Our First Disney Experience: Halloween 2018
This year we weren’t sure if we’d manage to squeeze in a family holiday as we knew we’d be moving at some point. So on a bit of a whim, back in May, we decided we’d take the kids to Disneyland Paris.
I’ve never been to any Disney, Robin’s been to Florida as a kid and loved it, so we thought Paris would be good introduction for the kids with them being so young. The whole booking experience is daunting and incredibly confusing! There are so many meal, hotel and travel options so we decided to book directly through Disney.
We booked 3 nights/4 days, flying to CDG and staying in The Santa Fe hotel which is in the Disney park so that we could benefit from the ‘Magic Hours’ before the park opens to the public. We selected the Half Board Premium meal plan as it included a Meet the Characters meal and a night at the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show… Turned out, all of this didn’t come cheap. It was significantly more than we had expected to pay, but we were in too deep, and it was worth it – Oscar would love it, right?!
Luckily for us, we’d decided to add a little bit extra stress right before our Disney trip by attending a wedding down South with Scout in tow, while Oscar stayed home with his Grandparents. We flew down to Hampshire on the Friday (oh, and we got engaged at 4am as we were getting ready to go to the airport!), attended the wedding on the Saturday (and had such a good day – was so lovely to have some time away!) then on Sunday, we flew back to Edinburgh, arriving home at midnight… and quickly discovered our flight to Paris the next day was in fact at 6am – two hours earlier than we had previous thought. Organised as ever…
A few short hours later we were up and off! Arriving at the airport at 4:30am, without an added engagement, but with a disoriented and excited Oscar. We quickly discovered Robin had left his bag with the travel documents on the kitchen table! Again, organised! A mere 35 minutes later I returned to the airport with the rucksack and we ran through security (why do I always bleep?! I’m thinking it’s my specs??) and straight to the gate in time for boarding starting. This was Robin, Scout and I’s third flight in 4 days, so to be honest, we were kinda over it… but Oscar was psyched!
Upon landing we trekked through Charles De Galle airport, boarded some kind of genuine, bona fide monorail and managed to find our Magic Shuttle (just a bus) that would take us to our hotel. This was all a bit chaotic. People shoving kids out the way to get on. Probably the same kind of people that fight to get on a train as folk are still alighting – WHY?! The transfer to Disney is about 40 minutes or a little more depending on what hotel you’re staying in. We arrived at The Santa Fe and waited in the queue to check in… the first of many – queues are a bit of a theme at Disney.
Our first impression was that this hotel was a bit dated, and a bit tired. But, we weren’t planning on spending that much time in it, so it would be fine. We decided to drop our bags in our room (it was 11am-ish and the room was ready to go – that was a positive) and head to the park. The weather caught us a bit off guard. It was bitterly cold, just a few degrees, which was a shame as just the week before it had been unseasonably warm with highs of 20 degrees! We jumped into a shop on Disney ‘Main Street’ and grabbed Oscar a hat but I think it was safe to say, his 3:30am start was catching up with him, but we were determined to have fun. The kind of magic fun that Disney promises.
Unfortunately… it was downhill from here. What we thought was just tiredness seemed to be a bit more and Oscar was actually quite poorly… and probably wasn’t really in the mood to be trailed round in freezing temperatures. It was at this point, I asked him how he felt and he said “mummy, I feel sad. I want to go to Disneyland” – fairly tragic considering we’d been there about 4 hours at that point… I can laugh now, but at the time this was a metaphorical punch in the gut.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Anyway, I’ve put together some info, pointers, good points and bad points – before I left and while we were away I had a lot of people get in touch to ask about it as they were thinking of going. I read a lot before we went (yes, we even joined the ‘Disneyland Paris for Brits’ group on Facebook…), and to be honest, everyone made it out to be amazing, and I hate to sound negative, because that’s not really our bag, but elements of the trip were disappointing and I’d rather be honest. Doubt I’ll be getting sponsored by Disney any time soon anyway…
Mickey Meal Madness with some Buffalo Bill chucked in…
Let’s start with a positive – despite coming to the realisation on the first day that Oscar was feeling absolutely lousy with a raging temperature we had booked to go to Buffalo Bills Wild West Show and decided to give it a shot (ya know, still determined to power through and enjoy ourselves despite snipping at each other through gritted teeth…) and actually, Oscar enjoyed it! We had tickets as part of our Premium Meal Plan otherwise I believe it’s around £160… which is a lot! Was it worth it? As adults, maybe not (see face below)… but like I say, Oscar did enjoy it, so in that respect it was. The food was mediocre – TGI’s style mixed grill, but I wasn’t expecting much better so wasn’t disappointed. You can book this before you go, you can do that up to 60 days before I think and can email them directly, we did it the week before and managed to get a table but probably wouldn’t advise being so last minute.
Our meal plan also included a character meal, we wanted to do this at Inventions, which is classed as one of the best restaurants in the park, located in the actual Disney Hotel, but, well, it was fully booked so that went out the window. Instead, we booked the breakfast at Plaza Gardens just off Main Street. Despite refusing to eat anything (a theme of the trip) Oscar seemed to really enjoy this, so I’d say it’s worth it. It could have been organised a lot better, with characters being more interspersed instead of them moving round the restaurant in groups meaning you had to wait ages to meet them then when you did it was all of them and a bit rushed, but a three year old obviously doesn’t care about that and he was really psyched to meet Mickey and it was mega cute. We even took some pictures so that in years to come we could show Oscar them and lie to him about the whole trip by insisting he had the best time ever.
On the topic of food, because we had a premium plan, we were able to book the “best” restaurants in the park without having to pay a surcharge and we did this a week before and although we managed to get tickets to the BBWWS we did struggle to get a table at a few other restaurants. In hindsight, maybe this was a good thing. Oscar is 3, and terribly fussy. I suppose I assumed that all the eateries would be child focused with quite “child friendly” food and this wasn’t the case – which was my bad. Coupled with the fact that Oscar felt lousy, and just wanted to sleep, it wasn’t the best restaurant experience. So we ended up cancelling a few of our reservations and just chancing our arm at a few of the buffet restaurants which were fine.
There are also a fair few places out-with the main Disney and Studios park within the Disney Village including sandwich shops, coffee shops, Five Guys and a trusty McDonalds. After a 20€ Uber trip to a pharmacy for paracetamol in the morning (yup, I went away without packing Calpol…) it was the Golden Arches that supplied us with one of the peaks of the trip when Oscar saw it on day two and ate for the first time since arriving – even managing to crack a smile at the Mr Potato Head happy meal toy! We found the snack food pretty reasonable. We were expecting it to be extortionate. Same goes for the toy shops on site … of which there are many… they weren’t that bad. We took Oscar to one after his McDonald’s to try and capitalise on his rallying mood and treat him to a wee toy – we came away with a set of Toy Story characters for 19€ which didn’t seem more than you’d pay on Amazon. Had we been feeling jollier about our Disney experience we’d maybe have stretched to Mickey ears, but the furthest we went was matching Disney ponchos to keep us dry.
Disney-ing with a Baby
On a bit of a side note – if you’re doing Disney with a baby I have a few wee tips. Overall, we found changing facilities very poor. At the Wild West Show, Robin took Scout to the toilet to change her and there were no facilities – not in the mens toilets or in the male/female disabled toilets and he ended up changing her on a dirty and cold tile floor as we didn’t have a mat. Now, later on I went to the ladies toilets and there was a changing area, but come on, its 2018… men change nappies, ya know? I don’t think its acceptable to have to change a 9 month old on a dirty floor, and especially not in a place made for children! However in the main park, next to Plaza Gardens restaurant, there’s a Baby Care Centre where there’s a big open plan changing area (that men can use as well) with toilets too and also a big feeding room with chairs and highchairs and microwaves and stuff. This was handy since it was a bit cold to whip a boob out from my 64 layers outside. Luckily, Scout doesn’t really need fed that much during the day now or else this would have been a bit of a ball ache going back and forward. However, I think the restaurants do have microwaves too if you need them for baby food or milk or whatever.
Day three: we finally make it on some rides…
Day three, Halloween, was actually the most Disney (*jazz hands*) day, Oscar woke feeling a bit better (and hadn’t been sick in the night – YAY). On this day we managed to get to the parks for Magic Hours. You can use these if you’re staying in one of the Disney hotels and means that you get exclusive access to the parks between 8-10am before the general public get in. This was good for getting on some of the rides with bigger (read: absolutely mental) queues. We used them to get on the new Peter Pan ride and then Pirates Of The Caribbean.
On the topic of rides, most of the bigger rides have a minimum height of 103cm which Oscar just missed out on unfortunately. But there was still a fair amount he could enjoy, especially over in the Fantasy Land area of the park (back right). Most of these rides we were able to get on with Scout in the carrier as well which was good, but probably an indicator that they’re not exactly thrilling. Oscar really enjoyed It’s a Small World, Pirates of The Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, Ratatouille: The Adventure and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. For a few rides, including Ratatouille, we used our Fast Passes – this is available to you if you’re staying in a Disney hotel, but isn’t really explained very well when you check in. Not all rides have it, but most of the bigger ones do – just look for the Fast Pass hut near the queue entrance and put your card (the card that you use for your park entry, room key and for dinner reservations) into the fast pass machine, and it’ll give you a printed ticket with a time. Then all you have to do is come back within that time frame and enter the Fast Pass queue and you skip the main queue. This is handy, but we probably didn’t make best use of them – mainly because we spent less than half our time in the actual park due to a sickly toddler!
There were also a few ‘big thrill’ rides that Oscar couldn’t get on that we wanted to do, and for these we used single rider queues as we were passing. Robin went on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, Big Thunder Mountain, Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror… I went on Space Mountain – can you tell I’d lost all ‘Disney Magic’ by this point…?!
Que the Queues
Now, of course, when you go to a theme park you expect to wait in queues – it’s par for the course really, I’ve queued for hours at Alton Towers, I get it… but it did put us off bothering with some of the rides partly because they didn’t seem worth it and because Oscar’s tummy was sore. What was more annoying though was the queues at every other bit of the park, whether it be a 25 minute queue to get a picture with Goofy (I mean, does anyone even care about Goofy?) or the 40 minute queue to buy a crepe when I was literally the 4th customer in the line… crazy.
We didn’t wait 25 minutes to meet Goofy… I’m not mental, however, I did think that Woody might be able to bring a smile to Oscar’s face and I knew a way to make it happen… I had it on good authority from the Instagram community that at 2pm on the dot, you can go onto an app on your phone called Lineberty and book a slot to meet Toy Story Characters. So at 1.55, we were sitting eating lunch in Cafe Agrabah and I had my phone out, poised to refresh every 3 seconds as if I was trying to secure Glastonbury tickets… although, you could argue, the stakes were much higher. As it turned 2pm I was placed in the queue and secured my e-ticket – I was number 28 with an estimated wait time of over an hour, giving us time to finish lunch and head over to Walt’s Studios park. As we left the restaurant half an hour later I looked at my phone with horror to discover that the queue time had skipped to 8 minutes… we sprinted through the park, out through the gates, zig zagging through the halloween crowds to get to Studios on time only to get in and realise we had no clue where Woody was hiding. In some sort of Disney induced frenzy, we managed to find someone to point us in the direction and there he was – a 7ft slightly odd looking Woody. We entered the queue, Oscar seemingly unaware f the drama had fallen asleep in the buggy (bearing in mind Oscar hasn’t even looked in the direction of a buggy in nearly 2 years, this was an indicator of his current flu-ridden state).
Despite all the disappointment that had come before, I was still full of hope that this would be the turning point and we would have a #makingmemories moment… wrong. We woke Oscar up and epic meltdown ensued. No, he didn’t like Woody, no he didn’t want to meet him, he certainly didn’t want a picture with him (lucky we hadn’t purchased that 70€ photo pass…) … in actual fact, he wanted nothing to do with him, and could not have cared less that we nearly gave ourselves heart attacks sprinting to get there in time. Now, I’m not proud of myself… but this was where I broke. I had a full Disney induced meltdown to rival my three year old’s and I ugly cried. I Kim Kardashian ugly cried in what is supposed to be the most magical place on earth. In hindsight this was obviously a pretty massive over reaction. I mean, when I’m ill I can barely muster the energy to change the channel on the telly, and yet, here we were expecting a little three year old, flu-ridden Oscar to have forced fun. But Disney had broken me. At this point, if I could have just gone home… I probably would have.
The Santa ‘Stay Away’ Fe This Hotel
One of the biggest downfalls was our hotel, as I mentioned, we booked The Santa Fe, which admittedly is the cheapest hotel in the park, but ‘cheapest’ is very relative when talking about Disney, and in all the holiday was expensive so I’d have expected better. I’d have expected a better standard for the Disney brand. The hotel was tired, dated and actually downright dirty in places… for example, mould on the window frame which is unacceptable regardless of price point. Admittedly, we didn’t expect to spend as much time as we did in the hotel, we booked it as just somewhere to sleep as we thought we’d be out at the parks from 8-8 every day but we hadn’t banked on a sick toddler. If anyone is thinking of visiting, this would be my one top tip – book any other hotel! Don’t make the same mistake we did!
On our last night, Halloween, we did decide to hang about in the evening for the illuminations and they were fab, Oscar had fallen asleep so we secured a good spot, it was nice and dry and we woke him up just for them starting. They didn’t last too long, just long enough to keep his attention and ‘wow’ him. Just the other night Oscar randomly started talking about the fireworks he saw at the pink castle which was really sweet because there were wee glimmers during the holiday that he was enjoying himself.
Woody’s My Round-Up
I hate hate hate that this all might sound a bit negative or ungrateful because we’re not generally like that, we try to make the best of situations and with Disney we tried, believe me, we tried in an attempt to justify our significantly lighter bank balance, but I think we’ve walked away with the realisation that we’re maybe not ‘Disney people’. What I would say though is that for all the disappointment we felt as adults , if Oscar had had a ball, ultimately, none of that would have mattered. And if he’d not been unwell, I’m sure he would have had a lot more fun, and as a result, we would have too. It was just so unfortunate that he was ill and completely out of our control. If we’d been at home it would have been a good 3-4 duvet days. So if you’re thinking of booking a trio to Disneyland Paris, my intention is not to try and put you off, it’s merely to point out some things that could be done better or to prepare for, ya know?
Plenty of people go and love it. On a different week that could have been us. Would we go back to Disneyland Paris – probably not. We would probably still consider Florida when both kids are a bit older as we’re assured that its a whole different ball game. Robin made a good point when we were away saying we could probably have stayed at Alton Towers for a few days for a quarter of the price and had a better time and he was right, although admittedly that’s not really what I wanted to hear at the time – too soon Robin, too soon!!
I’d love to hear about your experiences – have you been and felt the full force of the Disney Magic, or did it leave you feeling a bit empty and dead inside (jokes, kind of…)? Are there other places you’d rate more highly?