Disneyland Paris for the Walt Disney World veteran

Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Not long after we got back from our 10 day trip to London and Paris, I took some time to sit and write out details about how we planned and executed our Disneyland Paris day of the trip and how the experience compares to its counterpart in Florida which we love so much. 

During our trip we split our time between London and Paris, spending nearly all of our time inside each city’s limits. We had a blast seeing all the typical touristy things and taking a few steps off the beaten path and getting a feel for the culture of each country. We ended the trip in Paris and for our very last day we took the 30-minute train ride just outside the city to play at Disneyland Paris (DLP).

When we were planning out each day of the trip we wavered back in forth on whether to take a day to do Disneyland. There are so many other things we could have seen and done with that day in and near Paris. Plus we are Disney World vets and wondered if we would be underwhelmed by the European version. However, we decided to do it and looking back I must say it was a fantastic planning decision on our part. We love Disney vacations and loved getting to see another flavor of the magic. And after spending 8 days seeing a lot of museums, monuments and really old buildings (which was amazing don’t get me wrong), it was great to end the trip literally playing at Disneyland.

I wanted to share our experiences planning and implementing a one-day visit to Disneyland Paris as part of a bigger European vacation. I will share what we did ahead of time, how we spent our day touring the park, things that were strikingly different than Walt Disney World (for better or for worse), and some lessons learned.

Where to Stay
Since this was one day of a bigger trip in Paris we did not stay on site at Disneyland. We had a hotel in downtown Paris. They do have several on-site hotels that looked beautiful from what we saw. The Disneyland Hotel in particular is practically inside the gates of Disneyland Park. There are definite benefits to staying on-site including extra magic hours. The day we were there hotel guests could get in the park a full two hours before everyone else, which is quite the benefit. If I were to do it again, I might consider changing hotels and spending the night before our Disney day on-site just for this benefit. However not having to pack and change hotels won out for us and we still were able to tour just fine.

Getting There
If you are staying on-site getting there consists of walking out of your hotel and to the parks. I felt like it was set up much like Disneyland in California where the two parks are right next door with an adjoining Downtown Disney-like area and hotels all in walking distance.

Since we were staying in Paris center we woke up early and took the train out to Disneyland Paris. And with our 3-day unlimited ride train pass it was super simple and inexpensive. There is a train stop right at Disneyland Paris on the RER “A” line. It took one train switch and about 45 minutes to get out there. Easy peasy. It is important to note though that the Disneyland stop is in the furthest “zone” when buying train passes so you have to make sure you have a ticket that allows you to go out that far.

We purchased our park tickets online ahead of time from the Disneyland Paris website. I am not going to even pretend to tell you that it was definitely the best deal to be had because I honestly didn’t spend too much time looking for discounts or deals. For me, I just wanted to make sure the tickets were legit and so I bought them directly from Disney and printed them out at home. And I assumed that it is like the US where tickets are not a place you typically find deep discounts. Buying them ahead did save us a few dollars off the gate price though if I remember right.

We bought park hopper tickets because as I will talk about below we wanted to be able to go back and forth between the two parks and hit the highlights of both. Since you can walk between the two of them in less than 5 minutes, it makes it super easy.

Making a Daily Plan
We had one day and two parks. We could never fit every little thing in so we had to prioritize, focusing on things that are unique to DLP that we can’t do back home and things that we just love so much from back home that we want to experience them every chance we get. Below I actually walk through the touring plan we put in place and how it worked, but in general we followed the same guidelines and advice we do when touring Walt Disney World. We got there well before park opening, hit the most popular attractions first, and maximized FastPass.

The park where we spent most of our time was Disneyland Paris itself. If it were not for the incredibly themed, new, Ratatouille section in the next-door Walt Disney Studios park we probably would have skipped it all together. Walt Disney Studios is where Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror are which we love, but since they are the same as they are back home they fell off our priority list. Ratatouille has a single rider line so we decided to focus the morning on Disneyland, hop over to the Studios in the afternoon to ride Ratatouille single rider (a few times), and then hop back to Disneyland for the evening.

Planning Dining
With only one day at DLP we did not want to spend bunches of time sitting in restaurants eating. Plus most of the information we read online did not exactly rave on food quality in the Paris parks.  We made one reservation for dinner and planned to just eat snacks and quick service stuff the rest of the day. We figured that by evening we would be pretty tired and ready to sit down and rest a little while (we were right). After looking at all the options we settled on trying out the Blue Lagoon Restaurant situated right on the banks of the Pirates of Caribbean ride. Much like Blue Bayou for you Disneyland California people.

One of the most frustrating things we ran into planning our day was getting this dining reservation handled. You can make dining reservations up to 2 months in advance but unlike in the US where you can go online and make advanced dining reservations, for Disneyland Paris you can only make them by phone…to an international phone number.  We might have been able to risk it and made the reservation once we got to France, but I am just not a gambler or a person who likes to wait until the last minute. Instead I waited until two weeks before the trip when I turned on my international cell phone plan and made the call to +33 1 60 30 40 50. The cast member on the phone however was super nice and it was no trouble at all getting the reservation we wanted.

Touring the Parks
I found while prepping for this trip that the Internet was not full of tried and true touring plans for DLP, so I had to craft our own. I based our plan on what rides we wanted to do, which ones had FastPass or single rider options and the popularity/wait time for each (http://www.dlpguide.com/planning/advice/queue-times/). We focused first on the most popular attractions that did not have fast pass or single rider. And made sure we always had an active FastPass reservation.

Here is how it went. The park opened to the general public at 10 am, while on-site guests had been in the park since 8 am.
  • Grabbed a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain (return time of 11-11:30 am)
  • Rode Peter Pan (10:05 am, 15 minute wait)
  • Rode Pinocchio (10:25 am, 5 minute wait)
  • Rode Snow White’s Scary Adventures (10:35, 15 minute wait)
  • Grabbed FastPass for Indiana Jones (return time of 12-12:30)
  • Rode Big Thunder Mountain with FastPass (11:10)
  • Rode Phantom Manor (11:25, 30 minute wait)
  • Grabbed Buzz Lightyear FastPass (return time 1:45-2:15)
  • Rode Indiana Jones with FastPass (12:15)
  • Ate lunch at the Lucky Nugget. Perks include it is air-conditioned, they bring your food to you at your table, you get free refills unlike most places in Europe, and it is plenty of food. The price was $18.99 for a generous entrĂ©e, side, drink and dessert.
  • Strolled in and around the castle. There is a walkthrough of sleeping beauty scenes inside and an animatronic dragon that lives down below.
  • Met Goofy randomly outside the castle (Pluto was also out).
  • Grabbed a Star Tours FastPass (return time 4-4:30)
  • Rode Buzz Lightyear with FastPass (1:50)
  • Park hopped to Walt Disney Studios (2:15). First went to check to see if any Rockin’ Roller Coaster or Tower or Terror FastPass were left for the day because you can technically have FastPass in each park simultaneously, but there were not.
  • Rode Ratatouille in Single Rider line (2:30). The standby time was 55 minutes. Single rider line wait time was <5 it="" minutes.="" rode="" so="" span="" twice.="" we="">
  • Met Mickey at Toon Plaza (30 minute wait)
  • Park hopped back to Disneyland Paris
  • Grabbed another Star Tours FastPass (return time 6:30-7:00). Pretty sure that all ride FastPasses were gone for the day except StarTours by this time.
  • Rode Star Tours with FastPass (4:10)
  • Snack from the cable car bake shop (hello Nutella pastries)
  • Did some shopping on Main Street
  • Watched the evening parade from a nice shady spot in front of City Hall (5:30)
  • Did a little more shopping in Fantasyland for our 2 year old back home
  • Rode Star Tours again with FastPass (6:30)
  • Dinner reservation at Blue Lagoon (7:00)
  • Rode Pirates of the Caribbean (8:00, no wait at all)
  • Walked through Alice’s Labyrinth (8:15). Evening was a great time for this little stroll with amazing views of the park from the top.
  • Rode the Tea Cups (8:30)
  • Walked around to see what wait times were like. Big Thunder was at 25 minutes, Pan at 25 minutes, Dumbo at 15 minutes.
  • Rode Phantom Manor again (9:20, no wait at all)
  • Watched the castle projection show and fireworks from the front of the park (10:00)

Other Miscellaneous Things we Learned
  1. We found a small park entrance around to the right next to the ticket/customer service counter that was far less crowded than the main gates. Going in here let us get ahead of most of the people getting into the park.
  2. The front gates of the park opened at 9:30 (for us B list people who were not staying onsite), but you could only get into Main Street and the hub area. Between 9:30 and 10:00 am crowds formed at the entrance to each land waiting for the 10:00 park opening time.
  3. Extra magic hours for hotel guests only pertain to Fantasyland and Discoveryland
  4. We had trouble with bugs and wished that we had bug spray with us
  5. One big difference between this park and our other Disney park experiences was a general lack of character meet and greet locations. There were not very many official character-meeting spots, which made the lines at the ones that were there incredibly long. Also at random wandering character meeting locations there was not really a line that formed, just a cluster of people surrounding the character which made you feel like you needed to be pushy if you wanted an autograph or picture.
  6. Some of the rides/attractions are in French and others are in English
  7. Our experience was that the FastPass system would let us get a new FastPass a few minutes before the current FastPass window started. We didn’t push our luck so I don’t know how early it lets you get another one.
  8. Our experience was that the cast members were strict about FastPass return times. Unlike at Disney World where you can show up and get in line 5 minutes early, they did not let us in line until exactly the time on the ticket.
  9. A lot of stuff closed before the park did. When crowds start dwindling in the evenings we noticed lots of snack carts, quick service restaurants and even some attractions closing up shop. One of our touring plan downfalls is that we missed out on getting to ride the Canal Boats because it randomly closed at 8 pm and we planned to ride it at 8:30. Live and learn.
  10. We noticed that in general there was less theming in the details inside the Disneyland Paris parks compared to Walt Disney World. Construction walls, caution cones, and trashcans were not particularly magical or special. They could have just as easily been found out in the real world. Its funny how you don’t realize how well Disney themes the details until it is missing.
  11.  I think that Disneyland Paris might win the prettiest castle contest. Sleeping Beauty’s dwelling in France is just spectacular (see exhibit A below).

If you are planning a future vacation to Europe, consider taking a day for some Disney play. If you love Disney World you will probably find Disneyland Paris charming and some of the unique parts to this park are incredible and totally worth seeing (I’m talking about you Ratatouille). If you know how to tour a Disney park in the US, the same tactics will serve you well in Paris as long as you can pull out and dust off those old school paper FastPass skills. Any other questions about spending some time at Disneyland Paris? Feel free to ask me.

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