Disneyland Paris Trip April 2013: Day 1 - Arrival

This is almost like Deja Vu. Last year during April I decided to visit Disneyland Paris, this year I decided to do the same. Last time, it was with my friend Francesca and me, this time it was me and my  brother (Stephano). The weather report: rain every day. Trip duration: 4 days.

Pre-trip:
Knowing that the Ratatouille ride was under construction and not set to open next year I knew I'd want to visit again next year, with the possibility of visiting again this year I decided that it'd be a great time to get an annual pass. There are three main tiers, with the unlimited annual pass with discounts coming in at the price of 199 euros. I found an offer online where I could buy the annual pass in advance for 159euros. Considering that a 3 day ticket costs that price, the annual pass would pay for itself. Sorted. 

As a lot of money was being spent on two annual passes, I wanted to make the rest of the experience as budget as possible. I go two indirect Eurostar returns for £66 each, and a stay in an apartment nearby for £130 for 3 nights (bargain!). With spending money and food included the total for the trip came to about £350 each. In contrast the hotel and park tickets at the cheapest Disney hotel would have been £800 alone, excluding transport, food and spending money - plus we wouldn't have annual passes.

I should also mention that I speak French fluently and with the exception of the guided tour I had in English for my brother's benefit, I had all conversations including extended conversations with Cast Members in French. This may very well affect how French people treat you, as it's always nice to make an effort.

Day 1:
The Journey:
I'd booked us a nice and early Eurostar at time of 8:04am, this meant getting to the station at 7:15am and getting the underground at 6:15am, meaning a waking up time of 5:30am. Fun. What was even more fun is that my sleeping pattern was so messed up that I literally didn't sleep for a single minute that night (Note for the rest of this post: By the time Day 1 was over I had been up for almost 2 days straight). Anyway, the journey was uneventful until we arrived at St. Pancras, where we picked up our tickets from the machines including tickets from London to Lille Europe, and then Lille Europe to Marne-La-Vallee Chessy (a.k.a. Disneyland Paris!), and back again. 

With 8 tickets in hand, and a puzzled look on my face as I attempted to find the relevant ones, me and my brother walked to the check in. Once we were through in less than 10 seconds, we went to security. At security, we were directed to the left hand lane...what we hadn't been told is that this was the staff lane and they could push in front of us. The result is that we and a few people behind us awkwardly waited, frustrated and angry as Eurostar personnel got to skip ahead. They didn't even bat an eyelid as they cut in line in front of everyone. We all meanwhile, started to get impatient. If you're reading this, letting employees push through like this is unprofessional and rude Eurostar, just so you know. Rude. And we weren't happy. We were eventually let through.

A Eurostar train. Press image. Note this is at
Brussels-Midi and not St. Pancras.

I'd gotten my parents to write a letter, sign it and brought photocopies of my parent's passport as I was taking my brother out of the country who was under 18. I needn't have worried as the French border control at Eurostar always give me the impression that they are barely checking the passports. They chatted away, glancing at passports as a secondary thought. One lady in front of us asked 4 times for a stamp on her passport as she needed one until the immigration officer finally apologised as he said he hadn't heard her (as he was too busy talking). 

We went to Cafe Nero for breakfast, then waited in the departure lounge and proceeded up the train. As usual, I'd managed to somehow book us seats in the furthest carriage possible and got there eventually. If this sounds like I'm complaining a lot...I am. We got on the Eurostar and it was a pleasant journey to Lille, with no stops in the UK or France before Lille which was nice, though we did wait outside the channel tunnel for about 5 minute standing still which sort of defeated the point of all that speed beforehand - I do understand this would have been for safety reasons. At Lille we have just over 20 minutes until we got onto our next train: the TGV. 

On board a TGV in 2nd class. Press image from TGV.
Now, these TGV's are a good example of how rail travel should be done. The seats are infinitely more comfortable on the TGV's than on the Eurostar, the same can be said for the much nicer decor and folding tables. The TGV's also have reading lamps in the seats and overall just feel more spacious. I'm always very impressed by them. Punctuality isn't always a strong point on the TGVs I have found though. But they're fast, clean and comfortable. Eurostar is currently in the process of renovating its fleet with the first train set to go into service in Autumn 2013 - I can't stress how much the interiors on the Eurostar need a redesign. They also have brand new trains coming into service from 2014. 

Despite the negative sentiments towards the Eurostar, I feel I should balance out what they've done well: check in is great, the departure process is great, the cafe bar is ok and overall it's a more relaxing and quicker way of getting to Paris. 

We're at Disneyland:
We arrived at Marne La Vallee - Chessy exactly on time and made our way through the new one-checkpoint security at Disneyland Paris which is great. We then left our suitcase at the left luggage to the right of Disneyland Park, this costs 3 euros for a small bag/suitcase, 7 euros for a medium one and 9 euros for a large. We then used our temporary annual passes to go through the turnstiles which took a few swipes and then finally got through with the help of the Cast Member. Once inside it was like being home again with the music filling the air and a magical atmosphere. As we'd been to the parks a few times before we no longer had to rush to rides and so we enjoyed the atmosphere as we walking down Main Street USA. It was now 12:20pm and I'd booked us onto a guided tour at 13:00 at City Hall. The park was almost empty, it was great! We walked to Casey's Corner for a quick bite as planned. I had a hot dog, Stephano has chicken nuggets and we shared a "large" portion of chips. The total cost 17 euros (ouch Disneyland prices!). We then walked to City Hall to check in for our tour, after seeing what time Captain EO closed, as today was the last day to see it as it was going to be under refurbishment for the rest of the trip. 
This is from a different day but I like it.

At City Hall they were very friendly, by far some of the friendliest Cast Members I had seen. At least at first glance. We paid for our guided tour: the price is 20 euros per person, but I got a discount with my shareholders card thereby making mine 15 euros. We were then told our guide would be called and he'd be with us shortly. We sat on the bench inside. It was an awkward 10 minutes as we looked at the Cast Members behind the counter with nothing to do, as we waited. Eventually at bang on 13:00 a Cast Member wearing a different (albeit much nicer) costume walked out the door and looked around, clearly not expecting us young people to be the people he was taking on a tour. He looked at another Cast Member with the face of "Really? These two?" who gestured towards us. He greeted us nicely and we started to walk outside for the tour.

The Guided Tour:
I'd like to clarify that at no way was the Cast Member rude to us, he explained everything in very good detail. I just felt that he felt that he was wasting his time by teaching people of our age about the parks. At the start he also seemed like he was having to act excited for us although he eventually let this drop and seemed to get more into the flow of things. I did tell him I worked as a Cast Member which he seemed mildly interested in, although he didn't ask me what I did, where I worked or when. After a bit of probing I found he'd only been working there for a year and wasn't actually a huge Disney fan which was disappointing. Our tour guide wasn't English but his English was good, even if I had to help out with a bit of French to English translation occasionally. 

The content of the tour itself was absolutely fantastic great and I learnt a lot of new facts and so I can highly recommend the tour. We went through all the lands, spending a good deal of time on Main Street and then going clockwise round the park. It did occasionally start to rain very heavily which slowed down progress. The your was exactly what I wanted: some background on Walt Disney, and a look at how tiny details in the various shops and streets reflected his life and his ideas. 

One of the curiosities on the guided tour
There was also a lot of info about history in general and how that was reflected in the parts. For example, we were told of how France gave the Statue of Liberty to the USA and how they story is reflected in the Liberty Arcade. I was surprised that forced perspective wasn't mentioned on Main Street itself but that was the only minor thing. We were also told of some cool places to explore after the tour and my brother definitely said he was a lot more interested in all the detail and history which is a change from his usual reluctance to admit he likes the parks! 

The only disappointment was when I was asked by the tour guide if I'd ever seen backstage at Star Tours and he then started to walk towards it, he then looked at his watch and said in the most unconvincing voice "Uh oh...I think we've lost the keys" and said that I should try and ask myself during the day if they'd let me see backstage. I don't know if this would be allowed in reality. We were then taken straight to the end of the tour. The total duration was 1h50m and we were given some exclusive pins at the end and asked if we had any questions. If he hadn't said anything about Star Tours, we would never have known but it was jut a horrible downer of a lie to end the tour on particularly as I had really enjoyed myself throughout all the rest of the tour. I felt, once again, if we were adults on the tour he wouldn't have done that and then left us thinking negatively like that. That extra bit of Disney Magic that they have in the American parks just wasn't there. If the key was truly lost, the Cast Member would have found another one. 

Some of the highlights of the tour including an unexpected encounter with the genie from Aladdin (this isn't part of the tour but the genie snuck up on me and tapped me on the shoulder, then waved when I was listening to the tour which was fun), and hearing some hugely interesting facts. Overall, I'd definitely recommend you do the tour and I want to re-do it again in the future to see if the experience would vary when I'm older, even if all of the content is still the same.

The Annual Passport Office:
After the walking tour, we went over to the Annual Passport office and got our annual passports sorted. This involved going through our address, handing over the temporary annual passes we had and me signing some forms. For my brother, the letter I had my parents write came in handy as they wanted proof that an adult would allow him to do the annual pass. Immigration didn't need it, but Disney did. Strange, huh? They also kept a copy of my mum's passport page for a proof of signature.

We had our photos taken and the process can be done in any language and is open to residents of all countries, I chose to do everything in French and the Cast Member said that was better for him as it made the process faster.

After the annual pass was done we went to see Captain EO which was fun and good to see before it was closed for a few days.

The Hotel:
By now, the 3PM checkin time for our hotel had come around and we were going to over to Val d'Europe to checkin. For those of you who haven't been to Disneyland Paris, Val d'Europe is a town that Disney owns this is located a mere five minutes' drive away, it is completely separate from Disneyland and is a residential area with one of Europe's biggest shopping malls. There is a shuttle bus system but I soon found out that this cost 2 euros per person and there was only one bus every hour! Instead we got the train, tickets are 1.80e when bought individually, or 1.44e if bought in packs of ten. Everything still works with paper in Paris for single journeys. No Oyster-card top-up system there yet.

The colourful apartment doors at
the Sejours et Affaires Aparthotel.
We reached the Sejours et Affairs Aparthotel and checked in, exhausted and lay on the bed. I was very positively surprised as the comments on Tripadvisor weren't particularly good. It was a 2 star apartment for about £40 a night, what did people expect? It had been cleaned, there were sachets of tea, there was a small kitchen with hobs and a microwave and a bathroom. There were a few dirty bits here and there such as the vent in the bathroom but I was more than happy.

One of the big downsides was that the safe didn't work though! We managed to hide our stuff away but this wasn't ideal at all. The lift was also temperamental and took ages to arrive, and when I jumped in it as a joke it shook which was a bit frightening (a la Tower of Terror but not quite as safe). I would also say that the fact we had to pay for a bus cost us about 25euros in train tickets over the course of the four days so next time I'd upgrade to a closer hotel with a free shuttle bus!

I lay on the bed relaxing and I may even have had a nap, I'm not sure. My brother on the other hand enjoyed the free wifi.

We're at Disneyland Part 2:
It was now about 7:30PM and we were hungry so we set off catching the train from the station which was about 400m away and walking to Disneyland. First we went to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom/Terror for a ride on the attraction with heighest height limit of any Disney ride in the world. It was great fun and I'd forgotten how fast the first drop was. It was great and we were on it in less than 5 minutes, there was no queue! I wanted to do it again but Stephano said he wanted to eat, so off we went.

Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril
I had planned for us to go for dinner at Colonel Haithi's as I knew it served pizza and penne bolognese, we were going to get the later. There was no bolognese left so we went for the Pizza Royale meal which was about 14 euros per person. We couldn't finish the pizza, the tiramisu or the salad so we packaged it up and went to watch Disney Dreams.

Ready for Disney Dreams
I was very excited for Disney Dreams and got us the perfect spot standing just towards the back of the hub giving us the perfect view, the other nights we tried to beat that view and just couldn't! Disney Dreams was incredible and I had an incredible feeling of being proud of what DIsneyland Paris had achieved - a feeling I'd never felt for a company. I was just so overwhelmed even though I'd seen it before but it was simply incredible in person. Even my brother agreed and he's a tough one to please. We watched the post show with the Dreams song, waited for the castle to turn back to normal and then walked down Main Street as the the park closing announcement played.

We then got the train back to Val D'Europe which took over half an hour as the trains were leaving inconsistently and late, the RER at night is a shambles to be honest. I doesn't run to time at all. Got home and slept, a well deserved rest after what was coming close to 48 hours of being awake!

You can also read Day 2 of this trip report and Day 3.
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About Giovanni Costa

Radio journalist, newspaper editor, travel writier, tour guide and Disney Cast Member. These are just some of the things Gio has done in the past few years. He loves visiting new destintions, trying new food and wants you to come along for the ride!
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