Planning a trip to Disneyland Paris

July 30, 2012, 9:29 AM · If our reports from Disneyland Paris last week have you thinking about visiting someday, here are some tips to help you plan a trip to the Disneyland Paris Resort.

Disneyland Paris Railroad station
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year

Getting there

Paris' Charles de Gaulle International Airport tends to be one of the more expensive in Europe, so if you're thinking about including Disneyland Paris as part of a longer European vacation, I'd suggest flying into a different city. Looking at mid-week flights with a 30-day advance purchase, I'm seeing round-trip tickets to Paris from New York running about $900 now, and about $1,000 from Orlando or Los Angeles. You can find flights about $100 cheaper going into London, and $50 cheaper flying into Brussels - two cities connected directly to Disneyland Paris via the Eurostar train system.

We flew into London and stayed there for a week before taking to the Eurostar through the Chunnel to Paris. We visited Disneyland on our last day in Paris, treating it as a kind-of "halfway home" transition back to the United States. We took Paris' RER (pronounced "air-ee-air") train from the stop nearest our hotel in the city to the Disneyland Paris Resort, for about 7 euro per person. After our stay, we took the TGV bullet train from the Disneyland Paris station to Charles de Gaulle, from where we flew back to America.

There's a bus service connecting Disneyland to the airport, but it's your slowest and most expensive option. The TGV gets you from Disneyland to the airport (or vice versa) in just 10 minutes, and costs 17 euro a ticket. You can take the RER between the two, as well, but that requires a transfer in the city center of Paris and can take over an hour total. And that's still almost 17 euro once you buy your tickets from the airport to Paris and from Paris to Disneyland. So if you're going directly between the airport and Disneyland, take the TGV.

The Disneyland Paris train station is located right in the heart of the resort, right next to the bus stops connecting the parks to their on-site hotels and just steps from the security checkpoints.

A note about the security checkpoints: These aren't the simple "open your bag for the Disney cast member" tables that you might be familiar with in the United States. They're airport-style luggage scanners through which all your bags and purses have to pass. And don't be surprised when you see uniformed French army soldiers toting rifles and walking around the checkpoints, either.

Where to stay?

Prices for the on-site hotels at the Disneyland Paris resort are insane. We're talking $1,200+ per night for the Disneyland Hotel in the summer. And $500-950 a night for the other hotels, based on quality and distance from the park.

In comparison, you can spend about $400 a night in the summer and stay in the Grand Californian at Disneyland in Anaheim, our Theme Park Insider Award winner for world's best theme park hotel. If someone wants to make a case for staying in a Disney hotel in Paris, feel free to post in comments. I chose to stay at one of the much more affordable "partner" hotels instead.

Hotel L'Elysée Val d'Europe

We chose the Hotel L'Elysée Val d'Europe, spending about $200 a night. (I've seen this hotel going for less than $150 a night later this fall.) Our room at the Hotel L'Elysée offered two comfortable queen beds, a clean and well-appointed bathroom, and free WiFi, though the offered hot breakfast cost extra. (We skipped it.) It's located next to the immense Val d'Europe outlet mall and there's a free shuttle bus outside the hotel entrance that will take you directly to the Disneyland Paris train station.

A few things to know about the shuttle: It's free for hotel guests, but not for everyone else. So keep the bus schedule you'll get at check-in to show the driver to prove you're a hotel guest, if you're asked. The bus runs every 10-15 minutes around park open and close, but only every hour or so in the middle of the day, so plan accordingly.

Getting to the Hotel L'Elysée was a snap. We took the RER from Paris to the Val d'Europe station (one stop before Disneyland Paris), and just walked across the street to the hotel. The English-speaking front-desk clerk at the hotel also told us about the TGV and where to buy those tickets at the Disneyland station.

I used the Europe-focused to make our reservation, but found all the partner hotels on as well. You can book through the Disneyland Paris website, but it defaults to packages that include park tickets for all days starting on your arrival day, through your check-out day. We stayed two nights, but only visited the parks for a single day, and there's no way to price that option on the Disneyland Paris website. (Do look at the DLP website to get the current list of partner hotels, though.)

There's also no way to make dining reservations online for Disneyland Paris, either. You'll need to call (011-33-01-60-30-40-50 from the United States or Canada), but Disneyland has English-speaking operators to help you. And once you make a reservation, you'll be noted in the system as an English-speaking party, which will get you an English-language menu and English-speaking waiter at your restaurant. (They might speak English as a second, or third, language, but that's still a help.)

If you're calling from the Los Angeles area (as I was), or from Orlando, the operators will ask if you're a cast member, too. I guess not very many non-CMs from LA go to Disneyland Paris. ;^)

Tickets and strategy

As always, buy your tickets in advance to save time at the gate and get the best deal. I paid $84 for a two-park ticket (a $22 savings over the gate price and a $3 savings over the gate price for a one-park ticket) by buying online. The only downside? Disneyland Paris doesn't exchange your print-at-home page for a paper ticket at the gate, as they do in the US, making it a bit of a pain to get Fastpasses later in the day. And they're strict about checking IDs with the print at home tickets, so don't forget to bring your passport to the park.

Unless you've got a goal of visiting every Disney theme park in the world and no plans ever to return to Paris, I'd strongly suggest skipping the Walt Disney Studios Park. Plan to spend all your time in Disneyland Paris instead. Walt Disney Studios Park simply isn't up to Disney standards for quality and value, and offers too few attractions you can't also find in other Disney parks to justify taking time away from visiting the adjacent Disneyland Park. If you'll likely visit Paris in the future, wait to see the Studios park until after the inevitable future visit by John Lasseter that results in his ordering a big-money rebuild of the park, just like at Disney California Adventure. If you must visit the Studios now, just to bag it for your list of Disney parks visited, go in the middle of the day, walk a quick lap, and see Cinemagique.

At Disneyland Paris, Fastpasses are available to Big Thunder Mountain, the Indiana Jones roller coaster, Peter Pan, Buzz Lightyear, Star Tours and Space Mountain. Unless you're hankering to see the old version of Star Tours, don't bother with that one. Fastpasses for Thunder go the fastest, followed by Indy and Pan. Space Mountain's intensity makes it a less popular ride here than in the U.S. Disneyland Paris offers Extra Magic Hours some mornings to on-site hotel guests, but only for selected attractions in Fantasyland and Discoveryland.

My must-see attractions for Disney fans from the U.S. would be:

Disneyland Paris offers a spectacular nighttime show called "Disney Dreams" that's earned raves from anyone who's seen it. Unfortunately, we didn't.

Here's a video of the performance, which blends "Magic, Memories and You"-type castle effects with "Fantasmic" and "World of Color"-like water screen animations and fireworks in a review of popular Disney musical moments, with special emphasis on those set in France.

Disney Dreams plays only at park close at 11pm in the summer. (It doesn't get dark until after 10pm in Paris in the summer.) And in trying to see two parks in one day on the final day of our visit, we were simply too exhausted to stay awake for the 11pm show, especially with a trans-Atlantic flight looming the next day. My bad with the planning fail. Learn from my mistake. ;^) So if you're visiting in the summer, staying up for Disney Dreams provides all the more reason to skip the Studios, arrive later at Disneyland Paris, or to take a break and pace yourself during the day. Or at least, don't plan anything important, such as flying out of the country, for the next morning after the show.


Counter service food in this park is the worst in the Disney chain. They're trying to "be American" and end up with a mediocre collection of places serving the same selection of burgers, pizza, chicken and weak BBQ. If you want something better, choose one of the table service restaurants, such as Walt's, or one of the all-you-can-eat buffets. Call in advance for reservations for table service and character meals (see number above).

Burgers, burgers, and burgers

Keep in mind that taxes are included in all the posted prices you'll see at Disneyland Paris. And tips are typically small in France, just round up a euro or so if you're paying in cash.

If you plan to use your credit card in Europe, you'll need to know that it won't work in many places. European credit cards use a "chip and PIN" system instead of the magnetic stripe used on US cards. In restaurants, servers will need to swipe your card through the reader, which is something many Europeans don't have much experience with. At Walt's, I ended up having to swipe the card, because no one on staff could get it to go the right away. When you're buying train tickets, you'll need to get tickets at a station with an attendant who can swipe your card, because it won't work in the automated machines. (All machines I saw also took cash, though.)

Dealing with people

The best piece of advice I got about visiting France? "Always remember, it's 'people before business.'"

Pirate people

That means the first word out of your mouth when entering a store or restaurant should be a greeting, not a question or a demand. Say "bonjour", or "bonsoir" (bon-swah) in the evening, before moving on to anything else. Forget to greet someone first and you can guarantee hostility in response. If you want to order something, say so with "Je voudrais…" (zhuh-vuh-dray, meaning "I would like…").

More than 200 years later, the French Revolution still reverberates. There is no surviving tradition of the "service class" in France, as there is in England, and even in America. No one "serves" anyone in France, so get over any expectation of that when you're in the country. Sure, the waiter's job is to bring your you meal, but it's not to denigrate himself or herself in "service" to you. If you want what Americans perceive as great service, appeal to your waiter's expertise, instead. Ask for suggestions and advice. (Then take them - you'll rarely regret it.) Finish your conversations by offering a thank-you ("Merci") and good-bye ("Au revoir" - ahv-wah).

If you must make what would be considered a menial demand or request, try to do it in French first. That shows respect. We stayed at a hotel in Paris where you had to leave the old-fashioned key at the front desk when you left the hotel. And every evening when we returned, we gave our room number in French. That's a menial request, asking for a key. But once we'd done that in French, the desk clerk was always happy show his expertise with suggestions on where to eat, in English.

In tourist areas such as Disneyland and the center of Paris, most people working in hotels, restaurants or retail will speak at least a little English and be happy to help you in that language - if you've shown the proper respect to them as a French-speaking individual first. Remember, people before business.

Also, take note that the French don't speak loudly in public, like too many Americans do. Loud talking at your table at dinner is another way to ensure hostile treatment from your waiter. On trains, some cars will be designated as "quiet cars," where you're not supposed to talk at all. In the others, people will speak in near-whispers. Keep your conversations to yourself. No one else wants to hear them.

Have you visited Disneyland Paris? We'd love to hear your best tips and advice, in the comments.

Tomorrow: Robert ranks the Disney theme parks worldwide, and talks more about planning trips to far-flung theme parks.

Replies (27)

July 30, 2012 at 10:02 AM · You can get the Santa Fe and Cheyenne hotels at the resort cheaper than that. Only when they're part of a deal and never in the school holidays. But even then I don't think they're worth the money. The other hotels look really nice, but are so over-priced.

Like you said, there are some really nice hotels off-property at much more reasonable prices and most of them have a shuttle to the parks.

The main draw to WDS at the moment is Crush's Coaster and everyone gets very disappointed with the capacity problems on that ride, combined with the amount of times it seems to break down. Even when the park isn't busy you won't see a queue less than 90 minutes, because it's a unique attraction that has a height limit of only 1 meter. EVERYBODY wants to ride it.

You also have to remember most people who visit the park are European and haven't visited any of the other Disney parks. It is still pretty brilliant and definitely better than nothing.

July 30, 2012 at 10:31 AM · Good tips. A small note, the Val d'Europ mall is not only an outlet mall! The larger part is a regular mall, including a large hypermarche and several reasonably priced restaurants.
July 30, 2012 at 10:37 AM · I'll be visiting Disneyland Paris this October but having visited Paris in the past AND worked with a lot of French people in a previous job, I completely agree with your report. It is people first then business. My French teacher once told me that when entering a store, a restaurant or any other commercial establishment, one should act like they are entering someone else's house. Being respectful and starting everything with a Bonjour does work! :)
July 30, 2012 at 10:53 AM · We visited Disneyland Paris around Christmas 2010 and have a fantastic time, although 5 inches of snow on the ground made access to all the rides problematic. I also am ashamed to say I didn't do enough research beforehand to know what all the rides were at the park - especially those unique to DLP - so we missed a couple of attractions that we would have liked. I had no idea there was a dragon AA below the castle, nor an Alice maze, plus a couple of other things. Ah well, live and learn. So my advice for planning a trip, especially in winter, is to be prepared with what you want to see. Big Thunder Mountain and Indiana Jones were covered with snow, being outside coasters, so they were closed. Because there's a lot of foot traffic, there's also a lot of slush so wear good boots unless you want your socks to get soaked through (as my wife and daughter learned the hard way).

As for dealing with people - everyone we met in the park was delightful. I apply the same mindset I do wherever I go: be polite from the beginning of an interaction, smile, and be patient. They will 99% of the time be the same thing right back to you. I rarely ever have a problem dealing with someone in a park or restaurant if I go in with a good attitude.

Let me know if anyone's interested in seeing on Youtube the park video we shot of the day at the very snowy, very Christmasy Disneyland Paris.

July 30, 2012 at 10:58 AM · What you mentioned about the credit card is spot on. It's enforced by the credit card companies for all EU countries and is not that long around (a few years ago it was similar to the US). Most excepted are MasterCard.
Know that a lot of people you meet that work at DLP are not from France but are from Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, etc. Most of them are bilingual or trilingual.
Americans are typically preserved as loud and rude but great tippers (something of a myth you debunked). There is no service culture in EU like there is in US (unfortunately). Don't place yourselves above them or they'll spit in your food.
Also remember there is no EU. It are very different countries with very different cultures and dislikes between countries is common.
Wasn't it cheaper to fly through Amsterdam? It's the biggest hub airport for EU. You could take the kids to a koffie shop, see the windmills and do the red light district... ;-)
July 30, 2012 at 11:05 AM · I would recommend Val d'Europe as a base for anyone visiting DP - especially because it gives you the opportunity to experience things a little more French. There is a lovely patisserie in the station where you can pick up a fresh pasrty and coffee or even a sandwich and there are a few lovely restaurants there toom. If you love shopping the outlet mall has soe great bargains. We stayed in the Residome Val d'Europe which is right outside the station entrance to the station and I am convinced that we would be back in our hotel before the majority of on site guests had made the 20 min walk back their hotels.
If you are flying in or out of CDG airport take the TGV - it really is just one stop and 10 mins to DP - in fact it goes so fast you won't have time to find your seat before you have to get off again!
DP has a long way to go to match Disneyland and WDW - it really is time for a major rethink on some rides etc to encourage me to go back - the weather isn't guaranteed and it can get very cold off season so I would rather hold out for WDW and the sunshine!
July 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM · This is such a great article -- not just about Disneyland Paris -- but about visiting Europe as a whole. Although it is off subject, it would be nice for Robert to let us know what other attractions he and his family enjoyed during their visit to Europe.

- Brian

July 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Barry,

Uh, yes, I'd love to see that video! Please post the link!

Also, I was quoted $510 a night for Cheyenne, and Crockett's actually off the main property, so I didn't consider it. (It's a lower star rating and further away than some of the partner hotels, so I didn't see any benefit.)

July 30, 2012 at 2:00 PM · I posted photos and write a bit about the places we visited in France in a couple weeks ago.

As for London, I highly recommend Borough Market (I have developed a regrettable addiction to Pieminister, seeing as they do not deliver outside the GB mainland), Hampton Court, the British Museum, heck, just everything. We're having fun watching the Olympics (on the BBC live feed, shhhh) and recognizing all the places we visited around town.

A few tips: Go to Evensong at Westminster Abbey. It's free and you get to see the church in its proper context, as a house of worship. We were fortunate and were seated in Poets' Corner, the part of the church I most wanted to see on the paid tour anyway. I wanted to see the graves of Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, and saw them all either on the way in or out of the service. The ministers also let you linger around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as long as you'd like, but they do rush you out of the rest of the Abbey after the service.

Street markets in England and France are amazing - the best food at the best prices. Laurie's missing the Monmouth coffee at Borough Market already.

The longest line we waited in in London was for the Platform 9 3/4 photo op at Kings Cross station. Don't rush by the neighboring St. Pancras Station, though - that was the station used as the exterior of Kings Cross in the Harry Potter films. One more Harry Potter note: Natalie bought a sweater at AllSaints Spitalfields on Portobello Road and just realized today that it's the same sweater Neville Longbottom is wearing in the final scenes of Deathly Hallows Part 2. So there's a place to go for your truly authentic Harry Potter gear.

July 30, 2012 at 2:49 PM · I found your comment on the lack of "service class" in France to be rather discouraging. In essence, they are not professional service people unless they are encouraged by their customers by knowing the French customs. in other words, the customer is required to know the code of conduct or else we will be screwed.

As least in the U.S., tips is how we reward good service. In France, they are happy to offer it via handholding. Here it is after getting an ego boost.

July 30, 2012 at 3:18 PM · To the French, the concept of "service" is a bit demeaning. (It's viewed as "servant.") The French see Americans' embrace of fake enthusiasm for people who give them money as sleazy, at best. The French will help you, enthusiastically, but only if you avoid doing things that show you think you're better or more deserving than they are. Defer to their expertise, and you will get help.

(Which makes sense. Because if you need help from someone, it's usually because they have some knowledge, access or expertise you don't.)

And, hell yes, a customer damned well better know and abide by the code of conduct in the country he or she is visiting! A visitor who doesn't say hello and starts making demands in Spanish (or French) in the United States isn't going to get much good help in return over here, either. Nor should they.

July 30, 2012 at 3:18 PM · Loved these tips especially about the faux pas that many Americans would make in France, let alone Europe. I gotta agree with "people before business" as greetings, respect, and proper etiquette are sometimes lost when people travel. A lot of Americans also like to hear themselves talk and don't listen... they hear things, but they don't listen if that makes sense.

I'm actually surprised that tipping happens at DLP considering what I've heard about tipping in Europe and similarly, Australia.

July 30, 2012 at 7:40 PM · Did you notice how the French love to cut in line in the States? They make their kids walk through the queue line as if no one is stopping them. If you tell them it doesn't work this way, they act surprised and that they don't know the language.

The French are masters of having it both ways. They don't get a tip if they don't deserve it, but unfortunately, the service charge is usually on the check so you don't have any choice.

Sometimes a good host should help someone out. The French have no excuse if their visitors complain when they are not helping them understand. I can pretend just like they pretend they don't understand English.

As a person of Chinese ancestry, you should know bad service when you get it at Chinese restaurants and they don't expect tips either. It is race to the bottom there. Eat and get out.

July 30, 2012 at 9:59 PM · I agree with Robert! Saying hello or good morning resulted in excellent service (and sometimes responses in English or a few chuckles at my accent). I don't think it's very difficult at all to treat a person in hospitality or retail as a person first and a worker second. Being on the receiving end of whistles or a "hey, you" when someone wanted my attention when I was in that role might make me more attuned to that.

I found the best way to have lunch was to grab a baguette and some cheese and fruit before we left Paris. Noone seemed to mind we bought our own food and it was cheap and tasty. Im not sure if these are available in the US, but in Australia you can get things called Travelex cards that you preload with the currency of the place you are travelling to. They have chips and pins as well as magnetic strips and can be used like credit cards or to take cash out of ATMS.

July 30, 2012 at 11:53 PM · I'm busy planning my 10th trip to Disney (I live in the UK so its much more accessible for me) but my main tip for anyone thinking of visiting... DON'T only go for one day, there is no way you can experience all Disney has to offer in such a small amount of time even if its the much smaller Paris parks, even 2 days in the summer is a painfully short amount of time, you end up rushing (even if you don't notice you are) and end up missing a lot of things out. a second huge tip.... visit during the winter! a winter visit will give you at the longest a 30 min wait for the most popular rides (i got on crush's coaster in the Walt Disney studios after a 10 min wait on my last trip (Jan 2011)

and finally my case for the on site hotels.... extra magic hours.... this extra addition that is only available to guests in the on site hotels (you need whats called a hotel easy pass to get past the ropes into the lands of the parks) gives you up to a whopping 2 hours of extra time in the parks and that means you can easily get the most popular rides in discoveryland and fantasyland done before the regualr park hours even begin (get in at least one ride on peter pans flight and buzz lightyears lazerblast as they are the two most popular.... then go for the others)

just need to say now that i really enjoyed reading your report its made me all excited for my next trip (in planning for Jan 2013)

July 31, 2012 at 5:34 AM · To say the french have a lack of service is very streo typical. its like saying all americans are fat. both statements widely untrue. The French in general are very helpful to those that are polite. And tipping in europe is done to reward someone for a good job, not something that is expected as in america. I have had many a rude waiter in orlando expect tipping even when a service has been terrible. On a whole the article made me chuckle. Best bet for park tickets is a 99 euro basic annual pass (approx $120-125), check the website for block out dates though.
July 31, 2012 at 6:41 AM · We had a similar experience with credit cards in our trip to Sweden, Czech Republic, and Denmark over the winter. Before we left, we were able to get what's called a "chip and sign" credit card from a US bank. It was still a little confusing to most vendors, because they would hand us the keypad even though we didn't need to enter a pin. We quickly figured out if we just hit enter on the pad, it would cue the computer to print out a receipt for us to sign. Many of the heavily toured areas still had swipe machines, though, but anything that was self service required a chip-imbedded card. However, unless you're planning on just going to the super popular places, and don't plan out eating anywhere aside from major chains, a chip-imbedded card is almost a must now in Europe.
July 31, 2012 at 7:25 AM · Our trip to Disneyland Paris:


July 31, 2012 at 7:38 AM · So basically, show good manners and you'll get on fine.

I think that's not really a "France" thing, but an "everywhere" thing.

July 31, 2012 at 7:48 AM · As a frequent French visitor to the DLP parks, I must say that your review is spot on!
July 31, 2012 at 9:33 AM · $510 for Cheyenne? Have you seen the place? The rooms are not even half the standard of a value resort at WDW. When I booked it last year I got Eurostar, tickets and one night there for about the equivalent of $170 for two of us.
July 31, 2012 at 9:49 AM · Caroline, when did you visit? (I suspect that seasonal differences in pricing at DLP are huge.)

Also, I can't endorse enough the idea of shopping in the speciality or street markets to assemble a picnic lunch. The best meal we had in Europe was a picnic we assembled at a boulangerie, patisserie, and fromagerie in Vernon. Amazing.

July 31, 2012 at 1:58 PM · To me as a small business owner I don’t feel as if it is my customers job to be the ones to act correctly or have good manners before I will show them any respect or give them good service. I have rude people come in all the time and I feel as if it is my job to treat them just as I would any other customer that comes in. I may think they are rude and talk about how rude they are after they leave but as long as they do not get belligerent I just get them what they need treat them with just as much respect as anyone else because it is my job. If I meet them on the street I would not be nearly as nice to them if they were that rude to me but it is just part of dealing with customers. I guess I just think it would be nice for everyone to learn another countries customs and for everyone to be as polite as possible when dealing with ANY place of business in ANY country, but its not reality. I would think that anyone in the service industry could have enough professionalism to over look it if someone doesn’t greet them the correct way or doesn’t ask for something the correct way and still give good service.
August 1, 2012 at 5:29 AM · Great report. I'm going in October (for the first time since 1994) so it's very helpful.

Just a question, though - how "inevitable" really is it that there'll be a big-money rebuild in the future? I live in the UK and my cost for coach travel, 2 days in the park, and 3 nights at a partner hotel is just $400 so any upgrade to my local park would be great!

August 1, 2012 at 5:15 PM · Ian, I don't know when Disney will do something about Studios. There seems to be quite a bit of hotel construction going on down by Val d'Europe. But other than Ratatouille for Studios and Star Tours 2 for DLP, I don't know of anything in the pipeline.

I think a re-do of the park entrance, a la what Disney did with DCA, would improve Studios immensely. The good news is Disney has plenty of space to work with in Paris. It's money and will to invest that seems to be the issue. If Disney spends the money to improve the Studios, will enough additional guests come, spending enough additional money, to make that investment worthwhile?

August 1, 2012 at 7:16 PM · If I remember right, I think there was a news article not so long ago suggesting that the resort still isnt profitable. Might affect where and when they invest cash.
August 2, 2012 at 5:19 AM · I am very late reading and commenting on this - apologies. Its a great post and higly informative. I must agree (as do others) on making an attempt at French.
I went on a cruise 2 years ago that sailed through France (the south), Italy, Spain and Gibraltar. I made sure I knew how to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, sorry, at the very least for each country (I have conversational French from school so that was no problem) and I found I had good service wherever I went.
Our Italian waiter at lunch in Rome did indeed laugh at my Brit/Italian mash up and happily corrected me so I could get it right, not maliciously, just out of friendliness.

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