What happens when a Disney theme park fan finds herself with a free day in Europe? A day trip to Disneyland Paris, of course!
Editor's Note: This is part of an occasional series of features highlighting Disney destinations which are outside of the traditional collection of DVC resorts. Many of these destinations can be booked using DVC points. For details, see our information regarding Using DVC Points for Non-DVC destinations.
Disneyland Paris is located in Chessy, France, about a 50 minute drive from the center of Paris. A variety of options exist for traveling from metro Paris to the parks including automotobile, rideshare or charter buses. I chose to take a train from my apartment located in the Bastille area of Paris. Round-trip tickets cost around €5 each for the 50 minute journey to-and-from the train station at Disneyland, Marne-la-Vallée Chessy
The RER A was clearly marked by either the familiar Mickey Mouse silhouette or “Disneyland Paris”. The train is larger than those on the underground Metro with ample seating Visiting the parks on a Sunday, and both the arriving and departing trains were nearly empty.
Immediately upon exiting the train station, one must pass through security. The centrally-located security checkpoint leads directly into the main hub connecting Disneyland, Disney Studios, and Downtown Disney.
The entrance into Disneyland Park is located underneath the Disneyland Hotel. Disneyland Hotel is currently undergoing “royal” refurbishments until 2024. The exact date the hotel will reopen is still unknown, but the rooms will be redone to showcase different princesses and their respective movies.
Disneyland Paris is currently celebrating the “grand finale” of its 30th anniversary until the end date, September 30th. Disneyland park has special decorations, merchandise, a parade, and nighttime drone show that will not stick around after the anniversary celebration finishes.
Like the American Disney Parks, Disneyland Paris has its own Main Street, themed after an old American town. Guests can ride on the Disneyland Railroad, or take a shorter journey in one of the park's horse drawn carriages or old-fashioned cars.
Main Street also features the Emporium, unsurprisingly one of the best stores in the park. Unless you’re looking for ride specific merchandise, the shops spread around the park won’t be of much use. Any Disneyland Paris or 30th anniversary merchandise is only available in the shops on Main Street. Main Street also features an arcade and has familiar restaurants including Casey’s Corner and an ice cream parlor.
Speaking of food, quick service options at Disneyland Paris are notoriously mediocre...and expensive. A burger and fries from Café Hyperion in Tomorrowland or “Parmesan Cheese Sauce Macaroni”--which generally tasted like store bought fettuccine alfredo--came out to around €17 apiece (over $18) for the food and a drink. The best meal of the day was from Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney where a sandwich, drink and brownie was just €13 and the quality was much better than anything I had in the parks. For whatever reason, staff inside the parks seemed to be caught off guard by the use of mobile food orders.
Now back to our tour...
Disneyland Paris’ castle, Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant or Sleeping Beauty Castle, is a nod to the movie of the same name. It also shares a name with the iconic original castle in America’s Disneyland park. While they may pay tribute to the same princess, the castles themself look nothing alike. Paris’ is twice as tall and generally more accurate to the movie. This illusion is enriched by the use of square trees and a hillside that seems to merge into the castle.
These charming mobile character statues spread around the Gardens of Wonder in front of the castle. These unique statues were created for the 30th anniversary. I’m not sure if they’ll stick around after the 30th is finished, like Walt Disney World’s statues have, but I think they are a definite must see for anyone visiting soon.
The images above feature Winnie the Pooh and friends and Baymax. They are just two of the iron statues on display.
Paris’ Discoveryland is unlike anything Disney's United States parks.The Imagineers chose to design the land around Jules Verne stories, giving it a steampunk feel. They also chose to name the area Discoveryland instead of Tomorrowland. The alternate name is intended to introduce a more timeless feel as it's not trying to be a city of tomorrow. Instead it welcomes guests into classic stories.
Paris' Space Mountain is has been embellished with Star Wars elements and dubbed Hyperspace Mountain. The ride shares concepts with Disneyland’s Hyperspace Mountain overlay and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind with screens placed throughout the ride to make it feel as if you’re a fighter pilot in the midst of battle.
Also different from other Space Mountains are the unique outdoor launch launch system and a series of inversions throughout the ride. Although it's newer than the Space Mountain in Walt Disney World, don’t expect it to be smoother. I found the experience pretty similar to Rock n’ Roller Coaster: fun, but also a bit dizzying.
it’s a small world shares the same outdoor facade and loading area as the original in Disneyland, with a more vibrant color palette.
Although classic Disney characters are not present in this version, the Paris version offered a distinctive twist on the classic attraction thanks to the different countries represented. Some scenes echoed those in America but others were completely unique to this park.
Two of my favorites were the sets for the United States and Canada. The American dolls (above) were dressed up as classic Hollywood actors, a football player, and a baseball player. The Canadian dolls (below) were hockey players seen skating around on a patch of ice.
Le Pays des Contes de Fées, or, “the land of fairy tales” is a ride very similar to the Storybook Land Canal Boats in Disneyland. The experience is different because the boats run on a continuous track and do not feature a live tour guide like in Disneyland, but as someone who does not speak French I didn’t mind.
The ride features classic Disney movies like the cottage from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (above), and the village and castle from "Beauty and the Beast" (below.) It also had some very unique miniatures like Mount Olympus from "Fantasia" and the Emerald City from "The Wizard of Oz."
Pirates of the Caribbean is always a must do and this park was no exception. The ride is housed in a fortress and features a small pirate ship and skull cave. It has the same thrilling drops as the version in Disneyland, but changes up a few of the scenes. Like many rides throughout Disneyland Paris, some characters speak in French while others speak in English.
Big Thunder Mountain is familiar to Disney theme park fans. However this version is unique in that the majority of the ride system is located on an island in the park's lagoon, Rivers of the Far West.
Disneyland Paris' riverboat Molly Brown circles Rivers of the Far West. Visible to the far right below is Paris' Haunted Mansion variant known as Phantom Manor. As someone who doesn’t speak French, the storyline of Phantom Manor is difficult to follow.
Elements of the American Haunted Mansions were added for seemingly no reason. The seance room which showcases Madame Leota in the Americas is present, but Leota has been replaced with the main character of Phantom Manor instead.
There wasn’t any reason for this scene, as it did not seem to fit into the ride's overarching storyline.
Phantom Manor does include familiar elements including the ballroom scene, the singing busts and the “ghosts following you home”. When designing the park, imagineers were concerned with European audiences not relating to this ride. I think the scenes and storylines are so close that they should have just used the original. The changes they made are not substantial enough to set it apart from Haunted Mansion, which ultimately makes for a worse experience.
The castle is home to two special experiences. The first is La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant, or, the Sleeping Beauty Gallery. The gallery allows guests to go to the “second floor” of the castle. The gallery is filled with beautiful stained glass windows showcasing scenes from "Sleeping Beauty" along with some loosely based gothic architecture. The gallery also has a door to a balcony that overlooks Fantasyland.
The second experience, which was sadly closed when I visited, is La Tanière du Dragon (The Dragon’s Lair). Located beneath the hill is an enormous animatronic dragon. The dragon design is loosely based on French fairy tales, but the cave is decorated in black and green evoking "Sleeping Beauty's" Maleficent.
Disneyland Paris is undoubtedly a bucket list destination for Disney theme park fans. It offers a variety of familiar Disney classics, some with a different twist on their U.S. counterparts, along with experiences entirely unique to the park.
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