We love Disney. I’d like to think we are “Disney people,” but the truth is we don’t have many opportunities to go! Instead we have spent all of our time country hopping in Europe and making the most of living in Hungary and Belgium. We have been Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members since 2013, when we went on a Disney cruise with my sister’s family and were hooked. Our DVC property is Aulani, so in 2016 we went to Aulani in Hawaii with my dad and our kids (ages 1, 3, and 6 at the time) and then then to Disney World in 2017 with my sister’s family and our parents (the kids were 2.5, 5 and 7). Needless to say only our oldest son remembers anything from the cruise (he was almost 4) and Aulani, our youngest really doesn’t remember going to Walt Disney World in Florida. So when we knew we were moving to Belgium and going to live under 3 hours from Disneyland in Paris, we had to make a point of going! The long weekend in March proved to be the perfect chance.
So it had been almost five years since our last Disney experience and it was time to give our kids another dose of magic! We learned so much and are eager to share the “best” and “worst” of Disney Paris, plus some great tips!
Disney Paris is celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year, so everything is decked out with special details including the “30” icon that doubles as Mickey ears! (Can you see it?) There are new drone light shows, great parades, and spinning character instillations all over the park – it was so fun to spot our favorites like Pumba, Baymax and the Geenie. Before diving too much into the two theme parks at DLP, here’s an overview of where we stayed, plus other lodging options.
We were too late and missed the window to book rooms using our DVC points, so instead we sold our points for the year using David’s Vacation Club rentals and it worked out perfectly to not only pay for our dues for the year and our 3 nights of lodging, but also the accompanying four days of park passes for our family! Thanks for sending us to Disneyland Paris for free, DVC! To give you an idea of what it would cost for this same trip if you didn’t have that perk, I have broken it down here:
$3,041.87 Compass Club Family Room up to 5 persons for 3 nights at Newport Bay Club plus 4 days of access to both Disney parks. Check out this beautiful nautical themed property:
That seems like a lot to spend, but for context, JUST these park tickets for four consecutive days for our family of 5 would be $2,140.90. That means for $900 more (or $300/night), we were able to stay IN the park so we could just walk everywhere. It actually made sense to sell our DVC points and book with cash, because the DVC points would only have covered the $900 in lodging. In addition, Compass Club level bookings have unlimited free soft drinks at the hotel, concierge hospitality, a beautiful breakfast buffet each morning, plus early magic hours in the park each day (you get magic hours without Compass Club too). This was the real kicker – at DLP, without early magic hours, you’re going to be stuck waiting hours and hours in long lines for most of the worthwhile rides. OR you could shell out an extra $6-$18 PER PERSON PER RIDE for a fast pass. That adds up! You’re basically going to end up spending that extra money one way or another, so I recommend doing it in style by staying right at the park. (For around $100 for our family of five to ride a single ride in the fast pass lane I’d say it’s just not worth it – but early magic hours are worth their weight in gold.)
The only on-property lodging that could fit our family of five was the Newport Bay Club – but families of four would be very comfortable at the Disneyland Hotel, New York Art of Marvel Hotel or Sequoia Lodge. If you have a very large family (more than 5) it would be twice as expensive and much more difficult to stay on the property. Remember it depends on when you go; off season like September is much cheaper*!
An advantage to the New York Art of Marvel Hotel are access to the Marvel Design studio, which is very similar to the Animation Gallery in Disney Studios (more on this later). However, I have heard that this hotel charges for towels at the Metro pool (At Newport Bay Club they are free!) – so bring your own.
I’m not really sure what an advantage of staying at the Sequoia Lodge would be other than the Pacific west mountain theme is very peaceful. They do have an indoor pool area!
Other Disney lodging off the main property are the Hotel Cheyenne (Woody & Jessie theme, shuttle to the park), Davy Crockett Ranch (private cabins, nice pool), and Hotel Santa Fe (Car’s theme, shuttle to park). There is also Villages Nature, which is not Disney themed, but partners with Disney to bring you some of the perks and a great pool area – it’s also great for larger families. Remember that most Disney resorts also offer character experiences, which are difficult to come by inside the parks given the long wait times. The prices are sometimes a little bit less staying in these off-property resorts. For example:
- $2,776.91 Davy Crockett Ranch (You must drive to the park each day, no shuttle service)
- $2,977.64 Villages Nature (Shuttle is available but not free. This is probably where we would want to stay if we went again, and chose the 2 day tickets instead, leaving more time to enjoy the amazing water park)
To me if you’re going to splurge on Disney, it’s worth doing it right and staying in style! However, if you want to do it cheaper, there are tons of lodging options off the property. Many people opt to stay in nearby Air BnB’s and apartments for $150-$250/night. The advantage of this is having a full kitchen to make your own breakfasts and dinners and pack your own lunches if you want, which can also save you tons of money. Meals are pricey and that adds up too! But we will get to that in a bit.
*Keep in mind that lodging and ticket prices change depending on the day and season. It is impossible to quote exact prices – these are just ballpark. If you keep your eye on it, you can probably get a great deal!
MILITARY: There are military discounted tickets available at Disneyland Paris for a very good savings. You need to go to customer services and buy “2 for 1” dated tickets at the kiosk with proper ID. Do not try to buy the tickets the day before unless you are explicit (in French) about the dates you want – because they often give you same day passes and it could mean you only have access to the parks for a few hours before they close that day. Having to buy your tickets the same day eats away at valuable time in the morning hours when the lines for rides are juuuuust short enough to wait for your favorite rides. For our family of five it would be: $1020 for four days of tickets (a savings of the same amount!). If you do this and stay off property for $300-$500 for three days, it is a decent savings. However, if you book at a certain time of year you can stay at Disney Villages Nature resort for the exact same amount and enjoy the amazing pools there, too. Just keep your eye on prices and always compare your savings because sometimes the benefits of paying just a few hundred dollars extra far outweigh the savings of the military discount!
We did a lot of research on dining before we went and made 3 reservations – and ended up cancelling one after a mediocre experience. The first night we ate at our hotel at the Yacht Club. In Walt Disney World, the Yacht Club had incredible food and service and was well worth the “splurge” price tag. Here, though, I would say it fell flat fast. Our family ate the “prix fixe” menu for $212 and it was definitely not worth it. The food was average and in the kids’ cases, disappointing. I do not recommend the Yacht Club. After this meal we cancelled our reservations at Captain Jack’s restaurant which appeared to have a similar prix fixe menu.
Our reservation at Agrabah Cafe (Aladdin theme middle eastern buffet) was a real treat after Yacht Club. As vegetarians, we were very pleased with the variety on the buffet of both hot and cold options, plus plenty of desert. We tried everything and it was all delicious, and definitely got our money’s worth ($165 for our family). We definitely recommend this place.
After splurging on the reservations we were eager to see what cheaper options were available nearby in Disney Village. Everyone agreed Earl of Sandwich was a huge hit – our whole family ate for under $50. Other affordable quick bites available in Disney Village are Starbucks, McDonalds and Five Guys.
Vapiano comes highly recommended in Disney Village, and since we have eaten there before I can recommend it as well. We also ate at the Rainforest Cafe before we went home because our littlest didn’t remember eating there before and the menu had several nice vegetarian options (compared to neighboring diner style restaurants). Also popular is Planet Hollywood -always a hit with the fun themes!
I have heard Annette’s Diner, LaGrange, King Ludwig’s Castle, and Sports Bar are unremarkable in Disney Village, but fine for a quick bite that won’t break the bank.
In Disneyland Park, besides Agrabah Cafe, it sounds like Walt’s, Fuente del Oro, and Last Chance Café are the best and in spite of great themes, Captain Jack’s and Auberge de Cendrillon are way overpriced for what you get for food.
In Disney Studios Park, avoid Bistrot Chez Remy. The theme is lovely, but the food is very overpriced and guests report it’s not worth it (similar to our Yacht Club meal). Otherwise there are a few kiosks for snacks and a fast food burger restaurant in the pavillion that is average, too and a bit cheaper than other options.
If you want to save, BYO food and water! There are currently no fountains working in the park to refill your water bottle due to covid restrictions so plan accordingly.
Disneyland Paris Park
Ok, enough about crummy budget details – let’s talk Disney magic! So what about the parks? The largest section of Disney Paris is the Disneyland Park. This is where you can find main street, the iconic castle, and the lands we are all familiar with like Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland. This is also where the after dark fireworks and laser light shows are and the best parades take place during the day and evening.
After dark in the park has even more magic – and even better with friends! We were so lucky to spend parts of the day with our dear American friends from here in Belgium.
Our favorite parts of Disneyland Park were Discoveryland and Frontierland, which we found ourselves going back and forth to most often. Also this is where we had a great encounter with Darth Vader and our favorite rides were!
Half of the fun for us on rides is making hilarious faces for the camera to catch. Not all rides take photos (in fact I was surprised Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril didn’t…) but the ones that do are great! I’ll talk more about the PhotoPass later.
Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain: awesome theme, smooth ride (much smoother than regular Space Mountain in WDW), upside down and speedy corkscrew track. It reminded me of Rockin’ Rollercoaster meets Space Mountain, only with a great Star Wars theme! The best! A+
Next Christmas card?
Big Thunder Mountain: Just like in WDW, Big Thunder Mountain is a rootin’ tootin’ good time. It is one of the longer and more satisfying coasters in DLP, and we took advantage of extra magic hours to ride this a few times. It’s great for the whole family! A
Bonus points for whoever can make the most terrified face:
The next spot is a tossup between two rides – our youngest LOVED the Pirates of the Caribbean ride best and wanted to ride it over and over (plus it has a hilarious photo op). The adventure seekers preferred Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, but the downsides to this coaster are that it’s extremely short and the wait time can be very long. It goes upside down though and is tons of fun! Both I would give a B+
The Pirate Island is pretty awesome to explore too! I wish the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse was open but unfortunately they have it closed right now due to covid.
Star Tours: this ride is almost exactly the same as the one in WDW at Hollywood Studios and is so much fun. It is very well done and a great 4D experience! B+ There are no photos on this ride but the themes leading up to it are awesome!
Our girls loved the Buzz Lightyear ride – but to me the only thing that gave this a leg up from some of the other “sit and glide through themed world” rides was that it was interactive. Just like in WDW, you use your laser gun to shoot the targets and earn points. Don’t forget they take your photo! B
The Phantom Manor was in rare form, and felt more interactive than the other “sit and ride through the theme” type rides. We enjoyed it, even though it broke down for 10 minutes and we were stuck next to these crazy dancing dead people…it is similar to the Haunted Mansion in WDW. B
Autopia and Orbitron are usually quite busy in Discoveryland, but are classic and fun. B
The one ride in Fantasyland that was a hit was Casey Junior’s Circus Train. It’s a surprisingly fun little coaster that is tame but well themed and great for younger kids. B-
Other rides included some older (but classic) rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio, and Snow White – all I would give a C+ as they’re really not worth waiting in long lines for OR paying for fastpass. Don’t feel bad about skipping.
Don’t forget the fun little kiddie rides like the giant Carousel of Lancelot, Mad Hatter’s Teacups and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. There is also a great Alice’s Labyrinthe that ends in climbing a tower that looked really fun but it was too crowded to go when we visited. All of these I would give a C rating because they weren’t appealing to our family but would be for smaller kids for sure!
Currently there are two big parades at DLP and they’re both worth seeing. One is themed “Dream-Shine Bright” and it takes place after lunch on Main Street. The other is “Stars on Parade” and it’s all your favorite characters in incredible floats, and as always the best music! There is always a slight lull in ride wait times during the parades, so if you have already seen them, head to your favorite rides to get a leg up on the lines!
Finally, the fireworks and light shows at night take place after dark just before the park closes. This is another time the lines will be short (just before closing) so try to see the show once, and then use that time to get your last rides in! The first show is an amazing 30th Anniversary laser light show all over the castle and it is followed by the classic fountains and fireworks display with beautiful music. I always get emotional at the fireworks! Disney at night is all lit up and beautiful (these photos are from my friend David Dudley!)
Whatever you do, don’t miss the Star Wars Experience. This was one of the most memorable things for our kids – interacting with Darth Vader! It was very personal in a meet and greet interactive photography session and I was very impressed by it. Must do! We only waited 20 minutes or so – try to time it right! If you’re not a Star Wars geek like we are but you prefer Mickey or Marvel, there are options for those in the park as well. A
At the back of Frontierland there is a special Lion King show called “Rhythms of the Prideland.” We opted not to do this as it was an extra expense and you needed to book tickets in advance to see it. If it is anything like the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom WDW, it will be very special! We saw Lion King in New York on Broadway and also the show at Animal Kingdom, so we decided to pass on this. But if you want to do it, it will set you back $18 per person.
Disney Studios Park
Disney Studios is much smaller but is undergoing tons of renovations and upgrades including a massive Frozen themed section, plus Marvel and Star Wars additions. I can’t wait to see what is revealed! It’s easy to breeze through the whole park in the morning, especially if you have Magic Hours and can ride the rides without waiting in line. Here in Disney Studios there is a big focus on Pixar. There are Cars, Toy Story, Rattatouille and Finding Nemo areas and plenty of rides to enjoy. There is a focus on the latest releases like Encanto and Turning Red. There are shows here, a small parade, opportunities to meet Marvel Characters, and an Animator’s Studio.
There is no question that our favorite ride in Disney Studios is Crush’s Coaster. It was our second favorite overall but probably the ride with the longest lines in the entire park because it is so popular. It is the one ride I think would be worth paying for to skip the line with a fastpass. It has an awesome theme and a really unique seating arrangement, fast paced and just a hint of spinning. It really feels like you’re being swept away by that current in Finding Nemo! A+
After Crush’s Coaster I recommend running over to the Hollywood Tower of Terror. It is classic! Although it isn’t as long of a ride as in WDW, it still has the classic drops we have grown to love. It even drops multiple times! A
The next ride to run over to is Rattatouille. It is truly a beautiful 4D experience and even has a little thrill! You can’t miss the smells and the 3D glasses make it extra fun. This was the favorite ride of our youngest in DSP. They don’t take your photo on this ride but I wish they did! A-
After that (assuming you’re still in the magic hour window), you can choose between RC Racer and Parachute Drop. Personally, after Tower of Terror, I would choose RC Racer. Both are quick thrills and fun – younger kids might want to try them! B+
There is a little playland in the Toy Story area, tons of photo ops as well as a great little kids mini coaster, Slinky Dog! It’s quite tiny but faster than you expect. Similar in thrills to Slinky Dog is the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride, which is the same as in WDW. B-
Finally there is a fun Cars ride called Cars-tastrophe Canyon. It’s a trolley ride that turns into a big spectacle when the canyon rumbles into flames and the trolley starts shaking! The younger kids loved it! B-
Next you’re going to want to wait in line to see the Frozen Show: Musical Invitation. It’s very sweet and in French and English. I was very impressed by the cast members and singers! Just be sure to line up in time. There are several showings but they fill up fast. The show runs for about 20 minutes and takes place in 2 auditoriums. I think they expect you to stand, but most people were sitting down on the floor for the show. B+
Don’t forget about the Marvel Experience. Since there aren’t any characters wandering around to meet at the moment, you can wait in line at one of the studios to have an intimate meet and greet and photography session with Thor or another Marvel character. There is also a meet and greet with Olaf in the Animator’s Studio. You’ll have to pick though as they’re usually at the same time! We got there too late and missed out, but know it’s got to be great since the Darth Vader experience was so fun!
Another really fun and interactive activity in Disney Studios is the Animator’s Studio. A limited amount of people can go into the studio to learn how to draw a different character each session. The girls loved it even though they didn’t have enough desks for them and they ended up sitting on the floor in front of the artist instructor. It didn’t matter to them! A
I noticed two shows on the app that didn’t appear to be operating when we were there, but keep an eye out for them as they looked like fun: Stitch Live and Disney Junior Dream Factory. Both are located in the main building of Disney Studio 1. There was also a surprise parade in the park between 12-1 that featured Cars, Aladdin and Rattatouille characters but it was nowhere on the app or schedules I saw. Keep an eye out for surprises like that!
At each park there are lots of great shops and smaller kiosks and bakeries to grab food. Nothing was so remarkable that it’s worth mentioning here but just be sure to have at least ONE crêpe if you’re at Disney Paris! The Disney Village is decidedly the best place to shop as the stores are huge and have a little bit of everything. Disney Village is also the preferred place to grab cheaper and quick eats, although you have to factor in the time it takes to walk there if you have other plans. There are plenty of places to sit and relax, as well as a giant hot air balloon just like in Disney Springs. My kids had to go into the Lego store of course, and what is a trip to Disney without a Mickey ice cream?
All in all, Disney is an awesome place to connect with family, put your worries away for a while and just have fun. We had an amazing time and definitely recommend Disneyland Paris for any Disney lover!
Don’t forget you can buy a Disney PhotoPass for the entirety of your stay (up to 10 days) for €75. That sounds like a steep price, but when you can buy 3 hardcopies of photos after a ride for €35 it ends up being a pretty good bargain. Even better if you can share it with friends! The PhotoPass is different than in Disney World though – you do get a card, but nothing is added automatically. Instead, after a ride with image capture, you have to find your photo number and go to the store kiosk to scan the number onto our PhotoPass card. If you haven’t purchased a PhotoPass card and set up your account yet, that’s ok – just get a temporary PhotoPass card for the day and be sure to add it into your account online after. The temporary card can be used multiple times just like the actual card – even for magic photos and character experiences! When half of your fun riding the rides is making ridiculous faces like we do, snagging these high resolution digital photos to share is worth it.
Just like in other Disney parks, Disney makes it easy for families with little kids who can’t (or don’t want to) ride all the rides to do a rider switch. In DLP they call it “Baby Switch,” and you have to request a ticket AFTER the ride is over from one of the cast members who helps you disembark the ride. I think this is not as good of a system because those people can never tell who you came with – they should definitely be requested at the beginning when you enter so the cast member at the entrance can verify who will be waiting for the complementary fast pass tickets. The nice thing is they give you one ticket but it is good for two riders, so one of the kids can ride again with the parent who was left out! The best way to make use of this is to NOT wait around while your partner is waiting for that ride…instead, go wait for another ride with your youngster so you don’t waste precious wait time. Then you can switch! Boom! Two for one! They are just small tickets – not big lanyards like in WDW – so don’t lose them!
Disney Paris App
Definitely download the Disney Paris App. This way you can make dinner reservations and have the schedules, wait times and showtimes at your fingertips. The map always comes in handy too! This is also another way to verify your ticket in case you lose your ticket.
There is baggage storage available at the entrance of the Disneyland Park on the far right. This is most useful for folks coming from lodging off site. If you are staying on the property, your luggage can be stored for you free of charge until you leave, even after you have checked out.
As is true for all Disney vacations, make your plans ahead of time. If dining is important to you, plan your trip far enough in advance to make your dining reservations as it fills up quickly. You don’t need to speak French to go! Try to eat at off-peak times. Bringing snacks is clutch! Don’t overpay for your tickets; double check you are selecting the right ticket options for your needs. Measure your expectations – this isn’t Walt Disney World. But it has plenty of Disney magic to go around! The princess dresses you can buy in the park are similarly expensive but nicer quality than you can buy outside of Disney, so you might as well buy them here. If you expect bubbly ‘have a magical day’ encounters with Cast Members, you’re gonna have a bad time. The French culture is muted compared to the enthusiasm in the states, but that doesn’t mean they’re not kind and courteous! Go during the week for less crowds and get Magic Hours if at all possible. Don’t expect a ton of pin trading and autographs. Keep an eye out for Mickey Mouse waving at you at opening and closing hours from a balcony in Disney Studios Park main pavilion and as you enter Disneyland Park. There is free Wifi throughout the park! Some rides have single rider service that are much quicker than regular wait times – a great one for that is Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain! Shops stay open even after rides close down, so shop late! Use chipped credit cards or tap to pay. Unlike at other Disney Parks, you can buy beer and wine at counter service restaurants. Any other tips? Add them in the comments!