Spoiler alert: I’m going to recommend you go to Disneyland Paris. But that recommendation should be taken with the caveat that we’re diehard Disneyphiles in our house, so my opinion had formed before our train even got to France.
That being said, Disneyland Paris is not without its faults—in fact, it has quite a few of them. But for me, it more than made up for those flaws with the attention to detail and bits of magic that only Disney can do. Add this to the fact that it resides on the outskirts of one of the greatest, most romantic cities in the world, and well, it’s an overall win. But just to thoroughly lay it all out, here are the pros and cons as we see them from our recent trip.
GOOD: Sleeping Beauty Castle
I list Disneyland Paris’ castle as the first positive on the list because it is, in my opinion, not only the best part of the entire resort, but also the best royal residence of the parks I’ve visited so far. With a size that puts California’s version to shame (Paris clocks in at 167 feet, California, a mere 77), the structure towers over you in all its pink glory. It’s smaller than Orlando’s Cinderella Castle (that one measures 189 feet tall), but what it lacks in height, it more than makes up for in special attention to detail and explorability factor.
You can actually roam through it, winding up and around and past stained glass scenes from its namesake film, and you can even pop out to one of its balconies and take in the view of the entire park. It’s really something special.
But the best part is not what’s in the castle, but underneath it. Wander into the depths of its dungeons and you’ll encounter Maleficent, in sleeping dragon form, who often awakens to check out her admiring crowd, blowing a little steam through her nostrils before drifting back off to sleep. The scene is beyond cool, and even a little scary.
GOOD: Disneyland Paris
The anchor park of Disney’s Parisian resort is well-detailed and beautifully kept, despite complaints that have alluded otherwise. It’s no secret that the Paris project has not been Disney’s most successful, but the sentiment from the French people as well as tourists throughout Europe and beyond seems to be on an upswing.
As our visit coincided with the park’s 25th anniversary, the park was at its best. Extensive maintenance was done on the attractions and grounds, giving everything that special Disney sparkle. We entered this leg of our trip with trepidation: From others’ experiences, the success of a visit depended on your encounters with Cast Members and other park guests, where language barriers and foreign customs from all across Europe combining in one place could, apparently, make for some, let’s call them less than magical, moments. We experienced nothing of the kind. Everyone we interacted with just seemed as happy to be there as we were, and that’s the way I like it.
All good things being said, if you’re the type of person who goes to theme parks seeking thrills, maybe DLP isn’t the place for you. While there exist a few high-speed (ish) attractions—Big Thunder Mountain, the newly Star Wars-ified Hyperspace Mountain, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril (which is absolutely terrible and not at all related to the Disneyland version)—the park is more about the experience of just being there and taking it all in. Yet again, that suits us just fine.
BAD (well, kind of): Walt Disney Studios
There’s no eloquent way to put it: Walt Disney Studios, the other park in Disneyland Paris’ two-park ecosystem, is a very lackluster park. You don’t need more than a day to get through it—half a day, tops—and its flagship ride, Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, is just…bad. I know a lot of people are getting excited for it to come to Epcot, and I hope that Disney makes the necessary changes to make it a success, I really do. Because if they don’t, I think the crowds will be in for a world of disappointment.
That’s not to say Walt Disney Studios isn’t without its perks. It has a very cute Toy Story area with carnival-like rides that enhance the theming but don’t offer much more than that, and you’ll find some Hollywood Studios classics, like Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith (who knew Aerosmith had a fanbase in Paris?).
The fact that admission to the park was included in our hotel package makes it a passable offense—it’s honestly a nice little walk-through. There was, however, one show in the end that would have been well worth the price of admission on its own: Mickey and the Magician. It’s such a beautiful, incredible, magical show (yes, I did cry), it’s hard to even put it into words. Mickey speaks French the entire time, while the rest of the characters speak English, and it’s like, if you didn’t know better, you’d think you could understand French (granted, I had been taking lessons). It caters to the crowd in a way that’s so special and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad that we made the time to see it on our last day—I was so into it, I forgot to take any photos. Now that is the mark of a good show.
GOOD: Table Service Restaurants
Though the Ratatouille ride fell flat for us, we cannot say the same for its restaurant. Bistro Chez Rémy, where you shrink down to the size of a rat to be wined and dined by the Tiny Chef himself, was remarkable. The food, which is offered in a variety of prix fixe menu options or a la carte, was really, truly good.
The same can be said for Walt’s American Restaurant, located on Main Street, U.S.A. in Disneyland Paris. It’s basically Club 33 without the steep membership fee and impossible waiting list (or at least, it has been described that way). The attention to detail inside the restaurant is fantastic, with photographs of Walt and his family, and museum-worthy artifacts of his legacy.
I won’t say more about the food, as I plan to do a separate dining-related post, but a note about all the rest of the dining options at DLP:
BAD: All Other Restaurants
Yeah. The food is not good. I know what some people think about theme park food, and they’re always surprised to hear about how much we love the food at Walt Disney World (which, if you know where to go, is seriously superb). But this? This is theme park food. Scratch that—it’s not even as good as theme park food. I’ll take a plate of chicken fingers and french fries from WDW any day over what they serve here. From fish and chips that are So very British! to a barely chew-able chicken sandwich, I couldn’t possibly recommend a counter service restaurant in either of the parks, nor can I recommend the usually-pretty-reliable Earl of Sandwich in its Downtown Disney area. Just, bleh. Not to mention, most restaurants close at 4 p.m. 4 p.m.! What the hell is that? And those snacks you love so much at Disney World and Disneyland—from Mickey pretzels to churros to turkey legs and baked potatoes? Forget about it. Not here, my friend.
GOOD and BAD: On-Site Hotels
On the one hand, there’s really no better way to do Disney than to stay on-site—that goes for any Disney resort, anywhere in the world. Disneyland Paris was a tough pill to swallow when it came to price, though. While there are a range of hotels with the cheapest akin to Walt Disney World’s Value Resorts, they simply didn’t look like places we wished to stay, as bad as that sounds. The place we aspired to stay the most, of course, was the Disneyland Hotel: A great pink palace situated right at the entrance to Disneyland, with an air of Orlando’s Grand Floridian. This was, unfortunately, not in budget (though we did manage drinks there one night before the fireworks, which was a fair-ish substitute).
As it was, we chose the Sequoia Lodge, a sort of hollowed-out version of Florida’s Wilderness Lodge. It was fine. Not the cheapest, not the most expensive, just right for Goldilocks. But for “fine,” two nights at the Sequoia Lodge (plus park tickets) cost us more money than any other stay on our three-week trip, including 4 nights in Iceland, 5 nights in London, and 6 nights in Paris. Ouch.
Still, the walkability factor to the parks paired with just getting to the resort and staying put for the duration of our stay really was worth it, even with the unenthusiastic endorsement of our hotel. We were able to head back to our room quickly and efficiently when we wanted to, and check-in and check-out processes were a breeze. The biggest issue we had, oddly enough, was tracking down a simple cup of coffee for breakfast.
As this entry comes to a close, I’m aware that a fair bit of complaining has transpired. But what strikes me the most is that, despite these grievances, somehow, I still come away loving Disneyland Paris. Must be that Disney magic that comes out on top, after all. Is it better than the Disney parks in the States? Not by a long shot. By it’s lovely in its own way, for its own reasons, and I mean, come on, it’s Paris.