Dreaming of Disney: A How-to​ Guide

Hold on to your Mouse Ears and please keep your arms & legs inside the carriage! YES, you guessed it – we’re talking DISNEY! More specifically, where to start when booking a Disney holiday… UHUH, this magical post is going to be a long one!

Someone recently said to me ‘try to know this like you know Disney’ and well that pretty much sums it all up – it’s common knowledge that we (well mostly I) are humongous Disney fans. For me, the animation has never failed to amaze, character drawing is my fav hobby and watching or collecting anything Disney is my absolute passion (little people clothes now included!). Just knowing that Disney was going to be a part of raising future kids used to make me so excited and now it’s a reality, I thought we’d impart a little wisdom, share this part of our lives with you talking through our history, top tips on how to start your next Disney adventure and why we think you’re never too young (or too old) to love Disney – if you have children or not!

A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY:

Disneyland Paris, August 1998

Visiting Disney has been something I am fortunate to have been doing all my life. First visiting Disneyland Paris when I was 5, my vivid memories remind me of an enchanting and mesmerising experience which was the absolute kick-start for my lifetime obsession. I have since visited Disneyland Paris a further 5-6 (ish) times before taking the big leap state-side in 2010 and 2016 to indulge in the wonder that is Disney World and the original, Disneyland California in 2015. Most recently, of course, we have multiplied and finally, last year ploughed head-first into introducing wee- little Rory to Disneyland Paris; which in my opinion, has become one of our life’s greatest pleasures.

You will read a lot of advice about the ‘ideal’ age for Disney or when to start taking your little ones and this is my honest opinion: the younger the absolute better! We’ve now been three times with Rory (one day trip and two 4-day visits) and all have been superbly spectacular, holding memories we’ll cherish forever!

So, we want to help you! Whether you’re a newbie or looking to brush up since becoming parents, we thought we’d start at the very beginning and walk you through recapturing the magic that is Disney.

THE FITZPRIDDING’S FIRST TRIP TOP TIPS:

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To ‘ease in’ to Disney as a family, we decided to start with Disneyland Paris for a day.
For us, it was easy to tag a day trip onto the end of our week-long summer holiday in France and this is just how it all started for me way back in 1998. Before we start, it’s definitely worth remembering that Disney holidays aren’t like regular holidays – they’re cool holidays and you’re almost always guaranteed to come home needing another holiday to recover. I’m sure you know this but don’t forget to put your Scout cap on and be prepared!

To start your Disney trip plan, you will need to start by looking at the following:

  • How to get your tickets
  • Where you’re staying & what transport you’ll be using
  • Making a plan of action

(I’ve tried to stick to bullet points to help be as clear and concise as possible!)

DAY TICKETS:

  • Absolutely book your day tickets before you go.
  • You can do this up to six months in advance and as little at 15 minutes before you arrive – be aware that there is a price difference for these options!
  • There are different price bands and park options so do have a good look as there is sure to be an option which is best for you and your family – this can also save you quite a few pennies!
  • Ticket prices on the gates are upwards of €100 per person but online we paid just £128 (in June 2018) for both us adults and it’s great to remember that all babes under 3 are free – woo!
  • Weekdays are usually cheaper and Friday & weekends can vary depending on the time of year or if there are any events on.
  • (The image below shows examples for ticket & price types for September this year (2019). If you scroll down from there, the page will show park & day options – the current deal is adult tickets at child prices! – you can find out more magical info here).

YOUR STAY & TRANSPORT:

  • Consider the distance between your hotel/holiday location and Disney as this will be your base for making a ‘Plan of Action’.
    • Can you get there and back easily?
    • Are you going to need to book a hotel closer?
  • There are plenty of cheap B&B style hotels in the area that are perfect for driving in – B&B Hotel at Bussy-Saint-Georges is one we’ve used a fair few times.
  • For our first day trip, if at all, the only thing I would change was staying closer. We were staying a few nights at one of our favourite Eurocamp sites, ‘La Croix Du Vieux Pont‘, which was perfect for us in every way but in the distance as it was an hour away.
  • We must give BONUS POINTS & a shout out to Eurocamp though who give you the option to add an abundance of baby & toddler extras to your booking for no extra cost (things like cots, baby baths, bed guard, potty, etc.) – a real lifesaver when you are short on car space!

A PLAN OF ACTION:

As Disney alums, we set a very basic itinerary of things we wanted to see & do with Rory and did our best to do all of that. We found it important to remember to go with the flow and take it all in – it’s easy to forget how overwhelmingly the magic of Disney can be and this never fails to blow me away.

These ‘Five Fitzpridding Tips’ help us every time (day or week trip) and are perfect for helping take the pressure away and enjoying every moment with your little ones:

  • RIDES: Get a good look at a map – you can see these online here or collect them on your way into either park or usually at your hotel. Set your sights on what rides you want and can do, check for height/age restrictions and plan a rough route around the park(s). We set out to do a few key favs – Buzz Lightyear (always more than once!), A Small World, Peter Pan, and Slinky Dog Coaster – and made the most of the Fastpass service, deciding early on that we didn’t want to queue for more than 15 minutes for anything – toddlers hate queues, even when there are other toddlers to play with (who knew!?)
  • EATING: NEVER FORGET SNACKS – now apart from bringing some plastic dinnerware for Rory and of course the essential snacks and water, we brought nothing else food-related. Bringing snacks can reduce the expensive costs of Mickey-shaped foods but for main meals, we chose to eat in the park at Pizzeria Bella Notte (definitely where Rory’s obsession with spaghetti bolognese started!). This meant we didn’t have to lug cool bags or backpacks of food & drink around all day, which let’s face it, was great as you can carry enough stuff around for a day out with a toddler. For dinner, we ate Quick Service food too as this was perfect to munch on in between parades and park-hopping – this is always exactly as it says on the tin but boy, oh boy is it good!
    • BREASTFEEDING/BOTTLEFEEDING MAMAS there are loads of benches, seats and restaurant spaces to cop a squat to feed a hungry babe or you can use the ‘Baby Care Centre’ situated at the end of Main Street next to The Plaza Gardens – it’s got comfy seats, bottle warmers and great changing facilities for a quiet 5 minutes peace. *Also worth noting this is where the Lost Child room and First Aid point is!*
  • NAPS SAVE LIVES: Keep those nap scheduled! We let Rory nap when he was ready, lying down the back of the chair for peak comfort and didn’t even try to wake him – this was absolutely key in keeping Rory happy and on board with the constant sensory overload for the rest of the day and was also an ideal time for us to go around some shops without having little hands pick up every single toy!
  • ALWAYS BRING YOUR OWN PUSHCHAIR: *see ‘Naps Save Lives’ – they’re not overly cheap to hire (according to DLP Guide £20 per day!) and they’re no comfort wagon either so if you can, always bring your own. Don’t forget to bring a pushchair caddy if you have one – these are a godsent for holding cups, snacks and all manner of paraphernalia so your busy hands don’t have to. Oh and if you’re overly conscious like me, bring a bike lock too – locking up your pushchair whilst on rides can bring never-ending peace of mind after hearing horror stories of stroller stealing!
  • TIMINGS: Save things to do on future trips. This will help you relax and enjoy the things you are doing instead of stressing and rushing around. We arrived just after opening to make the most of a full day but chose not to do the fireworks. As we were staying an hour away and Rory was asleep before 9pm, we realised he would have missed the whole thing – at that point, it’s worth noting we still managed to spend 11 hours in the parks!
    • DO NOTE that park opening times vary from season to season! In Autumn/Winter, the parks close at 7 & 9pm so fireworks aren’t too late but during Spring/Summer, they close at 11pm so are much later!

ON TO THE NEXT STAGE: OUR FIRST STAY & PLAY!

Disneyland Hotel & It’s A Small World, Paris

So, you’re looking to book your first fully immersive all-Disney experience holiday and you start researching but you don’t know where to start and that Facebook group you joined bombards you with more questions and choices and confuse you and… HOLD YOUR HORSES HUNNY, let’s break it down into easy steps as you have choices (please, please remember these are our recommendations and there are other companies or local travel agents available!):

To start your Disney stay & play trip plan, you will need to decide the following:

  • How you’d like to book your holiday – package or separate
  • How you wish to get there
  • Where you’d like to stay
  • How to organise your tickets (if you’re not staying in a Disney Hotel)
  • If you’d like to add a Meal Plan (if you are staying in a Disney Hotel)
  • How to make the most of any extras (FastPass+, Photo Pass, etc.)

(Again, I’ve tried to stick to bullet points to help be as clear and concise as possible!)

HOW TO BOOK YOUR HOLIDAY:

The first thing to decide is how you want to book your holiday as there are a few options:

  • A PACKAGE HOLIDAY: You can book package deals directly with Disney helping create the ultimate Disney experience.
    • You can go directly to Disneyland Paris or Walt Disney Travel Co. or go through registered partner sites like Magic Breaks who will cover your travel, hotel stay, and tickets – even dining and magical extras!
      *Please note: offers and discounts change and roll over every season so always keep an eye out for the best deals before booking!
  • INDIVIDUALLY BOOKED HOLIDAY: Yes, you absolutely can build your own holiday and do it all separately – this can help if you’re on a tight budget or are trying to save your pennies for the parks:

HOW TO GET TO DISNEYLAND:

We love (well, I hate) to take the ferry

The main thing to consider before deciding on a hotel is how you want to get there. There are many options (some listed above) so it’s weighing up the pros & cons for what’ll work best for your family:

YOU CAN FLY (you can fly, you can flyyyyy):

  • Easy to navigate.
  • Not allowed to overpack!
  • Relax and not have to concentrate on traveling.
  • If staying onsite, you can fly to Charles-de-Gaulle and get the Magic Express direct to your Disney hotel – and if not, there are other taxi companies (Uber, etc) to choose from.

YOU CAN DRIVE:

  • No luggage restrictions.
  • Can go at your own pace.
  • Can choose either ferry or Eurotunnel.
  • Travel around the area at ease – the main parks & hotels aren’t far from shops, supermarkets and even an aquarium!
  • Can stay on or off-site with ease.
  • Can stay at Davy Crockett Ranch (this is a car only Disney Hotel with no shuttle bus service but in our opinion, definitely has the best pool!)

YOU CAN GET THE TRAIN:

  • Can be direct from St Pancras International, Ebbsfleet International or Ashford International right to the gates of Disneyland.
  • No luggage restrictions – you can bring what you can carry!
  • Relax and not have to concentrate on traveling.
  • A beautifully scenic route.
  • The easiest option for hassle-free travel to a Disney Hotel.

Once you’ve worked this out, you can decide whether you want to be able to walk from your hotel, get a shuttle bus, the train or drive – this map will help you work out what your choices are for Disney and their partner hotels.
*Please note, if you are staying at a Disney Hotel, parking for the parks is free BUT if you’re not, there is a daily charge – it is currently €25-€30 (June 2019).

YOUR SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC STAY:

Davy Crockett Ranch June 2019

First decided if you want to stay at a Disney Hotel or not – this will be a great help in narrowing down your choices as it’s easy to be overwhelmed!

There are many perks when staying at the Disney Hotels: each hotel is designed so you can fully immerse yourself in an amazing theme, they have delicious restaurants and most (but sadly, not all) have amazing swimming pools – plus, if you shop so much in the parks you can’t carry it, you can have it all dropped at your room for you to enjoy when you get back!

If you’re looking to see which Disney Hotels is for you, there are six (well soon to be seven again*) to choose from. You can add meal plans to any of these as well as adding Fastpasses, Photopasses or dining experiences such as character breakfasts, dining at Inventions and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show tickets. Your park tickets are included in your hotel packages – if you’re staying for 3 nights, you will get 4-day park-hopper tickets included.
Your choices are:

You can also book Les Village Nature Paris directly with Disney, however as far as we are aware (and we did a bit of digging), you are unable to book a meal plan with this one (unless Disney are running their Free Dining offer). This is not 100% gospel but we do know you can add character breakfasts, dining at Inventions or Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show tickets.

MEAL PLANS:

FOOD: Mickey-shaped everything and Plaza Gardens Restaurant

Now you’ve cracked (or looked at) your transport & hotel, you’ve reached the yummy part: FOOD!  *Please note, that if you’re NOT staying at a Disney hotel, you won’t be able to book a dining plan. This is a Disney-exclusive perk* but if you have chosen a Disney hotel then WOOHOO!

  • There are now three options for you to choose from which come as half-board (breakfast and 1 meal) or full-board (breakfast and 2 meals:
    • STANDARD: buffet restaurants
    • PLUS: buffet and select table service restaurants
    • PREMIUM: buffet, table service restaurants, and character dining experiences.
  • There are two price brackets:
    • Adult’s prices (12+ years old)
    • Children’s prices (3-11 years old)
    • All under 3’s are not covered by a meal plan but if eating in buffet restaurants, it’s easy to feed your little ones an abundance of pasta, meats, cheese, bread and, puddings!
  • You can read more about them right here. (This link shows you essential information for how meal plans work, their benefits and how many restaurants you’ll be able to choose from).
  • Each option will cover different types of dining experiences, different restaurants and may include some experiences, like character dining or Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
  • You do have the option to pay the difference if you wish to add a table service or character dining experience to your holiday – this can be done at the time of booking or you can do this over the phone (more info here about calling as charges do apply!)
  • To book regular reservations, this can be done via restaurant reservations team over the phone OR if you’re like me and don’t want to spend hours and a small fortune on the phone, you can use other European Disney sites to book –
    • I have always used the Dutch Disney site and have never had issues making reservations through this. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Dutch but it wasn’t difficult to navigate! Here’s the link – https://www.disneylandparis.com/nl-nl/restaurants/
  • *Another noteworthy bit of info is Disney is renowned for doing package deals with free dining options – this can often save you a few pennies too! The deals come around yearly and apply to selected dates for packages for both Disneyland Paris & Disney World (just in case you’re contemplating going state-side already!). DISNEYLAND PARIS HAS DEALS ON RIGHT NOW SO LET’S GO GO GO!

Our Fitzpridding Favourites restaurants are Plaza Gardens, La Grange at Billy Bob’s Country Western SaloonRestaurant Agrabah Café and, Bistrot Chez Rémy. Buffets are the best when you’re visiting with little ones or any fussy eaters, there’s always so much choice so it’s pretty much guaranteed there’ll be something for everyone. Bistrot Chéz Remy is one of the little bit more expensive table service restaurants (included in the Plus & Premium Meal Plan) BUT is an absolute MUST if you’re a fan of the movie – everything is so wonderfully designed; the food is beyond delicious and if you get the right seats you can even see the Ratatouille ride going around!

Bistrot Chez Rémy

MAGICAL EXTRAS

Last but by no means least, you have the option to add some magnificent magical extras to your package and these are not Disney Hotel exclusive – hoorah!

PHOTOPASS+
Capture all your memories in one place!

  • Pay a one-off price of £66* to have all your ride and character photographs available online to download and share.
  • Without this, you can purchase individual photographs from rides or character meets in frames or in a range of gift options (key rings, magnets, etc)
  • *price correct as of November 2019

FASTPASS
Skip the long waits for your favourite rides!

  • FREE FASTPASS use is available with any ticket/package option and lets you get one Fast Pass at a time which is offered on a selection of rides. These passes will give you a specific time slot to come back and enjoy the ride! (show me more here)
  • NEW SUPER FASTPASS is a pay-for option allowing you to get fast passes for selected Family or Big Thrill Attractions with no specific return time.
  • NEW ULTIMATE FASTPASS is another pay-for option allowing you to get ahead of the game with fast passes.
    • This pass comes in two options: ONCE & UNLIMITED
    • ONCE allows you to ride all of the selected rides eligible once that day whereas UNLIMITED allows you to ride all of the selected rides as many times as you’d like!
      (show me more here)
  • It’s worth remembering that Fastpass’s aren’t completely necessary and if they are out of your budget, you can totally ride all your favourite rides and still have a magical time!

BUFFALO BILLS 
A wild west style dinner show!

  • Has 2 sittings a night: 6:30pm and 9:30pm
  • Dinner included for all (children from ages 3+)
  • Can be included in Dining Plans if you’re staying at the Disneyland Hotel
  • Can be added on to any stay & play
  • ALWAYS book in advance to avoid disappointment as this is an extremely popular extra – Yee-haw!

CHARACTER DINING
Interactive dining with your favourite Disney characters!

Our first Character Breakfast at Plaza Gardens, June 2019

  • CHARACTER DINING AT PLAZA GARDENS – Meet Winne the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger, Mickey & more!
    • There are 2 seatings, 8:30am & 9:45am
  • PRINCESS BREAKFAST OR LUNCH AT AUBERGE DE CENDRILLON – Meet Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel & more!It also has 2 seatings for breakfast at 8:30am & 9:45am.
    • The Lunch has 5 seatings for lunch at 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, and 3:30pm.
  • CHARACTER LUNCH OR DINNER AT INVENTIONS – Meet Mickey, Pluto, Goofy, Donald & more!
    • Lunch reservations are at 12:30pm, 1:30pm & 2:30pm
    • Dinner reservations must be made directly via the restaurant reservations team over the phone or (we believe) using the European Disney online booking pages we mentioned earlier on in ‘Dining’.
  • CHARACTER DINNER AT CAFE MICKEYReservations run from 5:30pm to 10pm
    • Located in The Disney Village, it may be worth noting that you do not need park tickets to enjoy this experience.

_________________

Booking any family holiday can be such a daunting task, especially if you’re the head researcher and planner of the family (that’s my unofficial title!) but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Disney is by far one of the best family holiday destinations for all generations to enjoy and forget all of life’s dramas for a while. So, if you were stuck or trying to find where to start booking your own Disney holiday, I really hope this helped and hey if you keep your eyes peeled, we just might be sharing more hints and tips about Disney in the future!

IMG_5777

‘Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy’
– Walt Disney

Love to y’all, OCM .xo

(Disclaimer: This post has no affiliation to Disney, Eurocamp or any other travel company and is not an advert or sponsored post. All images copyright to One Curious Mother.)

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