OK, you guys: I have more than 500 photos from our first day at Disneyland Paris, and we didn’t even enter the park til 4pm! So I’m going to break this day up into two parts, one covering all the nitty-gritty details of getting to Disneyland Paris from London on the Eurostar and then checking into the Disneyland Hotel, and a second post with just our experience in the park and at our California Grill dinner that night. This way, you’ll get a little more Disney a little sooner, instead of having to wait forever to read it all at once.
In the morning we packed up and loaded all our luggage into a capacious, flat-floored black cab for the short ride to St. Pancras Station to catch the Eurostar. As we were waiting for the cab, Patrick decided he couldn’t leave London without a classic phone booth photo…
Our cabbie of course knew exactly which entrance we needed to be dropped at when we got to St. Pancras so we’d be closest to the Eurostar gate. We were super-early so we wandered around not taking any photos. In true Disney-fan fashion, people began to form makeshift pre-queues (or “crowds”) while we were waiting for the actual queue to open, and there were multiple Eurostar staffers required to part the masses so that passengers on earlier, non-Disney-bound trains could get into the queue. Finally they called out Disneyland Paris/Marne La Vallee-Chessy and the masses surged forward into the queue.
You have to scan your Eurostar ticket to get through the automated gates before you even reach security, so be sure to have that out. Security was airport-style, but we didn’t have to take off shoes and belts. After the metal detectors, you have to talk to an immigration officer because you’re about to leave the UK. Then they release you to a pre-boarding area below the train boarding platform, where they have a few places to eat and a minimart. It’s pretty nice!
I think this shot is supposed to show you all the convenient power outlets, but you can also kinda see the central hall and then some of the many escalators to the train platform in the back.
This gives you a better idea of the departure lounge. It was taken from a little roped off eating area adjacent to one of the cafes.
The lounge was a bit under construction when we were there. When you go, you’ll be able to enjoy another branch of the ubiquitous chain Pret-a-Manger. (And they’d darn well better be serving that Pickle Train on the kids’ menu!)
There’s a coffee shop with sandwiches….
…And a sandwich shop with coffee and booze!
That’s the one we chose. Patrick got a breakfast croissant because he hadn’t been to France yet and didn’t know any better…
I got a toasted cheese and salmon breakfast sandwich. Salmon is like bacon over there—they put it in everything! (And bacon is like ham… it’s all very confusing…)
Here’s the WH Smith where Patrick requested I get him a pen for journaling. I came back with a bazillion choices, but the one he loved best was the cheap Union Jack ballpoint I grabbed as a souvenir. This is also where I tried contactless payment for the first time on our trip, and I was in LOVE! Hold yer phone next to the terminal, hold it up to your face and click the side button, then hold it next to the terminal again and you’re done (and that’s on an iPhone X—other iPhones have one less step!).
When they announced boarding, we did the Disney Dash up the speed ramp and down the platform looking for our car. They have helpful maps with carriage numbers on them.
I did a lot of research about the luggage restrictions on Eurostar because we were traveling with our two ginormous, gone-for-three-weeks suitcases, not just a knapsack for some dirty weekend across the Channel. The savvy travelers on TripAdvisor assured me that there was zero enforcement of any of the baggage size or weight restrictions listed on the Eurostar website and that people shove oversized luggage, huge sets of skis and (probably) tuba cases into the racks wherever they’ll fit.
There are two racks at either end of each car, and since we’d dashed up to the platform, we had no trouble finding space.
As I mentioned in the Introduction post, I booked us into Eurostar’s Standard Premier class from London to Disneyland Paris because it was only about $20 more per ticket going that direction (heading back to London from Paris was a different story). It was a good thing, too, because—judging by the conductor’s constant pleas for people to make space—the standard cars were packed like sardines with eager Disney fans.
Our car was basically empty! (Although the one noisy kid in the car was seated directly behind us—classic…)
The seats are a little nicer than in the regular cars I guess, with built-in reading lamps and cupholders!
I used the excellent website Seat61 to figure out which car we wanted to be in, which seats faced forward for the journey, and which had a full window view. I think I did OK!
You also get a little breakfast in Standard Premier class. It won’t knock your socks off, but it’s nice to have in case you get nosh-y on the 3 1/2-hour journey.
This is how you drink your tea in Standard Premier class:
Disneyland Paris offers the option to add a Magical Express-type service called Disney Express Hotel Check-in & Luggage Service for something like €15 per person. A Cast Member goes up and down the train checking guests into their hotels and giving them their tickets (which are part of the hotel package) so they can go straight to the park while Disney schleps their luggage to the hotel. We’d planned to go to the hotel first to freshen up and then meet some folks from Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings for a venue tour, so I decided to skip this service. Even after our meeting got rescheduled, I was glad I didn’t spend any money on this. I’m just too anxious about being separated from my luggage for that long!
As I mentioned in the last post, I’d also been pretty anxious about potential delays or cancellations of Eurostar service due to this snow we’d started to hear about. As it turned out, our train was only about 20 minutes late due to having to drive slower when we got into the snowiest part of France.
I didn’t start taking photos til we hit France. The under-the-Channel part really does go by as quickly, as they say, and I never felt claustrophobic or anything.
It was so sunshine-y and idyllic, I couldn’t believe we’d see any snow at all!
Then, gradually, we came upon a light dusting of snow…
And then a little more…
And then suddenly there was snow EVERYWHERE: Beautiful trees covered in snow, snowy rivers and ponds, and then of course snowy little villages—we even saw some bunnies frolicking in the snow! It really made the trip magical. Each icy new vista was so exotic to this SoCal native that I barely even looked at the Internet. (Oh yeah: They have WiFi on the Eurostar. It can be spotty.)
And then we were at Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy Station!
I got a little flummoxed inside the station. Everything I’d read just said, “Walk straight out of the station and Disney’s right there!” But the station is a big rectangle with an exit on each side, and all I could see out any of them was WHITE. I was so worried that we would go out the wrong exit and be miles from where we needed to be, that I led us to each of them and poked my head out to see if it was the right one. Meanwhile Patrick is behind me going, “Why don’t we just follow, like, EVERYONE ELSE out that door?”
So here are the simplified directions in case it is also a snowy mess when you get there or you’re just as flappable as I am…
1. When you get off the train, get on the escalator up to the main concourse. These only go one direction, so this is the easy part!
2. At the top of the escalator, turn to face the exact opposite direction and start walking toward the same exit everyone else is heading to. Ignore all other exits!
3. This is what the correct exit looks like.
Right as we exited the station, I got confused AGAIN because I saw a sign that said the Disneyland Hotel was to the right and the parks were straight ahead. I don’t think it was entirely unreasonable of me to assume we should go to the right because we were headed to the hotel, not the parks.
We bumped our suitcases along the tiny path cut through the snow as everyone else from the train headed toward Disney Village and the parks (another clue I missed). The gate looked pretty closed, but there was a doorway open off to the right.
And in that doorway was the only rude person we ever met in France, a brusque security guard who shouted at us, “No! Go back!” etc. until we understood that this was just the entrance for cast members; we were supposed to walk all the way back to Disney Village to enter. Even though the sign said THIS was the entrance to the hotel. And I—knowing only the manual bag checks at the American parks—could not fathom how we would get through the security check at the entrance to Disney Village with our ginormous suitcases without incurring the wrath of hundreds of people behind us as the guards meticulously combed through our three weeks’ worth of underpants and stuffed corgis.
Now, three months later, I think I have it figured out: I’m gonna say that this normally IS the entrance to the hotel, but it was closed due to the snow. Just to make myself feel less dumb!
ANYWAY…. This is where we were supposed to be:
Looking back toward the super-under-themed train station, on the left, and Disney Village, on the right.
If I’d been more observant, I would have noticed that we weren’t the only people with ginormous suitcases. Because it turns out Disney has airport-style X-ray machines at the security checkpoint for you to send your luggage through.
Finally we were in the right place and headed toward the Disneyland Hotel. We took forever to get there because we had to keep stopping and taking pictures of all the gorgeous snow all over everything.
This area is called Fantasia Gardens and was designed by Tony Baxter to include the water, fountains and gardens of Fantasia. (Trust me, they’re all there under the snow!) And because he is a GENIUS, the path has you winding through a peaceful, snowy forest until you go around a bend and then WHAM! This happens!
Believe it or not (those of you who’ve been, don’t spoil it for the others) THIS is the main entrance to Disneyland Park! But it is also the Disneyland Hotel! >mind blown< I mean, OK, we stayed at Hotel MiraCosta in Tokyo DisneySea, but that one you don’t really see until you’re inside the park.
The story goes that the Imagineers thought it would be cool to have the façade of a Victorian hotel above the entrance to Disneyland Paris. But Michael Eisner was like, “Why not just make it an actual hotel?” (on account of it’s pretty expensive to build the fake shell of a hotel already). But, because this was to be one of the largest hotels in Europe, the Imagineers were worried that it would dwarf Main Street. So they added a ton of intricate detail to make it appear smaller from inside the park. They also put a big Mickey clock on the front to make it less imposing, and John Hench decided it should be pink because white and black were not as warm and friendly. Bless John Hench!
To get into the park you take one of the two sweeping paths hugging the lake and enter what looks like it should be the hotel’s grand entrance.
Here are some shots Patrick got on another day to give you a better idea….
I knew from my research that, by contrast, the entrance to the Disneyland Hotel is pretty obscure. I was able to find it by poking around for something that didn’t look very much like the grand entrance to a flagship Disney resort.
There is a slightly grander entrance around the corner, but you only see it if you arrive by car.
As has been copiously documented by the Internets, the lobby of Paris’ Disneyland Hotel is kind of underwhelming compared to those of the other Disney flagship resorts around the world. It feels like the lobby of a Disney Vacation Club wing at Walt Disney World. I think the Imagineers just tried so hard to make the hotel seem less imposing that they did their job a little too well.
The one thing in the lobby that is imposing is this ginormous fireplace! It’s almost like they started here and then ran outta money to decorate the rest of the lobby…
Michael Eisner: “I decree that the lobby shall have a massive three-story fireplace, and it shall be made out of four kinds of marble, with every architectural flourish recognizable to the common American….”
“… And the mantel shall surround a ginormous Victorian painting of Main Street, circa 1892. And it shall be executed with every color known to the Ink & Paint Department. And the guy on the white horse shall look like me, only younger and cuter…”
“…And the rest of the lobby—”
Pencil Pusher: “Eisner, you’re outta dough!”
Eisner: “—shall have the carpet of a Ramada and a shabby-chic chandelier I’m getting rid of at my country home…”
It didn’t matter cuz we weren’t there very long. I’d paid through the nose for Castle Club concierge service, and I was gonna use the heck out of it! I marched over to Bell Services and asked, “Castle Club?” as I pointed my nose in the air snootily to get the message across. Two cast members sprang into action: one handled our luggage (and by “handled” I mean “pried it out of my grasp as I frantically tried to ask when we were going to see it again in French”) and the other led us into the elevator.
You can also take these stairs, but I wasn’t paying to take no stairs!
Here’s a map so you can see where everything is. The pink room called “HALL” is the lobby. That orange square indicating the elevator to the Castle Club is the same one that takes concierge guests straight to the park entrance.
We walked along the bridge to the second floor (you can see it on the left in the shot of the unassuming hotel entrance, above). Here’s a photo from a sunnier day, looking out toward Fantasia Gardens and the way we’d arrived…
… And here’s the view out the other side, toward the park.
We passed this lovely Herb Ryman concept art for “Oriental” (Tokyo) Disneyland….
Across the way is Galerie Mickey, the hotel’s gift shop, which had a fantastic window display, and this is all you’re gonna see of it for now!
Then it was up a special elevator to the 3rd Floor’s Castle Club reception area.
The Castle Club reception area is a sort of wide spot in the circular balcony overlooking the 2nd Floor’s Main Street Lounge. This picture’s a little wobbly, but you will be too after realizing how much you’ve paid to stay there!
Main Street Lounge is the hub where you’ll find the entrances to the restaurants, California Grill and Inventions, and the cocktail lounge, Cafe Fantasia.
Here’s what Main Street Lounge looks like when you’re in it…
Both the Castle Club check-in desks were already occupied, so a nice concierge led us into the beautiful the Castle Club Lounge and sat us in the back corner overlooking the snowy “foyer” of Disneyland.
Usually there was a bowl of hard candies on Goofy’s platter. Insider Tip: You can take as many as you want cuz he’s never looking!
Patrick took this shot of the Castle Lounge from the buffet area—we were seated in that bright back corner on the left, and I think it’s the best spot in the place!
The lounge overlooks California Grill restaurant, which was being used as the Inventions buffet restaurant while we were there because that restaurant was under renovation.
Here’s what California Grill and the Castle Club look like from inside the park:
This was our view while we waited…
Our concierge did as much as she could to get us started with the check-in process before we could hand somebody our credit card and the rights to our first-born (joke’s on them! Our first-born is a cat!). She went over the schedule and the map and let me practice my terrible French.
Here’s what’s supposed to be open during Extra Magic Time at each park. When we got to Walt Disney Studios for Extra Magic Time later in the trip, only one of these was actually open…
Twenty minutes later we’d finally been seen by a check-in agent and had a bazillion pieces of paper and plastic we needed to keep track of for our stay.
They are (clockwise from left)…
- Hotel room key card
- Yellow room-charging card
- Club-level VIP FASTPASS that gets you onto any FASTPASS-enabled ride after 10:30am, maybe… (more on that later)
- Park-hopper ticket
Room # 2307 was just a short walk down the hall from the Castle Lounge. When Patrick swung open the door, all I could see was this:
What, you ask? Was it the breathtaking, snow-dusted view of Cinderella Castle, Main Street Station and Space Mountain all at once?
Nope! It was The Big Pink Wall o’ DOOM… We’d saved for years to be able to afford this ridiculously priced Castle Club Theme Park View room, thinking we were guaranteed to get a 180-degree view into the park like the ones I’d seen in YouTube room tours. Instead we had the room on the end… next to a wall… with at most a 70-degree view… and the very same price tag.
From inside the park, our balcony is in the middle of the three stacked rooms in this corner next to The Pig Pink Wall o’ Doom.
But check-in had taken so long, and Patrick hates it so much when I ask to switch rooms, that I resolved to only ever look out three of the windows and just enjoy the slice of view we did have. I mean, come on… This is pretty friggin’ amazing!!!
Patrick, who is much more sensible than I, was very excited—in fact, he was more excited than I have ever seen him be about taking photos of a hotel room, and he dashed around shooting EVERYTHING.
First, here’s the Photoshop composite he promised he’d make, since it was impossible to get one photo that exposed both the inside of the room and the view out the windows.
Now the glamour shot….
The coffee drawer in the armoire was super-well-stocked. Yes, those are cookie spoons, and yes, they ARE the perfect way to eat one of those mousse cones they were handing out in the Castle Lounge! Also, the Mickey-head sugar cubes are the perfect purse-size hiccup remedy. Hot tip for ya there from the Hiccup Queen…
The pattern on that shower tile is tiny dancing hippos from Fantasia!
Even the mirror is Disneyfied…
Well now that’s just cruel: A scale in a place that counts “Fries” as one of the five main food groups?
The room felt Grand Floridian-nice, which is to say, in need of updating and not nearly worth what you’re paying. The decor actually looks a lot like what the Grand Floridian had prior to its refresh a couple of years ago, but it’s the infrastructure that’s the real problem. The plumbing is tied with that of the Disneyland Hotel in California for worst: no water pressure, and the temperature fluctuates between hot and cold every 45 seconds. We reported it a couple of times, but I think the problem ran deeper than something an earnest maintenance guy with a wrench could fix.
However, there were many wonderful things about the room: It was huge! It had a king-size bed! It was directly above the entrance to the park! And the Castle Club service was AMAZING!
Apparently the Castle Club staff enjoys leaving special little surprises in your room, and the more times you stay in the Castle Club, the more surprises you get. Since we were newbies, we only got stuff the first night, but lookit all this loot!
…A Tinkerbell mug!
…A fruit bowl to shame any at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel!
…Sodas instead of Champagne cuz I’d mentioned we don’t drink booze!
… A cute lil’ anniversary/wedding pillow!
…And a card signed by all our pals!
I have to say, the Castle Club staff really made our stay. Any time we had a question about anything, there was someone there to answer it, night or day. They helped us make and cancel dining reservations, gave us insider tips about snow-day protocol at Disneyland Paris, and explained how to pronounce things in French. They answered general questions about France and etiquette and where to get off the RER-A when we got to Paris. They were unfailingly polite and, more than that, friendly! If you’re going to splurge on Concierge/Club Level at a Disney hotel, do it in a foreign country, because the assistance is invaluable.
So… Just as we caught our breath, our anniversary cake arrived!
I was gonna save my excruciatingly detailed description of the experience of ordering a custom cake at Disneyland Paris for the diehards in the DISboards’ Cake Chatter Thread, but you guys must like excruciating detail too or you wouldn’t be here, right? Here we go…
This was a frustrating experience, but the results were better than those of the equally frustrating experience I had trying to order a standard, non-customized cake (which you will hear about later). After several weeks of being shuttled from department to department via email and phone, I learned that custom cake orders must be placed via the Disneyland Paris Special Activities department ([email protected]) and that a reply can take up to two weeks (yet they don’t want you to email them more than 3 months out).
They did send me my choices and some photos over email. But to pay for the order, I had to call again, which was another ordeal of dropped calls, botched transfers and promised returned calls that never materialized before I finally was able to do it. If your phone provider has a low-cost international calling package, add that first!
The Bad News: Fancy cakes may only be ordered from the Special Activities department, and they have a minimum order of €300! So even if all you are getting is a cake with no actual “activities,” it’s €300. Their first offer was €625 for …
- a personalized cake with “Happy 10th Anniversary“ and names
- a bottle of Lanson Champagne, Disneyland Paris
- 2 Champagne glasses engraved with your initials
- a decoration made with heart-shaped rose petals on the bed
- a romantic balloon decoration around the bed
- a personal message in one of our cards
Which looks like this:
For the equivalent of $750, that was totally not happening…
So what do you get for your €300? You get to choose from a list of pre-designed 8-inch cakes. There is no way to customize a design. But at least they’ll let you write something besides “Happy Birthday” as the message on the plate! These are the choices:
The only flavor options are
- Spéculos (it’s like Trader Joe’s cookie butter)
- Vanilla Praline
Vanilla Praline was the most interesting-sounding to me, but I worried the Praline would be almond and have marzipan in it. Since I thought I was getting a vanilla standard cake later in the trip, I asked for chocolate for this fancy cake and picked the Snow White style. Here’s how it turned out…
They remembered to bring the milk I’d requested (after the cast member first suggested we might like orange juice [?!]), plus enough forks and plates for a small army because surely not even gross Americans would order an entire 8-inch cake for just two people!
I about died laughing when I saw that our wedding anniversary inscription—which was supposed to say “You are my happily ever after”—was just a “Happy 10th Anniversary” dedicated only to me. I guess they know who all these cakes I get are REALLY for!
Yes, that is a ginormous fondant apple, and yes, I eventually did take a big ol’ bite outta it. Pretty dang tasty!
I was very excited to get a cake with dragees, which have been outlawed in California and I haven’t seen in ages!
Although the frosting wasn’t my beloved Walt Disney World old-school sugar-bomb buttercream, it wasn’t foofy, flavorless whipped cream frosting either. It was somewhere in between. The mousse was as bland as I’d expected, but the cake was moist and more flavorful than Walt Disney World chocolate cake can be. And the fondant was the magical Disney kind that’s soft and sugary, not hard and flavorless!
So before we hit the park, we pushed aside the fruit, soft drinks, chocolates, etc. and sat down at our little table for a nice quiet moment to eat a piece of anniversary cake and take more photos of our view. It was a lovely start to our trip, which is good because things kinda went downhill from there….
Of course I resisted the urge to draw a face under that snow hat—what do you take me for?!
OK, so maybe this part should go in the next post about entering Disneyland, but since this one is all about the benefits of Castle Club reservations…. Here are the special elevators that deposit you right at the gates of Disneyland! And, more importantly, whisk you directly back to your room at the end of a long day in the park!
And here’s what you see when you step out of the elevator….