Our Trip to Disneyland Paris
When I was a little girl, aged 7, my parents took me to Disneyworld. I had the most magical, memorable holiday. We returned when I was 18 and I said to myself that one day I would take my own kids to Disney so they could experience that same feeling. Well, last week that day finally came!
BEFORE WE WENT
Since my two (now 6 and 8) were little we have been visiting theme parks to test the waters. Would they enjoy them? We went to CBeebies land a couple of times around the ages of 3-5 and then to Legoland twice. These visits were invaluable as they taught me that none of us is very tolerant of long queues (least of all my husband!) And that my two LOVE a rollercoaster. The faster, the better.
I wrote about this in my book On The Go and included all our theme park tips and also ideas for being safe when in a very busy place. So if you’re after those sort of tips click below.
We watched quite a lot of films over lockdown (didn’t we all!) including Disney ones where I floated the idea of visiting Disneyland to them. They seemed keen. It was time to start researching.
Now I’m a tip magpie when it comes to stuff like this. I want to know everything. What’s the best? Things to avoid? I will happily collect them all. My first port of call was blogs and vlogs. There are SO MANY Disney fanatics out there, and you can easily find their videos and web posts filled with helpful hints and tips with a few words typed into the You Tube search bar or Google.
I watched these:
Brummy Mummy of 2
37 Disney Street
I also read these:
Mouse Hacking Blog
Mouse Travel Matters
DLP Guide Money Saving Tips
Every time I heard something relevant to us I popped it into notes on my phone titled DP Tips (raised eyebrows from those with their minds in the gutter!) but I found this very useful.
Also the best place I found for tips was this Disneyland Paris for Brits Facebook group (thanks to the lovely follower who suggested it). It is so active and full of people very keen to give detailed advice and information, so if you have a question after reading this, that is your best bet.
I knew we wanted to go to Disneyland Paris. As much as I’d love to fly out to Florida (and I hope one day we will) I felt France was the best place to start - mainly to see if my husband could tolerate a couple of days of Mickey mania before we spend a fortune crossing the Atlantic! There are so many options for accommodation for Disney parks and Paris is no different:
- You can stay in the Disneyland hotel which is literally at the park gates.
- You can stay in other hotels also on site which are walkable mostly or the furthest away have free shuttle buses.
- There are different levels for different budgets.
- You can drive a motorhome and stay on the Disney site.
- You can stay in B&B’s a bit outside.
- Or you can do what we did and stay in a hotel linked to Disney that is offsite, about a 10 minute drive away from the park but with lots of the perks too.
The best thing to do first is to decide on your priorities. Do you want to be able to come and go into the park across all the days you are there? Popping in for a few hours at a time then back to the hotel to chill? Do you want to be smack bang in the action with Mickey themed EVERYTHING? Do you want some space and to be able to self cater? Do you have a very tight budget?
For us, my priority was getting decent sleep in the hotel room which means our kids in their own beds and preferably in their own room! I found it tricky to find this within Disneyland without paying a fortune for a suite. But I found this was easy to come by in Les Villages Nature.
It’s a Centre Parcs which I booked through Magic Breaks. Because I booked a Disney package it came with the accommodation - Monday to Friday in half term - plus Eurotunnel crossing, 2 days of Disney park tickets which includes the magic hour, and 6 months of Disney+
(The magic hour is where the park opens an hour earlier - 8:30am when we were there - to those staying on Disney properties before it opens to the general public, so it is much quieter)
I actually missed a deal I wanted for a mid-range room but Magic Breaks were very helpful when I contacted them over email and still did the package but with a higher priced room. So we ended up booking a VIP 2 bedroom apartment.
I don’t know about you but when I think of Disney I imagine me doing a goofy grin in front of the castle wearing ears! I wanted the works. So off I went collecting Disney bits and bobs to wear on our trip.
I got Halloween Minnie Ears from Etsy, Pyjamas and sweatshirts from Asda, accessories from Primark and outfits from Vinted.
As always I packed using our packing cubes (best thing ever!) and rolled up each days outfit so they were ready to unroll and go when there. In each of those rolls is: knickers, socks, T-shirt, sweatshirt and bottoms. One outfit for each day plus a spare - always a spare!
I loaded up the car with entertainment as I do for any journey and our sick box - again see my On The Go book or click HERE.
I also packed an almighty bag of snacks for our apartment, the parks and our journey. Where we were staying also had a small kitchen so I took cereal, tea, and spreads for quick and easy breakfast.
OFF WE GO
Monday morning, before the sun had risen we were up and in the car singing along to On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons. I sort of wished I hadn’t told the kids we were going and that this moment was the surprise. Instead we had done a chalkboard countdown the weeks before and I’d shown them videos of Disney a few times as the excitement built. Perhaps next time.
We drove to the Eurotunnel, got on the train, across the channel and into France for lunchtime (baguettes all round) then back in the car for 3 more hours to Paris (naps all round - sorry to my husband who drove as we snoozed) We arrived in Les Villages Nature for 4pm. We went to our room and were hugely impressed by the balcony and giant jacuzzi bath with a window overlooking the lake. YES! Pretty happy I’d messed up the booking and got the super snazzy room.
We headed out for a walk, to collect our magic passes for Disney and to see what was what. We wanted to book some activities for the Wednesday when we were in Les Villages Nature all day, we tried to book the only restaurant for dinner but they said they only do walk ups and then we went for a wander to the play area.
The woodland adventure playground was brilliant, as was the evening walk around the lake and peek into the Aqua Lagon (water park) which the kids were super excited about - as was I! However by the time we walked back around to the Italian restaurant there was a queue out the door and boy was it SLOW for them to seat people. We waited about 35 mins for a table. Lesson learned. Go early. Or not at all.
Back to the apartment to plonk the kids in their Mickey jammies ready for the next day.
The Disneyland Park - Day 1
I knew our two were excited for the rollercoasters and we asked them what they wanted to ride first and it was the ride I’d shown them on the first video we watched, which was Big Thunder Mountain. Great, easy, let’s go!
We left Les Villages Nature at 7:45am, walked to the car park, drove the ten mins to Disney (straight road) and parked up (free parking with our magic passes). We were waiting by the gates for it to open by 8:15 and in the park at 8:29 waving to Mickey and Minnie on the balcony with the music playing and tears of joy pricking in my eyes as we strolled up main street snapping photos.
Premier Access Ultimate
Because I knew we’d all be game for the big rides for our first day in Disneyland I had booked Premier Access Ultimate passes. Here’s the deal:
For a small fortune you can pay for a pass for each of you which allows you to use a Premier Access lane (queue jump) for certain rides - most of the big ones. You can only use the pass once for each ride but with the ‘ultimate’ you can use that pass at any point during the day you choose.
What we learned the hard way was that you cannot use the premier access lanes during the magic hour, so if you get this, then use that hour wisely to go on rides that do not have premier access lanes at all - for example, Dumbo, Orbitron, the teacups, carousel, Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains (Snow White and 7 Dwarves), Les Voyages de Pinocchio - if you check the app you can see which ones. The Premier Access ones have the little logo next to them. Or you could use that hour to queue to meet characters as they have no premier access either.
Don’t do what we did and go to thunder mountain, realise you can’t use premier access and so use the magic hour to queue for a ride you could have later skipped! Instead go to Dumbo, dumbos!
The other option with Premier Access is instead of buying the ultimate pass for them all, just pay as you go. You can use the app to buy a single premier access pass to skip a queue for any ride. You pay on card per person and get a QR code to scan at the premier access lane entrance. You also get a time slot in which to use this - usually an hour. We used this option on day 2 and it was great. However there was one ride we couldn’t get on later in the day as there were no time slots left.
Is it worth it?
We tried weighing it up after whether the premier access ultimate was worth it or not. It did mean we wanted to get our money’s worth and dashed through Disneyland and the Walt Disney Studios going from ride to ride to get them all in on the day. But the kids loved that and we rode all the big rollercoasters we wanted to. I think I probably preferred just doing it on an ad hoc basis, which would have given us time to go a bit slower too. It really depends on how long you are there for and what you want to get out of it and what your budget is. I don’t think I’d be in a hurry to buy the ultimate again.
My Park Tips from Day 1
- Take tons of snacks
- The restaurant near Orbitron had a little midday kids dance show - it was really cute to watch as we ate chicken burgers (Florence having a meltdown about a table aside!)
- All adults take a rucksack even if it’s half empty at the beginning. It’ll soon fill up with jackets, souvenirs etc.
- There are water fountains at the park. Take your own water bottles and one of these in your bag for juice all day.
- The quick food in the parks is bang average. Either take your own or just make peace with limited options and scarce fruit and veg! We didn’t try a proper restaurant - more advice on those on the Facebook group and on the vlogs. I didn’t want to tie us in with bookings but if you’re going for the food then there’s loads of advice on the best places online and how to book.
- I was interested in all the ‘Disney Snacks’ I’d heard about but we only tried doughnuts and were all very underwhelmed. I found them trickier to find than I thought, and always a queue. I read afterwards about the champagne cart - gutted I missed that.
- The arcades are brilliant to cut through. We used them loads. The tiny walkthrough hidden attraction in one of them (near the toilets) about America is proper creepy!
- Take a WHIZZER - brilliant for queue or parade wees and to grab if your child says they feel sick (as Ewan declared on the haunted mansion - scariest bit about it was the thought I was gonna be vommed on!)
- You won’t be able to do it all or see it all. There’s just so much. A follower said ‘you always need a reason to come back’ and that feels so true.
- If you have a child age 5 or under, take a buggy. We carried Flo aged 6.5 quite a bit. It’s tiring.
- Take note of where you park your car!
- It doesn’t matter that you’re in Disneyland - your kid can still get very cross! It’s sensory overload and overwhelming even for an adult, so don’t feel bad if your kid totally melts down. Ours did too. Best just to find somewhere quiet to sit for a bit. THIS VIDEO is super helpful to find those. Worth noting them down.
These tips are specific to us. If you have a child with a disability or who is neurodivergent the Facebook groups are full of people who have visited with children with different needs and how Disney catered for that. The vlogs and blogs I’ve already mentioned above are ideal for general tips.
Les Villages Nature Review
After Disney day 1, we had a day at our accommodation planned. We got up later then headed to the waterpark for its 10am opening time. It was brilliant. So many fab water slides, an outdoor lazy river, slide and pools, a wave machine, indoor play areas for toddlers and kids. We were in there for four hours. The cafe food was good too - it served salad - hurrah! My favourite thing about it is that you can’t take in your phone so for those few hours it was just the four of us, totally present and in the moment. We absolutely loved it.
In the afternoon the kids had a go on the climbing wall and then went for a ride in the jeeps, activities that you pay extra for and they really loved. We also went back to the play area for a bit, and bowling later. Loads to do. There’s also a farm on site, a lake you can take a boat out in, and bikes you can hire. We didn’t have time for that this time. You can’t do it all!
I’ve heard on trip advisor there are some mixed reviews of Villages Nature but in our experience it was good. It isn’t a five star resort. It’s worn around the edges in that same way a UK Centre Parcs is and there were a few little niggles - no vents in the only toilet in the room, a long wait at reception any time you had a query, a door handle to a shop came off in my hand, and our shower seemed to slowly flood the whole bathroom randomly. But it was clean and a nice environment to stay in. I really loved that we could escape the Disney mayhem for a little bit as that suited us. I totally understand why some people love to be immersed in the theming, but for us as a family, and the age the kids are now, this worked better. Watching the bats flutter about at sunset over the lake was also a little moment of magic. I would happily go back.
The Disneyland Park - Day 2
For our second day in Disneyland we didn’t have premier access ultimate passes. We made a bee-line for Dumbo during the magic hour, plus the carousel, Orbitron and Hyperspace Mountain all before the park opened to the masses. Watching the sun come up over the castle as I sat on Dumbo cuddling Ewan was really quite special.
Next up, the kids wanted to meet a character. So we went to the Meet Mickey house and the wait was 110 minutes. Holy hell. No way. So I asked if they wanted to meet Stitch instead as the app said he was hanging about by the castle. YES said the kids. So off we went. We joined the end of a queue and I peeked around the corner - yikes. It was one of those back and fourth ones and the little furry blue dude was in no hurry meeting folks. Everyone got their time with him.
So my husband said he would wait in the line and I took the kids off into the castle. We saw the dragon who resides underneath - loved it. Then had a mooch around the other bits with sleeping beauty - we haven’t seen that movie so they were a bit bemused by that. Then we went back to my husband. He had moved about 2 metres in 20 minutes.
We took it in turns, going in and out of the queue for Stitch. We saw the 30th parade float go by twice and bought souvenirs in the shops and got snacks and coffees. My husband and I doubted our sanity and life choices!! But in the end? It was worth it. Their little faces when they cuddled Stitch. Florence’s awe at meeting the REAL Stitch. Ewan’s smile in the photos. It was worth the hours stood in line. Florence still says it was her highlight from the whole trip.
We didn’t prioritise meeting characters because the kids hadn’t seemed that interested but I think if we were ever to return I would try harder to book in for the character dining. I think they would enjoy it. I know some folks go purely to meet characters and that’s whats great about Disney, there’s something for everyone really.
We got a photo pass on the first day. It was 75 Euros. We got lots of brilliant photos on rides (just remember the number and then scan your pass to save it) plus the ones with Stitch by a photographer, and there are loads of places you use them we didn’t even get to. But for a first visit it felt worth it. You can download them all.
We continued around the park, buying Premier Access for rides we hadn’t managed to get on before or wanted to do again. Ratatouille was repeated as a favourite. In the afternoon we returned to our accommodation for a break. Back within 10 mins, and Flo dropped into bed, absolutely exhausted. Everyone else had snoozes or a rest and at 5pm we got going again and returned to the park. Again we easily got a parking space and made our way into the Disney village for a Five Guys dinner, some shopping for extortionately priced souvenirs, and a last go on a few rides.
Our final ride was slinky dog, and I didn’t realise the lady at the entrance had allocated us a number cart. We just willy nilly jumped in one and then held up the whole ride as we were ushered out to the cart we should have got on. Embarrassing much?! Ha!
Day 2 Tips
- Take a small battery pack charger for your phone as you use it a lot booking things through the app
- The macaroni cheese at the quick service place in the Avengers campus was semi-decent, and it had actual salad. Sit by the window and you can look out for the heroes appearing on the roof.
- Take a Top Trumps card game for queues. I forgot ours but they would have been handy.
As we walked through the Toy Story oversized fairy lights at dusk I felt like - yes, we’ve done it. Everyone is happy and we’ve done all the things we wanted to plus so many bonuses. Chancing upon super heroes fighting on rooftops in Avengers land and Ironman talking to Ewan, the kids wearing rat hats outside ratatouille absolutely giddy, seeing Stitch live after sprinting to make the start of the English version and laughing out loud at Chris from Newcastle. The surprises are what really make it.
We made our way back in Disneyland park and found a spot to sit down in an hour before the light show and fireworks. We put our towel down (microfibre, always in my bag!) next to a lamppost and got some hot chocolates and sat waiting. Finally they started, kids on shoulders, and we stood huddled together watching the drones and lights, listening to the music, dancing and clapping. We walked with two weary kiddos out of the park, with vast crowds, tired but happy. And just as we were walking under the balcony at the exit out jumped Mickey, waving to the crowds and wishing us all a goodnight. And that was it…magic.
On the final day we returned home, but our Eurotunnel wasn’t until 6pm so we went back to the water park for the morning and had another fab time splashing about. Then into the car for the long drive home. We almost missed our train call shopping for Toblerones. We sprinted across the car park with the kids and were the last car loaded on!
The question I’ve been asked most when I’ve shared our trip on social media has been….what is the best age to go?
It’s tricky to answer that because obviously I’ve only been to Disney once with a 6 and 8 year old. But to be totally honest I felt so glad we hadn’t gone before. They truly appreciated it, and we actually enjoyed our time with them, and I hope very much that they will remember bits of it, like I did when I first went. But perhaps I’d feel the same at any age? Either way, it’s a huge amount of money to spend even if you do it on a budget, and I know it isn’t something we will repeat over and over so I wanted to get it right. Age 7 seems perfect to me. It was what my parents recommended having taken me and my bother as kids. But I know there are hundreds of others, including friends of ours, who’ve taken very little ones and had the best time ever. You do you.
I think the great thing about it is, there are so many different ways to do it. You can make it your own. Do what I did. Magpie the tips and advice that suit you, and work out things that’ll bring your family the most joy.
I know this is so long so if you’ve made it this far I feel I should give you some sort of Mickey award. I hope there are at least a few golden nuggets within my wittering. But if not, I’ve had fun writing it all down anyway. Memories made. Disneyland Paris? Completed it mate! Florida here we come…
My next research projects…
Adam Hatton’s book
My Friend Beci’s a Disney World expert… so I’m reading THIS and following her on @mahalodisney_