Trip report part I: Disneyland Paris June 2016 - My top tips on thejourney, Davy Crockett ranch, the food & the characters inc Auberge ducendrillon & Cafe Mickey & a stop off to Arras.

The castle lit up for Dreams.
On 5th June 2016 myself, P & the 3 children all headed off on the 3 hour journey to Dover to begin our first ever trip to Disneyland Paris. 

We stayed at the Premier inn, Dover, the night before as we were catching the 7:30am, Ferry the following morning and it broke up the journey for P too.

The premier inn is right on the sea front and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Disney cruise docked whilst we were these.

The view from the premier inn.
The Ferry journey was an adventure in itself. Non of the children had ever been on a Ferry before and they were in awe of it's sheer size and amazed that you could drive onto it and there were actual shops on board.

We sat at the very front of the Ferry in the family lounge for the 1.5 hour duration which was very exciting to watch as France came into view and we pulled into Calais.

Saying goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover.
We were very lucky - we managed to get our Ferry travel for free. I had originally booked through the Walt Disney Travel Company using their 2 free nights deal but noticed on their website a few weeks before we were due to travel that their new deal was free Ferry travel. I called up, not expecting to get anywhere to be honest, but I called up anyway to see if we could get the same deal on our existing booking. Initially I was told no, like I thought, it was for new bookings only and I had already had a great deal from them with the free nights. But after "checking the system", they agreed to let me have the free travel too!

So my first top tip is - Always ask to combine deals or what extra's you can get free. The worst they can do is say no. But you might just be surprised by what they are willing to offer!

So after an enjoyable Ferry trip over, we were back in the car and on our way to Disneyland.

The drive over is a fairly easy one, one straight road really, but we did discover a great stop off place on the way home to break it up a little & grab a bite to eat after a failed attempt to drive into Paris.

Top tip: Do not attempt to drive into the centre of Paris - especially on the day Euro '16 kicks off there!! The drivers are seriously on a death wish and no normal rules seem to apply to anyone or anything. It is a total free for all and totally scary!!

Instead, my suggestion is to stop off at a beautiful French town called Arras, which is about half way between Calais and Paris. It has a lovely Olde Worlde feel with lots of little eateries, pubs, patisseries and chocolatiers set in a square with a church at the centre.

We of course had to grab ourselves some french biscuits and macarons to take home!

My top tips for other self-drivers are:

Pack lots of snacks & activity packs to keep the children entertained.
Make sure you have the postcode for Disneyland in your SatNav whilst in England just in case signal strength is iffy once you get to France.
Make sure you have change ready - there is a toll road on the route from Calais to Paris!

After 3 hours on the road we made it to Davy Crockett ranch. Check-in for your room/ cabin is 3pm but you can go and collect your park tickets at anytime to start enjoying the fun asap.

We arrived around 2pm but were lucky enough to be given our cabin key there and then too.

We chose Davy Crocketts ranch because as a family of 5 we really wanted the benefit of having the extra bedroom for the children to go to sleep. There is nothing worse for me than all being together in one tiny bedroom and having to escape to the bathroom for 30 minutes whilst waiting for the kids to go to sleep and then not being able to watch the TV or talk properly to each other. 

So a self catering cabin with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a lounge/diner, kitchen & private decking area in a beautiful forest setting was the perfect option for us. The only downside is that you must drive over to stay here as there is no shuttle bus option. This was not a problem for us anyway. We wanted to drive over and make full use of space in the car & car box rather than squeezing everything into a few suitcases. The drive from Davy Crockett to the park is literally a few minutes and parking at the park is free.

Davy Crockett ranch also doesn't automatically come with breakfast included but we opted for the standard half board meal plan which meant we then got a voucher for each day to exchange at a small hut opposite our cabin for a breakfast bag each.  

There was a huge selection of what we wanted each morning in our bags from hot drinks, milk or juice to bread, spreads, cereals & croissants. There was way more than any of us could possibly eat each day.

With the half board meal plan we also got a voucher to exchange for lunch or dinner (plus a drink) and a voucher for an afternoon snack or 'Pause Gourmade' which gives you the choice or a hot or cold drink plus a donut or magnum ice-cream between 3pm & 6pm everyday. 

Opting for the cheapest meal plan 'Standard' we could chose from 7 buffet style restaurants to eat in everyday. We ate in Plaza Gardens which was in the centre of Disneyland park on Main street U.S.A and Crocketts Tavern at Davy Crocketts ranch.
Dessert at Plaza Gardens
Both were lovely. Lots of choice of food and the all you can eat element of them meant we were stuffed beyond belief at the end of every day.

You can reserve a table at any restaurants 60 days in advance by calling the reservations line on the Disneyland website, which is highly recommended to do as availability might be low in popular restaurants, especially the buffet style as lots of people opt for the standard meal plan and with only 7 restaurants to chose from, they get very busy!

I was a bit daunted by this as I really didn't know where we would be on each day and what we would be doing to pick the best times. 

Top restaurant reservations tip - Book your dinner much later than you normally would here in England. There is an hours time difference to take into account so your 6pm teatime here in the UK would be a 7pm teatime in Paris and also, you are so so busy having fun, time really runs away with you and before you know it, it's 8pm and you haven't felt hungry once (not even the children!)

Top food & drink tip - To save us money & time (no one wants to stop and eat when you're having so much fun!) we didn't stop for lunch at all. The breakfast, afternoon snack and all you can eat dinner were more than enough food for anyone but I did pack snack bags (I filled sandwich bags with an array of snacks from cereal bars & biscuits to crisps, raisins, fruit pouches & yogurt fruit flakes, labelled for each person for each day so we could help ourselves as and when we wanted) & we filled up collapsible bottles (from the pound shop!) at the water fountains on our way around and added those small squirty squash pods to them. We never had to buy any extra food or drinks the whole time we were there!

In addition to our meal plan, we also booked some special meals as a treat for the children.

We booked a meal with the princesses at Auberge du Cendrillon which was a present for LL's birthday back in December (She received a special invitation from Cinderella in a box of princess goodies) and breakfast with Mickey and friends on our last morning to celebrate BB's birthday a week early (Mickey left him a note that morning with a Mickey mouse t-shirt and Birthday ears to wear.)

Birthday breakfast at Cafe Mickey.
The princess meal was just lovely. It is very expensive but they do make the whole experience feel very special. 

You get to meet 3 princesses, a prince & 2 of cinderella's mice. We got Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White & her Prince and Suzi & Perla.

Once seated, the characters enter and do a little dance before coming around and mingling as you enjoy a 3 course meal. 

The princesses make a real fuss of the children (as do the normal waiting staff) and you get some real quality time with each.

I was a little worried about the food beforehand as it does sound quite fussy and posh on the menu's but it was all lovely and the children's were totally fuss-free and kid-friendly pasta and chicken.

One of the days we queued to see another Princess at the Princess Pavilion where we queued well over an hour and you only get to see one of the two princesses at the top of which is a surprise so you run the risk of seeing the same princess twice - so the princess meal is definitely a better option if you want to see a few princesses without the wait!

We were lucky in the Princess Pavilion as the member of staff at the top asked who we had already seen, 2 of which were in the rooms at that time, but he asked if we didn't mind waiting 20 minutes for their change-over so we could see a princess we hadn't already seen. 

After 1 hour of waiting, 20 minutes didn't seem so bad and it was worth it because LL got to see Aurora who was just lovely.

The benefit of Princess Pavilion is also that there is a photographer present to capture all of the special moments professionally. 

We managed to get quite a few character photo's so by the end of the week it was more than worth our money to purchase the photo pass plus to have all of them.

The longest we queued for any character was around 1 hour and that was for Minnie Mouse who was very popular.

We managed to use our Early Magic Hours between 8am and 10am when the park opens to the general public to meet Donald, Chip n Dale, Goofy & Pluto with no more than a 30 minute wait for each.

We were lucky enough to catch Princess Jasmine do a random unscheduled pop-up meet & greet as we got off the Circus train towards the back of the park (I've heard this happens a lot and this is a great area to catch them as they come straight out of the staff area there) We were first in line for her so absolutely no wait!

We also managed to catch a little moment with Woody after a lovely member of staff pulled him to one side to see us after the line had already closed because she took a shine to LB in his Woody costume!

Top tip for meet & greets: Dress your children up as the character (Plan your day well or carry a bag of costumes and change whilst queuing) - the characters make a real fuss & an extra special effort with those children who are dressed like them.

The only other characters we queued to see were Mickey and Hook as they both happened to have very small queues just as we were passing.

The breakfast at Cafe Mickey in the Disney Village on our last day also meant we were able to meet Mickey again, Goofy again, Pluto again, Eeyore & Rabbit.

Again, like the Princess meal, this was very special and the children had LOTS of time with each character, especially Mickey who absolutely fell in love with LB who kept kissing his nose.

On the last night, we thought we would treat ourselves and headed to the Disneyland Hotel. It is a bit of a hidden treasure & something that you might miss if you aren't staying there yourself but I totally recommend you go!

Top hidden treat tip: The Disneyland Hotel is really something a bit special & worth a little visit. Cafe Fantasia is a lovely piano bar on the second floor and is a wonderful place to enjoy a Glowtini or Mocktail for the children with some free nibbles! There is also a shop which has some beautiful (and very expensive) Princess dresses. I've also heard lots of people say characters can sometimes be seen walking around the lobby for secret meets!

In the part II & III I will tell you all about the rides, the shows, the parade & Dreams fireworks.

Oh and a little secret I have to tell you.....

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