Having visited Disney World in Orlando with my partner and daughter, whilst the boys were away with their father. I couldn’t allow the experience to escape my sons; and since we were lucky enough that my partner had been allocated a block of leave during the school Easter holidays, I took the opportunity to escape for some quality time with them without their little sister in tow…
This meant that I could indulge them for 3 days of pure ‘boyish’ fun without being bogged down by requests to visit the Disney Princesses, and the rides geared towards younger children. This being the Easter holidays, made it a very expensive time of year to stay (especially as it was in fact the week running up to Good Friday). I ended up paying about £1000 for 3 days for 2 children and me to share a family room at the Santa Fe hotel on a bed and breakfast basis including Euro Star tickets from Ashford International right into the station that comes out into Disney Land, and ring side seats to The Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
It’s definitely worth travelling by Eurostar if possible, purely because you wont pay parking, and unlike the airports your transfer will be minimal. The station exit is right by the free shuttle bus stops (for all of the Disney Hotels, airport etc) and you could walk to most of the hotels. The best hotel by far ‘The Disney Hotel’ forms a building that is attached to the tram station by Main Street in Disney Land, but in my opinion is NOT worth the money, since you will be up and out early and back to bed in your room too late to care that you are in a 5* hotel.
It was lovely to be close to the park (you could have walked to the parks within about 15-20 minutes from Santa Fe, but honestly the ‘Cars’ themed Santa Fe was chaotic at breakfast time. We got there very early and it was still a chaotic and disorganised mess of people crammed into a space far too small to get their hands on food, and trying to get a table was worse. On the second day, the queue just to get into the breakfast buffet looked to be about 15 minutes long! Thankfully I had read that hotel guests could enter the Disney Land Park (Not Walt Disney Studios Park though) one hour early for the Magic hour, and even better that you could get a free breakfast in the restaurant by Central Plaza. We were lucky to get in though, as I had not been made aware that you needed to get the hotel to reserve your table for you.
My sons absolutely LOVED Disney Land Paris. They overcame their initial fears and managed to ride most of the scary rides. At 8 years old there were only 2 rides my 8 year old was not tall enough to ride on (‘Space Mountain Mission 2’, and ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril’). He was however tall enough to ride on the best, most extreme ride there “Rock’n’Roller-coaster Avec Aerosmith.” We managed to ride that at least 5 times on both of our latter days there! It is a pretty extreme roller-coaster that happens mostly in pitch dark, with flashing lights and strobes (and loud music by Aerosmith). I doubt the boys would have got on it the first time if they had been able to see what they were queuing for, but they were absolutely elated afterwards and felt a huge sense of achievement for riding such a ‘scary’ ride.
Whilst there, we dined in the Blue Lagoon restaurant that overlooked the river in The Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I didn’t notice this restaurant in the US version of the ride, but it looked like fun; and since the ride is inside, and dark (like the film), you will be eating by candlelight whatever time of day it is. It was lovely food, though it came at a price (well over £100 for the three of us). We ordered ‘Osterich Steak – Flambéed with green peppers and plantain banana’, ‘Medallion of veal with a Jamaican rum sauce, and mashed potatoes with lemon confit’ and I ordered ‘Crispy Mahi-Mahi and prawns with kaffir lime, herb rice, fried vegetables’. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the treat of ordering something really unusual from the adult menu, and despite the insane prices, I figured it was a once in a lifetime experience, and I like to encourage them to be adventurous, so why not?
The other thing we managed to do was the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. I ‘Ummed and Ahhed’ about this, but I would say, if you are going, it’s SO worth doing this, especially if you have sons. My two are 8 and 12 years old, and loved it. I stumped up the dough for ringside seats, and although food was basic, the show and the atmosphere were incredible! The special Effects were fun and the skills of these people are just awe inspiring! They gave us souvenir stetson hats with a colour for our section, to place us in a team to cheer for, and everyone gets very into it. If your sons love cowboys and Indians-they will LOVE this show, and if they don’t yet, they will after! Actually, I did too-YEE HAW!
The other show that was stunning was the Car’s themed Special Effects stunt show in the Walt Disney Studio. Dont bother queuing too early for this, as there is ample seating in the massive arena, and even from the back, the view is great. They basically use the show to demonstrate you how action sequences and pyrotechnics scenes are filmed and even set fire to a driver (then show you that he is fine afterwards, and explain how it is possible). We were all in total awe of this show. Every little boy will want to be a stunt car driver after seeing this! (Mine certainly did)
Notable Differences to Disney World Orlando:
- It is much smaller
- Not as much effort has gone into the general appearance or themed approach of Disney World at the Disney Land Park.
- The Castle is different. At Disney World (Orlando) you visit Cinderella’s castle, at Disney Land Paris, you visit Aurora’s Castle (Sleeping Beauty). In fact the one at Disney Land Paris is generally given a better review
- The Space Mountain Mission 2 ride at Disney Land Paris is newer and FAR more extreme than the Space Mountain ride at Disney World…
- The food is generally of a higher standard at Paris than at the Disney World Florida park.
- The weather is less predictable at the Disney Land Paris Parks, you may get rained or snowed on in Europe, and that is far less likely to happen in California or Florida!
- The Euro’s current strength agains the US Dollar’s weaker value makes Paris much more expensive than the US alternative.
- The Parks at Disney Land Paris are all located together so that you could easily walk between the 2 parks and the disney village within a few minutes of each other, I really liked the compact nature as it made it more accessible, but it did mean that they compromised on what they could fit in, and the space is used well in Florida for example, with the themed countries in The Animal Kingdom
- The in-park restaurant options for foodies are FAR better at Disney Land Paris than in Disney World, with table service restaurants like the Blue Lagoon offering adventurous meals by candle light overlooking the river in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride setting (much more romantic and/or grown up).
- You can leave your car at home when it comes to Paris… You will need your car at Orlando or at least a tram/coach
MAGICAL FEELING RATING – 8/10 – This park is lovely, but a lot smaller than Disney World. Visiting the two a month apart, really brought home to me how much smaller the one in Paris is… They also haven’t put the same effort into the general space of the place in certain areas, notably the area near the Buzz Light Year and Space Mountain Mission 2. That said, it’s much easier to get a full flavour of both parts in Paris, and you can easily walk between Disney Land and Disney Studios several times in a day, and the village is also easily accessed on foot for lunch, etc. Overall, the experience isn’t quite as magical, but still very good, and better than any other theme park I’ve ever visited besides Disney World for families.
- If you want to queue for the princesses, get in line early
- If you want to see the Iconic Castle and fireworks display, you must check the event calendar to ensure it is on that night, as unlike Disney World Florida, it does not happen every night
- If you have a little girl who likes Disney Princesses, it is worth booking a meal with the Princesses, the food is the best in the park, you will avoid queuing to see many of the princesses, plus receive a professional photo and some goodies
- Take a frozen bottle of water with you at the end of the day so that as it thaws you will still have a cold drink
- Take something warm to wear in the evening. Some of the parks are open until late, and it’s chilly when you leave. If you are visiting from the States, note that temperatures can be quite cold in the North of France compared to the Disney resorts in the US, we were very lucky, as there was a heat wave this Easter, but at similar times, you could see snow!
- Try starting from the back of the park at the start of the day, and working your way forwards, as you will work agains the flow of people doing the opposite
- Get the big rides out of the way early in the day, to avoid the longest queues
- Make use of fast pass tickets on rides with long queues
- Take advantage of parent swap tickets instead of using 2 fast passes on adult rides
- Avoid eating at lunchtime, and snack throughout the day instead to take advantage of the shorter queues at lunch time
- Food at Disney Land Paris is considerably nicer than at the US Disney World.
- If you wish to dine at the Blue lagoon, reserve a table in advance.
- Take a camera-unlike the Disney World resort, at Disney Land Paris, there are no professionals standing around taking pictures of you to post to your digital account (at the time of writing)
- If you want to do the 2 parks justice, allow at least 3 days for your visit, and ideally 4 days.
- Get seated in a good spot well ahead of the street parades and Fireworks as it gets chaotic
- If you’re staying in a Disney Resort/hotel – take advantage of the extra Magical Hours that allow exclusive use of the park to these guests.
- Visit Disney World, Orlando rather than Paris if you have the chance. Hearing Disney announcements or the character’s talking in French, just isn’t as magical!
- If breakfast in your Disney Hotel is too chaotic, try the free buffet breakfast at the restaurant next to the Central Plaza… In fact, if you’re at the Santa Fe-do it any way (it’s MUCH nicer), BUT remember to reserve it first via your hotel concierge.
- Try to visit once when they’re young enough for the magic to still be believable, and again when they’re big enough to do the rides if you can afford to.
- The park opens an hour early to Disney Hotel Guests, but I recommend you use the time to eat breakfast in the theme park, as most of the park inside is still closed off except the area around Space Mountain 2 and to the rear of Aurora’s castle.
- If you want to ride Crush’s Coaster in the Walt Disney Studio’s Park, go on that right at the start of the day. The queues are ALWAYS long, and at the time of writing, they had not operated a fast pass system on that ride. It is SO worth it though-my boys and I giggled all the way through because the ride was SO unexpected!