Disneyland Resort Paris is an amazing place, with a few nice hotels, and two parks. It’s unquestionably a place that Disney fans should visit, probably for multiple days. In our conversations, there are generally two schools of thought with regard to Disneyland Paris, and why people don’t go. The first group doesn’t go because it would mean forfeiting a trip to Walt Disney World. We’ve previously implored this group of people to visit Disneyland Resort in California, and many who have made the trek to California have reported it exceeding their expectations.
Disneyland Resort Paris is similar to Disneyland Resort in that it is not nearly as large as Walt Disney World. There simply is not as much to do at Disneyland Resort Paris as there is in Walt Disney World, so it’s a tough sell as a bona fide vacation destination in itself. The upside is that Disneyland Park in the Paris Resort is an absolutely amazing park, much like the original Disneyland, and a park that many Disney fans could spend days exploring. I would rate it as the second-best Disney theme park I’ve experienced, behind only the original Disneyland (we have yet to experience the Hong Kong and Tokyo resorts). The other upside is that Paris itself is only a 30 minute train ride from Disneyland Paris, and is a place every human should experience. The city of Paris also serves as justification for those who balk at a trip to Disneyland Resort Paris for the second reason: cost. A trip to Paris is certainly expensive, but it’s a potentially once-in-a-lifetime trip that leaves an indelible mark on a person, and a trip that’s worth saving to experience.
While very fun places to vacation, the same cannot be said for trips to Anaheim or Orlando.
Based upon the foregoing, when planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, you should not just plan a quick trip to see Disneyland Resort Paris, but should also plan on visiting at least Paris and possibly another European city. On our trip, we flew into Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, then spent equal amounts of time in Disneyland Paris and Paris, before taking the Eurostar to London and then flying out of London’s Heathrow airport.
How much time you’ll want to spend on each leg of your trip is largely a personal question. If you are reading this website, chances are you’re biased towards Disney and will want to spend at least a couple of days there. We would recommend spending 3 days or 33% of your entire trip (whichever is the lower number of total days) at Disneyland Resort Paris. We spent 3 days in Disneyland Paris, and I felt that was the perfect amount of time for a serious Disney fan. There’s a lot to explore in Disneyland Paris, and the park is incredibly detailed, so planning on allocating 2 or 2.5 days for that park is advisable.
Conversely, most people would be able to accomplish the Walt Disney Studios park in half a day or a day at the absolute most. While there is an assortment of enjoyable attractions there, the park was thrown together on the cheap in a haphazard way, offering little in the way of details or areas to be explored. We spent a little over three hours in the park and felt that was enough. I wouldn’t downright encourage anyone not to experience this park (if you travel all the way over there, you might as well step foot in it to see what it’s all about for yourself), but it’s not going to be the highlight of anyone’s trip. That said, if you only have one day to experience Disneyland Paris, skip the Studios and just do the Disneyland park.
You will want to set aside a bit of time to explore the hotels and Disney Village, but this can probably be accomplished after the parks close, depending upon what time the parks close. We visited in off-season, and Disneyland Paris closed at 7 pm. Most Parisians eat late dinners, so hotel restaurants are frequently open until 11 pm or 12 am, giving us ample time to enjoy the hotels after our days at the park were complete. During the summer months, the parks may be open until 11 pm or midnight, so you may have to find another time to visit the hotels and Disney Village.
As for other locations in Europe, we recommend consulting a dedicated guide to Europe, such as Rick Steves’ excellent site, for planning. We did ~3 days in Paris and ~3 days in London, and we barely scratched the surface of what those cities have to offer. You could spend exponentially more time in just The Louvre!
I’m going to make the safe assumption that anyone reading this is flying to Europe from overseas, not a European driving to Disneyland Paris for a day trip. From Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris there are three main options: TGV, RER, or VEA shuttle. The TGV is the best of these options, and it drops you off right outside Disneyland Paris’ gates. Perfect for on-site guests. The VEA shuttle is the second-best option, but it stops at a number of hotels (think Disney’s Magical Express). The RER is the worst option, as you have to go from CDG airport to central Paris and switch lines to head back to Marne-la-Vallee. Both CDG and MLV are outside Paris, so doing this essentially means you have to backtrack. However, if you’re buying a RER pass (as we did) or your hotel is on the RER line (as ours was), this may be your best option. It’s relatively straightforward, it just takes about an hour to accomplish.
If you’re coming from somewhere other than CDG airport, consider the Eurostar train, which also drops you off right outside Disneyland Paris’ gates. We traveled the Eurostar (aka the “Chunnel”) and it was an excellent experience. This is a great way to get to Disneyland Paris if you’re primarily visiting another major city in Europe. What’s especially nice is that a Eurostar station is right in MLV. My assumption is that this was built as part of Disney’s agreement to bring a park to Paris…because there’s no other reason why little ‘ole Marne-la-Vallee would have a Eurostar station.
All of this seems complicated and intimidating at first (at least it did to us), but it’s really simple once you understand the basics.
Disneyland Resort Paris has seven official resorts, with a variety of nearby “off-site” hotels. Based on the recommendations of several others, we stayed in the recently renovated Sequoia Lodge (click here to read our Sequoia Lodge Review). We also spent a fair amount of time in Disneyland Hotel (the flagship Victorian-themed hotel), and I spent time exploring Hotel New York (themed to New York City), Newport Bay Club (similar in nature, but not quality, to the Yacht and Beach Club at Walt Disney World), Hotel Cheyenne (themed to be the ‘streets’ of a Western town), and Hotel Santa Fe (designed with a cold, Southwestern pueblo style). If you were schooled by Count von Count, you probably noticed that I only mention six of the seven resorts. The last, Davy Crockett Ranch, is a campground located a bit further away that I did not visit.
Assuming you don’t have a car for your visit to France, you’ll have a few ways to get to and from Disneyland Paris: your feet, taxi, RER train, or shuttle.
The five on-site hotels can each by accessed by walking (or shuttle). Disneyland Hotel is about a one minute walk from the turnstiles, Hotel New York is ~10 minute walk, Sequoia Lodge is ~12 minute walk, Newport Bay Club is ~15 minute walk, with Hotels Cheyenne and Santa Fe a tad above the 15 minute mark. All of these are approximations based upon my personal walking speed. I didn’t time the walk in anything remotely resembling a scientific manner (we were there for enjoyment, not to be research guinea pigs).
I can’t speak to timing and distances of any other means of transportation to off-site hotels, with one exception. Prior to this leg of the trip, on our first night in France, we actually stayed at an off-site hotel at the first stop (Val d’Europe) from Disneyland Resort Paris on the RER A line. Combining the time it took to walk from Disneyland Paris to the RER station (3 minutes), the time it took on the train (5-15 minutes, depending upon the train schedule), and the time it took to walk from the station in Val d’Europe to our hotel (3 minutes), you have about a 25 minute commute, at worst.
Prices of Disneyland Paris on-site hotels widely vary and usually priced as a package that includes breakfast and park tickets. That said, I’d estimate the nightly undiscounted hotel portion of these packages ranging from $200 to $700 per night during our visit. Hotel Cheyenne and Santa Fe are on the low end of this, with ascending prices for Sequoia Lodge, Newport Bay Club, Hotel New York, and finally, Disneyland Hotel.
We booked a last minute $110/night deal on this relatively trendy hotel in Val d’Europe, and I’m sure there are similar days to be had. I can say with complete certainty (without even having seen the rooms in Hotel Cheyenne or Santa Fe) that this off-site hotel was nicer than Hotel Cheyenne or Santa Fe. From the perspective of rooms, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were nicer than standard rooms in every one of the official hotels, actually.
For us, the Disney on-site hotel experience isn’t just about the room, though, and all things considered, at least Disneyland Hotel and Sequoia Lodge were nicer overall than our off-site hotel. Admittedly, the benefits to staying on-site at Disneyland Resort Paris aren’t that great. There’s the breakfast, but you can get breakfast anywhere. There’s the commuting time, but as evidenced above, that can be insignificant at an off-site hotel. That leaves the Extra Magic Hour perk. Guests staying in the Disney-owned hotels are able to enter the parks 1-2 hours before the general public to experience select attractions. During our off-season trip, this perk wasn’t very useful (few attractions were open during this time, often leading to increased wait times), but it could be useful during busier times of the year. The best “reason” for staying on-site is probably the basic desire to stay on-site for whatever reason you have. Be it full immersion, convenience, etc.
There seem to be a fair number of reasonably priced and nice hotels in the burgeoning Val d’Europe area, so if you don’t “need” a Disney hotel, you should check out that area.
If you do decide to stay on-site, my unscientific recommendations for hotels would be: Hotel Cheyenne (value), Sequoia Lodge (moderate), or Disneyland Hotel (deluxe). Hotel Cheyenne had a fun feel to it and no pretenses of being artfully designed, likely making it a hotel kids (boys especially) would enjoy. Sequoia Lodge recently underwent an extensive refurbishment and looks excellent; its theming is reminiscent of Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World, except with Frank Lloyd Wright inspiration oddly found throughout the architecture. Finally, Disneyland Hotel looks like it has seen better days, but it’s still fairly beautiful and its location and views can’t be beat. I’d only recommend this hotel to those who view money as no issue (if you are such a person, this blog is looking for benefactors!!! ;)). Anyone else is better suited by Sequoia Lodge (my top pick for the intersection of value and quality) or Hotel Cheyenne. For what it’s worth, we really like Sequoia Lodge.
Given its location in a culinary hotbed like France, you’d expect Disneyland Resort Paris to have some sterling dining options.
Unfortunately, expectations here don’t comport with reality. Restaurants at Disneyland Resort Paris are not that good and are not that “French.” It’s mostly all American cuisine, with a few exceptions.
We had heard from several friends prior to the trip that we shouldn’t have high expectations for the restaurants, because most aren’t that good. After lackluster meals at Walt’s – An American Restaurant (click here to read our Walt’s Review) and Blue Lagoon, we cancelled plans to try similarly nice restaurants such as Inventions (we did end up eating two enjoyable breakfasts here) and California Grill.
Normally, we would have been more inclined to give restaurants the benefit of the doubt, realizing two meals is a relatively small sample size, but those two meals were so disappointing and our experiences seemed comparable to (if not worse than) what we had heard from others, so we saved our money and only did Counter Service for the rest of the trip.
The two restaurants at which we ate, Walt’s and Blue Lagoon, were beautiful, and worth the experience, even considering the food. Walt’s has a similar feel to Club 33 at Disneyland, and Blue Lagoon overlooks the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, much like Blue Bayou at Disneyland. We chose these restaurants because they’re widely noted for their exceptional ambiance, so we figured it wouldn’t be a huge loss if their food was only okay. You might consider them for the same reason. If you do enjoy the food, perhaps consider dining at other table service restaurants (DLRPMagic.com’s dining reviews, Disboards.com’s forum reviews, and the DLPFoodGuide are good places to start if you’re planning to eat elsewhere).
Counter Service at Disneyland Resort Paris is not terrible, but it’s not great, either. It’s about what you’d expect from average counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. In general, the options are not adventurous, but rather, are stereotypical theme park foods. Lots of pizza, burgers, salads, and fried foods. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as portion sizes are large and prices are not out of line (by normal Disney standards). In addition, the design of many of these restaurants is truly impressive. Toad Hall features more detail than all of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland, and serves some pretty good fish & chips, too.
The only portion size that will be smaller in Disneyland Paris is soda. There are no free refills in any restaurant (this is typical of Europe) and soda sizes in general are much smaller. So, if you’re a Coke addict, a trip to Disneyland Paris might prove costly!
As far as other specific food items go, Jon Fiedler of CharacterCentral.net (check out his gorgeous Disneyland Resort Paris photos), who is a frequent visitor to Disneyland Resort Paris offered us a lot of advice about dining in Disneyland Resort Paris. One piece of this advice that we’re glad we followed (after seeing some of the burgers in Counter Service restaurants) is to avoid Counter Service burgers.
Although not as good as what you’ll find in the city of Paris, Disneyland Paris snacks are solid. We highly recommend the Cable Car Bake Shop on Main Street. Not just for its sweets, but also because it’s a beautifully designed, intimate location.
If you find yourself not enjoying the food at Disneyland Paris, one option is to eat exclusively at the Earl of Sandwich in the Disney Village. It serves most of the same sandwiches as the Earl of Sandwich locations in the United States, is reasonably priced, and is arguably the best counter service restaurant on property. Normally, we’d advise against this sort of thing. I mean, would you go to Paris and then eat at McDonald’s? Hopefully not. The difference here is that, unlike Paris, Disneyland Paris is not a world renowned culinary location. Give the in-park food a chance, but Earl of Sandwich (and other chains in the Disney Village) is a good fall-back option. Earl of Sandwich also has free WiFi, which could alone be a compelling reason to eat there!
Beyond that, we don’t really have much expertise in the Disneyland Paris dining department. Our over-arching recommendation for those with finite travel budgets would be to save your money for dining in the city of Paris and eat on the cheap in Disneyland Paris. You may want to give at least one table service meal a try before adopting this strategy, though.
I’m not looking to turn this page into a mini-guidebook on Disneyland Paris, so I’m going to spare you (and more importantly, me) an exhaustive look at each attraction you should experience in Disneyland Paris. Chances are you’ve visited a Disney theme park some time in your life, and you have an idea of what attractions are worth experiencing. The biggest differences in Disneyland Paris are park design, layout, and level of detail. Many of the attractions are very similar in general nature to their US counterparts.
If you’re considering visiting at Christmas, read our separate Disneyland Paris Christmas Guide.
If you’re interested in developing a strategy for attractions or figuring out which to do and which to skip, check out our Disneyland Paris Attractions Guide.
Here are a few quick notes regarding Disneyland Park attractions that may not be so obvious to a casual guest:
Now the same for the Walt Disney Studios Park:
In general, Disneyland Paris excels because it offers a lot to explore and excellent execution on theme. A die-hard Disney fan will notice “substantial” (to us) differences in many attractions from the US versions of the same, making every attraction a worthwhile experience. A casual guest will probably find that many attractions are “exactly the same” as their US counterparts.
Regardless of where you fall in that spectrum, you will enjoy the details and design if you slow down to enjoy them. That’s what we strongly recommend doing, and that’s how we believe Disneyland Paris is best enjoyed. Spend some time in the shops on Main Street, wander through the restaurants, and look for clues about the backstory.
It should come as no surprise that Europe does not use the US dollar as a currency. We recommend ordering Euros from your bank prior to your trip, or, ideally, having a “chipped” credit card. Withdrawing cash in Europe will likely subject you to fees. If you don’t know whether your credit card is chipped, it’s not. Chipped credit cards are just being introduced in the US; they really make international travel a breeze because they largely eliminate the need to deal in cash (besides from street vendors and other “older” retailers that don’t accept cash). We used chipped credit cards throughout our trip and just carried a bit of cash that we almost never used. No bank fees and current exchange rates made this preferable for us!
While Disneyland Paris’ website will lead you to believe that smoking is only allowed in designated areas, the reality is that people smoke in every outdoor area. This is something to keep in mind if smoke bothers you.
Wireless internet is available in the hotels and at Starbucks, but it costs money. Wireless internet is free at the Disney Village McDonald’s and Earl of Sandwich.
The toilets at Disneyland Paris are all highly advanced prototype “SMRT-1″ devices that feature facial recognition, and will greet you by saying, “How do you do, sir/m’am?” It is customary and appropriate to respond to this by saying, “I’m well, how are you?” It is not considered rude to decline to respond to any of the toilet’s additional conversation.
Just kidding on that last tip…although it is a foreign country, it’s not a foreign universe! If you can navigate the US parks, you’ll be fine in Disneyland Paris!
If this planning guide has piqued your curiosity about visiting Disneyland Paris, make sure to check out the official Disneyland Paris website for 50% off packages and other discounts! Visiting Disneyland Paris truly can be as inexpensive as visiting Walt Disney World! Why not try a new Disney park?!
Want to see more photos or read about Disneyland Paris in agonizing detail? Check out our Disneyland Paris 2012 Trip Report!
I know this just begins to scratch the surface of planning for a trip to Disneyland Paris. My goal was to not make it so long that it’s intimidating. If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments (I might flesh this out a bit more based upon your questions). If you’re a Disneyland Paris “regular” and you have tips of your own, please add them in the comments. I might just borrow them for the guide itself. If there’s enough reader demand, I might even do additional posts supplementing each sub-part of this post!