I remember visiting Disneyland Paris the year it opened when I was ten years old. It was the most truly magical holiday I’d ever experienced – princesses, It’s a Small World, the parades, the shows, the castle… of course I cried when I had to leave! I returned in my childhood and relived the experiences… just as magical as before. Now, an adult with a child of my own, I couldn’t wait to take him to Disneyland and for him to experience the magic himself – and celebrate the 30th anniversary of Disney first opening!
My sister and I decided to book for three nights, four days with me taking Oscar (Mr S couldn’t come due to work) and her taking her boys aged five and eleven. We couldn’t wait to take them!
But my first tip for taking a three year old to Disney is don’t bother… well.. only joking. But to be honest in Oscar’s case I think I should have waited a few years. Firstly he’s never really shown an interest in Disney characters or films. He loves Numberblocks and alphabet videos on YouTube, he didn’t even know who Mickey Mouse is! Anyway, I thought Oscar would love the rides, the atmosphere and going on holiday with his cousins even if meeting Goofy would be totally lost on him. And while I think he had an ok time, it was quite exhausting and I think he would have had just as much fun at the local soft play. But that is Oscar and I know lots of other children his aged obsessed with Buzz Lightyear, Disney Princesses and Minnie Mouse. But I would say if your child isn’t a Disney fanatic then don’t both yet as there are many cheaper and easier things to do with a three year old.
Anyway jokes aside here are my real tips. Note we booked directly through Disney but there are plenty of travel agents and providers offering different packages.
1. Stay at The Newport Bay Club
When I first visited Disneyland Paris (or EuroDisney as it was back then) we stayed in the Newport Bay Club and I vividly remembered the fun nautical theme and the magic of meeting Minnie and Mickey. The hotel was refurbished back in 2016 so we chose to stay there again when revisiting with our own children.
There are seven hotels on site at the theme park; the famous Disneyland Hotel is the most luxurious (it’s a gorgeous pink wedding cake-like hotel right at the park entrance) but it’s currently close for refurbishment. The Newport Bay Club and The Marvel hotel are the two next best and both have a four star rating and are the closest hotels to the park. We decided against the Marvel hotel as it was slightly more pricey and our children just aren’t Marvel fanatics. The other hotels on site are Sequoia Lodge, Hotel Cheyenne, Hotel Santa Fe which more purse-friendly and slightly further walk away (all have a shuttle to the park) and the Davy Crockett Ranch is the cheapest but it self drive only. All these hotels have special advantages over other nearby hotels such as Disney theming, Extra Magic hours (you can access the park before other guests), the proximity to the park and character meet and greets. You can pay for added extras which I’ll go into later in the post.
We booked a Compass Club room at the Newport Bay Club which gave us a VIP check in a private room – the normal Check in looked like the kind of queue you get at the airport – access to the Compass Club lounge which gave a more private breakfast with no queuing and a free afternoon tea as well as additional concierge services. Oscar and I shared a Compass Club suite which to be honest wasn’t really a suite in the traditional sense (ie no separate lounge) but it was a large room. Despite the recent refurbishment I thought the room was quite dated looking but it was comfortable and included a large TV, fridge and tea and coffee-making facilities. The Newport Bay Club is vast and it can take a long time to walk back to your room but all Compass Club rooms are at convenient locations near the lift and honestly that makes a big difference. Oscar’s favourite thing about the room (and tbh of the whole holiday) was that we received three chocolate coins a night each! He not only loved eating these but he loved lining them up and counting them! My nephew loved that we were greeted with a platter of macarons!
Whilst overall the hotel is still dated and far from being a boutique luxury hotel, we still loved the whole experience. Here were are favourite things:
- The nautical theming and little hints of Mickey Mouse throughout the hotel.
- The hotel’s Yacht Club restaurant. Food at Disney is notoriously bad but we really enjoyed this restaurant. The other restaurant is Cape Cod which is an international Buffet which tbh didn’t appeal to me. There’s also Captain’s Quarters Bar where we got a sandwich on the first night.
- Meeting Pluto and Goofy. As they were in our hotel right by our lift we didn’t have to queue or wait to see them!
- Location – the hotel is on the lake and it’s a very pretty setting with only a fifteen minute walk to the park.
- The hotel’s Nantucket pool is indoor / outdoor and I imagine a great place to take a break from the park though we didn’t actually use it. I did go and have a look and it was very busy. There’s also a full gym and sauna.
- The gift shop. My nephews loved wandering around the hotel’s shop which has a great choice of Disney souvenirs. You can also stock up on bottled water and snacks here before leaving for the day.
2. Go by Eurostar if you live in London
Travelling by Eurostar is the easiest way to get to Disneyland if you live in London especially if you have an errant toddler that doesn’t like sitting still for long periods of time. At the moment you can book train tickets that take you straight from London St Pancras International and to Marne-la-Vallée where Disney is located in 2 hours and 49 minutes! The station is literally at the gates of Disney so you can arrive and go straight to the park.
It’s so much more convenient than taking a flight as waiting times are much less and security is quicker with a two bag allowance. As Oscar is under 4 he was actually free, though be aware there is no allocated seat for very young children. We booked Standard Premier which allows for a bigger seat and a fresh meal on the train. Business class seats allow more flexibility and use of the business class lounge.
Now I have to say we had a minor disaster on our way there as because booked late we couldn’t get the direct train and so we booked to a train to change at Lille which we were reassured was very easy. However, due to trains strikes our first train was delayed and so we missed our connecting train and had to walk to another station in Lille to get a different train which was a bit stressful with three kids and a load of luggage in tow! We were able to get the direct train back though and it was easy as can be!
There are rumours that the direct trains to Disney are no longer going ahead but apparently this change at Lille is very easy when there aren’t strikes!
3. Book the Disney Express Luggage Service
The Disney Express Luggage Service was a really invaluable add on when we travelled to Disney and can be booked when staying at one of the on site hotels. Basically when you arrive at Marne-la-Vallée you can go straight to a dedicated counter and get your hotel check in documents and park tickets. They take your luggage and deliver it directly to your hotel – if you’re in a Compass Club Room this means the luggage it delivered directly to your room meaning you can go straight to the park unencumbered with tickets in hand.
On the way home they Disney Express team collected our luggage from the room and delivered in directly to the station where we picked it up. Pure Disney Magic! I’m sure you’ll agree that anything that adds convenience when you have a toddler in tow is worth it’s weight in gold.
4. Download the Official Disneyland Paris Mobile App
Another thing I found to be invaluable whilst staying in Disney was downloading the official app. Honestly I must have opened that app every thirty seconds for advice!
The app allows you to meticulously plan your visit with a map of the two parks (that’s Universal Studios as well as the main park) and full details on all the attractions, restaurants and shops plus facilities such as toilets, first aid and lost and found. You can create a wish list of everything that you can see and do and tick it off one by one. The app includes useful accessibility information including height restrictions and whether the ride is accessible for pregnant or disabled people.
Via the app you can book restaurants, shows and fast passes so everything can be done in advance. You can begin your hotel check in via the app and you can make fast food orders in order to avoid waiting times.
The app also lists the timings for the parades and shows so that you won’t miss a thing as well as giving you information for character meet ups. One super useful thing is the app tells you the length of the queue for the attractions so I knew which ones to avoid with my impatient three year old. Oscar actually made me carry him for the whole queue so we could only really do queues that were five / ten minutes long and the app was ideal in knowing where to go and where to avoid.
5. Book in Advance
You would honestly not believe how quickly things book up. We booked quite last minute only six weeks in advance and straight after booking I downloaded the app all ready to book restaurants etc only to find all the popular ones completely fully booked. This meant we missed out on the best themed restaurants and character dining including Princess dining at Auberge de Cendrillon. Fortunately, our boys weren’t too bothered and it was more me that was disappointed about not having dinner with Anna and Elsa but if this is important to your child you must book very far in advance. Honestly, I did book a few meals but some we ended up cancelling our lunches because we were in the middle of doing something or we weren’t hungry yet! Mostly we got fast food for lunch which we ordered in advance through the app to avoid queuing and had sit down table service meals for dinner when we wanted to be more chilled.
In terms of shows; it wasn’t clear from the app that you didn’t actually need to book them. You can actually just turn up to a show for free though if you do this you have to queue and you’re not guaranteed a seat. I booked (without realising you didn’t need to) and it was around £12 each but this did mean we were right at the front of the queue and got great seats. I highly recommend Mickey’s Magic Show and booking is worth it even if you pay.
6. Choose Your Meal Plan Carefully
When booking an on site Disney Hotel you can add a meal plan to your booking; there are options of breakfast only, half board or full board as well as ‘plus’ options which includes extras such as more snacks or character dining. I think you need to think carefully about which of these work for your family as the cost of the meal plan can add up. For example we chose the half board option and didn’t even use all our meal vouchers so we might have been better opting for breakfast only whereas someone who wants to really go for it with the dining may find it more economical to go with Full Board. I think if you’re travelling with a toddler less is more and you’re better off being more flexible and choosing breakfast only or half board.
7. Familiarise yourself with what attractions will suit your child
You are probably well aware that many rides carry height restrictions which will prohibit small children from accessing certain rides but there are still plenty of rides suitable for toddlers and even babies. Oscar loved the Car Road trip, the Buzz Lightyear ride and Le Pays des Contes de Fées, a sedate boat ride perfect for pre-schoolers. As an aside if you are travelling with an older child, they can go on a ride alone from age 7 which meant my nephew who is 11 was able to go on roller coasters without us as my sister and I are scared of them! Seven years old seems very young to ride alone but that is the rule.
The app can also make you aware of the start times of shows, parades and the famous Disney fireworks all of which are suitable for pre-schoolers but of course you have to know your child as this may be scary or sensory overload for some small children or they may not be able to sit in a show yet. The same goes for character meet and greets; Oscar was fine with it (even though he didn’t know who the character were!) but some small children would be scared.
8. Premier Access Fast Passes
I made a big mistake with buying the Disney Premier Access fast passes… basically when I was booking through Disney I enquired about the Disney Premier Access Ultimate that allow you to queue jump. These fast passes give speedy VIPs access to the 12 most popular rides in the two Disney parks meaning a much shorter queue or even immediate access to the rides they also have total flexibility and you can go on the ride at any time once per day. In order for us to have the best possible time, I booked a pass each for every day in the park in advance via the Disney booking agent. This was actually a waste of money as my sister and I don’t like thrill rides and our three year old and five year old were limited by height restrictions. The only person who really made the most of the fast pass was my nephew who was able to have quick access to his favourite thrill rides multiple times during the holiday.
What I would advise instead is to make use of the Disney Premier Access One pass. Basically these are purchased on the day in the park or via app and can be purchased for around £8 -12 for an individual ride with an allocated time slot, this would have been far more economical for us. Unfortunately this option wasn’t mentioned on the website (though it is now) and the Disney agent didn’t mention it to me. Anyway, that’s why you read blog posts like this so you don’t waste money!
When we did use the passes they were brilliant as we got almost immediate access but we didn’t use them nearly enough to justify the cost!
9. Bring or Hire a Buggy
At aged three and a half Oscar is on the cusp of being out of the buggy but honestly it is an absolute necessity at Disney. We even bought a buggy board so five-year-old Jackson could ride along behind if he got tired. Oscar is not the sort of child that will walk along nicely holding my hand, he tries to run away if he’s not tethered to something and even reins won’t stop this determined pre-schooler! Also if he gets fed up of walking he just wants to be carried which is almost impossible now as he’s quite heavy!
Disney have buggies to be rented and honestly I saw much older children being pushed around in buggies as it really is tiring to walk around all day – it even gives the opportunity for a quick nap.
10. Be Prepared
Come as prepared as possible. You don’t need me to tell you that you’ll need plenty of drinks and snacks for tired kids but what I didn’t realise was mega queues everywhere in kiosks and restaurants! The queues are a bit shorter in the boutiques so you can get you water and crisps there or better still bring them from home or buy them in the hotel shop before you go!
There are long waiting times everywhere so have activities to stave off boredom and make sure you have extra battery packs for devices etc.
Be aware of the timing for shows, parades and fireworks and make sure you get a good spot! Don’t let someone just arrive at the last minute and push in front of you!
One thing I found really invaluable was the Facebook group Disneyland Paris for Brits which answer all the questions you could possibly think of on transport, accommodation, attractions in the park and beyond. This group really helped me plan the trip and get the inside track on all things Disney especially when bringing a young child.
I was so excited to recreate the magic of Disney I’d experienced as a child for Oscar and the reality is very different when you’re bearing the mental load as a parent. It’s crowds, queues and worry about missed trains… exhausting, stressful but absolutely wonderful!!! Oscar and the boys had a brilliant time and so did mummy and auntie!