Our 1-day itinerary is our perfect day in Disneyland Paris, balancing an efficient touring plan with sufficient opportunities to slow down and enjoy the ‘Disney Details.’ In addition to a plan of attack for doing attractions with minimal waits, this Disneyland Paris 1-day touring plan features the restaurants at which we’d dine, the shows we’d see, and the details we’d try to enjoy. (Last updated February 10, 2018.)
Note that this isn’t a “commando style” touring plan or strategy guide for racing from attraction to attraction to do as many as possible at the expense of everything else. Getting a lot done is important, but this itinerary balances quantity with quality. Efficiency is important, but Disneyland Paris is the most ornate and detailed Disneyland-style park in the world, and it is imperative that you stop and smell the proverbial roses if you really want to really appreciate all this Disney park has to offer.
There are a few assumptions with this guide, such as you visiting on a moderately crowded day, reasonable use of FastPass (get them whenever you can, not just when mentioned in the plan), and arriving at park opening and staying to close. Touring Disneyland Paris efficiently is really simple because this is one of the few parks where virtually every popular attraction has FastPass, and it’s pretty easy to get a FastPass for each of these attractions in a single day.
Also note that this Disneyland Paris 1-day plan does not specifically list every attraction. Instead, we make value judgments about the best attractions to form a touring plan that can be accomplished in a single day. If you have more time or want an overview of all rides in the park, read our Disneyland Paris Attraction Ratings & Ride Guide post.
Let’s take a look at how you should approach this ideal day…
Rise and Shine – I am a big proponent of staying on-site for a first-visit to any of the Disney resorts, and Paris is no different. My strong recommendation here is staying at Sequoia Lodge, but if you have the funds, Disneyland Hotel can’t be beat (I assume) with its views overlooking the park.
Staying at one of the Disney hotels also entitles you to Extra Magic Hours, and the ability to experience Fantasyland and Discoveryland for 2 hours before the park opens to the public. I like to focus on using this time to get photos of a mostly-empty park. However, you should always start any day at Disneyland Paris with…
DRAGON! – Disneyland Paris is a divisive park, with a love-it-or-hate-it reaction among Disney fans. I have never witnessed this type of response to any other Disney park in the world, and in my very scientific research, I have reached the following conclusion: people who dislike Disneyland Paris started their day off on the wrong foot, without any dragon time.
Thus, make a quick stop to see the dragon under the castle if you want to start things off right. (If you make additional stops throughout the day, your chances of liking the park will further increase.) If you stop to see the dragon, I guarantee you will feel like this, supercharged and amped for the exploration that awaits. As the jingle goes, ‘the best part of waking up is seeing a F@#$**&# DRAGON!’
Fantastical Morning – I think you really can’t go wrong by starting the day in any castle park in Fantasyland, and Disneyland Paris is no exception. Like the rest, a big part of the reason to start here is because there are numerous attractions without FastPass, each of which can develop a moderate wait time–and those waits add up.
Start by grabbing a FastPass for Peter Pan’s Flight, and then moving to the other dark rides. (Note that Casey Jr. and Storybook Land Canal Boats may open later than the rest of the park.) End with a walk through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, and make sure to head all the way to the top of the Queen’s Castle, which overs excellent views of Fantasyland.
Adventure is Out There! – If you go by the park map, you might think this is a land you can quickly knock out by doing Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril. That is not even remotely true. First of all, the Indiana Jones coaster is atrocious. Utterly devoid of theming and short, it’s a waste of time. If you’re going to Disneyland Paris for this, I’m betting you won’t appreciate the painstaking details and beauty of the park.
By contrast, I consider this Pirates of the Caribbean one of the best Disney attractions in the world, but I’m betting you won’t skip that. Most importantly, make sure to spend some time on Adventure Isle, where you can see Skull Rock and explore the Swiss Family Treehouse. Another overlooked gem is Le Passage Enchanté d’Aladdin, an enchanting little walk-through exhibit. Head to the outskirts of Frontierland to grab a FastPass for Big Thunder when you’re done.
Eat at Walt’s Place – I highly recommend Walt’s – An American Restaurant for lunch, if it’s open (try for reservations first thing in the morning–before any attractions, if it is). If it’s not open, a table service alternative that likely will be open is Blue Lagoon Restaurant. I’m not a fan of the cuisine at either restaurant, but both offer amazing ambiance, and are worth a visit.
Cable Car Bake Shop – I’ve previously espoused the virtues of this little shop on Main Street, so it should be no surprise that this is where I recommend stopping for a post-lunch coffee (so skip dessert and coffee if you eat at Walt’s).
When visiting France, one of our favorite things is stopping in little boulangeries in the morning (or really, any time of day) to start our day. I guess there’s some irony in the fact that this charming and intimate bakery in Disneyland Paris is actually American (it still feels European), but that takes nothing away from it.
Afternoon Exploration – Before and following the afternoon parade, you should have time to slow down and explore (e.g., see the dragon like 17 more times). I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of exploration at Disneyland Paris. It truly is a treasure trove of details, and a park that is meant to be sipped like a fine wine.
For all that Disneyland Paris lacks, it does not lack a wonderful sense of romanticism and design that simultaneously achieves (otherwise contradictory) feelings of grandiosity and quaintness. It’s a park for wandering around, taking photos, and just generally soaking up the essence of great thematic design. Like Tokyo DisneySea, it feels like the Imagineers were given a blank check for the overall design of the park.
You might construe my comments above about the Indiana Jones ride as sarcasm, but I truly suspect there’s an inverse correlation between guest reaction to that ride and reaction to the park as a whole. Disneyland Paris is not a park for thrill or ride junkies. It’s for the type of guest who could wander World Showcase for hours.
At the end of this exploration, before you head to Thunder Mesa, I’d highly recommend a return trip to Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, entering through the exit (if they will let you), going up to the Queen’s Castle, and getting photos of Fantasyland in the late afternoon light. If the sun is out, it’ll have an ethereal glow that truly looks like a fantasy land.
Disney Stars on Parade – The daytime parade that was unveiled for Disneyland Paris’ 25th Anniversary last year, and is well worth seeing. Gorgeous costumes, well-designed floats, and a catchy soundtrack makes it worth the time. Oh, and just like underneath the castle, there’s a fire-breathing dragon, so that’s a big plus!
If you’re not a parade person, you could probably safely skip this, but it’s typically fairly easy to get a good spot only 15 minutes in advance, so it’s not like you’re sacrificing much to see it. Depending upon the time of year you visit, you’re also likely to find seasonal stage shows, and this is also a good time to take in one of those. Check your daily times guide for more info.
Thunder Mesa – “Disneyland Paris is the most beautiful park, but…” is a pretty common refrain, with that “but” being followed by concerns over maintenance, attraction quality, and Cast Members (all of which can be valid to some degree). None of these concerns apply in Frontierland, known as Thunder Mesa. This is Disneyland Paris firing on all cylinders.
The goal in placing it here is that you will experience Thunder Mesa under the glow of late afternoon leading into sunset, which is a pretty sublime experience for a Disney theme park fan. Use your Big Thunder Mountain Railroad FastPass, do Phantom Manor, eat dinner at Lucky Nugget Saloon (be mindful of their closing hours so you don’t get stuck eating “food” at the abysmal Cafe Hyperion), and time things so you take a sunset cruise on the Thunder Mesa Riverboats.
Nighttime Discovery – Disneyland Paris wisely chose to punt on the Tomorrowland concept and instead went to a Jules Verne-inspired Discoveryland. It’s basically Tomorrowland, but with a different name and some tweaks in story and details. Like the other Tomorrowlands, it is best experienced at night (who knew neon lighting was so prominent in Verne’s day!). Many guests dismiss it because it’s “only” a walkthrough, but Les Mystères du Nautilus is a must-do attraction.
Hyperspace Mountain (a Star Wars variation of Space Mountain) a very rough ride, to the point that it literally hurt my head. Nonetheless, it’s fun and worth doing at least once. (Plus, I’m an old-timer, and I’ve seen younger people get off the attraction grinning ear to ear, so maybe it’s just me.)
Disney Illuminations – Disneyland Paris debuted the concept of a mixed-media nighttime castle show with Disney Dreams, and this is the successor to that excellent show. While Disney Illuminations is not quite as good as its predecessor, it’s still an absolute must-see.
It features fire, fireworks, water fountains, lasers, castle projections, and more. Peter Pan is the thread that ties together a montage show that emphasizes French and other European Disney stories. This show has heart and is technically breathtaking, making it something you absolutely cannot miss. We have this viewing and photography guide for those interested in finding the best spot and taking photos.
Close Down Main Street – You may notice that we spent very little time on Main Street prior to this, despite it representing the high water mark of Main Street designs. This is because after Disney Dreams, it’s impossible to get to other lands, but Main Street remains open for shopping/lingering for another 30 minutes or so. Make sure to pay a visit to each of Arcades, explore the shops, and generally marvel at the meticulous level of design present in this incarnation of Main Street, USA.
All of this should be pretty easy to accomplish in a single day at Disneyland Paris, no matter what time of year you visit. Despite this, I personally could spend days and days at Disneyland Paris, just drinking it all in.
What do you like to do most at Disneyland Paris? Any tips of your own for exploring the park? If you’ve never been to Disneyland Paris, what interests you most about the park? Anything else to add? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your questions and thoughts in the comments!