Last week, the Whittle clan headed off to Disneyland Paris to enjoy the theme park’s Halloween celebrations – me and Flea, my brother and his family, and my parents.
It was lovely to have some family time, as my Dad has had a tough time of it, health-wise, recently. And like most families, we’re all so busy that apart from the occasional Sunday lunch, it’s not often we all get to spend time together.
According to my brother, the weather in Paris during our trip was going to be dry and sunny. Clearly, the weather Gods missed my brother’s memo because Disneyland Paris in the winter was freezing.
Not to worry. It’s still possible to have a brilliant time at Disneyland even if it’s colder than a polar bear’s toenails – as demonstrated when Flea and I visited last year for Christmas at Disneyland Paris. You just need to plan strategically. Your goals are to MAXIMISE warmth, and MINIMISE queueing in the cold. It also helps if your big brother has fully retained every single moment of his Scout training, and approaches each day like a military hike, to be mapped out and planned for maximum achievement!
Here are our top tips if you’re going to Disneyland Paris in the Winter:
Stay Close: If you can, stay at a hotel close to the resort. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which is right at the entrance to Disneyland Parc and Walt Disney Studios, which meant wherever we were, it was only a 10 minute walk back to the hotel if we needed to. Squirrelling away of croissants at breakfast is probably frowned upon, but they’ll come in later when you’re standing in line for something and the kids start complaining that they’re STARVING. It’s a gorgeous hotel, and you’ve got to love a hotel where the turndown service tuck in your child’s teddy bears each evening, ready for bed.
Go Early: If you stay at one of the Disney hotels, you can go into the parc from 8am giving you two hours of access to selected rides. The smart option is to use this time to go on rides that don’t offer a queue-jumping option later in the day. So head to Fantasyland for It’s a Small World, the Carousel, Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo while the queues are small. If you have time, or you’re staying for more than one day, other good options during this quiet window are Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Quest and Space Mountain, which are next to one another in AdventureLand.
Wrap up warm: We put all the kids into double-layers. T-shirts, two hoodies, coats, gloves, hats… and took backpacks to store layers when the sun came out and the kids got too hot. Disneyland Paris in the winter can get seriously cold, certainly close to 0 degrees. Warm jeans and thick-soled shoes are essential – the parc is big, there will be a lot of walking around, and you need to be comfortable. As I learned from experience: Converse don’t make great walking shoes after two long days. This is essential if you stay to watch the fireworks show as the parc closes, which I recommend you do – they’re always spectacular.
Use FastPass: At 10am, the parc opens and will immediately become LOADS busier. So now’s the time to start making use of Disney’s FastPass system. FastPass lets you swipe your entry ticket in a machine near to a major ride, and effectively ‘book’ a time to come back and go on the attraction. So you might swipe on Space Mountain at 10am and be invited to return at 11.30am when you’ll only need to queue for 10 minutes or so – rather than standing in line for an hour in the main queue.
In the meantime, you’re free to wander around the parc, or go and see one of the live shows – we loved Stitch Live and the Cars-themed stunt show.
Things to bear in mind about FastPass – it’s not available on all rides and you can only hold one ticket at a time – so if you go to a ride and the FastPass offers you a slot in five hours time you won’t be able to use another FastPass during that time. On busy days, FastPass slots can run out very quickly – on two of the days we visited, all the FastPass tickets for the day were gone on rides like Thunder Mountain by 11am.
So if there’s a ride you REALLY want to go on, get a FastPass as early in the day as you can. We swiped to get FastPass tickets for major rides immediately the machines opened, and were generally able to book onto two rides between 10am and lunchtime.
You can also buy a VIP FastPass for around 60 Euros, which lets you have unlimited access to FastPass queues – they’re not available every day, and the parc only issues a limited number in total each day, but if you want to go on lots of the big rides in one day, I think they’re worth the money.
Plan your meals in advance: Speaking of lunch, if you want to sit down for a hot lunch, be sure to book tables in advance, especially if travelling as a large group. Booking on the day can be hit or miss, so if you have picky eaters or want to book a lunch with Disney characters, it’s really best to book before you go. Without a booking, you’ll end up at one of the fast-food type stands and the waits for food, and then for a table, can be long and soul-destroying. There are also stands where you can buy hot dogs, waffles, popcorn and similar – although we found only around 50% of these were open during our visit.
Use your hotel’s tickets if available: Check with your hotel if you’re entitled to any additional FastPass tickets. Our hotel gave each member of our party a FastPass ticket each day that could be used at any time to jump the queue on a ride. What this meant what we could swipe a FastPass ticket machine after lunch, and while we were waiting for that slot, we could use the hotel tickets to go straight onto a ride. Yes, it’s a bit of a faff, but it meant we spent very little time queuing overall.
Skip the parade: The Disney parades happen around 5pm, and queues are massively shorter at this time of day. If you’ve seen the parade already, this is the perfect time to hit up some of the most popular rides and attractions.
Plan for those with disabilities: Disneyland has a GREAT guide to the parc for visitors with disabilities, but it’s important to think about this in advance. If you take along proof of a disability (your blue badge, for example, or a medical document) when you arrive at the parc or Studios, then you’ll be given a special green card that gives you special access to most attractions.
For my Dad, who struggles to stand for a long time, or climb steps, this meant he could skip the queue for most rides and go onto the rides via a special entrance. His green card was also valid for up to four other guests who accompanied him. We may or may not have slightly abused this, by persuading my Dad to take me, my brother and my sister-in-law onto the Indiana Jones ride, and neglecting to mention the loop-the-loops in advance. Ahem.
That’s it. We had a fabulous time visiting Disneyland Paris in the winter, and thanks so much to my lovely family and my particularly generous and wonderful parents who arranged the trip for us. Do you have any top Disneyland tips to share?