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Spoiler alert: our first trip to an international Disney park was Magical. We spent three days and two nights at Disneyland Paris recently, and we'll be putting together a series of posts about Disneyland Paris covering things like planning, hotels, the Disneyland Paris app, and Fastpass. This post covers our personal experiences at the "castle park," Disneyland Park. For our impressions of specific attractions, check out our Disneyland Paris Rides and Attractions post, otherwise, read on on to see how these two Walt Disney World veterans approached a new park!
Arriving at Disneyland Paris and Starting Our First Day
We were coming from Latin Quarter, Paris, which meant we had about a 75-minute commute via two trains (a Paris metro and a regional train). We left at about 6:45, aiming to start our first Disney day at 8AM. At 8:04 we stepped off the train and into Marne-la-Vallée - Chessy Station, right in between Disney Village and the parks. [Note on getting to Paris: We paid cash for our flights, but you can get to Disneyland Paris for nearly free with points!]
It was super foggy, which made the area feel a lot more abandoned than it was, but we were excited to see people already heading to Extra Magic Hours. After going through security and Disney Village, we arrived at Disney's Sequoia Lodge, our home for the next two nights. Our room was ready, so by 8:38 we had dropped off our bags and set out for Disneyland Paris for Extra Magic Hours. (Note: For this post, we're usually going to use "Disneyland Paris" to refer to the castle park, otherwise known as Disneyland Park, at the Disneyland Paris resort. Disneyland Paris the resort is also home to Walt Disney Studios park, which we'll discuss in other posts.)
Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland Paris
We learned very quickly that Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland Paris are not like Extra Magic Hours at Walt Disney World. First, Extra Magic Hours are advertised to start both one hour before park open, 10AM (so EMH would start at 9AM) and from 8:30 to 9:30. We arrived at about 8:55, and it was clear that 8:30 was the true starting time, as we expected. (Adding to the confusion is the Disneyland Paris website, which lists 8:30 to 9:30 as Extra Magic Hours and 10AM as park open, leaving an unexplained 30-minute gap from 9:30 to 10AM.)
Second, almost nothing was open at Disneyland Paris when we arrived, save Fantasyland. We later found out there was a brochure with Extra Magic Hours information (a list of open attractions) available, but we didn't find out about this until late in our trip. We hopped on the Peter Pan's Flight queue, which had a 30-minute wait. That's about the max we'd usually wait for a ride, but it seemed like the best option for our day. As it happened, Peter Pan did remain one of the longest wait times throughout the day, and it was the most attractive option during Extra Magic Hours.
Early Mistakes in Frontierland and Adventureland from Disneyland Paris Newbs
Once off Peter Pan's Flight, we noticed people crowding the entrance to Adventureland from Fantasyland, which led us to realize that Adventureland was going to open at 9:30. Frontierland and Discoveryland, as well as the entrance to the park for the general public, also opened at 9:30, it turned out. Once in Adventureland, we were told Pirates of the Caribbean was having technical difficulties, so we headed to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril (which had no wait) and Phantom Manor (which also had no wait).
This was probably our first big mistake. Neither of these rides had significant lines the rest of the day. Big Thunder Mountain was a different story. At 10:05 they were giving out Fastpass tickets for 11:25, but with a pretty decent line to get your Fastpass. The ride wait was an hour, so we decided to either push it to a later day or grab a later Fastpass, if available. It turned out that the Fastpass tickets were gone by the time we got back at about 11:15. In hindsight, Big Thunder Mountain should have been our top priority for Extra Magic Hours, or we at least should have gotten in line to grab a Fastpass for it. Our one-day Disneyland Paris itinerary addresses these options in a little more detail.
Plowing Through Discoveryland
We followed this up with a less significant mistake. We headed over to Discoveryland (Disneyland Paris's version of Tomorrowland), where the first thing we saw at 10:15 was Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain with a 15-minute wait and Fastpass availability for 11AM. Naturally, we grabbed the Fastpass and planned to fit another ride in. When we turned the corner for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, though, we saw a 25-minute wait and Fastpass tickets for 10:45! So while we wound up finishing these two rides by 11:15, we probably could have bought ourselves about 20 minutes by reversing these. (Again, our itinerary addresses a better way to handle Discoveryland.)
After Star Tours and before hopping on Hyperspace Mountain with our Fastpass, we grabbed a Fastpass for Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast for 1:55PM. By 11:20, we were done with Hyperspace Mountain and our must-ride list had shrunk considerably. With plenty of time left over the next two days and having been going nonstop since 6:15AM, we decided to grab snacks and coffee. We chose the Cable Car Bake Shop's window service (the inside did not look open). The food (chocolate croissant, donut) was quite underwhelming, and we made the mistake of ordering a "large coffee," which you have to know better than to do in Europe because you just get a regular coffee with more water.
Entertainment and Fantasyland
From then until 2:10PM, we spent time off the rides. We walked around the park, which despite the heavy fog was still quite beautiful. We quickly learned to appreciate the details, especially of Adventureland and the halloween theming of Frontierland (based on the upcoming film, "Coco"). We watched a special 25th Anniversary show — Mickey presents: “Happy Anniversary Disneyland Paris" — at the Royal Castle Stage.
We had lunch at Café Hyperion, which was pretty much exactly what we expected (long wait, okay food), which took us near the end of our Fastpass window for Buzz Light Year Laser Blast. [Sidenote: During this time we also grabbed a Fastpass for Star Tours that we wound up abandoning, which is an unfortunate aspect of the paper ticket system.] It was fun to do a shooting ride where we knew roughly what to expect, but where things we different enough to make it a new attraction.
Finishing Buzz at about 2:40, we decided to aim for the 3:35 showing of The Starlit Princess Waltz, another 25th anniversary special. This gave us more time to walk around. We checked out Les Mystères du Nautilus, which we got through in about 5 minutes. More enjoyable was the inside of Sleeping Beauty Castle, which included La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant on the second floor. The quality of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris is so impressive. It's a beautiful castle and a great place to be, not just to pass through. It contains some of the finest decor in the entire resort.
After the Starlit Princess Waltz, we had just under two hours until Stars on Parade. We had two storybook-style dark rides left — Pinnochio and Snow White. Both had 30-minute waits, so we just picked Pinnochio. We also got through three walk-through attractions without queues — La Cabane des Robinson, Alice's Curious Labyrinth, and Le Passage Enchanté d’Aladdin.
We watched the parade from the front of the park. The crowds were quite thin there, even at 5:30, and we were able to grab a spot on a planter for an even better view.
Intending to close the park, we had about 4 hours and felt optimistic we would get through most everything other than Big Thunder Mountain. We waited 25 minutes for Snow White and 45 minutes for Pirates of the Caribbean, having heard Pirates had an enjoyable queue (it did). At 7:40, after some nighttime photography, we headed over to Colonel Hathi's Pizza Outpost, where we each got a star-shaped cheese pizza.
Fantasyland Closes, Chaos Ensues
This is where the Disneyland Paris understanding of time gets tricky. We spent a bit of time enjoying the scenery, until around 8:50 when we decided to head to Fantasyland to ride "it's a small world." As it happened, Fantasyland closed at 9PM, which we did not realize. In fairness to Disneyland Paris, this is clearly listed on the individual attraction times. In fairness to customers, park hours have a reasonably understood meaning, and closing your biggest land an hour early isn't so much within that meaning.
Our bigger issue with this was the nightmare it turned the park into. There was an absurd amount of lining up for the fireworks going on over an hour in advance. We would watch these fireworks on a Friday night (busier than a Thursday night) and can tell you that even on Friday we didn't think you needed to grab a spot early for a good view.
Closing Fantasyland creates really bad ripples. At that point, the other major attractions have waits exceeding 30 minutes, ensuring that you don't expect to get a good firework spot if you ride them. And that's if you know they're open. Cast members at Disneyland Paris are not particularly clear or polite and just point people away from Fantasyland. But Fantasyland has so many points of entry that you're turning a huge number of people away. They can't navigate through the center of the park because of firework crowds and rerouting, so they call it a day and grab a spot for the fireworks, exacerbating the problem.
We considered exploring the Main Street U.S.A. shops, but instead opted to head to resort bars and plan to get the fireworks in a later day.
A Relaxing Second Afternoon at Disneyland Paris
After a morning at Walt Disney Studios Park on our second day, we arrived at Disneyland Park at about 1PM. It was a nicer day than the foggy day before, so we had to take a few pictures over again (worth it!).
After photos, our first priority was lunch, which we grabbed from Fuente del Oro in Frontierland. After visiting the dragon under the castle and taking more photos, we headed to "it's a small world" (10 minute wait), one of the few remaining rides on our list (we had already decided to rope drop Big Thunder Mountain the following day).
After that, it was just before 3PM and our next priority was the 3:40 Goofy's Skeletoon Street Party (this show was missing times in the app, a shortcoming we note in our review), so we explored Adventure Isle for a bit before grabbing a viewing spot in Frontierland. After a bit more exploration, we left the parks at about 4PM to check our more resort bars.
We returned to the park at 9:30, grabbed dinner at Market House Deli, and watched the fireworks from Main Street U.S.A.
Final Day at Disneyland Paris: Odds and Ends
There was very little to our third day—our only goal was to get on Big Thunder Mountain. We needed to check out of the hotel and didn't want to get up so early (plus we wouldn't miss anything at Extra Magic Hours), so we didn't arrive at the park until about 9:15, when we hopped in the crowd waiting for Frontierland to open. When it opened at 9:30, most everyone went straight to Big Thunder Mountain, which we were in line for by 9:33, on by 9:40 and off by 9:46.
There's no doubt we could have fit Big Thunder Mountain into our first day by going there before Indiana Jones and Phantom Manor.
We filled out the rest of a slow day with some attractions that weren't on the top of our list. We rode the Disneyland Railroad, as well as Le Pays des Contes de Fées (Storybook Land) and Casey Jr. – Le Petit Train du Cirque. We did lunch at Pizzeria Bella Notte and dinner at Cafe de la Brousse. We also spent some of the day exploring Disney Village, our resort, and Walt Disney Studios Park. Altogether, this day was great for absorbing Disneyland Paris, but it wasn't necessary to get the top attractions in (except for Big Thunder Mountain). And just like that, after 3 days at Disneyland Paris, it was time to go!
Disneyland PAris, Disneyland Park Conclusions
Disneyland Park at Disneyland Paris blew us away. We thought the level of detail, of environment, was a step above Magic Kingdom and rivaled Animal Kingdom. We kept busy for a total of about two days at the park, and we found it easy enough to enjoy all the attractions we wanted to visit while still having time to take in the park. We can't wait to be back, and we can't wait to share more thoughts from you about our trip!