I’ve just returned from a long weekend at Disneyland Paris and I wanted to note down some of the things from the trip that may help someone else planning a trip there too.
The Train there
We took the Eurostar direct to Marne-la-Vallée Chessy which is just outside Disneyland itself (there’s only a single direct Eurostar train each way most days). Although that end is a little dated, the new St Pancras end is beautiful, new and super efficient in checking you through. I thought having moved the terminal from Waterloo would make it a little more difficult for those of us living south of London, but there was a direct rush-hour train from our local station to St Pancras, making it much easier to navigate two suitcases, a pushchair and a three-year-old.
Once on the train, you have to remember that the majority of passengers are in the standard class with their kids. It’s both good and bad that children under a certain age are allowed on the train without their own seat since it keeps the cost down, but does make the train incredibly busy. At this point, a lot of tablets and phones come out and you can hear the sounds of CBeebies and Disney Junior. The journey overlaps lunch too, so you can take that with you or pick something up at the station
On arriving at the French end, you can drop off your luggage and go straight into the park with your tickets that you were given in advance on the train. Since it’s mid-afternoon, this means you can get a few hours of fun before you need to stop for dinner. We went midweek so the park wasn’t very full and we got on a few rides before heading to the hotel.
We stayed at the Newport Bay hotel. We were booked into one of the Admiral’s Floors and at checkin were told that we’d been upgraded to a lake view room. Once we got to the room, we found we were also lucky enough to get a balcony – it’s unlikely we’ll ever be that lucky again! The room was a very little bit dated but clean. The TV is mostly in French, including Disney Junior, but even having seen most of the episodes on there, it will still entertain a littl’un that’s seen it all before. The luggage you dropped off earlier can be requested when you check in and I guess everyone spends some time looking around the room waiting for the luggage to arrive.
Staying at the hotel means that you can enter the park early, for example at 8am rather than 930 or 10am with the rest of the public. Only a small subset of the rides are open, but this does mean you can get a couple of goes before everyone else turns up. We made it out at 9ish and it’s surprising how many people are still queuing up for breakfast at the hotel as you’re heading off – our guess was that they’d been up late the night before.
The Rides and Shows
Before covering the rides we went on, I wanted to mention the Fast Pass (FP) system. Although not available on every ride, fast passes make so much sense especially on a hot weekend when the park really fills up. Basically you go to a machine, show it your park entrance ticket and get a FP that allows you to access the ride via a shorter queue at a later time. This means you skip a 60 minute queue by finding something else to do until your FP becomes valid – for example, going on a non-FP ride.
The rides we went on were:
Peter Pan’s Flight – Maybe it was because it was quite a bright afternoon, but this seemed really dark. Although I’ve done it before, the little guy really enjoyed since he has a lot of love for Captain Hook and Peter Pan. Also, on the last day, the wait to use a fast pass was about 4 hours so it does pick up some serious interest.
Pirates of the Caribbean – Another classic, this was a good one for our pirate fan, although there’s plenty of skeletons which could give kids the willies. There’s also the Blue Lagoon restaurant which overlooks the river and could be relaxing – if you could find the entrance. Although he’s been added to the end of the Californian park’s ride, Captain Jack Sparrow was still missing from the Paris branch.
Buzz Lightyear’s Shooter (twice) – Once early morning and once with a fast pass, this ride was good fun for the whole family, with two guns and a control for spinning the pod to be shared around. Proud of our scores in the 8,000 point region, I noticed others with 100k+ scores. This is due to the frequent stopping and starting of the ride, where if you’re feeling sneaky enough, you can find a high scoring target, lock on and just keep racking up the points, as proven by my score of 74k on the second run.
Machines Volantes – I skipped this one but it seems mercifully short for a roundabout although the person at the front of each flying machine gets the up/down control for added motion sickness.
Star Tours – Another staple of the Disney experience, the little man just measured up to the height requirements so we thought we’d give it a go and he really enjoyed it even though it gets a little dark and shaky at points.
Disneyland Railroad – An easy way to get around the park, we jumped on at Discoveryland to go 270 degrees round to Fantasyland at the top of the park. It’s probably the best place to get on since it’s the last stop before the entrance to the park where a lot of people come in and go straight to the platform. There’s lots of random things to see, like the explorer style jeep and elsewhere, a field full of bunnies.
Le Pays de Contes de Fées (Fairytale Boatride) – A nice relaxing float around a set of dioramas each depicting a scene from a classic fairy tale. Good for acclimatising after a scarier or more bouncy ride.
It’s a Small World – A Disney staple and pretty much only for the kids which means a short queue! Not as long a ride as I remember, but that could just be fear rather than memory. The little guy really enjoyed it and laughed at a lot of the displays – I was almost tempted to go back round!
Swiss Family Robinson Tree House – Possibly the most exercise you get in the park other than walking round, there’s always climbing up some stairs and then back down again. There’s some points at which you can get a view of the park, but it’s a bit limited, I assume due to wanting to hide some of the magic.
Autopia (twice) – A very popular ride and a really good one for a little driver that’s only done bumper cars before. Some of the engines can have a bit of pull, so you should take charge of the accelerator while they take the wheel. Although hitting others is frowned upon, highly dynamic left-right steering can give the same effect.
Meet Mickey Mouse – I’ll cover characters and photos later, but the Meet Mickey Mouse building has a long queue (boo!) inside through a large cinema showing classic Mickey Mouse cartoons (yay!). After this you get to meet Mickey and get your photo taken with a chance to buy a copy on the way out. We skipped buying a copy on the way out assuming that we’d be able to buy it elsewhere based on the photocard they gave us, but no, that was the only chance – consider yourself warned.
Big Thunder Mountain – This has the same height requirement as Star Tours so we thought we’d let the little guy give it a try. The ride has a lot more dark tunnel sections than I remember and the sections that pull the train higher are incredibly loud, both of which freaked him out a bit, but the outdoor sections are very scenic and I think he enjoyed being on top of the park.
Slinky Dog – This is a new ride in the Toy Story Playland section of the Studios park. It’s a very circular roller coaster with some ups and downs and picks up a good speed. It’s just right for a newcomer to roller coasters.
Cars Quatres Roues – Another new ride for me, this was very spinny with a set of cars interchanging on the two loops of a figure of eight. Another mercifully short ride for the amount of spinning involved.
Pirate Play Area – Not exactly a ride, but a nice addition. Split into two separate areas, one for 1-5 years the other for 6+ it’s a little small, but does give them an extra chance to burn off energy.
The shows (in the studios) we saw were:
Animagique – A black-light based luminescent show starring Mickey and Donald. This was really good for young kids since it’s bright and there’s lots of songs and dancing to watch. There’s also some luminescent fish that swim through the crowd which really amazed him.
Cinemagique – An entertaining movie that tells the story of a man who jumps into scenes in classic films. There’s even some minimal interaction with the audience, like the classic rain falling from the ceiling. I’ve seen it before but I can’t remember how it ends, since this time it ended early as the film started skipping, then finally died and we were lead to the exits – probably something to do with the weather.
Action Moteurs – This is a car based stunt show which has been extended with an appearance from Lightning McQueen and a clip of Mater. The stunts are impressive, especially with the tarmac as soaked with rain as it was. I don’t think the little man understood the skill involved but the fire and the screeching about entertained him
Armageddon – Possibly a little wasted on those who’ve done it before but the balls of fire and big booming sounds were quite impressive. We were a bit close to the fire which felt quite intense but was balanced out with sprinklers.
Playhouse Disney – I think this was the best show for the whole family. Although it was floor seating (obvious when you consider it was a puppet show), it had a good turnout of characters from Disney Junior (as it’s known in the UK – it’s known as Playhouse Disney elsewhere). The cast included the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse characters, Handy Manny and his tools, the Little Einsteins, and the Super Sleuths. The show was perfectly targetted at anyone who enjoys watching those shows with lots of different things falling from the ceiling to surprise the children.
We were bed and breakfast at the hotel. The hotel breakfast was a simple continental affair but there was enough variety for each of us. I thought the machine coffee was pretty good too. If you really wanted to skimp, you could make your lunch from the breakfast buffet, or just stuff your face.
At first glance, the entire park seems expensive for food. If you look around, you’ll find that the buffets are typically the most expensive but the restaurants that do simpler food, such as burgers or pizzas, and some do fixed menus with minimal variations that work out as really good value.
Before we went, we found that you could prebook discounted food vouchers. Comparing the price of the vouchers to the prices of the meals in the restaurants showed that the vouchers only offered value if used at the most expensive restaurants and if you ordered the most expensive item so we decided against them. I’m glad we did since we could just decide what we wanted and weren’t directed by the vouchers.
There is also the alternative of taking your own food into the park. We took crisps and drinks with us on the trip and then bought sandwiches from the larger Relay store in the train station which worked out far cheaper than in-park. We had heard that bags would be checked and there’d be problems with food from outside, but on our first bag check, the person in front had a bag that looked like the result of robbing a bakers so we weren’t too worried. After that it was common that you’d notice people unwrapping and eating their own food, typically from coolbags that they’d brought with them.
We visited the following places for food and drink:
McDonalds – Although a bit simple and not where you’d normally go on holiday, on the first night we decided to visit McDs to avoid having to check out every other restaurant in Disney Village. To simplify ordering, there’s terminals just inside the door where you can select and pay for your food without ever having to speak to anyone. One other thing to note, the wifi was really good and you just needed to tap the J’accepte button on the impose screen to connect.
Ben and Jerrys – It’s really expensive for a single scoop, but it gets cheaper with multiple scoops. The remarkably helpful member of staff offered to split our three scoops into separate tubs and then charge us full price for each tub!?
Colonel Hathis (twice) – This is a pizza and pasta place on the border of Frontierland and Adventureland. The menu options here are very good and quite fairly priced. The food was good but the service left a little to be desired with quite a long wait for food on our first visit even though it was quiet just before closing, but less of a wait on the second pass, ironically at a busier lunch time.
Earl of Sandwich – This was on our route from the hotel, through Disney Village to the parks, with a hoarding outside showing a delicious looking sandwich that made my mouth water everyday. I kept pushing to go here and when we checked the menu, the prices and the options seemed very reasonable – even the kids menu looked good. However the portions aren’t huge so we toddled off to McDs afterwards for a top up (and some more wifi.)
Starbucks – Worst. Starbucks. Ever. Since it’s the only one, it’s quite busy. Firstly, the coffee tastes funny. Then, of the 3 toilets, 2 doors were locked and the dryer didn’t work. And worst of all, the wifi was awful – the connection was so flaky that I ended up on the connect screen several times and then you have a 10 section form to fill in before you can connect, something to do with being a requirement of fighting “terrorisme”, which seems to contradict McDonalds more open stance.
Other things in the Park
This year is the 20th anniversary of the park so there’s an additional mid-afternoon parade in the main park with pounding music (now available in all of the Disney stores).
Contrary to what I remember, Disney characters no longer seem to wander the park. As well as the Meet Mickey queue, there seems to be specific places to meet each of the other characters and they appear to be on a roughly half hour schedule. Firstly there was the hotel which only published the identities of the 2 attending characters each morning although fortunately, the queues moved quite quickly. In the parks, there’s actually specific places (marked on the map) to meet some of the characters at times which are published on the schedule that accompanies the map. The queues to meet characters in the park move a lot slower than the hotel and it’s very easy to miss the character you wanted to see, even if you start queuing while they’re there, they may go before you get to the front. The third choice is going to the restaurants that the characters visit, the only one I knew being Café Mickey where the cost of seeing the characters appears to be included in the price of the food!
With each of the characters are a photographer and a few handlers. As well as being able to take your own photos, the photographer will take some photos and then scan a barcode on a card and give you the card so you can pick the photos up later. It was one of these photocards that we got at Meet Mickey which we incorrectly assumed contained all of the photos, not realizing that some of them had be purchased before leaving the Meet Mickey building. These photos and frames appear to be something else that make better value in bulk purchases.
The queues to the park themselves weren’t too bad and the entrance people were good with opening doors for a pushchair. However, this lack of queuing is due to the huge queues for the bag checks before you can get near the entrances to either park.
The only other thing to note was the lack of queue control in a lot of places that lead to a lot of pushing in or the person behind you becoming closer than you’d like. Although it wasn’t the British or French school holidays, some other countries had finished their school terms and so there were lots of families. A similar level of patience was shown while using the toilets where some visitors would play with the handle of occupied cubicles! And those big queues for the bag check typically result in someone standing on the pushchair.
The Train back
Although you’re able to visit the park on your final day before catching the train home in the evening this did lead to some longish queues to both collect luggage and checkin. At this point everyone’s pretty tired with the kids really shattered so the train’s pretty noisy although the phones and pads come back out with more TV shows to watch.
Another great thing (for those living in the South East) is that the train stops at both Ashford and Ebbsfleet before St Pancras so you can jump off early – Ebbsfleet being right by the M25. It’s typically quite a late train back so the alternative is having to plan your trip home from central London.