Disneyland Paris: Day Tripping

Trip Start Apr 19, 2010
1
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Trip End Sep 01, 2012


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Flag of France  , Ile-de-France,
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ah, Disneyland as a day trip. This is something that I have adamantly avoided for years.    Up to this point, the vast majority of my Disney experiences before moving to Paris have had the caveat that  "we stay in the Park".   This meaning, we stay for more than one day and overnight at one of the Disneyland Resorts on premises.  This attitude stems from a less than ideal experience that I had with Walt Disney World in Florida when I was 12.  

For the trip in question, my family stayed at a hotel outside the Disney Resort that was good enough as hotels go, but far enough away from the park to require us to get up at the break of dawn so that we could "make good time" (as my retired Navy Dad used to say)  to the park.  Even getting up early, we were far from the first to get there.  I suspect people camped out overnight....but that is conjecture.    Suffice it to say, I still remember my father driving us there..and the subsequent testosterone infused competition for parking spaces.  My dad was not a "macho" type of guy, but nothing brings out the redneck jerk in any man like trying to find a parking space in a packed lot.  After finding the coveted space, we then had the joy of walking, oh, 200 miles or so, to the park entrance.  Even at  12 years old, I was almost exhausted before I even made it to the first ride in the Magic Kingdom.   At said ride, which was some sort of jungle cruise, we had to wait over an hour in a line to get in.   We only rode this one ride.  After that, Dad had had enough.  Even I  had no desire to push for another hour long wait for a ride.     There was really nowhere in the Magic Kingdom where we could get away from lines and other people. So  we left the park way before dinner, "made good time" back to the hotel and went to bed early.    The next day was a marked improvement in that we went  to Epcot, which was fairly new, more aimed at adults, and almost empty.   I actually enjoyed the day.   The impact this had on me lasted way into my adult years. 

Why do I bore you with these details?  It is simply to give a foundation for what has been my ideological stance when it comes to visiting Disney, which is if you are going to go to Disneyland and do anything besides waiting in lines then  1) stay at one of the Hotels in the Park so that you can take breaks if needed and 2) go when there are fewer people to avoid the above mentioned hell on earth lines.  

Since that bygone era, Disney has tried to make inroads on resolving some of these problems and has instituted "magic hours" for those staying at the hotels.   This allows anyone staying at the resort on particular days to get into the park before regular opening hours.  So, by staying on site, one gets not only the ability to retreat to the hotel, but also the opportunity to beat the crowds to the most popular rides.   This means that you can go on most of your rides early in the  morning and then spend the rest of the day watching shows, soaking up the ambience or gloating.   Very smart of them, as this really encourages people to stay at their over the top expensive resorts.  And, as this answered most of my complaints with the Disney system, the strategy worked on me.  Our family has chosen to stay at the resort hotels both in Anaheim and in Paris.   

However, now that we live in Paris, it seemed ridiculous to avoid at least making an attempt at a day trip.  In fact, many of the other Mom's that I know here have invested in the annual pass, which would incline one to believe that day trips are at least feasible if not enjoyable.   However, I wanted to stack the odds in our favor on this trip, so we had the following strategy.   First, go mid week.  Weekend at any Disney is packed.  Even if a tornado touches down, there will still be people who won't give up there spot in line on a weekend.   Second, go when they are predicting less than perfect weather.  The truth of the weather forecasts here is that they don't really have a clue.   The weather is very changeable and there are very rare days which are purely one thing or another.   So, even if they are predicting bad weather, odds are that there will be a couple of hours of at least OK weather in there somewhere.   Third, don't go during school holidays...think weekends, only worse.    So, one rainy Thursday in June, I set off to Disney with both boys and Ashleigh, our nanny, in tow. 

Getting to Disneyland from Paris.

This is quite surprisingly easy.    It is a straight shot on RER A4 which runs from central Paris to Marne-la-Vallee Chessy, and takes about 35 minutes.  Once you get to the Metro there are signs everywhere.   The only issue is that , if you go early on a week day, you could be on the train with some of the business commuters.    That being said, this can delight your inner sadist if you do it right.   There is nothing like sitting down next to some uptight, overly made up, self important business woman in a suit when you have two kids in tow.   Particularly if one of them is under two.  Even more particularly, if they are still eating bits of their breakfast.    I can assure you that she WILL move away from you...and the look of fear and horror is soooo worth it.  If anyone says anything, you can always do the "je ne parle pas francais" with the sweetest look you can muster.     OK, enough fun.

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom at almost exactly opening time, which is 10 am on the weekdays.  Our fellow visitors seemed to contain a higher ratio of Parisians' than usual.  My guess is that many were following the same train of logic that I had used.   And while there were people there, it wasn't mind numbingly crowded.  We managed to get into the park with less than the usual trauma.  I must give the French credit in the way they handle security checks.  They seem to openly profile people when they are checking you in, but hey,  that makes sense to me.  I mean, you don't see a lot of terrorist moms with toddlers.  This refreshing level of common sense  makes the lines go much quicker.   

The Rides

Once inside the park we made a bee line for Buzz Light year ride.   Mind you, we  had had a game plan when we got into the park.  Our idea was to quickly go to Buzz Lightyear, get a fast pass and then head to Fantasyland to ride Peter Pan, Pinocchio and Snow White before coming back.  But a 4 year old will lay waste to even the best laid plans of mice and men.   So, confronted with a Buzz Lightyear with no line, there was no stopping Lucas from running straight in.  In retrospect, I should have sent Ashleigh with the tickets to get the Fastpass while I headed to the other rides... but live and learn.  

By the time we had finished the Buzz ride, an already significant line had formed so,  rather than riding again, we made our way to Fantasyland.  This is where we made mistake number 2.  We got a fast pass for the Buzz ride before we left.  I have no idea what I was thinking.  I knew even at the time that it was unlikely we would make it back, given the layout of the park and our lunch reservations in Frontierland.    The problem is that getting one Fastpass blocks you from getting any additional ones until that time slot has passed.   So we could not get a Fastpass for Peter Pan in Fantasyland...and the line was already at the "I refuse to wait in this" length.  (OMG, I have become my father!!!)   So, first we went on "It's a small world".  This is another ride that I always underestimate, but end up on anyway.  It is fascinating for the under 5 crowd and a nice break for the parents as it is long.  After this we went on to the Pinocchio ride, where Lucas had the tolerance to wait the requisite 15 minutes but Seb (our 18 month old) protested rather vehemently.   After a few minutes, he had lobbied successfully for Ashleigh to take him to Lancelot's Carousel.   Once Lucas and I got on the ride, I was rather happy that he had not  come as it was scarier than I had remembered.  By the time we were done and Seb had finished his round on the Carousel, we had 45 minutes to make our way to the Lucky Nugget Saloon for lunch.  As I didn't want to rush, we started heading in that general direction.  I was quite proud of my foresight as it took us just about this amount of time to get there.  This is because DLRP seems to have added lots of little distractions all around the park.  On our way, we encountered Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip telling their story in front of the castle.  Once this was done, on Main Street USA they were having the new Toy Story / Monsters Inc / Incredibles' show.   I had to drag the kids away from both of these but they stayed long enough that there wasn't too much protest.    So we arrived at the Lucky Nugget for our character lunch at only 5 minutes before our reservation time, but I will detail this experience in heart wrenching detail below.

After lunch we made our way to Big Thunder Mountain, as Lucas LOVES Roller Coasters.  It was packed so we got a Fast pass and headed to Adventureland to the Pirate playground area.  This area is a life saver if you have really little ones as there is an area just for the under 3 crowd.  Just on the other side of this play area is another for much bigger kids.   The only complaint I have about this area is that the escape route is a bit too wide on the side for the toddlers.  A smaller opening would make it easier to fling yourself into their path as they are trying to make the inevitable great escape.  But this is a fairly small complaint.  Both Lucas and Sebbie had tons of fun playing there for almost an hour,  which gave us lots of great photo ops.  By the time they were losing interest, it was time to head back to Big Thunder Mountain.  

Lucas had been whining to go on a roller coaster for a good month before we came here.  In fact, it was one of the triggers for deciding to go.  As Lucas is a very large 4 year old, he is tall enough to go on lots of rides that other 4 year olds can't.  He also seems less afraid of rides than his friends and cousins.  Somehow, I think I should be nervous about this, but I am ignoring that particular paranoia for now.   So he was over the moon when we got to BTM.  Once at the Fastpass line , we were able to use the Baby Switch program so that both Ashleigh and I could ride, and Lucas could ride twice.  This was invaluable as the line was really atrocious.  I  know I keep saying this but it amazes me that people will stand in an hour long line, either with kids or without.   As I have all the patience of a pissed off rattlesnake, it is really utterly unfathomable to me how people keep their sanity in these lines...and why so few people get hurt.  Not on the ride, mind you, but in the line.     Anyway,  this was quite a fun coaster for both kids and adults.  Lucas was thrilled beyond bounds.  The rest of us thoroughly enjoyed it as well.  I did feel a bit sorry for Seb here, so we decided to go back to Fantasyland for one last attempt to ride Peter Pan before we left.  

When we got back to Fantasyland , Peter Pan had an hour long line, and no more Fast pass.   So we went on Snow White instead.  This was the third ride related mistake.  This ride really is too scary for toddlers.   I would guess that 70% of the ride time is dedicated to the evil queen / witch.   Seb didn't cry but his little eyes were like saucers when we came out.   That night, he had nightmares.  Well, I could have predicted that one.    This was the last ride we went on.

As Promised, The Lucky Nugget Saloon

In short, I will start by saying, if you can afford to eat at Auberge de Cendrillon,  then do so.  The food is not just better, it is in a different class.  The characters are more readily accessible, and the staff much friendlier than at the Lucky Nugget.     If you don't want to read any further, that is OK, just take this piece of information and run with it.  

I had reserved a table ahead of time at the Lucky Nugget, having already had the experience of trying to eat at a Disneyland Paris restaurant without a reservation (in short, you are SOL).     When we made it to the restaurant, we were 5 minutes early.  We had to wait for another 10 minutes or so while the hostess contemplated all the possible impacts and metaphysical repercussions of the choices she made in seating the people in front of us.   

As the restaurant is set up in an amphitheater type arrangement, there is very little space on the floor and lots of tiers on the sides with a bar and bar stool configuration for eating.  Of course, when we got there, they decided that there was no room on the floor so they took us to the bar.  Now, I can appreciate a bar and bar stool as much as anyone in the proper environment, e.g. where one is drinking and NOT with one's children. 

 So, there we are with Lucas and Sebbie shoved up against the bar between myself and Ashleigh.   This set up creates for numerous difficulties.  The first annoyance is that  it is almost impossible to have a conversation with anyone besides the people right beside you.  This means if you sit your kids between the two adults, then the adults will be yelling over their heads.  If you choose any other arrangement, you up the chances of really annoying strangers as your child starts yelling or asking them for things...ketchup, napkins, stocks and bonds, etc.  So we opted for the hand signals over the heads approach.   The Second annoyance is that you really really have to go get food in shifts.  The rows on the sides are not easy to get to, so you can't really walk away from your kids, even for a short period of time because you couldn't reach them very quickly if they need something or if they were about to bean someone nearby with a chicken leg.   But the last, and most emotionally devastating part for kids, is that it is very hard for the characters to get to people.    When the characters come out, they ALL start with the tables on the floor  This means that your kids are watching the beloved Mickey Mouse talking to everyone but them.  Then, when the characters do come up to the peon section, they have a hard time getting down the row.   This is where serious heartbreak came in for Seb.

Mickey had been making his way down our row.  Sebastien, who has formed a bit of a Mickey obsession at 18 months, was making these little "uh, uh, uh" need noises and pointing to Mickey.  Lucas was being an unusually sensitive older brother by saying "Don't worry Seba, he is coming".     Just as Mickey got to the people next to us, some sort of Mickey handler person dragged him away to another table near the front.  I don't know quite what that table had done to deserve the special treatment, but poor Sebastien's face just fell apart. ..really, it just collapsed.    When he started crying, it was not the "I didn't get my way" sort of cry.  It was a "my heart has been broken" kind of cry.   I had to take him outside to calm him down.   He just sort of clung to my neck and sobbed.   On my way out I had to walk by the hostess, who just sort of looked at me with lukewarm interest at best.    I might have responded a bit better if she had seemed remotely concerned but as it was, I got snarly.   "In case, by some miracle, you happened to be wondering what was wrong.  He got snubbed by Mickey".  OK, I know.    I tend to get a bit over the top when it comes to this kind of thing but I really despise ambivalence.    So, I took Seb out and calmed him.    I had pretty much decided that we were just going to leave when we went back in.    However, to my surprise, when we came back in the characters were just coming back out and Mickey came over to Seb.   Little Sebbie just grabbed him in as much of a headlock as a toddler can muster, given little arms.  Mickey stayed there for about 5 minutes or so.    Seb was able to give enough kisses to feel OK again.  Lucas also got lots of attention from Mickey, which was a good nod.  Lucas was wonder child throughout this whole escapade.   We got great pictures.  Unfortunately Seb has swollen eyes in all of them. 

A Note on the Magic of Disney Merchandise

As we should all know by now, leaving the last ride is not leaving the park.  You still have to walk down Main street USA to get out.  They do this on purpose.   They know that at this point you will be at your most vulnerable to the Disney merchandising machine.   I could blame this on whining kids, but it's not really true.  I, like many other parents before me, could have  played hardball and refused to buy anything...or limited them to one thing each.  But, truth be told, I didn't want to. ..it was as simple as that.   Buying some of these things was part of the magic for me, so I didn't feel inclined to be too much of a hard *%&.     In the end, we didn't spend much money on what we bought, and it gave Lucas some great show and tell items for school.   Plus,  I bought their summer PJ's there, so that was actually useful.  My warning to you is....consider this when budgeting.  Don't just think, "we won't buy anything" because it is almost a foregone conclusion that you will.  Be realistic.  Set a budget, even if only in your head,  and you may be able to retain some level of control over the purchasing

In the End

All things considered, I felt pretty good about our coverage of the rides.  While we didn't go on that many, we went on the most valued ones without a ton of filler.   We also saw several bits of shows in between which the kids loved.   The only regret was not making it to Peter Pan..but that will be for next time. 

I won't go to the Lucky Nugget again.  The stress of the way they have set up the character experience is not worth it with a toddler.   I will most likely suck it up and go back to Auberge de Cendrillon.   It was costly, but a much nicer experience.     Or just go for the character breakfast, which we have experienced at previous stays.   It is craziness, but that is easier to tolerate at breakfast somehow.

So, was it worth it to go to Disney for a day.  On the train ride home, watching Lucas in his sorcerer ears and Sebbie cleaning his toy gun (what can I say..he chose it),  I had to answer a resounding yes.  We were tired but we made it home by 5 and the boys were in bed, happy and exhausted before their usual bed time.     Since doing this, I have seriously considered purchasing the annual pass. 

All that being said, I have already booked a stay at the Disneyland Paris' Newport Bay resort for Seb's 2nd birthday.  I guess some habits die hard.  :)
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Comments

FemmyAParis on

We made the huge mistake to do Disneyland for a day, during the summer holiday. After 2 hours waiting we finally were in. Got a fast pass, and indeed not realizing, we couldn't get another one, untill a few hours later. I spent 11/2 hours waiting in line with 2 kids for a 1 1/2 minute Dumbo ride, and then we all were completely fed up with Disneyland. A hotel stay is an absolute must I think.

selenapan9
selenapan9 on

Ah yes. You went during the summer holiday. I follow a rule for Disneyland. It goes "short lines, holidays / weekends, good weather...pick 2". It is almost impossible to avoid the lines in the summer, unless the weather is less than optimal. We go about 2 times a month, and I still avoid doing it during the summer unless the forecast is for rain in the morning and clear later in the day. If it is then you enjoy yourself if you can put up with rain. There are also those interesting one off type of things that you can capitalize on. For example, I always go when there is a strike. This is because it usually doesn't really effect RER A, and no one goes. On these occasions we have had the park virtually to ourselves.
On the hotel thing, I have to be honest with you, it didn't help that much. We have stayed in the hotels there 3 times, and each time I have been underwhelmed. The hotels are a good 30 to 45 minute walk from the castle, door to door. Unless, of course, you are one of the .001 percent of the population who can afford paying 600+ Euros per night for one night in THE Disneyland Hotel. This one is right at the entrance of the park, but I haven't had the heart to cough up that kind of money. With the walk, and the noise, it has always been easier for us to just go home, as it is 1:15 hours door to door. We buy the kids things to entertain them on the train and viola.
If you have toddlers, it is a whole different ball game. I wrote a whole blog post on that as I have a 2 year old.

Here's hoping your next trip is better!

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