Friday, 9 August 2013

Sparkly mouse ears on – we’re going to Disneyland!

Anyone who doesn’t love Disney hasn’t got a soul. Yes, it’s a huge corporate money mill but what’s not to love about a cheeky green fairy, two dogs that share meatballs and a baby elephant that can fly… And so, since it had been three years since our last visit, we decided to go back to Disneyland Paris.
We're here for the kids...honest!

There are of course, many options when it comes to a Disneyland Paris visit. You can stay on site in a Disney hotel, board a special Eurostar train – or just rock up at the gates when you happen to be in the neighbourhood. We chose the latter, mainly because we love the rest of Paris too and our children aren’t really old enough to fully enjoy the new Walt Disney Studios Park or use the more full-on rides. I should add that while my five and seven year olds like Disney princesses and fairies and cute dog and cat characters they do NOT like the films and will fall to pieces if words such as ‘Ursula’ or ‘Cruella’ are even mentioned…

Where we'd all like to live

It’s very easy to get to Disneyland Paris under your own steam. You just need to get an RER A (red) train towards Marne La Vallée (it runs from Charles de Gaulle Etoile, Auber, Chatelet Les Halles, Gare de Lyon and Nation stations). The Disney station is called Marne la Vallée — Chessy, so just check that your train stops there (overhead signs highlight the stations that train stops at, and once on the train you can double check on the screens inside too), and basically follow the brown signs you’ll see everywhere! The journey takes about forty five minutes and the trains run about every fifteen minutes. Don’t get on a train marked Boissy-St-Léger, that’s the wrong bit of the A line!

All aboard!

We hadn’t bought a ticket to enter Disneyland before we left the UK because three years ago we bought a ticket from the train station that covered both our journey there and entrance to the park. This is no longer available, and indeed there has been some media criticism that Brits are generally paying more than the locals to get in. If you do plan to go to Disneyland in the future, it’s probably worth registering with the site and seeing what special offers come up (bear in mind that the Park is an outdoor venue though so it will be cheaper when it's likely to be cold or wet!). And finally although it cost us around £200/£250 to get in to the Park for a day, the Park is open from 10am until 11pm, and we got there as it opened and left at 10pm. If you work out the cost per hour – and compare it to more low key places you often take your kids to and only stay a few hours – it actually isn’t that pricey.

It's a small (and magical) world

Once inside the Park the magic really does begin. There are five ‘lands’ to explore – with Fantasyland being most suitable for the younger guests and Discoveryland the place to go for Laser Blast kicks and the infamous Space Mountain ride. My youngest enjoyed the ‘It’s a small world’ and Dumbo rides, while her elder sister thought the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ one (in Adventureland) was best and loved ‘driving’ a car in ‘Autopia’ (in Discoveryland). There was an amazing selection of rides they could actually go on even at their age, and also a great pirate-themed play area complete with wobbly wooden bridges.


When they needed a bit of a rest, we could hop on the train that encircles the entire park and have a look at what we fancied next. Generally queues were short and there was plenty of space to walk about (Fantasyland seemed the most crowded and I’m convinced that’s because of the pushchairs!). And needless to say my two soft-toy fetishists loved the shops full of high-end Disney merchandise and struggled to choose ONE TOY ONLY! But if blogging ever made me rich (unlikely), I’d go back and buy them one of everything and maybe a Dumbo for me…

Can I have one...pleeeeeeeeeease?

The only down side for us was that the parade was cancelled due to ‘inclement weather’, which we were very disappointed to find out as we had sat and waited 30 minutes for it to start. We were also a little confused as to which forecast the Disney staff were following, because the weather remained fine and sunny for the next three hours we spent in the park. I really felt, if there was a danger of rain or a thunderstorm and that made it unsafe for staff and visitors, they could have postponed it for half an hour and then made a decision. On our Previous visit we did also catch a few more ‘Princesses’ out and about, and I think that this was probably the last time my elder daughter will really think of them as princesses rather than just people dressed up. With the parade cancelled, I thought they might send some of the characters out on foot to meet and greet.

So much to do - and all day to do it!

All in all, we had a lovely day at Disneyland Paris. I’d really recommend it, if you think your child is old enough to last a full day and remember it properly. When it was time to leave we had one very sad little lady on our hands (younger sister was ready to go home by then). I promised her (and myself) we’d come back because if Disney can’t make it better – nothing can!

Don't cry - we'll be back

Are you tempted – or horrified – by the thought of an entire world dedicated to Walt Disney characters? Have you been to the Paris resort or another Disneyland as adult or a child – and are your memories magical? Let me know in the comment box below.

The first part of my Paris trip - with tips on how to get there and where to stay is here.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Paris in pieces – the basics

How did we get here?

To say I love the Eurostar is an understatement. I have many fond memories of great (and easy) mini-breaks to the continent pre-children and of business trips travelling first class, supping on bubbles and reading glossy mags (and that’s what they are now – just memories…!!). 

Keep up Mummy!

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that this is not the first time we have headed off to Paris 'en famille' using this dream machine. But, there are a few things you need to know before you book your tickets! First up, seats on Eurostar core routes like Paris (and Brussels and Lille) can only be bought four months before the departure date. And they sell out fast. Don’t wait for a week or two so you can book a return journey all at once. Get your trip out the day it is released to be sure you can choose the most suitable journey time, get the best price and reserve the seats around a table (essential if you are a family of four). And then – do exactly the same for your return! The tickets for the Disneyland Paris service go on sale six months in advance (I like to think that’s just like buying a ticket to heaven…).

Bedding down

We booked our apartment via Holiday Velvet; the service was impeccable and I would certainly use the company again. It has a whole host of apartments of different sizes in different arrondissements with clear descriptions of the location and facilities on its web site. Reading between the lines (which I don’t advocate since squinting causes wrinkles) the same apartment is also available via Perfectly Paris

Worth waking up for

The apartment suited our needs well – it has two bedrooms, plus a well-equipped kitchen and bathroom with both a shower and a bath (daughter one is a ‘showerphobe’) and a dining room and living room. This meant that there was plenty of space for the kids to play (and make a mess). It was also architecturally beautiful with gorgeously tall windows, high ceilings and intricate cornices. But while we had narrowed our search down by arrondissement we hadn’t given any thought to things such as – is it near a Metro? (luckily, our apartment was very near two stations, which was just as well when you have spent all day walking about Paris in a heat wave and your five-year-old has really had more than enough of walking thank you very much!) or what sort of sights were nearby (Montmartre since you ask…). Those sorts of things really make a difference to a holiday – we were lucky this time but next time I will double check (what I really mean is, I will delegate this job)!!!


Getting around

I feel bad saying this, but I think the Metro could be better than the London Underground. It just seems so much less crowded and there is quite a lot of (multi-lingual) staff around to help out. We survived by buying a 'carnet' of tickets rather than individual tickets which saves about 30 per cent. The carnet gives you 10 tickets that can be used by the whole family (as well as the same person just taking 10 trips!). Maps are up on the walls, but you can ask for one at the ticket office to help you work out your route. We got about ten, since my girls do like to collect things - and I'd rather it was maps than old sweet wrappers or yoghurt pots (no, seriously, this is my serious face). 

A ticket to ride

If you and your family are physically capable of knocking off a lot of top sights in a small space of time – and that is how you like to spend holidays – then the Paris Pass might be an option for you. We looked into it, and downloaded the free on-site guide to the city, but decided our kids couldn’t keep up the pace needed to make it worth the price (yeah, that’s right the kids couldn’t keep up, not that we wanted to laze around supping wine in the shade every lunchtime). However, once I had visited the site and downloaded the guide, I did go on to receive an offer of 10 per cent off a pass (so if it is for you, do try and hold out and see if you get the same offer…).
As chilled as the wine...

And finally a word of thanks to the people at Holiday Velvet, within our apartment was a fantastic street map, which helped us no end. It was a Michelin Paris Par Arrondissement and it is well worth buying if you are heading off to the city.

This is just the first write-up of our family trip to Paris; I still have the major sights, Disneyland, Paris for kids and shopping bits to file. Not sure which to do next though – so let me know which you would prefer in the comment box below…

My Disneyland Paris review can be found here.