One of the many rites of passage as a parent is a trip to one of the Disney franchises; where wonder, joy and pure capitalism meld into one long day of neverending queues, awful food and commuter-like overcrowding. It’s just a shame that the kids loved it so much because we’ll probably have to go back…
The whole train journey is pretty painless as long as getting to St Pancras International isn’t too much of a hassle for you. Customs checks are minimal and if you book early enough in advance, you can get adult tickets for around £30 each way, which is a bargain considering the cost of rail travel in the UK. Kids under 4 go for free if they sit in an adult’s lap (good luck with that). The destination Gare Du Nord is located fairly close to the centre of Paris, so once you’re there, getting around the city is pretty simple (yes they have Uber).
We were lucky enough to be staying with friends in le Marais district of Paris, so we didn’t have to stay in a Disney hotel near the resort (the thought of which really does fill me with dread). This meant that either side of seeing Mickey Mouse et al, the girls could experience another capital city; with its cafe culture, beautiful buildings, gorgeous river bank etc. which not only tired them out, but made for a far more interesting trip for us. Forget the wine for second, I’m still fascinated by the bread. How do the French make it taste so good? I can eat a whole baguette without anything on it. A dry stick of bread – how? What’s the secret?
Supper in Le Marais with auntie and uncle – let the hangover begin
By train from the centre of Paris to Disneyland takes around half an hour or so, and it’s all a bit confusing when you step out of Gare de Marne la Vallée Chessy station and are met with crowds of people at what looks like a huge retail park; with a cinema, hotels and even a Planet Hollywood. If you’re only going for the day then make sure you just book tickets to Disneyland Park, not Walt Disney Studios Park, which is more like a film-themed Universal Studios type of resort and doesn’t feature the iconic fairytale castle and Mickey, Donald and friends (it sounds much more fun but hey). Once through the gates of the park, you’re into what looks like the set of a Wild West film or classic black and white Hollywood movie about Christmas. It’s basically a reconstructed ‘Middle America’ town, circa 1940; complete with fictional businesses (gyms, estate agents, dentists etc.), its own railway and real cafes and shops. It was full of tourists and every second shop was selling Disney products, which took all of our collective energy to distract the kids from. The only reason to stay on Main Street is the presence, every hour or so, of the iconic parades, which feature struggling actors dressed in Disney costumes dancing on floats. I’ve never known Martha yelp with excitement before, but when Elsa and Anna passed by right in front of her, she made noises that only dogs would be able to hear properly.
Celebrating colonialism on the ‘It’s a Small World’ ride
Great for photo opportunities but bugger all else. It’s just a Bavarian-looking facade for even more shameless merchandising as you walk through – not a princess in sight. However, once you’ve safely navigated your way through the castle, the first rides start to appear, and it feels like the fun can finally start.
Martha’s always on brand
Teacups and no coffee
Having a 4 year old and a 2 year old means you have to suck it up and go on the slow, crappy rides, which is probably best when you have a hangover (obviously I hit the red wine hard on our first night). The queues were pretty heavy for the carousel and teacups but the anticipation kept the girls well behaved. I was jonesing for a coffee at this point but Christ on a bike, could we find coffee anywhere? THIS IS FRANCE! Ou est le cafe creme Donald? I eventually found a pancake stall that sold coffee and queued for half an hour only to find that they didn’t take cards – MERDE! A word on the food there; the only place that didn’t have a queue around the block was McDonalds, and it was quite comfortably the worst coffee I’ve ever tasted – forget the fact they gave me a disgusting chicken burger instead of a disgusting cheeseburger too.
Just seeing the pyramid at the Louvre was enough for them, thank God
After queing for the weird but kind of soothing ‘It’s a small world’ ride (where you float along on a boat and are given a tour of all the indigenous peoples of the world that Europe has managed to conquer or completely eradicate over the past 500 years or so), we discovered a neat little trick called ‘Fast Pass’. You simply scan your ticket at the gates to any of the bigger rides and you’re given a ticket for a half hour slot (usually 45 mins ahead of when you’re there) to come back and walk straight through to the ride itself, avoiding any queues – it doesn’t cost anything extra either, which is a bonus. We only really had time for a couple of other rides, which were the Buzz Lightyear Lazer Blast (good fun) and the really crappy Casy Jnr Circus Train. It didn’t help that the heavens opened halfway through queuing (no Fast Pass on this ride), but at least it signalled the end of our day at Disneyland Paris after 5 hours – I cannot imagine how depressing this place is when it’s raining all day.
Exit through the gift shop
So in summary, I thought I’d hate Disneyland Paris and for the most part I did (the hangover didn’t help and neither did the relentless effort to flog you Disney products) but as with all these things, when the kids are absolutely lapping it up, it’s really hard to begrudge them their fun. My advice is that if you can, stay in Paris, so you can enjoy some of the City of Lights, as it’s very pretty. And did I mention the bread?
Doing something I wanted to do – enjoying a sidecar at Harry’s Bar