Disneyland Paris is comprised of two parks situated about 19 miles east of Paris. It’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this year so it’s theoretically a great time to visit. The park is quite a bit newer than Disneyland in Anaheim and the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. It gets generally high marks for attention to detail in its design and finish, but lower marks for the overall experience for a variety of reasons ranging from inexplicable closures to employees that don’t quite have the Disney spirit. So is Disneyland Paris worth visiting?
(Editor’s note: This is a guest post from @RobertDwyer, the most prolific Saverocity blogger to not have his own blog! Though you can find his lovely wine blog at Wellesley Wine Press.)
Disney fans tend to say a visit is worth it. Non-Disney fans I’ve talked to say they’d rather just visit the parks in the US.
Being a Disney fan myself I was very much interested in visiting my first international Disney park to see for myself what it was like. Overall it was a good experience that complements a visit to Paris quite nicely. I’d do it again.
Interested in other Disney Parks around the world? Check out our tips for Hong Kong Disneyland!
The advisable amount of pre-planning you have to do for each Disney park varies wildly. Whereas Walt Disney World in Orlando virtually requires a heavy amount of detailed planning to ensure a good time, you can mostly get away with minimal planning for a trip Disneyland in Anaheim. Disneyland Paris is more like Disneyland in Anaheim in this regard.
Dining reservations for some of the more popular table service restaurants can be made up to two months ahead of time by calling an international number.
I was torn between reserving a table at The Blue Lagoon restaurant within the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction (since I love the Blue Bayou restaurant in Anaheim and there’s no such option at Walt Disney World in Orlando) and Bistro Chez Remy in the Ratatouille area within Walt Disney Studios Park. My decision was made for me when I was informed that The Blue Lagoon was going to be closed (closed!?) during our visit.
On the bright side, park tickets are much cheaper than US Disney Parks.
The price of admission each day varies based on a calendar Disney lays out for the year with tickets ranging from low, medium, high, and super-high. If you’re buying tickets ahead of time pay attention to this calendar to make sure you’re buying a ticket that’s valid on the day(s) you want to visit.
You also need to decide whether you want to visit both parks or just one. The Ratatouille stuff is in the smaller nearby 2nd park and the uplift for visiting both parks isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things, so especially if you’re visiting just one day I’d recommend getting a 2-park ticket.
For the day we were going, a “Magic” ticket (the 2nd most affordable) was sufficient.
Tip: Buy your tickets from the “UK English” version of the site rather than “US English”
I poked around at buying discounted tickets through a third-party but that felt a little risky for me for a first visit. A 1-day 2-park ticket priced out at $90 on the US version of the site. On the UK version of the site it priced out at 60 GBP, which is about $77. So definitely buy your tickets through the UK version of the site by clicking your chosen country at the top of the page. Our tickets worked fine as US citizens. I’m not sure why they price it out this way.
But no matter how you slice it tickets are much cheaper than in the US. A one-day “medium” season Parkhopper for Walt Disney World is currently $161. Sure you can whittle down the per-day cost if you stay multiple days (and indeed Disney hopes you opt for multi-day options so you spend spend spend while you’re there) but I find I can actually get a ton of enjoyment out of a short visit to WDW especially with their outstanding Express Transportation Option.
There are a few ways to plan a visit to Disneyland Paris. You either go “all in” and stay on-property at a Disney hotel or save on lodging by staying at a nearby non-Disney hotel. Or, option C, stay in central Paris and make a day trip out of it like we did.
If you’re staying in central Paris there are a few ways to get out there. Most common I’d say is taking the train. It cost our family of four 27 euros each way.
Taking the train was every bit as confusing as stressful as I thought it would be based on reading about it online. While trying to buy tickets a local tried to “help” me navigate the automated kiosk (by sticking some “discount” card in the machine and encouraging me to buy roundtrip rail tickets and park tickets which I’d already pre-purchased). He was shooed away by a guy who purported to be an official employee of the station – but who knows whether they were both in on some good cop/bad cop routine? Then my credit card and prepaid cards wouldn’t work due to lack of true chip & PIN support. The full service terminal had a long line. Luckily I had cash and the machine accepted it.
Once we got through that we had to find the right line, and the right train along that line. Then the train(s) to Disneyland were both running 30 minutes late. The ride out there is an hour by train so we made it there just in time for park opening.
But just like at the parks in the US, guests staying at the Disney hotels are admitted early. So although we arrived right around 10a the park was already quite crowded with guests who’d been there two hours.
Uber estimated around 70 euros one-way and would have taken 50 minutes to get there due to traffic in the morning.
I’m not sure there’s enough meat on the bone to justify a stay at a Disney hotel, but at the same time it sure would have been nice to have those morning hours to take in attractions before crowds developed. I’m honestly not sure how I’d play a future visit.
Upon getting off the train you’re nicely right at the park entrance. The approach to the entrance is unique and well done. You walk under the Disneyland Hotel through a beautifully landscaped area. That, combined with a distinct but very well done Main Street USA make for a full-on grand entrance to the park. It’s hard to find someone without a smile on their face just as they’re beginning a walk down a Main Street USA anywhere in the world and this one is no exception.
Many of the popular elements at the original Disneyland/Magic Kingdom are replicated here, perhaps surprisingly so. Casey’s Corner, the Ice Cream Parlor, a barber shop. It’s pure Americana with very little local influence.
Most everything is in English, French and other languages. I thought they did a great job making the park accessible to visitors from all over the world.
The main unique draw for us was the area of Walt Disney Studios Park with attractions from Ratatouille. It may seem strange to visit the real Paris only to go to a faux Paris at a theme park but the Paris as depicted in Ratatouille fits very well in this little pocket of the park. The area features a trackless ride called “Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquee de Remy” as well as a restaurant – Bistrot Chez Remy. For a Disney fan, doing the ride then eating at the restaurant could very well justify a visit all by itself since there’s no where else in the world you can do it.
The ride was well conceived but a little glitchy. It kind of broke down in the first scene we were in then limped along to the next scene which was sufficiently distracting as to break any chance of being immersed in the illusion of being shrunken down to the size of a rat. But it was cool nonetheless. I’d love to see them add this to the France Pavillion at Epcot World Showcase. It would be a no-brainer slam dunk.
The “Toon Studio” area of Walt Disney Studios offers a glimpse into what it would be like if Disney didn’t create ambitious lands like Cars Land in Anaheim (and I presume the forthcoming Stars Wars and Toy Story Lands). The renditions in Paris did indeed feature attractions based on popular Pixar movies, but they weren’t very good. The Cars Quatre Roues Rallye was like Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree in Anaheim’s cars land – a real dud. Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin was straight out of a carnival attraction with little in the way of theming – perhaps the zigzag was referring to the monotonous slow-moving queue?
Crush’s Coaster looked surprisingly high-octane compared to nearby rides. Kind of a kids version of Space mountain in a 4-person turtle shell ride vehicle. But the wait was 90 minutes with no Fastpasses remaining by the time we got around to it.
Tomorrowland is instead called Discoveryland here and themed in a Jules Verne/steampunk motif. I thought it worked quite well compared to the Tomorrowlands we’re familiar with (which always seem to be the most dated areas of the park).
The Haunted Mansion is referred to as Phantom Manor in Paris and its theming is bent to fit in surprisingly well in Frontierland. It’s a darker rendition than we’re familiar with since much of the comic relief has been removed. Still, a well done attraction.
Big Thunder Mountain looked terrific but again had too long of a wait for the time we had. It starts on land, goes through a tunnel beneath water, then races around what’s Tom Sawyer’s Island at US Disney Parks. I’d prioritize getting on that next time for sure.
Instead of Tom Sawyer’s Island there are play areas and islands back near Pirates and a unique Indiana Jones attraction. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a roller coaster with an inversion. Glad I didn’t tell my kids it was a Jeep ride that wasn’t too scary! I hear it’s not a particularly good attraction but didn’t get a chance to go on it.
There’s a dragon under the castle. You won’t see that at other Disney Parks.
Overall there’s quite a few unique things about the park. It’s very well laid out and a joy to walk around. You may not realize until later which of your favorite attractions were missing.
As part of their 25th Anniversary they’re “making the park sparkle!”. I planned our visit before hearing about this but it made me look forward to a park that was in tip-top shape in spite of some prior reports of maintenance neglect I’d read about.
The overall park may indeed have been in better condition (it looked quite nice to me) but I was disappointed that 2 of the 3 attractions that were touted as being “new for their 25th anniversary” were still closed for refurbishment. Pirates of the Caribbean (said to be better than even the excellent one in Anaheim) and Hyperspace Mountain were both closed. Evidently we arrived before their refurbs were completed.
This was quite disappointing because some of the other attractions we really like as a family at the US Parks like Jungle Cruise, Soarin’, and Toy Story Mania aren’t present in Paris so every attraction counts. Pirates in particular hurt.
The lines were surprisingly long. We visited the Thursday after Easter which is evidently a week-long holiday for most of Europe.
Popular attractions had waits between 50 and 90 minutes. Even the train around the park had a wait of an hour plus. I’m used to using the train as an enjoyable mode of transportation so waiting an hour for it was a deflating experience.
We probably could have done a better job with Fastpasses. They’re the kind where you go to a physical kiosk in front of the attraction (as opposed to the kind you book through an app/ahead of time). We were able to take advantage of one of these for Buzz Lightyear but by the time we got around to getting more all of the Fastpasses of the day were depleted.
Put all of this together and it makes me think it would be worth getting into the parks earlier by staying at Disney hotel. But if you’re in Paris for just a few nights it doesn’t really make sense to spend those nights out near the park. Tough call.
Bistrot Chez Remy
People say dining is a weak spot for Disneyland Paris. And they’re right: Compared to other Disney Parks – even Anaheim – it is not good.
But let’s start on a positive note: We had a very good experience at Bistrot Chez Remy. I can’t think of a movie better conceived as inspiration for a theme park restaurant than Ratatouille, and Bistrot Chez Remy is mostly well done. The theming is very well done and you really feel like you’re in the lobby of Gusteau’s when you’re in the waiting area.
The theming inside the restaurant is clever but ultimately the dining experience falls apart a bit from there. The set menu pricing is a little awkward to navigate. I’d rather pick and choose the items I want, especially for lunch. But I wanted to give the restaurant every chance to impress so I went with the most expensive option in the joint: The Menu Gusteau with wine for a scorching 74,99 euros.
Almost every menu option included the famous ratatouille dish featured in the movie. But unfortunately, the “standard” ratatouille is just chopped vegetables that look nothing like what you see in the movie. It was comical to hear kid after kid say “that’s not Ratatouille” when presented with plain-looking chopped vegetables.
Since I went with the Menu Gustaeu I got “premium” ratatouille which looks a bit more like what’s in the movie thanks to the chopped vegetables being wrapped up in thinly sliced zucchini.
I wouldn’t consider a single thing I had to be truly remarkable or memorable so overall it was a bit of a bust in terms of value.
Bistrot Chez Remy felt more like a Rainforest Cafe experience quality-wise, with pricing as high as some very good restaurants in Paris.
Still, the one-two punch of going on the Ratatouille ride followed by a visit to Bistrot Chez Remy is something I’m glad we did. And I’d probably do again on a return visit.
Like I said, I heard bad things about dining going in. But even with lowered expectations I was disappointed. How could it be that Disney knows how to offer interesting dining options in their parks but they choose not to in Paris?
I was expecting things like less popular restaurants to be closed since it wasn’t peak season. Well, actually it was peak season. The entirely of Europe has the week off, lines at attractions are a mile long and the park is quite crowded. Seemed like a great opportunity to sell some food to me.
What I wasn’t expecting for nearly every snack cart and quick service restaurant in the place to be closed. Since we had a big lunch at Bistrot Chez Remy we just wanted some snacks in the late afternoon. And we weren’t even looking for anything interesting. Maybe just some popcorn or ice cream. We must have walked by a half-dozen popcorn carts that were closed.
We couldn’t even find a cart selling Mickey Bars or any kind of ice cream. (Ed note: No Mickey Bars!?!?!?!?!?) Back in Fantasyland we saw a promising looking sign for a Gelato shop. Closed.
I told the kids we’d have to go back to Main Street USA to the ice cream parlor, but when we got there it was….closed. Can you believe that? We ended up getting a lousy pre-fabbed ice cream bar for my younger son after standing in long lines at Casey’s Corner. Huge disappointment, and unbelievable they don’t want to make money by selling snacks in the park.
So believe what you hear about the food at Disneyland Paris: Although some of the best food in the world is in France it’s definitely not at Disneyland Paris.
Bottom Line: Was it worth it?
Disneyland Paris is the most accessible international Disney Park and worthy of inclusion as part of a trip to Paris for families with Disney enthusiasm. Having a day there at towards the end of our time in France provided something for us all to look forward to that was familiar and enjoyable. After doing the typical touristy things in France like gawking at the Eiffel Tower, going to museums, and bus/boat tours – it’s a nice change of pace.
To enjoy it, you need to be interested in appreciating what’s unique about it vs other Disney Parks.
If you play your cards right it can be quite a bit more affordable than visiting Disney Parks in the US. Our day there was cheaper overall than a lot of other days in France.
So was it “worth it”? Absolutely – both in terms of cost and time spent. It’s not perfect (neither are the Disney Parks in the US) but I’m glad we went and I’d gladly return for a future visit.
At the end of the day we only remember how an experience made us feel. I’m left with good memories of discovering this new place with my family, curiosity about the differences in this park, and concern and sadness at the end of the day upon hearing about a shooting on the Champs-Elysees a couple of doors down from our hotel.
Related Reading: Getting a family of four to and from Europe in Business Class
What do you think of Disneyland Paris?
Ping me on Twitter (@RobertDwyer) or leave a comment with your thoughts…
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