Is Disneyland Paris Right for You?

“I hated Disneyland Paris. The park was awful and people were rude…” Comments like this are not uncommon from guests who have visited, and been disappointed by, Disneyland Paris. If our reader reaction is any indication, it’s the most divisive Disney park on the planet. It’s certainly not a place for everyone, and in this post I’ll highlight who is likely to love it–and who is not.

I’ll be up front: I love Disneyland Paris, and it confounds me a bit that other Disney fans do not feel the same way about it that I do. With that said, I realize different fans have different backgrounds, expectations, and touring preferences. Some people focus on attractions, others focus on atmosphere, others still focus on dining, and so on.

There are any number of ways to enjoy a Disney park, and my intent here is not to make a value judgment about individual interests and vacation priorities. Rather, I hope this post will shed some light on which touring styles are most conducive to enjoying Disneyland Paris…

In some ways, Disneyland Paris has more in common with Epcot or Tokyo DisneySea than it does the other castle parks. Like those, it is the ultimate “ambiance park.” A place best enjoyed with a slow stroll, sipped like a fine French wine. If I had to pick a park to visit without doing any attractions, Disneyland Paris would be my #2 choice, after Tokyo DisneySea.

If you love roaming World Showcase in Epcot, just exploring the hidden corners, shops, and meticulous details, there’s a strong possibility that Disneyland Paris is for you. Disneyland Paris has a treasure trove of brilliant design work, and even after numerous visits, I still stumble upon new things each trip. It’s such a satisfying park to explore.

If you’re the type who collects coffee table books about Walt Disney Imagineering or the design and architecture of the parks, Disneyland Paris is absolutely for you.

One of the great things about today’s social media era is that many high-profile current and former Imagineers have accounts where they share old photos and anecdotes. I follow a number of these accounts, and the park for which many of these celebrated Imagineers still have an intense passion is Disneyland Paris. Eddie Sotto put it best when he said that Disneyland Paris is “the park designed by WDI Disney fans…for Disney fans.”

While other parks were also no doubt designed by Disney fans within Imagineering, there are a couple of critical differences with Disneyland Paris. First, most of the original design remains. In a sense, other parks are victims of their own success: as the parks became more popular, new ideas were injected that strayed from their “pure” ambition.

Elsewhere, these additions were made with the goal of appealing to a more mainstream audience. Attractions like Soarin’ and Frozen Ever After are crowd-pleasers that play well with casual guests, but when viewed through the prism of the park’s objective and core thematic principles, they make less sense.

Ironically enough, the same financial struggles that have hampered the growth of Disneyland Paris over the years have also ensured that it has (largely) remained pure in theme. Outside of Discoveryland, there are few additions to Disneyland Paris that have hampered its design and thematic integrity.

Second, the team behind the park’s original buildout featured an all-star lineup of Imagineers, who had a good deal of creative latitude. The result with Disneyland Paris is a park that feels like it contains some great ‘blue sky’ ambitions that often get cut from other projects.

At least in part because the lavish design and ambition of Disneyland Paris caused it to go over budget, subsequent parks (save the OLC-funded Tokyo DisneySea) were built in a more “restrained” sense. Animal Kingdom at its opening is a good example. It has the similar thematic purity and ambition, but Disney hedged its bets by building that park on a smaller scale and expanding it over time.

Disneyland Paris feels like the culmination of castle parks before it, with lessons learned from Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, and applied to something new. Its ambition is uncanny, and it’s a true treat to get lost in, exploring its many details…if that’s the kind of Disney park experience you’re after.

If the idea of spending an entire day in a theme park without doing any attractions sounds miserable to you, perhaps Disneyland Paris is not for you. For me, this isn’t some vague hypothetical that is unfathomable in practice. I could be satisfied wandering a park all day taking photos, soaking up the experience, and taking in the details. In fact, I’ve done it and really enjoy it.

I understand that for many fans, the primary draw of the parks is attractions. I think this is a fair perspective; after all, the parks wouldn’t exist without attractions (no one is waiting in like 90 minutes to stare at some details). For many people, a Disney trip is in large part judged by how many attractions were experienced.

If your primary objective is riding the rides, Disneyland Paris might not be for you. This is not to say it doesn’t have any good attractions (it has the best versions of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Pirates of the Caribbean, plus great options in Fantasyland, Phantom Manor, etc.), but I think it’s fair to say Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland all have much more robust attraction lineups. Paris is about on par with Shanghai Disneyland or Hong Kong Disneyland in terms of attractions (probably a bit ahead of both).

From a rides-only perspective, Disneyland Paris is a 1-day park and Walt Disney Studios Park is also a 1-day park. Ironically, from a design and detail perspective, I’d say Disneyland Paris is a 3-day park and Walt Disney Studios Park is a 30 minutes park. WDSP is the polar opposite of Disneyland Paris. For those of you used to spending 7-days at Walt Disney World doing attractions nonstop, Disneyland Paris may leave you wanting.

Additionally, if food is an integral part of your Disney experience, and you find yourself combing the internet looking for new snacks to try or menu changes at restaurants at resort hotels, Disneyland Paris might not be for you. Not only does Disneyland Paris serve the worst food of any Disney resort in the world, but it also lacks counter service menu variety and there’s not much going on in the way of crave-worthy snacks.

This is not to say you cannot put together a respectable dining itinerary at Disneyland Paris that has some exceptional meals in it, you’re just going to have to work harder at it. You’re also going to have limited choices on the counter service front in that itinerary.

The plus side, though, is that (like the rest of the park), Disneyland Paris has the best themed restaurants anywhere. Walt’s – An American Restaurant alone is like a visit to Club 33 (except with better history and open to the general public). Suffice to say, on your first 3-4 day trip to Disneyland Paris, you can having a fun culinary experience, but once you’re on trip 2 or 3, you’ve pretty much depleted all of the good options and will be returning to old favorites.

Finally, if you want an experience that includes a lot of cheery “have a magical day!” interactions, Disneyland Paris might not be for you. French culture is dramatically different than United States’ culture. This is something I’ve written about with regard to Disneyland Paris multiple times, so I apologize if you’ve already read it once or seven times, but it bears emphasizing since it’s such a common complaint from Americans who have culture shock upon visiting Disneyland Paris.

French ideas of service are different than those in the U.S. A good example of this is at restaurants, where servers take a much more subdued approach, and are far more hands off. For many Americans, this is perceived as the server “shunning” them, and is construed as poor service.

For the French, this is part of the culture. I’m hardly an expert on France, but the ‘cafe culture’ is evident throughout the country. People go to restaurants to become engrossed in conversation, and any intrusion, including an assertive server, is an impediment to that (you’ll also see far fewer people playing on their phones in France’s restaurants).

In other words, what you might perceive as rude is through the prism of your culture. Part of international travel is necessarily temporarily becoming immersed in another culture.

Beyond service in restaurants, there’s the general demeanor of Cast Members. Part of this is an extension of French culture. Another part is that for most Cast Members, working at Disneyland Paris is just another job. Disney is not part of the cultural fabric in France like it is in Anaheim, where there’s still a reverence towards Walt Disney or in Orlando, a place to which many people relocate to fulfill dreams of working for Disney.

This is not to say that there are no exceptional Cast Members at Disneyland Paris. To the contrary, we’ve encountered so many great Cast Members there who go above and beyond. Like the other parks, some go the extra mile to make an indelible impression on guests. Many others do not, instead going about their jobs in a workmanlike manner, competently getting their work done. Parisians are also not big on feigned enthusiasm, so those throwaway “have a magical day” platitudes are almost unheard of at Disneyland Paris.

Hopefully this helped you determine whether Disneyland Paris is for you. If you’re still on the fence, I say go! The one thing not mentioned above is proximity to Paris, which is one of the greatest cities in the world. Any trip to Disneyland Paris should include as much or more time in Paris proper, and there is no shortage of incredible experiences to be had in the city. To be honest, this is why I never feel guilty about recommending a trip to Disneyland Paris. I think reasonable minds may differ on Disneyland Paris, but if you do not like Paris as a city, that’s on you.

For the basics of planning a visit to Disneyland Paris, check out our Disneyland Paris Trip Planning Guide. Want to see more photos or read about Disneyland Paris in agonizing detail? Check out our Disneyland Paris 20th Anniversary Trip Report or our Disneyland Paris 25th Anniversary Trip Recap!

YOUR THOUGHTS…

If you’ve visited Disneyland Paris, what’s your take on who it’ll appeal to most? Did you enjoy your visit, or would you rather stick to other Disney Parks? Anything with which you disagree in this post? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!


41 Responses to “Is Disneyland Paris Right for You?”
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