Travel is good for the mind and soul they say… well whoever said that has never been to Disneyland.
The idea of Disneyland is fantastic. You have to give major kudos to their marketing team, they definitely do a bang-up job of selling the dream however when you get there, it’s chaotic and all about the money. Not that that’s a bad thing but you have to be prepared else you’ll find yourself stressed, tired and irritable.
I’ve been there three times now, and every time my husband and I say, “That’s it. That’s the last time” but something about the place keeps sucking us back in. The first time we visited, we purposely picked dates in early November as Christmas is our absolute favourite time of the year and Disney is well known for the shows it puts on over the festive season.
The second time was in mid-April, so around Easter time. And our third trip, was again, around the Christmas period.
I have to be honest, we’ve had a different experience every time we’ve visited, which is crazy seeing as it’s the same place.
So, if this is your first trip to Disneyland Paris, let me share some tips to have a great holiday.
1. Choosing the right hotel is key
The first time we went, we stayed in one of Disneylands “budget” hotels, the Cheyenne, a western cowboy themed hotel. We came away from that trip slightly deflated. The hotel was terrible.
When I say terrible, let me explain. It looked great. You definitely walked in and felt like you were walking into a Christmas version of a John Wayne movie, however, the rooms were bare, the beds were hard and the breakfasts we’re unappealing.
So this meant, we weren’t sleeping well in the nights as the mattresses were so hard. We were literally putting towels underneath us to create some kind of softness. Then, we weren’t fuelling up properly in the morning as there was nothing to eat except bread and pastries… Literally, no fruit, cereals or eggs to be found. And whilst bread overload is fine on day 1, by day 2,3,4 and 5, you’re craving some of the healthy stuff.
The days in Disneyland are so long, especially when you have kids. We were up at 7 am, in the parks by 9 am and then getting home around 9 or 10 pm, just like so many other families. This wouldn’t have been so bad, we’re used to doing it. But, limited sleep and lack of breakfast meant we were grumpy, irritable and tired for the majority of the trip. If we didn’t have Daniel, we probably wouldn’t have returned…
The Newport Bay Hotel
The second and third time we visited, we stayed in their more “luxurious” hotel, the Newport Bay. This was so much better. The rooms were really inviting and on our first visit to the Newport Bay, we had a balcony overlooking the Disneyland Lake, a wide selection of breakfast options AND comfy beds. Again though, the experience differed from the first time we visited the hotel. It’s as though they keep tabs on the new visitors… suck you in and make you feel like you’re royalty. Then, when you return, you go to the back to the queue. I say this because, on our third trip, we again booked a lake view with a balcony. We did get a balcony but no view. Our room was set behind a huge tree that literally took over the front of our room and thus, we couldn’t see anything. Now I know they can’t help where these epic trees are, but when you pay a couple of hundred extra to have one of these rooms and you don’t get the view, it loses the magic it had the first time.
That being said, the hotel is still beautiful. It has a really calming feel to it and it almost relaxes you as you walk alongside the lake back to your room. I would still stay here again, the room view was a small issue in comparison.
In addition to changing hotels when we returned, we also completely switched up how we attacked the holiday, learning from our first trip errors. I’ll explain them with you as I go…
2. Plan your day to work around you
So our first visit to Disneyland had us constantly chasing our tail. We’d be up super early and then in bed mega late – A lot like the other families that were there. We’d end up taking huge chunks out of our day where we just needed to sit down and get a break. A few times, in the middle of the day, we’d head back to the hotel to power nap and then get back out. This really didn’t work for us. We like to be busy and feeling run down and tired just made the experience poor.
Our second and third visit was different. We realised we didn’t need to follow the crowd. We could do this holiday at our own pace and work it around us. So… none of us are early birds which meant we decided to sleep in so we could stay out later and enjoy Downtown Disney, their shopping and restaurant area after the parks had closed.
Our new plan for the mornings:
9 am – Get up and get ready for the day
10:00 am – Have breakfast. Taking our time to enjoy breakfast, fuel up as much as possible before the long day ahead, and pack up some of the fruit, muffins, bread etc to feed the little one through the day when he was hungry.
Now I do have to point out, that when we’ve stayed in hotels before, they’ve not had an issue with you taking food for later. However, Disney, do not like you doing this. The first time they saw us do it, we were told we couldn’t. So we just got smarter and did it on the sly. Guys, we’re paying enough for this holiday…
11:00 am – Walk to the park and enjoy your day less stressed, refreshed and refuelled.
3. Take advantage of peak times to get things done
So one thing we learnt quickly, is that there’s not a “quick, let’s jump on this ride” moment. There are so many queues to overcome and some are hours long. I’m too impatient for that.
Our first visit meant we’d get lunch at the normal time, between 12 – 1 pm – just like everybody else. Then when we were done, we’d join everybody else in queuing for the rides, events, attractions etc.
There has to be a smarter way we thought? And, there is… Either eat earlier or later. We would get to the parks at about 11:30 and then around 12 ish they’d start to quieten down as everyone started getting lunch. This was a perfect opportunity to hit up the rides that normally have the longest queue time. We found the queue times were cut in half with this approach. We also noted this happening again when events like the parades, fireworks and character visits were going on, so again, the perfect time to attack those rides.
This makes the day so much more fun. You spend a small part of your day queuing and the rest is actually getting on the rides and having a good time.
Advice – pick up an events leaflet from your hotel or the park and plan out your day in advance. What’s the saying “when everyone’s moving left, you move right”?.
4. Food is fuel, don’t be caught out… Get a decent meal package
So for our first visit to Disneyland, we opted for their standard meal plan. This meant you got breakfast, a snack during the day, like a brownie or a doughnut, and then a buffet meal in the evening. This was fine, however, it must have been a bad week for them as most of their snack huts were closed or weren’t accepting the snack vouchers. That was frustrating as we couldn’t exchange them anywhere and ended up coming back with a couple unused.
Then when it came to dinner, it was chaos. With it being a buffet, you were in a bun fight with everyone else to get what you needed. Some of their restaurants didn’t offer chips which, when you have kids, is a given and as a family park, you’d expect it to be on every menu. Lots of it was pasta, bread etc which I struggle to eat. The options for being healthy were none existent. So… even though it was a buffet meal, their options for choice were limited.
It can be hit and miss
On the second visit, we paid for their mid-tier food plan. Same offer, but you could also eat in a couple more restaurants and there was the option of choosing from their ala carte menu. This worked out so much better and the food was much nicer. I felt like I could continue to eat healthy as there was the option of nice salads and meat and less of the McDonalds style food.
However, on the third visit, our food in pretty much every restaurant was really poor. We found a hair in one of the salads, Cafe Mickey served up cold food and restaurants we’d visited in trip two just didn’t seem to be on the same level anymore. Trip 3 was super disappointing from a food plan perspective and that was on their more expensive food packages too.
You don’t have to get a meal plan but be clever about it…
If you don’t want to pay for a food plan, I get that. They are expensive, the food is up and down but they’re also super convenient. I really wouldn’t recommend trying to eat in Disney without one else you may need to take out a bank loan. We bought three meals for lunch, similar to a McDonald’s chicken nugget meal and it came to nearly £40. When you’re there for seven days and that’s just lunch, you start to get a little miffed.
So, if you’re not choosing a meal plan. Do some research on what’s nearby. The great thing about the Disneyland location is its right on the Marne le Valle train station so it’s not difficult to pop on their metro to go somewhere although Paris is about a 50-minute train journey away.
5. You have to watch the parade and fireworks at least once
You absolutely have to see their parades and fireworks show at least once. I’m not their biggest fan but these parades and shows make me want to be. The music, colours and stories are just amazing. Also, dependant on the time of year you visit, they have themed parades too which is even more amazing.
Some of the regular shows and events are:
- Disney Parade – A 20-minute parade that runs down Main Street, Disneyland, boasting stunning floats, far more characters than you’d see normally, great choreographed dances and recognisable Disney songs that you can’t help dancing to. Depending on the time of the year, there are normally two different versions. One which is a standard Disneyland parade called “Disney Stars on Parade”. The other will be specific to the time of year. So, Easter, Halloween, Christmas etc… Both versions need to be seen.
- Disneyland Illuminations – A firework display like no other. When we visit, this is the one thing that I get super excited about. We went in 2014 when Frozen was first released, and they set off the fireworks to the “let it go” soundtrack. I l literally wanted to cry. It was amazing.
- Meet and Greets – Throughout the park, there are plenty of meet and greets going on and normally a wide selection, so you’ll definitely find someone your kids want to see. Make sure you pick up a leaflet when you enter the park so you can keep track of who’s where and when. Also, be prepared, these have epically long wait times, especially the likes of Mickey and The Disney Princesses so try and get there as early as possible.
- Disney Junior Live – A selection of all the popular Disney Junior characters for your kids to swoon over. Lots of singing and dancing and you’ll see the whole room filled with bobbing kids. It’s great.
- Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular – This is a live-action car show. If I remember rightly, it’s about an hour long and it shows you how they create some of the crazy car stunts you’d see in films today. Really great watch.
6. All their shops are the same so don’t panic
Ok, so shopping. For me, I like a good wander around the shops but it’s not a big deal, however, I know this is the perfect place to pick up some great gifts for kids and adult Disney fans. There are literally shops everywhere. In every area of the park, in Main Street and Downtown Disney.
What I would say, is that the standard items you’ll see in the park shops are replicated in the stores on Main Street (MS) and Downtown Disney (DD). So, to save you carrying around gifts all day, I’d recommend taking a picture of the item you’ve seen and then picking them up later when you’re nearer the MS and DD stores.
The only items I would suggest you picking up when you see them are those specific to the park area you’re in. So for example, if you’re in Frontierland and you see items that are cowboy related, I’d get those straightaway as they don’t tend to be found in the MS and DD stores. Also, the store within the Disneyland castle has items in there which you won’t find in MS or DD.
Some brands you can expect to see there:
You’ll also want to note that every hotel also has its own store specific to its theme. So, for example, the Cheyenne has a store which stocks some of the Frontierland items, but again not all the park items will be in there so probably not best to risk it.
7. Rides you have to do before you go
And before you leave, make sure you get the opportunity to try out these rides. We found them to be the most fun and if you follow the tips above to make the most of your time, you’ll have a blast:
- Thunder Mountain
- Space Mountain
- Rock n Roller Coaster
- Crush’s Coaster
- Mad Hatters Tea Cups
- Star Tours
- Studio Tram Tour – Behind the Magic
- Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop
- Tower of Terror
So with a little pre-planning, you can make this trip a great one. We’re already thinking about going back.