I’m a crier. I admit it. When I first saw that pale-pink Victorian hotel towering over the park entrance, I had a lump in my throat. This is it, I thought. We’re in Disneyland Paris.
I grew up in America, not far from Disneyland in California. I moved to London over 20 years ago. And although Disney has always been an intoxicating cocktail of nostalgia and fantasy for me, Disneyland Paris holds an even more special mystique. So be warned. Glimpsing the castle for the first time casts a spell that will last a lifetime! Here are my best Disneyland Paris tips for first-timers, including several that might surprise you.
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1. Disneyland Paris is more like ‘plan a little bit, then wing it’
Are you used to military-style planning for your Disney Florida holiday? As a first-timer, you’ll be surprised at a few things you won’t be doing at Disneyland Paris:
- There is no Genie+ and no FastPass. Disneyland Paris replaced the FastPass system with two paid options: Premier Pass and Premier Access Ultimate. Both of these are a buy-on-the day upgrade. Unlike Genie+, you are guaranteed to ride the attraction you purchase.
- Except for Marvel characters, you won’t book a slot to meet characters. In the Disneyland Paris mobile app you can find the meet-and-greet times and locations for your favourite characters. Tip: Turn up about 30 minutes before. Marvel characters in Walt Disney Studios operate with a virtual queue. Log in to the app once you are inside the Studios and it will be indicated what time you can apply for the next superhero meet.
- Remember when we had to reserve tables 180 days before our Florida trips? Disneyland Paris works a bit differently. If you are staying at a Disney hotel, you can book with their concierge up to 12 months before. For more details about Disney dining reservations, check out my full guide to getting a table at Disneyland Paris.
In other words, you will not need to be tied to your computer making loads of dining reservations before your trip.
Better yet, you won’t be frantically checking your phone all day long to find your next activity. In France, you can live in the moment – let your feet take you to whatever you fancy next!
2. You won’t need a 2-week itinerary
Along the same lines as not having to extensively plan restaurants and rides before your trip, you also won’t need a 2-week itinerary when you’re there. You can experience all the magic of the Parisian parks in 3 days. Or you can have an exciting taster in just one day.
There is much to compare and contrast between Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris. But one of the main advantages for first-timers going to Disneyland Paris is that it’s a much smaller investment of time and money.
3. Of course they speak French! But you don’t have to
Cast members won’t always be fluent in English, but they know enough to tell you where attractions are or where to go if you have a problem.
Other language differences to note in these Disneyland Paris tips for first-timers are:
- The Disneyland Paris mobile app is in English and at your fingertips to guide you around the park
- All the signage is in English
- Food menus are printed in English and French
- The narrative on the attractions is generally understandable. Even if some of the dialogue is French, you can easily follow the visuals
- The shows and parades have a pleasant mix of French and English. I thoroughly enjoy Elsa singing Let It Go in French. Let’s face it, we all know the words to that song!
4. There are more smokers in Europe
One of the things that surprised me as a first-time visitor to Disneyland Paris was the number of smokers. While the park doesn’t allow smoking except in designated areas, some people sneak cheeky fags throughout the park.
Thankfully I have noticed the problem less and less over the years.
5. Cast members are… different
English and American tourists are sometimes disappointed that cast members are, well, more French?
Perhaps it’s that the French are a bit more cool. You won’t hear the slightly cringey ‘Have a Magical Day, Princess!’ But don’t be put off. The cast members are genuinely passionate about Disney, and I’ve met loads of very friendly people there.
Pro tip: Your smile and even a badly pronounced ‘Bonjour’ will go a long way to connecting with cast members and making your first-time experience of the parks even more wonderful.
6. Disneyland Paris isn’t in Paris
Say what? That’s right. Disneyland is not in Paris. It is located just outside the city centre. The good news is, if you arrive by Eurostar or RER (local) train to Marne-la-Vallee/Chessy station, Disneyland Paris is just a few steps outside!
🚗➡️ If you are planning a last-minute trip to Disneyland Paris by car, check out my tips for using the Eurotunnel.
🚄➡️ Using Eurostar for the first-time? Check out my tips on taking the Eurostar to Disneyland Paris.
7. France is romantic. Disneyland Paris is no different
Disneyland in Paris has style, beauty and an enchanting story to discover in every land.
They also have wine! And it’s delicious.
Some of the attractions unique to Disneyland Paris are:
- Hyperspace Mountain is a Star Wars-themed high speed roller coaster with inversions
- Pirate Galleon, Davy Jones Locker and Skull Rock extend the Pirates of the Caribbean area beautifully. Perfect for little and big pirates alike!
- The Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril roller coaster goes upside down
- Phantom Manor has a story completely different to the Haunted Mansion. Check out the graveyard at the back
- Big Thunder Mountain has a track that tunnels under the water to the island across. It’s arguably the best version of this ride in the world
- Crush’s Coaster in the Studios is a unique spin on Finding Nemo
- Avengers Assemble Flight Force is another inversion roller coaster only in Paris
- And one of my personal favourites: Check out Sleeping Beauty Castle’s dragon in the dungeon. Then go upstairs for the stunning Sleeping Beauty walk-through you won’t see in any other park. (Listen out for the snoring guard!)
Tip: A stroll through Adventureland is particularly picturesque if you cut right through the middle from Frontierland, around the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and past Skull Rock to Pirates of the Caribbean.
8. Your feet will fall off
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: There is a lot of walking to do. You might accomplish 20,000 steps in a full day.
But not between the parks! Walt Disney Studios sits right next to Disneyland Park. This is a wonderful advantage that Disneyland Paris has over Walt Disney World.
Tip: You will need a park hopper ticket to visit both parks on the same day.
9. One of the parks is better than the other
I’m looking at you Walt Disney Studios. (I still love you, though!) A lot of exciting things are on the horizon for Walt Disney Studios, including a spectacular Frozen land.
But for now, dipping in and out of this park or spending no more than ¾ of a day here is plenty. Budget the rest of your time for the main park as there is much more to do.
And while it might not take an entire day, Walt Disney Studios is full of exceptional shows and a few must-do attractions. To make the most of your time, check out my perfect 1 day plan for Walt Disney Studios.
Tip: Starting your day at Walt Disney Studios is smart because it closes earlier than the main park.
10. The on-site hotels are really on-site
You probably won’t need a car to get from your hotel to the parks. The Disney hotels are only about a 10-minute walk. In fact, one of the hotels sits above the entrance to the main park! Currently the Disneyland Hotel is still under refurbishment, set to open in 2024 with majestic rooms themed around the Princesses (and Queen!) in Cinderella, Tangled, Beauty and the beast and Frozen.
As you would expect for such convenience, the Disneyland Paris hotels are on the pricey side.
One of the best Disneyland Paris tips for first-timers is that several off-site hotels are also walkable or within one stop on the RER (commuter rail train).
I cover potential savings for booking an off-site hotel in my guide to estimating your budget for Disneyland Paris. And I compare the two cheapest Disneyland Paris hotels in Cheyenne vs Santa Fe – which is better?.
11. You can’t meet more than one royal at a time
Something that really surprises first-time visitors to Disneyland Paris is that you can only meet one princess in the Princess Pavilion (unless you join the queue again). The wait at Disneyland Paris is longer, too, averaging about 2 hours.
You cannot choose who you want to meet – it’s random whether you are seen by Princess Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora or Belle.
The plus side is that the inside part of the queue is beautifully done with interesting displays for all the princesses and some interactive elements that are fun to play with.
12. Europeans aren’t big on snacking
At least, not in the American sense. You won’t find an obscenely-sized turkey leg or refreshment carts every 50 feet.
But don’t get me wrong. Disneyland Paris has plenty of wonderful treats.
My favourite (and unique) snacks at Disneyland Paris are:
- the marshmallow sundae waffles in Adventureland
- themed Magnums in Walt Disney Studios
- crepes (obviously, given the name of my blog!)
- enormous Wonderland ice creams from March Hare
- champagne by the glass in front of the castle.
For savoury lovers, the carts by Ratatouille are unmissable (I love the goat cheese honey crepes paired with a glass of wine). Also check out the mini food festival area near Tower of Terror, usually in the summertime.
Got kids? The pic and mix sweets are pricey but always a big hit with my boys.
13. The selection of merchandise leaves much to be desired
I am constantly surprised that Disney’s European shops don’t have the same diversity as their global counterparts.
However, if you keep your eyes peeled, there are still some unique and memorable souvenirs to be had. Just don’t expect to return home with another suitcase full of trinkets!
I’ll give you the best tips for the most exclusive Disneyland Paris merchandise:
- There is a small selection of exclusive Disneyland Paris Pandora charms (try Hollywood Jewel Box in Walt Disney Studios)
- Dotted throughout the two parks, you’ll find a few variations of the classic Disneyland Paris spirit jersey
- Food carts typically have souvenir drink cups, and March Hare Refreshments will offer a popcorn bucket
- Unsurprisingly, you’ll find a modest selection of Disneyland Paris fridge magnets, pins, pens and t-shirts. But the best place to find stationary and rare books is in The Storybook Store (to the left before you get to Main Street USA in Disneyland Park)
- Finally, if you have time for Disney Village, check out The Disney Gallery’s Art on Demand where you can create a unique Disney print and have it shipped home.
14. Not everyone is on board with British-style queuing
There’s always that one tacky group that squeezes eight people in front of you after you’ve been waiting an hour in line. But for the most part, ride queues are pretty civilised.
Where it descends into mayhem is at the fireworks and when boarding the shuttle to the hotels at the end of the night. I’ve seen grown women push small children out of the way. I’ve even been rammed by a buggy from behind (and not by accident).
A Disneyland Paris tip for first-timers it to try to leave the park a little before the crowds or hang back till after they have dispersed. Shops will stay open for about an hour after closing.
At the fireworks, the best you can do is either hold your ground or just let them get on with it. As unsettling as it is, try not to let a stranger’s bad manners spoil your Disney experience.
15. Look out where you put your rubbish!
Disneyland Paris is striving to be greener. In France, disposable plates and cutlery are being phased out.
Expect to find eco-friendly washable bamboo bowls, forks and knives etc. Cold drinks don’t have lids, and the straws are made of paper.
When you are finished, you will see separate bins for normal waste and reusable items.
16. Restaurants close earlier than you’d expect
I’ll never forget visiting in February and wanting dinner for our hungry family at 6pm. It was a mission impossible! All the restaurants bar Colonel Hathi’s Pizza in Adventureland were closed.
If this happens to you, try Casey’s Corner for hotdogs (they have vegan and meat options). Or consider getting a meal in Disney Village.
I have a full guide to Disney Dining including the best hacks for the table reservation system.
17. There are no paper maps
This one saddens me no end. But alas, Disneyland Paris has stopped printing paper maps.
If you want a map for getting around the parks, be sure to download the Disneyland Paris mobile app.
If you want a map to take home, there is a wall-sized retro paper map available to purchase from The Storybook Store in the main park. Ask at the till if you don’t see it.
Bonus Disneyland Paris Tip for First-Timers: If you do nothing else, do this
And lastly, my best tip for Disneyland Paris first-timers is try not to stress.
Even the experts have trips that go a bit haywire, kids go rogue, and the thing you wanted more than anything else is sold out. It is important to appreciate Disneyland Paris as a new experience and temporary.
Embrace the cultural differences, let your kids eat ice cream for dinner, really listen to the music, and cheer for your favourite characters in the parade. Remember what it was like to be a kid again.
That is the best magic of all.
If you enjoyed Disneyland Paris tips for first-timers, you will love:
- What to take for your kid’s first time to Disneyland Paris
- How to do Disneyland Paris on a budget
- The FULL GUIDE to planning Disneyland Paris (with free checklist)
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