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Apparently, there are some places you should have very well planned out if you are visiting, and Paris is one of them. Funny enough, so is Disneyland Paris. Which is probably why we struggled hard at both of them, because we really like to just wing things. We’ll be sharing about our crazy one-day visit to Paris in a future post. But first, we want to take some time to share about our Christmas-time visit to Disneyland Paris. Because ’tis the season and all that. Did we have a weird visit? Yep. Was it still magical? For sure. Will you have a much better visit than us if you take our advice? Definitely.

Brooke and Buddy in front of the Cheshire Cat flower garden in the Alice in Wonderland area of disneyland paris

Why Disneyland Paris?

Growing up in Florida, trips to Walt Disney World in Orlando were a common occurrence. I was lucky enough to go with my parents as a tiny little thing, and multiple times with my best friend and her family. Buddy and I even went together about seven years ago. So, we couldn’t help but be curious to compare Disneyland Paris vs. Walt Disney World in Orlando.

entry to Disneyland Paris near france decorated for christmas

And when we saw a great deal for a two-night stay including three days in both Disneyland Paris parks and a meal plan, we hopped on it even though we’d only use a few hours of our two extra days. And we were psyched for some Disney magic – especially all decked out for our favorite time of year!

disneyland paris at christmas time

We knew going into it what Disneyland Paris wasn’t as big as Walt Disney World in Orlando, and that many of the rides would be in French. And that was totally okay with us! However, there were some differences that really threw us from what we were used to.

Brooke and Buddy making funny faces in front of the Cheshire Cat flower garden in the Alice in Wonderland area of disneyland paris

Differences in Disneyland Paris vs Walt Disney World in Orlando

Smoking in Disneyland Paris

We had no idea how much we took smoking bans for granted in the U.S. and were shocked to see how popular it is in Europe. I actually asked a younger person if they see all those horrific ads here on TV about why it is so bad for you and they looked horrified, like maybe they would never smoke again just by hearing about them. So, that’s a no. Anyway, Disneyland Paris says no smoking allowed, but it is not even remotely enforced. It is everywhere. Total bummer.

Unclear/Changing Schedule at Disneyland Paris

This is partially our fault for not thoroughly reading the stack of pamphlets we were handed. But, it was really unclear to us that some of the rides opened and closed at different times in Disneyland Paris. So, read everything and ask questions! Also, be prepared for things to close unexpectedly for maintenance or other unknown reasons.

And if you get the ‘Extra Magic Time’ by staying in an on-site hotel, just know that you don’t have access to the entire park – there are only about three to four things open in both Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park Paris. And don’t expect to find this info online! The Disneyland Paris website is far from user-friendly. So really, that ‘Extra Magic Time’ you get, is really nothing more than hopping on about 3 rides and waiting for the rest of the park to actually open.

map of disneyland paris and christmas decor

Unmet Disneyland Park Hotel Expectations

We booked the Sequoia Lodge because it was our only option with the deal we found for a date that worked for us. Thinking any Disney hotel properties would be really nice from our past experiences at Walt Disney World in Orlando, we were psyched for a lovely stay. But the room was meh, the bathroom looked like a mini version of what you would expect in a campground (or a cheap motel), and there was an astounding lack of outlets – basically just one.

And – this one almost sent Buddy over the edge – the A/C they promised online was turned off for the season. Of the 2 windows in our room only 1 of them opened about 2 inches, and they don’t provide any sort of fan…so our room was WARM. Womp. Womp. I have no idea what the other hotels are like, but we were annoyed with ours. I will say, we walked through the New York Hotel and it looked much nicer.

What We’d Do Differently at Disneyland Paris

Use that Extra Magic Time Wisely

We were super annoyed when we got to the park as soon as our “extra magic time” began and only a portion of it was open (about 1/10th is seemed), and then only a few rides there were open. But, had we read the pamphlet stack, we would have known not to try to ride Snow White instead of going through the rope maze to realize it wasn’t running yet. (We looked so stupid lining up as everyone ran past us to ride Peter Pan and meet Mickey Mouse).

mickey mouse at disneyland paris
on carousel at disneyland paris

And if you already rode all those early-opening options another day, go anyway to skip the giant line. It was insane even on a weekday around 9 a.m. There’s a lack-luster breakfast option in the Hyperion Cafe, if you need to kill time. Also, don’t forget Walt Disney Studios Park Paris has a few things open early as well, but again, not the whole park!

in front of cinderella's castle in disneyland paris near france

Make a Schedule for your Visit

I’m pretty sure all the hard-core Disney families do this no matter which park they are going to. But we are more run-around-and-ride-all-the-rides people. However, a place like Disneyland Paris at Christmas is full-blown insanity. With a short time to experience as much as possible, you need a plan to fit it all in and not miss anything.

funny poses at disneyland paris

First, figure out what shows you want to see (we highly suggest not missing the parade in Disneyland!). Then plan out what you want to ride the most and try to get there as early as possible. Lucky you if it is on the “extra magic time” list! A few rides also offer Fast Passes and Single Rider lines, so you can keep those in mind as well. And confirm with someone which rides will be closed. I didn’t get to ride Space Mountain because it was opened the night we got there, but closed the next day when I planned to go on it. Once again, no signs or anything warning that it would be closed the following day for whatever reason it was. Bummer!

waiting to go into disneyland paris and walt disney studios

Make sure to also bring anything you may need like rain jackets, snacks and water. So you aren’t running back to your room mid-day and wasting time. But again, there aren’t a ton of rides – really there was mainly shopping it felt like. So, you could probably do almost everything at both parks in one day, and definitely in two.

Research & Plan Out Food Options

If you go for the meal plan, which was included in our package, we feel like the buffets are the best option – especially for picky eaters like us. However, not all buffets are created equally. The one at the Sequoia Lodge was okay at best. But the one we had at the New York Hotel was leaps and bounds better – including food quality, variety, and service. If you have time, peek into the buffets before committing. However, you will want to make a reservation for any meal you plan on eating at a restaurant in the parks or the general area. We ate at 10:30 p.m. one night because we failed to make a reservation!

entry to walt disney studios at disneyland paris

Find a Deal that Includes Lodging & Meal Plan

Finding a deal with an on-site property and a meal plan was honestly the reason we booked a trip to Disneyland Paris. Unlike Walt Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland Paris always seems to have great deals. Staying at an on-site hotel that is a short walking distance to the park sure beats paying for shuttles or buses from nearby areas. Plus with the many food options a meal plan is sure to save you some money, even if it is only the half-board meal plan.

Why We’re Still Glad We Went

Everything said, it’s still freaking Disney and seeing a favorite like that in such a different way was really fun. We loved getting to hear our favorite characters talk and sing in French – which no one can deny is a gorgeous language. And most of the staff spoke very good English, since this place is so touristy. Which really helped when we were inevitably confused by the lack of information anywhere.

disneyland paris sleeping beaty castle book
disneyland paris sleeping beaty castle

Riding rides like ‘It’s a Small World,’ the ‘Rock n’ Roller Coaster,’ and ‘Peter Pan’s Flight’ that have special childhood memories was really fun. And because we haven’t been to Walt Disney World in Orlando in so long, they felt extra new to us – especially with the added bonus of being in French.

its a small world at disneyland paris at christmas
Aladdin area of disneyland paris

And seeing the kiddos on shoulders during parades and shows, and wide-eyed on rides really does help pull you into the magic. There is something just different and special about Disney. And lets not forget about the random ‘pop-up’ interactive style events they seemed to have, which were aimed mainly at the kids, but it was an added bonus.

disneyland paris Christmas light show
disneyland paris happy holidays sign

Real Feels of Visiting Disneyland Paris

But, I think the biggest takeaway for us was that going to Disneyland Paris was never supposed to be a highlight of our trip. And that’s pretty cool in a way. It was just something fun to do between epic trips to places we’ve wanted to see our entire lives – places that really give us that feeling of pure magic (not a manufactured version of it). But, ten years ago, a trip two hours away to Walt Disney World in Orlando was a really big deal for us. Because we couldn’t wait for any excuse to get out of town. It was nice to realize how far we have come. And how much travel has changed from an escape to a lifestyle.

couple on carousel at disneyland paris

Plus, getting to ride ‘It’s a Small World’ and realize we had now been to many of those places they were depicting was really enjoyable. We dreamed of those places for so long, and we finally don’t have to escape to Disney to feel like we experienced them.

entry to Disneyland Paris near france with rainbow overhead

So, go to Disneyland Paris! It’s fun if your expectations are set right and your plan is in place. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking it is the only place where you can experience magic – there is a big world full of it!

Read more about our Europe travels here. And to learn how we traveled in Europe for five months on a budget by house sitting, read this guide.

Comparing Disneyland Paris to Walt Disney World in Orlando

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