I should probably start by saying I am not a guru on all things Disney (well, not unless you can count knowing all the lyrics to the back catalogue of Disney Princess Classics). But I am a Mum of two girls, who has now been to Disneyland Paris twice. Having returned from our latest trip just last night, I’m just brimming with the hints and tips that every parent needs to know before heading to Disneyland Paris. I should know, I was googling them myself last week.
Since our last visit in 2014, things have changed for both parties. New rides, new technologies, and a new daughter. Some things remain wonderfully static, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?
Living a short journey from Ebbsfleet International, the Eurostar train to Disney (Marne-La-Vallee-Chessy) is a no brainer for us (the service also runs from Kings Cross in London). Well, unless you want to save a few quid and use the comfort of your own vehicle – but we both all hate long journeys with the kids in the car, so for us, it’s an easy decision. Kids under four travel free and families of four get a table, plus there is a buffet car to start your journey with a small tub of pringles and a glass of chilled sauv blanc.
The Disney Express service comes highly reccommended – for around £15 pp you can leave your luggage at a counter to be transferred directly to your hotel (and train station for the homeward journey), leaving you free to head straight into the magic kingdom luggage free before you check in to your accommodation.
The direct train is blissfully easy, but word of warning – beware the change at Lille option. We had a 30 minute change over from abusy domestic service (which was delayed by 10 minutes) leaving 20 minutes to get through the Eurostar security, passport control and check in – with two tired kids, pushchair and too much luggage (and soft toys). It can be done, but if you can avoid that stress…do! If a direct train is available, I’d take that option every time.
On both of our visits we have stayed at Sequoia Lodge, just outside the main parks, through Disney Village and on the lakeside by Hotel New York and Newport Bay. We have always found Sequoia Lodge to be comfortable, cosy and with everything we need. Some reviews i read suggested the hotel dated, but I liked the log cabin feel of the place, set behind the trees on the lake. Our standard Montana Rooms didn’t have a fridge, but other than that it had everything we needed – and we managed fine without.
The hotels are pretty huge, and feature a unique character meet and greet opportunity each morning. Location wise the hotels around the lake are easily within walking distance to the main park areas, but probably not close enough to pop back several times a day. You may want to think twice about popping back for your coat – just take it with you!
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. On reflection, whilst a Trunki and a Disney rucksack for each of the kids was a super cute idea, unless the girls were carrying them (no chance, they are heavier than them) the excess bags were a total hindrance on top of the pushchair, our huge case and of course, two young children. Less is more if you are navigating trains with platform changes. Kind of obvious really. #Doh.
Thank god for the spare pair of Grandparents we packed whose additional hands saved the day.
If you’re having the pushchair / no pushchair debate, my advice is to probably take it as there is a LOT of walking and late (and busy) evenings. If however you just can’t face travelling with it or want to risk it, you can hire them there. The park is super pushchair friendly and each ride has an allocated buggy park area. You will also probably walk off and forget your pushchair outside a ride at least once…just don’t forget the child!
In terms of clothing, accept that you will probably be too hot or too cold at various points of any given day, and go for layers. Early November and March on our visits it definitely warranted winter coats, and hats and gloves in the early evening.
You can save a fortune by stocking up on a few bits of Merchandise before you go – Primark, H&M, Gap all do ranges of Disney gear, and whilst it might be more pricey than a non branded jumper / T shirt / Leggings, it’ll be a darn sight cheaper than what you’d pay in the resort. We found an amazing Minnie mouse coat for the girls which at £25 covered loads of boxes in terms of practicality, warmth, visibility and cuteness for our entire 4 day chilly November stay.
Prices of toys dolls and dresses, Minnie mouse ears and the everything else you can imagine are pretty astronomical. Expect to pay 12 to 25 euros for Minnie ears, and up to 70 Euros for a princess dress…so it’s probably worth chucking one in your luggage if your little princess is going to want to look the part. (Mum earnt extra bonus points when two Elsa dresses were whipped out for day three of our trip. The kids were buzzing to wear them and to my surprise did so all day long).
With a vegetarian and a fussy eater in tow, we opted out of any meal plan arrangements, having managed perfectly fine on an ad hoc basis on our first visit. The advantage of flexibility and freedom appealed, and we never had any problem finding a decent meal at a reasonable price.
That said, our kids are grazers, and given that Disney is yet to open a Tesco Express or any equivalent, we made sure we packed plenty of individually packed non perishable nibbles. Dried fruit, cereal bars, brioche’s and pain au chocolat. The perfect queue distractions and enough to get us through breakfast and manage on one big hot meal a day.
Likewise, with drinks, make sure you pack a refillable drinks bottle as there are water fountains dotted around the parks and you will save a small fortune on staying hydrated. Those mini squash bottles Robinsons Squash’d are perfect to liven up water bottles on the go.
Planning your day
The Disneyland App
After initially believing phones had to be turned off on arrival in any foreign country, so to avoid sky high mobile phone bills at the month end, it seems I am behind the times. After a quick check my EE plan includes data roaming in Europe – and a good job too because the Disneyland App was open constantly to check the map, ride waiting times, meet and greet character locations, toilet spots and more. Definitely one to download and have a play with before you travel. It allows you to be responsive to parts of the park that are busy or quiet, and keep on top of what’s happenning and when.
Extra magic hours
Residents of Disney Hotels can access the park up to two hours early, which is great news if you want to get in and in prime position for your favourite rides. Take note though that not all areas of Disneyland open before 10am, and many shops, cafes, fastpass tickets, rides and attractions remain closed until the park opens at 10.
New to us this year, we opted to purchase a photopass + prior to arriving at Disneyland through our booking. This saved us at least 25 euros to purchasing on site, and after initially worrying the £45 may have been unused, by the end of the holiday we had over thirty ride photos and professional photos all visible and accessible to download and share through the photopass app. Gone are the days of crumpled up photos you paid £15 in the bottom of your rucksack. Amazing value and so much more useable in the digital era.
Using your park ticket, you can access a free queue jump so make sure you use it! Locate the ride you really want to go on, get in early and grab a time slot ticket to allow you to enter via a short queue later in the day. Your ticket tells you when you can get another ride fastpass, but when they’re gone, they’re gone so use your time wisely.
Meet and Greet Extreme survival
Not for the faint hearted, if you have set off with an autograph book to capture the markings of your favourite characters, be prepared to stand in line. Testing times for parents of smalls, who will test your patience when it has long gone. Expect big wait times for the big guns – Mickey himself and the Princesses at the Pavilion. Bodies wilt, starting to lay on the floor, and your water and snack supplies become rationed to one mouthful every ten minutes – and god forbid you should need a wee when you are near the front of the line.
Don’t worry though, it’ll all be worth it when you get that photo and that smile…
Worth noting that for extra £££ you can pre book character dining experiences, which may be a way to avoid the queues…we opted out of that this time, mainly on the basis that as I may have mentioned…kids and food, not always a cost effective experience!
Ultimately, you just have to bear in mind whilst penned into those small, confined, hot, concentrated spaces that you are waiting to see Mickey Mouse. Not queuing for water, food, or a life and death situation. It’s all too easy to complain but let’s face it – in history people have faced far worse than a Disneyland queue.
There is just so much going on across Disneyland Park and Disney Studios it’s probably impossible to cover it all. Some parts though are definitely not to be missed…
- Twilight Princess Waltz live performance, by Sleeping Beauty’s castle
- Mickey and the Magician (Studios)
- Stitch Live (Studios)
- Disney Stars on Parade (5.30)
- Disney Illuminations at Park closing (currently 10pm)
The schedule of course always changes with each season, so check in on the programme and keep your eyes open – you may just wander right into something incredible.
Final top tips
There is no doubt that amidst the tired toddler tantrums, endless queuing, inevitable rows and carrying on shoulders there are absolute moments of sheer joy that cannot be replicated. The parks detail is incredible and just walking around is a mind blowing experience; you never know what, or who you will see next. The engagement of your children seeing the characters they adore is just so moving it makes it all worthwhile.
To help make those moments happen, a few things to bear in mind…
- For the parade and performances it really is worth grabbing a spot and a sit down a good half hour early – you’ll get a better view, perhaps a high five and a far better experience.
- The characters love something that catches their eye, so the kids dressed up, or carrying a doll of their hero may just be the thing that gets them noticed for that extra special encounter. Our daughter waving her Ariel doll was enough to have a one to one moment with Ariel, which then got her noticed the following day too. That random chance moment was the highlight of our entire break.
- Remember, unlike Spiderman, you are not a super hero. Don’t try and do it all, every day. Spread yourselves out so if you go in early one morning, maybe use that night to chill and rest. If you’re planning keeping your toddler up until 11 for fireworks, perhaps skip the magic hours. And if you can hold off seeing the parade, that is THE time to get a table at the restaurant you really want to go to (without yet another queue).
- If, like us, your kids still love a drink of milk at bedtime or in the morning, you can buy cartons in the hotel shop (next to the cans of Kronenbourg – just saying).
- Our girls are currently five and three, and there was plenty to keep them occupied for their age group. If you want to know the perfect age for taking kids to Eurodisney, that’s anyone’s guess, as they are all so different. It’s a balance between being absorbed in the magic and being too young to be interested – but sometimes there really is only one way to find out…
And so, we may have come home with toddler teeth marks in our shoulders, MORE soft toys that we swore we would never allow, and a very shattered family but we also have memories that will last a lifetime. Beaming smiles of two girls, seeing, believing and experiencing a sprinkling of fairy dust to carry with them always.