Dreaming of Disneyland Paris with the kids?
Robin McKelvie’s tips will make it sweet…
Organising a trip to Disneyland Paris can be a bewildering experience with so many options and the excitably inflated expectations of wee ones to sate. I’ve just painstakingly put together a trip to Europe’s most famous family attraction with my two wee girls and I’m here to help ease the pain of you doing the same.
You could just book a package and then forget about it until you get there. Do that, though, and you risk being stuck at a hotel a hike from the twin parks, spending a fortune on overpriced restaurants and wasting a lot of time frustrated with your family in interminable queues. Follow our lead and you don’t need to endure any of this.
First up, where you stay is essential. Some people choose to base themselves in Paris, but I don’t recommend this as you’re then looking at an hour-long packed rush hour RER train ride out to Disneyland Paris. Every day. And then back at night. Much better is a hotel on site at Disney, but some of these lie quite a distance from the actual attractions. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which is brilliantly located between Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.
Staying at Disneyland Hotel is not cheap – and the rooms are not huge given the price point. But (and it’s a huge but) you couldn’t be in a better location. And the hotel also oozes Disney magic. Mickey Mouse was there after breakfast so we met the main man without suffering a huge queue – these are the sort of experiences you will remember years later when your credit card statement is a distant memory. The breakfasts here are generous too, a decent buffet that will really set you up for the day. Another huge plus is that you get to enter the parks early if you’re staying at a Disney hotel.
We also checked out the option of staying off site, but nearby, staying at the relatively new Les Villages Nature. If you’ve been to Center Parcs the set-up here will be familiar, with lots of space around a generally car-free oasis and myriad activities on hand – both free and paid for. We found the massive water park brilliant fun and liked, too, that there was lots of greenery and water around in a resort that prides itself on its green credentials. Our luxurious abode came with a hot tub bath and a lovely terrace overlooking a wee lake with ducks dotted around it. Disney was just a ten-minute taxi ride away.
Dining out at Disney can be a seriously expensive experience. Yes, there is a plethora of fast food outlets located in their Disney Village area, but what many visitors don’t realise is that you can also take your picnic into Disney, just not into the two parks. We did that on a couple of days and ate well for very little. Handily, Les Villages Nature has a decent supermarket for stocking up. There are water fountains in the parks too, so bring your own bottles, through we found the fountains very busy and some were not working.
Once you’re inside Disney and fuelled up, further choices await. Roughly speaking the two parks are split between the more classic Disney characters and castle of Disneyland Park and the more cinematic themed Walt Disney Studios. Both parks are packed with attractions, from little toddler-friendly rides, through to adrenaline-pumping theme park roller coasters and lots of high tech trickery too. You can buy a ticket to just one park, but I wouldn’t recommend this ‘saving’ as you really are missing out on a lot if you only visit one.
The most popular rides – Hyperspace Mountain and the Tower of Terror – are a victim of their own success and often have queues. One way of getting around this is by staying at a Disney hotel and taking advantage of your early entry to target a few rides before the queues really build. Alternatively, we found it well worth getting FASTPASS tickets. Our passes allowed us speeded up entry at a number of key rides, though we could only use it to skip the queues on these once a day.
You can upgrade to an ‘Ultimate’ pass that gives you full access and repeat queue skipping – if money is no object this makes sense. One trick we also discovered is that there are ‘Single Rider’ queues on some rides. This can seriously cut queuing if you’re willing to jump on with other people.
Another way of keeping track of the queues is by downloading the free Disneyland Paris App – available for both Android and iPhone users. This is really handy with loads of information alongside queuing times. We did find it was not always updated quickly enough, so if a ride re-opened after a temporary shutdown by the time we got there the five minute queue the App promised was in reality much longer. Still, it generally gives you an idea.
For those with young kids in tow there are well-equipped baby care rooms with bottle warming and baby changing facilities. You can also buy baby food and nappies on site and strollers can be rented. The meeting places for lost wee ones are reassuring. The staff are generally very switched on with children and the parks feel a very safe, family-friendly environment. One handy feature few visitors know about is the ‘Baby Switch’, which allows parents to take turns on all attractions without having to wait in line a second time.
Shopping is a key part of the experience for many and Disney never miss a retail trick with loads of boutiques outside rides, as well as their landmark stores. We saw some families weighed down with bags as they strolled around with excited kids. To avoid this you can either just shop at the end, or use the little known shopping service that allows you to shop until 3pm then have your shopping delivered later to your Disney hotel. You can also pick it up after 6pm at Disney Village. Armed with these tips you’ll be set to leave Disney with not only a bag stuffed full of goodies, but a lifetime of memories of a brilliant visit to Europe’s most famous family attraction.