Disneyland Paris – Some Useful Tips

 

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle

After reflecting for a while on my trip to Disneyland Paris, I thought that it might be useful to offer some previews and forewarning about some of the differences between Disneyland Paris and the stateside parks.  There are definitely some differences in culture and park operations that you might want to be aware of.  They are not the kind of thing that would ruin a vacation, but might be helpful if you knew beforehand.

  • Smoking is MUCH more prevalent.  Americans have become accustomed to a fairly limited exposure to second-hand smoke with all the legislation about public smoking throughout the U.S.  In Europe, however, smoking is still quite acceptable and many people do it regularly.  This is never more apparent than waiting in the queue for an attraction, when many people will light up.  Though there are designated areas for smoking, the policy is not enforced.  If you are especially sensitive to second-hand smoke you may want to reconsider a trip to Disneyland Paris.  If you were to ask people to stop smoking, you would be going against the prevailing culture and would probably be frowned upon.  C’est la vie!
  • Lines move very slowly.  I’m not totally sure why this happens at Disneyland Paris, but lines for attractions move at approximately half the speed of the parks in the States.  We did notice that, on attractions where you could see loaded ride vehicles, it was common for them to leave half full or even empty on a regular basis.  Cast members also do not seem to want to hustle or hurry guests either, even when the lines are approaching 60 minutes or more.
  • Lines for Quick Service dining are even slower.  For lunch one day, it took nearly 45 minutes from the time we entered the line until we paid, with about half that time between getting the food until paying.  Needless to say, the food wasn’t that warm by the time we could finally eat.  While you could try to eat at off-peak hours, we didn’t notice much difference in line length through the course of the day.
  • Fast Pass operates a little differently at Disneyland Paris.  The Fast Pass return window is only 30 minutes, and the times tend to be strictly enforced.  I frequently saw guests turned away at the Fast Pass Return entrance to attractions.  While you may get lucky if you’re outside your window, I would generally recommend that expired Fast Passes are pretty much useless.
  • Getting a Fast Pass may take as long as the standby ride wait.  The Fast Pass machines operate a little differently than the old Disney World machines.  Rather than a machine that takes the ticket inside and spits it back out, the Disneyland Paris machines are a card swipe type mechanism.  They seem particularly sensitive to swipe speed and have a hard time processing the swipes.  On top of that, people who have waited 30 minutes for a Fast Pass are definitely NOT going to just step aside when they have card troubles.  They had to wait for one of the overburdened cast members to make their way over and wait until the cast member finally convinced the machine to give up a Fast Pass.  Plan 15-30 minutes to obtain a Fast Pass for the more popular attractions.
  • You can get an “unlimited” fast pass if you’re staying on the equivalent of one of the Concierge levels at a Disney hotel.  This gives you the ability to enter any Fast Pass entrance at any time, without getting a separate Fast Pass.  Keep in mind that even if your budget allows a room upgrade like that, there are relatively few attractions that utilize Fass Pass, limiting the benefit somewhat.

I want to reiterate that I’m not trying to be negative about Disneyland Paris.  It really comes down to a cultural difference between France and the US.  I feel that if you have some forewarning, you can expect and plan for these differences and enjoy your vacation better!

Disneyland Paris – Arrival and Hotels

Disneyland Hotel

Disneyland Hotel

Getting to Disneyland Paris isn’t actually too difficult.  Once you arrive in Paris, this basically involves finding your way to the RER-A4 train line.  The RER is a regional train system that goes through Paris as well as the surrounding suburbs.  A4 is the specific line you’re trying to find.  Make sure you get the A4, not the A2 train, as this refers to a specific branch of the A line that will take you to Disneyland.  There are many good resources about the specifics of getting around, including the two guides I mentioned previously.  Your destination for Disneyland Paris is Marne-la-Vallee/Chessy.

When you arrive at the train station and exit into the plaza, you are actually RIGHT in the heart of the Disneyland Resort.  To the north is the Disneyland Hotel and Disneyland itself.  To the west is Walt Disney Studios.  South leads to the Disney Village Marketplace and the rest of the Disney-owned hotels.

Should you be a supremely lucky individual, your hotel is the Disneland Hotel, and you can’t miss it.  It is literally the front gate to Disneyland.  Just go through Security and towards the front gates.  I am confident that even the most directionally-challenged individual will find themselves in the right place.

New York Hotel

New York Hotel

Guests of the New York Hotel, the Newport Bay Club, or the Sequoia Lodge have to go a different way, but it is still within walking distance.  If you find yourself on the World’s Longest Moving Sidewalk because you were foolish enough to follow the signs to your hotel, sadly you are headed the wrong way.  And you will continue to head the wrong way for quite some time, so get comfortable.  After an eternity you will arrive at the parking lot and bus pickup.  Turn around, grab a drink from the vending machine if necessary, and start the round trip back to the plaza.

Eventually you will arrive back where you started.  Now this time, IGNORE the signs directing you to your hotel and head through the security checkpoint toward Disney Village.  Walk all the way through, and when you come out the back side you will be next to the New York Hotel.  Around the small lake found there, the Sequoia Lodge and Newport Bay Club are also visible, but a bit further walk.

DLP June 2014_003

The Hotel Cheyenne and Hotel Santa Fe are both technically in walking distance, but it is a bit of a hike.  The World’s Longest Moving Sidewalk will actually take you in generally the right direction, plus save you some walking at the same time.

If you’re staying at the Davy Crockett Ranch, you must catch a shuttle bus because it is actually a fair distance from the main resort.

One last thing you will notice as you traverse the security checkpoints is that they are run differently than the parks in the US.  In Paris they utilize x-ray bag scanners like at the airport, rather than manual bag searches.  The process is actually quicker (in our experience at least) so the line moves at a reasonable pace.  Disneyland, Walt Disney Studios and the Disney Village are all part of one large, continuous security zone so you can walk between any of them without going through security.  The hotels, train station, and the rest of the world are not, so plan to go through security if your origin is one of those three places.

Disneyland Paris Trip Planning – Money Issues

DLP June 2014_013

Let me say first, right off the bat, that if you’re already a seasoned international traveler, the information here is probably nothing that you don’t already know.  In fact you could even probably give me a few pointers!  But if you haven’t ventured outside the US, here’s a few tips I’ve learned:

  • First, just go ahead and get this out of your system: things are significantly more expensive in Europe than the US, and particularly in Disneyland Paris.  Just accept this.  When you’re paying $3-4 for about 8oz of Coke, remember these words and go to your happy place…
  • As you set out your budget, whatever you decide upon, increase it by about 50% to get a more realistic idea of what you will end up spending.
  • Well before your trip, investigate what options you might have through your regular bank for international spending.  Some banks, like Bank of America and others, have partner banks in Europe that can significantly reduce your service charges for banking services like ATM’s.
  • No matter what card you plan to use, it’s a good idea to call the customer service number prior to leaving, to let them know your travel plans.  When they see Continental charges for $10 ice cream cones start rolling through it should prevent them from putting a hold on your funds.
  • While in Europe, having a chip and PIN card is worth its weight in gold (almost).  Magstripe cards are generally harder to use, though while at Disneyland Paris you should have little to no trouble paying with almost anything.  If your bank can’t issue you a debit card with chip and PIN, consider applying for credit cards geared towards travelers.  You can usually get these cards with chip and PIN, and they also will often have minimal or no Foreign Transaction Fee, which brings us to:
  • MAKE SURE you look into whatever Foreign Transaction Fees your method of payment will charge.  The aforementioned credit cards usually don’t have a fee.  Cards like the American Express Platinum don’t either.  These fees will usually run anywhere from 2.5-3.0% of your purchase for EVERY purchase for the convenience of converting the currency electronically, so the savings will really add up as you enjoy your $20 quick service cheeseburger.
  • If you don’t have access to a bank chip and PIN or can’t get/don’t want a new credit card, another option is to visit a Travelex currency exchange.  There you can preload a chip and PIN cash card in the currency of your choice (well, currently about 5 choices).  Sometimes having a built-in limit is good for self-control when you see the perfect $50 T-shirt.  If you go this route, just have a backup fund source because there is no such thing as overdraft or extending your credit limit if you empty the card.
  • Did I mention it’s expensive?

Hope this is helpful!  Next topic will be arrival at the resort and the hotels.

Planning a trip to Disneyland Paris

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Wanting to take a trip to Disneyland Paris?  Who wouldn’t?  For any fan of the Disney theme parks, going to Disneyland Paris should be a mandatory box on the bucket list.  Getting there, however, is not quite as straightforward as a visit to Disneyland or Walt Disney World.  Over the next few posts I hope to provide some guidance, especially for some of the more practical tips that I never really found until I experienced it in person.

Part of the problem is that specific information is fairly lacking in the United States.  A visit to the US version of the Disneyland Paris site will often leave you a bit confused.  There is a definite lack of specific reservation and touring advice, which can make it difficult to commit to spending thousands of dollars on your own.

For example, for the US parks it is quite easy to pick and choose exactly what you want whether it be hotels, just park tickets, etc.  By contrast the Disneyland Paris site links hotel and park tickets.  I had originally hoped to buy a 2 day ticket as well as 2 nights hotel since we would be arriving late the first day.  But no luck, you have to buy 3 days of park tickets with no option to change it.  Think of it as a prix fixe menu rather than a la carte.

So for the first time I decided to use a travel agent, just to be sure I didn’t completely mess things up.  Major credit goes to Michelle Cunningham at MEI-Mouse Fan Travel for making the process a lot easier.  She did a great job investigating different room and price options to find just the right combination for us.  If you decide to stay at a non-Disney hotel you probably have more flexibility in regards to tickets, etc but since I didn’t go that route I can’t comment on that.

Planning resources are really hard to come by.  Compared to the huge variety of stateside Disney park books, the isn’t much for us here that detail Disneyland Paris.  There was an Unofficial Guide written back in 2010 but that is now hard to find (as well as out of date AND expensive).  I primarily used 2 books:

1. Top Tips for Visiting Disneyland Paris by Kevin Yee.  Available as an e-book ($2.99) or paperback at Amazon.  This book is relatively short but offers a lot of good, practical advice specific to these parks.  Kevin is a regular columnist over at MiceChat and has major Disney credibility.  He covers a lot of the preparation for the trip as well as details of the parks and attractions.  Highly recommended.

2. Independent Guide to Disneyland Paris (from a Former Cast Member) by John Coast.  Also available as an e-book ($6.99) at Amazon.  A much longer text, as well as organized in a fashion similar to typical stateside park guides.  This book seems to be updated on a regular basis, and I purchased the 2014 edition.  Like Kevin’s book it is details the parks as well as getting to/from them.  Particularly useful was the chapter Disneyland Paris for Walt Disney World Regulars, so you know what is similar as well as different.

Both books are quite affordable so really there is no reason to not pick them both up.

Other things to consider during the planning phase:

  • Make sure your passport is up to date, and will not expire close to your travel dates
  • Check to see if your mobile phone is capable of usage in Europe.  Some companies offer plans for global travel and will save a lot of money in roaming fees, though calls will still be quite expensive.  Data is even better while you’re there if you have the option as free WiFi can be hard to find.
  • Ask your bank/credit card companies if they have a Chip and PIN card available for any of your accounts.  Chip and PIN cards are much more widely accepted than traditional magstripe cards and will make your life easier.  I will discuss money options in more detail in a separate post.
  • Check the average weather during your visit window.  Disneyland Paris can be quite chilly during the winter and even spring months.  Even during the summer the evenings can be on the cool side.

The next post will discuss some things about money during your trip.  Following that will be information about the parks, hotels and getting around.  I will wrap everything up with a set of Do’s/Don’ts from personal experience.

Disneyland Paris!

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Sleeping Beauty Castle

I recently had the opportunity to visit Disneyland Paris, which is why there haven’t been any map updates recently.  Over the next few posts I hope to offer some insights from visiting the parks, because it can be hard to find good information if you’re planning a visit there. In the mean time, I have uploaded a new gallery into the Favorite Photos that is dedicated to that park.  I hope you enjoy them!

Major change to search results

I’ve been working in the background as time permitted to set up a new way to view the maps.  Now, it’s finally live on the site!

When you do a map search now, the results page LOOKS the same.  But when you click on the map you are taken to a map details page instead.  I will be able to have a lot more data displayed about the map including the contributor.  You will still be able to download the PDF from that page, just like before.

But the biggest change is that now you can look at the map pages directly from the site, and without watermarks no less!  I know that the watermarks in the PDF files have bothered some, and I do apologize for that.  The watermarks were an unfortunate result of someone taking the files and then selling them.  These files are always intended to be freely available to everyone.

If you want to see the ultimate results of what I’d like to do, just look at the very first map from Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, from 1972.

Lastly, I am still in the laborious process of converting and uploading the images for each map.  If you pick a map that has no pictures yet, it will just be blank on that part of the page.  The rest of the details should be there just fine!

Have fun, and let me know if you have other requests or suggestions!

Welcome visitors from MiceChat!

George Taylor over at MiceChat was nice enough to mention this site in his article about the Town Square Cafe.  If you’re new to the site, feel free to explore and check out all the Disney park maps in store for you here!  Just use the menu bar to pick the location, then theme park.  This will take you to a page to pick from the decades of maps available.  All maps are available for download in PDF form, just click on the thumbnail to look at the whole thing.  There are nearly 450 maps currently available for viewing!

Even though I have posted just maps on the site, I do manage to collect lots of other items as well.  I’m always looking for any artifacts of park operations, whether it be publicly visible or on the working side.  This includes things like the menu George mentioned, but also pamphlets, vacation planners, books, etc.  On the operational side, I look for operations manuals, training guides and just about anything else generally not available to the public.

If you have something (or even a whole box of somethings) along these lines you’d like to get rid of, please contact me!  I’d be happy to work out some kind of deal, and it would be going to a loving home!  Drop me a line right here!

D23 Destination D: Attraction Rewind

D23_Event_DestD_PressLogo

I’ve been eagerly anticipating more information about this upcoming D23 event, and we finally have more details.  The event will run November 22-23 and be held at the Contemporary Resort.

As you can imagine, this is like nirvana for a Disney History nerd like myself.  At the moment they are promoting appearances by Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr and Alice Davis.  They’re also going to be talking about Disney’s participation in the 1964 World’s Fair, appropriate since it is the 50th anniversary this year.

There is not a lot of detail regarding the presentations and especially the schedule yet, but I’m going to keep checking back for more developments.

The Polynesian – a great article on Passport to Dreams Old & New

I just had to share this great article over on Foxxfur’s site. It’s this kind of searching that I find myself doing on a regular basis as I’m tracing the history of different parts of the Disney Parks. It’s such a well written and researched piece about one of the most loved resorts at Walt Disney World!

Checking it out here: Chasing Captain Cook