Last year my sister and I were fortunate amidst a sea of cancelled plans to be able to take one of our planned trips to Disneyland Paris, and when sharing details of the trip I included the above image. Little was I to know at that time that we would have another extended period of Lockdown in Scotland (including a return to working from home and the new skill of teaching live lessons online) that would put paid to much in the way of advance planning for 2021. The bite-sized Disney fix of the Magic at Sea cruise (you can read about that here, here and here) certainly helped me to feel better, but it also whetted my appetite for a more sustained dose of pixie dust. With the rules around travel and testing easing a little bit, we were able to make a pretty last-minute decision to visit Disneyland Paris for a few days at the beginning of my October break from school. As it turns out, it was just what I needed and the sentiment in the above picture remains very much true!
I mentioned a few trip highlights in a recent Week in Review post, but I wanted to take the time to share some more of the details – including the Covid-related measures in place at the time of my trip – and share some photos. If you love Disney then this is the post for you (and if not, I won’t hold it against you if you skip this one!)
At the time of writing only fully vaccinated travellers are allowed to enter France, so our vaccination status was checked at the airport before boarding our flight. It was also checked at passport control once we landed in France. To be honest, it was the removal of the need for a test before returning home and the strict rules around vaccination status that made me feel comfortable to take this trip. We both downloaded the French app Tous Anti Covid, which we were able to use with our NHS Scotland QR code from our vaccination records. Although we could have used paper copies (and no doubt our Scottish Covid Status app) this made everything much easier once in France as the vaccination status was verified at the security check points to enter Disney, at our hotel and at the airport again before boarding our flight back, so having it readily available on our phones meant much less rummaging around for papers. Entry to so many places in France (including public transport, so there were spot checks on the TGV) required a Pass Sanitaire (Health Pass), which basically means you have a QR code proving full vaccination (or, in the case of those not old enough to have been fully vaccinated, proof of a negative PCR test less than 72 hours old). This meant I felt comfortable being around lots of people – more so than at work since I knew that everybody had a valid Health Pass, had a mask on and a degree of social distancing was still in operation. (You can read more about the current health and safety measures at Disneyland Paris here.)
Beyond the Health Pass, capacity at the Disney parks is still reduced so a reservation continues to be required in addition to your park ticket. My sister still has the world’s longest-lasting Annual Pass (time was added on to make up for the periods of park closure) so she had booked her slots and reserved Privilege Tickets for me. These are 1 day, 2 park tickets at a significantly reduced rate which are associated with an Annual Pass and must be collected and paid for on the day they are reserved for. It meant a brief queue each day to get my tickets, but it was worth it for the price and the fact that it also allowed me to join my sister in entering the parks early for Extra Magic Hours. I will get an Annual Pass of my own when the time is right since that was my plan in 2020, but with such a late decision to go the Privilege Tickets were the best option this time.
We were through the turnstiles and in the main park around midday, which was about what we expected. With the early start and travelling we hadn’t really eaten so knew we should make our way towards our chosen lunch venue (Cafe Hyperion in Discoveryland), but also knew that it might take a bit of time as we would inevitably take lots of photos along the way (and something about seeing the castle and hearing that Main Street music always means I need to pause for a little Disney cry!). Basically we needed food, but we also needed a moment to take in the surroundings of this special place which was all decked out for Halloween.
When we made it over to Cafe Hyperion (a big enough space that we could feel comfortable eating indoors) we found that each restaurant had a QR code to scan which added that location to our Tous Anti Covid app – a but like scanning in/out of venues at home for Test and Trace. If you aren’t using the app, I believe you can simply right down your details much as you would here. Menus were also available via QR code, displayed inside and were in the Disneyland Paris app. We both opted for the Wickedly Delicious Menu (a burger with red cabbage pickles, rocket, tomato and a barbecue sauce all served on a darker bun, fries, a drink and a Wickedly Sweet Apple dessert – an apple mousse with stewed apple filling). It was pretty good.
We also noticed that each table had a large pump bottle of hand sanitiser on it, and we found this to be true of everywhere we ate during our trip (there were still sanitiser stations around each attraction too). And interestingly, the disposable cutlery has been changed from plastic to wooden in a bid to reduce single use plastics.
Stomachs satisfied, we headed off to see how many attractions we could fit in, starting with nearby Mickey’s Philharmagic. I love this 4D show anyway, but a new scene has recently been added which features Coco and I was keen to see it. The colours were so vibrant and I really liked it. I wish we could have found time to fit in a second viewing. Next time!
We also checked off Buzz Lightyear (“broken” gun for me as usual 😂), Snow White, It’s a Small World, Le Pays de Contes de Fées, Casey Jr, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
On our travels we managed to see one of the cavalcades and I was really pleased that it was the one with the fire-breathing Maleficent dragon.
And we visited some of the selfie spots – the Princess Pavilion (currently a photo op with the red throne), the villains by the castle stage and we spotted Mr Smee as we came out of Pirates of the Caribbean.
But by far the best was Jack Skellington who was meeting guests over by the Phantom Manor. Such an amazing interaction with him – “horrible” to meet you too, Jack!
Throughout our trip we also used the Photopass service (my sister added that to her AP) which is still being done in a contactless fashion with guests setting their pass on a stand to be scanned. The difference this year is that at designated outdoor photo spots you may now remove your mask once in position for your photo (and distanced from others) so you will see me maskless in some outdoor photos (although usually I had to be reminded by cast members that this was ok to do!). The Photopass also allowed us to claim our ride photos. Last year if anyone in the picture was maskless then nobody was allowed it, but this year they were digitally adding masks to those who had removed them (tut tut!), so those of us sticking to the rules didn’t miss out on photos. We knew there were a number of Photopass Magic Shots for Halloween so made sure to get all the ones that were available during our visit.
For dinner we went to one of my sister’s favourite spots, Fuente del Oro in Frontierland, where we got a beef burrito, drink and some churros with Nutella. Yum!
It was then time to ride Phantom Manor (the Disneyland Paris version of the Haunted Mansion from the American parks) which is one of my favourites. And since I was wearing my Haunted Mansion ears (yes, I brought a couple of pairs from home this time!) I needed a quick photoshoot outside of the manor afterwards.
By this time we were ready to have a look in the shops on Main Street, say goodnight to Mickey and Minnie who were above us on the train station and head off to find the free shuttle bus to our hotel.
We made sure to arrive early on the Tuesday in order to take advantage of the Extra Magic early entry we had. Our plan for the day was to begin in the Walt Disney Studios then hop on over to the main park later in the day, but there was no early entry to WDS at the time. Instead, we enjoyed seeing the characters greeting us in the main park, headed over to the selfie spot with Max (Goofy’s son) and made sure to ride Big Thunder Mountain while it was quiet (the queues for that one can stay stubbornly long later in the day).
After that, it was time to go over to the Studios and this meant a second greeting of the day, this time from Mickey Mouse.
Attraction-wise we prioritised our favourites – Ratatouille and Tower of Terror. We also went on the new Cars Road Trip ride, went to a drawing class in the Art of Animation building and took photos with the villains and some of the Toy Story stars.
There were also a couple of fun new Toy Story murals which make for some great photos.
By this time we were about ready to head back to the main park, so we got a Photopass picture (which they made look “old time-y”, had a quick snack break (a Halloween cookie) then switched park.
We had a reservation for something to eat later in the afternoon, but there was plenty of time for some attractions before that. We began with a trip around the park on the Railroad since we hadn’t managed to fit it in on our previous trip and prior to that it was closed for a while. This gave some interesting views of the park and I would enjoy doing it again. We also went to a couple of selfie spots, first with the Star Wars characters (my sister had a BB-8 themed outfit on and the reaction of the Stormtroopers was amazing!) and then with Eeyore who happened to be right outside the restaurant we were heading to for dinner.
Our reservation was at Plaza Gardens which would ordinarily be a buffet, but when we visited it was a fixed price three course meal. We were greeted at the door to check in for contact tracing, then moved forward to pay for our meal, order our drinks (included in the price since we chose soft drinks) and wait to be seated. Again, the menu was in the app but we were also given a paper copy which we could take with us or it would be disposed of later. I’m glad we saved ours since the restaurant has since reverted to a buffet so we have a souvenir that captures that time when things were different.
We opted for the selection of starters to share. For the main course I chose the Halloween offering which was pork with a pumpkin stuffing, slightly spicy sauce and served with crispy sweet potato gnocchi. (there was supposed to also be mushrooms, but our reservations was right at the end of service for the day and they had run out). Again, we went with the shared dessert selection which was very photogenic (and delicious!).
It wasn’t quite park closing time when we finished, so we took a walk over to Pirates of the Caribbean. Looking at the wait times we thought we would have enough time to ride that then nip over to Phantom Manor – basically two favourites to round off the day. But it was not to be.
During our ride on Pirates the boats did get a little backed up. This happens sometimes so we weren’t too concerned, but after we had completed the actual ride and were just waiting for our boat to enter the unloading dock, everything stopped and the lights came on. This was when we realised something was definitely wrong. We’re fairly certain they tried the ride equivalent of switching it off, giving it a minute and restarting, but to no avail. Everyone on the ride was going to have to be rescued!
I’m not going to lie, as someone who knows the Disney parks well and has experienced a lot of the rides before, getting rescued from a ride has been on my wish list of experiences for a while now. In some respects it was quite good – we had completed the ride, it was the end of the day so the delay wasn’t really cutting into our park time (it was probably only about half an hour all in from when we got stopped to when we exited the show building) and we were perfectly comfortable passing the time chatting to the group seated in front of us.
I’ll not go too much into the details of the rescue in case anyone doesn’t want to know much of what happens behind the scenes, but it involved a cast member in waders (we were in a boat ride after all, therefore there was water) and the use of a long pole to reach one of the rescue docks which lead into an emergency exit. These docks are well disguised throughout the ride so under normal ride operations you don’t really notice them. We emerged from the building in a backstage area and were directed back into the park by waiting cast members. We then made our way back to Main Street (too late for Phantom Manor now) and out into the Disney Village for a little shopping before heading back to the hotel for the evening. Of course we had been updating family back home throughout our experience so they were all interested to hear more about what had happened.
Our final day in the parks together began in a very similar fashion – greeted by the characters on our way in, a selfie spot (this time with Stitch – love him!) and another ride on Big Thunder Mountain while the wait was short. It is another favourite attraction after all.
Our main aim for the day was to visit as many of the character selfie spots as we could as well as any rides we hadn’t yet been on and repeating a few favourites. The rides we went on included Phantom Manor, Hyperspace Mountain (I’m not a massive fan of rollercoasters with inversions, but the Star Wars theming is so cool!), Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear and Pirates of the Caribbean (this time without incident 😂).
We also had great success with meeting characters: The Queen of Hearts, King Louie, Mickey & Minnie (dressed for a fiesta), Chip ‘n’ Dale (twice!), Tigger, Mickey & Pluto (in their Halloween garb), Jack Skellington (because he had been so good the previous time) and Goofy. Although these were socially distanced meets, all were excellent and I really enjoyed the interactions with these characters who all did such a good job of making it feel like that distance wasn’t there.
Along the way we stopped for one of my favourite snacks – a Mickey waffle with Nutella and bottle of Tropico. I just love these! It’s fast becoming one of my rules (alongside wearing Minnie ears) to have a Mickey-shaped food at least once on every trip.
We also had time to take some photos around the park, starting in Frontierland with it’s Coco-inspired decor for Halloween.
And we got the remaining Halloween Photopass Magic Shots we wanted:
We also had a stroke of luck whilst waiting to see Chip ‘n’ Dale in Fantasyland. The characters left and a cast member let us know that it was only for a few minutes as the Princess cavalcade was about to come through – and the cavalcades come out precisely where we were standing in our roped off queue so we were in the perfect spot to see it!
We ate in the early evening at another of our favourite quick service locations, Hakuna Matata. It’s got plenty of seating so we were able to remain well away from other parties while we ate. I chose a meal deal of beef meatballs in a tomato sauce served with rice, another Tropico and a mini Magnum ice cream. I may also have helped my sister to finish her sweet corn fries 😳
By this point in the day we were ready to finish up the last of our shopping and head out. But another stroke of luck occurred whilst we were in the Emporium on Main Street. I had been lamenting the fact that we had not caught the other Halloween cavalcade, Illusion Manor, but as we browsed the store we heard music from outside on Main Street. My sister nipped out to see what was happening and came back to beckon me out, exclaiming that there was a huuuuge float coming along the street. I set down the items I had picked up and dashed out in time to catch the very cavalcade I had hoped to see! I couldn’t believe my luck that I saw it right as my time in the park was coming to an end – perfect timing.
Fortunately the items I had set down were still waiting when we went back inside a moment later (and it appeared we were not the only ones who had ditched stuff to run outside!) so we were able to make our purchases and begin heading back to the hotel. As usual, I had a few new bits and pieces to get packed in my bag!
Yet again this was a fantastic trip. For me, Disney continues to be a place of fantasy and escapism, thus fulfilling Walt’s original vision for the parks, and I need it more than ever these days.. The real world continues to be a difficult place, but once in that magical bubble it’s easy to forget these things and focus on fun. Some aspects were a little different to last time – the Health Pass, for example – but in the main the safety measures in place were very similar: hand sanitiser, the wearing of face masks (I saw this being enforced by cast members), and reminders about social distancing. I did notice that many people were less vigilant about social distancing in attraction queues, but there was always enough room that I could take responsibility for myself and leave some space in front. I’m sure other guests would have given me more space if I had asked, but in all honesty the Health Pass made me feel much more confident than last time about having people a little closer. In actual fact, the week after we were there the French regulations eased enough that social distancing is no longer required in the same way, and the distancing markers are now being removed around the parks, so I guess we were there in the final week that it was still part of the measures. For similar reasons, I was also more comfortable with indoor dining this time, but did make sure to choose a table reasonably far from others – baby steps!
If you have a trip planned (or are thinking of booking) then I can still recommend going just now. Things are changing all the time and as they do, more and more of the “old” ways can return. An example would be that we now have dates for the return of parades and fireworks for the first time since the parks closed in March 2020 and I can’t wait to see them. I would definitely recommend that you do your homework in order to have a stress-free trip: watch vlogs, join relevant Facebook groups to chat to others about their recent experiences and, above all, keep a close eye on relevant government advice around travel, testing and any admin you need to do such as the current Sworn Statement to enter France and Passenger Locator Form to return to the UK. None of these things are difficult, but I can vouch for the fact that they can cause a little anxiety when dealing with them for the first time – I lost count of the number of times we checked and double-checked that we had done everything! I think some of these measures will be around for a while yet, so we just need to get used to that being part of our planning alongside having a valid passport, EHIC/GHIC and insurance if we want to travel. In time it will just be part of the routine.
Who knows how things will go with Covid over the winter, but I’m really hoping to get back to DLP in the first half of 2022. I’ve got to have something to dream about, right? I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that I can see my favourite Mouse again real soon.