Does a trip to Disneyland Paris work if you have kids under five? Juliet Dennis finds out
Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are regulars in our house. They’ve been coloured in, watched on screen, plunged in the bath and kissed goodnight.
So I thought it was about time we went to see where Mickey lives and with three-year-old twins, a trip to his French residence sounded more manageable than a long-haul trek to his Orlando home.
I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a good idea. “Can we go today, mum?” Joe asked. “What about this afternoon?” Nina suggested.
It was, therefore, not without a sigh of relief that we arrived at Disneyland Paris three weeks later and my husband Nick and I could finally reply “yes” to the question: “Are we seeing Mickey today?”
We headed straight for the 5pm Disney Magic on Parade! show, and despite the grey drizzle, Joe and Nina were enchanted and surprised to see a whole range of familiar children’s TV characters.
“There’s Buzz Lightyear!” Joe screamed with delight at one of the floats, soon to be followedby “Lion King! Donald Duck!” and so on.
A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
Staying in a Disneyland Paris hotel is ideal with little ones – it was an easy 10-minute walk or short bus ride from the park gates and there was no time for our kids to get restless.
Sequoia Lodge is comfortable and geared for families, although it’s worth telling parents of toddlers that rooms don’t have bunks (these are available at sister property Hotel Cheyenne).
Our two are not used to sleeping in a standard height, double bed so we covered the floor with cushions just in case either one nosedived out unexpectedly in their sleep.
I opted to glug a glass of red wine to the sound of Joe and Nina’s snores and made the most of the chance of an early night, while Nick headed to the bar.
THRILLS AND SPILLS
Having pre-school age children meant we could visit in term time in September. As a result, the park was slightly less crowded, the queues that bit shorter, and stress levels that bit lower.
Disneyland Paris is not difficult to navigate. Most of the toddler rides in the main park are grouped together in Fantasyland, with only the occasional one requiring a longer walk. However, we took the pushchair with us, and it was just as well – there’s only so much walking little legs can take.
As expected, the rides aimed at toddlers were a hit. Nina loved the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups ride in the main Disneyland Park and Joe took to the wheel with gusto in the Cars Race Rally in Walt Disney Studios.
We discovered what we secretly knew, Nina is a thrillseeker and control freak; Joe obsessed with play fighting and toy guns.
While Nina insisted on flying at the highest possible level on Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, pushing the lever herself to get her elephant to soar above the others, Joe grabbed the space blasters in Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast like an old hand, zapping enemy targets as if saving the universe was an everyday task.
Some of the less obviously popular children’s rides were a success too; Autopia’s racing car circuit and Orbitron’s rocket ship ride through the galaxy.
We went from the sedate – a boat ride on It’s a Small World – to the scary, plummeting into darkness on a log flume in Pirates of the Caribbean. Be warned, Joe and Nina found the latter a little too scary.
If money is no object, getting a VIP guide takes the stress out of visiting with children of any age.
Book this in advance for clients, who will then be able to jump queues at rides, and benefit from the guide’s insider tips and ability to reserve seats for shows and book restaurants. It’s more than €300 a day, but this covers a group of up to 10.
Shallower pockets don’t have to mean queue misery. Fastpasses can be obtained free with park admission tickets, but can only be used on certain rides. Clients will need to go to the Fastpass terminal at the entrance of the attraction and pick up a new ticket that shows the time they can come back and use the Fastpass queue.
Guests staying in certain room types – including the suites at Sequoia Lodge – get free unlimited access to the Fastpass queue with VIP Fastpasses. Even if clients haven’t upgraded their accommodation, they can get the same access by buying a Premium Fastpass for €60 a day.
Time to complete our mission and meet Mickey face-to-face. At the aptly-named Meet Mickey Mouse attraction the mouse himself welcomed the kids with open arms for our one-to-one greeting. Joe grinned, goal accomplished.
“But I wanted to meet Minnie!” was the first thing Nina said after we bounced out.
To guarantee meeting any Disney character other than Mickey, you need to go to the right restaurants – and this means booking in advance or booking as soon as you arrive.
Restaurants were pricey but service excellent and it wasn’t long before Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and co appeared. We met them in the upmarket Inventions restaurant in the Disneyland Hotel. True to form, after all Nina’s talk she was too shy to shake Minnie’s hand, but that’s just given us a reason to go back for a second visit – not that we needed one.
Book it: Two nights’ half-board at Disney’s Sequoia Lodge starts from £1,210 for two adults and two children under seven, including Eurostar tickets from St Pancras International and based on a May 14 departure.
0844 808 8111
DISNEYLAND PARIS: EUROSTAR
If there was one thing that filled me with dread it was taking my twins abroad for the first time. Not because they wouldn’t like it, but because I couldn’t bear taking the ‘terrible two’ on an aircraft and having to deal with a meltdown by one or the other. Customers looking for a stress-free way to travel with toddlers to Disneyland Paris would do well to avoid the airport and get the train.
And if your clients have children aged four or below, Eurostar doesn’t charge, but they do have to sit on your laps if there are no spare seats. Our outward journey was a breeze; the return less so because it was a packed train and we had two restless toddlers on our laps. Choose a train to Marne-la-Vallée with no change if possible.
There are special fares for children aged four to 11, a children’s play area if you are getting on at Ashford International station, bottle -warming facilities at the Bar Buffet and baby changing areas in carriages one and 18.
Eurostar operates a daily direct service each way to Disneyland Paris during school holidays and every day except Tuesdays and Saturdays in term-time. The journey is two hours 47 minutes from St Pancras International, London. eurostar.com
DISNEYLAND: TODDLER TIPS
- Take a pushchair! At some point, your exhausted little souls will need it
- Book a Disney hotel for easy entry into the park and Extra Magic Hours (early entrance)
- Book character meals in advance or on arrival
- Buy a Fastpass
- Book a Eurostar train straight in to the resort
OTHER TODDLER-FRIENDLY PARKS
Legoland Windsor Resort caters for children aged two to 12 but is perfect for a four or five-year-old for a first visit. Duplo Valley features toddler-friendly rides, water play and explore areas and a puppet theatre. In April, Pirate Shores opens with play area Castaway Camp for under fives.
CBeebies Land, based on the children’s TV channel, opens at Alton Towers Resort on May 24 with rides and play areas. Attractions include In The Night Garden Magical Boat Ride and Justin’s House Pie-O-Matic Factory. Live shows include Mike the Knight, The Zingzillas and Nina & The Neurons.
Paultons Park in the New Forest is home to Peppa Pig World, where under fives can meet the TV characters and enjoy toddler-friendly rides from Grandpa Pig’s little train to Miss Rabbit’s helicopter.A new welcome building, including a toy shop and restaurant, will open in April.
Drayton Manor Theme Park, Tamworth, is sure to be a hit for Thomas the Tank Engine lovers. Thomas Land features 21 attractions, including a Thomas the Tank Engine train ride. There is also a Dino Trail, zoo, and Ben 10 Ultimate Mission ride for thrill-seeking four and five-year-olds over a metre high.
PortAventura, Spain, has a special area for under-fives, SésamoAventura. As with most parks, entry to rides is based on height. It includes the Sesame Street characters and has rides such as water attraction Magic Fish (pictured). New this year is a Cirque du Soleil show.
Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, has an Africa-themed play area called the Sesame Street Safari of Fun where little ones can meet Elmo, Big Bird and friends. It includes junior coaster Air Grover, carousel Elmo’s Safari Go-Round, water play areas, including Oscar’s Swamp Stomp, and flume ride Zoe-Patra & the Hippos of the Nile.
SeaWorld Orlando’s toddler zone Shamu’s Happy Harbour offers tots the chance to ride their first rollercoaster, the Shamu Express (minimum height 96.5cm), which travels at 26mph. There are also climbing nets, tunnels, slides, a water maze, aquariumand animal shows.
Superbreak has a one-night package to Alton Towers Resort from £173 for a family of four including one day’s entry to the park and accommodation at the Novotel Nottingham East Midlands, departing on June 13.
Funway Holidays offers seven nights room-only at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort, Orlando, from £2,799 for a family of four, including entry to SeaWorld, Aquatica and Busch Gardens, and flights with American Airlines from Gatwick, on November 3.
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