I took my 2 and nearly-5 year old sons to Disneyland Paris during February half-term. It was a sort of birthday party for my eldest. I figured it would be much more fun and only slightly more expensive than inviting the whole class to a village hall for a couple of hours!
However, I had never been to Disneyland Paris before and I had no idea what I was doing. It was fine, but it turns out, if you’re only going to spend a few days in Disneyland Paris, you need to have a game plan. Otherwise, you’re going to be wandering around, getting stuck in crowds and queues, and end up wasting an awful lot of your time.
My time and money has already been wasted by my lack of preparation, but it’s not too late for you! Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing some tips I learned from experience to help you have a cheaper, more efficient, and more fun-filled trip to Disneyland Paris than I did. This first post focuses on the booking process, and you can come back later to hear more about organising your time in the parks, where to eat and where to stay.
Think hard about how long you can go
We chose a 3-night break mainly based on the fact it was cheaper than a 4-night break. But between recovering from our journey and just getting our bearings, I really do think we could have used that extra night. It was time to leave just as we were getting into the swing of things. So if you can possibly afford it, book 4 nights. It will probably only cost a couple hundred pounds more and will at least double your enjoyment of your break.
Consider the pros and cons of different accommodation
Well of course you COULD stay anywhere … you don’t have to stay at a Disney hotel. However, it is completely false economy to stay elsewhere. If you don’t stay in a Disney hotel, you will waste time travelling to and from the park, you will spend €20 per day on parking, and you won’t have access to Extra Magic Hours.
The Extra Magic Hours alone are worth staying in a Disney hotel. These allow you to enter the park at 8am, while the rest of the world can’t get in until 10am. I will explain in a future post just how valuable this privilege is if used in a shrewd fashion.
Any of the main Disney hotels that are walking distance from the park are a good choice. However, we stayed at Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch. It has all of the perks of an official Disney hotel, but it’s a 15-minute drive away. It was by far the cheapest Disney hotel, and it was great for us because you stay in a static caravan with plenty of space for the family. I’ll write a further review of this hotel in a different post.
Booking the extras
At booking stage, Disney offers you a few things you can book in advance as part of your booking. They have different discount offers at different times, so there will be different bargains to be had at different times. Here’s my perspective on whether you should bother with some of these extras.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show
We didn’t actually go to this. The reason why is because we were there with a 2-year-old who almost certainly wouldn’t enjoy sitting still for a live show like this. You should definitely consider whether your kids would enjoy a show like this and whether they would cope for the 90 minutes of the show. However, I hear that children aged 3+ do enjoy it and that the food is pretty good.
Also be aware that unless you are being offered a special discount at booking stage, the only reason to book the show at the same time as booking your holiday is for convenience. You could either book directly through Disney at another time, or you may be able to find cheaper tickets through a third-party site.
The Photopass is a way of prepaying for any/all photos you get professionally taken with characters in the parks, or on the few rides where they snap you as you are on it. This is only worth the money if you are really into having pictures with Disney characters, and are happy to spend about 45 minutes queuing up for each character. For us, we would rather go on rides during our short time there. We did sign up for the pass and got precisely one decent photo of us all with Mickey, and a less than flattering picture of me on Buzz Lightyear’s ride. This was not good value for money for us!
Disney Character Breakfast at Cafe Mickey
Breakfast at Cafe Mickey is a perfect way to get pictures with lots of characters without the 45 minute queue per character. But these pictures are not included in the Photopass – you have to take them yourself. And the lighting is terrible. Also, the food at Cafe Mickey was THE WORST we had. It was a poor breakfast buffet touted as American, but there were no American pancakes or waffles. It just had dry French pastries, insipid soggy scrambled eggs and the usual French continental breakfast stuff (salami and cheese bits).
Plus, the atmosphere is atrocious. The cafeteria-like space reverberates with ear-splitting Disney adverts sporting that overly peppy instrumental background music. The restaurant is packed full to the brim with as many punters as possible, and there is a long queue for the food. I got yelled at by the restaurant staff when I tried to fill more than one plate of food at a time – so that I didn’t have to queue 3 times to feed my 2 kids and myself.
We had booked this as a special birthday breakfast for my son, and it nearly brought me to tears. I found it so disappointing. However, my son did love seeing all the characters. We had Mickey, Goofy, Smee from Peter Pan, The White Rabbit, and Pluto.
The people in the character suits were very kind. My son missed Pluto at first because he was going to the toilet when Pluto came to our table. But when Pluto saw my son crying, he came back and gave him an extra special cuddle. That absolutely saved the whole thing for me.
Disney meal plan
We had a standard full board meal plan included as part of our booking. It was a special offer. However, even if meal plans aren’t on special offer when you book, I highly recommend a meal plan. Even the buffet restaurants cost around £20/adult for a single meal, and generally on the meal plan that will cover an adult’s food for the entire day. Plus, you can also use the standard meal plan vouchers as a cash credit in restaurants not included on your plan.
Importantly, the buffets at Disneyland Paris are nice. I mean knock-me-over-with-creamy-patisserie nice. I generally hate buffets, and expected the Disney ones to be no different from those you find at cheap all-inclusive resorts in Benidorm. But the variety, type, and quality of the food everywhere we went (except Cafe Mickey) was amazing. I’ll write another post about the restaurants later.
There are a staggering and intimidating amount of different meal plans to choose from. I suggest checking out DLP Guide’s page for the clearest explanation.
Planning your transportation
If you aren’t into driving, you could take the Eurostar straight to Disneyland Paris. Disney even has a special service to help you with your luggage (if you’re staying at a Disney hotel). You could also take a plane, and even then rent a car from the airport if you like.
But my family loves to drive to our destinations. It’s so much easier to just throw all the crap in the car, and you can bring a lot more crap than you could without a car. If you decide to drive, you need to choose between taking a ferry across the Channel or the Eurotunnel train.
I highly recommend the Eurotunnel. It can sometimes be a bit more expensive than a ferry, but it is so much faster. Just 30 minutes and you are across the Channel. On our trip, we took the train there but took a ferry back because it was the cheaper option. The ferry got caught up in heavy fog and it took us over 4 hours to make our crossing. In future, it will be Eurotunnel for us every time.
But is it really worth it?
I’ll be honest with you. There are some people who are absolutely Disney addicts – adults who just love it and will put up with anything for the magical bits that you get. I like Disney, but I am not ardent about it. There is a lot about a Disney trip with young children that is purely exhausting. And when it comes to Disneyland Paris, it really isn’t as good as Disneyworld in Florida (sorry).
However, if you live in the UK and you have very small children, like we do, it is truly worth it. It’s much closer and cheaper than Paris – you wouldn’t be able to go all the way to Florida for just 3 nights. The trip wore me out and tested my patience, but my children were SO happy. The light in their eyes after each magical ride was worth every aching muscle I had later.
Pop back to my blog in the coming weeks for some more info on how to plan your time at the parks, where to eat and a review of where we stayed.