It’s very beautiful, spacious, and worth the visit. That’s the short answer to your question, the question everyone asks about Disneyland Paris: what’s it like, is it better or worse than Disneyland?
Before I visited, all the coverage I could find about this park were a few poorly researched articles about the “Top 10 Rides at Disneyland Paris” or “What You Can’t Miss At Disneyland Paris.” After I went I was almost offended about how inaccurate and dry those articles were, so I thought I’d share a little more nuance and texture with anyone who is planning a trip and wants to know more than just how to get there and park hours. Is it magical? Will I want to buy everything? Which rides are similar? Which are different in a good way? All things you need to know so you can manage your own expectations as you prep for a Disney day.
That said, it’s only fair that I share with you a major bias: I worked for Disney for eight years, and had a Disneyland pass for about five years when I was a kid. Therefore, I’ve seen a lot of Disney parks and resorts from all angles, I’ve seen the good and I’ve seen how the magical sausage is made. I also have a very special place in my heart for Disneyland and really don’t care much for Walt Disney World because it only reminds me of work and sweaty Americans (I went there for work a lot in the summer). I’ve also been to Tokyo Disney Sea, which is very clean and unusual, but I was only there for about three hours for work, so I can’t really judge it. With that said, let’s do this: a very biased account of everything you need to know when you visit Disneyland Paris.
Hyperspace Mountain at Disneyland Paris is Amazing
And not just because the line is only 10 minutes long well after opening. If you know California Screamin’ at Disney California Adventure (now a Pixar ride I haven’t ridden because I left LA before it was open), it’s like that but dark. Imagine the lovechild of Space Mountain and California Screamin’, with a Star Wars theme, and the background soundtrack all in French. And most importantly, a short line I only saw get up to 35 minutes midday. It has an awesome slingshot at the beginning that you’ll love, then more typical Space Mountain action that you’re accustomed to. The design is also more HG Wells than it is 1975 US Space Program, which is interesting to behold as you wait in that short, short line.
The Indiana Jones Ride Is Shameful
This ride is so budget, I spent half of the wait time googling how it even came to be. I could find no journalism that explained why it is so bad, a short and literally painful rollercoaster without even the tiniest sense of adventure.
If you’ve been on Indiana Jones at Disneyland, you know that even waiting in line is a joyous experience full of surprises, intense sounds and theming. Then you get on the ride and you feel fear, shock, awe, more fear, heat from practical effects, you see Indiana Jones himself, you feel the wonder of a small child. Not so at DLR Paris. The line is a typical outdoor queue with a few abandoned jeeps and faux excavation sites, materials for which all look like they were sourced from a hardware store. There is no music from the film playing. There is no plot set-up for the ride, no context for why you’re on this coaster that winds jerkily around a faux temple. No smiles on the faces of the Cast Members because they know they’re on a bum ride. Don’t even bother getting in the 10-minute line, it’s not worth it.
Like Disneyland, the Disneyland Paris castle is also property of Sleeping Beauty, but I’ll risk some sacrilege and say it’s better. It’s bigger, it has more alcoves to explore both outside and in, which affords a great deal more photo ops with fewer people in the background. The styling is also more interesting and in-line with the Medieval inspiration for the art style of the film. Be sure to visit the Sleeping Beauty experience inside the castle, complete with enchanted tapestries and stained glass windows that tell her story. My sis and I even witnessed an adorable engagement from the balcony of the castle. Whatever magic the Indiana Jones ride lacked, Sleeping Beauty Castle has it.
The two times I’ve been to Disneyland Paris were in winter on rainy days, once even during the Paris transportation strikes. Therefore, crowds were extraordinarily low. Like in the US, the key to avoiding Parks crowds is go on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday in an-off season. We did this, and lines were all about 10-20 minutes. We got Fast Passes for Thunder Mountain and to ride Space Mountain for a second time, even though lines for both were only about 35 minutes. You may still need a Fast Pass for Peter Pan’s Flight but honestly, it’s the exact same ride as at DLR, so maybe skip it.
Even if it were more crowded, Disneyland Paris was created with wider thoroughfares, and more paths and routes between each area to create additional routes for traffic to flow. Even as you enter the park, you pass through a beautiful park/garden/fountain area that forces you to choose one of perhaps 12 winding routes, organically breaking up crowds. I wish Disneyland had been created this way.
The Cast Members
It’s not their fault. They never stood a chance. Americans smile a lot, sometimes for no reason, sometimes even when they’re unhappy. So how do you expect park teamed with employees from the country that (likely) created existentialism? You just can’t expect it of them. They do say “bonjour!” to you whenever you pass, but it was typically without glee and definitely without a smile. I am not a chipper person so it didn’t bother me, but I’ve read elsewhere that folks found it off-putting. Also their costumes look like they were purchased with a coupon at the same place the Indiana Jones ride was thought up–also not their fault.
It’s actually called Ratatouille : L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, but no one wants to say a name that long, so I’m calling it Ratatouille Ride. This ride is genius. Like Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure, it is taking the dark ride to new places us plebes could never have even imagined. It’s a surprise when you board and discover how you will move about the ride, and I won’t ruin it for you by actually explaining. Just be sure you prioritize treking over to Hollywood Studios for an hour to either snag a Fast Pass or wait in the line–no longer how long the queue is, stand in it, you won’t be sorry. If you’re one of those people who have long lunches in the park, also hit up the restaurant next door, it’s adorable. I didn’t eat there because it’s a Paris-themed restaurant based on an American-made film about Paris, that is in Paris, and I live in Paris so I skipped it.
That brings me to the food, which I must say is probably about the same, maybe about 10% better than at Disneyland though with fewer options. Both Land and World have upped their gastronomy games in the last decade, which makes this evaluation a bit hard. My sis and I prefer the quick service restaurants so that we can focus on more rides, and we split some kind of curry brat situation at a Pinocchio themed restaurant, because it was adjacent to Pirates of the Caribbean.
We also had something I affectionately call the “Simba Croque,” a croque monseur with not enough cheese that has Raffiki’s Simba drawing toasted onto it. It’s unremarkable in flavor, but how do you not eat a Simba croque? My husband and I also ate at the Lucky Nugget saloon because I wanted something BBQ and a warm place to dry off. I also wanted to drink a beer inside the walls of Disneyland, just for kciks. It was okay but expensive, but the little show there is a hoot.
I did miss the churros, the smell of the popcorn, and of course the proprietary Mickey ice cream bars–at Disneyland Paris, they only serve Magnum ice cream, which is delicious but not Disney-themed.
Pirates of the Caribbean
I literally cracked up the first time I rode this, because it is out of order in a big way. It also has a much more elaborate queue design than at Disneyland, like the line was supposed to be for Indiana Jones but that ride sucks so they moved the line to a better ride. You begin in a dark jungly place that feels kind of like the bayou of Disneyland’s version, but that locale obviously wouldn’t play for a French audience. Then, instead of dropping, dropping down to a world of cursed skeletons, boom, you’re right in the middle of the ship battle, making your way through the little town which is somehow already on fire. Then, you’re somewhere else I totally forget, before you end up in the weird cursed skeleton area. Jack Sparrow pops from time to time, as in the DLR updates, but it doesn’t really create a story at all, it all just kind of happens. It doesn’t make it wrong, it’s just odd.
One of the best parts of this ride is that it doesn’t have the Burton, “Haunted Mansion Holiday” wrapper, so the crowds don’t really make their way over here. We waited about 10 minutes total. Nothing can live up to the exterior of the original Haunted Mansion, but I will say truthfully, I actually found Phantom Manor to be scarier–that says a lot because for 33 years, Haunted Mansion has been my favorite Disney ride.
The interior is almost exactly the same, the route the ride takes is almost exactly the same, however this one has this throughline about this bride who keeps killing her husbands. That’s not what’s scary necessarily. What’s scary is this weird demon who keeps showing up everywhere, as if to suggest perhaps that he’s possessing her and making her kill all of these husbands? In the end, he is very in your face, and the ride seems to suggest that he’s in close proximity because you’re now dead? You kind of tumble into a very eerie underworld, spoopier than the graveyard at the end of the ride at Disneyland. Just when it gets a little too grotesque, the underworld becomes Western themed, as in sheriff stars and saloons, and the overall effect is just hilarious and chases the scary away.
Fantasyland as a concept is great, it’s so merry, adorable, magical, hence the name. But at Disneyland, it’s just crowded with little girls in princess dresses and all the wait times for the amazing, 30-second dark rides are over an hour. Cut to Disneyland Paris where the land is bigger, more spacious, and the crowds smaller. The rides are almost exactly the same, so no need to go on them if you don’t have small children in your posse. But, it’s a lovely place to wander through, take some pics, grab a snack, and enjoy the views, because you actually can. The Alice-themed maze there is pretty cool for the first ten minutes, then you’ll just want out. I do miss the Alice in Wonderland ride where you twirl around inside a caterpillar, that’s a huge miss in this park. The whole land is at least worth a pass through, and it’s right next to Pirates and other Adventureland stops.
Do not sleep on this ride just because it looks exactly like the Disneyland version. Thunder Mountain has always been a favorite of mine, and wait times that have been creeping closer to sixty minutes prove it’s growing popularity. Now imagine if the ride was bigger, longer, faster, and surrounded by a giant lake. That’s Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris. On an empty day, it had the longest wait time of 35 minutes, so we grabbed a Fast Pass, then wasted some time on Indiana Jones (still mad about it). One let down was that there was no goat with dynamite in its mouth, that was a bummer. A physical let down that was actually great was this giant drop at the end of the ride, in complete darkness. ‘Twas scary.