I can’t recall if I mentioned this on my blog previously, but one of my plans for 2017 is to visit every Disney theme park in the world.
And of course, being in Paris for the beginning of the year gave me the perfect place to start.
By the time I was meant to go, I was also hoping that it would help improve my impression of Paris, since it hadn’t been nearly as great as I’d been hoping!
When I booked my Disney package there was a hotel deal of three nights for the price of two, and I’m a sucker for a deal (and for Disney) so I jumped at the chance to spend four days and three nights at Disneyland Paris. The plan was to arrive in the morning of January 3rd and to leave in the afternoon of the 6th, in time to catch my train to Zürich.
Now ideally I’d have liked to get to Disney early enough for the opening, but let’s face it, taking all my luggage on the train was already going to be a pain, I didn’t need to add morning rush hour crowds into the mix. And I certainly wasn’t leaving super early to sit around in the cold for a few hours!!
So in the end I left central Paris around 10am, intending to arrive at Gare de Marne-la-Vallée Chessy Station at 11am and be heading into Disney by 11:30am.
This is not what happened.
Don’t get me wrong, I left in time, made it onto my trains in time, and even had less struggle than I was anticipating because there were no big steps into the trains like some others I’d taken in Paris. Where it all fell apart was when I arrived at Disney.
Now I specifically paid extra for “Disney Express” meaning an express check in service where you can leave your luggage for them to transport to your hotel, while they hand you your park tickets and you go have fun. Sounds convenient, right?
Well it would have been, if I could find the damn place.
The info I had said that after disembarking I should go up to the first floor of the train station where the booth was, so I got out of the train, went up the escalators…and there was no Disney Express counter, no signs telling me where it was, nothing.
Here’s where it went really wrong: I stepped out of the station and asked a security staff member nearby.
He told me I had to go through security into the Disneyland park area and speak to someone near guest services.
That didn’t sound anything like what I was told when I bought my ticket, but I figured that was a few months ago so maybe something had changed.
I went through security, lugging my backpack and huge suitcase all the way around to the area he told me, to find absolutely nothing about Disney Express.
I found a long line for the information booth, a pay-per-item storage hold facility, and a set of ticket purchase counters. Since none of that looked right and there was no one around to help me unless I waited at least half an hour in line, I dragged my bags back to the security checkpoint (which is about 500m) and asked a different security person who told me the same thing.
So I went back near the ticket booths and since the queue for luggage storage was the shortest, I waited and asked the guy there.
“Oh no,” he told me, “you have to take your luggage back near the train station to the buses in front. They will take you to your hotel and you can check in and store your luggage.”
“That’s Disney Express?” I asked him doubtfully. “That sounds just like a regular check in.”
“No, the buses are called Disney Express.”
Er…still doesn’t sound like what I paid for. But I didn’t have a lot of choice, so I took the walk back up to meet the buses (which is the long way around because there’s no exit from the security checkpoints, how fun for me and all my luggage). When I was nearly at the buses I realised that the part of the train station near the buses was completely different from the area I arrived in.
Hazarding a guess, I went back into the station in that section, and found some signs to the Disney Express counter.
If I’d come in on a TGV or other high speed train I’d have found it fine, but coming in on regular Paris trains has a different area. One with no Disney Express signage, and one that instinctively leads you out of the station towards the theme park without giving a newcomer any idea that there’s a huge long distance terminal connected to it by a hallway to one side. Awesome. I’d dragged all my luggage what I estimate to be 2-3km more than needed because of no signs and no helpful staff (in fact, completely misinformed staff that sent me on a wild goose chase).
What a horrible way to start at Disney.
Of course, things improved because despite the poor beginning it was still Disney.
On day one I went on a few rides, ate some delicious steak (perks of getting the premium meal plan…yum!!) and wandered around looking at all the awesome presents I could buy people and all the pretty Christmas lights still up.
I left relatively early because I was so tired from my impromptu luggage based workout, but I wasn’t too worried because I had three more days and it’s only a normal sized theme park plus about a half sized park for Disney Studios.
When I got to my hotel they gave me a map to tell me how to walk to the park if I didn’t want to take the bus, and all that sort of thing. All I wanted to do was relax in my hotel room, but as it turned out that was three buildings away from reception (and luggage storage) so I had to wrangle my luggage for another several minutes walk.
When I arrived at my room there was an inexplicable fold out bed made up next to my bed. I called reception to ask that someone come and sort it out, but no one ever came, so I stripped it of the blankets, folded it back into the couch seat thing it apparently was normally, then left the folded bedding on top.
Spoiler alert: the bedding was still there when I checked out three nights later.
Despite the odd inconvenience, the room itself was nice and large, and had a nice woodsy style Bambi theme. I was staying at Sequoia Lodge, so the theme worked nicely.
I should point out now that despite the downsides I did love Disneyland Paris. But as with theme parks, there’s not much to say apart from “omg I had so much fun and went on so many rides,” so although that’s all true, most of this blog makes it sound less than spectacular, since aside from the “yay Disney” gushing, all that’s left to talk about is the bad stuff.
Like how almost every ride was unexpectedly closed at some point or another “for a problem which we are fixing but we don’t know how long it will take.” However in fairness, better closed for fixing than open while malfunctioning. And most of these rides were up again within a few hours.
Another horrible experience that I need to mention was with La Poste at thr train station near Disney. They were meant to open at 12:15pm but when I arrived after lunch on day 3 they had put up a sign saying they weren’t opening that day until 3:30pm. I went back into the parks for an hour, but despite the queue of people they didn’t actually open until just after 4pm when I got up to leave from where I’d been waiting for 40 minutes. Luckily I saw the woman out of the corner of my eye before I was too far away to notice.
And geez, let’s not forget that the “35 minute” sign for the Aerosmith roller coaster at Disney Studios was a blatant lie since it took 90 minutes to get through and there was no one there assigning seating so the cars were going through partially empty and there were weird delays with some of them. (But since this rollercoaster was my favourite ride, I still highly recommend it…Just get the fastpass and don’t be fooled into thinking the line is short enough to be about the same wait…)
They’re all valid complaints and shitty experiences, but the fact is that I still had a great time at Disney, because it’s Disney, and the atmosphere is magical despite any shit that happens in the general vicinity.
Again, because “yay, Disney!”
Plus, Disney magic and fun times aside, there were little things that helped counteract the crap.
And I don’t just mean meeting Thumper, Mickey, Minnie and Jack Skellington.
For example on day 2 I managed to get onto Space Mountain in about 5 minutes because of the extra hours for hotel guests.
It was a cold but enjoyable day, where aside from shopping, eating too much and wandering through all kinds of fun areas, I also got to ride Big Thunder Mountain and explore Alice’s Curious Labrinth.
For dinner on day 2 I wandered into the steakhouse in Disney Village, and was lucky enough to get a table without a reservation. Not only was the food good, but the Christmas decorations in Disney Village were gorgeous.
On day 3 I took another round on Space Mountain, met Mickey and Jack Skellington, and best of all managed to score a table at Walt’s which was meant to be booked out for the rest of the week but there had been a cancellation.
Omg, the food at Walt’s. I have no words, only weird happy noises and puddles of drool.
On the topic of food, the included breakfast at my hotel was also pretty good, and the parks were in decent walking distance from the hotels.
And as with Disney in general hotel shuttle buses were nice and regular (every 12 minutes for Disney Paris) so if you were too tired to walk it wasn’t a big deal, and the delivery service for your souvenir shopping to your hotel was convenient.
And have I mentioned the food at Walt’s?!
I’m not going to lie and pretend that Disneyland Paris is anything close to how amazing Disneyworld Orlando is, but I didn’t expect it to be, and I still had a good time despite Paris still trying to mess with me.
By the time I got on the TGV to Zürich (after spending day 4 at Disney Studios), I was equal parts sad to say goodbye to Disney and relieved to be leaving my apparent Paris curse behind.
Onto colder (somehow) and snowier things!