Please note, this post was written before Covid-19 restrictions came into force in France. Check local rules and restrictions before you go.
Disney! A simple word but one which inspires such excitement, especially here at Beagle HQ.
With all the disruption and uncertainties due to Covid-19, it seems slightly crazy to start planning anything, but I’m an eternal optimist and hopeful that 2021 will be a kinder year than 2020 has been. So, if you’re thinking of your next holiday, check out my post ‘Why Choose Disneyland Paris?‘ DLP has so many happy, special memories for us that we’re already planning our next trip. And speaking of planning, before we get to the nitty-gritty, be sure to read Part 1 of ‘Planning your trip to DLP‘ so you know what celebrations will be on at the park and the approximate time you’re going to arrive.
Now, you may be thinking ‘I’m on holiday, I don’t want to micro-manage my time’, and you’d be right. Hubby and I have visited different Disney Parks around the world and we never really planned our time there; we’d arrive early and cram in as many rides before we collapsed back in our hotel. However, we knew our first visit with the Lamb would be different so I did a lot of reading before we went and had a rough idea of what we wanted to see. Yet we didn’t really appreciate how over-whelming and tiring going to Disneyland Paris is with a child. We tried to cram in as much as we could but ended up doing too much and getting tired and grumpy. We also didn’t plan our meals very well so would get hangry – definitely not how you want to feel at the most magical place on earth!
Our next trip, I planned. And planned. Then refined the plan. Hubby rolled his eyes at me more than once and friends warned that over-planning might spoil our fun. However, once we arrived at DLP and the planning kicked in, Hubby admitted it was a good idea as it maximised the amount of time we spent having fun and ensured we all got to experience the rides and sights we wanted.
I love to make lists but there are a number of reasons to have a loose plan for what you want to see and do in Disney. I say loose because I’ve read a lot of blogs where families have planned their trips to the minute and then something has gone wrong first thing which has thrown the plans into disarray so they get frustrated and it ruins their holiday. For me, I wanted to create a plan which included rest breaks, snack time, characters (and the times they were available!), plus show times as well as what rides we wanted to go on. By planning, I hoped we would all get to go on the rides we wanted, see shows and also get to cuddle characters without the frantic running around we seemed to do on our first visit.
So, if you’re heading off to Disneyland Paris, where do you start planning? I’ll explain my process below. I also created a handy sheet which broke down each day and have included a copy for you to use as well.
If you read my Part 1 Guide to Planning, you’ll already know where you’re staying and what your approximate arrival time will be. Once you have your arrival time, you can include time to get food and decide whether you want to watch any of the parades or the fireworks. This gives you a rough estimate as to how much time you have for fun!
It also, and this is possibly the main reason I did it, meant that we didn’t walk so far every day. DLP is one of the smaller Disney parks but you can quickly tot up the steps, so if you’re able to focus on one or two lands, you can minimise the distance you walk and maximise your fun.
While we’re talking about walking, consider how able your little person is. Hubby’s Apple Watch logged us as walking well over 14k steps in ONE day, that’s a significant amount for an adult, but a huge amount for little legs who are possible doing at least twice that. So, the other key thing I aimed to do was minimise unnecessary walking. Whilst we were staying at one of the Disneyland hotels, it’s still a bit of a trek from there to the park. Even getting from our room to the main foyer took about 8minutes so some days we had walked close to 1.5km before even entering the Park! (To give you an idea, the Newport Bay Hotel, one of the closer hotels at 1.1km from the Park entrance). We learned during our first visit that little legs can tire easily and carrying the Lamb made us tired and crabby too. Therefore I aimed to visit only one or two lands per day.
So for our first day, we chose to catch the early Chunnel then drive to Disneyland Paris. Checking the route, we knew we would arrive at about 11am and after such an early start (we got up at 5am!) we didn’t want to do too much running around. We also booked our main meal in the buffet of Plaza Gardens for 2pm so knew we would have approximately three hours for rides and character meet and greets before we crashed. I didn’t want to over-plan our first day so after our lunch, I scheduled some time to look around the shops and we all chose our favourite ride so we all got to do at least one thing we wanted on the first day. Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for our first full day.
For the next few days I divided our days into where we would be eating. Hubby looked at the different restaurants and booked a table for us in our chosen restaurant. There’s a new booking website which can be a little tricky to get the hang of but it was reassuring to know we had a table reserved because the restaurants get very, very busy and we didn’t want to waste Disney time waiting around. I’d also seen so many amazing treats on Instagram Disney Food, I was keen to try some of them out (and budget for them because they can be €€€) so I added any good snack shacks to our plan. That way, if we were hungry I knew where to look out for.
Once we knew where we were eating, I then planned our activities based on the ‘Land’ we were in. For example, one day we were lucky to have breakfast in Cinderella’s Restaurant, then planned lunch in Plaza Gardens so it made sense to focus our time around Fantasyland and Discoveryland. This way, we could maximise the time we spent for rides and meeting characters. Thinking about food also meant we could plan for our first and last days to take a breakfast and dinner for the Chunnel so we weren’t hungry.
Checking out the restaurants and snack shacks also helps you prepare for food allergies or dietary requirements. Hubby is vegan and while DLP restaurants do cater for vegans (although some ask you inform them in advance), many of the snack shacks don’t, so planning ahead gave me time to check out what snacks we could get for Hubby to keep him happy. On the food side, we found DLP restaurants, even the buffets pretty accommodating for vegans and other dietary requirements but I’d recommend learning the phrase ‘I’m vegan’ in French as many of the kitchen staff didn’t know off-hand what food was vegan and be prepared to eat a lot of plain vegetables. Our favourite restaurant for vegan food was Agrabah which was incredible! Some of the best food we had all week, and I could have dived into their pastry section!
After booking our tables for lunch, I checked what rides the Lamb could go on (make sure you measure your child before going as a number of rides have height restrictions). I can’t believe that after two visits, there are still some rides we’ve not managed to enjoy! They’ve been added to the list for our next trip.
I also checked what characters have meeting points in those areas as well as the times they were there. We all love the rides, but part of what makes DLP so exciting is meeting all the characters and having the interactions with them. One of the highlights from our first trip was chatting to Maleficent and seeing the villains show. Some characters such as Donald and Pluto are in their meeting point for the majority of the day but others, such as Chip and Dale are only out for a few hours. It’s good to know when characters will be at their meeting point so you can get there a little early to avoid disappointment.
However, you can spend a lot of time queuing to meet the characters, so you need to factor that into any plans you make. To give you an idea, the Lamb wanted to meet a specific princess so we queued in the Princess Pavilion for just over 2hours. We then saw Donald which was a 40minute wait, before going on Big Thunder Mountain after an hours wait. That was nearly four hours spent just queuing! Know you know why snacks and entertainent are so important. Anything you can do to minimise time spent being bored in a queue is a good thing. You can’t book a time to see the Princesses in the Pavilion and even with the Extra Magic Hours, the queue was never less than 90minutes the whole time we were in DLP. If you want to meet a specific Princess, grab a coffee, snacks, colouring sheets for all the family and a European phrase book as you’re in there for a looooong time. Or consider doing the Princess Breakfast or Dinner.
You can take your own pram or rent one in DLP (although they didn’t look that comfy). Smaller children might be better in a sling or backpack (plus they’d get a better view). During our first trip, we ended up carrying the Lamb a lot which meant we were tired. Luckily she kept up with us during our second visit, and I think having scheduled rest stops helped. Our friends had a sling for their smallest, but also took the pushchair which their oldest climbed into more than once to rest tired legs. One thing I’d say about the prams/pushchairs is that there can be a LOT parked outside of rides so mixups can happen and I’ve heard stories of prams being taken (I’d like to say by accident, but even in Disney there are douches who steal). So, take a padlock for your pushchair or pram and consider tying a scarf or balloon to it so it’s easily found amongst the masses.
Make sure to schedule in rest and play times. I didn’t really appreciate how overwhelming Disney can be for little people: it’s big, it’s busy, it’s filled with their favourite characters. There’s queueing, different languages, food they might not get at home and so many rides. Plus, did I mention the queuing? If you’re in the park for opening time, then stay for the fireworks or Buffalo Bill, you’re doing a good 12hour day. Who wouldn’t need a break? It can all get a bit much for little people and we saw a number of children (and adults) having a melt-down, with frustrated or angry parents getting cross. Let’s be honest, your time in the parks is too precious for arguing. We learned after our first visit that the Lamb needed time to decompress and process some of what was going on in a safe, familiar environment. We had a hour in one of the small play parks near the pirate ship and I also scheduled snack times into our days where we would make sure we took a break. Also, don’t be afraid to call it a day! Some of the onsite Disneyland hotels have swimming pools or gyms so consider spending the afternoon there or just go back to your hotel room early for a bath and a movie. You’ll really appreciate the break and be ready for more fun the next day.
As you’re working out your plan, don’t forget to schedule in time to hit the shops. Disney shops are filled with so many goodies, but are also worth visiting just to spot mini versions of your favourite characters, or amazing displays. Our favourites were Goofy in Sir Mickey’s Boutique, an old Tigger stamping books in the doorway of the StoryBook Store and the giant camel in Les Tresors de Schéhérazade. Chez Marianne will see the Chef in your life kitted out with Disney cookware, while La Boutique du Château has your Christmas covered.
Plus some shops have funny features such as Dapper Dan’s where you can see yourself with a moustache in the mirrors outside or the silly mirrors in Disney & Co. I included these in my ‘Disneyland Paris Bingo Sheet’ so make sure we got to see them. The other sneaky trick is when Main Street gets busy, the arcades are frequently a quieter cut through.
The parades and fireworks are extremely popular. If you want to watch the parades or the fireworks, you need to get your spot at least 30mins before they start. The good spots fill up quickly, often an hour before the main event. Everyone has their favourite spot to watch the parade. As a general rule, bends in the road are good spots because you’ll see the parade floats as they approach and turn. We personally like the end of Main Street or just in front of the Castle. Grab a snack and settle in, it’s definitely worth the wait.
One thing I discovered after our first family trip to Disney is ‘Disney-bounding’. Disney has a rule that anyone over the age of 14 is not allowed to wear a costume to avoid confusing the other guests. However, adults can get around this by ‘bounding’, or wearing the colours or specific props relating to their favourite characters. There are some incredible Disney-bound instagram accounts such as Damfino and Making Your Own Magic and I was inspired to select a few pieces from my wardrobe to fangirl my favourite characters. I had already made a Star Wars themed scarf and hat so I also made a pinafore using this stunning fabric. Another day I channeled my love of princesses with pastel colours. For the Lamb, she has numerous character costumes so I wanted to make sure she wore a costume which would compliment whichever land we would be in that day. For example, she wore a Princess dress for our breakfast at Cinderella’s Restaurant, but carried her lightsaber for our meeting with Chewie and Rey. It’s definitely something I would encourage others to do, especially if you’re hoping to see or meet your favourite character. This was the reaction of Rapunzel and Flynn Rider when they saw the Lamb wearing her Rapunzel wig I had made for her.
I know some people will say it’s a little pedantic to plan your clothes each day (I know Hubby did!) but seeing the reaction of the Lamb when characters asked about her costume was priceless and one of my favourite moments from our holiday was chatting to Rey about how I had hidden Rebel symbols into my crochet work – very surreal but amazing and worth the effort in my opinion.
Are you a planner or a pantser? We’ve been both, but discovered having a loose plan to guide our day meant we got the most out of our time at DLP. When we go back, we’ll definitely use a similar plan because there’s still attractions and characters we want to see! I’ve attached a blank copy of my plan below. Let me know if you use it and if it was useful as well as your favourite things to see, do and eat at DLP!
Don’t forget to check out my Shop to make sure you have all your essentials for your trip. From Mouse ears, to character key rings and small bags to carry those essentials, I’ve got you covered. Can’t see what you’re looking for? Send me a message and I can help! I’m always up for a new challenge.