I may be an old bird but I absolutely LOVE all things Disney. The prep, the packing, (yes, I love packing, I know, weird right?) the travelling, the excitement and that utterly magical glimpse of that castle as you make your first steps down Main Street.
Now, this is not going to be a short blog by any stretch of the imagination but I’ve attempted to split it into categories to make it easier. I am BIG on research when I go away anywhere so hopefully, this will be useful for you if you’re planning a DLP trip anytime soon! Failing that, it’ll be a few minutes timewasting whilst you have a cuppa or are procrastinating at work. Go on, you know you want to……..
Booking and planning -
I booked this trip fairly last minute as a half-term treat for myself and my son, Oz. (Also known as “the rascal” in previous blogs!) He’s 8 and although we’ve been before when he was 3, I figured now would be a great time to revisit. We booked direct with Disneyland Paris as at the time we booked, just after Christmas, there were some really great deals on. Our package included 3 nights stay at a Disney Hotel, including park passes for each day, premium half board dining, Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, character breakfast and a character lunch.
The run-up to this trip also proved to be “The Time When I Lost My Mind Purchasing Disney Themed Stuff.” In a nutshell, if it had ears on it, it was straight in my basket. Little did I realise that seeing as a trip in February is going to be freezing cold, the jumpers, hoodies and sweatshirts were never to be seen as I was too busy being bundled up in a coat and scarf! So much for the Instagram pics dressed head to toe in Mouse-Merch. (And if no-one has come up with that term yet, it definitely needs to be a thing!)
With the options of either flying, taking the Eurostar or driving, we chose to fly from our local airport. Time-wise it’s pretty similar for us to taking the train as we are a long way from St Pancras, so even including check-in and transfers it worked out around the same cost. Obviously, with flying, you are limited on luggage but we somehow had 23kg hold luggage per person included, which even taking my shopping habits and complete inability to travel light into account was more than enough! (We took one case between two of us in case anyone is thinking I went totally OTT!)
We booked return transfers with CDG Disney Transfers which worked perfectly, were on time and took around 40 minutes from the airport. Our return transfer, in particular, was a massive hit for Oz as it was a converted VW van decked out with bright red seats, curtains and fridges - he now wants one. Great!
Our Hotel -
I decided to book the Hotel Santa Fe for a few reasons. Mainly because it was the cheapest on-site option, along with the Hotel Cheyenne but it had everything we needed. As beautiful as some of the other hotels are, I couldn’t justify spending more money on somewhere we weren’t planning on spending a lot of time in. It’s a short walk to the parks or a short shuttle transfer, has a buffet restaurant, good-sized rooms which were spotless, a decent shower (always a win in my book) and even a bath which was a nice unexpected bonus. Oh, and IT HAS A STARBUCKS!!! Can you even imagine my excitement?! If that wasn’t enough for this little coffee-loving monster, there was an actual coffee machine (to be fair it probably had tea too but I wasn’t looking at that bit) on our corridor with two free cups a day for hotel guests. Admittedly, I only found this out on day two seeing as the hotel forgot to mention it and my research somehow hadn’t extended to this divine revelation but it was a happy discovery nonetheless.
The Hotel Santa Fe doesn’t have a pool or anything fancy but it has a buffet restaurant, a bar and a boutique in case you haven’t done enough shopping in the parks. Absolutely ticked all the boxes for us.
It’s a huge complex, split into a few different buildings. Happily for Oz, we were in the Mater building - it’s all themed around the Cars film. This theming continues throughout the hotel, from the pavement which was painted like a road to the traffic cone-shaped lights in the room and artwork of all the characters from the film everywhere you look. Oh, and the beds were comfy - a definite must after a long day in the parks!
Walt Disney Studios -
We chose to start our experience in the Walt Disney Studios Park as Oz was set on our first ride being the Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin in the Toy Story part of the park. As you walk through the entrance to the studios, you can’t help but look at the detailing all around you. From the Mickey Mouse statues to the building details, you could spend a lot of your day just simply looking at everything, there’s so much to see. We headed straight for Slinky Dog, with only a 15-minute wait time and then on to the Flying Carpets of Agrabah. Both pretty tame rides but cute and perfect for younger kids. Last time we went I absolutely loved the Ratatouille ride and had heard great things about Crush’s Coaster but had been warned about the wait times for these. Sure enough, these were both on 60-100 minute queues so we decided to give them a miss and wait for the extra magic hours or use a Fastpass instead another day.
The Studios are much smaller than the main Disneyland Park which makes for easy navigation and have lots to offer, be it rides, shows, shops or places to eat. You have the choice of rides large or small, tame or terrifying, for big or small kids. We loved the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop ride - think of it as an incredibly tame Tower of Terror - raised up in “parachutes” and then dropped back down. There are also plenty of characters wandering around, from Star Wars Stormtroopers to Stitch, Buzz Lightyear and many more.
Disneyland Park -
Even the hardest of hearts would find it difficult to not get excited by the first steps down Main Street, hearing the music, smelling the tasty treats on offer at the bakery and, of course, seeing the castle for the first time. For me, this is the highlight of the entire thing - everywhere you look people are excited, wearing their Disney ears, making sure they are taking the perfect obligatory selfies. (Some do take it a little far - I’m talking to you madam in full makeup, dressed like you’re on a catwalk in Milan getting some poor stranger to take approximately 459 photographs of you and your equally gorgeous boyfriend attempting to get the perfect shot!)
The park is split into four areas - Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland, all with their own different themes, rides, restaurants, shows, characters and stalls. Again, there are rides to suit every taste, from the slow and steady to the full thrill options.
This proved to be the moment when my darling son decided now would be a marvellous time to admit that he “doesn’t really like big rides.” Yes, you read that right, after Mummy had spent her hard-earned cash on a trip to a theme park with lots of big rides, he didn’t in fact like big rides at all. He also decided now was a marvellous time to drop the bombshell that he hates fireworks and once he realised that the Parade was themed around the film Frozen, that was soon out of the picture too. After my small breakdown after these revelations came to light, I had no option to come to terms with the fact that our Disney trip was perhaps going to be a little different to how I’d expected.
That said, thankfully there is a lot to do in both parks that don’t involve Big Scary Rides. I did manage to get us on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride but when we went down a particularly fast part I attempted to shield myself from the splash that was awaiting us at the bottom and inadvertently managed to poke my son in the eye in doing so. Cue lots of tears, a couple of tantrums, a large dose of Mum-guilt and his flat refusal to Ever Do That Again.
In an attempt to move away from the Big Scary Rides, we opted to go and see the 4D show “Mickey’s Philharmagic.” This was an altogether nicer experience where we could a) get out of the freezing cold, b) sit down and c) see some actual Disney magic on the big screen. I actually loved this, it’s basically Donald Duck conducting Mickey’s orchestra, it predictably goes slightly wrong and hilarity ensues. It’s only around 15 minutes long so great for little ones but also a really nice alternative to the rides, big, scary or otherwise! We also saw “Mickey and the Magician” a 30-minute stage show with appearances from all your favourites from Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, (allegedly not Ozzy’s favourite but I swear I caught him singing along at one point) Alladin and more. Incredibly cute and again, a nice alternative.
There are also quite a few things that you can just walk up to and experience, rather than having to queue for too long. On your way through the castle from Main Street to Discoveryland, there is a fearsome Dragon to meet and we stumbled across Le Passage Enchante d’Alladin where you can walk through and see the scenes from the movie.
Extra Magic Hours -
As we were staying at a Disney hotel, we had the opportunity to get into the parks 1.5 hours earlier than the usual opening time. This was perfect for us as we all know kids don’t do lie-ins so we were up early anyway! The queues for the rides were small to non-existent which was brilliant and definitely allowed us to go on a lot more rides that we would have done had we just rocked up at 10am. If you get the chance to have some extra hours, use them!!! They are only available for those staying in a Disney hotel so if you’re torn between off-site on on-site, it’s worth taking this into account, especially if you’re going at a busy time.
I’m not going to lie, if you’re going at a busy time of year as we did in February half term when both UK and French schools are closed it’s going to be busy and you’re going to queue. For pretty much everything. Once you have this firmly in your head, there are ways to make this a tiny bit easier. The Fastpass system is great - you can get free passes to basically queue jump the sometimes incredibly long wait times on the more popular rides. You can only get one at a time, but it’s a great way of saving your time queuing and making the most of your day. There are also quite a few areas where you can escape the madness, one of our favourites was the indoor arcade behind the shops on Main Street, not only is there some great artwork to look at, there are benches and tables to sit at while you grab a nice little coffee and cake from the bakery!
Speaking of queuing, we were definitely reminded that while some of us LOVE a queue and will stand and wait pretty politely, there are a lot of people who won’t and don’t. Be prepared at busy times for people to barge in front of you at times. It’s not big, it’s not clever and to be honest, it drove me mad but unfortunately, it happens. Thankfully I wasn’t one of the people who got so fed up, bit and had a full-on argument in the middle of a queue with kids around. Yep, this happened. A lot. It provided a great excuse to have a chat with your own child about the importance of being polite. Every day’s a school day, right?!
Eating at Disney -
Before we arrived, I’d heard that you have to pre-book your meals if you want a sit down as they get booked really quickly. There are plenty of places to go if you want to “grab and go” but our preference was to book for each night so we knew what we were doing. This is particularly important for me as I am both greedy and also a Type 1 diabetic, so this covered all bases as far as I was concerned! There are LOADS of places to eat, in the parks, in Disney Village and also at each Disney hotel. Here’s where we chose for this occasion and what we thought!
La Cantina buffet restaurant, Hotel Santa Fe.
We chose this for our first night as we knew we’d be travelling for much of the day, would have done a few hours in the park and probably be absolutely knackered! And it was a great choice - plenty of choice for Oz and good for adults. My only little gripe would be there isn’t a massive choice for vegetarians which is a shame. With our premium half board meal plan, this was included in the cost of our trip and you also get a soft drink included. The food was good, you can go up as many times as you like, it’s a nice spacious restaurant and the staff were friendly.
Cafe Mickey, Disney Village.
We were really excited to come here as we’d been before when we visited a few years back and loved it. Again, this was included in our meal plan and consists of a three-course meal, with different options for adults and kids. Soft drinks are again included. A huge bonus of this place is you get to meet the characters, which is a really nice added touch.
Unfortunately, although I want to say this was brilliant, it really wasn’t. Meeting the characters was fabulous, what’s not to love about Goofy sneaking up behind you and pinching your bread roll? (Yes, this actually happened. Don’t worry, I got it back.) Sadly, the rest of it just wasn’t. The service wasn’t great, both for reasons of the time it took to place an order, receive your meal or to even pay your bill but also the food also wasn’t great in my opinion. The people who were at the next table from us (who were lovely and took some pics for us!) also said they weren’t impressed and they were paying for the meal at €65 per adult and €35 per child. Safe to say, I’m glad it was included with our package as I wouldn’t want to spend that amount of money on that particular meal!
Earl of Sandwich -
I had to put this in as we stopped here for lunch one day and oh boy, this Earl makes GOOD sandwiches. That is all.
Prebooked activities -
We prebooked three of these - a character lunch, breakfast and dinner and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. All were fantastic and I would 100% recommend doing any of these.
Character lunch at Disneyland Hotel -
I was actually more excited to realise that this was at the Disneyland Hotel than anything else. The eponymous hotel is beautiful, let’s face it. Situated in Disneyland Park itself, it’s huge, spectacular, fancy as hell and just gorgeous. I could easily have spent a few hours just wandering around it as it really is so lovely. The Inventions restaurant, where we had lunch was beautiful and the food was so good! The buffet was enormous, with lots of choices, from salads and starters, hot food and of course desserts. I had a starter plate of salad and smoked salmon and then headed straight for the dessert counter as it was too good to miss. Yes, I might be diabetic but I can eat cake if I want, all those steps you take around the park definitely allow for it! We met more characters, who signed autographs for Oz and just made his day. I “might” have had a little tear in my eye at how excited he was - this little 8-going-on-18-year-old who is often too cool for his own good and thinks Princesses are “ewww” completely reverted to being a little boy thinking Mickey Mouse is the coolest. And let’s face it, he totally is.
Character Breakfast at Plaza Gardens -
Normally I wouldn’t have booked quite so many character experiences but it was included in our package and I’m absolutely not going to turn down the opportunity of having yet another pic with a mouse, duck or dog. This time, being a breakfast experience, we had a slightly different buffet with pancakes, waffles, traditional hot breakfast, cereals and all the coffee you can drink. Happy kid, happy Mum. I loved this one as the restaurant was a little bigger so there was more room to take pictures, to move around and even better, we had the chance to meet characters we hadn’t seen previously like Scrooge McDuck, Daisy Duck, Piglet and my all-time favourite fellow grump - Eeyore.
Buffalo Bills Wild West Show -
We did this on our second night and loved it. As you enter, you are given cowboy hats with different coloured bands, representing which “team” you are in. We were team blue all the way and during the show, we cheered and booed as our blue cowboy took the prize for the night after a fierce battle with the other teams. Cowboy Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy are there to aid proceedings as well as everyone’s favourite cowgirl, Annie Oakley. A spot of audience participation, the opportunity to cheer on your team by hammering on the table with your knives and forks makes for a great experience but also a short but necessary conversation with your 8-year-old on why this isn’t acceptable at home and the food included was good, with an option of a fabulous Vegetarian chilli. Again, soft drinks are included and also beer for adults. Which was nice.
Now, I love a little mooch around a shop, not to mention a cheeky spend here and there and trust me, you have a LOT of choice at Disneyland Paris. In Disneyland Park, you have all sorts of themed stores according to which area you are in, for instance, Wild West theme, Princesses and so on. You also have the small stores after some of the rides, such as Pirate themed goodies after the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. On Main Street, there are even more places to empty your wallet. In the Studios, there is a good selection of large stores plus several themed stores that go along with the rides, such as Chez Marianne next to the Ratatouille ride which has lots of French art deco gifts and merchandise from the film.
Over in Disney Village, you have even more shopping opportunities. A store dedicated solely to Lego, which Oz loved, a fashion store just for kids, an art gallery, and the enormous World of Disney to name but a few. In short, there’s a lot of shops and they sell pretty much anything you can think of in a Disney theme. Purchases from the shops can be sent directly over to your hotel too to save you carrying items around. It’s worth noting that they do not provide plastic bags (hurrah!) so they sell reusable bags in small, medium and large sizes, ranging in price from around €1.50 to I think €4 or €5. It’s definitely worth taking a few reusable foldable bags with you if you plan on doing a spot of shopping!
The only real things I knew I wanted to buy when I was there was a Spirit Jersey, basically a sweatshirt for those not in the know, as I am obsessed with them and wanted another to add to my collection! Happily, I found the perfect one and I love it. Also, Oz and I started collecting Disney pin badges a few months ago when we saw some on sale in our local Disney store so I definitely wanted to get a few more. When you are at the parks you can trade pins with cast members and I think pretty much every single shop sells them with every character you can think of from the Disney repertoire, plus pin badges to represent the hotels, some of the rides and even more. Oz and I “may” have come home with quite a collection and I may have now put them all on a corkboard above my desk which honestly makes me very happy!
A few other items may have fallen into a shopping bag too, including a Disney pen each, a Captain America onesie for Oz (they didn’t have my size sadly!) and a truly fabulous mug of actual dreams for my morning (actually all day) coffee.
Apps to download -
I used the Disneyland Paris app which is brilliant to show you a map (saves on paper!) and gives you all the info you need about each ride, show, attraction, opening times, literally everything you need! It’s a really useful app and well worth getting. (Free from the App Store.) We also used the Magipark app which is brilliant for showing you the wait times of each ride at a glance, again free of charge. The Disney app does do this but Magipark has it on one screen without needing to go in and out of each ride so worked much better for us.
Lineberty is another app that was recommended to me but we didn’t use. This is perfect if you haven’t pre-booked to see characters and want to get to the front of the queue. It’s a little tricky as you need to get on it at a certain time of the day to ensure you can do it but I’ve been told it’s well worth it!
My final thoughts -
It’s exhausting, it can be crowded and it’s expensive. But, it’s only any of these things if you allow it to be. We found that by around late afternoon and being up and starting our day in the parks at 8am we were pretty tired, so instead of pushing on because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” we went back to the room and had a nap because 20,000 steps a day is tiring for an eight-year-old and a nanna at heart like me. I soon found that doing Disney at your own pace, not like you “think” you should do it is a far better idea. If it’s a busy time, use your extra magic hours wisely to avoid the big crowds and take some time out if and when you need to. Disney Village, for instance, was pretty quiet late morning and mid-afternoon so that worked perfectly for us to just get out of the way a little. And as far as the expense goes, it’s definitely worth pre-booking meal plans if you want to eat out and definitely worth pre-booking experiences such as the Wild West Show and Character meals as this plans a lot of your budget out before you arrive and also leaves you with some great memories.
Ok, we missed out on the fireworks and only saw a “bit” of a parade. Ok, we didn’t do the Big Scary Rides but you know what? Everything we did, we loved. There aren’t going to be many more years when my little rascal will be happy to come away with his old Mum so I am treasuring every moment of these times.
And as for our love of Disney, I have a feeling we might have to do something like this again soon……..!