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I should start by saying that our 16 month old daughter has a love of Mickey and the “clubhouse characters” that runs deep… very deep. It was the first television shows, and only one until recently, that she would watch at all and her joy at seeing Mickey toys, pictures and all other items is one that can not be rivaled. This being said, I grew up a lover of Disney World in Florida. I would estimate I’ve been there in the 25 visit range and absolutely love it every time whether riding rides as a child or just walking around and enjoying the food and shows more so as an adult.
We decided to travel the 4 hours to Disneyland Paris from our home and found that to be surprisingly easy – the SANEF run toll road through that part of France was very well run and had excellent rest areas and food along the way, as well as little to no traffic! It was a little expensive – a total of about 28 Euros each way but you do get what you pay for. Although – either have cash or a chip and pin card, they do not take US credit cards.
Now for Disneyland Paris itself – I went in with low expectations. The reviews online were not great and having known some people to be disappointed we made a plan to go to the Disney Village our first day and then into Disneyland Park the second full day. To stay on the resort grounds you really have to buy the package that includes the park tickets which we didn’t need. For a two night stay it includes three days of park tickets generally which was far too much for a 16 month old to handle. We ended up at the Marriott Vacation Club resort which was about a 5 minute drive away and loved it! Typical Marriott with good service and beautiful grounds! The smallest accommodation was a two bedroom and two and a half bath condo type which worked well for our four adults and baby.
Upon arriving at the Disney Village (or free Disney as my husband calls it because there is no entrance fee) we found parking to be easy in the garage which is a three to five minute walk to the entrance to the Village. Now while it is not nearly as scenic as Lake Buena Vista in Orlando it was very nice and had several of the large souvenir shops as well as lots of restaurants. We made reservations ahead of time through resort reservations (using the French number at which the reservationist did speak English) for Cafe Mickey. They offered a character lunch that was excellent! It was expensive, but nice because unlike many of the park restaurants where they are geared more towards those with the meal plan included in their stay, they allowed you to just order ala carte.
The Characters were the highlight of our stay – and our daughters’. She loved it! The characters were great and spent time for pictures and to interact at each table and it was non stop. Even though the restaurant was full it was never more than about 10 to 15 minutes between a character coming by and we saw all the highlights – Daisy, Mickey, Goofy, Eeyore and Chip and Dale.
The second day there we went into Disneyland Park. It was as striking as expected. It has far more beautiful gardens and the castle itself as the centrepiece is gorgeous. Rather than at the Magic Kingdom where it is built using techniques to make it look bigger, the Paris version is actually built to size. One highlight also was the dragon’s lair underneath which is unique to Disneyland Paris. Yes, as we had heard the Disney employees are more on the “French” side with hospitality not being as outgoing as in the US, but overall the service was very good and some employees were very nice.
Overall the park is very similar to the Magic Kingdom, and a little larger than Disneyland in LA. Space Mountain was a highlight for my husband and father who said it was far scarier than the Florida version! Indi went on It’s a Small World for her first ever ride, 50 years after her grandma who went on it at the World’s Fair! She loved it and her amazement was a highlight for us all.
For those that really enjoy going to amusement parks to ride the rides – this may not be the place for you. They don’t have a ton of rides for small children and even for adults there are a few – some of which like Indiana Jones are currently under renovation. It was interesting that the meet Mickey pavilion had a solid 40 minute line to meet him all day which reinforced to us that if you want to meet the characters, Cafe Mickey in the Village is the place to do it! We had also heard about all of the smoking in the park, and yes, there was some, however even for us who really hate smoke it was acceptable as it was not everywhere and only outside. The Fastpass system is also great and now that you can get them prior to staying it seems like a good idea given the few rides that are available.
The second park is called Disney Studios and is very similar to MGM Studios (Disney Hollywood Studios to those of you accepting the new title!) but we didn’t make it into that park. One day with our 16 month old was plenty to just see Disneyland Park and we will certainly head back to the other when she is older. I would also highly recommend parking at the Disney Village – the garage there is much closer to the park entrance than the parking for the parks and is also less expensive.
Overall, we would rate it a solid 8- with Disney World in Orlando being a 10 and Disneyland in Anaheim being about a 5.