The magic of Disney isn’t so much about fantasy and fairytale – more a question of why, when your feet hurt and your wallet is bruised, you’re left aching (quite literally) for more. It’s quite some trick.
We’ve been falling under the spell of Disneyland Paris for more years than we care to remember, since the oldest of the Smith clan was just two-years-old. He’s 12 now, with two little sisters to keep him company, and more Space Mountain than Spinning Teacups nowadays. Doing the maths, that makes us … officially old. But never too old for Disney, thankfully.
After pulling a few rabbits from hats (voila – the last of the magic puns) to secure a good deal on flights from Edinburgh to Paris, we were on our way. Against our better judgement Charles de Gaulle was the destination – the hesitancy stemming from a previous trip with lost baggage and, ultimately, a new Mickey-themed wardrobe for each of us.
This time we arrived, complete with way too much luggage, on time and without hitches. Faith in CDG restored and a spring in our step, helped by an excellent private transfer service from Prestige that took the pain out of negotiating the 45-minute trip from the airport to the land of Goofy and was actually lighter on the pocket than the official coaches for our family of five.
What follows are hopefully some helpful hints and tips gleaned over the course of more than a decade of Disneyland Paris trips – but don’t be fooled, we too have made mistakes.
We have joined the Dumbo-bound human chain thinking ‘we’ll be through that in five-minutes’. We have assumed that British-style queuing etiquette will apply. We too have convinced ourselves that we won’t get wet on Pirates of the Caribbean. We have ended up on Rockin Rollercoaster after joining the wrong line (yes, really).
Perhaps the one main lesson overall those years is: Be prepared to walk. From hotel to the gates, between studios and park and everything in between there’s plenty of ground to be covered. We’ve always known it, but the latest trip proved it – courtesy of Fitbit’s wizardry. More than 40-miles over four days, albeit those 10-miles a day were over the course of 12 or 13 hours. Worth being prepared for in any case, comfy shoes are an essential. With that taken care of you can indulge in some gratifying inappropriate footwear bingo – flip-flops, high heels … there’s a world of wonders to be found.
On the topic of travelling by foot, make sure you check out the delights of the clever cover
ed walkway that snakes through the park – if for no other reason than the satisfaction of uncovering one of the lesser-known facets of the Paris layout. If you haven’t found it yet, it runs from the passageway behind the Main Street shops through a labyrinth of loosely connected covered sections that come into their own when the French weather does its worst. And on the subject of weather, there’s nothing like a good storm to clear the parks and in turn reduce waiting times massively. Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining.
There’s no getting away from the fact that queuing is an issue, but you can ease the burden.
Don’t pay too much attention to the estimated times displayed at most rides – some are accurate, others are just cast members plucking a number from the ether.
Do be wary of some rides that lure you in with what look like short lines only to find a winding scrum behind closed doors. Pirates of the Caribbean is perhaps the best example, where meandering lines are hidden from view and can go on for hours at peak times.
Timing is everything – early (particularly in Magic hours for those staying on site) and late will give the satisfaction of walk-ons, there’s no better feeling than the satisfaction of strolling through where others have queued!
Favourite rides for us range from the psychedelic delights of Small World to the hi-tech cleverness of Ratatouille, where a fast pass (or fast sprint to the front of the queue first thing) is a necessity. If you do have to stand in line, it really is worth the wait – a real visual treat for all ages. Autopia and the Parachutes proved a hit with all three little travellers and for the eldest there was plenty of adrenaline flowing with Space Mountain, the Indiana Jones loop-the-loop and spooky thrills of Tower of Terror. As for RC Racer in Toy Story Land, it make look relatively simple but really isn’t the faint-hearted and one worth thinking twice about. Over the course of four-days (and nights) we covered everything there is to try, so it can be done.
Finding time to refuel is important. Nobody goes to Disneyland in search of Michelin stars, but if you choose wisely and book ahead (which you can well in advance of your trip or at guest services in the Town Hall at the head of Main Street) there are some good options. Walt’s on Main Street, if you can bag a window seat at parade time in particular, has never disappointed and in Disney Village the Chicago Steakhouse is a good bet.
The Blue Lagoon, nestling on the shoresof Pirates of the Caribbean, is difficult to beat for escapism – although the new Chez Remy has shot to the top of the list with brilliant theming as well as menu and service to match.
For little princesses, Auberge de Cendrillon ticks all the boxes – albeit at a premium. Is it worth the expense? Our daughters (nine and almost five) certainly thought so, although their grasp of domestic economics is at best sketchy. In all seriousness, it is an experience to be cherished and an enchanting way to while away an afternoon.
In general, outside of themed restaurants (including the often manic Café Mickey) catching time with characters is tricky. For the first time we chose to make a visit to Mickey’s theatre in Fantasyland and it was well worth it, a far better experience to be backstage in his dressing room than the hurried snaps some of the other character stops provide.
When it comes to food, you don’t have to break the bank though. The likes of Earl of Sandwich, again in the village, and Café Hyperion, in the heart of Discoveryland, are the pick of the bunch when it comes to snack stops.
For rest and recuperation, on our latest trip we set up camp at Newport Bay and were among the lucky guests to be staying just after the refurbishment completed in 2016. There’s very little we could fault, other than the minor grumble of only one small lift from lake level to the hotel’s ground floor, and would certainly return. Having the relative tranquillity of the pool to retreat too for an occasional afternoon swim was welcome.
A quirk of flight times and availability left us with an extra night’s accommodation to find, with Explorers Hotel filling the void. Having stayed at Sequoia Lodge and Hotel New York previously, it was our first venture off site and it was, in all honesty, better than we had expected. The kids loved the pirate theming and although the rooms weren’t a patch on Newport in terms of plushness, it was a pleasant stay for our extra day.
There’s not getting away from the fact we were apprehensive about Paris in the aftermath of the 2015 terror attacks – had we not booked prior to those horrific events I’m not sure we would have gone ahead with the trip. As it happened, security in and around the parks was reassuring but never intrusive and there was a defiant air of business as usual.
The magic of Disney, for us, is very much still alive. We will be back.