In 2012, We were given the incredible opportunity to live in Germany. Our family typically takes at least one trip to a Disney park every year, and because of the cost Disneyland Paris can demand during their peak season, we had always found it was cheaper to fly back to the states for our annual trips.
Now that our time here is coming to an end, this family of Disney Addicts couldn’t possibly live in Europe for three years and say we never visited the park that Eisner built. Lucky for us, when we came up with this epiphany, our trip was slated to fall over the Thanksgiving holiday, a period with typically low crowds and the parks fully dressed for the Christmas season.
Every Disney park in the world carries their own signature style and unique characteristics; some great, and some not so great. Disneyland Paris is no different. It is also no secret Disneyland Paris has been struggling financially and hasn’t been able to invest in renovations and refurbishments as they wish to, so take what I have to say with a spoonful of sugar.
After a lot of research, talking to friends who have visited, and debating how long we would be able to visit, we decided we would spend six nights at the Sequoia Lodge. This hotel is on property, deemed a moderate level hotel, and is located past Disney Village on the other side of “Lake” Disney. Despite the Disney map, this hotel isn’t as far away as it looks. Though it does offer shuttle service, it’s only a 5-10 minute walk to both gates.
The exterior of the hotel is beautiful. The grounds give it a very secluded-in-the-forest look, the Christmas decorations all throughout the interior was festive, and the rooms had Disney theming with subtle Bambi touches. There are two restaurants, one of which typically offers free breakfast with a vacation package. Keep in mind that it offers a traditional European breakfast – cold cuts, breads, cheese, yogurt, fruits, and cereal.
One tip to remember is that if your hotel is offering free breakfast, you will be given a voucher. You DO NOT have to use it at your hotel’s restaurant. You can use it for a discount at any table service restaurant in the resort that offers breakfast, either another hotel or Café Mickey, as we did. A character meal that normally costs about 30 euros per person for breakfast only cost us 16 euro per person with our voucher discount.
The rooms were just refurbished in 2011, but they still look incredibly dated, and the beds are extremely hard even by European standards. Also, the service we experienced didn’t come close to what we’re used to at US Disney parks.
This is a common thing across the board with Disneyland Paris, and it’s not something I should necessarily hold against them. Europeans are much more stoic by nature than Americans. In addition to a bunch of nit-picky things, the main issue we had was when we realized we had left our passports in our safe after we had checked out. When we raced back to the hotel to get them, they really didn’t seem to want or care to help us retrieve them. It took over an hour before someone came to bring them to us. Fortunately, we were driving, but this could have been a real issue if we would have had flight to catch.
Disneyland Parc & Walt Disney Studios
This park holds the title for the most beautiful castle of any existing Disney park – not to mention all there is to see inside and below it – and it was breathtaking to take our first steps down Main Street, U.S.A. with that castle at the end. As I mentioned before, we visited the park during the Christmas season, so the town square was full of character meet and greets in their holiday finery. It was a vision that won’t soon be forgotten.
The park itself is set up much like all the others. There are four main lands: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland – their Jules Verne inspired
better version of Tomorrowland – all surrounding the park’s main “hub” in front of their castle, Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant. Translation: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
Attractions that absolutely cannot be missed are Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom Manner, and Space Mountain: Mission 2. All of these rides have benefited from being constructed at the same time as the park. This allowed them to be built the way in which Imagineers would have intended them without the constraint of being built in preexisting space. Big Thunder Mountain is longer, Pirates has an easier to follow storyline, Phantom Manor is unique, and Space Mountain is WAY better.
Also, if you have a family that likes to explore like mine does, you will love that they not only have the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, but also tons of caves and bridges in Adventure Isle. If you’re a fan of Disneyland, you will totally geek out when you see that they have incorporated Skull Rock and Captain Hook’s ship that was once seen in Fantasyland in Disneyland. It was removed during the expansive Fantasyland renovation of 1983 and replaced by Dumbo’s Flying Elephants. While I was too young to have remembered seeing it at Disneyland resort, it was a treat to see Disneyland Paris incorporate real Disneyland history.
The second park, Walt Disney Studios, is very small. I would say it’s probably only the size of two lands in Disneyland Parc. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot to enjoy. There are several shows and attractions that are well known to US Disney park goers such as Tower of Terror, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, and Disney Jr Live on Stage! There were also some amazing attractions that aren’t available in any other Disney park. Lookin’ at you, Crush’s Coaster and Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy.
These two rides embody why Disney Imagineers are so amazing. Crush’s Coaster manages to merge a dark and thrill ride into one awesome experience with more success than even Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure. This ride also needs to be experienced twice to view it from both a forward and backwards ride because you have unique views from both perspectives. Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy is an innovative 3D trackless dark ride that uses simulation to take you through Gusteau’s restaurant. This is the Best.Dark.Ride.Ever. All four of us came back to the loading station applauding. The French square outside the ride should also be explored. The detail is stunning.
Both parks need money, and it shows. Big time. Hopefully, with the infusion of the $1.3 billion dollar reinvestment of Disney Corp funds, this park will be able to inject some much needed capital for renovations and refurbishment. However, only time will really tell because this park has struggled financially since it first opened.
You can see they put a lot of love and detail into quite a few attractions that isn’t seen in the US parks. The queue for Pirates, for instance, is wonderfully detailed. We walked onto this ride each time we rode it, but it would take us at least an extra 10 minutes to reach the loading station because we would always stop to look around. The same can be said for the exterior of Phantom Manor. If you stop to look at the grave yard outside the exit, you learn the ride is actually tied into the storyline of Big Thunder Mountain. However, once you start to tour the park in its entirety, you get the sense they put a lot of money into a select group of rides and then just ran out of money for the rest.
The perfect example of this is Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril. This ride has absolutely no business being in a Disney Park, and it is completely obvious that the park was running out of money and had space to fill. What sets Disney apart from any other theme park in the world is the experience of immersion. This is brilliantly accomplished with Disneyland Resort’s Indiana Jones Adventure. The Disneyland Paris version is a cheap, clunky carnival coaster built around a temple that may or may not look like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
The same goes for Walt Disney Studios. It reminds me of the original version of Disney California Adventure. It’s really just a park that was slap-dashed together to be able to generate admissions for a second park. The park demands the same entry fee for Disneyland Parc, but is about a fifth of the size. Of course, I loved the two rides mentioned above, and our girls loved Toy Story Playand, but the casual park goer will be done with that park in half a day. It took us two and a half days because of my next issue with both parks… the ride closures.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that rides and attractions are huge pieces of mechanical equipment that are going to have issues every once in a while. However, on our third day in the park – no joke – eight (8) rides broke down while we were waiting in line. We did not go one day during our visit where we did not have at least one ride break down while we were waiting in line. Three of these times they cleared the lines, and not one time were we given a pass to return or a fast pass to use in the park. Because most of the lines in the park were so short, we didn’t feel the need visit City Hall to discuss the issue, but if it had been over the summer months, I would have been far more frustrated.
What’s also lacking is sufficient funding in janitorial, or at least a pride in their work like those in the same department in the states. The garbage! It was everywhere! People were even throwing trash onto rides, and when we would ride the same rides again the next day, the trash was still there. The biggest culprits were the boat rides: Pirates, IASM, and Le Pays des Contes de Fées (their version of the Storybook Land Canal Boats). This was really just the tip of the ice burg. Bathrooms were routinely messy, some attractions were desperate for a new coat of paint, tables probably were never wiped more than once a day in eating areas, etc. It was just a barrage of little things that added up. It wasn’t something we allowed to damper our trip, but it is certainly hard to ignore when you’re used to a better standard.
There are two things our family loves on any Disney trip: good food and character meals. Bonus points if we can find the two together. We found this at Auberge de Cendrillon (Cinderella’s Inn). The food, amazing. The characters, fabulous. The décor, beautiful. The bill… ummm, don’t ask. If you are coming with children, especially those who would love to meet the princesses, save up some money to splurge for a meal here. We had originally planned to dine at Disneyland Paris’ revered restaurant, Walt’s, but we decided to cancel that reservation.
If you’re an American planning to visit this resort, keep in mind that European restaurants expect you to spend much longer with your meals than you are used to. France, even more so. Auberge de Cendrillon was the first table service restaurant we went to on our trip, and our meal took about two and a half hours… for lunch. We reevaluated our reservations after that meal and felt that we would be doing a huge disservice to other diners at Walt’s who have clamored to get a reservation and plan to spend a ridiculous amount of money only to have two overtired and overstimulated American kids who don’t like to sit that long for a meal causing a ruckus nearby. This isn’t a bad point. It’s just a heads up to keep in consideration if you’re planning a visit.
In addition to Auberge de Cendrillon, there is also Café Mickey. Café Mickey is located at the end of Disney Village, and was a convenient stop on our way to the parks each morning. This location also offers lunch and dinner, but we like to do character meals for breakfast simply to save money. The breakfast here is as close as you’ll get to an American breakfast anywhere on the resort. No Mickey waffles or pancakes, but there was still a decent spread, and we always left full.
There used to be a common complaint that parents wouldn’t have their children wait at their table for the characters to come to them causing a giant free-for-all. This has been addressed and fixed. There are signs on the tables requesting children wait their turn, and there are handlers through the restaurant enforcing it. We ate here twice, and we didn’t have a single issue.
Some other great places to make sure you don’t miss are Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and The Steakhouse, both in Disney Village. Buffalo Bill’s is set up is similar to Medieval Times. It is a fantastic dinner show that our family loved. The reservation line messed up on our reservation, so we ended up in the second priority seating, but we still have a good view and a great time.
The Steakhouse was the restaurant we decided to visit when we canceled our Thanksgiving reservation for Walt’s. Our sadness for missing Walt’s quickly disappeared when we took the first bite of our steaks. Who knew that a skirt steak would be the best steak I have ever had in my life? We even allowed our 10-year-old daughter to order a steak, and she ate the whole thing. The whole meal was simply superb.
We had some pretty good luck with quick service and counter snacks, as well. Casey’s Corner has some pretty awesome hot dogs, and the Nutella drizzled waffles were a great mid-day snack. We also partook in the vin chaud, hot spiced wine. It is a seasonal drink, so don’t miss it if you visit during the holidays.
The park gets a lot of slack for its food quality, but I will defend it a little bit. You can’t expect to have the same kind of food experience in an amusement park as you would in Paris. It’s not going to happen, and I would never expect it to. While we had some great meals, as I mentioned above, the meals we have had in Paris are in a totally different league. What I did miss was the lack of selection. I expected to have a wide selection of baked goods like the US parks, but there really wasn’t any. France in Epcot has a far bigger selection of snacks and goodies than all of Disneyland Paris.
Another issue we had was with reservations, or our lack thereof. We made reservations for most of our trip, but decided to leave a few spots open just to see where that particular day took us. Big mistake. Even during low crowds, you will need reservations for every sit down meal you plan to have. The more popular places should be reserved 60 days in advance (Walt’s and Auberge de Cendrillon), but all others can be made through your hotel’s reservation line once you check in, if you’re staying on site. If you’re staying off the park, you can make reservations by calling the dining reservation line directly or by going to the designated counters throughout the parks and Disney Village. It was frustrating to go to a virtually empty restaurant only to be told they wouldn’t seat us because we didn’t have a reservation.
The last issue I have to prepare you for is the cost of food. It will take your breath away to see how much it costs. We knew it was going to be a little more spendy, so we saved up extra money, but my stomach turned and my husband’s face paled when we looked at the menu for Auberge de Cendrillon when we sat down. Though a meal plan is offered at Disneyland Paris, it is still very costly. The top tier, in which Auberge de Cendrillon was included, was about 70 euro per adult, per day. Children weren’t much cheaper. If we had eaten at expensive places like that every day, which we didn’t, it still would have only saved us a few euro since we were already getting breakfast free at our hotel. Counter/quick service wasn’t much better. The prices are similar to those in the states, except they’re in Euro, so you can tack on an extra 25 percent.
The Final Verdict:
The park is charming, and it has so much potential. We will always be thankful we had the opportunity to be able to visit. However, since we are moving back to the states soon, this will be our only trip unless there is a substantial overhaul. I would never try to convince anyone to not see it for themselves. I would say, though, that Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and if you are ever lucky enough to get to travel there, and have an extra two days, take the 30 minute train to check out Disneyland Paris. If you are looking to make a once-in-a-lifetime trip to an international Disney park, you would probably be happier choosing Tokyo Disney.