Disneyland Paris: life in the ‘Village’

When Euro Disneyland opened its doors in 1992, it was met with underwhelming crowds and a cold shoulder from Parisians. The resort has since undergone a Cinderella transformation. Now known as Disneyland Paris, the park draws huge crowds, surpassing the Eiffel Tower as Paris’ most visited attraction. It ranks as the fourth most visited theme park in the world, just behind the other three Disney parks.

For many children, Disneyland represents the gold standard in vacation destinations. For parents, however, it can represent a big hit on the savings account. Disneyland resorts aren’t cheap, and Disneyland Paris is no exception. At least for families living in Stuttgart, its close proximity means you won’t have to spend a fortune to get there.

From Stuttgart, it’s a little over five hours to drive to Disneyland Paris. Mappy.com estimates fuel and toll costs each way to be about €110. For as little as €39 per person, you could take a TGV train from Stuttgart and reach the Paris Est (East Station) in under four hours. Disneyland has its own rail station, Marne-la-Vallee-Chessy, which can be found at the end of the red RER A4 subway line.

Disneyland Paris is actually two different parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Disneyland Park is modeled after the original Disneyland in California. It has many of the traditional Disney rides, from the spinning teacups to Space Mountain to Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt Disney Studios Park is themed after a movie studio, and has rides and shows based on a variety of movies, from Armageddon to Toy Story.

Just to the left of Walt Disney Studios Park is Disney Village. Like an open air mall, this area houses many dining areas and Disney stores, as well as an IMAX theater. Familiar names such as Planet Hollywood and Rainforest Cafe offer Americans a little taste of home, but if you’re on a budget, McDonald’s is about one-third the cost and will get you back on the rides that much faster.

Beyond Disney Village are most of Disneyland’s hotels. They vary in style and price. Generally, the closer you get to the parks the more expensive and fancier the hotel gets. Most of the hotels are clustered around a large lake and are about a 15 minute walk to the parks. You can also find other fee-based activities here, such as ice skating, a balloon ride and bicycle cars.

The Disneyland Hotel sits on the entrance to Disneyland Park, making it by far the closest hotel, and the most expensive at more than €1,000 per night for a family of four. You can save about €400 if you are willing to walk 20 minutes to the much less glitzy Santa Fe.

These hotels come with some important perks, such as admission to both parks and “Extra Magic Hours”: Hotel guests can enter the park two hours before it opens and ride a handful of attractions. It may not sound like much, but once you’ve seen the lines during normal operating hours, you’ll see why boarding the Space Mountain roller coaster in five minutes feels magical.

Another way to skip some of the lines is to use “Fastpass.” It’s a free service that holds your place in line while you leave to do something else and come back at a designated time. The most popular rides offer this feature.

Not all of the lines are in the parks. If you have breakfast in the hotel, it’s best to go before 7:30 a.m. After that, the lines start backing up through the hotel. Eating lunch and dinner earlier than normal means you can avoid those peak rush times. Most restaurants start filling up when the park closes. By 8:30 p.m. the popular ones have very long lines filled with tired and hungry children. Another tip: Don’t waste time shopping in the souvenir shops during park hours. You can find the same stuff in Disney Village long after the parks have shut down for the night, and you’ll be that much closer to your hotel when you are done.

If you don’t want to pay the Disneyland premium on snacks and drinks, stock up before you get on the subway. Once you walk outside Marne-la-Vallee- Chessy, everything in view is Disney owned. A bottle of soda is €2.60 throughout the resort. Sugary treats are sold everywhere, but some bland snacks might go better with the parachute drop and other stomach-twisting rides.

The best time to visit Disneyland Paris is between May and June. The French have their summer vacations from July to September, and their spring break coincides with ours. To see everything in Disneyland Park takes at least two days. Walt Disney Studio Park can be done in about day. One thing all young kids will want to see is the daily parade down Main Street at 5 p.m. It is a good idea to claim a vantage point at least thirty minutes prior to the parade.

The staff is generally friendly and helpful, but the resort is designed to process people by the thousands, and everything is scaled accordingly. Expect a longer-than-average check-in time.

Comfortable shoes are a must, as you are constantly walking or standing in a line. Dress for hot weather in the summer, but keep an umbrella and jacket handy for periodic rain showers and cooler nights. A secured pocket for valuables is a must.

The official website, www.disneylandparis.com, can give you lots of valuable information about ride closures or show schedules in addition to offering special deals.  While nothing about Disneyland could be called cheap, chances are even the most frugal traveler can find a package to fit their budget.