Disneyland Paris: tips for visiting with guests with disabilities

We were privileged recently to have our second trip to Disneyland Paris within a year, and this time we had family with us that included someone in a wheelchair.

Now, just as all people are different, all disabilities are different – and two wheelchair users will not have the same needs as each other. However, I do now have a few tips for navigating the parks and transport when accounting for a chair.

I’ve written this from the perspective of someone who has attended with a guest with reduced mobility; some of this applies across multiple other needs but there’s definitely more to be discovered, so this really is only intended as a useful starting point.

Five Tips for Guests with Special Needs

Before arriving:

1. Check the online guides for info. Although the DLP website can have its navigation issues, there is a section devoted to guests with additional needs. You can download accessibility guides here, which include a chart of rides and attractions which do / don’t require transfer from a wheelchair (off the top of my head, all shows are non-transfer, and It’s a Small World and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast both have modified vehicles which don’t require a transfer).

2. Plan for transportation options. If you’re driving to DLP, parking for guests with additional needs is in the parking lot for the Disneyland Hotel (the big pink confection that sits over the Disneyland Park gates). You emerge right by the entrance, and you’ll be given a four-digit code to exit the car park when you’re ready. If you’re at a resort hotel and want to use the buses, there are two options. There are not ‘kneeling’ buses, but if they’re aware that there is a guest boarding in a chair the driver can pull right up to the curb to allow easy transfer (they likely won’t otherwise). Alternatively, there is an adapted minibus, and the concierge staff at the hotel and Guest Services in the park can arrange this for you, though it means a bit more inconvenience. As my family joined us there by car, that’s what the member of the group with restricted mobility used – so I can’t comment on the bus options, but all Cast Members were very keen to advise on services.

3. Be aware of distances. This one is more a warning for those whose role it will be to push anyone in a manual wheelchair. Surfaces are mostly wide and level, and there are few inclines, but distances mean it can be hard work. There are ways to help make things easier (eg, don’t go through the castle each time, but zip around past Bella Notte gelateria / Small World on the right to get to Fantasyland without having to huff uphill), but you will need a certain amount of stamina, particularly if heading back and forth between parks.

On arrival:

4. Pick up your green pass from Guest Services. When you arrive in the Disneyland Park, head straight to Guest Services near the arches under the railway station. Present your proof of disability status (the standard UK blue badge is fine) and you’ll be given a green pass which you’ll need to use any of the accessible entrances / adapted ride vehicles. Additional note: If you stay in a resort hotel, you’ll also get a modified hotel ID (the thing that means you’ll get in for Extra Magic Hours etc). It will have a sticker which indicates your status, and means you don’t have to pick a particular time for breakfast but can go when you’re ready. This also applies to up to another four people in your party. Because our bookings were linked, even though we stayed an extra two days, we had a modified ID for the duration of our visit.

5. Make appointments at non-transfer rides. Rides which have adapted vehicles, such as It’s a Small World need pre-booking to ride. You’ll go to a separate entrance (in fact, for IASW, it’s the exit), and they’ll sign you up for the next available slot, so you can come back there just before your time. A ramp is lowered, and you can wheel your chair straight in, plus there’s room for several additional guests. For Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast you queue at a special side entrance near the shop until the adapted car is ready to come back around (it’s an Omnimover type ride). You then head straight to the boarding area, the conveyor belt is stopped and you can wheel on to the car, with a guest next to you. It is quite a tight fit on BLLB, but should accommodate a variety of chairs.  We didn’t attempt any transfer rides, but I know from past experience that Cast Members will do things like stop conveyor belts, or slightly delay vehicle departure, to allow a smooth and stress-free transition.

Disney Parks in general are set up to accommodate a wide variety of needs, and Cast Members are usually very helpful. Accessible rooms are available in the resort hotels with suitable bathrooms etc, too. The best place you can start with any questions is giving the team a call – most issues can be resolved with enough prior warning.

Happy travelling!

(No disclaimer needed – it was a family holiday, not a free trip.)

Disneyland Paris with a Pre-Schooler: Sequoia Lodge

If you’re interested in more of a general overview of staying at Disneyland Paris (aka DLRP), please read this post first. If you’re all about the food, head here. None of these posts were in any way suggested by, paid for or anything to do with DLRP – this is just a family holiday report.

If you’re planning a trip to Disneyland Paris, one of the first questions you’ll need to ask yourself is “which hotel?”. There are several considerations – on site or off? If off-site, a Disney affiliated hotel or not? What the hell is my budget? – but this particular posts assumes the possibility of choosing a Disney resort hotel, but perhaps not having the budget for the gloriously convenient Disneyland Hotel – the one which sits proudly over the gates of the Disneyland Park itself.

There isn’t really a low-budget Disney option per se, but don’t make too many assumptions based on Disney’s rating system; its ‘keys’ are not exactly equivalent to usual star ratings. For what it’s worth, Sequoia Lodge is a 3-key hotel and this does seem to roughly translate to three star, but I’m not sure this necessarily applies across the board.

Based a 15 minute walk – or short bus ride – from the station and parks, Sequoia Lodge is spread over a main large hotel building (whose exterior shots on the DLRP website in no way do it justice) and several low lodges that extend back through the land surrounding the property. The theming is rather suggested by the name, and the towering evergreens clustered around the property don’t disappoint; we even spotted a rabbit bouncing around in the grass!

Approaching Sequoia Lodge

Approaching Sequoia Lodge

Buses run from directly outside the hotel every 15 minutes (allegedly; it’s was actually often a lot faster than that), but it can also be walked in that time. Due to the colder, wetter weather and easily tired legs of the youngest of the party we didn’t try it, but I’m told it’s a lovely walk. If you’re ridiculously energetic, a run around the hotel grounds would make a great start to the day.

When arriving, there was a temporary-looking security tent set up outside the front door, which rather ruined our first impressions; more to the point, the only people who put their bags through the scanner were the ones who ambled over out of that British sense of Doing The Right Thing. The rest simply charged straight past unchallenged – so quite what the point of it was, I’m not sure.

The main reception is spacious and lovely, all wood panels, crazy paving and bear statues. The desk staff were quick and efficient, providing one person from each room with a pack of tickets, maps and general information, and booking the breakfast sitting for the week. For this, you’re handed little colourful tickets marked with the day and sitting time (it’s the same time all week). Pay attention to when Extra Magic Hours are; if you’ve paid to book a Disney hotel you surely want to take advantage of these. In our case, Fantasyland in Disneyland Park opened from 8am, two hours ahead of general opening hours, so we opted for a 7:30am breakfast, deciding 7am was just that bit too early.

Sequoia Lodge reception

Sequoia Lodge reception

Also in the main building is the concierge desk, which is great for booking restaurants, character meals and dinner shows, and giving you information about special events and the local area. Beyond that, heading back and down, are the two restaurants; the Hunters Grill and Beaver Inn Tavern, while on the same floor there’s the lovely Redwood Bar and Lounge (complete with roaring open fire in winter) and a small but well-stocked shop with Disney Parks merchandise. There’s also a themed posing area for character meet and greets; I understand that it’s common for characters to frequent Disney hotel lobbies around check-in time, and my daughter was incredibly delighted to find Pluto waiting for us when we arrived.

The Redwood Lounge

The Redwood Bar and Lounge

The only request we made was to link our bookings on the website and ask for adjoining rooms if possible; we didn’t check to see if this had been done, but it had. It might have been easier to accommodate us because it was term time, but we had two lovely double rooms linked by a connecting door in the Big Sur Lodge. This was towards the back of the complex, next door to the lodge which houses the swimming pool.

The whole hotel underwent a substantial refurbishment in 2011, bringing an apparently much-needed coat of paint and some new Bambi theming in the rooms. Annoyingly, I’ve misplaced the photos we took inside the rooms, but will post them as soon as I can track them down! Decor is quite dark, but not dingy; the dark woods contrast beautifully with paler walls, and the result is lovely and cosy. The bathrooms are compact, but contain everything you need (bathtub with a showerhead, shelf and towel rail, loo), with an external sink. Tap controls were easy to work out, and water pressure was great. The only complaint was that housekeeping was a little spare with the mouse-eared toiletries. These were just a bottle of shower gel and a Mickey-imprinted soap; it took til day 2 to get an extra bottle or two, and there was no array of the kinds of knick knacks you find even in cheap chains these days, nor signs indicating that you might be able to grab a spare toothbrush etc. There’s also a wall-mounted hairdryer of the kind I tend to refer to, childishly and with accidental punnery, as ‘mouse-fart dryers’ because they usually provide about that level of warm air; I brought my own, though my mother-in-law used the room’s dryer and declared it perfectly adequate.

Our room contained two standard doubles, so did feel a little crowded, but to be honest we weren’t there much. There was a large chest of drawers and a TV that wasn’t used because we were too busy being out and about; opposite the sink there was a small clothes rail and the all-important room safe. There is no mini-bar or fridge.

The adjoining room only had one bed, a fairly vast king-size number, and therefore felt much bigger despite being the same dimensions. Both were perfectly clean and in an excellent state of repair. The connecting doors came in very handy on the night we stayed in the parks and my in-laws took care of our three-year-old, as they could put her to bed and keep an eye and ear out from the adjoining room without disturbing her with light or TV sounds. For bigger families, it could also be a useful way to put the youngest, who have to sleep earlier, in a separate space while others stay up later. We didn’t opt for any sort of child bedding, as our daughter is big enough to sleep in a normal double by herself and indeed she did so perfectly comfortably.

Beds were lovely, and a medium softness which is perfect for me; I have a bit of a knackered back so hard or very soft beds are hard work for me (too hard, and my hips and lower back ache; too soft and I strain my back trying to turn over!). Pillows were so deep we both dispensed with the second one.

The setting is beautifully peaceful and dark (though you can see hints of Disney Dreams! far off!), and being apart from the main building there was very little noise; there was one occasion when I heard a rather loud family bumbling in late-ish – as the parks were closing at 9pm and Disney Village started wrapping up by 11pm, there was no reason to come back staggeringly late – but the walls and doors were solid enough that it wasn’t a major issue.

Breakfast is orderly and plentiful, with a range of cereals, baguette and ciabatta rolls, cold cuts, cheese, jam, chocolate spread, butter, marge, fruits and yogurts. There’s a machine with hot chocolate (decent), coffee (according to Ash, coffee-flavoured hot water, but he really likes coffee) and hot water for various teas, plus apple and orange juice on tap and plenty of jugs of cold milk. Scrambled eggs or other cooked options range in price from €3-4.50. Ash tried the scrambled eggs, and said they were fine, but nothing to write home about. We found it very easy to get in and grab a table, but my sister’s family – who went during October half-term – found very long queues and crowds.  Bearing that in mind, you should consider the earliest, 7am dining slot if you’re visiting during school holidays because of older kids, and are keen to get in and out in time for EMH.

I didn’t personally experience the evening buffet at Hunters Grill, but my in-laws took our daughter and all three of them were raving about it; my mother-in-law counted 20 options for dessert and said they were in much more generous portions than in the park (for more about park food in general, read this post). She and my father-in-law – self-confessedly not always the easiest person to feed – found the range and quality of mains on offer very impressive and felt that despite it being one of the more expensive buffets on property (around €30 per adult, and more than half that for kids), it was one of the best value.

We sadly didn’t have time (or energy!) to visit the swimming pool, so I can only go on general impressions I’ve gained from reviews on this one; it usually gets a very good reaction, with only a handful of complaints saying it was on the cold side.

Cast members (staff) were universally helpful and pleasant; though a couple of times we encountered staff who were not fluently bilingual I’m not really sure that’s a cause for complaint – after all, Miss, this is France.

Summary

Overall, I would certainly recommend Sequoia Lodge as an excellent mid-range place to stay; the frills are fewer than you might expect from three keys, but the comfort and cleanliness are probably more than you’d expect, so I guess it balances out! I didn’t go into the Hotel New York, which was undergoing its own renovation, but the outside was a bit uninspiring and surgical-appliance pink; if you want to stay on site but don’t have the megabucks to stay in the Disneyland Hotel (and who does?!), then I think I’d skip the next one down and opt for the gorgeous surrounds of Sequoia Lodge anyway.

The only request we made in advance was to link our bookings on the website and ask for adjoining rooms if possible; we didn’t check before arrival to see if this had been done, but obviously it had. It might have been easier to accommodate us because it was term time, but you can always call and check after booking, by ringing the central reservation line.

Disneyland Paris with a Pre-Schooler: Dining at the parks and a Blue Lagoon review

If you’re interested in more of a general overview of staying at Disneyland Paris (aka DLRP), please read this post first. None of these posts were in any way suggested by, paid for or anything to do with DLRP – this is just a family holiday report.

Food was probably the issue that came up the most when it came to Disneyland Paris. Everyone had an opinion on it and, I have to admit, they mostly weren’t gushingly complimentary. Mostly the objections were to expense, and that is an issue; however, many people were also fairly critical of the quality of the more affordable offerings.

Firstly, let’s take a look at what’s on offer. As I don’t have personal experience of the Meal Plan system, I’m going to leave explanation of that in more knowledgeable hands, but here’s the very top line of what you need to know about the various available dining experiences. You can also view more details or search by budget on the DLRP website.

If you’re just interested in Blue Lagoon, skip to the bottom now for a review and pics. If you just want to  book a table, then call +33 1 60 30 40 50 to book (from 2 months before you arrive).

Counter Service

What it it? Generic burgers and fries, sodas and ice creams.

Should you do it? Personally, I don’t think so.

To be honest, I can’t disagree with the criticism of the counter service meals. The one day our planning failed and we succumbed to chicken burgers in the Studios, we regretted it. It’s very basic stuff, and Ash was feeling the after-effects of the gristly, greasiness of his burger for a while (mine seemed to be in better condition, but nothing to write home about).

You can feed a family a decent amount on €10-20 per head, but lots of people prefer to save their pennies for a more satisfying evening meal and get through the day on cheaper and – sad to say – tastier snacks. Disney hotels officially discourage people from taking food from breakfast buffets “for hygiene reasons” but a number of people do fill up in the morning and snack on “leftovers” (see bringing your own food, below). If you don’t want to do that and you’re not under time or location pressure, heading to Earl of Sandwich in the Disney Village is a great low-budget option; we ate there twice, for €10 or less per head (sandwich, drink and crisps for adults, with fruit or brownies in place of crisps for kids). My mother-in-law was so full she had to surrender her meal half way through. Reports that my husband and I fell on said remnants like wolves are massively overstated. Ahem.

Tip: Though there is usually plenty of seating – especially in the big commissary-esque entrance building of the Studios – the queues rapidly build up between 12 and 2. Also, getting a fancy drink cup costs a whopping €16 so be prepared to say no – as I had to.

Table Service

What is it? Pretty much exactly what you’d expect with lots of lovely themed options, most of which will instantly double (or more) the per-person budget unless you’ve opted for the Meal Plan – though there might be restrictions on what you can have. This does of course mean committing to a longer meal so they’re often best booked for dinner.

Should you do it? I think so, if just once. While many places look quite high end they do of course welcome children of all ages at all times. Annoyingly, kids’ menus tend to be the same guff you get at counter service places, but if your child is small enough to share that’s not necessarily a problem.

Tips: Book in advance and choose a less-crowded early sitting, especially if you have to eat at a particular time because of the kids or in order to give yourself time to watch the nighttime show; the good news is that off-season, earlier sittings are easy to nab. You can do this before you go by ringing the reservation line up to 2 months before you arrive (+33 1 60 30 40 50), when you arrive at your hotel concierge or at the restaurant in person during your stay.

Buffets

What is it? One of the most common dining options, and very popular. It pays to book ahead. Options vary according to the location, but there are certain things that crop up everywhere (eg a fish dish, a roast, copious vegetable, pasta and other meat options; lots of desserts). Prices for adults tend not to include drinks, whereas prices for children usually include one – and you can ask for a like-for-like substitution; for example, it often says orange juice, but my daughter much prefers apple – this was never a problem. As far as I’m aware, buffets are always on the Meal Plan (at least, we were always asked if we had vouchers).

Should you do it? Definitely. The quality of the food is really decent, and so varied that even my father-in-law – a self-confessed food fusspot – was in seventh heaven. Having Remy drop in and visit at the Restaurant des Stars in the Studios – while we were nomming on ratatouille, no less –  made it magical for her. Each meal for five (four adults, one three year old) set us back about €125 but we ate enough for 10. Under 3s are are free, and children’s prices are around half that of adults.

My in-laws also took our daughter to the Hunter’s Grill at our hotel, Sequoia Lodge, for a slightly more expensive option while my husband and I had a date night. They reported an even better array of choices, with twenty dessert options in bigger portions than we’d seen in the parks. You don’t have to be staying there to go for dinner; just call and book. then grab a free bus or walk over.

Tips: The Plaza in Main Street, within view of Sleeping Beauty Castle, is lovely, but gets very busy, very quickly. Go at an ‘off’ time, or book ahead. Be warned – the loo facilities are bizarrely sparse for such a big restaurant. Also, read your buffet receipt; there’s often a ‘special offer’ attached, such as a free hot drink to be claimed later that day (times and locations stated).

The Village

What is it? The Disney Village lacks some of the lakeside elegance of Downtown Disney in Florida, but the principle is much the same; providing the nightlife for the resort in the form of sports bars, it also boasts what was then the first European Earl of Sandwich, a Rainforest Cafe, King Ludwig’s Castle, a steak house and a “New York style” sandwich joint – among others.

Should you do it? In case you missed it, I’m now a confirmed Earl of Sandwich fan. Great value and, off-season, never seemed busy (perhaps because it’s tucked away at the back). If you’re going to find lower-budget options anywhere, it’s here. Rainforest Cafe is a fun environment for kids and not terrible value; we had a normal two course meal and drinks for about the same price as a buffet. Of course, that means less food for the same money, but buffets will always win on that score.

Friends have recommend King Ludwig’s, and a number of the Village restaurants seemed to have better value set menu offers than we saw in the parks.

Tips: Don’t assume nipping to the Village for lunch will be massively out of your way, even with a child. If you plan to go from one park to the other (my daughter liked to visit Fantasyland in the morning and head to Toy Story Playland in the afternoon), it’s actually quite a nice pit stop along the way.

Dinner Shows and Character Dining

These were experiences we didn’t have, mainly due to lack of time and increased expense, but also because we’d heard the food offerings were not spectacular at Chef Mickey’s, the most popular character dining spot. Kids do get much more interaction with characters than at a meet and greet, but there are so many opportunities for meet and greets, we didn’t feel we’d missed out. Also, distracted kids don’t eat properly (and while that’s not what the whole thing is about, my daughter’s tantrums do seem to hit when she’s tired and hungry, which is a real possibility at a Disney park).

No tips or advice on this one as I haven’t experienced it first hand!

Bringing your own food

Although Disneyland’s official FAQs state you shouldn’t bring outside food into the parks in fact, no-one cares from what I could see – and sites like DLRP Magic say that the food ban is a myth. Staff are unlikely to overlook a full scale Yogi Bear routine, though there are designated picnic areas before you enter the parks; still, a couple of sandwich bags of snacks and treats could well pass unmentioned. We took a few cereal bars in with us each day, and maybe some fruit, and that got us through times when energy was flagging.

No, it’s not my fault if they decide to quote the rule book at you.

General tips

Many of these are mentioned individually above, but to summarise:

  • Take a small water bottle and refill it at the water fountains every day. Along with loos, fountains tend to be found at the entrances to parks and separate themed areas (lands). This will save you a substantial amount in bottled water.
  • Booking is easy, and advisable. Do so either locally in person / at your hotel or up to two months in advance using the booking number (+33 1 60 30 40 50).
  • Consider finding ways to ‘make do’ through the day so you can splurge on a bigger meal.
  • Take snacks. Even if you buy meals throughout the day, kids function so much better with little boosts to their blood sugar and, frankly, so will you.
  • If worrying about meals is going to spoil your trip, look into the Meal Plans, which mean it’s all paid before you go and you can save up to 15% on the menu price; there will be some restrictions, but you’ll have it all mapped out.
  • Alternatively, work out which options appeal and factor this in to your budget when you’re saving.
  • Disney tends to be extremely good at accounting for dietary restrictions. There is a guide to allergen-free meals available as a PDF here. Additionally, as with Florida, if you book in advance and contact the restaurants beforehand to give them advance warning, they’ll let you know what they can accommodate. Generally, at least 24 hours notice is appreciated.

Blue Lagoon

The minute I heard about Blue Lagoon, I knew that was where I wanted our date night to be. We were in the privileged position of having grandparents willing and able to take our daughter for the evening, so we made an early booking – 6:30 – to have a leisurely meal before Disney Dreams! started at 9pm. This turned out to be good planning, as the full three-course meal took a good two hours, with service being friendly, helpful but not particularly speedy (a good thing for us, as we were having a Romantic Moment, but something to consider if you’re coming with kids).

photo 2

Blue Lagoon’s setting is its major selling point, nestled as it is within the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so that you can watch the boats go by as you eat – in the photo, the lagoon is just behind the families in the background. The seating alongside the rail giving you the best view of drifting tourists tends to be for four diners plus, so actually it’s a good way to keep the kids occupied, waving at the goofily-grinning boatloads. The darkened, romantic atmosphere might otherwise not be such a draw for them. (It’s also what’s responsible for the quality of the photos – sorry).

There are a number of set menus available, ranging from €30-odd to €50-odd. We found that our choices actually fell within the most expensive of these, so went for it and added a half-bottle of red and a large bottle of water.

The menu (an example can be found here, though we had slightly different options and prices were higher) is largely surf and / or turf. There is a strong and deliberate nod to Caribbean – or as DLRP calls it, ‘exotic’ – cuisine, with ingredients like cassava and a healthy smattering of fruity salsas and spices thrown in any given dish. As a result, this is not a location for picky eaters or those who prefer simple dishes. My starter of swordfish, octopus salad and a an avocado mousse was generous, and though the octopus salad tasted a bit canned, the rest was excellent. Ashley’s included a hunk of super-soft black pudding, prawns, more avocado and little fried bites of deliciousness. We also gorged far too much on bread rolls (the standard mini baguette found at all breakfast buffets) and butter alongside it, but this is a pretty indulgent place, so perhaps we can be forgiven.

photo 1

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I opted for a ‘surf and turf’ main of veal medallions and half a lobster tail with coconut rice and ginger butter. There was also a fruity-spicy salsa which was a real winner alongside the lobster flesh and tender veal. The infused butter was absolutely gorgeous, and brought the whole thing together beautifully. Ash’s steak was nicely cooked to order, and nicely complemented with cassava and mixed vegetables.

photo 3

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I was truly too full to enjoy dessert as much as I should have, though for me it was also the slight weak point; while the rum baba was fluffy, generous and delightfully soaked, the kiwi-based fruit salad and huge amounts of cream with it were actually slightly too much and I felt a little sick by the end. I still finished every single bite, though… Ash’s more restrained chocolate fondant was gooey and simply lovely.

photo 5

photo 5

The final bill came to €130 (before service), but as we were asked about vouchers it appears Blue Lagoon is on the Meal Plan system, and might be better value under that plan (there are various grades of plan and menu restrictions, so you should check this before booking / buying).

If it’s not clear from the above, I would absolutely recommend Blue Lagoon, particularly if you are able to escape for some alone time; however, if you prefer to be with the kids (or haven’t got an alternative option), they are extremely welcome. There is a kids’ menu for a reasonable price, but if you have an adventurous child perhaps you could go for a starter instead, and share mains with them.

Bon appetit!

Disneyland Paris with a Pre-Schooler: An Overview

photo 1I admit it: I’m a total Florida snob. My last experience of Disneyland Paris was a good 15 years ago; there was just one gate and it, at least to me, felt like it had little to recommend spending the amount that was required to stay there. 4 nights in Paris was equivalent to 10 days in Florida, and too much was lacking – weather, service, atmosphere, to name but a few.

Yet, over the years, my curiosity started to creep back. What really swung it was the active Disney community on Twitter, among whom were some really committed DLRP fans. I was intrigued. And then I went and had a kid, and suddenly an 8-hour flight with a quite sensitive and strong-willed pre-schooler to the massiveness of Walt Disney World seemed too much. My in-laws then gave us the astonishingly generous opportunity to go, all together, to DLRP, and I admit I was excited.

It didn’t let me down.

Honestly, it is, in almost every way, entirely better than I remember it. Okay, there’s nothing you can do about the weather, but given the recent complaints about the condition of the rest – culminating in a 7,000+ strong petition addressed to Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, asking him to ‘save’ the resort – I was staggered by how good the overall experience was. I could argue my expectations had been set low, but actually I was far more actively impressed than tolerant. There were some issues, and I’ll come to those, but it general DLRP is a beautiful place, which when it comes to pre-schoolers, is entirely more convenient and enjoyable than facing that epic flight. Which is not to say that WDW isn’t my ‘home’ park and I can’t wait to get back there – but I might actually choose to go to DLRP again once in a while just for fun, because I had a great time. Also because it’s the one place in the world where Ratatouille gets its due – and, next year, a dark ride of its own.

This, then is my overview; I intend to write up some actual tips separately to this as soon a I have a chance, though there are a few peppered through this. See this more as an overview than something to use for planning, but if it’s helps with that, then great.

So, what’s the best of the resort?

For a start, there are lots of pre-schooler-accessible rides. That my daughter was freaked out by Peter Pan was entirely down to her uncertainty about the dark and complete lack of experience with anything like it – it was my mistake to go on that ride first, due to my own eagerness. Many of the rides she loved were based on very simple, fairground premises, yes, but at three years old, who would expect anything else? The Mad Hatter’s Teacups, Dumbo, It’s a Small World (which enchanted my father-in-law even more than it did her) and of course character meet-and-greets all completely entranced her; she also hugely enjoyed Slinky’s Zigzag Spin and whirling round and round in Cars Quatre Roues Rallye. And it was easy, given the size and placement of the parks, to whizz back and forth a couple of times a day.

photo 2On that note, while Walt Disney Studios is far less of a jewel than Disneyland Park, it’s obvious that steps have been taken to bring it up to standard. For example, the Toy Story Playland theming is delightful; my daughter, unprompted, pointed out that the fences were “made of connecting toys” and while she was initially scared of the massive talking Buzz Lightyear who proudly marks the entrance, he is a brilliant talking point. (Um, yes, I know that’s not Buzz, but it was in the Studios and it was cute, so Mike it is.)

Whether I have a warped recollection of cast members from my previous visits in the 90s, or they really have upped the ante I don’t know, but every CM I had any cause to interact with was charming, helpful and full of Disney magic. If they had slightly less of a spring in their step than their US counterparts, well, I didn’t feel shortchanged.

photo 5The attention to detail spread to the resort. We stayed in a mid-rated Disney property, Sequoia Lodge, which I hope to blog about in more detail soon, and which was given a comprehensive refurbishment in 2011. Our rooms in Big Sur Lodge – quietly away from the main building and right next door to the pool which, sadly, we didn’t have time to explore – were immaculately clean, beautifully revamped with Bambi details and perfectly fit for purpose. We left our daughter’s beloved cuddly weasels in the room every day, and enjoyed coming back to find out what funny arrangement they’d been left in. The continental breakfast buffet was well-stocked and speedily replenished, and if you wanted something hot for a change then less than €5 could get you a generous plateful; my husband tried the scrambled eggs and while not excessively brilliant, they were certainly perfectly pleasant. Every day we filled up on a choice of mini baguettes, mini ciabattas, toast, cereals, cheese, cold meats, spreads, jams, yogurts and fruit. The juices, hot chocolate and tea were decent; Ash had less enthusiasm for the coffee, but this is a man with this section on his website. I’d venture a guess that the average caffeine craving parent would cope. (A planning note: you choose your breakfast sitting – from 7am to mid-morning – at the beginning of the week and need to stick to it every day; we picked 7:30am as Extra Magic Hours, the bonus time you get for certain areas of the park if you stay on property, started at 8am.)

photo 3Food is of variable quality and it is expensive, but buffets are extremely good value. Depending on lunch or dinner and whether it’s in the park or at a hotel, this could set you back between €22-32 for an adult, minus drinks and around half that for a child of 3+, including a drink. However, the quality is miles better than other quick service offerings, and the price is considerably more reasonable than the high quality a la carte offerings. Plus, if you’ve gone for advance meal plans, buffets tend to be included. There is oodles of choice generally including a fish dish, a roast, several other meat options, lots of veggie sides and a panoply of mini desserts. In the Studios, we also got a very cute visit from Remy. I could write a whole blog post on food here, and I still might, plus I intend to go into some detail about a pretty gorgeous experience at Blue Lagoon, but to summarise: eat well at breakfast, subsist on snacks as much as possible through the day and then pick a buffet for your other main meal. Don’t be tempted by a quick burger and fries unless you head out to Maccie D’s in the Village – the ones in the parks really are as horrible as you’ve heard. Alternatively, head into the Village for a €10 uber-toastie and crisp combo at Earl of Sandwich and leave happily sated.

Speaking of nipping to the Village, Disney transport is really very good. The free shuttle buses are supposed to swing back and forth from Marne-la-Vallee station to the resort hotels every 15 minutes, but it was often more frequent. They were always clean, quick and a pleasant ride. In better weather, you can easily walk from most hotels in 20 minutes or less – just five from Hotel New York and, of course, no walk at all from the Disneyland Hotel.

The amazing Disney Dreams projection show and fireworks also deserve their own mention. Just too excellent for words. And few things in this world could move me with more tear-inducing joy than watching my daughter’s jaw drop with delight at one of the daily parades.

And what’s not so good?

There are some unavoidably obvious maintenance issues, though not nearly as many as I’d been led to expect. Peter Pan‘s screaming brakes could be heard a full twenty feet from the attraction. Several Small World figures either didn’t work at all, or twitched frenetically (those poor hula girls). One Dumbo car was out of commission for our entire four day stay – over the course of the day, given it’s such a popular and central attraction in the busiest ‘land’ in the park, that’s a significant hit on capacity. Crush’s Coaster was down for three days straight, which meant that when it came back online the lines were too long for us to brave it (though in all other respects we were totally and utterly spoiled by off-season queueing in mid-September and had an absolute maximum wait time of 25 minutes for a character meeting, and 15 minutes for a ride – often nothing). Sadly Phantom Manor and Lancelot’s Carousel were under planned closure, but since that’s a sign of tackling maintenance head on, it’s hard to complain about it, and park management logically picked a less busy time of year to close these.

As I said earlier, food is variable, and eating well is expensive. Where WDW has painstakingly improved its offerings every year to the point now where it is hard to criticise even the cheapest meals, Paris – Paris, for goodness’ sake, real Be Our Guest territory – is very mediocre at counter service level.

photo 4But the biggest problem DLRP has is entirely not its fault – and no, it’s not the weather. It’s the guests. Some of the guests were really, really dreadful. Both DLRP rules and French law restrict smoking, yet I was caught behind smokers in queues for rides twice; what made this particularly annoying and upsetting was that they were rides for very young children: Mad Hatter’s Teacups and Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast. Why this hipster, for example, couldn’t have sparked up before joining a paltry 10 minute queue, I’ll never know. In both cases the guest did so out of the eye-line of a CM; I have heard it’s unlikely anyone would have said anything anyway, which is disappointing, but I couldn’t confirm it. I do know they did nothing to shush or attempt to control a rowdy bunch of men in their 20s who yelled and chanted through one ride of It’s a Small World; I simply can’t imagine that kind of nonsense passing in the US.

There was also much less consideration from visitors when it came to litter. There are bins literally everywhere – close your eyes, spin around randomly, open them and you’ll see a goddamn trash can. And yet despite this, and the ever-present cleaning crews, guests conspired to litter at every opportunity; I picked up and threw away some packet or other every single day. On one Small World ride through, there were plastic bottles washed up against Egypt; they were gone by the next day, but it just made me mad that anyone would do it in the first place. After the extraordinarily gorgeous, absolutely WDW quality Disney Dreams! 20th anniversary show against the stunning castle, the streets were peppered with cups and bottles, and the CMs immediately out in force to stem the tide of rubbish.

And, of course, there is the pushing and shoving at parade times. It was actually not as bad as I remembered, but it still happened enough to be noticeable.

It’s possible that the only way Disneyland Paris management will have to resolve this is to expect even more from staff, so that CMs step up to demand better behaviour from visitors, but as a European twice over (British-born Greek), I’m embarrassed that we need that kind of enforcement. Chatting with others who have visited, it’s clear I’m not the only one to have noticed and bemoaned this.

But I don’t want to leave this on a downer, because I really did have a wonderful holiday there. Four nights was just right with a three year old, because frankly you don’t want to disrupt their routine for less, and they will want to do everything fourteen million times given the option. As we were blessed in having grandparents on hand, we had a date night off to have a wonderful meal and see the show, as well as riding Star Tours (still the old version, and in French which I don’t speak, but no less enjoyable for my linguistic failures) and Pirates of the Carribbean. We found we were up at 6:45 and she was in bed by 20:30, totally but agreeably shattered (bearing in mind she doesn’t nap). The timings of the Eurostar trains are deliberately planned to allow the first and last days to be full half-days in the parks, and you need that first half day just to orient yourself – though the parks are wonderfully close to each other and the hotels, the total space is still larger than most people expect.

So, all being well, these are the other things I’d like to blog about, and when I do I’ll come back and link to them below.

But please do be patient with me – I’ve still got a three-year old…