This year was the first year we spent Christmas by ourselves. As we discovered throughout the year, finding someone you know who actually stays and spends the holiday (every and any holiday) in Berlin is harder than finding a German person who doesn’t eat kartoffel (potatoes), and Christmas wasn’t any different. Everywhere we went people were talking about their plans and planes. And with no family visiting this year, we found ourselves stranded totally alone.
So we did the only logical thing and booked a holiday at Disneyland Paris.
The kids couldn’t cope with being away from home on Christmas Day (the fear Santa won’t find them was bigger than anything we could have said, and it really is ill advised to mess with the kid’s Christmas gifts), and the price difference was a few hundred Euros, so I ended up cooking enough food for four days (instead of the usual two and a half. After all if you don’t have too many leftovers to fit the fridge then you really didn’t have enough food to begin with) because I didn’t manage to readjust the regular quantities, and we went to Disneyland between Christmas and New Years.
We had this crazy thought that maybe it will not be busy. That maybe we were the only ones with the idea of going to Disneyland in the middle of the winter holiday. And when we got to the airport and the Magic Shuttle (what’s with the silly names? The only thing magical about that shuttle was that it was 30 minutes late) was about a quarter full, we felt a spark of hope. Hey, we found a way to beat the system. We found the one week a year the park is empty! It will be us and the people in the character costumes.
Yeah, that lasted all the way to the huge, huge, huge car queue at the entrance to the entrance to the way leading to the entrance to the first hotel. That was where we figured the real attraction in the park is the queues. They hide them, they organise them, they decorate them. All that is missing is someone going around with a trolly selling food and drinks around the queues. And why not? You’ll be spending most of your day there. Waiting in a 90 minutes queue for a 5 minutes ride.
We were armed with two(!) letters from doctors, a UK disability card, and a Yon who chose that moment to fight the invisible robots around the park’s City Hall and so the only queue we had to survive was the one to get the no-queueing card (also, the bad robots lost). Good thing too, because my kids don’t do waiting gracefully (well, unless crying, nagging, screaming, and running around in circles are now considered part of the definition for “gracefully”) and that’s before I confess to my own patience-issues. Honestly, I have no idea how people do it, and if I had to stand with Yon in an hour long queue for each ride I don’t think we’d ever step a foot inside a Disney park.
As it was, in our 4 days there, we managed to go through each and every ride the kids wanted (and a couple they didn’t), and had half a day to revisit the all time favourites.
It’s a funny thing being in a Disney park. It’s been a dream of mine for quite some time now, and like every time you step into a dream there is always the little fear the reality won’t be as good as the fantasy. But Disney is all about the fantasy (at least the main park is. The Disney Studios is completely different, and for me, the lesser of the two). Right after you find out that McDonalds in France still doesn’t have a vegetarian option (the last time we ate McDonalds in France was in 2003), the really expensive SIM card you bought at the airport to have internet access doesn’t really work (though they encourage you to use their “how long is the queue” app, the park itself doesn’t have WiFi or a store that sells SIM cards. Very convenient for the tourists) and that after the queues the second main attraction in Disney are the Disney Stores (where everything is for girls. Or sweets), you find the entrance to the park and the magic brgins. You can’t be cynical in Disney, it somehow feels wrong. Out of place. Like not going on all the rides, or not buying and wearing ridicules clothes and hats (we didn’t. But just because the kids refused. I had my heart set on a mouse beanie), or being on your phone (it has been a long long while since I’ve seen a place where so few people were talking or surfing on their mobile). It’s like the place has its own time zone (think hospital time, but in a nice way), it just moves differently there.
I think out of the four of us I enjoyed the whole thing the most. After all, I was the only one who could really appreciate the castle and princesses and pink. Yon went nuts for the spinning tea-cups, Ron wanted to drive in Autopia as many times as we would let him, and Hidai took a gazillion photos at the stunt show. But none of them really waved at the Frozen parade, or was really excited to find Cinderella’s carriage. Boys. Go figure. They still humoured me though (lovely boys that they are) and we manage to find a front row view of the parade and the lightning of the tree. I know I’m going against my hard-core cynical image, and sitting here at home writing this even I can’t believe it, but I was as excited as all the other 5 year old girls.
And at the end of the day, for me, even if you put aside the kids fun, meeting Micky Mouse, and feeling like we were in a totally different universe for four days – that moment at the evening parade, where all there was was pure unadulterated joy, when you can really feel the magic in the air, was worth the whole trip.
All the real details –
We flew Air France, but used Opodo to get the same tickets for much much less.
We ordered the stay on the Disney website, but we used the French site (http://disneylandparis.fr/) and it made a few hundred euros difference(!)
We took the shuttle to and from the airport as it was about the same price as the train and much more convenient.
We stayed at the Sequoia Lodge and though it was ok, it wasn’t more than that (and for us it was the one disappointment of the trip), and we did wonder if it wasn’t worth paying the extra to stay at the Disneyland Hotel and save some time on security checks, walking, etc. and being able to see the fireworks at night (it really isn’t worth the extra to stay at the New York Hotel though – it’s a 2 minutes walking difference between the two).
We were there for 3 and a half days, which was half a day too much for us, but we had really great weather, did about 90% of the park and did not wait in the queues.
We had one breakfast at the Cafe Micky (it costs extra) and met 6 Disney characters. The breakfast was quite similar to that in the hotel (the coffee is horrible) but the kids (ahm, ahm) loved the characters (though for younger kids, it might be a tad tricky if they get scared with these kind of things).
Food in the park is expensive, but unavoidable. The hotel breakfast is average at best, The McDonalds is huge but service is slow and it is always full of people, as is the Starbucks. The Earl of Sandwiches is really good, as are all the crepes in the park (oh my God. You have to eat the crepes), and the pretzels (and churros) stand in Disney Village. We also ate at the Buzz Lightyears Pizza Planet which was rather expensive buffet, but the kids enjoyed the pasta and pizza, the desserts were good and there is a playground for the kids. For four burgers (and chips and drinks) at the Toad Hall restaurant we paid about 50 euros (and they had a weird sauce). Our one “proper” restaurant was Bistro Chez Remi which wasn’t much more expensive than the buffet but much tastier (needs reservations, but you get to feel like you are in Ratatouille).
We used the extra hour you get when you book a Disney hotel each day (which meant we had to use an alarm clock!!!), because otherwise there were queues for breakfast (you have to specify a time for breakfast, we ate at 7), to the security checks (ridiculous ones, but they are there and are unavoidable), and to the rides.
We used the disability no queuing option. You need a letter from a doctor and an ID, and you get a card specifying your disability. Every ride has a disability entrance (usually next to the exit) and a place to sit down and wait your turn. The disability queue moves rather quickly, but you still might get to wait as they regulate the number of people with each disability type they let on the ride every time. It was never more than a ten minutes wait through.
The staff all spoke English very well, and were very nice, welcoming and helpful.
The rides we couldn’t live without – the spinning tea-cups (only if you don’t get dizzy), Autopia (let them figure out driving’s hard. Or like Ron, that they can’t start organising their gloves in the middle of driving), Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast (cause shooting things is fun), Cars Quatre Roues Rallye (it’s the tea cups in cars), Ceasy Jr train (because there aren’t enough “real” rides that younger kids can do), Dumbo the flying elephant & the Flying carpet (it’s a classic), It’s a small world (because it’s just so cute), La Tanière du Dragon (only if they don’t get scared of dragons), Le Carrousel de Lancelot (well, because you have to), Pirates of the Caribbean (a little stuffy, has 2 falls, and is really fun), Slinky Dig Zig-Zag spin (cute for little ones), Star Tours (if you’ve seen the movies of course), Peter Pan’s flight (the best ride we’ve been on), Ratatouille the Adventure (because feeling tiny is fun), Animagique (because it had songs), the Parade (just find a good spot), the Stunt Show (because if you always wanted to be in a Hollywood car chase you have to see how it’s done).
The rides we could really live without – Orbitron (feels like you’re falling at all times), Crush’s Coaster (because half of it was really fun, and half was everyone screaming I want to go home), CineMagique (because it was really boring), Jedi training (because unless you managed to get your child into it, you get to watch other people kids have fun).
The park has lots of toilets, all of them are kept relatively clean and have enough toilet paper (and true to form all have queues). The best toilets are next to Autopia.