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.
Why Disneyland Paris?
Growing up in Florida, trips to Disneyland 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 as to how French Disney would compare.
And when we saw a great deal for a two-night stay including three days in the 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!
We knew it wasn’t nearly as big as what we had grown up with, 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.
A Few Differences to Keep in Mind
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, Disney says no smoking allowed, but it is not even remotely enforced. It is everywhere. Total bummer.
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. 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 and Disney Studios. And don’t expect to find this info online! That website is far from user-friendly.
Unmet Hotel Expectations
We booked the Sequoia Lodge because it was our only option with the deal we found. Thinking any Disney hotel properties would be really nice from our past experiences, 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, 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. 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
Use 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, 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).
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 Disney Studios has a few things open early as well!
Make a Schedule
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 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.
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. Bummer!
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 in one day, and definitely in two.
Research & Plan Out Food
If you go for the meal plan, 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. 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!
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.
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 Disney in so long, they felt extra new to us – especially with the added bonus of being in French.
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.
But, I think the biggest takeaway for us was that going to Disneyland 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 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.
Plus, getting to ride ‘It’s a Small World’ and realize we had 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.
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!