Over half term we went to Disneyland Paris with my boys (9 & 7) and my two nieces (9 & 7). It was expensive and took some planning but it was such a wonderful holiday. I was quite worried about how it would go but we were really lucky with beautiful weather and made some magical memories.
This is a long post but all the preparation and tips from people really helped make our trip so brilliant. I want to share some information for those of you planning your own visit. For anyone else you might just want to skim down to the bits of interest.
When I first started looking into the possibility of a Disney trip I was quickly overwhelmed at all the different choices available. Where to stay, when to go, how to get there, meal plans etc. Thankfully there are a ton of people out there ready to give you lots of tips. Great places to get some help and ideas:
- Facebook group: Disneyland Paris – Tips for Brits
- Facebook group: Disneyland Paris – Special Needs or Disabilities
- Disneyland Paris Website
- Disney Bloggers – here is an old guest post I did for Mummies Waiting on Disney
- Disneyland Paris App
While planning our trip I found the Facebook groups really helpful. They were even more helpful in the run up to our visit. Recently cast members have been striking so it was helpful to keep up to date while we were there. Thankfully we were very lucky with strikes falling on the day before and day after our visit.
In the end we decided to travel by car, this was the cheapest option with 7 of us (plus my dad had a 7 seater he could lend us). We booked directly with Disneyland Paris and had 3 days in the parks and 2 nights in Disney hotels. The day before and after we stayed in cheaper hotels nearby. Our dates were in May half term which was not a holiday for children in Paris but still very busy mostly with other Brits. The days we were in the park were Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It was quieter on the Wednesday and full on the Friday (although this may have been impacted by people going early to avoid strikes the next day).
Preparation is key
My kids both really benefit from preparation for new things. We did a little Disney reveal at Easter and spent time over a couple of months looking at maps of the parks and YouTube videos. We found some lovely letters and tickets we could print out for the kids, whilst they are designed for Disney World we just wrote Paris on the ticket. My husband also did a countdown on the calendar helping the kids cross off the days before we went.
With communication being difficult for both my boys visuals are really important to us. A lovely person who already had lots of Disneyland visuals / PECS cards shared them on the Facebook group. This saved me so much time. It was really helpful to have visuals to look at in advance and for while we were in the park to show where or what was happening next.
Things to remember
Make sure your passport is in date. Lots of small sensory fidgets in your pockets for when you are sat in queues / on the long journey. I would recommend getting some Disney ears, we picked up some simple ones from Amazon for £2.99. There were people selling them near the shuttle stop outside the park for around 5 euros. Inside the park you are looking at 25-35 euros. They will be better quality in the park with Disney touches but these were a nice treat for the kids in advance. Three of the kids wore them most of the time we were there.
Headphones are a must for any kids who may have noise sensitivity or even just get a bit overwhelmed. In the parks music is playing constantly, the parades in particular are very loud. My youngest is noise sensitive so we expected him to be using the headphones most of the time. My eldest is a sensory seeker and rarely uses headphones but he needed them a fair bit whilst we were there so I was glad to have carried both pairs with us.
Lots of people were wearing sunflower lanyards so these were also worth having with us.
Priority Cards / Access Cards
One of the reasons our visit was so good was having priority access cards. This is a must if your child is eligible. If you already get disability living allowance or have an Access Card these will likely be sufficient evidence. You can apply for the card a month in advance but you need to show your evidence when you collect the card at the park. We were able to collect ours at the Hotel as we were staying in the park.
The Priority Card means that you can get priority access to rides, parades, shows and even in restaurants and shops. My boys were both eligible for the green pass which allowed them access plus 4 people to rides, attractions and shows or plus 2 for parades. This was so helpful as there were 7 of us in total meaning as a group we were able to get priority access for pretty much everything. We only needed to split up once for the parade.
Priority access on rides & food
Using the pass is easy. For rides you just need to follow the signs for the disabled access which is usually the exit. The longest wait we had was for the Railroad (15mins) but most rides we just waited for the next turn so 5 minutes for most.
Another helpful tip is that the counter service restaurants have specific disability queues, and some have separate seating areas. Every time we flashed our pass to cast members we were shown straight to the front of a disabled queue. This was so helpful with hungry kids. I also found when I asked to be seated in quiet areas they always did their best. You can also go to the front at the food carts but we choose not to do this as essentially you push into the front of the one queue.
Priority access to characters
You can also use the pass for character meet and greets. You go to the meet and greet location, go straight past the queue to where the character is and there will be a cast / staff member (usually with a clipboard). Show this person your pass and if they have spaces they will give you a return time to come back. When you go back at your allotted time you will go straight to see the character.
You need to do this early in the day particularly with popular characters like Stitch as they only have so many priority spaces each day. Having said that they do also give some out in the afternoon but you need to know when to go back for the slots.
Most days we easily managed 2 character meets. The Mickey Mouse meet and the Princess Pavilion are more like ride access and you need to go to the exit and queue. The Princess Pavilion was the longest queue. I think we queued around 35 minutes but it was in a shaded area and much better than the 2 hour standard queue.
Autographs – all the characters were very used to doing autographs. One of my nieces decided to collect them and she was thrilled each time she got one. So if you want to collect autographs make sure you have something for them to sign with you.
Priority access for shows and parades
The priority cards can also be used for shows in the same way as for the meet and greets by heading to the front of the queue and talking to the cast members. We did the Stitch Live show and the Lion King show and both times we were shown to a separate waiting area and given access before the main queue.
There are several roped off areas for priority access when watching the parades. On the first day we watched the parade on the central plaza just in front of the castle. There was space in the roped off area but we were standing in a busy very loud area and it was a bit much for both the boys. It was also the first parade they saw so probably a bit overwhelming. On the last day we found a large roped off area to the right of the castle which had benches, it was a quieter spot and the kids could stand on the benches so got at decent view even being set back. A few people recommended seeing the parade from the start entrance over in Fantasyland which may also be worth a try.
Travelling to Disneyland Paris
There are lots of different options for travel, you can fly, drive and get the ferry or train. As we had a larger group (7) driving was the cheapest option for us.
To get over the channel we used the Euro Tunnel, not the most exciting way to travel and a little bumpy but it was quick and easy. We also hired a roof box for the trip to give us a bit more space.
The AA has lots of helpful information on driving in France. In France there are a couple of tolls on the main roads you need to pay for by card. The kids were all excited to get stamps in their passports. The service station Aire de Coeur des Hauts-de-France was a good stop, they had an outdoor play area for the kids, McDonalds and a decent service station restaurant.
It was a long trip for us with all the kids in the car we had to stop regularly for toilets stops and food so we really had a whole day travelling either side of our stay.
Hotels on route
To make our trip a little cheaper and easier we decided to stay in nearby hotels before and after our Disney stay. On the way we decided to travel all the way to Disney so we would be able to go straight in on our first day. We stayed at Hotel Premiere Classe, Marne la Vallee – Bussy Saint Georges. It was basic but clean and close to Disneyland (just 15 min drive). Breakfast was continental style and they had parking on site. The kids were pretty pleased to be in bunk beds!
As we were so close my husband headed over to Hotel Cheyenne around 9pm so he could check in for the next day. This was really straightforward and meant there were no queues. He was able to collect our magic passes and our priority access cards. This meant we could head straight in the next day and he got a text later in the afternoon on our first day when our rooms were ready. The magic pass is your ticket for everything. Each person has a magic pass which is your entry ticket for the park, room key for the Disney Hotel and has all your meal plan vouchers on.
On our way home from Disney we decided to stay at Hotel Inn, Paris CDG Airport. It was very reasonable with nice rooms and again continental breakfast, parking and WIFI. The kids enjoyed watching the planes taking off and were pleased to find French kids watch the same cartoons so there was Peter Rabbit and Bluey to watch on TV.
The boys love Toy Story so this Woody themed hotel was perfect for us. You instantly feel like you are in a Wild West town. The main building houses reception, a huge buffet restaurant, a kids area, shop and Starbucks. Each morning Woody or Jessie would be in the reception area for meet and greets.
There was pony rides available for 12 euros per child which our lot loved. It was just a short ride along the hotel main road and back but probably enough for most kids. There was also a little outdoor play area which was nice and quite and a lovely way to spend some time outside in the evening. The kids loved the tepees.
We were in a standard Woody’s roundup room for four people with a double bed, a single / couch bed and a stow away which worked fine for the kids. The TVs had Disney channel so perfect when the kids got up and when winding down after the park. As we had booked together we were in adjoining rooms to my sister and her kids which was very handy.
Everywhere you look are lovely little touches reminding you its a woody themed hotel.
Outside the reception is a bus stop where you can get a shuttle bus to the Disney Parks. There was always a bus there or within a few minutes, it was always full but fine for us. We went into the park on the shuttle bus each morning.
As we were staying in a Disney hotel we were able to enter the parks during the magic hour (one hour before main entry). This was great especially for getting the character meet times and was much quieter so well worth going in early.
The hotel is around a 15 minute walk from the parks, each day we walked back and it was really nice. There are huge fish in the river which the kids were excited by. It was an easy lovely green, calm, quiet walk just what you need after the busy parks.
The Disneyland Paris Parks
At Disneyland Paris there are two parks, the Disneyland Park and Walk Disney Studios Park. Just outside the parks is the Disney Village which is full of shops, restaurants and the train station.
To enter the parks you go through security. They have a disabled queue here which you can use with the priority passes, if you don’t see the signs just ask a member of staff who will direct you. It is very similar to airport security where all bags go through an machine and you walk through the scanners.
Then each park has its own gates where you queue and scan your magic passes for entry. Again there is a disabled queue which were always quick to go through for us.
The Disneyland Park has toilets in the back alley behind the main street shops on both sides we found these quiet most times. There are toilets nearby in most places but the further from the entrance you are the busier the toilets seemed to be. There are lots of water fountains, outside most toilets so it is easy to bring your own bottle and refill.
Finding quiet spaces is harder as there is noise everywhere but a good spot we used a few times was the Videopolis theatre / Cafe Hyperion in Discoveryland. This is a huge theatre where they either have cartoons on the screens or sometimes theatre students performing / practising. It is a huge space but was quiet every time we went in even with students performing.
The Disneyland Park
I would definetly recommend going to the Disneyland Park first. The walk in then along main street to the castle is a must for all visitors wanting to soak up that Disney magic. Each day we spent the morning in one park and afternoon in the other. It might not be the most efficient way to do it but the walk between the parks was a nice break for the kids.
There is so much at the Disneyland Park. Main street, the castle and Fantasyland are by far the busiest but these are the areas not to be missed. We hardly went to Adventureland but we would have liked to do the boat trip if we had more time. Frontierland has a lovely playground we used when waiting for the Lion King show. The older kids loved Big Thunder Mountain so we had to go a few times. There are some good rides in Discoveryland and that is also where you will find Videopolis.
Walt Disney Studios Park
With two Pixar fans we knew we would spend a bit of time over at the Studios. The world of Pixar is fantastic and the Ratatouille ride was a favourite for us. The Toy Story Playland is all rides which is great but just be warned it’s not a playground.
The new Marvel campus is in the Studios park. Our kids are not yet into Marvel so we didn’t spend a lot of time there but when we did it was one of the busiest areas.
Character Meet and Greets
I highly recommend doing some meet and greets. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it but all the kids loved meeting the characters. Use the Disneyland Paris App to see what characters are where and when. Stitch seemed to be the most popular with long queues. Alongside the Princess Pavillion which had long waits. All the characters we interacted with were brilliant, they were so good at interacting with the kids.
My youngest struggles with people in general but all the characters were brilliant making sure to include him and not being phased by him grabbing at them or their clothes! In their own way each character really did make the meets special for all of us not just the kids. Everyday we also saw characters walking through the park and they always smile and wave and interact as they pass. On one occasion my youngest was crying as we came past Tigger and Eeyore and they both instantly turned and started waving towards him which did stop the tears! The characters really are part of the magic and it was worth checking out the times and getting slots early in the day.
Disney Photo Pass
When you meet with characters there is always a photographer there to take pictures. Having said that the cast members will always take pictures for you with your phone. You can purchase the photo pass in advance but you can also buy it at the end. Everytime we had pictures taken we were given a temporary card that had the code so those photos could be added to the photo pass. We were not fussed about ride photos but these were also available for some of the bigger rides.
Whilst I don’t think we needed it as we got great photos with our own phones we ended up getting the pass as a group and all our temporary cards were added. This was easily done at the hotel as we were leaving. The professional photo quality was good so if you have the money its worth it but equally if you can’t afford it I wouldn’t worry you can get some great shots yourself.
In preparation we watched some of the parades on YouTube before our visit which was really helpful for the kids to know what to expect. There are several different parades and outdoor shows. We decided not to stay to the later ones as it would have been 11pm which was too late for our younger two so we stuck with the magic hour and daytime parades.
The parades do get really busy and be mindful when it finishes you have huge crowds heading for food or more rides. Having said that the parades are fantastic and well worth watching. I would recommend being further away from the main central plaza as this is where most people go to watch.
We saw the 30th anniversary Dream and Shine Parade which had some of our favourite Zootropolis characters. This was on several times a day so we did catch bits of it a couple more times without meaning to.
The Disney Stars on Parade we watched on our last day and it was such a nice way to finish off our trip. This is only on once a day (around 5pm when we were there) but has all the characters in it along with the huge dragon!
The shows were a highlight for me and our access passes made this much easier. As Lion King fans we really wanted to see the show. It was a wonderful introduction for the kids very similar style to the stage show. We approached the cast members at the front of the queue about 45 minutes before the start time. There were already lots of people in the standard queue at this point. They told us to return 20minutes before the start for priority access. This gave us time to play in the nearby playground. When we went back we were taken to a separate waiting area before being seated first giving us brilliant spots.
It was around half an hour long and all songs. The Theatre (in Frontierland) was huge I was a bit worried my youngest wouldn’t cope as he was stressed when we went in. Thankfully the show captured him instantly and he loved it. There were some impressive acrobatics.
My niece is a Stich fan so we had to do Stitch Live. This was over in the Studios. They alternate between French and English so make sure you check the language when looking at times on the app. We arrived just on time for this one and easily got in. Again there was a separate waiting area for priority access. Kids were invited to sit at the front but also had a great view seated with us. This was cinema style but with Stitch interacting with the audience. It was very well done and quite short (10-15 mins) and had most of us laughing. Be mindful Stitch wasn’t there in person just on screen, thankfully we had already met Stitch at this point.
Disneyland Paris Rides
As we were with the kids we stuck to the smaller family rides. The boys really enjoyed when we went back on rides we had done before. I think knowing what to expect makes a big difference for them. Thankfully our access passes allowed us to do that more easily.
There is a Blue booklet which sets out what to expect sensory wise from the rides which may be helpful for some.
The rides that upset some of the kids – Crush’s Coaster and Cars Road Trip. I think the main issue with these was there were scary bits that were unexpected. Crush’s Coaster was mostly in the dark and was high and fast which I don’t think any of us were expecting. It didn’t help that you ride this in twos so my eldest niece went with a stranger. In hindsight we should have ridden it in two groups so all the kids had a familiar adult with them on it.
The boys loved Cars Road Trip but one of my nieces was very upset by the explosions and fire. In fairness we had tears from all the children at some point but when tired, hot, hungry and overwhelmed that is no surprise.
Having said that all the kids had a wonderful time and loved so many of the rides. The favourites were the Ratatouille Ride, It’s a Small World and for the older two Big Thunder Mountain.
Others I would recommend – Slinky Dog Spin, Carosel, Tea Cups, Casey Jr, Buzz Lightyear Blast. I didn’t go on but the eldest two also enjoyed Star Tours with my husband.
Not really rides but don’t miss upstairs in the castle and also Alice’s Curious Labyrinth (maze).
Food at Disneyland Paris
When staying at the Disney Hotels you can also get a meal plan package. In the end we went for a half board package which included dinner on our first and second nights and breakfast on the 2nd and 3rd mornings. This worked really well and we used the counter service fast food restaurants for lunches. It was helpful to have already paid in advance for most of our food.
Breakfast at Hotel Cheyenne was great, a buffet so loads of choice for picky kids. There was also fruit and rolls and lots of people taking bits to have later in the day. Some lovely touches like Mickey Mouse shaped waffles. It was a great way to start the day.
There are so many places to get treats throughout the day which were hard to resist. My favourite was probably the March Hare Ice Creams in Fantasyland (this does get pretty busy). The ice creams were huge but delicious and perfect in the hot weather. Other highlights were the macaroons available from the Bake shop on Main Street and the Buzz Lighyear eclairs which were close to the Ratatouille shop in Walt Disney Studios.
The fast food restaurants all had more than one choice which was great. Most burger places also had chicken nuggets on offer. Cafe Hyperion also had salads. Casey’s Corner on the end of Main Street was an easy option for hot dogs or nuggets after the parades. The kids really enjoyed getting Mickey shaped pizza at Colonel Hathi’s pizza outpost, where they also served pasta for the one child who wouldn’t eat pizza.
Bistro Chez Remy
My youngest is a huge Ratatouille fan so we had to go to Bistro Chez Remy. This is where we had dinner on our first night. We had bookings but still had to wait for about 10 minutes when we got there in a small waiting area with lots of hot and bothered hungry people.
One thing I would recommend is doing the Ratatouille ride just before you go in which helps with the magic of it all. The kids were all a bit tired by the time we sat down. Service was efficient but did take a little longer than I would have liked to get our orders in. Having said that food came quickly.
The restaurant has the most wonderful décor all designed to make you feel like a mouse. The kids loved that the table was a jam lid. With our meal plans we got a three course meal which was delicious but the kids menu wasn’t the most kid friendly with everything cooked in sauces. So most of my delicious steak and chips got eaten by the children! However the chocolate mousse made up for this. I would really recommend a visit.
Our second evening meal was at PYM kitchen in the Marvel campus in the studios. Not being a Marvel fan myself I missed a lot of the theme but my husband loved it. This was a great option food wise for everyone a buffet with tons of choice. My youngest was very happy with his cucumber, cheese and bread whilst the rest of us tucked into mini burgers and corndogs.
Gifts / souvenirs
The kids had been given some spending money from relatives so we did go to the shops. It is easy to miss these out if you don’t want to buy extras. There are shops all over the place so if you are wanting to splash the cash. Each child chose their favourites, my youngest found an Emile plush (from Ratatouille). The girls bought a Stitch and Cheshire cat plush toys. My eldest is not that into cuddly toys so we took him for a visit to the LEGO store in the Disney Village. Here he chose the small Disney Castle which he has since proudly built.
All in all we had the most wonderful time and I would definitely love to go back.