5 Things | How To Plan and Book Your Visit To Disneyland Paris

February 2019

I am and always will be a compulsive over-planner. I write a list each morning of things I want to achieve that day, I know what I want to do and eat long before we get to a day out or holiday destination and I would be lying if I said I didn't get rattled when things don't work out the way I expect them to. Some may say control-freak and it certainly can be a pain at times but when it comes to booking Disneyland Paris, I feel this particular side to my personality works in our favour.

Our first trip to Disneyland Paris was booked in August 2015 and since then I have had booked and planned 5 trips (one being a re-schedule) in completely different ways and at different periods each time so although I don't claim to be an expert, I felt I've got enough experience under my belt to share the tips and tricks I have learnt to get the most out of your trip before you've even arrived.

The trips we have organised:

- October Half Term (Halloween) 2015; in-direct Eurostar, Disney's Newport Bay Hotel, booked last minute by independent travel agent

- September 2017; direct Eurostar, Disneys Sequoia Lodge Hotel, booked package 9 months in advance with Disneyland Paris directly

- November (Christmas) 2017; rescheduled above September trip in late August

- February Half Term 2019; drove via Eurotunnel crossing, Disneys Sequoia Lodge, booked each element of the trip separately (Entrance tickets gifted by Disneyland Paris for review purposes)

- September 2019; travel TBC, Disney's Cheyenne Hotel, booked hotel, park tickets and character dining with Magic Breaks travel agent

Here's all you need to know about Planning and Booking a trip to Disneyland Paris:

1. When Should I Go?
This question is 2-fold: at what age should you take your children and at what point in the year is best and I promise you, there is no right or wrong answer to either of these

When should I take my children?
Disneyland Paris is suitable for children and adults of every age possible and you should never let stop you from going. There truly is something for everyone whilst you're there and I feel they cater to young children and different people's abilities better than any theme park we have here in the UK. The majority of the rides are suitable for children of all ages (young children can sit on your lap) but Disney is about so much more than just the rides - meet and greets, parades and shows and even just the atmosphere on Main St are guaranteed to keep even tinies happy.

If your children watch Disney movies at home, you will get a feel for when they start to take an interest in it. We first took Ivy at almost 2 and although I had booked the trip predominantly for myself, I couldn't believe just how much joy she got out of it. She recognised plenty of characters and went on so many rides I had no regrets taking her. During our second trip though Ivy was almost 4 and the difference was beautiful - her face lit up in a totally different way and I enjoyed the fact she could communicate what she wanted to do with her time there rather than being led solely by us. Ted was 7 months during that trip and watching his face during the parade was wonderful even if he had no idea what was going on. If you are taking very young children, I would always recommend taking a sling as you cannot queue with a buggy and with the amount of walking around that occurs, I would suggest taking a buggy even for confident walkers up to the age of 5 or 6.

Of course, if you only ever plan on going the once and you want them to remember it, wait until they're a little older - being old enough to discuss the limits of spending money will ease your time in the parks where there is stuff to be bought at every opportunity and being able to plan your trip together is just as beautiful as a surprise of telling them the day you're off.  It totally depends on your child but I will say going at an age where they still believe the characters are actually them is just heart-stopping and something you'd never be able to get back again if you put the trip off until they're older.

I would also strongly recommend going without any children at all and I wish I had done this before I had Ivy as now, I don't think I could possibly go on an adults-only trip without the guilt of not going with her consuming me! The park is full of adult-only groups and there is plenty of 'big rides' to do although I'd still do the same ones I do with the children and I'd most definitely still do meet and greets! There is something so special about being able to be a big kid at Disney and I for one lap up every second of it.

When in the year is best to go?
There's lots to consider when deciding where you want to go - it's worth checking to see what the themes are over the year and when they tend to start and see if any of those take your fancy and dictate when your trip should be. The weather tends to be very similar to the weather here in the UK give or take and most importantly, don't get put off booking over our school holidays as they don't necessarily match up to when the french schools are off which make the parks much busier. You can access a crowd calendar here which indicates when the parks are busy and quiet but week days will always be quieter than weekends.

It is also worth mentioning that starting your holiday on a Sunday - Thursday brings down the overall cost of your trip massively so play around with dates if you can or if you're limited to English school holiday dates try to stick to midweek for your trip.

How long should I go for?
Depending on timings on your travel days, I would recommend 2 full days in the parks for an average trip. You wouldn't be able to do absolutely everything but enough to experience most things especially if you can get into the parks on your travel dates too. If you're a bigger party, going at a particularly busy time, want to go at a slower pace or want to spend a day in Paris itself whilst you're there I would recommend a Monday-Friday trip. Even as a huge Disney fan and returning visitor, I don't think I could do longer than that.

2. How To Get There
The easiest option for you is going to depend on your budget, location and any personal decisions that mean you may prefer certain options over others e.g., due to oxygen issues, getting Ivy on a plane anywhere would be a lot of extra stress and where there are other options available to us I'd never even entertain the idea of flights to France with her. But here are the main options and pros and cons of each:

I was terrified about driving having never driven in another country before but I'd kept seeing people say how easy it was and oh my goodness they were not wrong. Getting on at the tunnel was so easy, you don't even leave your car during passport control and then the train takes half an hour/ferry takes an hour and a half. Once in France, you'll start off behind other English drivers and the road off the crossing leads you directly to the motorway that you need and for the most of the 3 hour journey, you drive on just 2 (tolled) motorways. In comparison to English motorways, these are super quiet and French drivers seem to be a lot more courteous about staying in the slow lane and I wouldn't hesitate to drive over there again. The tolls cost €22.50 each way and accept cash and card and we didn't need to use a petrol station having filled up in the UK, though there are plenty of service stations on the A26, A1 route. Once you get closer to Disney, the big Mickey signs make getting to your final destination very easy. Make sure you have all the legal driving requirements for driving in France (see here) and bear in mind these may change after Brexit.

Pros: depending on where you are in the country, this could be the cheapest option especially for larger families, no restrictions on baggage, more flexibility with changing times last minute if you're late or early for your channel crossing.

Cons: it is tiring for the driver, it will take physically longer to travel that distance but without waiting around at passport controls door to door I don't think it is much slower as such, if there is an accident you'll get caught up in it.

If you live in or near London or Kent, I would say this is easily the most convenient way to get there. You can board at 3 different places here in the UK (Kings Cross St. Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford) and you can travel directly which is less than 3 hours or to keep costs down you can travel to Lille or Paris and get a french train to Chessy/Marne La Vallee which is the station at Disneyland Paris.

Pros: wait time before departure is much less than at an airport, the train station is at the Disney parks - once you're there, you're there, all your luggage is accessible to you during transport, less restrictions on what you can travel with like liquids

Cons: at face value (not including transfers) this is probably the most expensive way to travel, there isn't a direct service every day and this should be considered when looking at travel dates, you cant book very far in advance if you want to go an in-direct service

If you don't live in the South East of England, it may be easier for you to get to a flight from your nearest airport than travel down to London to catch the train. The first time we ever went (when I was 5) we went on the plane and as this is my only experience of this travel option, I can't give any personal advice but it does seem a very popular option from talking to others.

Pros: you can get very cheap flights, quickest way to get to France (flight time 1-1.5 hours)
Cons: airport transfers when you arrive may counteract low-cost flights, flights are subject to weather conditions

3. Where To Stay
As with all holidays, hotels mean different things to different people. Some people will want to go all out because they are holiday and others simply will want a place to rest their head after spending all their time out in the parks.

Disney Hotels
I think there is a Disney Hotel to suit most budgets and I would always pay the extra to get the benefits from staying on site which include being able to walk between the hotel and the parks (0-20 minutes depending on which hotel) and being able to access the parks earlier than the general public as you can get so much done in those first 2 hours which are called Extra Magic Hours. The downside is of course you'll be paying more for this and in all honesty, some of the hotels are getting a bit dated (though they are constantly refurbing and our next trip will be at the newly refurbished Cheyenne). I also don't think they cater to large families particularly well and if you have a party bigger than 4, this can push your costs up massively unless you drive over and stay at a Davy Crockett lodge (which you can only stay at if you have a car). It is also worth noting that no standard rooms have a kettle/drink making facitilies, fridge or room service but some club level rooms do have these.

The Disney Hotels are: The Disneyland Hotel (5*) which is the entrance to the main park, Hotel New York (4*), Newport Bay Club (4*) and Sequoia Lodge (3*) which are all located next to the Disney Village, have pools and also have club level options and then Cheyenne (2*) and Santa Fe (2*) which are just a little further away and a little more basic.

You can view a full list of hotels and amenities here

Disney Partner Hotels
These hotels are also super close but as far as I'm aware they are not in walking distance and instead you access the parks via a free shuttle service. You also do NOT get the benefit of Extra Magic Hours (early access into the park). Because of this, they are usually more affordable. You also have a lot more options with room sizes if you are a larger family (I know Explorers hotel in particular is good for this) and most of these at a glance have got better amenities than the Disney hotels within the rooms.

Les Villages Nature
This is very new and I don't know loads about it but seems to be a very Center Parcs-esque resort right next door to Disney and is certainly something I would love to do in the future - I just don't know how I'd feel about paying for all those amenities and spending most of my time in the parks!

Other Accommodation
Of course, there are loads of other options such as air bnb's and budget hotels such as Ibis close by that will keep your costs down even more but it's worth weighing up those low costs and the faff of getting transport to and from the parks each day, especially with children.

4. Where To Eat
One of the most confusing things about booking are all the 'extras' they start to throw in at the end of the booking process and none more so than the meal plans where you are given vouchers to use in restaurants during your holiday. Some packages will come with a free meal plan or you can choose one that suits what you feel you need. Despite my uber planning, we have never felt we would benefit from a meal plan - this is actually an area that I felt I could go with the flow and we have always been just fine. We have never had our heart set on particular restaurants though.

Meal Plan
You can choose breakfast, half board and full board options and then different levels of all of those depending on what 'rating' of restaurants you think you'll use eg. if you plan on doing all the character dining experiences (where the characters come out to meet you during your meal) then it will be much cheaper to book the premium meal plan as part of your stay. There is also the option of booking a lesser rated plan but then using those vouchers at better restaurants and paying the top-up difference. Some packages include free meal plans but it is worth checking terms and conditions as these rarely include breakfast in your hotel and are quick service in the parks instead. Children under 3 eat for free on the meal plans (usually off of your plate which in buffet restaurants is fab)

If you do have a meal plan, I would strongly advise planning and booking most of your meals to avoid disappointment or not using any vouchers which you can do online or by phoning 60 days before you arrive.

You can read more about meal plans here

No Meal Plan
As I said before, we have never felt the need to book a meal plan as the first time we went I didn't know what it was and all our return visits have been with Ivy's medical dietary requirements (though as far as I am aware they are good at catering for these) and it was just easier to take lots of our own food for her and eat whenever we felt like it. We have never missed a meal due to it being busy and going with the flow has allowed us to try loads of different options which we'd have been restricted with with a meal plan. Some restaurants are pricey but there are lots of counter service restaurants in the park and a McDonalds and Starbucks in the Disney Village so there is no need to spend lots on food whilst there (though it is important to remember it is a theme park and even just bottles of coke are pretty pricey).

Our favourite places to eat are: Rainforest Cafe, Annettes and Vapianos in the Disney Village, Hunters Grill Buffet in Sequioa Lodge Hotel, Hakuna Matata, Casey's Hotdogs and Toad Hall Fish and Chips in the Disneyland Park all of which are very affordable and suitable for veggies (Michael's vegetarian!). If you want to guarantee no queues, get yourself to any of these places whilst the 5pm parade is on as most people will be watching that.

Character Dining
Just because you don't have a meal plan doesn't mean you can't do the character dining which, whilst expensive, is a fab way of getting the Disney Magic and can save you an awful lot of time queuing to meet characters in the park. They do book up quickly though and I would advise booking this upfront when you book your stay if you book a package. You can have breakfast, lunch or dinner with the traditional characters, lunch with the princesses and see Buffalo Bills Wild West Show in the village as well as themed restaurants such as Captain Jack's next to the Pirates of the Carribean ride and Chez Remy at the Ratatouille ride which are worth popping into see even if you don't eat!

5. Package deal vs. Booking Separately
This to me is all about the balance of cost and convenience which works for your budget. Our first two trips were paid for without shopping around too much due to the nature of the holidays (one being a last minute break and the second we were travelling with one very poorly child and a very young baby so we were happy to just pay what we needed to to make the trip as easy as possible for us) but when out there, it was easy to see where cost savings could have been made. Having now done a trip where we booked everything separately, we have made our 5th booking as a bit of a combo and have booked a package for hotel and park tickets but have sorted the travel and an extra night in a hotel at Disney before the package begins so we are getting the most of our time there at what I would say is a reasonable price.

What's good about packages:

- There is always a deal on packages regardless of which agent you use which can include free nights, money off or free meal plans. These change fairly frequently and if you're not that into the current deal it may be worth waiting for it to change. The closer you get to your break though the price may rise but if it drops with a new deal, some agents will swap your deal for you.

- Most packages only require a deposit to book your break and then a date to pay the balance by (please note if you want to do this with Disneyland Paris direct, you have to call to make your booking)

- You can book extras such as meal plans and character dining before the 60-day reservations open.

- If you need to reschedule or cancel your holiday, dealing with this through an agent is far easier than sorting it all separately. When we had to do this as Ivy needed an emergency operation, Disneyland Paris (who we had booked with) were incredible at sorting it all out for us and because the new week we were going was cheaper, even with the admin fee incurred we were given money back.

What's good about booking separately:

- Most packages will include park tickets for every day you are on the resort but if your transport doesn't get in until the afternoon (like the direct Eurostar trains do), you're spending money on a park ticket you might only use for an hour or two. Same thing on your day of departure.

- You can book exactly what you want and when you want them for and not restrained to the options the travel agent has for you

- The same hotel room and travel options will have variable prices across different sites. Don't assume that even with a deal that you're getting what you want at the cheapest price possible.

- You can book different elements of your trips at different times to spread the cost out (eg you could even buy your park tickets on the door the day you arrive)

If you're about to book a trip to Disneyland Paris, please feel free to contact me and I am happy to assist in anyway I can! and if you have any other tips you feel could be added to this post I'd love to hear them!

You can see all our content from Disneyland Paris here

All images in this post were taken during a trip where our park entry tickets only were gifted to us by Disneyland Paris. This post was not agreed with Disneyland Paris prior to our stay and was not sent to them to authorise prior to posting. As always, all words and thoughts are entirely our own