About three years ago, George surprised me for our fourth wedding anniversary in July with a fully booked trip to Disneyland Paris. He actually booked at one of Disneyland’s hotels for four nights including our passes to both parks. WOW! I was thrilled at first and overwhelmed next! We had been to Disneyland Paris (the first park) two more times as a couple and we both loved the experience, BUT we had a three year old son now and we were both sure that things would be totally different this time. And…they were. So, here I am now, having a nostalgic flashback, recalling all those memories and sharing with you all the highlights and insight on what to expect!
The Airplane Ride
This would be our son’s first time on a plane. Considering that my son was always on the move (and I mean literally always) I admit that I got nervous with the idea of trying to keep him in an airplane seat all buckled up for approximately three hours. Some friends though told me that their children were surprisingly cooperative when it came to flying. After all it was just for three hours. So I decided to relax and look on the bright side!
Lucky me, he ended up napping for half the flight. During the rest of the time I did my best to explain to him yet again, as much as possible about the trip and what to expect in order to ease him into this life changing experience. (Generally, I think it works like a charm when you take the time to explain your intentions to your child).
We arrived at Paris early in the morning and went straight to the bus stop to catch one of those red designated Disneyland buses that drop you off at your hotel and finally at the juncture between the two theme parks, and the recreational area. Note that the bus ride takes about an hour, especially due to rush hour traffic. The plan was to check in asap and rush off to the parks. The sun was shiny and the weather was good. The best thing was that we already had passes to the park and therefore we avoided all the waiting in lines…and so we arrived just in time to watch the parade!
My son was shocked; at first because of the crowds and the music…and then as George placed him high up on the shoulders – he got a glimpse of Buzz Lightyear! Oh, my! His reactions were priceless! He went numb for at least a couple of minutes trying to process all the new info. Could it be that he was actually seeing all those cartoon characters in flesh? He couldn’t believe his very eyes! I could tell that he felt a little awkward, because he wasn’t sure what to do. Eventually, he began waving at the parade and getting into the mood.
Before I tell you more about our five days of our wanderlust adventure, let me share with you some tips of “wisdom”:
- Buy your tickets to the theme park ahead. It saves you a lot of time! The day begins early and if you don’t have a ticket then you will be stuck in a rush hour line for some time (15-20 minutes).
- Dress in layers. Wear comfortable apparel, especially shoes. I highly recommend sneakers. By the end of the day your feet will be aching! (Imagine your kid’s)! I used to brag about my son’s endurance and “hard core” attitude but even he had aching feet on day.
- Be sure to have a rainproof jacket. Even in the summer you might have an occasional shower rain and even so you don’t want to miss out on the fun.
- Get yourself a map of the parks. It helps to plan ahead your routes. Notice I’m using plural. That’s because you’ll definitely be going back and forth from ride to ride in every possible direction across the parks and that means a lot of routes. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell if one of the rides is temporarily out of service 🙁 That means that you might be going to and fro to check several times during the day. We ended up doing so…with the new Ratatouille ride. Have a small water bottle with you at all times. (Buying bottled water isn’t as cheap as in Greece). You can fill it up at any water fountain you might come across. Besides, if you’re at some remote part of the park, you really don’t want your tired kid nagging about water and having to walk back and forth just for that. More walking will only add on tiredness.
- The benefit of staying at one of the Disneyland’s hotels is the proximity to the parks. However, staying at one the hotels nearby and catching the bus shuttle might be an even better option. If you love stuffed chocolate croissants for breakfast then Disney’s hotels are super dandy. If you want though a bit more than just the basic breakfast staples (bread, butter, jam, croissants and juice) then I’m pretty sure that other hotels offer more. I think that we will be exploring the option of staying elsewhere next time.
- If you’re not on a one-day excursion, then have a SIESTA! Take a nap! It will help you and your child to get your acts together (less complaining)!
- Mid July is the beginning of the summer vacation season for the French. That meant a lot more people than usual. Avoid the weekends altogether if big crowds and long lines is not your thing. Also be sure to use your fast pass wisely! (That’s a system for fast track line-ups where you can return to a particular ride at an appointed time).
Disneyland has two theme parks and an “after-the-parks” recreational area. The first park is dedicated to Disney’s flag cartoons. The second park is all about Disney’s movie studios. Disneyland’s theme parks have a lot of different “theme-regions” stretched over a pretty large area with their respective rides, restaurants, and amenities. That means that there is a lot of walking about all day long (especially since everyone wants to spent as much time as possible at these parks). Now trust me, there’s quite a bit of distance to cover between the two parks. So, my advice is to try to do as much as possible in one park before you decide to move on to the other. Thankfully, if your children get hopelessly tired, they rent out these big-size strollers that even older children can get on thus, making it a little easier for the parents to cope with all the fatigue that adds up during a busy day of running about. Another idea, is to catch a slow train ride that takes you around the Disneyland theme park. It’s a hop-on-and-off ride at any station of your choice. This will give you all a chance to sit and rest for a while! So, save this for early in the afternoon. Believe me it really helps. Besides it gives you a great chance to gaze at the park’s layout.
There is plenty to do and see at the parks. Therefore, I decided to point out the highlights of this five day adventure otherwise, this post would turn into a thesis! LOL! Anyway, we usually start off from the Frontier Land and go clockwise. It’s got a great roller coaster ride that loops you 360 degrees however, there is a height restriction of at least 110 cm. That means that we couldn’t ride this one. Instead, we got on the steam boat which was a pretty nice way to start off and then headed for the suspended bridge and the Pirates of the Caribbean. There was also a very cool playground with a slide-tunnel. Every single kid loved this one! As you probably guessed, we visited this playground at least twice a day, every day! But hey, it is all about little people having fun.
The Pirates of the Caribbean
This ride is one of our two favorite ones. We were awfully lucky with this one and during these five days, we didn’t come across any long line ups. You basically hop on a boat that meanders through a seaside village that is undergoing a pirates raid. As you enter the installation it gets darker and moodier. It isn’t a real roller coaster; it has only one mild dip, but manageable even for a three year old. I think the music playing in the background was from Disney’s movie soundtrack, but I’m not absolutely sure though. A great bonus is the souvenir shop at the end of the ride. We bought some of our favorite mugs and t-shirts there. By now, we have a collection of seven mugs, not bad, huh?!
It’s a Small World
This ride is our second favorite. It was ideal for my then three year old – a smooth, gentle ride in a wide boat where you get to see little doll creatures dressed up in their national outfits dancing about. It was playing a sweet tune over and over again that stays with you long after you exit the premise (by the way: the exits are all denoted in French as ‘Sortie’).
Getting an Autograph from Mickey Mouse
This sounds like a pretty straight-forward activity where you line up to meet Mickey Mouse in person and have your picture taken with him. (Prepare yourself though, for a long wait till your turn comes while you watch old cartoons playing on the big screen). George and I though were in for a surprise. As soon as my son got a glimpse of Mickey Mouse, all he wanted to do was to run away! Yes, run away from Mickey! Can you picture this? It took me a couple of minutes to realize that he was afraid of him because of his size! I hadn’t warned my son about Mickey’s size! BIG mistake! You see he was expecting a small little mouse, more like his size. Instead he met a mouse in a fully grown size…and believe me that scared him! Lol! Naturally, he didn’t want to have his picture taken, not until we explained to him that all those characters he had watched on those videos were…really Big in “reality!” Imagine waiting for over 45 minutes in line and not taking a picture with Mickey! I’m telling you I didn’t see this coming…But at the end, we did manage to get a single decent shot.
There are a few rides that you can ride at the “Space Adventure” land suitable for small children. The space mountain ride though, is definitely not one of them…It’s probably the fastest roller coaster ride in this park and righteously there’s a height restriction (I think it was 1.14cm).
The Studio Theme Park
As soon as you get to this theme park, check the Motor Show timetable. This is one show that you shouldn’t miss. All three of us enjoyed this one a lot. You get to see real stunts with bikes and cars just like in an action movie. My best advice would be to schedule this one hour show right after lunch. It is good entertainment, although a little slow at first.
One of the most memorable rides was the parachute. Oh gosh, I gasp just at the thought of it! It didn’t look that big of a deal and no one warned us. Even my son was cool about it at first and he made fun of me. But it is a big deal and no, I don’t want to do it again and neither does he. There was one particular ride though, that we really wanted to have a go at. It was a new ride that had launched that very summer – a roller coaster based on Disney’s movie Ratatouille. We wanted to try it out but unfortunately it kept on breaking down every single day! Unbelievable! That was a huge disappointment for we kept on checking at least twice every day and ended up leaving without the thrill! Maybe next time…
Five days at a resort like this, is a great opportunity to eat all the junk food you can think of. Pizzas, hot dogs, burgers, pasta at best were always on the menu. Let’s admit it. Their menu is not exactly the most nutritious. And we surely enjoyed having more ice-cream and pop corn than usual. Nonetheless, we had fun! I admit that there were moments of discomfort mainly due to the fact that we all got tired. Imagine we were in bed by ten the latest. That was a first one for us! It had never happened since our little one was born.
Moreover, when George and I visited Disneyland as a couple, I experienced everything as a child. I was running about carefree with hardly any worries. This time round, I got to experience it like a parent who’s concerned about height restrictions, safety exits, dehydration, sunburns, sunblock smearing, lost-and-found, unsanitary toilets and …oh, someone please tell me to stop because I could go on forever. Although everyone including myself had reservations about a three year old’s handling in an unknown environment, I have to admit that this trip went awfully well. It “matured” him quite a bit in a good sense. He became much more cooperative and handled himself really well despite his fatigue. His eagerness and his delightful way of consenting into our plan of action day in – day out was stunning. But it also matured us. Despite all of our concerns, worries and aching backs and legs, George and I had a great time. Our son’s overall awesome behavior made this an unforgettable family trip. Therefore, we owe our little fellow a huge thank you for that. And so, the biggest lesson I learned is that I should give “little people” more credit especially when it comes to adaptability…