Disneyland Paris has always been considered to be the most beautiful Disney theme park. The level of detail that Walt Disney Imagineering gave the park is breathtaking, however, after decades of neglect and underfunding it became a shadow of its former self. Pavements were cracking, the paint was peeling and the rides , .
That has all changed … This year Disneyland Paris is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. The anniversary is a culmination of ‘Project Sparkle’ a multi-million euro investment into the park by the Walt Disney Company, who have just completed their take over of the parks.
To see how well ‘Project Sparkle’ was going we took a trip and stayed for 3-nights/4 days onsite at Disney’s Sequoia Lodge.
- Getting there
- Disney’s Sequoia Lodge
- Getting to the parks
- Disneyland Park
- Extra Magic Hours
- Walt Disney Studios
- Disney Village
- Security concerns
We live in the south of England, a mere 300 miles away so we decided to drive via the Eurotunnel. We found this to be the cheapest option for any more than a single person - significantly cheaper than the Eurostar. In total the journey out took about 7 hours, it was a very easy, smooth drive with clear roads.
Both the A27 and A1 are toll roads which operate using a ticket system. You take a ticket at the first toll and around 100 miles later put that same ticket into the second. You will be presented with a cost (around £20) which you can pay for via a credit card or cash. This is each way.
Getting to the Disney parks is easy enough using your satnav, all of the hotels are based on Avenue Robert Schuman. Postcode 77700 will take you to the general area of the park. Then from of the Avenue, all of the hotels are clearly signposted.
The return journey wasn’t as smooth, Eurotunnel was experiencing problems with queues at immigration which ended up delaying us about an hour. The team at Eurotunnel seemed to handle it well, but it was just like being stuck in a large traffic jam unable to get out of the car. We actually missed our outbound train, but we were put on the next one available.
We stayed at Disney’s Sequoia Lodge, a 3-star hotel (moderate by Walt Disney World standards) themed on a Californian country park. The hotel itself was beautiful, surrounded by large trees and designed to look like a park ranger station. The rooms were less impressive as they were quite dated and ours had a musty smell. The room was large and the bed was comfortable, which for a Disney holiday is the most important thing.
All the rooms have a Bambi theme with a large picture on the wall and more subtle Bambi references throughout the rest of the room. The bathroom was clean and looked a lot newer than the rest of the room.
The room came with a low powered hair dryer, some basic shampoo and soaps. It lacked some of the more modern facilities you expect to come across in a hotel nowadays like a kettle and mini fridge.
There was a character meet and greet at the hotel which is a nice touch. I only ever saw Pluto and that was on a Friday morning so I would assume they are only there on busier days. If character meets and greets are important for you check with the hotel for days and times.
The hotel has two restaurants a buffet and an a la carte restaurant. We didn’t eat in either deciding to eat in the parks where there is a greater selection of food and much better theming.
In the central lobby area of the hotel, there is a bar which sells basics snacks (sandwiches), tea and coffee. At the centre of the bar, there is a beautiful large fireplace which unfortunately was never lit.
The hotel doesn’t have a kettle in the room. You can ask for one at reception if you need one and want to bring your own supplies of tea and coffee.
The fantastic aspect of all the Disneyland Paris hotels is that they are just a 15-minute to 20-minute walk away from the parks. Typically the more expensive the hotel the closer you are to the parks. The majority of the hotels are placed around a central lake which you walk around and then through the Disney Village to get to the parks.
There are two parks at Disneyland Paris: Disneyland Park (the equivalent Florida’s Magic Kingdom), and Walt Disney Studios.
Disneyland Park is beautiful. You enter under the Disneyland Hotel, the first hotel to be built inside a Disney theme park. This hotel is a beautiful Victorian style building very similar to the Grand Floridian in Walt Disney World. At the centre of this large imposing building is a giant Mickey Mouse Clock. Underneath the hotel live all the Victorian styled ticket kiosks and entrance gates. These are not only beautiful but practical. It rains a lot in Paris and a lot of the features of the park have been designed to provide protection from the elements.
Once you’re through the ticket booths you reach a small courtyard between the hotel and the train station. Just in front of you is a set of archways which are underneath the train station, currently hidden by lots of 25th year branding. On the either side of the archways is a plaque which is in homage to the original at Disneyland California.
Walking underneath the train station, through the archways reviles Main Street U.S.A.
As I take you on a trip around the park, I won’t be covering everything in detail. Some things are better left to be discovered - instead, I will try and focus on the main areas and the key attractions.
Main Street stretches from the Train Station at one end to the Central Plaza and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle beyond. Main Street, originally based on the idealisation of Walt Disney’s childhood town of Marceline, Missouri, feels like you have been taken back in time. It’s a concept which is in every Disneyland Park. The music, the smells and the lights are for me what makes a Disney Park so special.
What sets the Main Street of Disneyland Paris apart from the others is the very special additions designed to help protect you from the bad weather. Either side of Main Street there is an arcade - an undercover shopping area which is common in Europe. The beautiful long walkways provide access to all the shops and are very underused. On a hot summer’s day when we visited they were a quiet cool place to sit, something which is very rare in a Disney Park.
It wouldn’t a Disney park without a castle at the centre. Sleeping Beauty’s castle is the most beautiful of any Disney park (trust me). It’s a pink castle based upon the original from the movie. Unlike the other parks where the castles were based on European Design, in Europe, the Imagineers decided to be more fanciful and base the castle more on the design in the original movie.
The Disneyland Paris castle is painted pink to contrast with the predominantly grey sky. It has 16 spires each topped with gold leaf.*
Below the castle is La Tanière du Dragon (the lair of the dragon), which features a full-size animatronic dragon. The Dragon comes to life and breathes smoke every few minutes. Next to the Dragon’s Lair is a staircase up to the castle.
Within Sleeping Beauty’s castle, you can walk up the stairs and across a balcony to see the beautiful stained glass which depicts the story of Sleeping Beauty.
Fantasyland is the other side of the castle and includes all the traditional rides such as Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, Lancelot’s Carousel and Flying Dumbos. There are a couple of other attractions I haven’t seen in the other Fantasylands such as Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and Le Pays des Contes de Fees, a fairytale cruise past miniature storybook scenes of Disney classics.
As you leave Fantasyland past Peter Pan’s Flight (remember to get your Fastpasses) you will arrive in Adventureland, a pirate themed land with its central attraction Pirates of the Caribbean.
Pirates of the Caribbean, which first opened in 1967 in Disneyland California, has become a popular attraction to almost all the Disneyland Parks around the world. It’s even spun off its own movie franchise. The Disneyland Paris version has been improved greatly thanks to ‘Project Sparkle’, with better animatronic figures, lighting effects and a greater tie in with the movie franchise. Can you spot Jack Sparrow as you ride?
This version of Pirates of the Caribbean is the only one which features drops, with two slight ones on the ride. It’s not particularly scary but maybe one to avoid with smaller, or especially older guests.
Next up is Frontierland, which is themed around an old Wild West mining town, Thunder Mesa. The second ride to really benefit from Project Sparkle is Big Thunder Mountain.
Frontierland wraps around a large lake which at its centre houses Big Thunder Mountain, a classic runaway mine cart ride. In 2016 the ride was shut for almost the entire year for a complete refurbishment. This included a complete drain of the lake, new special effects and repainting. BTM is now back to its former glory and, in my opinion, is the best Big Thunder Mountain out of all the parks.
Discoveryland is what makes Disneyland Paris unique. In the 1990’s when the park was being designed, the concept of Tomorrowland was outdated. The realisations of the optimistic ideas of what the future held in the 1960’s didn’t come true and the new Imagineering team which grew up with these ideas were more pessimistic of what was to come. So instead of trying to keep up with what’s coming tomorrow, they looked to their past. The popularity of European authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells inspired the team to create a land which is unique to all the Disney parks. A land built out of brass, steel and bolted together with rivets.
Discoveryland includes Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain), a beautiful Orbitron, Autopia, and a Nautilus. It also includes some Star Wars crap which doesn’t fit in - I’m looking at you Star Tours.
For anyone who hasn’t visited a Disney park before a Fastpass is a ticket which allows you to skip the main queue line and use a second quicker queue line. The ticket allows you to ‘virtually queue’ while you do other activities and allows you to return at a specified time where you queue from 5-15mins.
In Disneyland Paris the system works as in other smaller Disney parks: there are kiosks located next to the main entrance of the ride. You enter your park ticket and receive a paper slip with a 30-minute time range for entry. Just above the kiosks, there are two clocks above them which tell the current time of the current Fastpasses which are being issued.
You can only receive one Fastpass per park ticket at a time. Once that Fastpass has expired or used, you can go and get another. My tip is to aim for the rides which tend to have the longest queues. In Disneyland Park, this is Peter Pan’s Flight and Ratatouille in Walt Disney Studios. Not all rides have Fastpasses as of writing these are the rides:
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Hyperspace Mountain
- Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin
- Star Wars “Star Tours”
Walt Disney Studios
- Rock n’ Roller Coaster
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Flying Carpets Over Agrabah
Fastpasses are also currently being tested at Phantom Manor.
Disney parks always do parades very well and Disneyland Paris is no exception. There is currently only a single parade, which takes place in the evening - please check the times guide for exact times.
Disney Stars on Parade is designed specifically for the 25th Anniversary. The parade is roughly 15 minutes long with spectacular floats and a fire-breathing Maleficent dragon.
Illuminations is a 15-minute show typically at park closing time. The show is a set of themes from Disney classics and newer Disney movies all set in time to music and fireworks. I think the show is fantastic and not one to miss.
Extra Magic Hours are additional hours at the parks for Disney Hotel Guests. It’s a great time to visit the parks and ride a few rides before the rest of the crowds come. A fantastic added bonus for those staying onsite.
While we were there Disneyland Park was opening 2 hours (8 am) before the main park opening (10 am). However, this is due to change on the 1st of October. I’ve listed what I know will be open below:
|Disneyland Park||Walt Disney Studios|
|Time||1 hour before park opening||1 hour before park opening|
|Rides||Dumbo, Peter Pan, Tea Cups, Le Carrousel de Lancelot and the Princess Pavilion||Ratatouille and Crush's Coaster|
Often remarked as a ‘half a day park’ for a long time Walt Disney Studios has suffered from little to no investment. This has changed in the last few years when 2 additional lands have been constructed. This has greatly increased the parks offering and I would recommend giving it 3/4’s of day. Not only because there are more things to do at the park but it also includes some of the longest queues.
Imagine being shrunk down to the size of a kids toy, then walking through a toy chest. That’s the best way I can describe Toy Story Playland, the theming is fantastic. Toy Story land was so popular when it opened that the entire concept was taken to Hong Kong Disneyland for their recent expansion.
Unlike the version in Hong Kong (read my entire review on Hong Kong Disneyland) this version seems more crowded and tightly packed. We were surprised there was no shop, something Disney never normally misses an opportunity for.
One of the best dark rides in the world. Ratatouille is very similar in vehicle design to Mystic Manor but includes a 3D element. The ride is fantastic and very engaging, it’s no wonder they are now going to build it in the French pavillion in EPCOT.
Disney Village is the main shopping and eating area located just outside the park. The area hasn’t changed since the park opened in the 90’s and is in need of modernisation. It features a number of Disney stores which all share a very limited range of merchandise.
The Photopass retails for 59 Euros which is cheap compared to some other parks. This gets you unlimited digital versions of your images taken on rides and by Photopass photographers. There are 6 rides which support the Photopass:
- Star Wars: Hyperspace Mountain
- Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast
- Big Thunder Mountain
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster avec Aerosmith
- The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
I was disappointed with the way it works, it proved to be very fiddly. You get given a card which you need to activate on your mobile phone then at each ride you scan a QR code on your phone. This works great if you have a phone signal, otherwise, it is useless resulting in having to queue to get someone to add it to your account. There is another option of entering a code in the mobile phone app, the code is prefixed with a letter which isn’t mentioned anywhere in the ride - so it’s a lot of guesswork if you don’t want to queue.
There was a lack of Photopass photographers in the park, I only saw a single photographer our entire trip. When taking photos with the characters you need to make sure you jump in quick with your card. Otherwise they will scan a new card and you will have to go to the camera store on Main Street in order to get them transferred to your account.
You can find more information about the Photopass from the Disneyland Paris Website.
In general, the food we had in the park was good quality. There was a good mix of restaurants serving Quick Service (burgers etc), buffet and sit down dining options. The food was relatively expensive but not more than other Disney parks around the world.
I found the dining plans in Disneyland Paris to be very confusing. The best official reference I found for them was to the Disney Travel Company’s website. Essentially there are 3 types:
Standard - Access to 5 buffet restaurants
Plus - Access to 15 waiter service restaurants
Premium - Access to 20 waiter service restaurants
For the plus and premium, you are limited to a set menu at your chosen restaurant. The set menu consists of 2/3 choices for a start/main/dessert plus a non-alcoholic drink.
When arriving at your hotel you get a number of vouchers which allow you to redeem your dining plan, each voucher is also worth its face value (36 Euros at the time of writing) so you are able to order off the a la carte menu if someone in your party doesn’t like the set menu. However, the main course in one of these restaurants costs around 36 Euros.
You can find a complete list of menus at DLP Guide which includes details of what you get as a set menu.
We ate at 3 restaurants during our trip, Captain Jacks, Bistro Chez Remy and the Yacht Club all of which I would recommend.
Dining reservations open up 90 days before the date. While most restaurants you will be able to get a table at on the day. If you want to eat at one of the more popular restaurants at dinner time I would recommend you book as soon as possible.
The snacks in Disneyland Paris were generally disappointing a lot of popcorn carts and not much else. Unfortunately no Mickey Waffles, Mickey ice creams or Churros. They do however have a rather crude version of a Dole Whip.
Dole Whip/Pineapple Float - The all-time most popular snack in Disney Parks. In Disneyland Paris it is extremely sweet, thanks mostly to the pineapple syrup used.
I’ve been asked a few times whether or not I feel secure while visiting Disneyland Paris. There is a big security presence at the resort hotels and upon entering the park. The security stations are always manned in park hours and feature metal detectors and x-ray machines. I actually forgot I have a pen knife on me which was confiscated.
Even though there were metal detectors and x-ray machines there still seemed to be a large number of selfi-sticks which have been banned in the park.
I rank theme parks on 4 key factors, value for money, design, the quality of the rides and the food. I feel these are the 4 biggest factors which will affect your enjoyment.
Value for money
For two people staying for 3 nights at Disney’s Sequoia Lodge, the total cost was £875. That included the majority of our food and Eurotunnel booking. Combine this with the fuel and toll cost to get there and it was nearly £1000. This works out for 2 people to be £350 a night in school holidays.
Disney isn’t cheap, Disneyland Paris has one of the lowest ticket prices out of all the Disney parks. Though this is reflected in what it has to offer. You could easily visit Disneyland Paris for a few nights and see everything. Whereas you would probably need a month in Walt Disney World.
Disneyland Paris is great for a quick trip to Disney but for a longer holiday save up for Disney World.
Disneyland Park design is amazing, the work which the Imagineers have put into the design makes it the best theme park in Europe. There is still a long way to go for Walt Disney Studios …
Disneyland Paris has some of the best versions of the Disney classics. These include a fantastic Big Thunder Mountain, Hyperspace Mountain and Pirates of the Carribean. It also includes some fantastic concepts which have been copied to other parks, Toy Story land to Hong Kong and Rataolioou to Epcot.
It doesn’t get a full 5 stars for rides because the park still had a lot of old rides which were never considered to be very good in the first place and Walt Disney Studios is still lacking.
I tend to thoroughly research dining options in a theme park before going and did find a lot of mixed reviews. Even though the restaurants we dined at were fantastic it only gets 3 stars due to how complex the meal plans are, how little information is available and how limited the choice is.
The centrepiece of Disney Paris is Disneyland Park which is a beautiful theme park. The work that the Imagineers have put into the detail of the lands and the rides is breathtaking.
Disneyland Paris should have got 4 stars however, the park is let down by the guests and in some way the cast members not policing the guests. We constantly saw guests smoking in the queues, dropping litter and queue jumping.