Taking the Early Train to the Happiest Place on Earth

While I wouldn’t describe ourselves as Disneyphiles, Diana and I do enjoy a periodic visit to The House of Mouse, even if our kids are now too cool to join us. Historically, we have been to one of the theme parks every 8-9 years. That seems to be our gestation period for some reason or perhaps simply an urge motivates us to return.

The Happiest Place In Europe

Although our last foray was to Disney World only five years ago, not long before we launched into our roving retirement, I decided to make use of our prolonged proximity to plan a day at Disneyland Paris. Other locations outside the US include Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. I’ve heard each offers a different experience and wanted to take the opportunity to see a Euro spin on Disney. We even conned some friends into joining us, but it wasn’t like I had to twist their arms very hard.

We Take The Morning Train

Our friends met us outside our apartment at 8 am and we all set off for the day. In general, one can get from Paris to the theme park via public train(s) in about an hour. Unfortunately, a section of the primary route was closed for planned repairs. You know, during the low tourist time of mid-August (not). 

Our routing was quite a bit more complicated than normal. We managed to arrive at the park a little over 90 minutes later. Happily, the walk from the station to the main park entrance is not far and fairly easy to figure out. Similar to the complex in Anaheim, there are two parks co-located here. The main one, i.e. the Magic Kingdom, and a second one, Disney Studios, like one can visit in Orlando.

Channeling Scrooge McDuck

Eighteen months ago, I read a story about how, at the time, it was less expensive for Californians to have a six-night visit in June in a Disney-operated hotel in Paris than it was in Anaheim, including the cost of flying to Paris. Much of this was driven by lodging costs at the time and flights are considerably more expensive this year, but it is food for thought.

While ticket prices here are less than in the US, it’s still not cheap. A single park visit here ran us $112/pp. I read the average single-park ticket price in Orlando is $160. Throw in food, drinks, and trinkets and the chance to take some pics with Goofy in steamy Florida could set you back a dozen Benjamins, just for the day. Damn. Ah, but what are precious memories worth, eh?

Getting In

Back outside Paris, excited for the day ahead, we eagerly approached the Magic Kingdom entrance. And… got shut down. We had mistakenly purchased tickets for the next day (face it, we’ve all done it). It was high season and the park was sold out. No passing Go, no collecting $200. Nada. So sorry. Go home. Thank you for playing. See you tomorrow.

While Diana and our friends slunk out to discuss how to spend our time now and ponder an extra 3 hours of commuting to get back to the same point tomorrow, I chose to try another approach. Perhaps we could visit Disney Studios and still enjoy our day, even though I suspected they were full, too.

Like The DMV in Zootopia

So I sought out someone to ask. I kindly and calmly explained how I had a ticket for the wrong day. Before I could even ask about the other park, the lady said “Yes, we are full today, but let me see what I can do” and walked off. Fifteen minutes later, she returned and said “OK, we can let you in. You are two?” “No, we are four,” I replied. She sighed and said “ok”, handed me a slip, and said, “Go to customer relations, give them this. They can get you tickets for today”.

The customer relations queue wound up being nearly an hour long (cue the sloths). They were supposed to charge us more since these were now walk-up tickets, but somehow we weren’t charged at all for the change. We got our tickets and with renewed vigor and a modicum of thankfulness, into the park we went.

Similar, Yet Different

Walking in, your first experience is on Main Street USA, which is essentially the same as you would get at any Magic Kingdom. Signage is in English and French. Look closely and you can see a few tells: the French flag atop Sleeping Beauty Castle, a champagne cart on Main Street, etc.

Many attractions are the same. The Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom Manor, etc. The castle is notable for Disneyphiles because it is the only one with a dragon in the basement. So, we had to check it out, of course. Later, I sat out when the gang went for It’s a Small World. I have already gone over my lifetime limit on that experience. Also, Gentle Reader, I have spared you a link to some Small World videos Diana took because she thought it was funny that I wouldn’t go on the ride. You are welcome.

(Diana here, you can see the Small World video on our YouTube channel. Ha ha)

Line Management

During our last visit to Florida, Disney still had their Fast Pass system in place. With it, you could have one open Fast Pass slot (i.e. shorter line) at a time. That system has been replaced by the Genie system, whereby patrons can pay more (really?) to cut the line on specific rides, kinda like the commuter lane saying you can use it for $2.40, once. That day in Disney, it was $9 to $15pp per ride. I am too cheap to do such things, but I can see it might make sense given the time value of money vis-a-vis the entrance fee.

As the line for the “Customer Relations Ride” had shown, the park was full. Families from all over were going about, trying to take in and manage their fatigue. Disney provides a phone app where you can see current estimated wait times. The only time the line for Big Thunder Mountain (BTM) roller coaster, the most popular ride in the park, was less than 60 minutes was when the ride closed for some reason. Oy.

Roaring Through Big Thunder Mountain

As the day wore on, we noticed the BTM coaster had closed but usually reopened. So, similar to how we used to hop into our SUV and drive to Tahoe to ski when the weather reports were most dire, we humped it over to BTM the next time we saw it was closed, figuring we could get near the front when it did reopen.

Which is exactly what happened. Yeah Us!! I got in line with Diana and our friends to pick up some ice cream. Only… the ride opened and they were not with me! Just in the nick of time, they figured out what was going on and joined me. It seemed we fast-walked a railed path forever to get to the ride-loading area. It wasn’t hard to see how the line could be more than an hour long. We got on to the coaster and had a great time, for three minutes. We ran around to the front to get back in line, but the wait was already an hour, again. Oh, well. At least we did it once.

Using the app to manage our experience, we went to nearly all of the attractions in the park that day. Diana and I love the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. We did it three times. We also enjoyed Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours, and Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. Even the Blanche Neige (Snow White) ride was nice. There were also nice gardens and cute adventures to walk through all over the park.

One small benefit of our entry hiccup was that it put us in the vicinity of Main Street around the time there was to be a big parade. Completely by chance, we happened to be near a central stage where Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy hopped off their floats and danced around a bit. The crowd was enjoying it, too.

Et Tu, Ratatouille?

Although some of the food options have improved at Disney over the years, the best choices require a reservation in advance. By the time it occurred to us to try, availability was mostly gone. What was available was larger set meals at resort pricing, not really what we had in mind.

One positive development since I was young was that one can now round the sharper edges of the day with an alcoholic beverage in a few venues. This feature wound up driving our dining selections since the food wasn’t compelling anywhere we could get into.

I was disappointed not to find a Dole Whip, a staple in Florida parks. It would have been a nice refresher. I was also surprised not to see some big, Ratatouille-themed venue. I mean, we’re at a Disney park in France, after all.

Cooperative Weather

One reason we were anxious to try to get in that day was the weather was nearly perfect. The prior days were cool and rainy, and the forecast for the next day wasn’t looking good. I mention this because weather is another factor to consider. Certainly, if you can visit at a less crowded time where day-specific tickets are not required, having the flexibility to respond to the weather could be very helpful.

As you can see from our pictures, we had glorious sun and none of the sweltering heat driving fires in southern Europe at the time. We got lucky there. I do recommend bringing a water bottle, though.

Getting Back

As we had lost time getting into the park, we stayed later than we expected. But, we were able to go to all of the attractions we wanted to, even though we got a late start. In the end, we didn’t head out until about 9:30 p.m. Main Street was mobbed with people taking a break until the scheduled 10 p.m. evening fireworks. Being tired at the end of the day, our slog back into Paris seemed so much longer than getting there.

Which, it was, because one of the three trains we needed to take had stopped running earlier that evening. We had to take a train, to a bus, and then switch to another train before finally making it back to our bed, over 2 hours later.

Bonus Material

A day or so later, we got an offer through email for a 30-day trial of Disney+, their premium streaming service. Diana had been expressing an interest in watching some classic Disney animation even before our day trip, so it was a no-brainer to try it.

Since we initiated the subscription while in France, our content was slightly different, even though the language was set up as English. For example, in Up, the Pixar adventure with a floating house, the main voice was Ed Asner. But the credits showed the French voice actors. Certain text in the film was in French, but not all of it. It was entertaining to encounter these little Easter Eggs as the film progressed.

Final Thoughts

I loved Disneyland Paris. What’s not to like about being able to shed a few years with some Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, if only for a day? Even with the transit time, I would do it again, in another five years or so. Of course, we will pay more attention to our ticket times and I may even stay nearby to remove the transit headache sometime other than August sounds good. It is, after all, The Happiest Place On Earth!

When would you like to Wish Upon A Star?

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  1. Interesting observations. Haven’t been to local Disneyland in years. We have no desire to do so. This mind-set may change when/if we have grands and wish to spend some portion of their inheritance on fluff. Glad that you had a good time.

  2. Fun post and nice to see your friends are also our friends! We didn’t plan a day to DisneySea in Tokyo this past May but we visited with a day’s notice. And, we loved it. If you’re in Tokyo, a must-visit and my favorite of the Disney parks. Entry at $130 FOR 2! And, affordable food, too.

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