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Disneyland Paris Dec 21!

A fairly unusual trip report as most people on this board wouldn't dream of going to Disneyland in Europe but I hope this report will be useful as a snapshot of what it's like to travel here right now, or to help people who are considering traveling to Disneyland Paris in the future make up their mind.

Originally we'd planned on buying a German Rail Pass and spending December riding the rails between Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Italy to visit Christmas Markets as a birthday/holiday present to ourselves. That....didn't work out due to the massive spike in COVID cases and resulting closures and lockdowns, but France was doing a bit better 2 weeks ago when I bought the tickets.

I am a big fan of Disney parks and grew up going to Disneyland and went to Disneyworld twice as a teen. However I'm not one of those obsessives, and given the extremely high cost of going to Disneyland Paris (DP) I'd always thought our money could be better spent on "real" travel. So I hadn't been to a park since 2006 until a family trip to Disneyland Anaheim in January 2020 (there is a trip report for this!) really reinvigorated my desire to go to any Disney park. And after living and traveling in Europe for 11 years (!), after saving money during Covid, after seeing our travel plans go up in smoke, and with the blessing of my ever-patient husband, I decided to treat myself. The results are decidedly mixed! Onto the report:

We are both triple vaxed with mRNA vaccines and self-tested the day before we left. I foolishly booked is on a 06:51 train to Paris from Stuttgart. My poor husband has been working night shift for 2 months so he came home from work to go straight to the station. I'd spent way too much time the previous night trying to link my TGV ticket to my Pass Sanitaîre which I did succeed in but was a waste of time, as we'd scanned our German-issued QR code into the French Tous Anti-Covid app already with no issue. Once again I'll reiterate that in Germany, an American with a CDC card and a passport can go to any Apotheke (Pharmacy) and get issued an EU-valid QR code to be used as your proof of vaccination throughout the EU.

Our train was nice and empty. You aren't allowed to eat in the bar car, which seems odd since eating around more people at your seat is surely a bigger risk to yourself and others.

Once in Paris we took the 4 Metro from Gare d'le Est to Hôtel Relais des Halles. Since we had to use the RER A and B during our trip, and my husband would need to sleep during the day a bit, we splurged in terms of location and quality. It helped that the hotel was heavily discounted Wednesday night - the same room was €130 more Friday night (which is why we didn't return).

After dropping off our luggage we walked 15 minutes to St. Chappelle because my husband hadn't been before (my 3rd visit). It's required to have advance tickets now, which I bought as we walked and managed to get a time slot right as we were arriving. We did have to show our tickets to police who were blocking pedestrian access to the whole complex, presumably the Palace du Justice being the main reason. It has been over 3 years since I'd been to Paris and I forgot how tight security can be! But the actual security line at St. Chappelle was non-existent, not was there any other line. Blew my mind. They did confiscate the little corkscrew I finally remembered to bring with me, due to the foil cutter. Dumb. Well I had probably bought it in Paris anyhow.

St. Chappelle was amazing as always, but seeing it with only a couple dozen other people was even better. The reason why tourism is sparse is sad but it did make me realize that if you're vaxed and willing to deal with some minor inconveniences, the period after this wave peaks will be a fabulous time for a responsible, vaccinated traveler to visit Paris.

Posted by
885 posts

Thanks for the report. St. Chappelle was one of the sights I regret not getting to in Paris, because it was really lined up every time we went by. Mind you, it was rainy when we were there, so we wouldn't have had the same experience as on a sunny day.

I'm definitely not a Disney snob. I love Disney and at one point (before Shanghai Disney opened) had been to every Disney in the world (more by accident than by design, but still). I'm not obsessed with Disney, but I will take the opportunity to go when it presents itself, and I always enjoy it.

Posted by
2545 posts

Yes, thanks for the report. We haven’t made it to Paris yet, way up on the list. Don’t feel judged about your trip to Disney Paris. We are going to Disneyworld in 2 weeks - 12 of us, only 3 being children in age, not spirit. I won’t even tell you how much a 6 day/5 night stay is costing but we’re all family and it will be fun.

Posted by
9928 posts

"We did have to show our tickets to police who were blocking pedestrian access to the whole complex, presumably the Palace du Justice being the main reason."

It is the trial of the terrorists of the 2015 terror attacks of the Stade de France, cafes and Bataclan Theater.

Looking forward to the rest of your report! I know people pooh-pooh DP but it might be fun so I'm eager to here your opinion.

Thanks for taking the time to post!

Posted by
8419 posts

Pam beat me to mentioning the terrorist trial going on which is why security is super tight now.
We just spent this Oct in Paris and the few tourists and even fewer American tourists was heaven.
We’ve been to Disney Paris many times and totally understand why others want to go. We love Disneyland in California. Don’t love Disney World or DIsney Paris but would still go again if time allowed.
Glad you had a fun trip!

Posted by
2995 posts

Sorry for the delay, I had a Christmas party to attend the day we got home (I wrote the original post on my phone on the TGV back!)

Thanks for the information about the trial taking place. Strange to think about being so close to history and not realizing it.

After Ste. Chapelle the heavens opened up and we took the metro instead of walking to Le Royale China, a Chinese restaurant known for homemade dumplings. It was delicious, I'm already planning on returning. A bit of sun came out after, and we walked back to our hotel so my husband could grab a few hours sleep while I did some shopping in Les Halles before catching the RER B to go visit our friends who recently moved from the 13th arr. to the very end of the B line - I guess being stuck in a small 2 bedroom flat with two young kids during lockdown changed their priorities! It was a very long trip but wonderful to catch up with friends we hadn't seen in a few years.

Now here's where I made a mistake. I'd originally thought I should stay at DP for 2 nights so we could be up early at the park both days, but taking the RER B back to Les Halles and changing to take the RER A to DP and getting to our hotel meant we wouldn't be checked in til 23:00 at the earliest, and this just seemed to be too much for a day that my husband hadn't had real sleep but in retrospect we should have done that, because getting to the park the next morning was a hassle. I'll post a whole entry at the end about DP itself and our experience there but the default package deal of 2 park days/1 night hotel DP offers is not the best way to manage your time IMO. We didn't manage to check in to our hotel, drop off our luggage, and enter the park until noon when it was already quite crowded. Oh well! We spend that afternoon and the next day at the park, then returned to Paris proper the evening of the 3rd to check into another hotel closer to Gare de l'Est. This hotel was La Planque hotel and we absolutely loved it.

Getting there was a bit of an ordeal, though. We're usually quite good about packing light, but winter travel when you expect to be spending most of your day outside in temps that range from slightly above freezing to slightly below freezing, walking huge amounts, and rain, you simply have to pack a lot in the way of shoes/outerwear/socks/layers. Add that to the fact that our plan for Christmas presents for our 4 young nieces and other family was buying stuff at the parks, and we were loaded down more than usual for a 3 night train trip. Add to the fact that it was pouring down rain, I decided our best bet to get to our hotel from the RER was to exit at Nation and take an Uber. Except that Uber didn't work (no ride found). We ducked into a little pizza place to grab a beer and consider our options, luckily an Uber-like taxi service I already had on my phone (FreeNow) is popular in Paris so we were able to use that to get to our hotel fairly easily, even though both times we used it, it took about double the stated time to arrive and certainly wasn't accurate as far as the little car on the map went.

We loved La Planque hotel, it was very hip and well decorated, with a more comfy bed than the more expensive Le Relais des les Halles, and free coffee and water in the lobby 24/7. Very hip, and it's a great neighborhood near to the Canal St. Martin. We were exhausted, so we had another incredible Chinese meal at Le Petit Pekin which we booked via Google Maps while in line for Star Tours previously in the afternoon. I'm still thinking about this meal! I know it seems weird to focus so much on Asian food while in Paris but what can I say, there's just so many excellent offerings there (and none where I live) so that's how we roll. Due to the ongoing weather and how tired we were we grabbed some 2021 Beaujolais at the Franprix up the street and listened to the rain in our comfy room after dinner.

Posted by
2995 posts

For some reason I was convinced we were booked for the 10:51 train, but when I got up at 8:00 I saw I'd actually booked the 13:47 train. Given that our hotel had a 12:00 check out time (finally, a hotel that gets me!) I could've slept in but I was already awake but I let my husband sleep. The weather was threatening rain again, and while we'd thought about getting Saturday brunch nearby, the hotel graciously extended their breakfast for us (and some other guests who came down even later than us) and it was really great, just excellent pastries and meats, a fancier version of the European standard for 13 euros, which seemed reasonable given that we lingered for an hour and ate a ton of high quality stuff (including small packets of the salty Brittany butter! Very exciting.)

Because we were already pack animals I went back to the Franprix to bring home more French goodies and we used the FreeNow app to get a cab to the station - only a 15 minute walk but between our luggage and the rain, that was worth 12 euros as well. The station was very busy, it was difficult to find a place to sit. Once we did I went to check out the Alsatican "Christmas Market" which was more of a food and wine market just outside the station, but with markets in my state of Baden-Wurttemberg being closed, I was happy to be able to get a mixed bag of Christmas cookies and some foie gras, and then some more comestibles at Marks & Spencer in the station (hello, aged cheddar!) I'm normally not much of a shopper when I travel but gourmet goodies I can't get locally are my weak spot.

The train ride back was full but unremarkable. We had to show our AntiCovid pass just to access the train, but we'd had to show it literally everywhere else so we were quite used to it (and it's similar where I live in Germany, too). I was a little surprised at how crowded the station/train was, but this didn't seem like tourism, just regular holiday travel.

Today, 2 days after we got back, my husband was told via the AntiCovid app that he was exposed sometime at Disneyland to someone with Covid. He also has a cold - I tested him tonight and he was negative so it may be just a headcold. He has no fever, just sniffly and sneezy, and his sense of taste remains intact.

Takeaways: as always, traveling during Covid remains an ever-changing prospect that is not without risk, but as vaccinated and boosted people adhering to all of the rules, it was within our parameters of risk.

Disneyland requires wearing masking everywhere, including outside, even in the "Disney Village" outdoor mall area. Compliance was high there, less so on the RER and Metro compared to Germany, and almost everyone was wearing surgical masks compared to FFP2s which are far more common in Germany. I was glad for the masks inside and in lines, but wearing them outside all day was pretty awful, due to the low temps/high humidity which meant they got wet very fast and we both wear glasses, so we were just blind a lot.

A lot of people with "colds" on the TGV, that was annoying/nerve-wracking. I know tickets are expensive and can be non-transferrable but Jesus, I can't imagine getting on a train if I had a bad cough or cold right now. But that's not stopping other people!

Next I'll post specifically about my thoughts on Disneyland Paris, so if you're just here to get a sense of what things are like on the ground in France right now, you can skip that part!

Posted by
2995 posts

So, Disneyland Paris! What a trip! It was really unusual, as Americans living in Europe for a long time, to be in a place that was so familiar and felt so "American" and yet not. It was not unlike being in a dream, where everything feels just slightly "off". I thought that being quite used to the European standard of customer service that I'd be better equipped to deal with the strangeness, but I think for me that made it even weirder, because unless I'm on a US military base, I don't feel like I'm in "America" but Disneyland here looks, sounds, even smells so much like Disneyland in the US that I think my subconscious was just very confused. Weirdly, IKEA is more consistent across countries than Disneyland is, if that makes sense?

We stayed one night in the Sequoia Lodge, which is meant to evoke a Western US National Park lodge, like the famous one in Yosemite. In January 2020 I'd stayed at the Grand Californian in Disneyland, which is the same concept but more upscale. It's definitely the best of the budget Disney hotels in Paris, as it's the 2nd closest to the parks, has lovely landscaping and a great bar with a fireplace, but doesn't compare to the Grand Californian. Check-in was chaotic - I don't know how this compares to non-Covid times, but any time you entered you had to put bags through a scanner at one end of the hotel, away from the main lobby, but there's no signage for this, and the security folks don't speak great English. You also have to have your AntiCovid app pass scanned once per day and get a wristband for this.

I thought I'd been smart to check in online via the Disneyland app but this just resulted in waiting in 2 lines because there was no separate place to check in. This was frustrating but while in the 2nd line, a very charming employee ("Cast member") came up and took care of me while cracking some jokes and making some recommendations, before I even got to the desk. This was one of only two cast members that really felt like the kind of Disney service you get in the US (which I hadn't expected at all!) We were told I'd get a text message with my room number later in the day so I wouldn't have to wait at check-in again. Unfortunately this didn't happen and when we returned to the hotel I had to wait again in line for longer.

Now if I'd been in "Europe mode" this would've felt par for the course but the Disney parks in the US tend to run like well-oiled machines instead of the repeated chaos experienced here. It makes perfect sense that Disney practices just don't translate to French customer service but it is absolutely something to be prepared for if you visit.

The room itself was very big by European standards, but very worn despite this hotel having just reopened after a major refurbishment. Again, excepted, even the most expensive Disney hotels are not known for being luxurious but you are paying a lot and it's mostly for proximity/early opening to the parks and not for the room itself. This was even true of the very expensive Grand Californian at Disneyland Anaheim, where the common areas/restaurants are great but the rooms themselves are pretty basic.

The park is about a 7 minute walk to the start of Disney Village (an outdoor mall/restaurant area) and 15 minute walk to the parks. There is security to enter the village, bags through an xray, covid pass, metal detector and you cannot enter with alcohol, which makes sense for the parks, but if you'd like a bottle of wine for your room, you have to purchase it at the RER/TGV train station and then take a shuttle to your hotel instead of walking through the Disney Village which just seems silly (what am I going to do, get crunk in front of the World of Disney store?)

It's worth noting that the security line closest to the train station had by far the largest lines, and the security line entering closest to the shuttle stops next to the train station was quite empty every time I passed.