A last-minute trip to Disneyland, on a budget? That’s not possible, surely?
It was! I usually write about supporting learning, reading, writing, handwriting etc, but this time, we did some learning of a different kind! Once in a lifetime, perhaps.
Towards the end of the summer holidays, my sister suggested a few days away with our children. With busy weeks behind us, we’d hardly seen the cousins and a little trip away seemed like a good idea. I was dreading the suggestion of a tent until ideas went a little farther afield! Portugal? We’d already been fortunate enough to go on a sunny holiday so another wasn’t really an option for us (for me, it always would be, but it wasn’t sensible to spend so much money doing the same again). Disneyland? Wait a minute!
Having heard friends talking about holidays to Disney, I imagined we wouldn’t be able to stretch to that kind of trip, especially at the last minute when all the deals had been snapped up moths ago. We started to price things up and set a ballpark figure that we were trying not to go over. Two adults, five children (11, 9, 8, 7 and 2) and a roof box – we did it! Here’s how…
Travel Tips – Eurotunnel by car
Luckily, with a 7-seater car, we could all fit in, but this also meant we needed to pack lightly as the space was taken up with seats and a pushchair. I’m not a fan of boats so a ferry wasn’t an attractive option, and the tunnel it was. With £200 difference between a standard ticket and a Flexi-Plus ticket, this was a ‘to and fro’ decision with pros and cons either way. Flexi-Plus would reduce any worries about being stuck in traffic (we live over four hours from Folkestone), enable us to fill our bags with goodies, visit nice toilets, and go straight onto the train, skipping the queues. We have a few food intolerances between us, and one member of our party is coeliac, so the goodie bag had limitations but we planned around that. We opted for Flexi-Plus and, when it was busy on the way back, this turned out to be the better option. However, you could still shave another £200 off your budget by taking a standard ticket.
One thing we forgot to do was fill up with fuel before we got too close to Folkestone. It’s more expensive close by, and definitely on the other side. Fill up when you see a good price! Don’t forget the Dart-Charge for going over the Dartford crossings, if they’re on your route. We left it until we got to our accommodation but couldn’t get the website to take our payment over there. Pay on the way!
The roads in France are great. We had a digital toll pass from a previous visit to France, so this enabled us to go through the tolls without stopping. We learnt this time that you can go through any of the checkpoints, too, not just the ones with the ‘t’ sign. With a pass, the charge goes directly from your bank at the end of the month. Having one of these also means a sleepy passenger doesn’t have to wake up to pay at the left side of the car when going through the checkpoints! However, there aren’t many toll points on the route so a pass isn’t essential.
Accommodation – through Airbnb
Even though we booked with only a week to spare, we found a lovely house on Airbnb called ‘Lovely Disney House.’ It was in a quiet residential area with parking and everything we needed for a three night break. We’d have done four nights, if we could, and had a third day in the park, but we needed to be home for the Friday so Monday to Thursday it was.
The house had four bedrooms and would have slept 10 people. If we’d had room in the car we could have taken more! We’d highly recommend this house and would go again, if we could. It was clean and modern, with dishwasher, two bathrooms and even Netflix! You can book it here:
When you get your tickets by email, forward them to another member of your party, just in case. This will speed up entry, as you scan each one as each person goes through a gate, and will ensure you still have them if they manage to miraculously disappear with one wrong click, like mine did on entry! My sister stood at the scanner and scanned one ticket then sent a child through, next ticket, next child, etc, to make it quicker!
If you have a member of your party who may qualify for an easy access pass or priority pass, check the Disneyland Paris website and get the evidence you need in advance. One of these passes would significantly speed up queueing. There are two options: a priority pass to get straight on the rides, and a card to get times for one ride at a time so you don’t stand in the main queue. They’re worth a look, if you might qualify.
Parking or public transport to the park?
With seven of us, there was little difference between parking at Disneyland Paris and getting the bus in terms of cost. We planned our bus journey the night before then decided to take the car in the morning. It was about €30 to park for the day but it was certainly worth it by 11.30pm with five tired children! We hadn’t planned to stay so long but just kept going on rides and before we knew it, it was only about half an hour until the firework show! Leaving after that, with hoards of people, we were glad to get straight in the car. We thought we’d need to queue to get out of the car park but, amazingly, we hardly saw any cars on the way out. Where did they all go?! It definitely wasn’t like trying to get out of the car park near the First Direct Arena in Leeds. It must have taken us nearly 90 minutes there one night! We were straight out and back at the house in about 10 minutes. Perfect!
Food – take it all!
A decision we made from the start was to take ALL our food. We talked this through with the kids and explained we wouldn’t be buying meals in the park. Having a pushchair with us made this easier and we managed it! We suggested one ice cream each per day but we were so busy, we nearly missed them on day two!
We took cereal, ready bagged as portions, pancake ingredients, fruit etc for breakfast at the house so the children were full before we set off! Don’t forget your milk!
Pack-ups were made in the morning, with a bag full of healthy-ish snacks to keep us going. For the all-important ‘what’s for tea?’ we took Thermos flasks like these: https://amzn.to/44ZuBSZ filled with beans one day, and macaroni cheese or soup the next! Our kids were the only ones eating beans from a flask at Disneyland that day, but it worked and saved us a small fortune!
Plan your days – use the app
The Disneyland Paris app is essential in finding your way round and it shows the wait times for each queue, too. A few days before you go, start looking at the wait times at different times of day so you can head to the popular rides when the queues are likely to be shorter.
Unfortunately, some rides closed for short periods of time during the day. If you notice on the app that one is closed, head towards it so you can join the queue almost straight away when it opens again. Spiderman closed when we were at the front of the queue but they let us stay and wait and we were soon on the ride – which was very good, even though I’m not keen on spiders!
One of the rides, Cars Road Trip, seems to be tucked away in a corner and there’s a bit of a walk to get to it. We wandered out there and got on the tram, thinking we were going for a sedate meander round. It turned out to be really exciting in the middle! I won’t spoil it by explaining, just don’t miss it! It brought back memories of a similar ride in Florida.
There are shows at different times of the day and we were lucky to see the Lion King performance, which was brilliant. The huge stage was surrounded by lots of tiered seating with benches so we budged up and could all fit in! We then queued for the Frozen performance, which wasn’t as good, unfortunately. It was skilfully performed in both English and French but this made it difficult for children to keep up with what was being said as a lot of inference was needed (spot the teacher!). The queueing system on the way into this one annoyed me a little, too: we queued outside for about 45 minutes (eating our tea whilst waiting!) and then were let into a room inside where we queued for another half an hour or so. This was just a little frustrating for our little people (and for me!).
We really enjoyed the time in the evening when it was starting to get dark and those staying in the hotels went back for dinner, to get changed etc. At this time, some of the rides had virtually no queues, such as ‘It’s a Small World’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Hoards of people came back again for the firework/light show at the end of the evening (11pm) with some securing their spots from around 9pm. Make sure you have some snacks left if you are going to sit it out waiting for 11pm!
It’s worth knowing that there are queues to meet the characters, too. When we went to Florida in the 90s, I think I remember the characters were just walking round and we came home with lots of photos with them, and autograph books full of their signatures (real, of course!). This time, the times to meet them were advertised and a queue formed nearby. We met Alice when we happened to be in the right place at the right time, but the children weren’t really bothered by not meeting they others. I think this was more about my perception of Disney than theirs! The rides were more important to them.
Check your heights and avoid disappointment
I didn’t go on the biggest rides as I’m a bit of a weed so I spent time with the little one whilst the others had the times of their lives on the twists, turns and loop-the-loops. Whilst we waited (and snacked!) at the entrances to some of the rides, we saw children being turned away as they didn’t meet the height restriction. There were screams, there was crying, arms and legs were flailing around, and parents looked most annoyed! The staff were following the safety rules and would not let them on if they were not tall enough.
My advice would be to go to Disneyland before your little ones are old enough to realise they can’t go on the big rides when the others do, or wait until they are tall enough. I think if our littlest had been around four years old instead of two, we’d have had the upset, too.
These are actually a thing! I hadn’t realised until my eight year old managed to get to the park without socks on day one and by the end of the day, her feet had been shredded! We walked over 22000 steps each day and Fern’s trainers, comfy as they usually are, became the enemy! I had a couple of plasters in my bag, and gave over one of my socks at one point, but these weren’t enough. A quick stop at the pharmacy on the way in on day two and we made it. Blister plasters are amazing (even though they didn’t survive into the next day, like they are meant to!).
Ask me a question!
If there’s something you’d like to know about our trip that I haven’t included here, send me an email at email@example.com and I’ll try to reply. I usually write about learning opportunities so if I can provide advice, support or online primary tutoring for your child, please also get in touch! Do follow my Facebook and Instagram pages @wilurandflops for future posts. Wilbur & Flops WEBSITE