Disneyland Paris was AMAZING, WONDERFUL and BRILLIANT. End of blog.
No, wait! Ok, more detail needed. Our blogs are heavy on personal travel stories and light on the sort of detail that might actually be useful in planning your own travel. This one promises to be different. So let’s go.
Disneyland can send anyone into raptures or despair or both within a few chaotic minutes. The atmosphere, immersive otherworldliness, endless interweaving of familiar soundtracks, crowds and screaming kids. We absolutely loved Disneyland California but that was 11 years ago during a particular low season lull and we were sans kids, free to take restorative breaks in a quiet restaurant gazing lovingly at each other over a paella and beer (well, it was our honeymoon!). I admit to being anxious and uncertain how jangled I might become after five straight days of ‘exciting’ rides with our three lovely, loud and hilariously imperfect offspring.
We purchased a 4-night accommodation deal in a Disneyland resort – that included a 5-day entrance ticket – over eight months earlier via the Disney UK website. We got outstanding value for money by shopping around the Disney websites for different countries and ultimately booking well in advance in what is low season (outside weekends, European school and public holidays, and summer). The tickets included entry to both parks (Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios), parking (normally EUR30 a day), some limited discounts, and early entry (8:30am instead of 10am for others). We didn’t use early entry every day but when we did it significantly cut waiting times for popular attractions such as character meet-and-greets (eg. we waited 10 minutes to meet Mickey rather than 1-2 hours).
Winter is tricky for any theme park and not for everyone. It can be risky with the weather (obviously), some attractions are closed at this slow time of year for renovation, and your dicky knee may flare up in the icy evenings watching the fireworks with a 30kg kid on your shoulders. Was it cold? Yep, for sure. But, after studying the locals, we layered up the kids and ourselves as if we were hitting the ski slopes and when we weren’t generating heat by walking the length and breadth of the park we were more than likely getting toasty warm inside an attraction.
Was it still a good idea to go in winter? A-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y. Three reasons: (a) waiting times, (b) parking, and (c) waiting times. Weekdays in low season meant waiting in line between 5-20 minutes for each attraction (including use of the FastPass system for some popular rides). On our final day, a Saturday, hordes of determined Parisians invaded the park and these times blew out to 30-60 minutes. In peak season, waits of 1-3 hours are common. Commuting was a breeze and the mammoth car park was so deserted it could have been used for an attempt on the land speed record (which I think I nudged, giddy as we all felt when faced with a sea of empty asphalt).
So, we might have encased ourselves in five layers of polyester and duck down, and copped a hailstorm, but we got rock star car parks, met all the characters we could want, sat front row in every show and parade, and literally ran straight onto our favourite rides again and again. And we just got plain lucky with two of the days bathing us in glorious winter sunshine.
No surprise to learn that food at Disneyland is eyewateringly expensive. We stayed in Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch – basic cabin-style resort only a 5-minute drive from the park and 10 minutes from a massive shopping centre – which enabled us to self-cater and organise packed (ie. squashed) lunches and snacks loaded with the sugar content needed for a solo Antarctic crossing.
Thanks to Oma, the kids had money to splash in the endless variety of gift shops. Fascinating to see each child’s personality reflected in their spending habits. Bug agonised over every purchase opting only for bargain bin items, with most of his money still burning a hole in his pocket after five days. Squirt blew the lot by the morning of the second day then hit the wall of cashless reality, hard. Koala spent some of her budget on a couple of must-haves then was happy to save the rest.
The main reason for being there is the rides. Well folks, unless you’ve been living under a rock, this place ain’t no everyday carnival. Many of the rides are an immersive experience (do I sound like a sales rep?) from the beginning of the queue to the final exit and, what makes it so great, is that most of them can be enjoyed by the whole family; from the originals like Peter Pan’s Flight and Pirates of the Caribbean to modern-day high-tech marvels like Star Tours and Ratatouille. The undisputed TeamBuss No. 1 was the rip-roaring, high-pitched-screaming circuit around Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This was the girls’ first genuine rollercoaster and, goodness me, did they LOVE it. We got on a record eight times and could have done another eight without blinking.
There were only three rides in each park from which the girls were barred (too short) and for which us lily-livered parents were eternally grateful. Bug, at the grand old age of eight, could ride them all on his own. Praise be. But wait! As he ran, pulling us towards the Star Wars-themed indoor rollercoaster that is Hyperspace Mountain a ‘bad parent’ feeling washed over us. Before I could slap my hand over my mouth, I heard myself say “I’ll go with you Bug” and was immediately upended by a wave of green vomit-y anxiety. If we didn’t walk straight onto the ride without waiting, I would have bailed for sure. I kept my eyes shut through the whole thing trying to distract myself by guessing how many times I was upside down, welding together the vibrating chunks of my freaked-out mind with thoughts like ‘I believe we’re going through a corkscrew right now… how interesting’. Lisa got all stupid too. She hopped on with him next, despite trying to talk him out of it first, and emptied a large bucket of swear words in less than a minute. Bug was all courage and joy going a third time alone, and has since stated that “Disney has changed my life!”. Life for him is clearly better upside down in the dark at 100 km/h.