Tips for enjoying Disneyland Paris with small children

I recently took my two boys, aged 2 and 4 at the time, to Disneyland Paris (DLP). As I mentioned in a previous post in which I discussed some ideas for booking your trip, you need to plan ahead in order to make the most of a short break to DLP. The park is so big and so busy. Add young children into the mix and you have a recipe for a pretty chaotic (and not at all relaxing) break. We wasted so much time wandering around aimlessly, being indecisive. I’d like to spare you from that.

Take some time to think about what you want from your DLP holiday, and you will be rewarded with that feeling of time well spent. Here are my tips to help you plan.

Tips for enjoying Disneyland Paris with young children

Bring a pushchair and/or a sling

The parks are so big. It takes about 15 minutes just to walk from the car park to the entrance (and this is also true if you’re staying on an on-site hotel – you could get a shuttle but either way, it’s time-consuming). We brought our double buggy so that both the 2yo and 4yo could be pushed along. It was a total lifesaver. We never would have gotten anywhere walking at my 4yo’s pace, and he would have tired very quickly.

For the 2yo, I also wished I still had my old hippy sling that he would have still fit in. This is because you can’t bring a pushchair while you’re queueing for rides, and most queues are at least 30 minutes long. My 2yo didn’t like standing on the ground among all the people taller than him, so my husband and I ended up carrying him for the entire queue. That is a recipe for very sore arms. If your child is young enough to fit in a carrying device, then use one!

Pack smart

You want to bring two small bags – one of which should be a rucksack or otherwise easy to carry with no hands. In one bag, stick things that aren’t valuable, such as all of your nappy changing items, bibs & other lunching items, and any spare clothing/extra layers you might need. You can leave this bag in your pushchair while you are queuing for rides. In the rucksack, put drinks, snacks and maybe a tablet. You need these things to stop the kids melting down in the queue. And don’t worry, you can take your rucksack on the rides.

The lockers at DLP are located outside the entrance to the park, which is utterly inconvenient, so I wouldn’t count on being able to use those.

Get an early start and use your Extra Magic Hours

If you’re staying at a DLP hotel (which I highly recommend), you will have access to Extra Magic Hours. This allows you access to the parks from 8am – before the general public is admitted at 10am. You would be a fool to miss out on these. But your hotel is likely to tempt you with breakfast, which usually isn’t available until 7:30am at the earliest. If you wait for breakfast, you will miss the Extra Magic Hours.

I recommend stockpiling snacks to eat first thing in the morning (or, if you stay in the self-catering Davy Crockett Ranch, you have a kitchen in which you could stock some proper breakfast items of your own). Have an early snack, and then aim to arrive at the park entrance no later than 7:45. You need the extra time to walk through the vast empty spaces and get through security, in order to get into the park first thing at 8am.

You can always then have brunch or another treat after you’ve taken advantage of the Magic Hours.

Rides to hit during Magic Hours

There are limited rides open during Magic Hours, usually only in the Disneyland park and not the Walt Disney Studios park. These are subject to change, but I suspect it’s vaguely the same most of the time. During Magic Hours, you should make a beeline for the rides that tend to have the longest queues. In my experience, here they are in order of priority (i.e. the usual longest queues first).

  • Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Les Voyages de Pinocchio
  • Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains (Snow White)
  • Orbitron

There are others that are open too. I would recommend doing Magic Hours rides only during Magic Hours, thus freeing up time for the other rides during the normal park hours.

Take advantage of being first in the park

The other advantage to Magic Hours is that you will be in the park first thing when all of the other rides open, before the general public manage to cross the great expanse of asphalt to get the heart of the park. So, you should set your sights on a popular ride, and make sure you are waiting at it’s entrance at exactly 10am, or a few minutes before. Then you will be first in the queue as soon as it opens. Generally, any ride that is eligible for Fast Pass entry is likely to be one the popular ones (your Disney map will tell you which these are).

Using the Fast Pass system

Certain rides have little kiosks near the entrance. You scan your park tickets there, and receive a pass with a timed entry to the ride, which will allow you to jump the queue.

The important thing to know about Fast Passes is that they run out. You need to get one first thing in the morning (or as early as possible), otherwise you might not get one at all. If you get one as close to 10am as possible, you should be able to ride that ride by around lunchtime. Any later, and you’ll be lucky to get a ride by 5pm.

When you have a fast pass, you can’t get another one straight away. You have to wait a few hours. The fast pass you have will tell you when you’re allowed to get another one.

Naptime plans

If, like me, you have two kids and only one that still naps, you should have an action plan for naptime. Our 2yo napped in the buggy after lunch, and this was a great opportunity for the older one to go on the rides that his brother was too short for, or to queue for photos with Disney characters or perhaps have a nose round some shops. The Adventureland section of the Disneyland park is also a great place for naptime, as it’s mostly play areas and things you have to climb on – not necessarily great for 2yos or younger.

If you are in the Walt Disney Studios section of the park, there are usually big shows in the main backlot around naptime (for us it was the slightly underwhelming Star Wars Stormtrooper March – with 12 whole stormtroopers – but my 4yo seemed to like it). This is a good option to make the best of your time while one of you is unconscious.

Baby switch

I just thought I’d give this a namecheck in case you hadn’t heard of it. Disney has a scheme for parents with babies/young children who both want to ride one of the rides unsuitable for little ones. If you all queue up together, then you can tell the ride attendant you want to do baby switch. One parent goes on the ride while the other watches the baby, and then the other parent can go next, without queueing further. So mum does not have to miss out on Space Mountain.

Don’t forget to see the dragon

It is easily overlooked, but there is an animatronic dragon underneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle. And it is brilliant – the best animatronic thing among a host of animatronic things. Make sure you don’t miss it.

Are you planning a trip to Disneyland Paris? What do you think of these tips? Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments!

Tips for booking a short break to Disneyland Paris

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.

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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.

Disney Photopass

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!

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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.IMG_20170217_102526.jpg

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.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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