Travel Review: Is it possible to enjoy Disneyland Paris in 36 hours - including transport?
- Credit: Archant
I know Disneyland Paris is an attractive destination for many a Disney-obsessed adult but the reality for most over 25s is it’s all about enduring the chaos for the delight of the children.
Our 6-year-old is at the height of Disney Princess worship and our four-year-old was keen to visit Mickey Mouse’s French home.
Having previously visited the theme park, I was keen to make the trip enjoyable and most importantly, short. Having pondered on a two-night stay I decided I could plan the perfect trip with just one night there.
The key to this condensed Disney weekender being a success was the direct Eurostar train from St Pancras to the Disneyland Resort Marne-la-Vallee station.
We ate a very tasty Eurostar breakfast, the children did some colouring in and we talked excitedly about what we’d do on arrival. Two hours and 40 minutes after boarding we pulled into Marne-la-Vallee at 2pm local time - right in front of those Mickey ears.
During our journey, a Disney representative came to our seat with our Disney Park passes and a tag for our luggage so we could drop off our bags as part of the Disney Express service. For £32, we were able to leave our bags in the train station so we could go straight to the Park. Our bags were then transferred to our hotel. I’m guessing this gave us good hour of extra park time. The service is only available if you’re staying in a Disney Hotel but is well worth it if you’re on the clock as we were with this trip. The fee includes being able to leave your bags at your hotel on the day of departure from where they are transferred to the station ready for collection prior to your train home.
When planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, there is often a consideration of whether to stay in the more expensive Disneyland hotels or the less convenient but cheaper ones off-site. Last time we visited for three nights and stayed at the L’Elysée Val d’Europe – just one metro stop from Disney or accessible on the free shuttle or in a ten minute walk. The benefits of this was a room at a third of the price of a Disney hotel, access to a large supermarket and the ability to take a packed lunch into the parks and other restaurants and shops in the vicinity of the hotel. The Hipark Serris-Val d’Europe also has family rooms with kitchen facilities useful for those with young children and an outdoor pool.
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For this time limited visit we opted for the Disney Newport Bay hotel. We were able to take advantage of the time saving Disney Express Service and had two hours access into the Park before those not staying in Disney hotels could enter. The hotel has recently been refurbished and has good, functional, clean rooms. The Newport Bay also has a lovely indoor and outdoor swimming pool complex.
Within minutes of stepping off the Eurostar we were walking through the gates of magic; via a metal detector and bag check. France is on high security alert and Disneyland is no exception. Security was tight and visible but not threatening or off-putting.
The children couldn’t believe we were actually in Disneyland. William was mesmerised; shouting out every time he saw an image or statue of Mickey. Ella was immediately impressed by the towering Sleeping Beauty castle.
The quality I most love about children of this age is their innocence and the lack of cynicism. So the wonder on their faces as they spotted their favourite characters was real. There was no hint of them wondering whether they were actually the real characters or people just dressed up. This was Disneyland, this was magic.
We headed to Fantasyland soaking up the wonder of Main Street and that famous castle along the way. For the middle of summer, it wasn’t as busy as we’d expected. We opted for a minimal queue ride first and went straight to It’s a Small World; a water-based ride where you view dancing dolls from around the world singing their infectious tune. Low tech, low key, low queuing time!
We wandered through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth - a garden maze - then over to Peter Pan’s Flight to endure a 40 minute wait. We’d brought snacks and tried to entertain the children as we waited but they were getting tetchy by the time we stepped on the car. We swooshed over a starlit London then flew over Neverland. This is one of the best rides for young children.
Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast was billed as a 20 minute wait but after 25 minutes, William had fallen asleep on my shoulder and we were nowhere near the front. I ducked out of the queue with him and let him have a nap while Nick and Ella enjoyed the attraction.
A 40 minute nap re-energised William and before watching the 5.30pm parade we managed to squeeze in the Pinocchio ride and buy souvenirs.
Disney Magic on Parade was a real highlight. For about 20 minutes you get to watch all of your favourite Disney characters sing and dance their way along Main Street.
For me, the rides and the park are fading a little, but the parades and shows are still pure Disney Magic.
To make the most of our day we decided to have dinner in the Disneyland Hotel at California Grill. It was a chance to escape the crowds and have good, albeit expensive, meal. The highlight was a photograph with Minnie who was in the adjacent restaurant and seeing Mickey pass by.
We also managed a drink in the hidden gem, Café Fantasia. A quiet bar, with balconies overlooking the entrance gardens.
A change of pace for a couple of hours gave us the energy to explore again and we headed to the Phantom Manor – a haunted house which was a little scary for the children but they still enjoyed it.
Nick then took advantage of the lack of queues at Pirates of the Caribbean for a rollercoaster fix.
It wasn’t long until the crowds gathered for Disney Dreams – a light and firework show with magical music. It was an impressive show which rounded of the day perfectly.
A 10 minute walk had us collecting our bags from reception then up to our room for the night.
After a later than ever night out for the children we didn’t rush on the Sunday morning. We had breakfast at the hotel then enjoyed a swim in the nautical themed pool at Newport Bay hotel.
After leaving our luggage with the Disney Express service, we walked to the other park; Walt Disney Studios Park. It seemed busier than the previous day but without too much effort we managed to enjoy Cars Rally, Flying Carpets over Agrabah, Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin, and the excellent Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic. We probably shouldn’t have embarked on Armageddon: The Special Effects – the children were terrified as flames burst into the set and they cried as the crash of a fake meteor shook our darkened room. Nick also managed to frighten himself on the vertical drop of the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. We had a rest while watching Mickey and the Magician – a well-choreographed musical with famous faces including Mickey, Elsa, and Cindarella.
Our only disappointment was trying to be organised by getting Fast Passes for Ratatouille: The Adventure; then when we arrived at what was to be our much anticipated last ride of the day, it broke down. The trip has been so smooth so far we couldn’t be too disappointed but we did have two small, sad faces for a few minutes.
The only real complaint we had was around the food at the parks and hotels. How could it possibly be so bad?
There is an attempt to give the food offer variety but there is a theme of truly substandard food served very slowly, at a high cost. So not only do you have to queue for around and hour for soggy fish and chips and water filled chicken burgers for two adults and two children you also have to hand over 50 euros for the privilege.
My search for a decent coffee was futile and even a decent ham and cheese baguette was elusive in this corner of the gastronomic capital of the world. But you don’t go to Disney for the food.
Sometimes travelling with children can become a chore rather than an adventure but our trip home from Disneyland was a dream. We collected our luggage from the station at around 4pm, queued through security and departed at shorty after 5pm. Before 7pm we pulled into St Pancras and following a quick train ride out of London, the children were in the bath and ready for bed at 8pm. We’d had a really fun-filled, exciting and enjoyable trip to Disney – in just 36 hours.
For once, I was feeling a little post travel smug rather than post travel exhaustion. Happy times.