Disneyland: It’s Personal
I should begin by stating the obvious: I love Disneyland. A lot. My parents never took the family (of six) to Europe, but we never skipped annual trips to Disneyworld in Florida or Disneyland in California. When the rest of my family outgrew it, I continued to go on my own. First with my middle school marching band (cue “Eye of the Tiger” on clarinet and a dorky band uniform, which thankfully we didn’t have to wear all day), with friends in high school (only a bunch of teenagers with new drivers licenses can make a 7-hour road trip from Scottsdale to Anaheim seems like fun), and then again in college (we also went to Las Vegas on that trip…and wished we’d stayed at Disney longer).
I’ve been in France since 1995, and I think I’ve been to Disneyland Paris at least two dozen times, and I even got to cover the opening of Disney Studios in 2002 for work (here’s the first article I wrote about Disneyland Paris back in 2001). I’d go more often but it’s a tad harder to convince Parisians to come with me, especially if it’s cold or wet. I have a few souvenirs, a stuffed Steiff ‘Steamboat Willie’, a Jack Skellington mug, and some cool collector pins (still looking for a good Haunted Mansion or Nightmare Before Christmas pin). And how did I celebrate the 100th edition of the Secrets of Paris Newsletter last week? I went to Disneyland, of course!
Anyway, this is just to warn you in advance that I like Disneyland so much that I am willing to put up with four things I don’t like very much:
– going to the suburbs
– standing in long lines
– other people’s kids (and the strollers they ride in on)
– and worst of all…crowds
And judging by the looks on the faces of pretty much everyone else at Disneyland, I don’t think I’m the only one. So here are just a few tips on making your trip to the Magic Kingdom just a little bit less stressful.
Disclaimer: I’m writing for the large majority of the Secrets of Paris audience, namely English-speaking people living in Paris. The tips don’t address people coming to Disneyland with kids, because I honestly have no idea how parents survive Disneyland…hats off to them.
I got myself a basic Annual Passport (€179), which essentially pays for itself after two or three visits. There are some restricted dates (like Halloween, Christmas), but you can upgrade to three other passes (up to €259, €299, and €449) that allow full access, parking, and big discounts at Disney shops and restaurants. A regular ticket is €87 for just Disneyland (not the Disney Studios next door). You can also find discount tickets with restricted dates for €51 or €68. There are always “special rates” on the Disney site, so have a scroll around. Getting on their mailing list will alert you to special deals (especially if you’re looking for hotel packages). If you live in Paris, you can usually find special deals on ticket sites like FNAC, Carrefour Spectacles, and Billet Reduc.
Prepping for the Big Day
What to wear? It’s Disneyland Paris, after all, so no jeans or sneakers. Just kidding. Style still counts in Paris, especially if you’re hoping to get cute pics of you and Jack Sparrow. But do wear comfy shoes, and layer in case it’s too hot or too cold (or too wet, as in the Thunder Mountain Railroad). Pockets, especially ones that zip, are brilliant for holding tickets, FastPasses, and anything loose that you need to secure on the rollercoasters (sunglasses, park map, camera).
A small backpack or purse that zips closed is recommended for holding your water bottle, wallet, sunblock, spare sweater, small umbrella or poncho, some granola bars or other snacks that won’t get squashed or attract too much attention (technically, picnics are only allowed outside the park, so you could leave a cooler of food in your car). A hat may be good for sun and light rain, but be sure it’s one you can easily stuff in your bag for rollercoasters.
Bring cash in case the cash machine has a line, and make sure you’re fully charged. Finally, don’t wear dangling jewelry, new shoes (unless you also pack band-aids for blisters) or carry a heavy bag that will hurt after a few hours. You can put items in lockers or at the coat check kiosk if you don’t need to carry them around all day (ie a rain coat, change of shoes).
I own a car, which tends to only come out of storage for trips to Disneyland. Considering the price of RER train tickets (€7.60 each way), if there at least two of you it’s worth paying the fee to park your car at Disneyland (€30). There’s nothing like being sick of crowds after a long day at Disneyland to make that ride back to Paris on public transportation feel like torture. Yes, you may get stuck in traffic like we did last week, but at least no one is bumping into you, taking your seat, playing annoying music too loud, or subjecting you to their personal body odeur.
If you had a pile of friends (okay, or a family), you could even rent a car and it would be worth it. If you’ve got money to burn, you could always hire a taxi or shuttle service to drop you off and pick you up. Then you can at least sleep in the car. If you absolutely must take the RER A, then be sure to get a round-trip ticket from Paris for €16.20 so you don’t have to stand in line to get back. If there are a bunch of you, get a discount on the price of the tickets by buying a “carnet” of ten for €60.80 (prices as of January 2020; check prices here).
Disneyland Paris with Pets
I know some of you have dogs. And if you plan on being at Disneyland Paris all day and all night until they close, you may not want to leave them at home on their own. Pedro and Lena can tell when I’m going somewhere fun, and for some reason they always assume they get to come, too. And since they’ve been home alone a lot this summer (it’s been a busy tour season), I thought they’d enjoy a day at Disneyland, too. Of course, they don’t actually get to come into the park, but they don’t know that. The Animal Care Center (or Accueil Animaux) is right at the entrance to the park, and if you come with pets in your car, you get to park in the area closest to the park as well. Bonus!
Even better, the rate for dog-sitting and feeding for the day is just €25/dog, a steal compared to Parisian kennels (which were all full, anyway). They can stay overnight for €25/each (free for the higher level annual pass holders). The caveat is that they don’t get walked, so they stay in their cages all day (they get cleaned, and pets are provided with food and water). If you want you can come out and walk them yourself in the grassy area by the parking lot. I left Pedro & Lena with their doggy bed and their own food in a large cage for the two of them. They started howling as I left, just like all the other dogs there. At least they weren’t doing it in my apartment all day! Randomly, you don’t pay at the Care Center; they give you a ticket and you pay at the Coat Check kiosk just before the park entrance, keeping the receipt for when you pick them up. They slept well on the car ride home, completely barked out for the night.
Managing Your Time
My partner-in-crime for the day, Victoria, had her internet ticket printed out, and I had my annual pass voucher, which I had to exchange for an actual passport at the Passport Bureau between Autopia and It’s a Small World (where they check your ID and take your photo for the card…I look happy, if totally dorky). There was a huge line of people buying their passports, by the way, so allow at least a half hour or get there early.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to do all of the big rides first. Victoria and I are both Pirates of the Caribbean fans, so we went there first. This is not a FastPass ride because it goes pretty fast (the line, not the ride). Other, like Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad, Indiana Jones, and Buzz Light year all have FastPass machines. You simply go there and use your entrance ticket to obtain a FastPass ticket with a time printed on it. You get to go on the shortcut FastPass line at your designated time with this pass. Don’t lose it, like I did (or you’ll have to look pathetic going through every pocket until they just let you in anyway, which happened to me…er, twice). You’ll have to time the rest of your rides based on the FastPass time slots, but it isn’t too hard to find something to do.
Each ride is usually 30-60 minutes in and out, depending on the ride, of course. Sometimes when you enter it says “60 minutes from this point” but then it’s only 40 minutes. Shopping and eating can fill in the gaps, as well as looking at the lovely landscape, taking a billion silly photos of yourselves and the Disney characters, and watching the shows and parades that take place every hour. The lines in Fantasyland tend to get smaller after 9pm in the summer when most of the kids are off to bed.
Eating at Disneyland
Strangely, many of the food carts were closed last week, and aside from restaurants we could only find ice cream, pop corn or cotton candy carts. At one ice cream cart, an Italian woman and her son ordered a popsicle and an ice cream cone. They paid, and when they got their items, prompty returned them….for a refund! Of course we asked the cashier why they returned them. “They said they were too cold.” Even if they were frozen solid, it was at least 80°F, they would have melted. I can’t believe, when there’s a line and the young cashier had to add up everything with a calculator, that they would demand a refund. Bad Disney karma…
Of course, standing in lines with pushy people and screaming babies can make you hungry. I’d recommend eating before you get hungry. If you plan ahead you can even reserve lunch or dinner at one of the table service restaurants. Victoria and I ate at the Blue Lagoon (which is inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, very cool), with a table right on the “water”. I had an ostrich steak and lobster claw “Surf & Turf”, and she had a fish fillet and fries. There was almost no one at 5pm, and everyone was very friendly. But What Would Walt Think about those bathrooms? (You know what I’m talking about, Blue Lagoon people). I should mention they have “allergy-free” meals available on request that are specially prepared in a separate location and heated up when ordered. Not very “gourmet”, but perfect for anyone with any kind of major food allergy, from nuts and shellfish to gluten and dairy.
– Victoria and I noticed that the music at Disneyland Paris is very subtle, not always in your face like in Anaheim. We certainly never had the urge to rip hidden speakers out of the walls. If anything, they could have turned it up.
– Another thing we noticed is that there is a huge lack of Phantom Manor (ie Haunted Mansion) souvenirs. There’s one small stand with Nightmare Before Christmas items, but no pins, no mugs or t-shirts…a total lack of schwag. It’s not like they don’t have room over there by the exit!
– And perhaps I’m getting older, but I definitely felt more “rattled” on Space Mountain than before. It was actually headache inducing the way no other ride was (and even though I stuffed my sunglasses pretty far down the front of my shirt, they still managed to get shaken out…sniff). Definitely do not go if you’re feeling frazzled already. Maybe head there first, when you’re still fresh.
– If you’re a Halloween fan, they are open until 1:30am on Halloween night; special tickets can be purchased on their site. Frontierland becomes Halloweenland throughout October.
– Walt Disney Studios is next door. You need a separate ticket for this, and frankly, you’d better reserve a separate day to see both. I have never seen “all” of one park in one day, so trying to fit in two in one day would be a recipe for unhappiness.
– As you may have noticed, all the links I’ve placed here go to the French version of the Disney site. Some people are a bit surprised to find that French is the primary language used at Disneyland Paris. Sometimes the names of rides or characters are in English (Buzz Lightyear, Pirates of the Caribbean), and sometimes they’re in French (Blanche Neige, Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant). And sometimes, they have identity crisis like Phantom Manor, which isn’t the original name nor French. It can be a bit weird, but at least you know you’re in France. 😉