These first-time Disneyland Paris tips are designed to help you with things you might not know about vacationing in the French parks, how they differ from their United States counterparts, and what to know when planning your first visit. Most of these are based upon what we’ve learned from our visits to Disneyland Paris (and possibly inspired by mistakes we made).
While these tips apply in general to anyone visiting Disneyland Paris, the list is oriented towards Disney fans and preconceptions they might have based upon other Disney parks. In other words, there’s a focus on how Parc Disneyland (Disneyland Paris is the name of both the park and resort as a whole, so we’ll call the main park “Parc Disneyland” to distinguish between the two) and Walt Disney Studios Park differ from other parks.
If you’re a Disneyland Paris veteran, some of these may seem obvious. However, based on comments to our posts about Disneyland Paris and our conversations with others, there are a lot of misconceptions. These misconceptions can lead to certain mental expectations, which in turn can lead to disappointment as these parks deviate from said expectations.
A European vacation might be intimidating, but fortunately, visiting Disneyland Paris is a far less complicated of experience than visiting Walt Disney World or other Disney parks. These 10 tips should set you on the right course to having a great visit to Disneyland Paris…
10. The Two Parks Couldn’t Be Any More Different.
Parc Disneyland and The Walt Disney Studios Park are the two parks at Disneyland Paris (Resort), and they are polar opposites. Our preface about expectations and misconceptions might’ve made you think we wanted to lower your expectations for Disneyland Paris, but that isn’t the case.
Rather, we think expectations should be adjusted (for reasons we’ll get to). Parc Disneyland is more lavish, beautiful, and thematically impressive than any Walt Disney World park. It’s not necessarily better (for reasons we’ll also get to), but the park is a true gem and exemplifies the “Disney Details.”
Okay…so perhaps the “lower your expectations” part was true for The Walt Disney Studios Park. There’s no way around this: that park is Disney’s worst, and does not deserve to have Walt’s name in its title. It’s a stark contrast to its neighbor, too.
While Disneyland Paris is one of the most detail-rich Disney parks, The Walt Disney Studios Park is a loose collection of rides (several of which actually are quite good) with only the new Ratatouille mini-land having any beauty and sense of place.
9. There’s a lot of Walking
This is one that Disney fans have come to expect of the parks, particularly Walt Disney World. Especially since its 4 theme parks and 24 hotels encompass 25,000 acres. Even Disney fans can be surprised by the amount of walking at Disneyland Paris. While the walking inside the 2 theme parks is roughly the same, it’s the walking outside of the parks that can surprise you.
Like Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris was masterplanned to be an all-inclusive, ‘Disney bubble’ kind of experience. Unlike Walt Disney World, the entire resort at Disneyland Paris is walkable. It’s easy to go from Hotel Santa Fe to Parc Disneyland by foot, so people (me included) are inclined to do that rather than utilizing the free transportation that the resorts offer.
Doing this a couple of times in a day, plus regular in-park walking, can be tiring. Europe, in general, requires a lot of walking, so if you’re visiting Paris (or elsewhere) as part of your Disneyland Paris vacation, make sure you’re conditioned for walking 10+ miles per day.
8. Don’t Worry if You Don’t Speak French
Disneyland Paris was originally EuroDisney, and the idea when the resort was planned was to have it be Europe’s Disneyland. To some degree, that has occurred, making Disneyland Paris more of a ‘melting pot’ park for Europeans than a locals’ park like Disneyland or Tokyo Disneyland.
Not all Europeans speak the same language. While French is certainly the dominant language (largely to avoid misplaced accusations of it being a “cultural Chernobyl” among French ‘intellectuals’) at Disneyland Paris, English is a more widely-spoken language in Europe.
This doesn’t mean that every Cast Member will be fluent in English, but most can speak a serviceable amount, all signage is in English, and many attractions are in English. (The most notable omission is Phantom Manor, but having the park’s iconic attraction in French just seems right.)
7. Hotels are Expensive (But Don’t Have to Be!)
Despite a surplus of rooms, the official Disney hotels at Disneyland Paris can be very expensive. I find this puzzling, as a few of these hotels are quite dated and have low occupancy rates. While we love Sequoia Lodge and the newly-refurbished Newport Bay Club, we feel the rest are way overpriced for what they offer. Fortunately, there are some pretty exceptional deals from time-to-time (if you know where to look), and there are also off-site hotels within walking distance.
The off-site hotels, particularly in Val d’Europe, are a 5-minute RER (train) ride away, and within walking distance; we stayed in one during our first visit to Disneyland Paris. For the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, we found on-site hotel rates to be exorbitant, so we’re instead opting to stay in Hôtel l’Elysée Val d’Europe–which you can see on the map above–for <$100/night (prices start ~$60/night).
Contrary to what this map shows, it’s not a field consisting of two hotels and scattered clouds; rather, it’s a charming little French suburb. There are several hotels, including Hipark Serris, all of which are about a 5-10 minute walk from the front entrance to Newport Bay Club. This makes these hotels roughly the same distance as Hotel Cheyenne or Santa Fe to Disneyland Paris.
Under that closure sign, there’s a list of restaurants that are open, but often this listing is also inaccurate (and the signs themselves are inconsistent). Locating a place to eat can feel like some sort of hunger games-inspired challenge.
Plan on dining in Disneyland Paris after 6 pm? It gets even worse. At that point, your options are reduced to Casey’s Corner, Cafe Hyperion, and _________ (with this blank is either Lucky Nugget Saloon or Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost–both if management is feeling super-generous). If Disneyland Paris’ main demographic were Bob Evans patrons, this wouldn’t be an issue. However, Europeans tend to eat late, which means that around 8 pm or so, the lines for restaurants are insane.
5. Everything is Getting Better
In advance of Disneyland Paris’ 25th Anniversary, Disneyland Paris undertook a multi-year plan called the “Experience Enhancement Plan” (EEP) consisting of numerous large-scale attraction refurbishments, hotel upgrades, menu updates, and other projects to improve the maintenance and quality of the resort as a whole.
This was a long time coming. While Disneyland Paris was designed beautifully from the get-go, its maintenance has lagged behind. The good news is that the park now looks better than ever, and even following the 25th Anniversary, Disneyland Paris continues to refresh older attractions and hotels. (As of 2018, Phantom Manor is receiving TLC, and Hotel New York will soon close to become Hotel New York: the Art of Marvel.)
There’s a lot of fascinating history that underscores the “why” of this (much of which is hinted at above), but suffice to say, EuroDisney was troubled from the beginning. Disneyland Paris has slowly been turning things around since its 20th Anniversary, and while it still isn’t perfect, it’s much improved. Whatever you’ve read about Disneyland Paris being a blighted place as compared to the other resorts is simply no longer true.
4. There’s a $@*#%* DRAGON!
If you’re anything like me, whenever watching House Hunters, you find yourself screaming at the television because the couples are asking inane questions about mildew damage in the bathrooms instead of important ones like whether a dragon lives below the house. If you, yourself have neglected to ask this question and consequently got stuck with a dragon-free house, fear not: all of your household dragon-dreams will be fulfilled by Disneyland Paris.
There’s a dragon Audio Animatronics figure under the castle, and it is spectacular. Seriously. This is worth mentioning because it’s a seldom-hyped thing if you look solely at planning resources that cover (proper) attractions, yet it’s one of the defining features of the park. This “hidden dragon” is the literal embodiment of what makes Disneyland Paris so special: the stunning details.
This item on the list was originally going to be “Don’t Miss Disney Dreams!” but given the top billing the nighttime spectacular receives, I don’t think it’s something many guests will overlook. (Illustrating the park’s details with a specific example is more important.)
Suffice to say, you should absolutely make a point of staying until the very end of the night and snagging a prime viewing location (here are our recommendations) for Disney Dreams. I would consider it the high-water mark for castle park shows. It’s like Disneyland Forever!, but with less pyro and more other effects.
3. Planning Isn’t Critical
While I’d say Disneyland Paris is more like Walt Disney World than it is any other worldwide resort in terms of layout, it’s more like Disneyland in terms of the necessity of planning. There’s no FastPass+ (yet), reservations aren’t necessary or possible at most restaurants, and having an efficient daily itinerary is not incredibly important.
To be sure, there are a handful of restaurants where reservations can (and should) be made a couple of days in advance, a few attractions that should be done early in the morning (or via FastPass), and other things to know, but by and large, you can wing.
This is one big reason that, outside of our Disneyland Paris Trip Planning Guide, we don’t have a ton of articles covering Disneyland Paris. The posts we do have are more centered around our preferences, rather than strategy.
2. Cultures are Different
First I drop the bomb that not everyone in Europe speaks French, now this info that different cultures are different? You might be wondering, what will we learn next?! I can’t dispute that this blog is basically Sesame Street (and I’m Oscar). Visiting France is hardly a culture shock, but it’s worth noting that certain elements of European culture are different than American culture.
One of the biggest issues I see Disney veterans having with Disneyland Paris is the different cultures they encounter. The two most frequent complaints I see are those regarding smokers and blasé Cast Members. The first is simple: it’s Europe, more people smoke. The second concern is a little trickier. For most Cast Members, working at Disneyland Paris is just another job.
The reality, though? For most Cast Members, working at Walt Disney World is just another job. There are superlative Cast Members at both that go above and beyond, with a few at both who will actually go the extra mile to make an indelible impression on guests. The difference is in the average Cast Members who don’t go the extra mile.
At Walt Disney World, you will find a lot of Cast Members who will smile and half-heartedly recite a canned line such as, “have a magical day” as you enter an attraction. Parisians are not big on feigned enthusiasm, and this type of interaction is fairly uncommon at Disneyland Paris.
Personally, this “difference” does not matter to me. Maybe I’m jaded, but I do not view throwaway lines as a hallmark of actual guest service. When it comes to substantive customer service, I can draw virtually no distinctions among the Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, and Hong Kong parks.
This is in no way a knock on any of them. Disney parks tend to attract a lot of passionate people. I feel all offer high-level customer service on the whole, and there are about the same number of exemplary, passionate Cast Members working at each location.
1. Sip Like a Fine, French Wine
This feels cliche, but Disneyland Paris really is like a fine wine, meant to be enjoyed slowly, rather than from commando-style, racing from attraction to attraction. Along with #2 on this list, I think this is the biggest reason why so many people don’t enjoy Disneyland Paris. If you’re a ride-junkie, Parc Disneyland might do very little for you.
If you are a fan of the design, details, and ambiance that makes Disney parks a cut above the rest, Parc Disneyland will speak to you in a way that no other in the pantheon of castle parks can (not even Disneyland). This is like the Jurassic Park of castle parks, in which no expense was sparred, making the place a veritable gold mine of “hidden dragons.”
I could spend days exploring the park without doing a single attraction (Frontierland’s Thunder Mesa is particularly enchanting for me), and I view exploration of the park with utmost importance. Here’s how I described it in our 1-Day Disneyland Paris Plan & Strategy post: 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.
Disneyland Paris is 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.
At the end of the day, this is what matters most about Disneyland Paris to me, and why I love the place so much.
If you’ve been, what first-timer tips do you have for Disneyland Paris? What do you like to do most at Disneyland Paris? If you’ve never been to Disneyland Paris, what questions do you have about the resort? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your questions and thoughts in the comments!