Having just returned from the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’, our content creator Chris Mayhew gives us an insight into a holiday to Disneyland Paris as an adult…
The last time I went to Disneyland Paris was during my high school days and so when my family suggested taking my niece and nephew there during February half-term, I wondered if it was still for me. Long queues and thousands of children are not usually what I look for in a holiday but my love for theme parks meant I was willing to go along for the ride (pun intended). Here are 10 observations about being an adult in Disneyland.
As I said, it has been around 15 years since I last laid eyes on the enchanted castle and its surroundings, but it seems that not much has changed over the years. Aside from a new Toy Town area in the Walt Disney Studios Park and a few other tweaks here and there, it was the same old Disney that I remembered from my childhood. All the classics (Space Mountain, It’s A Small World, Thunder Mountain, etc.) are all still there and all as good as ever).
Incidentally, Disneyland Paris has just announced it is planning a €2 billion expansion from 2021, featuring new Marvel, Frozen and Star Wars worlds and attractions. In my view, this will add a much-needed modern feel to the parks and allow guests to have new experiences related to more recent films.
Even though nothing has really changed, the Disney magic is still there for everyone to see and feel. Whether you’re walking down Main Street, watching the fireworks or catching a glimpse of Mickey Mouse walking through the park, those same feelings that every child has when they first experience Disney will come rushing back. I was constantly reliving enchanting moments from my childhood, whilst making new memories with a new generation of Disney fans.
One other new attraction that I neglected to highlight is the Crush Coaster at Walt Disney Studios – and that’s because it deserves its own paragraph. Themed on the hit film Finding Nemo and featuring a range of different characters from the movie, you ride in a car that seats four people as you follow the unpredictable route of the East Australian Current. Spinning, jerking, rising and falling, you race around an indoor track in darkness, never really knowing where you are going to turn next.
This turned out to be one of the highlights of the holiday, with most of our group loving their experience and the others looking slightly pale by the time we emerged back into the daylight. Because it doesn’t go upside-down, height restrictions aren’t that high, meaning this is something the whole family can enjoy together.
That might sound like a silly thing to say when you’re in France, but it’s strange how little you notice this as a child and how much it impacts on your experience as an adult. Obviously, the park is well within its rights to have French as the primary language, but this may come as a surprise to anyone who has only ever visited Disneyland in Florida. Ride narrations, shows and the music which accompanies the fireworks all use French first, with bits of English thrown in later. In some cases, there are English-only performances stated, but just don’t be surprised when Finn makes an appearance during the Star Tours simulator and reels off by a poorly dubbed French speech.
A trip to Disneyland Paris is obviously not going to be cheap, and choosing to stay in one of the resort’s own hotels will be more expensive than options outside of the parks, but – for the full experience – you can’t beat staying on site. We stayed at the two-star Hotel Santa Fe (themed around the film ‘Cars’) and, although towards the lower end of the comfort-scale, we found it to be ideal.
Staying at one of these hotels means you are never too far from the magic and can also take advantage of other benefits that you don’t receive when you stay elsewhere. We loved walking back through the Disney Village every evening and also made good use of our ‘Extra Magic Hours’ every morning before the parks officially opened.
With regular, dedicated shuttles available and it being just a short walk to the park gates (worth knowing that it’s definitely shorter than the 20 minutes Disney suggests), we felt we wasted next to no time transferring between the hotel and the rides every day.
A quick note on the ‘Extra Magic Hours’, though. Only a few attractions are open during these times, but it’s still a great opportunity to see the park before it gets busy, grab some fast track tickets or get to the front of the queue for one of the big rides before the lines become unbearable.
Originally, we decided not to add any meal vouchers to our booking, thinking we could probably find options that were cheaper than the combined price of the meal plans. However, after researching the menus and their accompanying prices, it was clear that meal vouchers would definitely save us money. This turned out to be a good move.
There is a variety of different meal plans available for guests, ranging from just having your breakfast covered at your chosen Disney accommodation, to having all meals included and few limitations on where and what you can eat. We went for the half-board option and chose the ‘plus’ level upgrade (each meal plan is defined as either ‘hotel’, ‘standard’, ‘plus’ or ‘premium’).
The ‘plus’ vouchers meant we could enjoy a buffet breakfast in our hotel and then choose either lunch or dinner in a range of different buffet or table service restaurants in the other hotels, the Disney Village and either of the parks. The grade of meal plan you choose will dictate the menu you can eat from at each restaurant. It sounds kind of confusing and it can be difficult to know where and what you can eat, but the vouchers will definitely save you in the long run.
When I was a child, character meet and greets were a bit of a free-for-all. If you saw Winne The Pooh or Donald Duck walking around, it was a race to see who could get there first and grab an autograph or photo before they got tired of signing their name and wandered off. Nowadays, things are a lot more organised. Apart from a few random appearances out of nowhere, character meetings take place behind rope cordons and in specific areas of the park.
From what we experienced, there are a few pros and cons to this way of doing things. The organised approach at least ensures that everyone gets a fair chance of meeting their favourite character, without having to fight off other kids and parents waving pens and autograph books in their faces. However, one of the clear downsides is that it’s another queue in a holiday that’s already full of them. You could find yourself waiting for 45 minutes just to say hi to Goofy or 90 minutes to get that selfie with the main couple, Mickey and Minnie. And, if you have children who are desperate to meet one of the princesses, you better pray their favourite is one of only two making an appearance that day in the Princess Pavilion and settle down for a mammoth wait.
We had 5 days in Disney in total – largely due to special promotions making it the same price as a three-day trip – but three days is probably optimal, especially if your children are young. This will give you a day in each of the parks with some extra time to go back and do anything that you missed. Plus, by the end of the third day, the kids are likely to be fed-up with the queues and starting to get tired from all the walking. There’s no doubt that a longer holiday will allow you to do things at a slower pace, but with tickets and hotel prices being quite high, it’s best to cram as much in as possible and rest afterwards.
Since I last visited Disneyland Paris, Eurostar has launched its direct service straight to the gates of the parks. In just under three hours, you can be at Marne-la-Vallée station ready to start your adventure. This service is limited to just one or two trains a week but is increased during school holidays and is infinitely more convenient than travelling to Gare du Nord and switching to the TGV or hopping on a shuttle bus.
Something else that will allow you to get to the action sooner is the Disney Express Luggage Service, which comes as an optional add-on. For a few pounds more, you can leave your luggage at the train station on arrival and head straight to the parks in the knowledge that your bags will be waiting for you at reception when you check-in to your hotel. You’ll be given your tickets and any meal vouchers you’ve ordered on board the train so there’s no need to miss a single minute of the fun. Then, on the return leg, you simply leave your luggage at the designated counter in your hotel before enjoying your final hours in the parks and picking it up from the station.
One slightly sour note about the direct Eurostar service is that our return journey was a bit chaotic. The small Marne-la-Vallée station is not really set-up for the vast numbers of Disneyland passengers it now receives and so the facilities and resources are slightly strained. Our train departed 40 minutes late because they couldn’t get everyone checked-in, scanned and on board the train in time.
Although aimed at children more than the major theme parks in the UK, Disneyland Paris can certainly be just as fun for adults. The bigger rides (Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, Tower of Terror, etc.) are perfect for thrill-seekers and a nice change from the slower-paced attractions kids enjoy. The parades and illumination shows will bring a smile to even the grumpiest of post-teens and the joy a holiday like this brings the younger members of your family is definitely something to treasure.
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