This year our annual family vacation included a 3 night stay at Disneyland Paris Resort. We had a tremendous time, and Disneyland truly is the Magic Kingdom, leaving both children and adults completely enchanted by the experience. That said, the resort is huge, and is not without its pitfalls and surprises to catch the rookie visitor. Here are a few tips we found useful.
- Being polite is surprisingly useful. If your kids are trying to collect the autographs of the various characters that roam the parks, then be prepared to be involved in a scrum, particularly around the most popular characters. To our kids’ credit they tended to hang back slightly and whilst you will probably still need to to give them a gentle prod, the actors in the suits seem to respond better to the polite kids than the pushy ones. We always said a thank-you and gave a big thumbs up to the characters after the signing. This also got a good response with us occasionally getting pulled into pictures as well, something I never saw happen with the pushier types.
- Eating at the park is expensive. Depending on where you are staying, it is possible to buy vouchers (only in advance though) that can save you up to 15% off the cost of food. It might not seem like much, but it can add up over a few nights’ stay.
- Pre-booking restaurants will help keep your tank topped-up. This is essential if you’re going to enjoy the park to its fullest. The restaurants can fill up very quickly and when you have tired and hungry mouths to feed, the last thing you want to be told is to come back in an hour. The restaurants can be pre-booked at City Hall in the main park or at your hotel. Probably more than anything we did, this was the thing that made our trip go smoothly.
- There are two parks at Disneyland Paris: the older “classic” park built around the fairytale castle and Main Street USA, and the Walt Disney Studios park. Be prepared to spend at least a day in each.
- The Fastpass is your friend. This system is free to use and allows you to effectively pre-book a time to return to a ride and avoid the queues. There are a couple of down-sides. Firstly you can only have one Fastpass per two hour period. Secondly you can’t choose the time you return. You are given a window in which the pass is valid. How well the Fastpass works depends on the ride. It worked amazingly well on Big Thunder Mountain, when my daughter and I avoided a one hour queue and got to ride with no wait at all. The system was less effective with Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast where we were able to skip around two thirds of a one hour queue.
- Paris can be hot, hot, hot. Not Florida hot, but when you come from Northern Europe, sustained temperatures of thirty centigrade plus can be a shock to the system. The Studios park provides more indoor attractions which can give some respite from the sun (or rain) and there are plenty of water fountains located near the toilets where you can fill water bottles.
- A little bit of planning goes a long way. Your first stop each day should be the Fastpass kiosk for the ride you don’t want to miss. Allow the time you are allocated to guide your day until you use the pass. If the Fastpass time clashes with a show or parade you want to see, then come back in half an hour or so when the Fastpass time will have moved on. There are maps and schedules of parades and shows available in huge supply and multiple languages at the gate.
- The studio tram tour can get pretty intense for youngsters. There is no indication of this before you board. The big set piece sequence of the tour involves a great deal of fire which can get extremely hot, followed by a massive torrent of water rushing towards the tram. It was all a little too exciting for our seven-year-old. You can minimise the impact by sitting on the right on the tram, but it is still pretty hair-raising.
- Take it easy. You may have spent the best part of a month’s salary on this trip, but your kids will probably get more out of a combination of rides, autograph sessions, shows and playparks than racing around the big ticket items at breakneck speed.
- Wear hats, wide brimmed if you can, keep the sunscreen topped up, erring on the side of paranoia, and drink plenty of water. At least once a day we saw the medics attending to people who had collapsed in the heat.
Depending on when you visit, how long you stay and what your budget is, your mileage may vary from this advice. For us the secret to truly enjoying Disneyland Paris (we would rate it as our best holiday ever) is to allow yourself to become fully immersed in the atmosphere and above all to relax.