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Disneyland Paris in the Time of Coronavirus

Sleeping Beauty's Castle Disneyland

Following deconfinement measures in France, Disneyland Paris reopened on July 15th. Being a lifelong fan, of course I booked tickets as soon as possible to check it out. And this time I brought along a tag-team of twins (who celebrated their birthday during lockdown). Here’s the scoop on the new safety measures, the size of the crowds (or lack thereof), the food situation, and whether I think it’s worth the time and money…

Sleeping Beauty's Castle Disneyland Paris
The Morning “Crowd”

Covid-19 Safety Measures

Before reopening, Disneyland Paris and Disney Studios made extensive preparations to make sure guests stay safe:

  • Limited attendance (12,000 visitors max per day instead of the usual 30,000)
  • Ticket sales are available ONLY online and in advance; annual pass holders need to reserve the date for their visit in advance
  • Everyone – cast-members and guests over 11 years old – must wear masks at all times except when eating (and you must be seated while eating)
  • There are plexiglass separators in the lines so guests aren’t facing each other
  • Groups are separated by empty spaces on rides
  • There are no Single Rider or FastPass lines
  • There are large markings on the ground to keep guests at least one meter apart while standing in line in shops, on rides, or in the restaurants
  • There are gel dispensers everywhere: at the entrance and exit of all rides, shops, and restaurants
  • Buffet restaurants have been changed to all-you-can-eat table service
  • Character meet and greets (close interactions, hugs, etc), parades, live shows, and the Disney Illuminations closing ceremony are temporarily suspended
Heather in a mask at Disneyland Paris
Prepared for my Disneyland Paris visit!

Our Day at Disneyland Paris

With backpacks full of snacks, water bottles, and face masks, we arrived on RER A at the Marne la Vallée-Chessy station 20 minutes before the 10am opening time. We walked around the Disney Village to see if anything there was open, but aside from the main “World of Disney” souvenir shop and Starbucks, everything was still closed.

Disney Village
A Very Quiet Disney Village

Main Street

Once we passed quickly through the entrance turnstiles without waiting in any lines, we were hit with the full force of the latest Disneyland Paris song blasted from every speaker on Main Street (yeah, I feel old just typing that). I read on one of the official Disney blogs that it’s a special re-opening song after the lockdown, but it was hard to appreciate when we had to yell to hear each other. Thankfully it doesn’t blast out that loud all day, just at the opening. Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Goofy (or Dingo as he’s known in French) were waving from the balcony of the Disney Railroad, with Daisy and Donald at the bandstand, cordoned off from guests and their over-excited kids getting too close. You could stand in front of them for a selfie, but there’s no more hugging or autograph signing allowed.

Disney characters at the Railroad Station
Disney Characters Social Distancing

Our first stop was the Dragon’s Lair under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, where we were confronted with our first set of arrows along the ground pointing the wrong way. We would have to go through the castle and down the stairs of Merlin’s boutique to reach the dark lair, which is so dark that if there were anyone else in there besides us I would have walked right into them as I groped my way around (okay, that’s the last “I feel old” comment for today). But we got our angry dragon pics, so the twins were happy.

The dragon's Lair entrance
Gel Dispenser and Directional Arrow at the Dragon’s Lair

We did attempt to hop on the Disneyland Railroad later in the afternoon when our feet needed a break, but when we went to the MainStreet Station the sign said “60 Minutes”. “Really?!” I asked the Castmember standing at the entrance. “It actually comes every 30 minutes, but the next car is already full.” He said normally there are two trains, but that day there was only one, so the wait was longer. We decided to pass.

Frontierland

And because I’ve been doing it this way every single time since I was a child, we continued the rest of our visit in clockwise order around the park, starting with Frontierland. We explored the Old West Fort and then got in line for one of my favorite attractions, the Phantom Manor (aka The Haunted Mansion in the US).

The Phantom Manor
The Phantom Manor

This was actually the longest wait of the day, almost 20 minutes total, because the “elevator” room at the entrance can only hold a few people at a time, with each group sent to stand in their designated box at least a meter from everyone else. Honestly, this is so much better than the usual cram-fest in the dark with strangers. It’s the first time I’ve been back to the Phantom Manor in almost three years, so the first time I’ve seen it since the renovations. Aside from the portraits at the beginning and the replacement of the hitchhiking ghosts with ghost bride at the end, I didn’t notice any other changes. For once, the ride didn’t stop every few minutes because of “mischievous spooks”, so I guess that’s a bonus.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (by A)

The Molly Brown Riverboat was back in operation, with only a handful of people on each trip around Thunder Mountain. We skipped ahead to our favorite rollercoaster, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This is one of the rides that absolutely required a Fastpass if you didn’t want to stand in line for over an hour, but even with no more Fastpass service, we only waited in line for about five minutes before getting seats in the first car. On this particular ride there are three rows per car, so each group got a whole car to themselves so there was at least one – and often two – empty rows between passengers.

Twins on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Twins, Ready for the Railroad!

The Rustler Roundup Shooting Gallery and Frontierland Playground were closed.

Adventureland

Next we went to Indiana Jones et le Temple de Peril (aka Temple of Doom) in Adventureland for our “looping” rollercoaster as the Twins call it. It’s the only ride at Disneyland Paris that you can see doing a 360° loop (albeit a compact one) before you’re already onboard. It has the same safety measures of the Big Thunder Mountain, including the Plexiglass barriers between the lines. And because these new barriers also completely enclose the railings, you won’t have to deal with all of the kids around you swinging on them while waiting for the line to move (although this also narrows some of the lines, making them feel a bit more claustrophobic…another reason to be happy the lines are rarely more than 10 minutes).

Pirates Beach
Pirates’ Beach

Next was Pirates of the Caribbean, which had also undergone some renovations since my last visit, but the only change I noticed was a few additions of Captain Jack Sparrow, peeking out of a barrel in the burning port town, and replacing the captain skeleton on the bed of treasure at the end (where he sings the pirate song in French and English). The old Blue Lagoon Restaurant that passengers float by in the beginning of the ride is now called Captain Jack’s.

Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Captain Jack Sparrow with his mountain of booty (sorry for crap pic!)

Adventure Island and Plage des Pirates are closed. La Cabane des Robinson was closed when we first passed by, but opened when we passed by an hour later. The Passage Enchanté d’Aladdin is open as usual, although I wouldn’t actually call this an “attraction” as much as a brief escape from the heat or something to do while waiting for others using the bathrooms next door.  

Fantasyland

We had two delays in Fantasyland, where technical issues caused temporary closures at Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Peter Pan’s Flight. But we knocked out a bunch of the other attractions quickly: first we went through the Rencontre avec Mickey (Meet Mickey) where instead of going on stage with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto we took our turn in front of the stage for a selfie.

The Twins with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto
The Twins with Pluto, Mickey & Minnie

Then we went through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth (this was the one place where people – especially kids – definitely were NOT keeping their distance from each other), and a ride on Casey Jr’s Circus Train. And because we had a pretty good view of the entire “river” from the train, we skipped the Pays des Contes des Fées (Storybook Boat Ride) and went directly to It’s a Small World (because we’re all a little masochistic).

The view of Fantasyland from the tower in the Labyrinth

The Twins pointed out that the loud “tick tock” of the clock outside It’s A Small World is actually more annoying than the infamous song that sticks in your head all day. Because, weirdly, there’s a slight delay between the “tick” and the “tock” so that they’re not exactly the same time apart (once you notice it, you can’t un-notice it; torture for your ears).

Mad Hatter's Teacups
Mad Hatter’s Teacups

We wrapped up our Fantasyland visit with the Mad Hatter’s Teacups (which we went on again later on so we could have our own teacup…they seem to spin faster with more weight in them). Although they were all open, we decided to skip the Voyage of Pinocchio, Snow White’s ride, and Lancelot’s Carrousel.

Discoveryland

In the futuristic Discoveryland we rode the Orbitron, drove cars in Autopia, and tested the updated Star Tours attraction (almost as long as Phantom Manor in wait time). The new version is in 3D so you’re given glasses to wear at the entrance (which, on top of the mask and the glasses some of already are wearing, feels like a lot of stuff on your face). It’s a pretty good show, although it has lost some of its quirky humor and it’s only in French. The alternating French and English in the former version was admittedly hard to follow since the action is so fast; perhaps in the future it would be best to give everyone headphones. On the safety front, it’s the most compact space visitors enter in the park, so they keep two seats and an entire row empty between each group, and they blast us with cold (hopefully filtered) air, so it can feel a tad chilly.

Discoveryland

We also rode the rebranded Hyperspace Mountain, which seems exactly like the old ride except with a Star Wars soundtrack and seats so compact that even I had a hard time cramming myself into (let’s hope the airlines don’t get wind of them). On the plus side, you’re so tightly locked in you don’t move a centimeter when the ride is doing corkscrews through the dark.

The Not-So-Different Star Wars HyperSpace Mountain

Buzz Lightyear is closed for renovations. We thought the Nautilus looked closed, although according to the website it was open. We also didn’t go to the Starport because from the outside we couldn’t tell what it was (I later found out it was a place to get a selfie-from-a-safe-distance with a Star Wars character…oups!)

Overall Impression

If crowds are what have kept you away from Disneyland all these years, now’s your chance to enjoy it with minimal crowding. If you (or your kids) look forward to the shows, the character parades, and interactions with the Disney characters, then you may want to wait until these start back up again (possibly as early as this fall, depending on the Covid-19 situation in Paris). If you’re looking for a deal, this is not the time (although I did NOT take hotel + entrance packages into account, only regular day trips from Paris).

Lancelot's Caroussel
It was almost too easy to take photos without anyone in them…

Finally, I must admit that even though I usually ignore the shows and parades (because lines on the rides are usually shorter when everyone else is watching them), I couldn’t help but notice the park did seem a little…sad. Maybe it was the overcast day that made it seem a little glum (although we were thankful for that in the end because we immediately felt like we were frying the few moments when the sun came out). Or maybe the moment where we noticed a lonely Geppetto waiting in a cordoned-off corner between It’s a Small World and Discoveryland for someone to come stand “near” him for a selfie (because the characters couldn’t just wander through the park to interact with guests). Or maybe it was just knowing that – despite our joy at not having to fight our way through crowds and long lines – the loss of so many visitors means that even the “Happiest Place on Earth” will be hurting for a long time because of this pandemic.

Arcade at Disneyland
Maybe a Little TOO Empty?

Despite this, I know how lucky we are to be able to go to Disneyland Paris at all, and I’m sorry to anyone who had to cancel their trip this year due to travel restrictions.

C’était super parce qu’il y avait moins de monde, pas de queue, des stickers de distanciation et du gel partout. ‘A’ adoré le Train de la Mine, Indiana Jones, et Space Mountain.

– What the Twins liked about the Day at Disneyland Paris

Practical Info

Safety Measures

Overall, the safety measures are encouraging. Every single person over 11 years old was wearing a mask unless they were sitting down to eat, and I only saw two people committing the “nose peeking out” error. Most people seemed to respect the boxes on the ground in line to keep the distance between groups, although in line at Star Tours the woman and her teenage son behind us seemed to think that you were supposed to stand ON the boxes (even though they clearly state in French and English that you CAN’T stand on the boxes…kind of like the “don’t block the box” rule in intersections).

Where NOT to stand
Plexiglass barriers in the lines

What they got perfect was the hand sanitizer gel. The dispensers are everywhere, at the entrances and exits of every single ride, shop and restaurant, and sometimes just randomly where you’re walking. We’ve all become hand gel experts at this point, and theirs is what I would consider the perfect consistency: not too watery and not too viscous, it absorbs quickly into your skin and doesn’t leave a gross film, no matter how many times you apply it. And there is zero discernible scent. Win-win! They should seriously have these ALL the time (not just during a pandemic), because, let’s face it, every surface of amusement parks are covered in germy little hands all day long.

But You’ll Pay to Drink

The water fountains are all turned off for hygiene reasons and I didn’t see anywhere to refill water bottles (I wasn’t about to do it in the bathroom). That means you have to buy water if you didn’t bring your own. Maybe with the €79 entrance fee they could give everyone one bottle of free water as a replacement? Luckily we had plenty of water, bananas, and other snacks in our backpacks. That brings us to one of Disneyland Paris’s weak spots…

Nope…

Dining Options

The best thing about eating at Disneyland is that you can remove your mask while you’re sitting down. That’s not saying a lot. Even before the pandemic, dining options at Disneyland Paris have always been a huge letdown. Either you pay a fortune for an okay meal in a nice setting (Captain Jack’s or Lucky Nugget Saloon; Café Agrabah, Walt’s and Auberge de Cinderella are closed), or you get bland fast food that seems to be the same in every single spot: burgers, pizza, chicken tenders, pasta, or a bland salad. This isn’t the case at Disney World in Florida, so why can’t Paris – of all places! – get it right? And now, because of the pandemic, the choices are even more limited and more expensive, with no substitutions possible.

I get it. They were closed for months and can only welcome a third of their usual guests. They need the money. But it’s almost impossible to eat what you actually want without paying for what you don’t. We went to Colonel Hathi’s Pizza in Adventureland and you had to purchase a full menu: pizza with a drink and a dessert. We already had our bottled water and planned on getting ice cream later on Main Street, but impossible to just order the pizzas on their own unless you ordered the miniature children’s cheese pizza. The vegan salad was à la carte, but the greens were old and wilted, so I ended up eating the garlic bread that came with the Twins’ pizza. Disneyland I love you, but you’re killing me! Where’s the imagination?

We did actually enjoy the ice cream at Gibson Girl on Main Street

I highly recommend packing your own meal and/or snacks if you’re on a budget, and at least your own water bottle. I know…going to Disneyland at all isn’t really a “budget activity”, especially if you’ve got a big family, but this is one area you can save. Coolers aren’t allowed inside the park, so if it’s not something compact you can carry in your daypack like when you’re hiking, maybe just take care of the snacks and plan ahead for the main meal by checking out the menus and prices online in advance. You can also eat in the Disney Village which has a few more budget options, then return to the park.  

Buying Tickets

While there are normally ways to find discount rates on Disney tickets (especially if you purchase in advance or live in France through FNAC or other local ticket sellers), at the moment there are only full-priced tickets if you’re not staying at a Disney hotel.

Every day in July and August, and weekends in September, are charged at the full “Magic” rate: €79 (or €73 for kids 3-11 years old). This is what we paid for the one-park option in July. In the fall, depending on the date, tickets can be as low as €59/€54 on “Mini” days, or as high as €89/€82 on “Super Magic” days.

If you want to visit BOTH Disneyland Paris and Disney Studios in one day, tickets for the summer are €99. Prices go down if you want to visit multiple days (ie €89.50/day for two days, €73/day for three days, €64.75/day for four days).

The one upside of the current ticket situation is that even if you buy a dated ticket you can cancel or change it up to three days in advance for a full refund (applies to summer tickets through August 31st). That’s a nice change! Otherwise you can buy a “standard” undated ticket if you’re planning on coming after September 1st and you don’t have to choose the specific date until you’re ready to visit.

Disneyland entrance

Opening Hours

Before you purchase the two-parks-in-one-day option, you should check the opening hours, which are shortened as part of the safety measures, just 10am-8pm for Disneyland Paris and 10am-7pm for Disney Studios. The parks open earlier for Disney hotel guests and Annual Pass “Magic Plus” card holders. With the short lines it’s probably easier than ever to visit all of your favorite attractions in both parks in one day (assuming you have enough steam to carry you through the whole day). We visited everything we wanted to see at Disneyland, with lunch and ice cream breaks, in about six hours.

For more information (how to get there, Disney Studios, special services, hotel packages, etc): https://www.disneylandparis.com/

the CanCan around the Eiffel Tower
France represented at It’s a Small World: the CanCan around the Eiffel Tower, bien sûr

Bonus points for anyone who can explain why the Fleur de Lis atop the Eiffel Tower is something the French would never let happen in the “real world”.

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