When we planned our Spring Break in Paris trip this last March I wanted to spend two weeks immersed in French culture. I wanted to shop in the boulangeries and fromageries of Paris and sit at cafes while my children played on the cobblestones in the squares. I wanted to hang out in the parks of Paris where little French enfants wearing outfits that cost more than my whole wardrobe squealed happily in French while sailing boats in the fountains. I wanted to go to French places and do French things.
So how did we find ourselves blinking in the early morning light one day as walked down Main Street USA towards the bright pink and blue castle in the centre of the “Happiest Place on Earth”?
Well, I’ve never hid the fact that we are a Disney loving family. While some people may deride Disneyland as fake and commercial, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to do a theme park, you might as well do the best. It had been a while since we’d been to Disneyland and we knew the kids would love a Disney day.
Another factor for us was price. One day in Disneyland in California or Disney World in Orlando would cost over $500 Canadian for a family of four, or an eye watering $815 if we wanted to see more than one theme park in a day. Paris Disneyland, on the other hand, offered low season specials in March which allowed us to buy one day Park Hopper tickets for only 46 Euros per person which came to $279 Canadian for the day. Who says Europe is an expensive destination?
Paris Disneyland is just outside of the city in typical European fashion, the easiest way to get there is by public transit. We caught the RER commuter train from near our apartment and got out at the final station which was just outside the gates. Overall it took less than an hour to reach from the centre of Paris which made it a very easy day trip. The resort consisted of the Paris Disneyland park, which was similar to Disneyland in Anaheim or Magic Kingdom in Orlando as well as the smaller Hollywood Studios park and a shopping area called Disney Village, all within a five minute walk from the train station.
It was a beautiful spring day in Paris and I could immediately see why some Disney fans consider Disneyland Paris to be one of the prettiest of the Disney parks. The French seem to do gardens extremely well and the park was big and open and full of flowers. The crowds were quite manageable and as we walked around it was a lot of fun to spot all the similarities and all the differences to the American parks. Most of the same rides were there, but the layout was a little different so I found myself consulting the map quite a bit. It seemed a bit more open than the American parks, but perhaps this was just because most of the kids over the age of five seemed to be walking rather than being pushed around in enormous strollers.
I was a little curious to see if there would be any language barrier issues at Disneyland Paris, but I found that if anything there was too much English for my taste. All the signs were in both English and French and every cast member I interacted with spoke passable English. All the shows had times for both English and French versions in the schedule and while we didn’t do any character greetings you could meet the princesses in your choice of languages as well. We did find it amusing that Mickey and Minnie kept their original names in Paris but Goofy was called, “Dingo”. I would sometimes forget that we were actually in France until I would hear the wicked witch on the Blanche- Neige ride cackling at me in French. (Which actually sounds scarier for some reason.)
The park was preparing for it’s big 25th anniversary celebrations later in the year so one downside of visiting at this time was all the ride closures. About a quarter of the major rides in the park were closed for refurbishments which not only limited the ride options but also increased lines at the rides that were open, but almost all of our favourites were still open and we felt that the reduced prices and smaller crowds more than made up for a few closed rides.
We had been able to purchase park hopper tickets for only a few Euro more than base tickets so we were able to walk across the plaza to the Hollywood Studios park for part of the afternoon. It reminded me of parts of California Adventure in Anaheim with a bit of Disney World’s Hollywood Studios mixed in. Like California Adventure it did feel a bit poorly designed and quickly thrown together, especially the cheap carnival feel of the Toy Story area which reminded me of the Bug’s Life zone in California.
However, like California Adventure it does feel like there has been a lot of effort recently to upgrade the park. There is a brand new Remy themed area which is unique to Disneyland Paris and both the Remy ride and the nearby Crush Coaster were great fun. Aside from those two rides, however, we didn’t find too much to capture our interest in the park. If everything in the Disneyland Park had been open, we could’ve probably skipped Hollywood Studios and not missed too much.
Overall, we had a blast on our Paris Disneyland day and I don’t regret spending one of our precious Paris days with the Mouse. The kids got a break from all the churches and museums and we got to enjoy some family time in a setting that was just the right mix of familiar and different. We tried out a few new rides and lots of old ones and enjoyed the classic Disney dining experience of paying way too much for mediocre food. I guess there are some things even France can’t change. If you’re a Disney fan and are ever in the neighbourhood, I’d strongly recommend checking it out.