One of the big worries people have when planning a trip to Disneyland Paris is experiencing culture shock, and one thing we've found to consistently reduce culture shock (in 40 countries and counting) is preparation.
If you know what to expect, you'll obviously be less shocked. In this post, we'll cover some basic things to be aware of at Disneyland Paris—including language, cast interactions, money, and food & drink.
How much English is Spoken at Disneyland Paris?
The language barrier is always a big worry for international travel. When you're visiting Disneyland Paris, though, this shouldn't be a concern for English speakers.
You Could Go To Disneyland Paris Without Knowing a Word of French...
Disneyland Paris is located just outside of Paris, France. The official language is French. However, as with many European countries, English is also widely spoken.
We know only four basic phrases in French (below), and we encountered no language issues in Disneyland Paris.
There was some variance in English fluency among the cast members, but every interaction we had went smoothly and didn't require the use of any translation apps or bringing in third parties. The signs are almost all in English. On our most recent visit in September 2018, we noticed cast members often started conversations by asking "English? Francais? Español?"
The shows are also put on in a mix of English and French. This means you won't understand every line without understanding French, but you'll get the story based on the English lines. Much ride content switches between English and French between rides. So Star Tours might be in English on your first ride and then French when you ride it a second time.
Maybe our most important language tip is to always tell Cast Members in ride lines the size of your party in your native language. While we always hold up two fingers (for two people) as well, it might be advisable not to do that. If the Cast Member at the front of the queue thinks you speak French, the might only tell you the row number in French, which leads to lots of awkwardness.
...But You Should Know Some French
It's considered polite in France to at least try some French. You won't trick anyone. They might do you the courtesy of speaking French to you if you initiate, but they won't be shocked or appalled when you can't continue. We suggest learning four basic phrases (English - French):
It's Good to Have an App as a Backup
Google Translate is very reliable in France. You can download languages for offline use, which is good if you aren't planning on having data access overseas (Disneyland Paris as of this writing does not have wifi across the parks, but this is expected to change in the near future).
Offline mode does not provide audio pronunciation, though, so be prepared to either show your phone or to try to pronounce without help. Additionally, the offline translations for longer phrases won't be as accurate.
Again, this shouldn't be a problem at Disneyland Paris. We used Google Translate mostly to remind us of the above four phrases.
Cast Members Aren't Being "Mean" Because You're American
The service industry, including Disney, is very different in Europe. Americans (as much as one can stereotype all Americans) are generally regarded as overly polite and friendly in Europe. Europeans (again, as much as one can stereotype an entire continent) tend to be very oriented toward what you as a customer are actually there for (e.g. food, or to purchase an item) rather than making you feel welcome.
That said, Disneyland Paris cast members were some of the friendliest people we've encountered in Europe. They aren't as friendly as their US counterparts, but they're a notch above what you experience in, say, Paris center. Just don't think that because they don't treat you especially "magically" that this is a slight at you. It's just cultural.
The biggest area we noticed this were with employees we called "Redcoats." Redcoats wear red jackets with Mickey "i" logo. This "i" probably indicates they can provide "information," but we saw them mostly used to direct people in an efficient, often unfriendly manner. When it came to telling you to get out of the way of a parade or that Fantasyland was closed, the Redcoats had no interest in you other than getting you out of the way.
We didn't mind this so much because we're the sort of people who just do as we're told, but if you're the type who likes to ask what's going on or why, don't expect the same Disney treatment you'd get in the United States (we did see a few very friendly Redcoats, we wouldn't want to besmirch the entire group).
Does Disneyland Paris have Magic Bands?
No. They are in the final stages of rolling out "Magic Pass" cards that combine room keys, park tickets, and charging. Beyond that, you'll be using cash (Euros, don't bother with USD) or credit cards for this trip.
Can I pay with credit card at Disneyland Paris?
Yes, you can pay with credit cards at Disneyland Paris as long as you have a chip card.
There are very few credit cards left out there that aren't chip cards anymore. If you don't have a single chip credit card and you're interested in using a credit card at Disneyland Paris, just call your bank and get a new card with a chip.
Paying with credit card at Disneyland Paris as an American is simple. In case you didn't know, we have a "chip and sign" system, while Europe is on a "chip and pin" system. If you see a European pay with their card (or anyone using a card issued by a European bank), they'll enter a PIN into the machine. When you pay, however, you'll just be asked for your signature.
Cast Members at Disneyland Paris are super familiar with chip and signature. A couple won't even ask for your signature (don't tell their bosses). If you search the internet, you'll see some (mostly) nonsense about calling your bank to set up a PIN. This is only if you have a card issued by a European bank (e.g. Barclay). If your card is issued by an American bank, you'll just have to sign.
An alternative to chip and signature is Apple Pay (or some NFC alternative for android phones). Unlike chip and signature, Apple Pay is a little more novel to the French. Most of them know it can be done, but many haven't seen it done. The reason? The max amount you can pay with Apple Pay (or any touchless NFC payment) is €20. This is not very much at Disneyland Paris. One solution to this is just to break up your order among people, which obviously slows things down for everyone (but we did a few times).
Final note about credit cards: make sure your card has no foreign transaction fees.
How can I get cash for Disneyland Paris?
If you're the type to prepare, you can usually call or visit your bank about ordering the currency of France, the Euro (€). You can also consider a local currency exchange, or you can change your currency when you arrive at the airport (and on Disney property). The biggest thing in comparing options is to pay attention to exchange rates and fees. Unfortunately we did not exchange cash or pay attention to the on-property rates at Disneyland Paris.
If you're going to be traveling internationally a lot, we highly suggest looking into the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. Schwab does not charge foreign transaction fees, they do not charge ATM fees, and, best of all, they reimburse any ATM fees you are charged by the ATMs you use! We've use our Schwab ATM card in 20+ countries and only encountered moderate difficulty with it in two (China and Vietnam).
How much do I tip at Disneyland Paris?
In France, bars and restaurants always include a 15% service charge, and tipping is not expected. If service is above and beyond, 5-10% is acceptable. If you're planning to tip, you'll need cash. The credit card system is not designed to add tip.
Food and Drink Culture at Disneyland Paris
There isn't too much to say about food and drink, but we know food, alcohol, and coffee may be important to some of our readers, and we wanted to share a little something about these items.
Food Culture at Disneyland Paris
There's nothing especially notable about food culture at Disneyland Paris, except that by the opinion of most reviewers, food at Disneyland Paris is awful. Also, the lines during lunch time will be absolutely huge.
We found vegetarian food at Disneyland Paris without too much to complain about, but we certainly see where the negative reviews are coming from. The food is standard western fare with tendencies toward French items.
The menus tend to list combos (called "menus", sorry for the confusion), with the individual items being available a la carte as well. If you order an individual item, you'll likely still be asked "menu or a la carte?" Also, a higher proportion of the restaurants are buffets than in the American parks.
Alcohol at Disneyland Paris
Beer is widely available around Disneyland Paris, however you must order it with food in the parks. There are bars at each hotel, and they tend to be open until 12AM or 1AM, filling up as the parks close.
The bars also serve wine and champaign. For the largest (and most expensive) selection, head over to Cafe Fantasia at Disneyland Hotel.
Coffee at Disneyland Paris
Ordering coffee as an American abroad can be an adventure, but for many of us coffee is a necessity, so it's important to cover this.
A quick primer. Have you ever been to Starbucks as seen that they have a drink called an Americano? It's espresso diluted with a lot of water. Weird, right? Because you probably don't think of that drink as distinctly American. So why "Americano"?
Well, you know how you go to that same Starbucks and order a "tall coffee, black" and they give you 12 ounces of black coffee? That's what an Americano is supposed to imitate.
Drip (or "filtered") coffee, the method most Americans use to make coffee, is not common in Europe. Instead, if you want your coffee to be weaker than expresso and diluted with water, you'll order an Americano. Starbucks serves both because they're an American coffee chain. Back to the topic at hand...
In Disneyland Paris, your best coffee option as an American is Starbucks. It will have coffee you're most familiar with. If you are so bold as to order in the parks, expect "coffee" to be a rather nasty beverage, and "large coffee" to be even worse. Best we can tell, "coffee" is an attempt at drip coffee, and "large coffee" is "coffee" diluted with water (because, you remember, Americans just like to water things down).
Things Are Just A Lot Less Efficient ("Magical")
It's hard to say whether this is really "cultural" or not, but if you're looking to understand some of the differences between Disneyland Paris and the American parks, you'll want to know that your Disneyland Paris experience will be markedly less efficient in pretty much every way. This section is sort of us venting about issues we face at Disneyland Paris, but hopefully you'll find it useful, too.
Lines for everything, food in particular, can be outrageously long and slow. This is partly due to language barriers and the issues noted above with the menu vs. a la carte discussions. More often than not, the restaurant will remain understaffed despite these very long lines.
We waited an hour to check in at Hotel Cheyenne, which is by far the longest we've waited at any hotel in the world.
The end of the day at Disneyland Park is a particularly inefficient nightmare. Fantasyland closes an hour early (something to do with the nighttime show). 30 minutes before that closure, "redcoats" will begin routing all traffic away from Fantasyland. This includes along some routes that don't even pass through Fantasyland.
We recommend planning to just hang out on one side of the park (either Discoveryland or Adventureland/Frontierland) from 2 hours prior to close until you go to Main Street to grab a spot for the fireworks.
Ride queues are often poorly marked / roped. If you arrive early, before a line has built up, you may have to guess your way through the queue as they'll leave multiple routes open. Make the wrong turn, and you'll wind up at the ride exit.