by Helen Finney
About 18 months ago we took our two boys (then aged 6 and 2) to Disneyland in Paris. I’d done some research into prices and looked at the usual package-type bookings and was fairly horrified at the cost of the whole thing. Confined by school holidays and wedding cake bookings (self-employment has its pros and cons!), we were looking to go some time in August. We also wanted to take the boys into Paris to see some of the sights, and with the memory of Ben’s screaming fit on the flight back from Tenerife fresh in our memories, flying to France wasn’t high on our list of desirable things to do. So with a bit of digging around, I found another way.
It started really when I discovered that Tesco Clubcard vouchers could get you day passes into the Disney parks (I’ve checked the site and I don’t think they do the same deal now unfortunately). We had enough points to get us two days’ worth of vouchers for the parks, with enough left over for a Channel Tunnel crossing too.
We lived in Paris for a while when I was very small, so my parents are a mine of information on hotels and areas to stay. After a bit of advice, I found a Novotel to the east of Paris – 20 minute drive away from the Disney parks and based on the main RER trainline, meaning we were about 20 minutes from the centre of Paris by train too. The main plus point with this hotel was that it has a small outdoor swimming pool – perfect for small boys to burn off extra energy! It’s also right over the road from a decent shopping centre so we had easy access to a few restaurants and a fabulous Carrefour supermarket, with the train station underneath.
We live north of Manchester so packed the car up and headed off down the M6, taking our time and having plenty of stops to allow the boys some running around time. We booked into a Premier Inn in Ashford North, very close to the tunnel; there’s a Beefeater restaurant right next to the hotel. Breaking the journey here on the way to and from Paris worked really well for us, as did lots of films on the iPad in the car and a well stocked cool bag! An early morning tunnel crossing the following day and a three hour drive and we were at the hotel by the early afternoon for a swim and a get-your-bearings wander around.
We spent the following day at the parks – we found that the Disney Park was more to our children’s age range than Disney studios, although for anyone with Lightning McQueen-mad sons, the stunt show was well worth a visit! The tickets allow you entry into both parks on the same day so there’s no problem about moving around. We stayed very late to see the parade and fireworks show over the castle in the Disney Park, along with the character parade which we all loved. There were only a few rides that Joe, our eldest, couldn’t go on and we did split up at times for my husband to take him on the bigger rides while I stuck to the teacups with Ben!
A full day in Paris followed – we opted for the hop-on, hop-off red bus tour around the city to save on tired little legs and it worked really well. The boys loved the train journey and being on the open top bus. We didn’t attempt to go to any of the galleries with them – it was gloriously sunny and we stuck to the main outdoor sights.
On our final day we went back to the parks – armed with the map and a list of rides we’d missed or that we wanted to go on again we succeeded in seeing and doing everything we wanted to. Then in the early afternoon, with the car already packed up, we set off back northwards for an evening crossing through the tunnel and another stay in a Premier Inn. You could undoubtedly spend much more time in the parks and the surrounding area but, for us, this was enough.
Why it worked for us:
- The flexibility of having the car with us meant we were covered for all weather eventualities as I could pack waterproofs and sun hats! We visited family in the South too on our way home.
- Breaking the days at the parks up with a trip to Paris prevented Disney overload, and the boys talk just as much now about seeing the Eiffel Tower as they do about Mickey Mouse.
- The pool at the hotel was a lifesaver for cooling down (we were blessed with brilliant sunshine!) and using up that last bit of small boy energy.
- Being canny with the budget made it more enjoyable spending on treats and presents for the boys inside the parks – the captive audience in the parks mean that meals and the shops are fairly expensive, but without having bust the bank totally to get there we weren’t so concerned about how much the burgers were!
- Shop around for your deals. Some of the Disney holiday bookings looked amazing with all the free nights and tickets etc but when I costed it up booking ourselves and staying just outside the parks was much better value for money, even before we factored in the Tesco Clubcard freebies. There are lots of sites that do offers on park tickets and you can purchase different ones direct from Disney too which vary greatly in price according to the level of flexibility you want. Keep an eye on hotukdeals.co.uk for special offers from all over the internet.
- If you’re staying at the Ashford Premier Inn you can book a table at the Beefeater for your dinner in advance – there isn’t much nearby so it’s a good option to know you have a meal organised for when you get there.
- Snacks, drinks and a cool bag are essential on a long car journey! We had breakfast organised too for the morning we crossed into France and managed to get an earlier train than we were booked on.
- Disney Parks run the fastpass ticket system on the popular rides – this allows you to pre-book a place in the queue to go back later and go straight on the ride.
- In the Disneyland park there’s a cinema/restaurant place that was great to get out of the sun – the tables are all tiered up around a big screen and there are classic Mickey Mouse cartoons playing so you can watch while you eat. This was a great place to have a bit of time out while we ate.
- Much of the food is fast food – there were some people who took picnics into the parks but we stuck to drinks and a couple of snacks and then ate at the fast food places in there.
At the end of the day, you’re never too old for Disney! The whole place is done really well and the boys loved it. We’d definitely do something similar again.
Related Trunki Files articles: