Let’s get down to business - a post for Disneyland novices!

Our recent trip to Disneyland was all my doing. My 30th birthday was coming up, I’d saved some money to celebrate, but when it came to it I realised I didn’t really want a party or a big celebration. I just wanted to spend some time as a family, so Disneyland was my choice! I have been to Disney in Florida once as a child, but Disneyland Paris was completely new to us all. As it was my decision I was left in charge of planning, booking and getting us organised for our trip. I am NEVER left in charge of the booking side of things so I was pretty convinced that something would go drastically wrong, and it would be all my fault. Luckily it was very easy to organise and all the logistics worked out - relieved is not the word.

I booked everything through the Disneyland Paris website as, at the time, they had a "buy 3 nights get one night free" offer on. I booked the accommodation, meal plan, Eurostar, park tickets, Photo Pass, Disney Express, Character Breakfast and Princess Lunch through them. The booking process was really straightforward. You were given options of what you wanted to add to the booking as you went along and once it was completed you just needed to give them a quick call if you wanted to change anything. I’m sure if you knew what you were doing you could book separately, stay outside the Disney Hotels, and it could work out cheaper but, to be perfectly honest, I was happy to potentially pay a little more for the ease, and the peace of mind that everything had been done properly.

Once I’d done all this I assumed we were done. However, by joining a Facebook group about Brits visiting Disneyland Paris it appeared I was mistaken. I was planning on being fairly relaxed, taking each day of the trip as it came, and fitting in what we could when we could. On this group people were talking about tactics for where to start your day in the park to reduce queuing time, booking all your meals in advance, which meal plans you should pay for when booking, where to stand to have any chance of being able to see the parades, etc. I was spending ages on the group, only really half understanding what they were saying having never visited before, but panicking we were going to have an awful time as I’d planned so badly. I did the only sensible thing - I blocked the group from my newsfeed. We did what I’d originally planned and, apart from the two character meals we booked, didn’t plan anything in advance.

I guess I don’t know exactly what information people would like here so I’m going to assume people reading this are in my situation and have no idea about Disneyland, so I will go into full on dull details mode. I have written a lot, but have tried to split the information into segments so you can pick and choose the bits which interest you. If you don’t want to know, well, you’re probably done with this post. Nothing more to see here! You can check out the fun stuff and some photos on my original post here.

1) Eurostar
We took the Eurostar from London St Pancras direct to Disneyland (Marne-la-Vallee). On the days we travelled there was only one direct train a day, so no flexibility on times, but that was preferable to having to change trains with kids and bags.  We actually only booked 2 adult tickets, as under 4s can travel for free if they sit on your knee. We were lucky both ways and the train manager found spare seats for us so we could spread out. Obviously if you want to guarantee a seat for your little ones you need to book them one!

During the journey a cast member (apparently that's what the Disneyland staff are called!) walked down the train and handed us all our paperwork including park tickets, food vouchers and PhotoPass information.  The journey was about 3 hours long and Marne-la-Vallee station is right outside the park gates. Easy peasy.

2) Disney Express
We paid a little extra for the “Disney Express” service which, in my opinion, was well worth the £42. This means you are given hotel check-in documents in advance, you're given your park tickets on the train (rather than collecting them at the hotel) and your luggage is transported to your hotel for you.
This meant that when we arrived at Disneyland mid-afternoon we just walked to the desks at the station, dropped off our bags, and went straight to the park. They took care of transporting the luggage to the hotel, and we enjoyed a few hours getting our bearings. 

It worked the same on the way home too. Drop your bags at the hotel luggage room and you collect at the train station just before you travel home. This part was a little less smooth. At 8am everyone is wanting access to the luggage room so Stu queued with our stuff for about half an hour, dealing with people shoving in and having queue rows, and I took the kids for breakfast. When he reached the front he was told he could have cut the queue as we’d paid for the express service, but there was no signage to tell us this. I’m glad we paid for Disney Express, but maybe drop your bags super early on leaving day, or check whether you can queue jump!

3) Accommodation
We stayed at Hotel Cheyenne, one of the cheaper Disney hotels. We didn’t have a great first impression as the reception queue to check in was long and ridiculously slow moving. I’m assuming the people at the front had lots of problems that needed resolving as I was served in under 5 minutes, but they were still being served when I left the desk 30 minutes later!

The hotel was pretty basic, which I was expecting, but the room was plenty big enough for us, lots of under bed space to store bags, and ideal for our needs. We literally were in the room to sleep and shower so I was happy we hadn't spent more on accommodation. Hotel Cheyenne is Toy Story/Wild West themed, and the room had two double beds. Despite requesting a cot I was pretty annoyed to find that they had just stuck it under a shelving unit without bothering to construct it. After a bit of sweat and a few swear words, Stu managed to click the awkward thing into place. I would stay at Cheyenne again as, like I say, it was ideal for our needs but would NOT get a breakfast plan or eat there again...more about that in section 4! 

Although you can stay outside the Disney site there are a few advantages to staying on site. It’s closer, there are shuttle buses running between the hotels and park every 5 minutes (we didn’t bother, we just walked) and you get access to “Early Magic Hours”. This means you can enter the parks before they open. In the main park only Fantasyland was open, and there were some meet and greet points up and running. It just means you can hop on It’s a Small World as many times as you like, or get a photo with whoever is there (in our case Donald Duck), before the bigger queues arrive. If you’re in a Disney hotel you also get access to a couple of Fast Passes a day. As with most theme parks the Fast Pass machines are located outside the ride, you scan your ticket, and you’re given a return time. You can only request your second Fast Pass once your first time slot has gone.

4) Meal plan
Right, this was my main grumble about the whole holiday. So be prepared for a bit of a ranty segment. When we go on holiday we tend to go self-catered and work out food as we go. I wasn’t planning on booking any meal plans (there are loads of options - check out the Disney website for the details) until I got sucked into that bloody Disney Facebook group. Everyone was saying how much easier and more cost effective it was to buy a meal plan, so as we’re not very fussy I went for the standard half board option. This basically meant we had paid for breakfast and one buffet service meal each day. 

Breakfast was a buffet at our hotel, or you could pick up a drink, pastry and baguette from the deli in the Disney Village (the area between the hotels and the parks). To be quite honest, the hotel restaurant was a pretty awful experience. Like I say, we’re not that fussy food wise but the dining area was basically like a massive, dark, busy, canteen and not very pleasant to eat in. One morning we had to queue about 30minutes to get in, and it was just rammed. Yes, I was expecting Disney to be busy, but the restaurant clearly couldn’t cope with the volume of people staying in the accommodation. And we were there during term time. I *think* that the dining area was also having some work done, although not 100% where or what. All I do know is that you couldn’t access the restaurant through reception, which meant when Charlotte declared she needed the loo during dinner one night it was actually quicker and easier for me to scoop her up, and dash back to our hotel room, than walk around the outside of the main hotel building to get back inside to the toilets in reception. 

With the meal plan we booked we could hand over our vouchers at any of the named buffet restaurants, and get exactly what we paid for. We could eat elsewhere at the park, on the understanding that if the meal was more expensive than the voucher value you pay the extra, and if the meal was cheaper than the voucher value then tough luck, you just lose out. We ended up just doing exactly that. I know this system probably works well for many people but I wished we hadn’t bothered and just bought food as we went along. 

5) Park tickets
This was really straight forward. For the four of us we just needed two adult and one children’s ticket - Benjamin was free. This was all booked as a package when I booked accommodation and Eurostar. We could get into either park the whole 5 days we were there, and enter and leave the parks as many times as we wanted.

6) PhotoPass+
I’m not sure I’d buy a PhotoPass+ again. We were given the PhotoPass+ voucher in our information pack on the Eurostar - we then had to redeem this at one of the named shops in the parks. You’re given one large card on a lanyard, and two small cards that you can split amongst your group - all three are linked to the same account but means if your group splits up you don't have to worry about who can get photos and who can't. The PhotoPass+ was really easy to use, you either hand your card over to the photographer at a "meet and greet", or at the till point at the end of a ride. All your photos are uploaded to your account, which I then accessed via the app on my phone.

I don’t think I realised how few places we could use the pass, so we only got 11 photos...which isn’t many for £45! It would be worth it if you were going on some of the bigger rides which take photos, but we didn't as we were there with little ones.

7) Character breakfast
We chose to attend a character breakfast one morning, which we booked in advance. We paid a supplement on top of our meal plan for, and it was worth the extra just not to eat at the Cheyenne Hotel restaurant!
World's Most Beige Breakfast
There were a lot of people there so the characters rushed round a bit (and Benjamin was told off for touching Mickey’s nose...ooops!) but we met Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Scrooge McDuck and Mickey and the kids were grateful for more character cuddles without having to queue for them.

8) Princess lunch
The Princess Lunch was by far my favourite, but quite expensive, part of our holiday. Charlotte’s holiday wish list was: 1) go on the tea cups 2) cuddle Minnie Mouse 3) meet Cinderella. The Princess Lunch seemed a good way to make sure we ticked the third box. I really debated for a long time whether to book this. It was £151 for myself, Stu and Charlotte (again, Benjamin was free) but that felt like a lot of money for a meal for a toddler and a couple of princesses. However, Charlotte was so excited by the whole thing it was definitely worth every penny. She met a couple of Cinderella’s mice friends, Belle, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

The characters spent such a long time just chatting to both Charlotte and Benjamin. Once the chat was over they then offered to have photos, sign whatever autographs you would like and then another quick chat before they moved on to the next table. The characters were all amazing and so attentive...and I guess that’s exactly why you pay the money you do for it. I wasn’t expecting much from the food itself, once again review on the Facebook group I finally stopped looking at, but it was actually a really nice meal. Dessert in particular was much appreciated!


Wowzer. Right, I think that is FINALLY all my boring details done. If you have made it this far, have 20 Joanna points! I’d be really interested to hear what anyone else’s Disneyland Paris thoughts and experiences are. What did you do with regards to food? What add on experiences have you done and would you recommend? What’s your favourite time of year to visit?