As you'll already know if you've been following my tweets recently, the Madhouse was overflowing with excitement yesterday because we headed off on a day trip to EuroDisney. This isn't the first time we've been to Disneyland Paris - in fact we had a quick count in the coach on the way there and worked out that it's our fifth time for the grown ups, the fourth with the kids - but this is their 20th anniversary celebration so I was keen to see just how far they could go in the enchantment and magic stakes.
Well, I have to say, when we walked into the park, my first impressions were that I was slightly underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong - the kids were incoherent with excitement at their first glimpse of Sleeping Beauty's castle and Pierre was shouting "Look !" and pointing at things all over the place - but there was nothing extra to mark the 20th anniversary celebrations. In fact, apart from a few discreet gold ribbons and 20s added to lampposts and train carriages, it all looked pretty much the same as usual. This is actually something that I heard a lot of adults saying in the queues for the different attractions - it's now the 20th year but nothing has really changed, there's nothing particularly new or exciting, even to mark this major anniversary. That's not to say the usual Disney magic isn't there, but I have to admit, I was expecting something extra to really blow us all away.
Now, if you've never been to Disneyland Paris before, the first thing to do is check the times of the parades. All theme parks have rollercoasters and rides but only Disneyland Paris (or the American parks) can offer you the spectacular parades featuring all your favourite Disney characters that will have everyone, whatever their age, oohing and aahing in delight. Well, that was the next disappointment - I was expecting to see a couple of parades throughout the day but the only one on the programme was the special 20th birthday Disney Magic one at 7pm, which was just when we needed to be heading back to the coach to leave at 7.30pm. Everyone has also been saying how truly fantastic the nocturnal extravaganza is when the iconic Sleeping Beauty's castle is illuminated by fireworks and lasers with the fountains dancing in the foreground. Sadly, we'll just have to take their word for it, as we were long gone - that's the downside of organised coach trips, although even when we stayed until park closing time when we were sleeping over in a Disney hotel, the kids just couldn't keep their eyes open any more and slept through the whole thing !
We did get to see the 20th anniversary train which is like a sort of mini-parade. It brought a few of the Disney characters to Central Plaza for a Meet & Greet and had Pierre waving so hard, I thought his arm might fly off at one point ! The girls were suitably wowed.
Aaah yes, the Meet & Greets that I mentioned - that's the other thing that Disney has to offer that nobody else does. Where else could you get your photo taken with Mickey and Minnie, cuddle up to Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, get Pluto and Goofy's autographs and pose with the Disney Princesses ? (As long as you're willing to wait an hour at the Princesses' Pavillion, that is - even the girl at the door seemed a bit non-plussed and kept saying : "You all know this isn't an attraction, right? It's just to get your photo taken with the princesses! And there's an hour's wait"!) Sophie had brought along her autograph book from our previous visit and gaily ran around Fantasyland, trying to find more people to add to her collection. Highly recommended !
Now, if you're only going for a day, you have to know in advance that you won't have time to see and do everything so study the map when you arrive and decide what you consider to be the absolute unmissables. For the big rollercoasters like Space Mountain, waiting times can be as long as 90 minutes - even more in summer. Even for some of the smaller kid-friendly rides, such as Casey Jr Circus Train, there was a 50 minute wait. Have a good look around because some of the really amazing rides, like the magical It's A Small World boat ride, only have a 5-minute queue so you can do three or four trips one after the other ! (Look out for the queueing lane on the far right hand side that everyone seems to miss - there are four queues - which means you can bypass all the other queues and head right to the front!)
Now, here are our top tips for getting the most out of a trip to Disneyland Paris, gleaned through our own experiences both on day trips and overnight stays at the Disney Resort hotels.
1 : Look out for special offers and bargain day trips. Disney often do "free entry to park & hotel stay for under 7's" deals if you use their hotels which can make it quite reasonable. For our entire family of 5, coach travel and entry to park combined, we only paid just over €50 all in for our trip yesterday with our local youth club. When they dished out the tickets, just the price for one adult entry was €36.
2 : If you're working to a tight budget, take a picnic with you. Signs will tell you that Disney "tolerate" you eating your own food outside of the park but not within the gates. We had been told to pack a picnic lunch and evening meal by the youth club so went through the security check with our bags stuffed with sandwiches, biscuits and drinks. The security guard checking our bags didn't bat an eyelid and nobody said anything when we ate our sandwiches inside the park either. This also means you can do some of the busier rides at lunchtime when lots of people are hitting the restaurants so the queues are slightly shorter.
4 : If you have small kids, use the Baby Switch option so Mum & Dad don't miss out. Some attractions have minimum height restrictions which means that either mum or dad has to wait with the littlies while the bigger kids plus one parent go and have fun. The Baby Switch option means that, as parent 1 comes off, parent 2 is allowed to take their place (after handing over baby/small kids) without queuing again. The ride operators often don't mind if the older kids stay on (space permitting) so they get two rides without extra queueing too.
5 : Pushchair or sling ? A day out at Disneyland Paris is tiring for everyone so toddlers will definitely fall asleep at some point. A pushchair is ideal as they can have a quick power nap then wake up with a second wind. You will have to leave your pushchair unattended outside of the rides, which some people are worried about, so there is an option of hiring a pushchair at the park. The only problem is, trying to recognise your hired pushchair in amongst twenty or thirty identical ones - take a brightly coloured scarf to tie on it and it will be much easier to find. Even if you take a pushchair, you will still end up having to repeatedly carry a tired, possibly sleeping, toddler for up to an hour in the queues so a sling may be a good idea to save you getting back ache.
6 : Staying in a Disney hotel ? Make the most of your bonus hour ! The parks are open one hour before public opening to guests staying in Disney resort hotels. It is very tempting to rush off to the park and grab a Fast Card and get in at least one of the hugely popular rides before the queues get too big. However, be aware that Mickey and Minnie (and sometimes other characters) visit the hotel lobbies for photo/autograph sessions first thing in the morning. Check the schedule. The queues will be much shorter here than in the park later in the day if your child wants a photo with them.
7 : What if it's raining ? It did rain for about an hour yesterday which didn't spoil the day but did make us say that it would have been pretty miserable if it had rained all day long. Many people will take shelter - if you're brave, this could be a good time for beating the queues. You can buy Disney rain ponchoes for €7. The Molly Brown boat cruise is a good place to hide from the rain, as is the Haunted House just opposite. Remember that your pushchair will be out in the rain even when you take shelter so remember to bring a rain cover or buy a poncho to keep it dry or your little one will be stuck in a soggy seat for the rest of the day. Parades are cancelled if it rains.
8 : Don't forget your mobile phones. But also make sure you have a zip-up pocket to keep it safe when you're looping the loop ! At one point, I went on the Indiana Jones roller coaster with Sophie which meant that Madhouse Daddy Mike had about an hour to kill with Juliette and Pierre. Rather than hang about, I told him to take them on another ride or two and we'd call him when we got off the roller coaster so that we could meet up. If you're on an organised coach trip, this also means that any latecomers can be hassled by phone until they show up (because there is always one who wants to stay and watch the parade, even though it is later than the organised departure time). If you have young kids and are worried about them getting lost, write your mobile number on their arm, just in case !
Sophie has just read my review and said that we had a fabulous day yesterday and that I shouldn't have moaned about the lack of parades because it was still a brilliant day out !
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