A trip to a Disneyland Paris is almost a rite of passage for British kids these days but such is the rate at which the French theme park has expanded over the past five years, parents still need to precision plan their visit to ensure everyone gets the most out of it.
It’s not just the size of the park that makes a two-day stay essential – queuing, already a familiar sight at UK theme parks, is something you’ll get very well used to at Disneyland Paris and can severely reduce the number of attractions you can squeeze into your day.
Be prepared to stand in line for the most popular rides for upwards of an hour – if your kids are the fractious types or prone to toilet breaks at short-notice, you might find this an ordeal.
Disney has thought through this particular problem and you can buy Fast Passes, which will whisk you to the front of the queue, cutting upwards of 90 minutes off the wait for some of the most popular attractions.
The passes cost money, however, and the best way to get around on a budget is to time your visit so it doesn’t coincide with French or UK school holidays or to visit during mid-week.
Get a head start by getting into the theme parks at opening time. This sounds obvious but the vast majority of people at the New York Hotel where we stayed took their time over a leisurely breakfast and didn’t make the entrance gates until well past 10am.
If you start early, you can experience the most popular rides with little or no wait at all. We went round three times on what’s arguably the best white knuckle ride at Disneyland Paris – the Aerosmith Rock’n’Roller Coaster.
It’s the fastest ever ride built at a Disney theme park and will do 0-60 in a little under 3 seconds. With two loops and a fearsome corkscrew, the coaster offers a sensational tour of the senses and a full breakfast before riding is not recommended.
Our quick turnarounds were possible by being the first riders of the day and we only stopped when queues built up after an hour.
Space Mountain, a hugely popular lunar themed ride, was closed for refurbishment when we visited, which was a real shame as the rockets on its 1km-long track promise to whisk you to almost 50mph.
The big news at Disneyland Paris this year is the opening of Space Mountain: Mission 2 in April which promises to serve up both aliens and ‘new space frontiers’. In the interim, Thunder Mountain’s looping train provides more than adequate compensation.
Queuing aside, Disneyland Paris has very few of the downsides of UK theme parks. Apart from the heavy number of smokers – the French really haven’t bought into the health debate on cigarettes at all – the park was litter-free and a complete absence of that all-pervading smell of chip fat that you get in the UK.
If you want fast food, Disney has it in abundance and there is a huge variety of restaurants where you can eat your fill of chips and burgers. But at least everyone isn’t eating as they walk along.
And Disney does do other food well with plenty of choice for the salad munchers.
There is an army of ‘cast members’ who spend the day clearing up the park and the overall effect was impressive.
Disneyland is as clean and bright as it was on opening day – it was hard to find so much as a discarded butt or even a piece of chewing gum stuck to the ground.
Perhaps the best part of Disney’s French operation is the ease with which you can get there.
Ten years old already, Eurostar boasts reliability and punctuality levels that UK train operators can only fantasise about and you can comfortably get from London to the theme park in under three hours.
Driving is also possible and there are extensive car parks, but even once you’ve got to France you have a 3-4 hour drive, which eats into your holiday time. When Eurostar moves to Kings Cross in 2007, anyone living north of London will find Disneyland Paris much more accessible.
Even the most cynical adult can’t fail to be entranced by the Disney experience. Certainly kids of every age will love it. Good, clean innocent fun is hard to find these days and Disneyland Paris has it in abundance.
Only Legoland has anything comparable in the UK and its overall appeal is strictly limited to the under 13s.
It’s saying something for Disneyland Paris that the park manages to attract so many teenagers, all past the age you might expect to find Disney attractive.
Disney’s lure reflects its success in building a studios theme park alongside the original EuroDisney and adding enough white-knuckle rides to satisfy anyone who’s ridden the best of the rides available at UK theme parks.
Unlike some UK theme parks where you pay an expensive entry fee and are then charged a premium for the biggest and best rides, Disney’s prices are all-inclusive. Once you’re in, you get to try everything and there are no hidden charges.
The brilliantly choreographed daily parades were the highlight for my kids – aged eight and 11 – who loved the dancing and music and the opportunity to get up close to their favourite characters.
Childrens’ tastes may have moved on from the simplicity of Snow White in the 1940s but Disney’s magic kingdom still has the power to hold visitors spell-bound today. My kids liked it too.
Travel facts A two-night stay at Disney’s Hotel New York starts from £293 per adult and £139 per child, for spring/summer travel.
Prices are based on two adults and two children (3-11 years) sharing a family room and include two nights’ accommodation with breakfast, return travel on Eurostar from London Waterloo to the resort and a three-day hopper ticket for the Disneyland Park and new Walt Disney Studios Park.
To book call 08705 030303 or visit http://www.disneylandparis.com
This article first appeared in 2005 in the Daily Mail.