Whether you’re a king of the swingers, an undercover supervillain or a self-styled Disneylicious princess, fun and enchantment abound at Disneyland Paris. Just 45 minutes by train from central Paris, 28 miles (45km) east, the hugely popular theme park can be visited on an easy Disneyland Paris weekend break. A colourful choice of themed hotels near Disneyland Paris continue the Disney experience well after the last sunburst firework has cascaded down in a riot of explosive colour and crackles on Sleeping Beauty’s bewitching baby-pink castle, as do several luxurious hotels on site. Dining – be it breakfast with Cinderella or a plate of ratatouille in a Parisian bistro frequented by a certain much-loved rat – is equally characterful.
The best rides at Disneyland Paris are split across two parks: the smaller Walt Disney Studios Park and the flagship Disneyland Park with Disney’s signature Main Street USA, four themed lands and traditional white-knuckle rollercoasters. Minimum ride heights max at 1m40 (4ft6) meaning from 10 years on pretty much anyone can have an absolute ball, no fairy godmother required.
When to go
Disneyland Paris enchants year-round, but consider which month works best for you. High season – essentially most school holidays (Easter, July and August, October half-term and mid-December to early January) – sees a maximum of attractions open, but queuing time can be up to an hour for each one. By contrast, in low season some rides close for maintenance work and shows are fewer, but queues are minimal, meaning you can razz around the rides at speed, packing in double the number.
Parisian summers, particularly August, can be uncomfortably hot (bring a refillable water bottle); October to February is often cold and wet (bring waterproofs). In low season you can cover the highlights in one long day, but during busy periods a minimum of two days is the only sane option.
Seasonal festivities worth booking a trip around are Halloween and Christmas. Pumpkin-orange decorations magically appear overnight in Disneyland Park in late September and remain until early November, when glittering Christmas baubles cast their spell instead (until January 6, 2020). Each celebration ushers in a new themed show, additional autograph and photo ops with Disney characters, and enticing festive ‘delicacies’ (spotty Cruella cupcakes, evil Maleficent burgers, you get the gist).
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How to get there
Mainline train and RER station Marne la Vallée-Chessy (45 minutes from central Paris; €7.60/£6.80) and bus station Chessy Nord are right by the Disneyland entrance. Magic Shuttle (adults €23/£20; 2-12yrs €10/£9) provides direct coach links with Paris Orly airport – the one-hour bus ride is quicker and easier than crossing central Paris by Orlyval, metro and RER A (€19/£17).
TGV trains speed between Terminal 2 at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and Marne la Vallée-Chessy in 15 minutes (advance reservation required; from €19/£17). Eurostar trains from London St Pancras (three hours direct, four via Lille) also stop at Marne la Vallée-Chessy.
Queues build up at the airport-style security checkpoint – the first step to accessing the two parks. Only same-day tickets (single or multi-day) are sold at the subsequent ticket booths (adult one-day ticket for one park €87/£76; two parks €107/£93), but it is cheaper to pre-book tickets in advance online: off-peak Mini Tickets (valid for roughly three months and good for entry on low-season weekdays; adult one-day ticket for one/two parks £49/66) and Magic Tickets (valid off-peak weekends; adult one-day ticket for one/two parks £65/82) are notably cheaper than Super Magic Tickets (adult one-day ticket for one/two parks £76/94), valid one year and the only ticket covering peak periods.
All multiday tickets cover both parks and are cheaper per day the longer you stay. Tickets for children (3-11yrs) are almost the same price as those for adults. Annual passes are only worth the investment if you plan to Disney it several times a year. Disney packages ticking off hotel accommodation with free parking and luggage storage, various meal options and other add-ons can be good-value.
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The Fastpass included in every ticket is precisely what it says on the tin: a fast, skip-the-big-queue entry to certain rides (including Walt Disney Studios’ wildly popular Ratatouille; and Peter Pan’s Flight, Stars Wars: Hyperspace Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain in Disneyland Park). Plan ahead which you fancy a spin on and upon arrival speed straight to the first ride to pick up an allocated time slot.
Hardcore riders can invest in a Super Fastpass allowing instant access to the Fastpass line at three specific family-friendly or big-thrill rides (low season €30/£27; high season €45/£40) or an Ultimate Fastpass covering an on-the-spot single (low season €60/£54; high season €90/£81) or unlimited (low season €75/£67; high season €120/£108) ride/s on all Fastpass attractions. Like gold dust, both passes tend to be snatched up by 12pm.
A handle of rides, including Ratatouille, Star Wars: Hyperspace Mountain and Crush’s Coaster, have a second entrance for single riders – an easy way to skip soul-destroying long queues at the main entrance.
The best rides
Exciting new lands under construction – Frozen, Stars Wars and Marvel – won’t open until 2021 to 2025, but all three universes are being celebrated in Paris with their own seasons in 2020. Frozen fans, meanwhile, can dance with Anna and Kristoff, sing Let It Go with Elsa in her ice palace and snap selfies with snowman Olaf at the new attraction, Frozen: The Art of Celebration, opening on November 17, 2019 in Walt Disney Studios Park. Studio D – an interactive song-and-dance show with Mickey and Minnie – is new for spring 2020.
… to scare yourself silly
Of Disney’s four Big Thunder Mountains worldwide, the runaway mine train that hurtles through Paris (minimum height 1m02) is the biggest and fastest. The Disney rollercoaster classic Space Mountain – refashioned in Paris as Stars Wars: Hyperspace Mountain (1m20) – is likewise the fastest on the Disney planet. Disneyland Park’s other big ride sees thrill-seekers join Indiana Jones in the menacing Temple of Peril (1m40; currently closed, opening date unknown). For an adrenalin surge in Walt Disney Studios Park, seek out Crush’s Coaster (1m07), The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (1m02) and RC Racer (1m20).
… for younger children
Fantasyland in Disneyland Park is the land to linger in – a twirl on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups and spin on the Dumbo Flying Elephant carousel are classics. The whimsical boat cruise past 185 audio-animatronic dolls dressed up as children from 25 different countries in It’s a Small World is spell-binding for adults too, as is Peter Pan’s Flight across London rooftops. Sleeping Beauty’s chateau is the world’s only Disney castle to have a resident dragon – tip-toe through its dark, dank lair if you dare.
Where to stay
Choose between a central Paris hotel, one of six official hotels inside Disneyland Paris (ensuring Disney characters strolling around at breakfast and early entry into Disneyland Park), or an off-site lodging in the green belt surrounding the parks (the best-value option), linked by free shuttle bus every 15 minutes to Disneyland Paris.
Reservations are now open for Disney’s contemporary Hotel New York – The Art of Marvel, overlooking Lake Disney, for stays from summer 2020. Expect sharp Marvel artwork by international artists, a swanky Manhattan-styled restaurant and sky bar, encounters with muscle-busting Marvel characters and a sassy art studio where children learn to draw Wolverine, Spiderman, the Hulk and other comic-strip heroes.
Disneyland Hotel, Disneyland Park
The park’s luxurious flagship hotel by the main entrance pampers VIP guests with five-star service, sumptuous dining and the closest Disney gets to French chic in an Instagram-worthy, faux Victorian mansion.
Disney’s Newport Bay Club, Lake Disney
Retreating to this peaceful lakeshore hotel, evocative of a New England seaside resort from the 1900s with its buttermilk-yellow and dove-grey woodwork, is heaven after a busy Disney day. Count a 10-minute walk from the parks.
Vienna House Magic Circus, Marne la Vallée
An excellent-value, family favourite 10 minutes’ drive away, this fun hotel mixes circus-themed styling with contemporary design and grassy lake-pierced grounds.
Vienna House Dream Castle, Marne la Vallée
This faux French chateau in Disneyland suburbia might still be waiting for a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand, but its family-friendly services, facilities and bottomless buffet dining are hard to beat.
Disney’s Hotel Sante Fe, Marne la Vallée
Pull up on Route 66 in America’s southwest: this sweep of an ochre-red, 1,000-room hotel is a must for fans of the Disney film Cars or simply families seeking top-value, two-star accommodation inside the park.
Where to eat
For quality French street food search out Rendez-Vous Gourmand (mid-July to mid-October) – wooden chalets in Walt Disney Studios Park serving regional specialities: warm and gooey raclette cheese from the French Alps, Alsatian sauerkraut, Breton fish soup, crepes and oh-so-Parisian pistachio and raspberry éclairs. Grab a summertime seat on nearby Place de Rémy and lunch in the toe-tapping company of an accordion jazz band.
Advance reservations are vital at Disney’s best table-service restaurants: Ratatouille-styled Bistrot Chez Rémy (two-course menu €33/£29; three-course menu €41/£37) cooks up top-notch bistro cuisine in Walt Disney Studios Park; and Auberge de Cendrillon (four-course menu €77/£69) in Disneyland Park serves refined French cuisine; breakfasting or lunching here with Cinderella, Elsa and other Disney princesses is a young dream come true.
Several themed eateries in both parks offer an all-you-can-eat buffet (adults €35/£30; 3-11yrs €18/£16). Meal-plan options available to Disney hotel guests can include B&B, half- and full-board in any Disney restaurant. Outside the parks, Disney Village conjures up yet more eating options: catch Mickey Mouse after dark at the hugely popular Café Mickey overlooking Lake Disney.
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Visitors with reduced mobility or special needs are entitled to reduced admission and can collect an Access Pass at City Hall or Studio Services, allowing them to enter suitable rides and attractions via specially adapted entrances. One companion or carer gets free park admission. Accessibility maps indicate which rides are wheelchair accessible, open to guide dogs, etc.
Know before you go
ATMs: Several in both parks.
Luggage storage: Suitcases and bags larger than 55cm x 40cm x 25cm are not allowed in. Queues can get long at Disney’s Guest Storage (cost per bag per day: small €6/£5; medium €8/£7; large €10/£9). Use left luggage lockers inside Marne la Vallée train station instead (cost per 24hrs: small €5.50/£5; medium 7.50/£7; large €9.50/£8).
Selfie sticks: Leave at home – camera and phone extension rods are banned.
Smoking: Only outside (including electronic cigarettes) in designated smoking areas.
Parking: Guest car parks (€30/£27 per day) are a five-minute walk.
Pushchair & wheelchair rental: To the right of the main entrance, beneath the Disney Railroad railway line. Rental costs €25/£22 per day, plus €50/200 (£44.50/178) cash or credit-card deposit per stroller/wheelchair.
Toilets: Clearly signposted and generously dotted around both parks; most have water fountains (bring your own water bottle) and baby-changing facilities.
Tourist Information Kiosk: Open daily, 9am-8.30pm. Grab Paris maps, museum tickets and information on visiting Paris at this racing-green kiosk on the square between Marne la Vallée train station and Disneyland Paris (00 33 1 60 43 33 33; tourism77.co.uk)
Wi-Fi: Free access in Walt Disney Studios Park and most Disney hotels; or rent a pocket Wi-Fi device before entering from the Tourist Information Kiosk.