I've just returned from the most magical, wonderful and all round splendid few days away with my little people and hubby at Disneyland Paris.
Having worked for Disney for a few years (Alice in Wonderland and I were very good friends) I thought I knew it all when it came to a holiday but times have changed and so I checked out a few top tips blogs before we went. Big mistake! Huge as Pretty Woman would say. I discovered there is so much incorrect information out there and much of it is really unhelpful.
So...with that in mind I thought I’d give you my tips for you to feel free to ignore! Hopefully some of this info will help plan your holiday but my biggest advice is to keep your ears open whilst you are there. Current guests are a mind of information.
Pretty much the only way to see characters these days is to pay for it or through the app. The days that characters were all over the parks have gone and there is really only the odd one out and about. Goofy is pretty much always at the Studios, Pluto is at the bottom of Main Street, and if you do both of these with early hotel entry or when the park opens it will be quickest. You’ll find Donald or Pooh characters at the top of Main Street and you may find the odd character by the parade doors past It’s a Small World in Fantasyland but that’s pretty much it.
Nobody tells you about this App but it’s essential if you want to see characters. Download it on your phone before you go. Every morning between 8.45 and park opening time the App opens for you to book meet and greets with Mickey, Woody, Spider-Man, Buzz and the like. Slots fill up pretty fast so you need be on the ball. You will be given a time slot (extra tip - screenshot you’re phone just incase your wi-fi plays up) and then you’ll get a text message when it’s your turn. You’ll wait a matter of minutes after that. We made my five-year-old very happy with a 1:1 with SpiderMan through this app.
Pay to play
Aside from the App and the off chance, the other way to see characters is to pay to play- by opting for a character meal experience.
Cafe Mickey is overpriced, run of the mill food. It’s an expensive experience but you are guaranteed some of the most popular characters and are likely to see Mickey or Minnie (often both) and some of the others too. We saw Mickey, Minnie, Tigger, Eeyore and Pluto. They’ll come to your table, sign, take pics and generally have fun with your little people. If characters are important it’s a must, if they are not - save your money for something else.
Lunch with the princesses is also expensive but much better quality food and excellent service. You are guaranteed at least three princesses (we saw four) plus Suzie and Perla. If your princess wants princesses, this is a must. Book before you go to avoid disappointment as it fills up. For me, this one is worthwhile. It’s also a great option if you have a younger child whose scared of the characters. It’s a gentle introduction to the characters in a calm environment and there is more time for the characters to spend with your child rather than being rushed through.
The only other way to guarantee a princess is the Princess Pavilion which averages an hour wait at all times of the day. They will not promise you a specific princess but if you ask them if one in particular is in the park doing meet and greets that day, they will generally confirm if she is around or not. Sometimes Mary Poppins is at the Studios and allegedly Alice is out in the main park but we never saw her (and we checked regularly).
If Star Wars is your thing the queue for Darth Vadar is not bad but Chewbacca at the Studios is only for the most patient of fans. Chewy is in the Star Wars show so his line stops completely every time that’s on. We waited 45 minutes with no real progress before giving up.
The stunt show at the studios is fab but sit further back if you have children who get nervous around loud noises. It’s also important to explain to younger ones that it’s pretend and that the performers are professionals and well trained. My 5-year-old needed this chat to reassure him after one of the guys got set on fire and I wish I’d talked to him beforehand.
The Star Wars show is ok if you’re a Star Wars fan but swerve it if not.
Night-time fireworks show
This is fantastic - really well done and well worth seeing at least once but...and it’s a big but...the only way to properly see it is to be at the very front. And this means around a two hour wait. What’s more, please don’t think you can secure your spot with one adult and a few coats. I naively thought that I could send the kids off with my husband whilst I held our spot. But once you’re out, you can’t get back in. It’s fierce! Go prepared with card games, snacks and coats or the similar to sit on. If your plan is to go for it, get there at least two hours early.
It pays to be at the very front not only for the view but also for safety. Yes it’s Disney and they are all over keeping people safe, but as a mother, the idea of being in the middle of a hustling crowd with four children to look after terrifies me. If you are in the front row and you do want or need to get out in a hurry you can go forward to clear space instead of back into a crowd - you are guaranteed an exit route.
If you are happy to not see everything, then the water fountain to the right at the top of Main Street is a good spot. I read a ‘top tip’ which told me the planters at the back of the central pavilion was a winning spot. It wasn’t! (And one of the reasons I decided to write this post - to give some accurate up to date tips) We did this the first night and saw only the top half of the castle and fireworks. If you are happy to see just that, go further down Main Street where it is less crowded - you’ll see the same and won’t be in the middle of the mayhem.
The Pirates and Princesses parade which is currently showing is one of the best Disney parades I’ve ever seen. The spot to see it is the centre courtyard in front of the castle. Circular mats mark the places you can stand and you’ll have a brilliant view of the pirates on one side of the street, or you can watch the princesses from the other side or a bit of everything from right in the middle which is also where the characters dance.
If the park is closing at 7pm, watch the 4pm pirates and princess parades, then stay on that pavilion but move directly to the front of the castle for the 5pm parade and then hang on in there for fireworks show.
Your children will get more attention from characters and cast members if they are clean (Princesses are generally not yet mothers and have no idea how hard it can be to keep a two-year-old clean in any sort of food related activity!) and dressed up. Plus, where else is there in the world where you can wear out your best princess frock with pride than Disneyland?
If your children learn the dance routines, or simply dance along, they will also be a bigger hit. The pirates and princess parade routine is on the Internet, and even though my daughter did not know we were going, I taught her the routine (under the premise that I had come across this cute dance and thought she would like to learn it) before we went so as soon as we were there she could join in.
She got extra hugs from Minnie, Wendy, Jake and pirates galore as well as extra waves and kisses from most of the princesses too. Having been a parade dancer myself, I know first hand that the kids you want to interact with are the ones who are already fully engaged and involved.
Mickey and the Magician at the Studios is fabulous. If you can be one of the last to go into the theatre, you stand a good chance of getting one of the seats which they reserve which means the animals from the The Lion King come over and say hi. The show is underrated and so worth your time. Live singing, great dancing and a bit of magic thrown in.
Mickey’s PhilharMagic is not worth your time if you’re on a tight schedule - give it a miss unless you want to get in out of the rain!
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show is a great night out. Good food (if you like Mexican) and a great show which works for all ages. One of our family favourites. Get their early if you can and enjoy the entertainment in the bar before you go in.
Playhouse Disney live on Stage is great for toddlers so try and fit that one in if you’ve got under 5s.
Queues for some of the rides is insane. Crush’s coaster in the Studios is crazy. Make use of hotel stay early entry and run (I’m not kidding - literally run - but be careful as the floors are washed every morning and usually still wet) to the ride or you’re looking at a 85 minute or so wait. There’s no FastPass on this so if you want to do it. It’s a start of the day one.
Buzz Lightyear and Peter Pan- FastPass them both. Don’t queue! Star Tours is not too bad but again take advantage of early entry and hit Fanstasyland rides (including It’s a Small World) followed by Star Tours or Frontierland for Thunder Mountain. You also need to FastPass the Ratatouille ride too.
Drinks and food
Take a water bottle per child and fill them at the water fountains.Consider one adult meal to share instead of individual children’s menus. A saving financially but also leaving more room for extra treats throughout the day - of which please try the freshly made candy floss from inside the sweet shop on Main Street. Take snacks in, I took non chill yoghurts, fruit sachets, crisps, rice crackers and cookies and kept my lot grazing throughout the day. There are some nice snacky food options by Ratatouille in the Studios for something other than chips and you might find Remy there too for a meet and greet.
This is ultimately about your budget but let’s just say we’ve done the Santa Fe and never again! I have no issue with the room (albeit the hotel is the bit for the grown ups so the nicer the better obviously!) but the distance from the park, whilst doable makes it exhausting. Yes, there’s a regular free bus but it’s packed and the last thing you want at the end of a long day with overtired kids is half an hour trying to get home on a packed bus.
If you can afford it, choose one of the others. This time we stayed at the Disneyland and I’m not sure we’ll ever stay at another one now. The convenience with children is worth the money on it’s own but it’s also a lovely hotel with some great extras. We’ve stayed at the New York a couple of times and that’s a great option too (although currently being refurbished) but if you’ve got kids, my advice is choose the closet hotel to the parks you can afford.
And finally...Remember it’s holiday! There’s so much to do and you want to fit it all in but take some time to relax too.