In a recent Week in Review post I touched on my trip to Disneyland Paris with my sister, including my very mixed feelings about travelling under the current circumstances and the decision-making process that led to me committing to going. Things are changing rapidly all the time and I’m very conscious that you might be reading this having been disappointed at the cancellation of a trip (or trips) away this year. I get it. Yes I went on this trip, but I did have far more planned (and booked!) for this year and this particular trip is now looking like the sole survivor of my 2020 plans.
Cancelled trips are certainly not the worst thing to have happened given the global situation right now and I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to go anywhere at all. Through the months stuck at home in a weird limbo, one of the things that kept me going was Disney content. I had to believe that one day I would be back in a Disney park and everything else would fade away. I’m not going to get anywhere near Walt Disney World in Florida any time soon, but have still enjoyed following content coming out of WDW as it has allowed me to live vicariously through other people’s experiences, reflect on my own memories of trips there and plan the experiences I would like to have in the future. In the build up to my own DLP trip I appreciated seeing updates from those who had visited in the month or so between the resort re-opening and my arrival. And so I thought I would write a post with more of the details around my trip – including the safety measures in place and operational changes due to Covid – so that those who need a little Disney fix can live vicariously and those who want to learn a little more about what it’s like in DLP right now can perhaps have some of their questions answered. Here we go…!
Very briefly, our travel to DLP involved an early morning easyJet flight from Glasgow airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle (face masks required throughout and enforced), a 9 minute TGV transfer to Marne la Vallée (I couldn’t believe how smooth and swift it was!) and a 2 minute RER connection to Val d’Europe (face masks required again at all stages of the journey) where we were staying in the Ibis hotel right beside the station. This meant that having begun my day in Scotland, I was actually IN Disneyland by lunchtime when the parks had been open for less than 3 hours. Not bad!
To gain access to DLP right now, you need to have both a valid ticket and a park reservation since park capacity is restricted. It was easy enough to sort out – I bought a 3 day ticket online (you can print your own ticket to take with you) then followed the instructions to link it to my DIsney account and make my reservation. The reservation has to be shown either on paper or on a device before you reach the turnstiles, so needs to be available alongside your ticket when you arrive. It is also a requirement for all guests aged 11 and over to wear a face covering at all times on DLP property (except when eating/drinking), so it’s worth making sure you have enough for the duration of your trip, especially if you won’t have facilities to wash reusable ones. I made the assumption that I would want to change my mask during the day so always had spares in my bag. Security checkpoints were, at the time of our visit, exactly the same as they have always been, other than management of queues to ensure physical distancing. Unlike in the US, no temperature checks were required.
You can read more about the enhanced health and safety measures at Disneyland Paris on their official website.
Of course me being me, there was no way I could be in a Disney park without a pair of Minnie Mouse ears, so I was barely through the turnstiles before making a pit stop. I chose Ariel’s Grotto Coral ears (which had been discounted – bonus!) then made sure to get lots of photos at the entrance, on Main Street and by Sleeping Beauty castle before doing anything else. Being in a Disney park (especially a castle park) pretty much always makes me cry with happiness and I was already feeling overwhelmed with emotion at FINALLY being in Disney again, so I was glad of my sunglasses as I shed a few tears behind the shades.
Feeling more composed, we headed straight for Hyperspace Mountain since it’s a ride I’d not had the opportunity to experience on previous trips. Having watched all of the Star Wars movies in the early part of Lockdown, I found it really cool to feel a bit like I was in a galactic battle. There were certainly parts of the ride where I’m not entirely sure what way up I was, but it was pretty cool overall.
Ride done, we figured it was time to eat since our airport breakfast had been super early. We headed over to Bella Notte in Fantasyland for pizza and since I was still feeling pretty cautious about eating indoors where there might be crowds, we got our food and headed to an outdoor table to enjoy it. On entering any restaurant, you can scan a QR code which takes you directly to the menu. That makes it much easier to make your decision as you wait for your turn to order. Contactless payments are preferred right now (I use a pre-paid currency card which has contactless facility but did have to use chip and pin for a couple of larger purchases) but I believe cash will be accepted if this isn’t possible. Just another way to limit the handling of items.
Our afternoon was pretty packed as our main mission on this trip was to get on as many rides as we possibly could since lower capacity meant shorter queue lines and a greater chance of getting on more rides. I had added pretty much every attraction possible to my wish list on the DLP app and was checking them off as we went.
In addition to Hyperspace Mountain we were also able to get on It’s A Small World, Casey Jr Circus Train, Lancelot’s Carousel, Snow White And The Seven Dwarves, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Mad Hatter’s Teacups, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and The Phantom Manor.
We also prioritised getting photos since a number of new photo ops, character selfie spots and Photopass magic shots were being offered (my sister has Photopass added to her Annual Pass so we were able to get digital copies of all our official pictures). This started by the castle where Photopass photographers were waiting in roughly the same area they are during Magic Run Weekend. Photo points were set up to reduce handling of items: you place your Photopass on a stand which has been set up, after the shoot the photographer scans it without touching it, then you can collect your pass to move on. This also allows for physical distancing to continue. It’s also worth noting that cast members are not allowed to take guests’ phones to take pictures for them right now, although of course someone else in your party can if you wish. Masks must be kept on for photos (and cast members will enforce this if they spot you without a mask) as well as on rides. We claimed our ride photos since they can be added to the Photopass but if anyone in the picture has their mask off, you will not be allowed to have your photo. Thankfully ours were all fine.
And right after lunch we headed into the Princess Pavilion where rather than meet princesses, you could be photographed on a huge red throne.
Before grabbing another in Fantasyland close to Dumbo the Flying Elephant.
We also got a selfie with Geppetto and took pictures later by Skull Island and Aladdin’s lamp.
France was experiencing a heatwave over this weekend so it was super hot, but I quite liked getting some proper heat and actually found it ok to be wearing a mask all the time. I really only noticed AFTER taking it off that it made a difference, rather than while I was wearing it, but I think it was just so warm that I just felt hot anyway. It felt reassuring to know that everyone was playing their part to keep each other safe by wearing a mask, following physical distancing guidelines (clearly marked throughout the park and in queue lines) and using the readily available hand sanitiser frequently.
With quite a big lunch and feeling hot and tired from a long day, neither of us felt like any dinner so as the park closed we headed back to the hotel (by RER since the journey was so short and cost less than 2€, but our hotel was only about a mile and a half from Disney with an easy walking route, so that was always an option) to grab a shower and pretty much get straight into bed so we would be refreshed for day 2: The Walt Disney Studios.
The hotel also felt very safe. We had checked in online so simply had to collect our room keys when we arrived (reception staff were protected by Perspex screens). We declined housekeeping in order to limit the people entering our room but were still able to get extras of things like towels and toilet paper if we needed them. I also noticed hand sanitiser at reception and by the lifts on each floor (these were the only public areas of the hotel we were in). The two lifts had been designated separately for guests going up or guests going down, so there would be no head-on encounters when the doors opened. I also spotted disposable gloves and rolls of paper towels next to the sanitiser by the lifts so we could limit our contact with surfaces.
We entered the park separately in the morning since my sister has an Annual Pass so can go in for Extra Magic time between 8:30 and 9:30am. The official opening time for the parks was 10am, however I was let into the Studios a little after 9:30 and, like the day before, I needed to soak up the atmosphere (and shed a few tears) in Studio 1 as I got my first experience of being welcomed by the characters and listening to the catchy “welcome back” song (which was in my head for days afterwards and it only takes a few notes for me to be humming it for hours at a stretch!).
I found my sister and we got some photos, grabbed some breakfast and, of course, got a new set of ears for the day.
Like in the main park the day before, we were able to do so much, starting with some magical selfies in the Mickey & the Magician theatre and some of the Photopass spots in the same area.
Ride-wise we checked off Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, Ratatouille (one of my favourites), Stitch Live (my first time catching it and it was so cute!), The Tower of Terror, Crush’s Coaster (not necessarily an experience I need to repeat, but it’s checked off my list!), Toy Story Parachute Drop, a second ride on ToT since the wait dropped to just FIVE minutes (and we got a different sequence to our first ride of the day) and the Flying Carpets. Quite a few of those were new experiences for me as I had only ever spent limited time in that park, so it was nice to explore a bit further.
We also spotted Mr Incredible on his “hover scooter” and got selfies with Jessie, Olaf, Goofy, Minnie and the Marvel characters. We had hoped to also get selfies with Anna and Elsa from Frozen, but had no luck getting a time slot for the attraction. We did, however, get some fun photos with Rex from Toy Story.
A big highlight was dinner at Bistrot Chez Rémy. We booked this way back in January/February when we organised our trip but all such reservations were cancelled with the park closures. Luckily a visit to guest services when we arrived in the parks the day before allowed us to rebook the same slot (5pm so it was super quiet for an indoor dining experience) and we both really enjoyed it. There was plenty of space, the server was suitably attentive whilst keeping a safe distance and the food delicious – we even treated ourselves to a kir as we were calling this our “birthday dinner” (we both had birthdays later in the month)!
The restaurant is designed so that as you step over the threshold you are shrunk to the size of a rat:
From that point on, all the furnishings and decor are made from the kinds of things a rat in Paris might be able to come across, like wine corks, jar lids and cocktail umbrellas:
Along with our kir, we both chose the mixed greens followed by the steak. There was also bread for the table. We both said we would love to eat here again and I know Steve would enjoy it.
After dinner we made our way back out of the park, waving to the characters who were back in Studio 1 to say goodbye, and headed into the Disney Village for a little shopping at World of Disney and the Fashion Store before getting the train back to the hotel to shower and head to bed. Although there were lots of people in the Village, capacity in the shops was managed with separate entrance and exit doors (the same was true of shops in the parks) and if it was busy then you would be asked to wait until someone else had exited before you could go in. There was also hand sanitiser at both the entrances and exits to limit the spread of the virus, although you were discouraged from handling anything unless you intended to buy it. Not always easy since you may need to pick something up to check the price or make a decision about buying, but idle handling of products should be avoided right now.
For our last park day we planned a full day in the main park. While my sister went in early for Extra Magic, I headed off for a run then got myself ready and to the main gates for about 9:30am. I was able to get straight in and spent some time enjoying the welcome from the characters up on the station platform then took the chance to grab a quick selfie with Daisy and Donald. I strolled up to the castle and my sister joined me there for some pictures before we headed off for some rides.
Our aim was to check off the attractions we hadn’t managed on Saturday and I think we pretty much did it – Autopia, Storybook Canal, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, the Molly Brown, Mickey’s Philharmagique, La Tanière du Dragon, Peter Pan’s Flight, Star Tours, the Nautilus and a return to our favourites – Pirates of the Caribbean and The Phantom Manor – before the park closed. I also hadn’t realised you could explore the platforms above Frontierland where there’s a kind of “town” so had my first walk around up there to see the views and the “jail cell”.
We also went to any Magic Shot sites we found, including Pocahontas and the Phantom Manor, and managed selfies with Mickey & the Chipmunks, the Tweedles, Minnie Mouse, Pooh & Eeyore, Snow White & Prince Charming, Pinocchio and Darth Vader. We also managed to catch one of the impromptu fountain shows and a mini cavalcade featuring Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Stitch. Such fun!
I had been insisting since I arrived that I NEEDED a Mickey-shaped food (not so prevalent as at WDW) so got myself a Mickey waffle with Nutella for breakfast at the Old Mill and it was delicious. Lunch was from Cafe Hyperion but I just had some nuggets and fries as it was so warm that I didn’t want much. We just grabbed some snacks later on to take back to our hotel room since again we weren’t really feeling the need for dinner as it was so hot.
We were there long enough to see the characters waving goodbye from the station again on our way out and it was such a lovely end to our time in the parks. We did, however, nip quickly to a couple of shops in the Disney Village again before getting the train back to our hotel to start getting packed and organised ready to head home the next day. I had quite the haul to fit in my cabin bag – mainly Mouse Ears and 2020 merch!
Overall we had a fantastic time and I’m glad I overcame my anxieties (stemming from living such a sheltered existence for most of this year) about being away from home and around people right now in order to go. I felt very safe in Disney, perhaps safer than that time I went to a large supermarket in the earliest days of the UK lockdown and felt incredibly uncomfortable. I also noticed that even while things were a little different and I was conscious of safety, being in Disney also felt like I was removed from the constant cycle of Covid-related news and refreshing of feeds that have become so much a part of my life in 2020. In that respect, the parks fulfilled their role of being a place where we can leave our cares behind and have fun. I would even go so far as to say that some of the changes – Magic Shots, selfie spots, impromptu surprises such as mini parades, characters welcoming us in and us bidding goodnight, low crowd levels and safety measures – are things I would happily see stay. Ordinarily I love the parade and fireworks, but if I’m honest there was so much to fill my days that I didn’t actually miss them this time!
I’ve mentioned my anxieties about travelling during Covid-19 and have been super careful and risk-averse throughout lockdown, venturing out very little. I’ve previously noticed myself backing away from people and actively avoiding others having been conditioned to consider everyone I meet as potentially “toxic”, so how come I felt so comfortable in Disney? For me, it was the attention to promoting safety measures such as having hand sanitiser at the entrance and exit of all rides, attractions and shopping locations, mask wearing being reinforced by cast members (and disposable masks available for sale, just in case!), cast members directing the flow of traffic and reinforcing distancing where possible, and the option to ask cast members in shops for “fresh” merchandise to cut down on any handling of products on display. Yes, some places could get a little busier, but there was always room to move into more space so it felt ok. In this respect this trip was probably one of the best things I could do to prepare myself for being back in school and surrounded by people again. I have turned down invitations to pubs and restaurants – especially unfamiliar ones – but in a location I knew well, with plenty of outdoor space and numerous protections in place, I felt ok and my anxiety lifted as soon as I could see Disney!
Of course when people come together there will always be things that don’t run absolutely perfectly and it would be unreasonable to expect that cast members can watch everyone in every queue all the time, but if you are planning to visit DLP while we are living in the shadow of Covid, there are one or two things to be aware of so that you can take steps to protect your own health and safety.
For starters, not everyone is great at social distancing (in France 1m compared to the 2m we have been following here in Scotland) and when groups are together, people don’t always pay attention to the floor markings in queue spaces. I found it best to take responsibility for my own distancing and if a group behind me was getting too close, left extra space in front of me so I felt like I had room. It’s not always easy in DLP to know what language to address other guests in, but I did on one occasion ask a guest behind me to step back a bit. A bit of a “look” also did the trick on some occasions! Often it was simple lack of attention or confusion about whether to stand ON or OFF the markers (the answer is off – you should stand in the spaces between the floor markings, not directly on them, although the French instruction doesn’t read quite the same as the English version).
Also, while I didn’t actually mind wearing my mask all day, even on the weekend of the heatwave, I did, however, have to be careful to drink plenty as it’s easy to forget when your face is covered. I made sure to get drinks often and would just find a quiet bench to sit on so I could remove my mask and drink. That makes for a nice moment of respite from being on your feet as well!
That’s all I can think of right now. I’m so pleased we went and have some great memories to keep me going for a while. Disney is still magical, even if some of that magic is delivered in a different way right now, so if you have a trip booked (and it’s still possible for you to go) I think you will have fun. My best advice is to do your homework so you know what to expect and what the guidelines/safety measures are (especially if, like me, you also consume a lot of content coming from WDW as it’s not exactly the same); download the official app to help you plan your trip and access things like wait times and menus; be conscious of physical distancing and hand hygiene, and be mindful of cast members – they are there to not only help you have a magical time, but to reinforce messages to keep you safe.
Right now I have no idea when I’ll get back to Disney again, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to book a trip sooner rather than later (quarantine requirements are a big factor here). Actually getting a Disney fix at all this year still feels like a miracle to me and will give me something lovely to remember as winter inevitably takes hold. Hopefully things are brighter in 2021.
Disney, I’ll see ya real soon…