What you should know: Disneyland Paris with kids
Disney magic is an epic adventure. Regardless of which Disney property you visit. Disneyland Paris is our latest adventure and our second visit. There is considerable planning that goes into the magic, and even more when kids are involved. Best to give yourself a few days to get ready.
I’ve written before about amusement parks tip; general information about packing, strollers and keeping the children safe and sane, you can find that here. That is useful to refer to once you have arrived. Today is a little different; while exploring Disneyland Paris for the last 2 1/2 days, I actively sought out information that any parent would want/need to know before embarking on such an epic vacation. Today, we are discussing information you should know before booking the vacation.
There’s always an app for that.
Before heading out to the park, be sure to know the crowd prediction. You don’t want to find yourself accidentally in the busiest weekend of the year, when you could have easily waited a few days. Download the crowd prediction app before booking your stay, and the wait-time app to get an idea of which ride you want to check out next. This is a good idea to grab before heading out, so it is one less thing to worry about when you are there. Also, DLP does not offer free wifi; you want to save those precious GB for when it really matters.
Not unlike its Walt Disney World cousin, the DisneyLand Paris Photopass is a card that electronically stores professional photos in certain stops around the park, and during character greetings. Unlike Walt Disney World, DLP has a limited number of photo pass photographers wandering the park, and fewer character dinners. 2014, it was just starting to roll out and absolutely not worth it. Come 2016, I saw more and more photographers at character greetings, Character dinners and rides, though most children will not have the patience to wait in line for a character, or meet the height requirements for Photo pass eligible rides. The benefit of Photo pass is that there is no purchase necessary; you may purchase in advance (which I recommend for Walt Disney World) or see where it goes and buy after the fact. The plastic cards are free, just keep them close and upload them at any Kiosk in the parks to view and purchase.
Meal plan or room discount?
Often times, when you book a room, you are offered one of two options; free meal plan or impressive room discount. Depending on the size of your group, room discount is usually the most cost-effective choice. Depending on the level purchased, the meal plans offer up to 2 meals plus breakfast for each member. Want character dinner? Use 2 meal vouchers for one sitting. Review your expectations of the food and your budget and make the best choice for yourself. Clearly, they wouldn’t offer meal-plans if it wasn’t
beneficial purchased by a significant number of their guests. Find the ins and outs “free” dining plans here, know before you purchase here, and my experience booking with DDP here.
Rent or bring your own stroller
These strollers cost a whopping 20 euro per day to rent. While they have a canopy to cover the child during mild sprinkling, they hardly look comfortable. I have heard differing opinions, many of which believe they are not worth the cost. Bringing your own stroller means the child is familiar with it, it is comfortable, easier to pick out of a crowd and actually has storage space. Depending on the cost of bringing your own, I would always suggest not to bother renting a Disney Stroller.
I have been seeing a lot of older children riding in these, rather than smaller kids, however. My 4-year-old was able to walk most of the day (12 hours) without much problem. I caught several 6-8 year olds riding in these; if your child can’t handle the long day and you no longer own a stroller, then maybe this is a good idea. Keep in mind that the line to rent one is time-consuming; waiting until later in the day to get one will mean fewer people are waiting in line, but there is always a chance of them running out of strollers.
Each attraction and restaurant has a stroller parking lot. I left the diaper bag in the bottom of the stroller but didn’t leave anything valuable in that bag; change of clothes and diaper accessories. Some people will say to use a bike lock so no one can steal the stroller; this is not advised. There are attendants that frequently move the strollers from the entrance to the exit, move them away from ‘no parking zones’ or just rearrange them to make more room. A good stroller is also a great way to keep the kids immobile when the crowds get thick, during meals (when high chairs are limited) or to encourage nap/quiet time.
If you have never heard of a Fast Pass before, don’t worry. It is a fairly new system and each location has a different way of implementing it. At Disneyland Paris, you will find little green machines called Kiosks. Above the kiosk you will find a sign indicating what time you may return to the ride. Keep your over all schedule in mind when getting these tickets; is it during nap time or meal time, will you be in another park or wanting to see a parade during your entrance window? Simply scan the QR code of your ticket onto the infrared scanner and a special ticket will pop out for each park ticket scanned.
They are in 10 minute increments and have a window of 30 minutes so don’t worry about not all being together; if your party has 2 different entrance times, go with the later time – they will not allow anyone into the Fast Pass line early.
A standard fast pass ticket will get your party into a much shorter line, a few hours after grabbing your tickets. This is best used for the high traffic rides like Peter Pan, Ratatouille and Buzz Light year (for the kids), Star Wars, Space Mountain and Tower of Terror (for the Adults). Each entrance ticket can get up to 3 fast pass tickets; they are valid either once the First Fast pass window starts or 2 hours after obtaining the latest ticket. At park opening, I went straight to Ratatouille; the line was 30 minutes long and my Fast Pass was valid for 2 hours from now – the regular line had already passed the queue which meant they could not estimate the wait time passed 90 minutes.
Tickets can sell out fairly quickly so get in the most important line first and then wait the designated 2 hours and grab the next one; a little bit of planning is required at Disneyland Paris. By the time I returned to use Ratatouille (1145 am) the next return time was 7 pm. When I exited the ride, they were sold out.
VIP fast pass
There were several people in front of us with reservation booklets that allowed them to get in the Fast Pass line on all available attractions, as well as jump the line for character greetings. While this is also possible for the physically and mentally handicapped, I am referring to another group altogether. These guests upgraded their rooms from classic/deluxe to Suites or Castle Club. Depending on your budget and size of your group, this may or may not be an option. A quick research showed a Castle Club room at the Disney Hotel can hold up to 10 people, for 3700 euro per night, Sequoia Lodge Castle Club room went for 1250 euro per night.
Honestly, my entire 1 week vacation didn’t cost 3700 euro so I was not about to pay that for one night just to skip all the lines, but I can definitely see why many people would want to; maybe when I visit with the entire family (6 adults and 4 kids) in a few years I will have a different opinion.
Pack the Snacks
Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If you want to survive Disneyland, bring snacks and drinks. The lines for attractions can be long and boring, and equally so can the lines at the snack trucks or bakeries. I always have a snack option in hand and a days worth in the diaper bag. Sometimes stuffing their faces with Goldfish or apple slices is what makes or break at 45 min wait for Pirates of the Caribbean. This container is my best friend. I have mentioned it several times already and I will continue to do so, that’s how much stress and fighting this container alleviates.
Buy in advance
If your kids don’t need to buy it themselves for it to be considered a souvenir, then buy it all early. Even then, let them buy one and the rest is early. Going broke over souvenirs is not a Disney right of passage. Amazon has everything from autograph books, to princess costumes ( incredibly less expensive), and pirate costumes, lanyards, drawstring bags, and even those light-chasing toys for the fireworks. Don’t get caught in a giant line, only to pay onsite prices when you could have brought it all yourself. It’s still Disney products, just the smarter way of shopping. Bonus packing tip; grab yourself a mommy hook if you don’t already have one. This will help keep the bags, coats and whatever else out of the bottom basket or on top of the canopy.
Baby care centre
I love the baby care centres at Disneyland Paris. The centre at Disneyland Park is on the right hand side of Main Street, turning once in front of the Castle. This has a fairly large parent bathroom – so mom and dad can change baby – a kitchenette to prepare and feed baby hot food or formula, high chairs and microwave included. This is also where you will find your children if they are ever lost and picked up by a cast member. I was able to take a quick look at the lost-child pit; just behind the front desk, full of stuffed animals, books and toys for any scared child to feel safe and comfortable while waiting for their caregiver.
Very important to note; this is also where you can purchase baby necessities. I brought a pack of diapers but ended up being a day short on my count. I didn’t want to buy a whole pack since I had a pack at home and I had a feeling it would cost me a fortune. The front desk offers diapers at 1 euro per unit (good thing I only needed 3). They did mention that all Disney owned hotels have shops with these same items that can purchased in packages, like a corner store, at a much better price.
Not all Baby Centres are created equally.
While the one at Disneyland Park was straight forward and relaxing, the Baby Care centre at Walt Disney Studio left a sour taste in my mouth. I asked for diapers (need just 2 more… still cheaper than a package, I thought). The centre told me they don’t handle money, just lost kids and toilets. I had to wait in the stroller rental line to make my purchase. 30 minutes later, she handed me a pack of 30 for 10 euro. They offered food, first aid supplies, wipes, blankets, and of course strollers and wheelchairs.
We were so tired after our first night that we forgot to plug-in our camera battery. Luckily we had a AA cell battery adapter that we could use instead of a battery pack, but we left our batteries on the kitchen table – of course. Any of the gift shops and Baby centres sell standard batteries. We purchased a ‘6 plus 2 bonus’ pack for only 8 euro. A little much for batteries but not too bad considering our location – I expected the mark up to be much higher.
Never pillage batteries from various sources to fill a single need. When using multiple batteries for one device, like a camera, all batteries need to be the same brand and strength. While it may work for a little while, you run the risk of the batteries leaking or exploded. 8 euro was not worth risking my $400 camera.
On or off site
There are a ton of blogs, websites and books telling you to do one over the other. We bit the bullet this time and decided to try off site. Just for you, my faithful readers. You are welcome.
Like most things, with money comes perks. Disney offers exclusive perks for staying at their expensive hotels. Not all exclusive offers are perks however.
- Early Magic Hours is a real thing. Guests with EMH are allowed into the park a whole 2 hours before any one else and have exclusive access to Fantasy Land. 2 years ago, we had completed Fantasy land by the time our 2 hours was over and successfully making our way to the next land in the park. Fantasy land is also the first park many off-site guests run to as this is home to Peter Pan, the Carousel and It’s a Small World.
- Hotel Atmosphere. The hotel just vibes Disney, even if the off-site location is decorated in Disney style.
- Starting next year, Disney hotels will resume offering characters at their restaurants; this was canceled for 2 years and apparently brought back by popular demand. When booking your hotel reservation, it is also possible to book various shows and restaurants, like Buffalo Bill or Chef Mickey’s at the same time. Not all offer breakfast included so be sure to check into that before assuming anything, but there are several options available at Disney Village should you choose to leave the hotel to eat.
- Disney hotels also offer public transit to and from the park. These buses only service Disney hotels so you won’t be fighting off-site guests for a chair, but a bus is still a bus. When booking online, they all mention how far of a walk you are looking at. While walking home after 12 hours in the park sounds like the last thing you want to do, once you see the bus lines, you may change your mind.
- Price. As a budget traveler, I would be lying if I said their prices weren’t a little high. Yes, you get what you paid for, but I don’t require 24 hour access to the pool, or sauna, or room service… I would gladly take a reduced price in exchange for fewer unnecessary amenities.
- Unless you are staying at the Disneyland Hotel, buses are required. I dislike taking such crowded buses, and without physical barriers to keep guests from swarming the bus (like they have at Walt Disney World), it come sometimes be borderline unsafe for small children
As I mentioned before, we had never stayed off site until last week and we did this purely for the money. I know what we spent last time at the Disneyland Hotel and it was a little out of reach considering we were at the tail end of a 1 week road trip through Normandy. Off site has many pros and cons as well.
- Budget. An off site location can cost nearly half vs on site.
- Breakfast is included
- Rooms were roughly the same size anyways
- Free bus
- Can be booked through a third-party agency
- Was not a reasonable walking distance
- Shared the bus with 4 other hotels – catching it after the fireworks was rough
- Quality of customer service not quiet to standard
- Cleanliness and maintenance problems. Had a handful of dirty dishes on the racks during breakfast. I was not pleased.
- Poor gift shop options
- Zero baby care options
Don’t over plan | Don’t under plan either
Read the blogs, do the research, and make the phone calls. Do what you need to do to feel that you are properly equipped to handle such an epic and unique adventure with the family. Don’t forget to Be flexible. Things happen; flights get delayed, luggage gets lost, rains when the app said sunny, the list goes on. Know which parks you want to visit, in which general order, grab your fast-passes and reservation cards, then let the day take you where it takes you. The parades run several times per day, the shows run even more so. Know when to break for food/toilet and make sure to get good spots for when you do plan to watch.
Over planning will only drive you crazy and under planning, well; you’ll be standing around trying to figure out your next move more often than you care to.
I hope I answered a few lingering questions before you take the plunge and book a Disney vacation. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time. We always have a great time. But at the end of the day, when parents are at the breaking point of stress and exhaustion, and the children are bouncing off the walls with lollipops and popcorn, you want your room to be perfect, your amenities in line and know that you have booked the best possible vacation within your budget.
While this guide book is technically for Disney World in Florida, a lot of their Magic Kingdom tips apply to Disneyland Parks, and their overall kid-friendly tips translate to other Disney Properties as well. This book is for Paris, but it doesn’t offer any insight into taking kids along.
Any other questions? Ask away in the comments.
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