local Paris holidays. This was the mistake we made the first time we went. Whilst we visited outside of school holidays in the UK, it turned out that the rest of Europe takes their half-term breaks a little earlier than we do. It meant that queues were longer and the park was very busy which can be a little intimidating for small people and does mean you need to take extra care not to get separated. On the plus side, the Lamb got to experience so many European languages and it was amazing to see how children who don’t speak the same language can still play nicely together – something I think we could all learn from! The second time we visited, we went during the February half-term in the UK. We checked and made sure that there were no school holidays in Europe so were very surprised when we arrived at our hotel and saw it packed with French cars. Turned out that there was a local Parisian holiday! Whilst the park wasn’t as busy as it had been during our previous visit, between the UK visitors and the French, we were very happy we had reserved tables for our meals.
- DLP hold different events throughout the year, each with their own characters, decorations, snacks and more. It’s worth checking out the DLP website or Instagram pages to get an idea of the different events and choose your favourite. Halloween is my favourite time of year so the first time we visited was during the Halloween Celebrations. We got to meet some of our favourite villains, including Maleficent who was amazing to talk to, and see the villains show. Plus the assorted decorations were brilliant – Mickey shaped pumpkins anyone? Our second visit coincided with the Legends of the Force: A Star Wars Celebration and the Frozen Celebrations. We’re not the biggest fan of Frozen but enjoyed the parade and anyone with even a passing interest in Star Wars would love the sight of Stormtroopers, Chewie and more. Will you be brave enough to meet Darth Vader?
- You’ll need to review the different ways of getting to DLP and decide whats best for your party. Your main options are planes, trains and automobiles. Depending on your local airport, flights can get in at strange times. We met one family whose flight from Manchester meant they got to the hotel at 11pm. A long day for little people (and their carers). If you do decide to fly, remember there are restrictions on baggage, plus add time on to catch the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport (approximately 40mins I believe but obviously check). One of my friends caught the train which she said was a lot of fun and relatively simple and straightforward. The Disney train is supposed to be very fun and a lovely way to start your holiday before you even reach the parks. Both times we visited DLP we chose to drive. This was based on cost (even with petrol, it proved to be the cheaper option for us), timing (flights from our local airport were at inconvenient times and taking the train would mean we spent most our first day travelling). Instead we drove to Dover the night before our trip and stayed in the Premier Inn. The staff were absolutely lovely and it made a fun start to our holiday. We then caught the earliest Chunnel to France before Hubby braved the French ‘autoroutes’. We took the toll roads and found them relatively quiet, cheap and easy to use, even with the tolls (have change, your credit card and basic French ready!). It also meant on our last day we could spend as long as we wanted in the park as we booked a late Chunnel home. The other benefit of driving was that we didn’t need to worry about how many souvenirs we brought – including some rather big teddy bears!
- I’ll do another post about the pros and cons of staying onsite, but the main benefit for us was the onsite parking and the Extra Magic Hours which meant we could go into the park before anyone else. The extra time was great for us because it meant we could get the big rides out of the way first thing, then spend the rest of the day waiting to meet characters or standing in line to re-ride our favourites (I’m looking at you Big Thunder Mountain!). With the onsite parking, we could leave our luggage in the car and head straight into the park without having to take our bags to our room or use the luggage check service,
- If you are staying at a DLP hotel, check your meal plan. In 2017 DLP introduced a new meal plan deal which meant those on certain half-board deals had to queue in certain restaurants for their breakfast. During our first trip we had the first deal which, I’m going to be honest was not great. Given how long we had to wait (over an hour!) for a croissant, roll with butter and jam, juice and a hot drink (coffee, tea or hot chocolate), it frankly wasn’t worth the missed Magic Hours. The second time we went, we made sure we were having the buffet breakfast in our hotel. This meant that we ate early and were stuffed before entering the park and could properly use our Magic Hours. The other thing to know about your meal plans is that Under 3’s don’t actually get meals. My friend discovered this when they took their 2year old. While the adults and her older sister all got food, they were expected to order and pay separately for the little munchkin. This might mean that buffet meals are a better option as you can share some food with them so check what’s available.
- While you’re looking at meals, check out Buffalo Bill’s Dinner Show. We did it once and it’s definitely a fun evening. Some offers for DLP include the show, but from what I’ve read it’s the later sitting, starting around 9pm so if you have little people it will be a very late night,
- Measure your child. Many of the rides come with a height restriction, such as Crush’s Coaster, Indiana Jones and Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain. If your little person is too small for these rides then you can leave them out of your plan, or arrange it so one carer goes on a different ride with the children while the other goes on a speedy adventure. Also, check out what rides are open before you go to avoid disappointment. We loved Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast during our first visit and must have gone on it at least eight times but it was sadly closed on our second visit. Knowing in advance it would be closed for refurbishment meant we could focus on other areas of the park.
Phew, that’s a lot to prep and we haven’t even got to the fun stuff yet! Still, Donald approves of your preparedness. Pop back next week and we’ll look at how to plan your holiday in Disneyland Paris.