Disneyland Paris … A Different Side of Disney for Families

After my first “mom” trip to Disney World with my family, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to return.  However, given as I live in London, that wasn’t so easy.    Then I remembered… Disneyland Paris.   And now, despite being an ocean away from Orlando, I can still get my Disney fix regularly.

Disneyland Paris doesn’t get nearly the hype as Walt Disney World, or even Disneyland in Southern California.  Perhaps it is because the park,  once known as EuroDisney, doesn’t make a profit like most of its siblings.  Perhaps it is because it lacks that shiny newness of Shanghai Disney.  Perhaps it is viewed as “too American” for many Europeans.  Or perhaps seasoned Disney fanatics just can’t get over the differences (weaknesses) compared to Walt Disney World.  Whatever the reasons, Disneyland Paris is a hidden gem.   Anyone looking for an easy, fun,  long weekend that anyone in the family could enjoy should visit Disneyland Paris.

Disneyland Paris is located about 45 kilometers east of Central Paris in the suburb of Marne-la-Vallee. It takes about 35 minutes by RER train from the center of Paris or 2 ½ hours by Eurostar from London.    It is composed of two theme parks, Disneyland Parc and the Walt Disney Studios, as well as a shopping and entertainment area, Disney Village, and seven Disney hotels.

 

Disneyland Paris = EASY!

After visiting Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland Paris can in many ways seem like a breath of fresh air.   First of all, planning a Disneyland Paris visit is EASY compared to planning a Disney World trip.  On our first trip to Disneyland Paris,  we decided on Monday to go on Friday.  That’s right, just four days ahead.   Even with that short planning window we got a package for hotel, meals, and tickets where kids went free (meals and park tickets),  and I was able to make the dining reservations I wanted and sketch out our touring strategy.  No stressing out 180 days ahead over dining reservations or locking the family into a certain ride in a 60-minute window two months in advance.  Planning and booking were just easy.

Second, Disneyland Paris is only a fraction of the size of Walt Disney World.   As I mentioned earlier, Disneyland Paris is comprised of two theme parks (Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios), seven hotels,  and one shopping/entertainment area.  Compare that to Walt Disney World which has four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios), two water parks, a recently renovated Disney Village, the ESPN Sports Complex, and twenty-three resorts.  You could very easily spend several weeks at Walt Disney World and not experience everything.  However, I think two and a half days is plenty of time to get through all of Disneyland Paris.  The smaller size doesn’t just mean that it takes less time to cover, it is also significantly less tiring and easier to get around, and far less overwhelming for everyone.

Third, if your family is based in Europe, Disneyland Paris has the huge advantage of proximity.   I am able to leave my house, take the train from London, and be riding rides in Disneyland Paris before my flight to Orlando would have cleared UK airspace.  Also, there is no jet lag (key with little kids).

Fireworks behind Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland Paris Disney Dreams
Fireworks behind Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris

Ways Disneyland Paris is better than Walt Disney World

When it comes to comparing Disneyland Paris,  there are certain areas where I believe the resort is better than Walt Disney World:

  • Hotel convenience     If you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel, your room will be over the entrance/ticket kiosks for Disneyland Park.  I am not kidding when I say that you are likely to spend more time waiting for the hotel elevator than you are walking from the hotel into the theme park.  When it comes to traveling with kids (or anyone actually),  this is an enormous time and energy saver.   You do not have to deal  with shuttle buses, parking, or even monorails.  Additionally, the Disneyland Hotel is within the Disney security bubble.  That means if you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel you don’t have to go through bag check when entering the parks each day.The other Disney hotels are within easy walking distance (with the exception of the Davy Crocket Campground) of the theme parks.  While Disney does offer free shuttle buses, you can quickly and easily walk from your resort to the parks.
  • Unique Attractions     Disneyland Paris offers some very cool rides that aren’t available at Walt Disney World.  My favorite is Crush’s Coaster (from Finding Nemo).  This is a small car roller coaster that is most definitely not childish… very unique and very cool.   Then there is Ratatouille, a trackless 3D ride that is unlike anything I’ve seen at Walt Disney World.
    Crush's Coaster Walt Disney Studio Disneyland Parisq
    Crush’s Coaster, a very intense (but awesome) ride at Walt Disney Studios

    Disneyland Paris offers various shows seasonally.  There are two, Forest of Enchantment and Mickey and the Magician, which I highly recommend and will be hits with the whole family.   Mickey and the Magician even won the Best Theatrical Production award from the IAAPA, a theme park industry association.

    Mickey and the Magician Walt Disney Studios Elsa Frozen Disneyland Paris Grand Family Getaways
    Frozen is just one of many scenes in the fabulous show, “Mickey and the Magician” at Walt Disney Studios

    Finally, the details around the park itself are great.  I especially love the giant dragon that is underneath Sleeping Beauty’s castle.  It may “just” be a walk-through attraction,  but the fire-breathing dragon adds some extra magic to any visit,  and you are only waiting for the dragon to wake up, never standing in line.

  • Less Planning     If the need to do detailed advance planning turns you off of Walt Disney World,  then you will find the more relaxed attitude at Disneyland Paris refreshing.   FastPass is available at Disneyland Paris, but it is more like Disneyland California, where you get FastPasses from the attractions on the same day.   Dining reservations are also less intense.  Reservations for restaurants open up 60 days in advance.
  • Lesser Known Characters    Disneyland Paris offers the opportunity to meet unique and different characters from what you would find in Walt Disney World.   At two of the three character meals (Café Mickey and Inventions),  there is not a set character list.   While Mickey, Donald, Pluto, and Goofy are likely to appear, we have also met Gepetto (from Pinocchio), Mr. Penguin (from Mary Poppins), the Genie (from Aladdin), Eyeore, and Tigger.   The princess character meal at Auberge de Cendrillion usually includes not only Cinderella, but also Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother, and her mice friends, Suzy and Perla.  In addition, there are two other princesses.  Around the parks you can meet Spider-Man (which contractually Disney is not allowed to have in a Florida theme park), Marie (from Aristocrats), Scrooge, Pinocchio, Jafar, Abu, Mr. Smee, Captain Hook, Wendy, the Queen of Hearts, and Jack Skellington, all of whom are very hard to find in Florida.

    Auberge de Cendrillion Perla Cinderella characters princess Disneyland Paris
    Cinderella and her mouse friend, Perla, sharing a laugh during the Auberge de Cendrillion character meal

Disappointments at Disneyland Paris

There are areas where fans of Walt Disney World (or just visitors in general) could be disappointed:

  • The Food      While Disney in Florida has invested a great deal of effort in their food offerings, Disneyland Paris has apparently decided they can’t compete with the restaurants in Paris so why try.  My family found the food offered to be barely tolerable at Disneyland Paris.   One  would think you could at least get a lovely baguette or croissant or great cheeses.      You are mostly limited to rubbery European hot dogs, pathetic pizzas, or overdone burgers.  Just as frustrating as the poor food is the unfathomable operating hours of the restaurants.  While waiting to watch the main parade on one visit, we discovered that the ice cream shop behind us had already closed for the day, before 5pm.   Finding a snack before 11am is also hard to do once you leave the Main Street area.   And if you think dining in Disneyland Park is limited, you will be even more disappointed with the choices inside Walt Disney Studios.
  • The Hotels    Compared to the resorts at Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris is a big disappointment.   The Disneyland Hotel, while having an ideal location, is a dated and somewhat dirty version of a Victorian hotel.  As the flagship and most “luxurious” of the Disneyland Paris hotels, I definitely expected more.   Disneyland Paris also lacks the larger rooms (villas) that the Deluxe Villa/DVC Resorts offer in Florida and California.
    Disneyland hotel Paris Grand Family getaways
    The Disneyland Hotel at night

    The hotels at Disneyland Paris also lack many of the amenities that Walt Disney World hotels (and even many regular hotels) offer.   The pools are minimal and often look like they could be at a Holiday Inn.   There are certainly no outdoor movie nights or extra activities that you might find in Florida.  Additionally, the hotel dining options are far more limited.  For example, while staying at the Disneyland Hotel,  my family was disappointed to find that our only dining options were walking over to Disney Village or dining with a reservation at one of the two sit-down restaurants (both of which are quite pricey).    We ended up at McDonalds, which was the best available option.  It made me miss the quick service options easily found at every resort in Disney World.

  • Less Predictability     The downside of needing to plan less is that there is far less predictability to a Disneyland Paris trip.   Not only do you not know what time your Fastpasses will specify until you pull out your paper ticket, you don’t even know what rides will be offering Fastpass on the day of your visit.  Disneyland Paris often shuts down Fastpass machines, even at popular attractions such as Space Mountain or Rock n’ Roller Coaster, if they feel that the crowd levels don’t justify keeping them in operation.
    Paper FastPasses at Disneyland Paris
    Paper FastPasses at Disneyland Paris

    Character meet-and-greets are equally unpredictable.  At the Princess Pavillion, usually the only place you can meet the princesses outside of the Auberge de Cendrillion character meal, you don’t find out what princess you will be meeting until it opens at 10am.   One day we didn’t find out until we walked into the room.    Given that waits are substantial for the Princess Pavillion, not knowing whom you will meet can be frustrating and often disappointing.  Disneyland Paris also uses the term “or Friends” quite liberally on the character meet-and-greet schedule.   For example,  when we met “Peter Pan or friends,” we actually met Captain Hook and Wendy,  “Alice in Wonderland or friends”  meant the Queen of Hearts and Mad Hatter for us.  Not that these were disappointing, but even when waiting in line one can’t be certain which characters they will eventually see.  Several times an hour the characters will swap out for breaks and some of their “friends” will take their place.  So even if you get in line thinking you are meeting Aladdin and Abu, it may be Jafar and the Genie by the time it’s your turn.

  • Smoking     I was shocked at the number of smokers walking around Disneyland Paris, even though most of the areas clearly state “no smoking.”   Smoking is much more widely accepted in France compared with the US,  and cast members do not stop guests who are smoking, even in lines.   This can be frustrating if you or anyone in your party is sensitive to cigarette smoke.

 

In summary, if you are looking for a family-friendly long weekend within Europe and are Disney or theme park fans, Disneyland Paris is a great option.  I am totally hooked and can’t wait to go back to experience the park in its full glory as it celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2017.

 

Also be sure to check out more pictures at our Disneyland Paris Photo Gallery  and read Tips & Tricks for Disneyland Paris Part 1:  The Basics.

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