Spending a day in Disneyland® Paris was, in a word, magnifique! It was a unique Disney experience in the midst of all that Paris has to offer. And as Remy wonders in “Ratatouille,” “What better place to dream than in Paris?”
Being the Disney Parks junkie that I am, I did some looking around into Disneyland® Paris’ twenty-two year old history before my trip to know the background. After its opening on April 12th 1992, as the Euro Disney Resort the official name was changed to Disneyland® Paris in 1994. In 2013, 51% of Disneyland® Paris guests were from France, 14% from the UK, 6% from Benelux (Belgium and Luxembourg), 6% from Netherlands, 8% from Spain, 3% from Italy, 3% from Germany and 9% from the rest of the world – that would be folks like me who are right at home strolling right down the middle of familiar Main Street U.S.A. (Source: Corporate Disneyland Paris website).
Nevertheless, just this month Disneyland Paris had to be financially rescued by The Walt Disney Company in hopes that they will turn it around into a profitable resort. I’m hoping they work some Disney magic!
I’ll be honest, I had friends who thought I was crazy for spending a whole day of my Paris trip at a “theme park.” But the day I was there, there were people from everywhere and it was awesome to get to meet people who were there “on holiday” from all over the world. Just like at my “home” Disney Park, the Walt Disney World® Resort, people were friendly and enjoyed getting to know each other and share the magic together. I learned a lot while waiting in line with a family from the U.K. and another from India. It was refreshing to hear that pixie dust is a worldwide phenomenon and others came to Paris to experience it and to meet our old pal Mickey in his Parisian abode.
Getting to Disneyland Paris from Central Paris was a breeze. One option is the Disneyland Paris Express which offers shuttle service from several Paris locations. The other is to hop on the RER and go to the Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy RER station. Much like Disneyland Hong Kong®, once you step off the train you’re just a short walk from the park entrances – either Disneyland®, Walt Disney Studios®, Disney Village or the Disneyland Hotel. Check out the interactive map to get a lay of the land. The website is customized based on the country/language, and the U.S. version is a little cumbersome. If you want a website that looks familiar, check out the U.K. version of the site. The resort is large and includes 3 park areas and seven hotels. And if you are on the lookout for the rumored runDisney race at Disneyland Paris like I am, you will be happy to know that it seems that there is plenty of room for an awesome flat course!
To purchase tickets, doing so in advance via the Disneyland Paris website seems to be the best option. If you know the exact day you are going and buy your ticket early there is a substantial savings. If you don’t know, then it may pay to purchase a ticket via the Disneyland website of another country (factoring in the currency conversions). I forgot about the time zone difference and thus missed the time window for purchasing advanced tickets for the best discount. I was able to get a discount by purchasing from the Spanish version of the website. Sound confusing? Check out the DLP Guide website for great tips on navigating the best deals.
There was much more to see and do than I had originally thought. There was much of the resort that I did not get to explore and some attractions unique to Disneyland Paris were down, like Crush’s Coaster, or not opened yet, like Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy. So, you know what that means, right? A return trip is a must!
Nevertheless, without further ado, I present to you a dozen details of Disney done the French way!
1) Sleeping Beauty Castle. Wow. It is beautiful. And it is truly an attraction unto itself. You can enter in and ascend staircases to view the stained glass, tapestries and other items. The best part is you can walk out onto a balcony and wave to your loyal subjects in Fantasyland. From the outside, the Castle is stunning. There are water shows during the day and also one at night that are spectacular!
2) There is no wifi in the park. What? Say it isn’t so! It rendered the iPhone app useless without an international data plan, which was not helpful. Wifi was available in Disney Village and I actually hung out in the lobby of the movie theatre to use it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
3) At every attraction, taking video or photos was strictly forbidden. Of course, they had to tell me that repeatedly. On one attraction, I didn’t realize photos were prohibited and I thought the cast member was going to escort me out of the park. Seriously. It was dicey.
4) And how about that French FASTPASS® ? Well there are perks for staying on property! The VIP FASTPASS® allows guests Suites or Castle Club Guests to enjoy unlimited access to the FASTPASS® line and skip the queue during your stay – you’ll board within a matter of minutes to the attractions that offer the FASTPASS® service (only available at Disneyland® Hotel, Disney’s Hotel New York®, Disney’s Newport Bay Club® and Disney’s Sequoia Lodge®). And guests staying at Disneyland® Hotel, receive one FASTPASS® per day to do the same.
Another interesting note, the return window for the FASTPASSES I received as a day guest was only 30 minutes.
5) The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ was crazy and the cast members were creepy, scary and hilarious all at the same time. There was a point where you go backwards. A point where you drop before you go up for the real drop. And there was a point where you disappeared in a mirrored wall that was actually terrifying. After two rides, I was still confused. It was awesome.
6) I hate to break it to you Captain Jack fans, but he was non-existent in Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ll give you a minute to recover… And Star Tours? It is old school, too. But Disneyland Paris shook up the Haunted Mansion and renamed it Phantom Manor and it is raises the bar on spooky!
7) Fantasyland is elaborate. It is huge. It is beautiful. It is complex. Honestly, there is so much going on there that I had a hard time following the “story,” which made it seem a little un-Disneylike. Nevertheless, it was a feast for the eyes. And it was good to see our old pal, Mr. Toad.
8) I had heard amazing things about Space Mountain®. The outside is fantastic. The theming is incredible. But the ride? Have mercy! I’m sure it was amazing, but between the speed, corkscrews and planets coming right at you, I was in deep space. Someone should have warned me. If you love Rock n’ Rollercoaster, you will love it!
9) The other mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, was the wildest of the wildest rides in the wilderness! The Europeans love their thrills! Normally, the front seat is the slowest of all. Well, I was in row one on my first ride and it was très fast! There were more drops, more dark moments and more fun than other versions of this beloved attraction. At one point there is sound piped in and it sounds for all the world like a real train. I would love for this version to be shipped over to Walt Disney World!
10) There are no utility corridors (“utilidors”) and so you will find cast members dressed in Fronteirland costumes walking through Fantasyland, for instance. And because there are a multitude of dining options (truly, it is impressive!) but they aren’t all open all day, you may be served by a cast member at Casey’s Corner early in the day and the same cast member at Cafe Hyperion later. And speaking of cast members, at almost every attraction, they wore safety vests over their costume and used earplugs. OSHA Europa is alive and well.
11) In order to enter Disneyland, you must pass through the Disneyland Hotel, so I took a stroll inside.
Much like the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, the Parisian version has a Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa look and feel for sure. It did smell like they were pumping baby powder through the HVAC or that my grandma dropped a bottle of perfume in the lobby. Not sure what that magical touch was about! They have their own version of the California Grill, but with a 1900 Park Fare vibe. I love seeing the interesting twist that each resort takes!
12) There were other things that are unique and interesting about Disneyland Paris, but I save what I think is the best for last. There are an untold number of little passageways, nooks and crannies throughout the park. As I would wander down one, I would find a quiet stream or a little statue. Sometimes they would connect back into one of the main walkways, but other times they didn’t. It was quite charming and very Parisian, especially after touring the gardens of Versailles the day before. Marie Antoinette has got nothing on Mickey!
Now with two international Disney trips under my belt, I can’t wait to head to Tokyo. I would love to hear about your experiences around the Disney world, so let me hear from you!
Editors note: All photos property of Shannon Dill/Purveyor of Pixie Dust