When I was a child Disney was my absolute life. I have so many beautiful memories of snuggling up on the sofa as a little girl with my family, the VHS flicking into life and the magical Disney castle lighting up the room as I enthusiastically sang along (like a strangled cat) to every word – especially the Christmas specials where the little mouse ears bounced along with the music! I’d have given absolutely anything to go to Disneyland as a child but sadly I never got the chance… until now that I’ve had two children of my own and can use them as my excuse to finally meet Mickey!
The Jungle Book, Cinderella and Aladdin are still my all time favourite Disney films closely followed by Beauty & The Beast, The Little Mermaid and Lady & The Tramp – but I could never pick between 101 Dalmatians and The Aristocats so when I grew up I got a pet cat and a dog who adored each other. Each Disney character is so wonderfully animated, thoughtful and delivers such a poignant life lesson that will forever stand the test of time. Disney for me has always been about positive role models across magical lands that transport you into a dream world where everything is possible and their more recent films where the classic stories are remade are phenomenal; Millie and I cherish our girly evenings out to the cinema to see Alice Through The Looking Glass, Maleficent and Beauty & The Beast.
This will be the first time that I’ve taken both of the children on holiday before as I’ve been a single parent for almost five years, since my son was a baby, and last took Millie to Italy when she was two but she doesn’t remember it at all, just what she’s seen in holiday photos. I’ve been umm’ing and ahh’ing over when the right time is to take young children away for them to firstly enjoy the experience and secondly remember that it even happened. Seeing as we’ve been through a lot of heartache this year with my Mum having cancer, two of our beloved pets dying and various struggles with my health I came to the conclusion that life is too short and there’ll never be a perfect time, nor a perfect bank balance for me to say let’s go on the holiday of a lifetime. My parents were always so desperate to take my brother and I to Disneyland as children but work and money and life just got in the way that we grew up suddenly before they realised. This year Gabriele turned 5yrs, Millie’s about to turn 10yrs and I’m going to be 30 the day that we leave for Paris so it seems like the perfect time to go.
I was actually getting my hair done when the discussion about Disneyland came up with my hairdresser as she asked what I was doing to celebrate my 30th birthday and I felt torn between taking a holiday with a friend to a hot beach for some adult rest and relaxation away from the children as a worn out single parent, or to take the children on the holiday of a lifetime and live out my childhood dream of seeing Disneyland. She told me she’d gone with her grown up daughter to Disneyland Paris just last year and had the most amazing girly weekend and that this year was in fact the 25th Anniversary celebrations which are set to be incredible so it made up my mind for me! Disneyland Paris it is!
My friend (who is coming with us) booked it all online directly through Disney because they offer the best package deals for travel, hotel and park tickets for which we got 30% off by booking on the day of my birthday on Friday October 13th 2017 – one month before we go. We looked into the best times to travel knowing that we’d be going by train on Eurostar from London to Paris and booked a taxi for 4am to take us to the station so that we’ll have time to check in at the station and arrive at Disneyland for around lunchtime making the most of our first day before returning on Sunday afternoon for a long weekend and to get back for school. We have travel insurance through our banks but my daughters passport had expired for which I was able to pay for a replacement for around £50 including postage and get her new one through within a week as it’s past the summer now and so the applications are thankfully processed super quick or I’d have had to pay more to fast track it to have it back in time. I’ve also taken photos of all of our passports and emailed them to myself incase they get lost or stolen then we’ll still have a copy and hopefully won’t get stranded in France.
We decided to announce our trip to Disneyland Paris to the children by setting up a treasure hunt in the lounge when they got home from school so I ordered lots of mousey treats and chuckled to myself as I printed off clues and charged the camera. The children loved the red balloon floating on the ceiling with a note when they came home and after eating chocolate mice sweets, cuddling mice teddies and opening a Minnie dress, Mickey hoodie and iconic mouse ears they pieced together an anagram of ‘Disneyland’ and guessed where we were going – only they had absolutely no idea what Disneyland even was and presumed it was a play park down the road! Umm, no! So I spent the rest of the day showing them video clips of the parades and castle and they soon became just as excited as me! It’s going to be a first for all of us to experience Disney and I can’t believe how iconic it was to me as a child yet almost unknown to my own children, this is literally the most amazing thing in the world that I could think of for a child and I just know they’re going to love it – it’s somewhat extra special that we’ll all discover it for the first time together and I’ll cherish the memories forever.
After booking I printed all of the confirmations and references to put into a file along with the passports and handing in Leave Of Absence forms to the children’s schools. Schools in the UK fine parents for unauthorised absences and as such I’ve never taken my children out of school before, they’ve only ever been off when they’re ill, so I’ve requested they have just one day off on the day that we go to minimise their time away from school but I’m expecting the requests to be declined, hopefully without a fine but we shall see! We’ve also pre-booked a photo pass for around £45.00 which entitles us to unlimited family photos on rides and with the characters so that I can print a photo book once we’re home to capture our memories. I’ve always declined a photo pass at theme parks as it usually costs as much as the park tickets but after spending £20.00 on two key rings at Alton Towers a few weeks ago it seems amazingly reasonable to take plenty of professional pictures without worrying about the price and if we have a really special one I’d love to print it to canvas.
My son is currently undergoing testing for the diagnosis of Autism and as such he’s attended multiple hospital appointments, school and home assessments, paediatrics, behavioural specialists and receives one-on-one care daily during school hours in order to participate in a classroom environment. Despite being five I’ve been informed that he has the mental capacity of a two year old. Because his condition is still under diagnosis (which can take up to 18months and has been ongoing for 10months so far) I’m travelling with my friend in order to allocate one adult per child which allows me to give my full attention to Gabriele. It also means that on rides and at tables nobody is left sitting alone as whenever I go out with my children alone I put them both on a ride and stand and watch or if it’s an adult to a child then Gabriele can’t be left alone so Millie has to sit by herself, so it’ll be nice to have everyone partnered up and involved for once. Gabriele struggles with a change to routine, panics with loud noises, bright lights and big crowds so I’m not sure how he’ll cope with everything involved in this weekend away but I’m sure that travelling by train will be more comfortable than sitting still in a seat whilst flying.
We contacted Disney to inform them of Gabriele’s condition and they’ve asked me to bring medical papers to the check-in desk at the park for which they can fast track the rides so that we don’t have to spend hours queuing but because he doesn’t have his final diagnosis yet I can only bring his school reports and proof of hospital appointments which they may or may not accept so fingers crossed! I’m brining Gabriele’s iPad and headphones for the train to keep him calm and focused and have a Minnie Mouse diary for my daughter so that she can write about her favourite things everyday and record her memories. I panic at the thought of such large crowds and being in a foreign place that the children won’t recognise so I’ve purchased some bright red wristbands online which I can write my contact number, hotel details and my children’s identities on for them to show an adult should they become separated from me at any time – so far I’ve never lost a child but you can never be too careful! The bands were just a couple of pounds and once fitted stay on securely the entire time (until cut off) and are waterproof just like an all inclusive hotel band when on holiday.
As we’re going for three days and I’ve already given the children their Disney clothes and toys during the treasure hunt I’m planning on taking £200.00 for food (for one full day and two days of travelling) and the rest of the family are giving the children spending money for their birthdays so that they can choose what they like when we get there. I’ll be changing my euros at the post office in the next week or so as we leave in 18 days time and if I need anymore money when I’m out there I’ll use my bank card. I’ve been told there’s a McDonald’s restaurant on site which I know the children will love as a huge treat because they struggle to eat in regular restaurants when we always have home cooked food – either the vegetables are too crunchy or the meat isn’t cooked enough and nothing gets touched. So with burgers and chips the children won’t leave a bite and I’ll just have to find something vegan for myself! Our hotel is a 10-15min walk on the park itself so we’ll get plenty of exercise daily to burn off any fast food and hopefully sleep well at night in our Bambi themed family room. Now all we have to do is pack and wait for the big day to come. I’ll be keeping a blog here on how we get on, what we see and all of the tips and tricks we use along the way incase you’re planning a trip to Disneyland too and would like to know what to expect and what we found helpful. Likewise any advice you have for us before we go would be greatly appreciated – what should we see first, where can we eat and how can we save time and money to pack everything into a long weekend!? So many questions, so little time! Eek!
UPDATE: 26/09/17 – 17 Days To Go
So crumpled up in the bottom of Gabriele’s school book bag was this beautiful piece of paper which states that he has been granted leave from school to go to Disneyland! Wow, I really wasn’t expecting that! No fine, no punishment just a straight forward request accepted. I’m not sure what makes this request any different to those that are turned down and enforced, perhaps it’s his special needs, being a single parent family or the special birthday occasion and time of year that we’re going? Either way I’m incredibly relieved and thankful that it was processed without a hitch! Now just Millie’s to go…
Our Time At Disneyland
Oh my word! How on earth do I even begin to describe the magic, love and excitement we have all just experienced!? Mind-blowing is possibly a good start, epic, priceless, phenomenal. Nothing quite seems to do justice to the spirit of Disney and the wonderful family memories we will cherish forever. We actually ended up staying in France for four days as we stayed in Paris after leaving Disney for an extra day and went sight seeing before catching a flight home rather than returning on the Eurostar as originally planned.
We travelled to Paris via the Eurostar with just clothes and snacks in a single suitcase and a holdall so no iPads, iPods or battery powered toys and it was absolutely euphoric. We all spoke, cuddled, explored and discovered together rather than everybody sitting in silence doing their own thing. Every moment was us time and it was far less stressful than worrying about children misplacing expensive electrical’s, leaving things behind or running out of battery and desperately needing a plug. Before we went I stopped off at the craft shop and got a pack of felt pens and some cut out boy and girl paper dolls along with a notebook so that we could create a family storybook on theEurostar knowing we’d be on the train for a few hours. The idea was to ask the children to come up with new Disney princes and princesses but it turned into superhero’s and funny scenarios which had us all in fits of laughter for the hour or so that it took to get to Lille. I also found a pack of French flashcards online to teach the children French en route, animals, fruits, numbers etc. which they found fun to pick up and pronounce or test my knowledge on items from back when I spoke French at school. We also had a pack of playing cards which was great fun and certainly passed the time whilst travelling.
We’d taken a taxi to London St Pancras station at 4am and the children were wrapped up warm in their jumpers all cosy and sleepy which was a pretty great time to travel considering they were quiet and calm so sat nicely. At that time of the morning it took literally no time at all for traffic so we were super early for the train but it’s better to arrive early than to miss the train and shorten the trip. Despite never having used the Eurostar before it was surprisingly easy. We printed our tickets at one of the machines along the wall like the ATM at the bank before queuing for security and passport control and then waiting in a seating area for our train to be called. It’s amazing how many people fit on the train, far more than an aeroplane as the trains are huge and have two levels for which we sat at the top. There were plugs, tables, lights, much like flying but with a better view.
The children were a little nervous about taking a train under the sea incase something went wrong or if it was dark and scary but because it was so early in the morning it dark outside anyway and with the lights on in the train you couldn’t see out of the window. We all snuggled up and fell asleep and before we knew it we were in Lille to change trains. We’d booked a change of trains on the way to Paris and a single train on the way home because of how it worked out for times and prices as we wanted to travel early and come home late to make the most of our long weekend. At Lille we got off at the station, waited around half an hour whilst eating some snacks and then got the next train from the same platform straight into Disneyland.
One thing that is very in your face about France is the amount of smokers walking around and armed guards everywhere. We travelled whilst France and England were both on the highest level of security for terrorist attacks and felt incredibly safe. The muscly officers dressed in army attire carrying large guns patrol in groups of several at a time and march the length of stations, monuments and attractions looking very official and serious. The French are very high on security, electrically scanning, checking bags and searching everybody over and over. I’ve never felt as safe on a holiday as I did at Disneyland, nor have I ever been checked and tested as much; it wasn’t a hassle or inconvenient at all as it became routine to get checked all of the time and something I appreciated as a mother travelling with young children.
I’m not sure of the smoking laws in France, but over the past decade in England we’ve gradually zoned out acceptable smoking areas in public places and no longer find smoking around children or food appropriate. I’ve never been a smoker myself but it doesn’t offend me to see people smoking. Being in France I realised how strange it was to see so many people suddenly smoking, including in Disneyland, which wasn’t a reflection on the park itself but the country as a whole. It’s still fashionable to smoke in France and there seems to be little or no policing of smokers in all areas because of the sheer volume of people. I don’t think people are breaking the law walking around smoking wherever they like outdoors, it’s just something we don’t do anymore in England. Naturally when I’m with the children I try to keep them away from smokers but queuing to get drinks or snacks on my own I had no problem standing next to somebody smoking outdoors, everybody will have different views, thankfully I didn’t see anybody smoking inside so it appears they just don’t designate smoking areas.
Arriving at Disneyland Paris at the Marne-la-Vallee Chessy train station you literally step off of the platform and you’re at the gates to the Disney Village which leads to the Disneyland Park and Disney Studios. There’s a multi-storey carpark along with bus bays which allocate to each Disney hotel and seeing as we didn’t know which direction our hotel was in we took a free bus to drop off our bags. A bag check is available for which they collect your luggage and take it to the hotel for you for €25.00 but doing it ourselves was not bother as we had to go to the hotel to collect our tickets anyway. Our check in was at 3pm and we arrived at around 10am and although we couldn’t access our room until the afternoon we could leave our luggage securely at the stow at the from of the hotel for which we had a numbered tag to pick it up later. Our hotel also had security for which our bags had to be scanned first. The bus took about a minute to get to the Sequoia Lodge which was a Bambi themed hotel very American ranger feeling with large logs, cobbles, trees and water. We’re huge fans of woodland and log cabins and the children loved it, all staff and locations at Disney are themed and it really helps to create the magical atmosphere. Rather than wearing uniform they dress up in costume and are very easy to spot in a crowd, speak several languages, are cheerful and always willing and able to help.
We were told at check in that our room had been upgraded to a lake view as upon checking our passports I think they saw that it was my 30th birthday that day. The hotel itself is absolutely huge, as expected, but maintains a natural outdoorsy feel because of the way it’s nestled into the woodland and cleverly divided. There are gift shops, games and restaurants on site as well as a beautiful raised deck to sit outside and swimming pool across a cute little bridge on the water. We didn’t swim as we were intent on seeing all of Disney in a long weekend but if I’d have come without children I’d certainly have woken early everyday for a morning workout before breakfast. Our family room on the fourth floor was suitably sized with two double beds, Disney tv, plenty of storage, a dressing area with a lit up sink and separate bathroom with a connecting door to an adjoining room which we kept locked as it was just the four of us but handy for groups. Considering we only slept in our room and were out all day and evening it was lovely to come back to a clean and well maintained room and the children enjoyed watching Disney TV whilst we took turns to shower and get ready for bed – after all they had no ipads, music or films they’d have normally had at home for good behaviour so several minutes before bed was a nice treat. The TV also had information about the parks playing punchy clips of the best attractions to visit, meet and greets with characters, rides and recommendations which we pencilled in for things to see for the next day.
Walking to the park itself took around five minutes through beautiful trees and water, something we enjoy doing daily at home as we live in the countryside. Before you can get into Disneyland you pass through security checks which are stations set at various points with electrical scanners like at the airport. We only took a drawstring bag to carry bottles of water and snacks, as little as possible, but others had gift bags, suitcases, handbags and large teddies which didn’t slow up the queue because thousands of people pass through continuously all day everyday. The security point we arrived at took us to a large lake with a huge balloon which rises into the sky as an attraction to see over Disneyland, there were also children racing cars which again were separate from the parks.
The Disney village is a collection of shops, restaurants and stalls selling official memorabilia and fast food for which you don’t need a Disney pass to enter. I guess the idea being that the queues are far greater in the parks and they’ve tried to alleviate the sheer volume of people by providing additional facilities en route. The food in Disney is very much fast-food based and priced a lot higher than in England so feeding a family is time consuming, expensive and underwhelming for choice. Luckily the children like McDonald’s as a treat at home, perhaps once every few months, but at Disneyland it became our most visited restaurant. Where you’d expect to pay around £16.00 in England for a couple of burgers and happy meals for a family, in Disneyland you’re looking at €33.00/£30.00 which is easily twice the price. The menus are also different with my son loving fish fingers and chips in his Happy Meal he had to have a fish burger instead which he didn’t seem to mind too much but would have been a disaster if he didn’t like it as there’s nothing else he would have eaten.
Thankfully I took a few boxes of protein and cereal breakfast bars with us from home which were instant healthy meals to keep us full before entering the park each morning as breakfast cost around €12-20 per person which I just couldn’t justify spending on toast and cereal each day as the children don’t eat a lot. We had a McDonald’s around lunch time each day as our main meal and then a lighter snack in the evening after treats and ice cream and popcorn (costing €20 for two tubs) around the park. Having had McDonald’s for a few days straight which we weren’t used to, I really craved vegetables and fresh food which isn’t readily available on site unless you opt for an all you can eat buffet which is well over €100 for a family of four and mostly microwave food and carbs. The queues in McDonald’s were constantly long, the staff very slow to respond, worn out and miserable but it’s understandable with the volume of people who never cease. Even in England McDonal’s is always busy, but when it’s the most affordable and family friendly restaurant in Disney it’s always pushed to capacity. After walking past boards showing fresh sandwiches and soups we stopped off at the Earl Of Sandwich restaurant for a meaty full English breakfast, tomato soup for me and pizzas for the children which was more expensive than McDonald’s but tiny portions shrivelled by the microwave. Despite my soup being delicious it was no bigger than a teacup in size, the children loved the pizza which was about half the size of a slice of toast and the full English breakfast was a spoon of beans and dehydrated meat in a foil dish more accustomed to a budget airline. You really can’t help but feel ripped off over the quality and price of food available, it makes a greasy spoon cafe in England feel luxurious but when you put it into perspective for the sheer volume of people and the already long queues and waiting times for food then cooking fresh just wouldn’t be feasible or remotely affordable given the price of the existing menu. It’s about fast turnaround and profit which sadly outstretches a lot of families and single parents budgets.
Being vegan the children and I are used to generous portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, home cooked meals, flavour, taste and nutrition which isn’t available at Disney. Whether the most expensive restaurant on site offers freshly prepared food I really wouldn’t know, but to pay twice the price for just burger and chips I couldn’t risk finding out. Naturally children love party food, crisps, sweets, biscuits, ice cream, pizza, pasta and burgers for which there is plenty, so they’re certainly catering to their market and the children loved it. I know that they can’t please all of the people all of the time and my dietary requirements as a vegan are still very much a niche in the world but I hope in future they’ll introduce more health conscious options that are realistically affordable to families. We travelled to Paris after leaving Disney to go sightseeing and the food was delicious, fresh and reasonably priced in restaurants and cafes where we ate like Kings. Sorry for the food rant, it’s something I’m very passionate about, back to the trip!
Water costs around €3-4.00 per bottle for which you could easily spend €20.00 a day for a family of four walking around the park on a sunny day. We kept our water bottles and refilled them at the fountains which are dotted about but not always obvious. There are toilets in each different themed land within Disneyland, usually within a minutes walk providing you have a map handy to figure out where you are. Some of the toilets were very well maintained and others were overflowing and out of paper, it all depends on the time of day and when they were last cleaned so take a pack of tissues or wet wipes with you just incase as they’re just as handy for cleaning hands before snacking or wiping noses! There are electronic panels on the wall outside each toilet with coloured faces so that you can rate the cleanliness of the toilets which is always worth doing because the staff can be alerted to a mess more quickly if enough people give feedback and the children loved pushing the buttons.
The first thing we did when we got into Disneyland, after passing through the next security checks, was to go to the town hall to collect Gabriele’s free disabled pass. Disabilities comes in many different forms, from those you see in wheelchairs and with canes to mental health that may be entirely unnoticeable. Much as you would have a blue badge in England to have priority parking spaces and access to additional facilities the green Disney card is given to those who need additional support whilst using the park. It’s only given with proof of the disability being provided for which I took official paperwork with me from home. Just looking at my son you can see his autistic traits but to others he may appear entirely normal. The problems he faces in public places is his lack of patience, if he is asked to wait for more than a minute he becomes restless, touches things, tries to leave the queue, gets distressed, pokes people, makes loud noises, throws himself on the floor or has a full blown tantrum which you could argue most young children might do when asked to wait but if their patience was 7/10 then Gabriele’s is 2/10 and his reactions more severe and unreasonable because he doesn’t react like a child usually would. Because of this I carry him on my back and speak softly and calmly to him, stroking his face and trying to distract him from lights, sounds and people around us. A few times when we were in queues he interacted with other children who pushed and hurt him because they didn’t understand his condition, his lack of social awareness and inability to respect others personal space. He needs his hand held at all times, constant supervision and even with his safety bracelet on with my contact details I still feared I could lose him but thankfully never did.
There are so many people in Disneyland it’s so easy to lose children, get separated in the crowd or for somebody to fall behind or little ones wander off. The city hall also serves as a lost child collection point which is helpful to know but it’s the time spent trying to locate a missing child who hasn’t found a member of staff to help them to safety which scares me. The staff are positioned on rides, at meet and greet points with characters and in shops but not noticeably walking around to just approach so it would be down to the kindness of a stranger to assist a lost child to safety. When navigating crowds during show times we all linked hands and I had my son on my back. I think safety is something every family should discuss to avoid chaos, every time you go to the toilet set a meeting point incase somebody comes out quicker and you’re still stuck inside in a queue away out of sight. If you get off of a ride in different carriages show the children a meet point before embarking and even at the hotel point out memorable areas and where to find staff.
The green card had several options for disabilities from autism to missing hands, legs and mobility as each ride has a disability grading for what is safe for each individual to ride. Gabriele was turned away from two rides, one because of his height being a few centimetres too short and the other because of having autism with the ride containing stimulus to aggravate him. Each time he cried his eyes out and was very upset to not get onto the ride but rules are there for a reason and we were mindful to note the height details on the park map after that to avoid further upset. Because he was measured for rides we also noted how tall he was for reference as we hadn’t measured the children prior to attending. When using a green card you show it to a member of staff on the ride and queue at either the exit, disabled or fast track entrance depending on how the ride operates as they’re all different. The majority of ride queue times were 30mins, 50mins or 90mins when we visited but the disabled queue was rarely longer than several minutes. On some rides special carriages are allocated to the disabled, on others you’re filtered in like fast track riders. Aside from the very obvious time convenience for the rides there is also additional seating in queues and the families are there with likeminded children so you don’t get stared at or feel distressed as you may in a busy public place where people don’t understand why a seemingly normal child is acting so erratically. Gabriele was able to stand with other autistic children and interact with the staff who were very attentive and supportive. It gave us the precious experience of being just like everybody else which is so rare.
Prior to visiting Disneyland I didn’t know my son was applicable for a disabled card so like everybody else we have always queued for hours on end in the heat, needed the toilet half way down the queue with me being the only adult present, ran out of water, had tantrums, the unavoidable tasks of taking children to a theme park for a long day of standing and tiredness. I certainly sympathise with the sheer volume of families wanting to experience everything in the little time that they have. But with the green card we were able to ride several rides each day, have front seats to the shows and performances and skip queues for baggage checks. Had we not have known about the card, or not being applicable for it, then we certainly wouldn’t have done half of what we did. It’s something that isn’t advertised so a lot of people undoubtedly miss out on it but it really made our holiday, gave the children that personal touch and care and helped to make my son as comfortable as possible throughout. We spent three days at Disney in total and saw both parks, rode every ride and met a fair few characters but without the green card it would have taken around five days to have done the same so be mindful of the time that you have and the main attractions you want to see if you’re only going for a weekend. The character meet and greets were incredible, each person stayed perfectly in character throughout and actually looked like the people they were portraying. Mary Poppins had a beautiful English accent and introduced the children to her penguin who she met along her travels and Goofy bounded about flapping his ears and hugging them. Malificent was eerily enchanting, Aladdin got us to flex our muscles and Buzz Lightyear had us hopping on one leg flying to infinity and beyond!
We purchased a photo pass when booking our tickets which allowed us to have a copy of all of the pictures taken on rides and those from photographers at the characters meet and greets automatically uploaded to an online login an hour after being taken. Considering photos cost around €15-20.00 each for rides it seemed a reasonable price for £45.00 as we hoped to get quality iconic pictures of the children with Mickey and Minnie to frame once home. Character meet and greets take place across both parks at designated times which can be difficult if you’re in a queue for a ride or if the character goes onto a break and you’ve been queueing for so long you don’t actually get to see them. With the green card we were able to book a slot with some of the characters to return usually in an hours time to have a photo taken without having to queue but it meant staying nearby and juggling which ride to go on knowing we may overrun on time which was rather restrictive. We were 15mins late to see Pluto after leaving a ride late but thankfully they still honoured our appointment. We presumed we’d come across Mickey and Minnie on our travels and so we were in no hurry to find them until the final day but when we did we soon realised they are fully booked by as early as 11am and queues can take an hour or more to see them so unfortunately we didn’t get to meet Mickey or Minnie during our visit. If we go again it would certainly be the first thing we’d do.
The unfortunate thing about the photo pass is that not all of our photos made it to our login as you scan your card at each event and it’s supposed to automatically link to your account like supermarket reward points would after shopping. We had a lovely time meeting Buzz Lightyear but none of the photos the photographer took made it to our account which we’ve emailed to try to retrieve. Also not every character comes with a photographer so the photo pass couldn’t be used. On the rides some of our faces are covered by other riders hands or hidden by being seating on the back row and not always photos we would have chosen to purchase. A lot of people took pictures on their phones of the ride photos displayed on TV screens outside the ride exits as no staff prevent this which seemed a far easier way to get good photos! It’s swings and roundabout with the photo pass really, if we can retrieve the missing character pictures that were taken we would have a reasonable number of photos to justify the price, if not then the ones taken on the phone of the children were far better and all safe. It may be worth taking additional pictures on your phone or camera at each event as a backup to rides and photographers so as not to lose those precious memories.
When staying in a Disney hotels you’re allowed to enter the park early at 08:30am and the queues are certainly much shorter but not all of the rides are open until 10:00am when the the park is open to everyone. We travelled on a Friday to Sunday in the middle of October to co-incide with my 30th birthday and Friday was far quieter at the park than the weekend, I can imagine it must be absolutely rammed during school holidays and the summer. It remained a wonderful 22-24degrees throughout our stay with beautiful blue skies and not a cloud in sight. I’d packed jumpers and hoodies and leggings for the children but on arrival we found it hot in a t-shirt! You never know what the weather is going to do so any time of year is a gamble, we didn’t need a coat at all, just a small jumper or cardigan at 10pm when watching the Disney illuminations on the castle. Again we used our green card for this and were able to sit right at the front for which we enjoyed two buckets of popcorn costing €20.00 in a commemorative 25th anniversary bucket, it was just a few euros more than buying the paper bag popcorn and made sense to have something the children could keep. Even in the disabled area we arrived 90mins early to get good seats for the illuminations as the first day we arrived we watched it from way over at the back and when parents put children on their shoulders it totally blocks your view. Literally thousands of people cram into the main square all at once and along the streets to watch the light display which is standing room only so when we came back the second night to see it again we were a little more clued up on where to go and when to arrive. We were able to sit on the floor with snacks and the most incredible view right in front of the castle, for those seated on benches as soon as people stand in front of them their view is lost entirely so it’s worth aiming for the railings where the gardens are so nobody can stand in front of you and keeping little ones at the front rather than on shoulders because even selfie sticks are banned to prevent obstruction. Also queues for snacks and drinks become ridiculous so get any supplies a couple of hours before taking your seat and sticking to it like glue!
The illuminations were magnificent as the park falls into darkness and the Disney castle comes to life with an array of beautiful colours, characters and images from the Lion King to Pirates Of The Caribbean. A performance of Disney’s finest and most loved songs from their movies are played out in English and French and it’s an absolute feast for the senses for all ages and interests. There are laser lights, jets of water shooting up into the air in every colour of the rainbow, fireworks crashing overhead and even fireballs which you can feel the heat from right at the back of the crowd; you can’t help but look on wide eyed and cuddle up to the children as you absorb the magic and splendour of the moment. It’s something truly unforgettable and will make every bonfire night and fireworks display from now on seem like a wet BBQ in comparison. The Disney parades are equally fun with characters passing through the crowds on large floats and in carriages as they wave to the children and sing. There are tram lines set down the streets allowing the parade to tour so regardless of where you stand you can see it, as well as a stage show in the main square set throughout the day.
Inside the Disney castle there’s a beautiful crystal gift shop where they create handmade glass wands over an open flame. my daughter Millie is a huge Harry Potter fan and loves everything to do with magic and spells so she was thrilled to create a wand from the beautiful display of potion bottles, contraptions and equipment. There were crystals lit up in bottle in every colour of the rainbow all containing a special power for which she selected her favourite three and the lady serving weighed them into an old fashioned pan and scales. She then mixed up the stones in a turning wheel and filtered them town a twirly pipe into the wand as the children watched on in awe before passing it to her colleague in googles and a lab coat who sealed the end shut under a roaring flame. The displays were absolutely beautiful with a giant crystal castle, Cinderella’s slipper, glass characters, ornaments and a golden rose from Beauty And The Beast which I got for myself. Millie also chose a pretty crystal snowflake hair clip and the three gifts came to around €100.00 but could have easily have been twice or three times the amount for similar sized items – you need plenty of spending money!
One thing the children really loved doing was collecting coins around the parks and Paris as there are machines on the wall with souvenir pennies about the size of a £2.00 coin depicting different characters and the castle and make a lovely keepsake, at €2.00 each they’re very pocket money friendly and don’t take up much space. We left our crystal good at the store and collected them on our way back to the hotel as although we could take our bags on the majority of the rides we didn’t want them to get damaged or stolen.
We spent the first two days of our trip in Disneyland and the third day at the Disney Studios which is directly next door and included in the ticket price, Gabriele’s green card was also accepted throughout. As it was our final day in Disney we had to check out of our room by lunchtime so we used the Disney bag drop service in the park where we paid €15.00 to stow our suitcase and two holdalls for the day. The Disney Studios are smaller than Disneyland and contain large buildings, rides and character meet and greets more predominantly based around films from Toy Story to Ratatouille with stunt shows, live theatre and workshops; far less busy, informative and educational. They loved the rollercoasters and 3D experience as well as being thrown down an elevator shaft from the top of a tower – I’m surprised how brave they were whilst I was holding on for dear life and squealing. We saw a live stunt show with motorbikes, car chases, gun fights and fire as windows smashed and vehicles flew through the air. Gabriele got a little scared on the Armageddon experience as we stood inside a spaceship that was hit by a meteor with fire, lights, alarms and sprinklers going off as he thought it was real. The Pirates Of The Caribbean ride was out of this world, you’d have no idea you were inside a giant building when sailing off in a boat across moonlit shores and glowing taverns of drunken sailors. The Finding Nemo coaster was one of the children’s favourites and so beautiful to experience, we even rode the Thunder Mountain twice because we loved the rollercoaster so much! The Buzz Lightyear laser quest was hilarious and somehow I got the highest score whilst blasting bad guys and the live theatre show of Mickey & The Magician split between English and French was magnificent as the dancers paraded mechanical animals throughout the crowd and a giraffe came straight past us. We finished up our day by taking the train tour around the park with two very sleepy children before heading back to the hotel to collect our luggage and taking an uber to Paris to stay at our apartment for a final day of sight seeing before retuning home.
As we had to check out of our apartment in Paris in the morning we used a service called Nanny Bag to stow our luggage so that we could be handsfree for the day. You book online and its €8.00 for 12hrs, once payment is confirmed a drop off point is allocated to you. Basically local businesses accept tourists luggage to store on site as an extra income for them and this service runs in all major cities across the UK and Europe. We were allocated a print shop nearby and a pleasant frenchman greeted us and allowed us to take the children to the toilet before we headed out for the day.
I use Uber in England all the time and wasn’t sure if it would work in France but it worked just as conveniently as usual, although when I booked a car from Disneyland it set the pick up point outside of the park in the bus bays and we had to rush to get through the security check in time to make the pickup without getting fined for being late which was great fun in a big crowd! On the way home to the airport I tried to book an Uber and it was rejected because my bank froze my account for suspicious activity until I confirmed by txt that I was abroad and within a few minutes I could make purchases again. The metro would have been more affordable to get around Paris to see the monuments but with two young children on a time limit it was far quicker and more comfortable to take an air conditioned car directly to our destination. We visited the majority of Paris’ landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Champs Elysees and the war museum, had handmade ice cream by a fountain, an Indian dinner, traditional menage a trois breakfast, hot chocolate and croissants in a quaint cafe, vegan carrot cake for my birthday at the Cloud Cafe and an Italian for lunch. The food in Paris is exquisite, as affordable as England and so fresh and flavoursome. There is a vegan option at most restaurants and cafes marked with a carrot symbol and a traditional green ‘v’ for vegetarian, far more health conscious for clean eating compared to England – we have a lot of catching up to do!
We arrived at the Eiffel Tower just after breakfast and queued for security which was a bag check and scanner again and the whole road had been fenced off for security with concrete blocks stacked along the length of it to prevent vehicles from mounting the pavement which also meant that pedestrians had to walk around to the end of the road to come back because there was no way to cross. We went to the Eiffel Tower the evening we arrived to see it lit up at night and then toured it the following morning to see the sights of Paris from the top. It cost €7.00 per adult and €3.00 per child to walk the stairs of the tower or you can buy an elevator pass to take you directly there which costs more and in my opinion takes away from the experience but is helpful for families with young children and the elderly. Gabriele loved climbing the metal stairs which were surrounded by caging as you go up the entire leg of the tower but Millie who is afraid of heights found it more challenging, nonetheless she made it to the top and was very proud of herself afterwards. If you’re worried about heights it’s pretty easy to look at your feet climbing each step rather than out at the scenery and there are platforms every flight where you can stop and rest. There are several hundred steps to the second platform which takes around 10-15mins to climb with children and has the most spectacular views of Paris.
The gift shop at the top sells Eiffel Tower statues, keychains, snow globes, books, trinkets and biscuits as you would expect with a medium sized tower costing €39.00 and a larger light up tower €60.00 so the children bought some Eiffel Tower collectable coins to add to their Disney ones and I purchased my souvenirs from the looky-looky men below! You can find looky-looky men walking in the gardens around the tower holding gifts and trinkets on chains and in bags approaching tourists. They have the same items as the gift shop but you can haggle on price and I managed to get a medium sized tower, three keychains and two fridge magnets for €20.00 which would have been about €90.00 in the gift shop. As soon as they realised I was English they set a ridiculous price and I walked away so they agreed on twenty for the lot, but during the walk from the Eiffel Tower to the other monuments other looky-looky men continuously approached us offering us more towers, keyrings and watches. It can get frustrating being hassled but equally I enjoy a bargain so it’s part of the territory!
We had the most wonderful day sight seeing, walking the river, riding in a tuc tuc and buying trinkets before heading home which took an hour in an Uber to the Charles De Gaulle airport at rush hour. I’d wanted to put padlocks with our names on the famous love lock bridge which we walked across but due to heightened security signs depicted that all locks had been removed. Due to storm Ophelia in Ireland our flight was delayed for an hour and a half so we arrived back in England at around 1am and home shortly after for which the children went to school the next day. Annoyingly the card machine didn’t work on the plane so I was unable to buy snacks so it’s worth keeping €10-€20.00 back just incase as you can spend it in England at the airport or have it changed back at the Post Office. I used a new Travel Money card and app from the post office which allowed me to transfer money from my bank to my card via a phone app to pay for things in France rather than carrying cash. Anything unspent can easily be transferred back without having to visit a bank or carry large amounts of cash around and the card works con tactlessly which was very convenient. Fortunately I didn’t get fined for taking the children out of school during term time but Millie was marked as an unauthorised absence for which I had to call the school on Monday morning – whilst climbing the Eiffel Tower – to report why she hadn’t attended registration. Thankfully my phone worked just as normal in France and I wasn’t charged any extra as my contract covered all data and usage abroad, although in some areas my signal dipped out because of the sheer volume of people using phones. It was nice to arrive home with no hidden extras having spent every last penny of spending money.
I hope that you’ve found our visit to Disney helpful and if you have any questions, thoughts or feedback please feel free to ask them below. I’d love to take the children to Disneyworld in Florida next but would wait for Gabriele to be a little older so that he’s tall enough not to miss out on rides, perhaps in a year or two. Other than that we wouldn’t change a single thing, it was the holiday of a lifetime and we have such heart felt memories that we will undoubtedly cherish forever!