Days out diary - child friendly and family activities

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We went to on holiday to Disneyland Paris in December 2010. The holiday was just before Christmas. Travelling the day after the schools broke up and returning two days before Christmas Eve.

During this time there was exceptionally cold weather and a lot of snow fell in both the UK and France.

Snow on Disneyland Hotel and entrance to Disneyland Park in Paris

Travelling to Disneyland Paris by Plane (Flybe) and bus transfer by VEA coach

We travelled to Paris by plane from Birmingham International Airport (BHX) to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris (CDG). At the time of booking we had requested FlyBe rather than Air France who we used during our previous Holiday at Disneyland Paris - Santa Fe hotel (Eurodisney). Flybe is a budget airline, but the base holiday price is the same as Air France. There is however a supplement added to certain Air France flights which meant a saving of over £100 on the flight times we were looking for. Unfortunately closer to the time of the holiday Flybe changed our flight times. Although there were other Flybe flights that would have been more convenient they would have charged an additional fee to swap to those flights. This is a clause in the contract when booking that allows them to change the flight times by several hours, but not allow the customers to ask to move to the more convenient flight which is a bit one-sided.

This meant that our outbound flight was very early in the morning, and our return flight mid afternoon.

As a budget airline there was no in-flight meal or refreshments, although the snacks were quite reasonable and cost only about £15 which was much less than the Air France additional charges. The flight still included the standard baggage allowance when booked as the holiday package (normally there is an additional charge for baggage with Flybe).

We pre-booked parking at www.bhx.co.uk which meant the cost of parking was much less than parking in the same car park without pre-booking. There was some confusion with the travel agent about the tickets as they didn't provide the e-ticket details in the ticket envelope, but these followed afterwards. There also appeared to be one child short on the bus transfer tickets, but this is because our 2 year old did not need a ticket for the bus, but did for everything else. Also they only give the outbound bus in the pack, the return bus tickets are issued on arrival at the hotel.

The flight arrived shortly before the first transfer bus to Disneyland which took us directly to the Cheyenne Hotel. The shuttle bus is very expensive is purchased directly, but is normally included in Disneyland holiday packages.

Cheyenne hotel at Disneyland Paris

Upon arrival at the hotel we presented the letter from the tickets that we were given, but it turns out we needed another letter that was sent earlier. I did have that letter, but it was in my bag with the rest of the correspondence. They managed to find the booking anyway. We were first put in a room the furthest away from the reception and Disneyland park (I guess someone has to get the furthest room). The hotels are supposed to be no smoking, but there was a very strong smell of cigarette smoke in the room which was very unpleasant. I phoned housekeeping to see if they could at least supply some air freshener. They phoned back a few minutes later and instead offered to move us to a new room. The new room was much better, closer to the reception and had a very faint smell of new paint (not strong enough to be unpleasant).

Snow at Cheyenne Hotel at Disneyland Paris during Christmas holiday

Breakfast was included in the hotel, but we did not go for any other meals included. Breakfast was very busy with long queues, particularly for the limited number of toasters. It was a continental breakfast, including a selection of cereals, ham and cheese, breads and croissants.

Guests of the Disneyland hotels can go into the parks before the normal opening time. We only tried this once (on our last day) going into Disneyland Studios. However the ride we went for was Crush's coaster which did not open until the rest of the park did. The end result was that instead of waiting for an hour long queue in the main queue, we queued for 15 minutes outside of the normal queue area and then 45 minutes in the normal queuing area.

There was a meet the character session with the characters changing most days (there were a few repeats, but a reasonable selection), which has much smaller queues than the ones in the Disneyland park.

Disneyland park and Disneyland Studios

Disneyland is great at capturing children's imagination and making dreams come true. For anyone that has visited the Disneyland / Disneyworld locations in America then the Disneyland Paris parks are much smaller. This can be an advantage for younger children, but those seeking adrenaline rides could be a little disappointed.

For Christmas they had added some special seasonal touches including a giant Christmas tree, numerous decorations, Goofy with a special santa costume and even an opportunity to visit Santa Claus.

Goofy Santa at Christmas Disneyland Paris

There was a lot of snow during two of the days that we stayed at Disneyland Paris. On both these days there were no shuttle buses running to the park and instead we had to walk to the parks via the path through the Disney Village. This walk is normally about 20 minutes, but was a bit of a struggle with the pushchair through the snow.

Many of the rides are indoors or at least partly sheltered and so were unaffected by the snow. Some rides were not running, including one of our daughter's favourites "Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road", which was closed for most of the time we were there. To be fair to Disneyland they did appear to be putting in a lot of effort to cope with the exceptional snow fall.

In the park there were all the usual queues to the rides. I'd hoped these would be shorter in the winter, but the parks were still busy. I don't think there were many day visitors on some of the days, but the hotels were almost full as it was a school holiday. The rides that were closed probably contributed to some of the longer queues for the other rides.

Most of the rides have a covered section to the queues so whilst the queues were very cold at least the paths were clear. That was not the case for the Santa visit which being a temporary attraction did not have any cover over the queue. This meant that the queue was standing on compacted snow which made it even colder for those in the queues. This was perhaps the worst queuing experience that we had and it would have been a little better if they had cleared some of the snow from the path.

Due to cold weather we tried to go to some of the indoor activities such as the Stitch show which made a warm break from the cold standing around in the rest of the park.

One of the big problems at both parks was the long queues for the toilets. Our son was potty training whilst we were there, but due to the long queues this was not possible and we ended up putting him into pull-ups instead.

Disneyland Parade

The Parades are a big attraction at all the Disney parks. The Imagination parade was the main day time parade at the Disneyland Park. There is a night parade called the Fantilusion parade and in the Disneyland Studios is the Stars and Cars parade. Some of these were cancelled on the days we were there, but they did make a good effort to keep the parades running. The Imagination is the most popular and we had to stand around for some time to get a reasonable position. The Fantilusion parade was very good and the park was much quieters.

Disney Fantilusion parade (night parade) at Disneyland Paris (Snow White)

Eating out

Many of the restaurants in the park have large outdoor eating areas. Whilst these are good in the summer this meant that there was insufficient seating areas during the visit in winter. This was particularly bad in the Studio 1 fast food restaurant in the Disneyland Studios where it took a very long time to find a table. Most of the food was expensive fast-food with long queues. The children's menu started from age 3, with "free food for under 3's". In most places the only choice for free food was baby food, which was completely unsuitable for our 2.5 year old. One however did give us the children's menu free of charge.

In the evenings we mainly went to the restaurants in the Disney Village.

Our favourite is Cafe Mickey. Perhaps the most expensive restaurant this is the ideal place to take young children that want to meet some of the characters. You get to see several different characters with none of the long queues in the parks.

Minnie Mouse at Cafe Mickey in Disneyland Paris

Another restaurant that we like is King Ludwigs, which is a German themed restaurant. The restaurant is in a "castle" and is an ideal place for children to dress up as princesses or knights. We also went to the Rainforest Cafe which is another good family friendly restaurant.

On the one evening we didn't eat at the Disney Village we went for the Hotel Cheyenne Buffet. This was reasonably priced with no charge for under 3's. The quality and choice of food was quite good and we enjoyed our meal there, although wouldn't necessarily want to go to there for several days.

Travelling home

One of the worst things about the return journey was the worry that it might not happen. Due to the bad weather we had whilst in Disneyland Paris there were periods where both Charles de Gaulle (France) and Birmingham (UK) airports were closed, and those travelling by Eurostar had queues of up to 5 hours to get onto a train. There were also delays on the shuttle bus to the airport. Whilst the idea of getting stuck at Disneyland over Christmas day wouldn't have been too bad the one thing that we didn't want was to get stuck in some airport hotel waiting for the next flight. I was probably more anguish than normal after my experience earlier in the year when I got stranded in India and the Middle East due to the ash cloud. This did put a bit of a cloud over the holiday.

It actually turned out that our flight was running fine and only suffered a very short delay. The info we'd been given about the return flight was to catch the return shuttle bus 2.5 hours before the scheduled flight time. We spent a little time in the park before travelling (using the luggage room at the hotel). We caught the bus back 3.5 hours before the flight time. We'd planned to have a late lunch at the airport, but after we'd got through the check-in queue (no electronic check-in) and used the toilets we only had time to buy a sandwich and packet of crisps before our boarding time.

FlyBe have moved terminals since the last time I flew with them from Paris. The new terminal is 2E. This terminal is much more convenient for the Disneyland Shuttle Bus, but is very poor for family friendly restaurants. At terminal 1 where Flybe used to fly from there is a McDonalds and a family friendly Hippopotamus restaurant. These are before security so can still be accessed by other travellers, but would need a significant amount of time to travel by free transfer bus or the monorail.

Summary

We did enjoy our holiday, but I would not recommend travelling to Disneyland Paris in December.

My experience was based on a exceptionally bad weather which is worse than would normally be expected for that time of year. This did impact the holiday, although there is more than just the bad weather.

Standing in queues for the rides was very cold and the queues for the toilets and lack of seating in the restaurants spoilt the experience. When we visited in spring we did far more and got far more value for money than we did visiting in December.

More photos from our holiday at Disneyland Paris.

Disneyland Paris website