Disneyland Paris for the First Time!

This June my husband Justin and I visited Paris, Le Havre, Brussels, and Brugges, and so of course Disneyland Paris was on the itinerary! I have been waiting for the time to write about all the magic in these parks since the moment I left, so lets get started!

Our Itinerary

  • 3 Day Park Hopper
  • 2 Nights in Hotel Santa Fe
  • “Half Board” meal plan
  • Ultimate Fast Pass (paid upgrade)

We were in the parks for three days, and stayed on property for two nights. We purchased a vacation package directly through Disneyland Paris on promotion several months before our trip, which bundled and discounted the hotel room stay at the Hotel Santa Fe, included our three-day park hoppers, and what is referred to as a “half board” meal plan, which is breakfast and lunch at a select set of restaurants. We were also able to pay 50% down, and 50% one month before our check-in date, which really helped with the vacation budgeting. DLP does sell paid levels of FastPasses for purchase, and we purchased the “Ultimate FastPass” which includes a guaranteed FastPass for each of the nine top attractions throughout Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios Park (their second gate) on one day. This was not included in the discounted bundle, but since we had limited time and no future trips planned, this guaranteed we went on each of these major attractions at least once, and gave us the trip planning confidence we wanted! Was so worth our ~$90, and I’ll go into more detail on a future Q&A blog.

Getting to Disneyland Paris

We took the RER train from our Airbnb in the Trocadero area of Paris as early as we could force ourselves awake, which was somewhere around 7:30. It took about an hour to get out to the parks, but it was very easy to navigate (DLP is the last stop on the line… hard to miss that.) Once we got off, we found our bus stop for the complimentary Disney shuttle to our hotel (very similar to the WDW shuttles, because the train station is virtually on property), and waited about 10 minutes. The shuttle dropped us off for what was one of the WEIRDEST check-in situations at any hotel I have ever visited. On the way home we got back on the shuttle bus to the train around 9:30pm and returned to an airbnb in the center of Paris. The trains seemed to run fairly late into the night, so we did get a decent amount of park time even on our travel days.

It is worth mentioning that if you are not staying in a hotel, you don’t need to deal with the shuttles. The train station drops you off literally at the entrance to the parks. (The hotels are also walking distance, but we had our luggage.)

The Hotel

If you don’t know, Justin and I are both originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is about 45 minutes south of Santa Fe, so staying at the Hotel Santa Fe because it was the cheapest hotel room on property also seemed like a hilarious thing to do. We were not disappointed.

We drove up to the hotel to discover the main building included a mural map of Route 66, and the hotel was almost a stucco/pueblo style architecture, in shades of tan and beige, with light fixtures up top that were admittedly very cool and had detailed kokopelli type designs and cacti, which looked amazing at sunset. The inside was MUCH cheesier than the outside, and sometime in the last several years they have re-themed the inside to a Cars style theme, which *almost* makes sense geographically. We walked in and Mickey was dressed up in a stereotypically cowboy/southwestern way and greeting guests right there in the lobby! Now comes the weird check-in.

We walked up to the check-in line and the cast member greeting us when we got in line asked our name and confirmation number. They then went to this filing system where every guest checking in that day had a packet waiting with their info. We were promptly handed that packet of physical paperwork to fill out on a clip board. Physical. Paperwork. With definitely the same information I put online when I made our reservation. Things like full name, address, email.. it was a lengthy and seemingly pointless process. Justin had to fill one out too. After the paperwork was filled out we went up to the counter where they went through the normal style check-in process, and we were handed a full on stack of paper with things like maps, our breakfast information for our meal-plan, all normal hotel stuff but a seriously archaic system that WDW and DLR for the most part have moved into the app. Because we had to spend like 10 minutes filling out our forms like a doctors office, the check in process was definitely no shorter than 20-25 minutes… it was a lot.

The hotel property was great though! Not too big or sprawling like WDW hotels can be, easy to find our room, clean, well themed, AND there was a Starbucks in the lobby. (praise hands).

The room was cutely themed to fit a very southwest Cars theme, with cones and characters everywhere. We stayed in a standard room which was just that; standard. A very average hotel room by American standards, but massive compared to everywhere else we stayed in Europe. Definitely what you expect when you visit a Disney park!

The Resort

As a whole, Disneyland Paris including Disney Village (their version of Downtown Disney or Disney Springs) and the resorts feel like a really nice size, similar to Disneyland Resort in Anaheim (don’t quote me I didn’t look it up.) We were offered a free shuttle to and from the parks, but (as always – do you know Justin and I?) we opted to take the 10ish minute walk to Disney Village, and enter the parks that way.

The walking path is honestly gorgeous, goes by several other resorts, and leads you right to the lovely little lake at the end of Disney Village! Like Downtown Disney, they do bag check and metal detectors before entering Village, which I always appreciate! It’s nice when they treat their shopping districts like a park in terms of security. (Looking at you, Disney Springs!)

Disney Village has a little bit of a dated vibe, but in the Disney kind of way that makes you still love it. There are several heavily themed restaurants like a real western show (we could smell the horses) that we didn’t visit, but also a fair share of quick cheap things too. Our favorite place was a bar that just called “Sports Bar” (very creative name ) that served cheap beers by Disney standards and actually really good sandwiches? There’s also a Starbucks which was nice because they weren’t in the parks, so I’d hop out to Village for a mid-day iced coffee to keep going in the parks, and a McDonalds which totally saved us one night after we closed down the parks and realized everything was closed and we were going to be eating our airplane snacks for dinner.

Village also of course had their version of a World of Disney store, a toy store, a REALLY great Disney Style store, and a few other little stores mixed in throughout. While overall we found the Paris merch to be pretty disappointing, the shopping in Disney Village was nice!

At the other end of Disney Village from the resorts is the main plaza where the train station we took earlier lets out, the shuttle busses from the resorts stop, as well as the entrance to both parks and the Disneyland Hotel.

The Parks

WHEW. OK HERE WE GO PEOPLE. WE HAD FINALLY MADE IT INSIDE THE PARKS!

I cannot stress this enough. It was so magical having that ‘first time in Disneyland’ feeling again in a new park! You can only have that experience once for every park, and I had tears in my eyes as we rounded out of the town square and I could see the GORGEOUS castle at the end of Main Street. A whole new park to explore for 3 days! I couldn’t believe it. I still feel extremely lucky to even have gotten there, and everything else I loved about the park was just a pile-on in my joy and delight with exploring a new park.

*On day one, this was about lunch time at this point, so the process of traveling from central Paris, checking into the hotel, and getting into the gates did take quite a bit of time. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a trip. It would have been much shorter without checking into the hotel, since the train actually does let out at the front gates of the park.*

The entrance to the park goes directly underneath the Disneyland Hotel, a magical pink building which I would very much like to just live in forever, thank you very much, and opens into an adorable train plaza!

We took our time walking down Main Street, taking in all the details, taking photos and naturally comparing what was different from Disneyland or Magic Kingdom.

The park had the same overall shape and set up as the other Disneyland parks, with a hub in front of the castle and the lands in the same order, but was somehow also completely different and I got lost in Adventureland at least once a day. Disneyland Paris definitely felt like a park you could do in a day if you wanted to just hit the highlights, but also we never ran out of things to explore and re-ride over our three days.

Our favorite attractions in Disneyland Paris were definitely the following:

  • Space Mountain – WOW WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS ATTRACTION. Probably the best roller coaster I’ve ever been on in my life. We rode this at least 10 times over the three days and I would like to do it again.
  • Phantom Manor – their version of Haunted Mansion that was similar in places but had entire scenes that none of the US parks have, as well as a slightly different story.
  • Big Thunder Mountain – this ride has the same feel but was definitely a little ‘wilder’ and longer! Absolutely the best version of BTM, and after riding this I began to understand that DLP has the greatest roller coasters of any Disney park I’ve been to thus far.
  • Indiana Jones – Ok this wasn’t exactly like my FAVORITE ride because it beat me up very Matterhorn style, but it was an extremely fun roller coaster, not even a little bit close to the Disneyland Anaheim Indiana Jones ride, and for that reason I include it in my favorites just because it was so unique.
  • FIREWORKS!!!! – not an attraction, but these fireworks and associated castle projection show cannot be missed. In all honestly, just staying for these fireworks and the overall magic vibe this park has at closing is reason enough to stay on property and not have to worry about taking a train back to central Paris that night.

Outside of those major call outs, I also really enjoyed the ~aesthetic~ of their Teacups, Small World, and Star Tours, although the attractions were essentially the same.

After several hours in Disneyland, we park hopped to Walt Disney Studios Park to see what it was all about too! This park has extremely mixed reviews online and after visiting, I could absolutely see why. The entrance plaza area was really fun and unique, but then you have to walk through the “studios set” as their version of like a Main Street/Buena Vista street and I found that super confusing. There were a few little shops and restaurants and honestly it was nice that all that was indoors and out of the heat, but it meant the park missed that iconic entrance view you get out of virtually every other Disney park.

After walking out of the “set” building, the park opens up in a way that is again, pretty intuitive, but the park is undergoing a lot of construction right now and so essentially the only thing open to the left of the entrance was Rock n Roller Coaster, which was the same track as Orlando I believe, but a much less exciting experience overall. (Since we left, their Rock n Roller Coaster has permanently closed to be upgraded to an Avenger’s roller coaster, and THAT I cannot wait to see!) They also have a matching Tower of Terror from Disneyland, and so after checking it out once, we didn’t re-ride it since we know that ride well.

However, if you head to the right from the entrance, there were so many gems of rides and beautiful park areas!

Visiting the Ratatouille area, for example, was even MORE amazing than I was expecting after actually having spent the last 3 days in central Paris. Of course they had to nail the details of Paris if they were going to recreate Pairs IN Paris, but THEY DID. The Toy Story area of the park is also very fun and detailed, and really holds its own against the new Toy Story Land in Orlando, but was smaller, and the attractions were more “out of the box” attractions you would find at any other theme park.

Side note, as a whole this park was definitely the smallest park I’ve ever been in and can absolutely be done in a half a day if you just want to check out all the main attractions and can use your fast passes efficiently.

Our top attractions in this park were:

  • Crush’s Coaster – this might have actually been my favorite attraction in either park overall. This small-ish roller coaster style ride has you sitting in a “shell” and you spin as you ride, not in a crazy dramatic way, but the ride is meant to feel as though you are riding the EAC so is actually fairly smooth, and the cars rotate as you ‘ride’ up and down the current. Hard to describe, SO MUCH FUN to ride. a MUST DO here.
  • Ratatouille – this attraction is the future of attractions. A track-less ride with seamless integrations of 3D screens as you try to escape the chefs in a kitchen at the size of a rat, so creative and fun! Plus this is more of a typical dark ride level of excitement, so definitely the best ride in the parks if you don’t like roller coasters or other thrill rides that much, or are traveling with kiddos!
  • Not an attraction, but the stage show Mickey and the Magician was one of the most creative Mickey story lines I’ve ever seen, and threads his story through those of your favorite characters including princesses and Olaf and Lion King… this runs multiple times a day, is indoors in a legitimate theater (like the Frozen show in DCA), and ranks highly on my overall list of Disney Stage Shows!

Again, this park was small and quickly done, but the little gems definitely make it worth it to visit if you are at Disneyland Paris.

The Food and Drinks

So food and drink in Disney parks is a big part of my experiences. Last year I planned a 3.5 day trip across the US to Epcot in September just for Food and Wine festival. I will go to Disneyland just because they release a new snack, and we go to Disneyland on Fridays just for happy hour and enjoy their selection of craft beer on the regular. So my expectations are high. And oy. The food at Disneyland Paris is a total mixed bag. A LOT of the food is stereotypical theme park fare, like literally a million different types of hamburgers and fries. But there are a few stand outs and funny experiences.

  1. Agrabah Cafe in Adventureland is AMAZING annnnnnd our meal plan was valid here! They recommend you have a reservation so we sheepishly approached the cast member at the front and asked if they had room for lunch. She said for 2 they did, but we were limited to sitting in the least exciting room – which was totally fine for us because we didn’t have reservations, and in general we try to not be picky humans, especially when traveling. It was a delicious middle-eastern style buffet and I ate my weight in hummus and olives and everything was so good. I feel so lucky that we were able to sneak in for lunch there. (and that it was pre-paid in our bundle)
  2. Lucky Nugget – while we did admittedly have burgers and fries here, they were by far the best burgers we had, and they were also included in our meal plan. I really enjoyed my fancy burger with arugula and mushrooms, plus my meal came with an ice cream sundae so honestly how can you beat it. This restaurant also had a cute Toy Story show happening, as the other “nugget” restaurants do in Disney parks.
  3. Cafe Fantasia – this was my number one destination for drinks in Disneyland Paris. It is inside the Disneyland Hotel and themed after Fantasia, my most nostalgic Disney film. We sat down after park close, and the bartender was so welcoming and patient when I couldn’t decide what I wanted. The inside of the lounge has comfy chairs, couches, and small tables, as well as a proper bar top area. There are also two small patios that look over the entrance plaza to the parks and hotel. We only ordered one drink here, and started inside on some comfy chairs and once the patio people left we quickly took over their table and spent another 20 minutes or so just watching as people left the parks for the night and enjoy the magical ambiance of the entry plaza of a park. There are no other lounges like this in any Disney park where you have a perfect view of the entrance to the park, and it was an incredibly special moment for us. (this was the night we stayed here so long that everything else was closed for dinner and we ended up going straight from this fancy bar with 15 Euro cocktails to McDonalds but if that isn’t us I don’t know what is)

Last thing on food and drinks, while they do serve alcohol in both parks, it is not just the walk up and order booze like we are used to in the states. In Studios Park we saw beer on the menu, so we ordered a beer each, but they said that we had to order food with our drinks, but at that point we felt committed so we awkwardly ordered fries and then realized we had to ordder a thing of fries PER beer so we spent like 25 Euro on two beers and two things of fries on accident… would not recommend just go to the sports bar in Disney Village. In Disneyland there’s a spot on the end of Main Street called Victoria’s which serves wine and champagne and adorable milkshakes, but you have to order through a waiter so… it took a long time to get our orders. This was still a must do for me though because let me tell you having a glass of real French champagne within view of the castle?! DREAMY. (In reality, it was a little rushed for us because we were trying to knock off our bucket list as our time to head to the train rapidly approached, one of my regrets was not doing this sooner so I could have enjoyed it more!)

The Experience

Because it was our first time in this park, because we loved it so much, and because we were staying on property, we closed down the park the two nights we were there, and we went hard all three days. I can’t remember the last time I was (almost) running through a park to see how many rides we could get on in the last hour, and then crash the crowds to sneak in behind the cute families to watch the fireworks, but I will now forever have this extremely clear memory of Justin and I rushing across the park from Indiana Jones through fireworks crowds to Space Mountain to ride it again and then riding Space Mountain another FOUR TIMES IN A ROW because it was a walk on, and then rushing to Main Street to sneak in behind everyone and watch the fireworks, and THEN realizing we were in FREAKING PARIS and just like, there are very few things that will top this memory for me. It is just so many magical things in a row with my favorite person on the other side of the world… I can’t properly describe what it means.

Disneyland Paris was so different than any other park I have experienced. While it is incredibly detailed in its design and has so many special moments within the park, it also needs a little love and I am happy to hear that Disney is again majority owner of the park. Hopefully soon this will mean all the chipping shingles on roofs in Fantasyland and multiple closed rides throughout the park will be cleaned up and sped up. I also can’t wait to see what it is like when their Avenger’s Campus opens up in Studios- that will make a big difference in that park.

I honestly loved this park more than I expected, and we also loved Paris as a whole more than we expected, so we will certainly be back soon!

When I was there I opened a Q and A on my IG stories and you guys sent EXCELLENT questions – so keep an eye out next week for that blog answering all your questions in detail, including budgeting questions and trip planning questions! 🙂

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