If you are like me you are probably dreaming of holidays for this year. As much as I’d love a peaceful, relaxing break that isn’t going to happen with two lively little ones so last year we made the decision to do a trip just for them.
In the October half term we took the girls to Disneyland Paris. It was an extravagance but one that we decided we really wanted to do for them. Most of you will probably have heard me mention before how obsessed Molly is with all things Disney Princess and Alice adores Minnie and the other characters just as much. It was therefore the perfect time to take them whilst they were still utterly in love with the magic. I will caveat this with saying that I went to Florida at seventeen and LOVED it so it isn’t reserved just for kids.
In truth I would rather have had two weeks in sunny Florida but the cost and time was prohibitive, plus we felt Alice probably doesn’t have the stamina for that yet. So we opted for a few days in Paris in October half term. First word of advice, if you can avoid school holidays then do!!
It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I thought I would share some of the things we learnt in case any of you fancy a spot of Disney magic.
Telling The Kids
First up there is a lot of fun to be had in telling the children. We decided to leave it till two weeks before so that they didn’t have burn out. Luckily Molly’s Godfather is a designer and made them a little ticket each. We put this with a letter from Mickey and Minnie which I just printed out. I managed to accost the postman on his rounds and he rang the doorbell to hand deliver them the letter. They also had a little bag filled with treats for the trip including a new princess dress, mickey sweatshirt, autograph book and a few sweets. I think they were a bit overwhelmed to be honest!
We chose to stay in a Disney Hotel. Purely because we wanted to be slightly closer and not have to bother with transport on the three days we were there. We booked the Hotel Cheyenne which is the wild west Toy Story hotel. It was one of the cheaper one’s as we figured we wouldn’t be in the hotel that much and gave us everything we needed. It was a 20 minute walk to the parks which was manageable. This never happens to me but randomly on arrival as they were refurbishing the Cheyenne we got upgraded to the Newport Bay Club hotel which was a better hotel and closer to the parks. Win.
The Disney Hotels are slightly pricier than some that you will find outside the park and there are plenty of other choices including Eurocamp. We decided the extra cost was worth it given that we were only there two nights and wanted minimum fuss once we arrived.
We booked direct through the Disneyland Paris website as the prices were the same as the third parties we had found. It is worth checking out a few options as the prices do vary. Also keep your eye out for special offers if you can be flexible on dates. If we had gone the week before Christmas (could actually be fun!) we could have got the all singing all dancing Disney Hotel for a third of what we paid for the 2* Cheyenne.
You also get certain Disney benefits when you stay at one of their hotels like the Magic Hours (more on this below).
We didn’t need travel cots so the girls shared one of the double beds in the family room but there would have been space for a cot should this have been needed.
You have a few options for getting there. Driving, flying or Eurostar.
We opted to drive. Firstly from a cost perspective and secondly from a timing perspective as we wanted full days there. The Eurostar was stupidly expensive during the holidays. We travelled through the night and the theory was the girls would sleep the whole way. They didn’t. This meant they were tired the first day but they battled through.
The drive was fine and quite easy. Once we were through the Tunnel it was around three and a half hours to Disneyland, mainly as we hit some traffic by Paris. It was an easy drive though and only a couple of main roads the whole way there. Lots of cars have European sat nav built in so you might already have it in your car.
If you are driving check out the list of things required by French law to have in your car. You will need to carry things like Hi-Vis jackets, Warning triangle, breathalysers and have your MOT and insurance documents with you.
Before you go it’s good to make a rough plan of the things that are important to you and the rides you would really like to go on. Some people go as far as to make lists and maps of the routes they will take. I was not this organised.
I did however work out the rides that the girls would love to go on and which they wouldn’t be able to due to height restrictions. Luckily the vast majority were fine for them.
We also planned one day at the main park and one at Disney Studios. We found that we didn’t spend as long at Disney Studios so headed back across to the main park in the afternoon. They are right next to each other so this is easy to do.
When you enter the park try not to go the obvious way round the park. Weave through to the back or go anti clockwise to avoid the crowds.
You can download a free Disneyland App before you go which allows you to view the park maps and also see the wait times for any ride at any point. Also handy for finding the nearest toilets. On that note make sure you get your kids to the toilets before you join a mammoth queue. Lesson learnt!
Magic Hours are a little treat if you stay in a Disney Hotel. They allow you to access the park an hour or two early so you can use this to get on rides quicker.
Use your magic hours wisely. The first day we didn’t quite work it out and were still faced with long queues as A LOT of people stay in the Disney hotels. The second day we were waiting to get in the park at 8 20 for when it opened at 8 30 which allowed us to wizz straight to a couple of rides and avoid the queues.
Rides & FastPass
The queues for the rides can be long but the kids actually didn’t seem to mind. I had snacks at the ready for tetchy moments!
On some of the key rides you can get a Disney Fast pass. This is a ticket which allocates you a time slot to return to the ride and you will then only have a really short queue to get on the ride.
The fast pass machines are located by each relevant ride and it’s worth checking out which ones they are available on before you go. Things like Big Thunder Mountain, Ratatouille and Peter Pans Flight are all included.
You can only have one Fast Pass at any time so pick your rides carefully. Sometimes your time slot won’t be until much later in the day so that means you can’t have another Fast Pass until that one has been used.
You are able to have a Fast Pass for Disney Studios and the main park so if you don’t mind wondering between the two this is a good option.
Another thing we made use of was the single rider queue on bigger rides like Space Mountain. The girls were too small for this so Edd was able to go off and get on this by himself much quicker.
There is also a thing called Baby Swap so if you are travelling with a child and baby this allows one adult to ride with the child before swapping with the one looking after the baby. This means you get two turns in a row. Winner!
The Parades & Shows
The parades are the highlight for a lot of people as they are a great chance to see all your favourite characters. The main parade takes place around 5 30pm but check the programmes for exact times.
Beware, people get their spots early! We used this as a chance to have a sit down, have some snacks and a little watch of the iPad.
We chose to watch the parade by the castle on a little raised platform so the girls could see easily. Alternatively you could grab a spot near the front on the hope that the characters might come over during the parade.
The parade takes about 5 minutes to go past you and around 20 to do the whole journey. Therefore if you watch near the start you can sometimes run off and get on a few more rides whilst others are watching the parade. It starts to the right of the castle, passes in front of the castle then heads down Main Street.
There are also regular mini parades during the day which are great as the crowds are less and it’s easier for your kids to get up close.
If your kids can make it I highly recommend staying up late to watch the fireworks at closing time (around 10pm) as they are fantastic. They project films and images up on to the castle with lasers and fireworks. A great end to the day so we made sure we did this once.
There are also lots of shows going on in the two parks. When we were there there was a Princess Waltz at regular times as well as a show with all the characters in. These are good fun to watch, but again, get there ahead of time or be prepared to have little one’s on your shoulders.
In Disney Studios there are some great shows for the kids and a good chance to have a sit down and a bit of a rest.
Meet The Characters
We hadn’t anticipated how long the queues would be for these. Over an hour for some so choose your characters wisely. We let the girls choose one, possibly two, each day and that was it.
Unfortunately the characters rarely walk around the park or stop to talk.
If your little one is dressed as their favourite character there is a chance they will get extra attention which is great. Alice was dressed as Alice in Wonderland and before we could stop her she had run under the rope and hugged Cheshire Cat when we weren’t in the queue. I’m not condoning that behaviour but it did help her get away with it!
The Princess Pavillion is a ridiculous wait, well over an hour, but for Molly it was really important. The good thing about this is that the queue is indoors so we used it as a break time and had a sit down to watch a film on the iPad, bum shuffling along every time it moved a bit. It was worth it for the look on her face. Edd also used this time to go off and go on a ‘big kid’ ride!
You can choose to use your magic hour to queue for this if that is what is important to you.
Buy an autograph book before you go as they will be cheaper although there are lots available in the shops. Also we took big stubby Sharpie pens as some of the costumes make it hard for the characters to grab small pens.
Be prepared for your turn. Have the autograph book ready at the next page, camera out and get in place quickly. You have a limited window although I will say we never felt rushed along and they were always more than happy to chat.
The general consensus of everyone I speak to is that the food isn’t great. It wasn’t amazing but was what you would expect of a theme park. Go with low expectations and you will be fine 🙂
There are lots of restaurants in each park as well as at Disney Village with the usual Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Cafe and good old McDonalds! They were expensive though and as the girls can be picky with food we decided it wasn’t really worth the cost and they had a McDonalds which they loved and was comparable prices to at home. We did eat at at Vapianos one night which was lovely food.
You can book restaurants before you go if you want to avoid queues.
As we had driven I packed a lot of picnic food in the car. We had a cool bag of sandwiches etc for the first day and then the next few days we just grazed throughout the day on crisps, fruit, cereal bars etc. Not exactly healthy but it did the trick.
You are able to take food in to the park so you can always hit the supermarket or wrap up a few rolls from breakfast. The only thing they say is not to take anything that looks like a full on family picnic in a cool bag.
Be prepared for the mass of shops. We allowed the girls a bit of pocket money each day although somehow that meant we ended up with a car full of cuddly toys coming home!
If you are staying in a Disney Hotel you can make your purchases and have them sent to the gift shop in your hotel so you don’t have to carry them around.
If your kids want to go in costume buy them before you go. The princess dresses were 70 euros (!!!) but I’d paid £12 in Asda for ours.
Take a buggy. Even if your little one no longer uses it it will come in handy. You can hire them there as well if you want. I had taken a bike lock with us but never used it as each ride has a buggy area.
Finally the best tip I learnt on the trip was whilst sitting in the queue for the Princess Pavilion. I was told about a ‘secret’ area where you could see all the characters walk by on their way to the shows. If you stand at the back of the castle, to the left of the thorns, and walk up the ramp as if you are going to go through the castle you will see a few arches. At show times these are roped off but if you stand next to the ropes the characters will all walk past on their way to the stage at the front of the castle and give you a little wave. Molly was amazed as saw every single princess (three times!!) and we also saw everyone from Mickey to Stitch.
Phew, that turned in to a mammoth post but I hope it is helpful for anyone planning a trip. If anyone else has been please do share your favourite tips for a fun visit. It is honestly so worth it as a one off treat.