Why Disneyland Paris is the perfect teen holiday
Think of Disneyland Paris and you think of awestruck tweens hugging Mickey Mouse. But it also hosts some of the best thrill rides in Europe – and with Paris round the corner, it's a brilliant short break for teens
How many days do you need to visit?
It is possible to 'do' Disneyland Paris in a day – but there's easily enough going on to merit two full days immersed in the Disney dream. Travel between the parks and central Paris is under an hour door to door – and the city of lights offers a teen-entrancing combination of 'classic' sightseeing and shopping/eating. So aim for three whole days for sure – in theory, you could decide when you've seen the parks whether you want to do one Disneyland day and two wandering the city, or vice versa (though it's cheaper to book in advance).
Getting the Eurostar
Make the journey part of the treat: take the Eurostar straight to Disneyland – or hop off at Paris for lunch and continue your journey via the local train network after a mooch around. Either way, the travel is part of the fun.
If you're celebrating a birthday or feeling a bit flush, it's definitely worth thinking about upgrading to Standard Premier Class. In our experience, teens get a surprisingly big kick out of the posh croissants-and-cafe breakfast with napkins and 'proper' cutlery, plus swanky spacious seats that swing to recline mode at the touch of a button. Keep your eyes peeled for deals: depending on when you book, it can be as little as a tenner per person extra – well worth it for a generation for whom the word 'upgrade' is already catnip, and will have them updating their Instagram quicker than you can say selfie.
Make the most of the hotel
Families with toddlers might think it worth shelling out for one of the Disney-owned hotels in or just outside the parks in order to be able to nip back for naps and so on. But if you're travelling with teens, skip that and consider one of Disney's Partner Hotels, all of which are less than a ten-minute free shuttle ride away.
Unless your teen has been raised in the lap of luxury they'll likely find the whole hotel thing pretty cool in and of itself. The Vienna House Dream Castle hotel, for example, looks like a huge French chateau in lovely grounds – and, when we stayed, contained giggling groups of teens-to-twenties sporting many variants of Minnie ears and enjoying the generous buffet.
Teen girls, particularly if they are at peak pampering-and-pinkness, will be thrilled with a session at the in-hotel spa. Treatments range from cheapie pedicures to more pricey beauty stuff; while not strictly in the Mumsnet guide to raising ambitious teen girls [wink], it's a fun, treaty thing to do and, icky as it sounds, a lovely bonding experience.
It's a fact universally acknowledged that ALL teens love room service – and an evening spent eating burgers and watching a box set on one of the Vienna House's enormous beds is a treat in itself. Definitely something to bear in mind if you're exhausted after a day at the parks or sightseeing in the city.
Finally, from a practical point of view, staying on or very near the site removes a critical layer of aggro – the buses that ferry you from your hotel to the parks are frequent, easy to use and free, and the joy of not having to worry about paying for parking, and of avoiding long walks to and from car parks, is not to be sniffed at.
What to expect at the theme parks
There's so much to do and see at Disneyland Paris – and like most theme parks, long queues for the most popular attractions are part of the deal. You need to have a battle plan – don't skip this part. Sit down with your lucky teens and get them to list their can't-miss and would-be-nice rides and shows – then map out your plan of attack.
Disneyland Paris is actually made up of two separate parks – Walt Disney Studios and Disneyland Park. Unlike in Florida, there's only two minutes between them, so make sure your tickets allow entrance to both parks on the same day and you can jump between the two to outwit the crowds.
Walt Disney Studios has some of the most teen-pleasing thrill-type rides and live shows, while Disneyland Park is where the magic happens – the famous castle (considered the prettiest of all the castles by true Disneyphiles) is there, and it's where the parades and the final fireworks take place.
Don't underestimate the effect of the Disney Magic
Even world-weary teens will ooh and ahh when fully immersed in the Disney ecosystem. Girls in particular seem frequently to have a second flush of Disney enthusiasm during their teens – even if in other respects they're all emo eyeliner and eye-rolling.
Queue to have selfies with your favourite characters at meet and greet points around the Disneyland Park – the 'baddies', who can be a bit too terrifying for littlies, are brilliant value for teens. Maleficent is MAGNIFICENT in her cruel hauteur – and particularly attractive to the aforementioned eyeliner-laden teenage feminists.
Accept the fact that Main St consists – literally – of 20 different gift shoppes. Then accept the fact that your teen will want to go into Every. Single. One. to find the ideal (and eye-wateringly expensive) souvenir for school friends. The shopping is a huge part of the fun for them, and this is no time for a lecture on hyperconsumption [grin].
The night-time spectacular – a parade featuring what seems like every Disney character ever, all perched atop souped-up giant floats, followed by a glorious son et lumiere fireworks display above the gorgeous castle – is really not to be missed.
Teenage boys are perhaps typically less easy to charm – but you can bet that lurking beneath the gruffest exterior is a nostalgia for the films of their infant school days, and ours were happy to go with the Disney flow. Shows like Armaggedon Special Effects and Moteur Action Show at the Walt Disney World are genuinely exciting and well worth squeezing in.
And – regardless of the extent to which they feel the magic – most teens tend to have a real attachment to the pursuit of being scared witless on rollercoasters, and that's where Disneyland Paris comes into its own.
Disneyland Paris for teens … in one day?
If you're doing Disneyland with teenagers and you've only got one day, don't panic. The parks are open from 10am to 9pm even in winter, and in summer you can add another couple of hours on to that – so you've at least 11 hours to pack in some of the big thrill rides AND experience a bit of the Disney character magic. Here's our suggested schedule to beat the queues and have a brilliant day – though do check with your teens to make sure it hits all their bases.
- Turn up at Walt Disney Studios at 9am to be first in line when the gates open at 9.30am and grab a fast pass ticket for the first available slot.
- Run – yes, run! – straight to Crush's Coaster in the Toon Studio section of the park. It's an in-the-dark roller coaster which tends to have the longest queues of all the rides – hence the traditional race to the line when the gates open.
- Queuing is part of the Disneyland deal, but the Fastpass facility will help you reduce it to a minimum on some of the most popular rides. Put your Disneyland park ticket into the Fastpass machine and out comes a ticket specifying a half-hour time slot for that particular ride. Simply return at that time and join the (much shorter) Fastpass line. You can generally only have one Fastpass running at once, and be aware that the really popular rides can run out of them, so head for the ones that you really don’t want to miss early on.
- After Crush's Coaster, make your way to the Tower of Terror and grab your Fastpass tickets from the machines to the right of the ride entrance. This is a top teen-pleasing ride, so if the queue is short, consider going for it now – then return for a second ride at your allotted Fastpass time. These particular Fastpass tickets specify a time that you can get a second Fastpass, so as soon as you can, head over to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (360 loops and spirals in the dark- the full terrifying monty) to pick one up.
- Alternatively, head to the Toy Story-themed RC Racer – this doesn't have Fastpass so the queues can be long.
- If you've got an hour or so before your Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Fastpass slot, consider the Moteurs Action Show – cars, motorbikes, stunts, lasting 45 mins – or Armageddon Special Effects, in which your space station has the bad luck to be hit by an asteroid. Unofficially, Fastpasses can usually be used after the 30-minute time slot but not before – so if you're doing something else when your slot comes around, don't panic, you can usually rock up a little late.
Travelling from Disneyland Paris to Paris
It's much easier than you might think to travel between Paris and Disneyland by local train, even if your schoolgirl French is but a distant memory. Getting to and from the city is super easy if you're breaking your journey by stopping off in Paris or doing day trips into the city and back.
- After arriving at Gare du Nord, look for signs to the RER and the Metro – the platforms are one level down. Near the entrance to the RER are lots of ticket machines.
- First select 'English' and then select 'To buy tickets, books of tickets, season tickets'. Then select 'Ile de France tickets', and choose the number of adults and children that will be travelling.
- Use the keypad to start typing 'Marne-la-Vallée' – select the station name when it appears on the screen. Select singles or returns, and specify the number of tickets you need.
- The single adult fare from Gare du Nord to Marne-la-Vallée is €7.60 – the machines don't accept notes so pay by card or make sure you have cash.
- Then hop on the RER B line in the direction of Robinson/Saint-Rémy-lés-Chevreuse – get off at the next stop which will be Châtelet Les Halles.
- Once there, scoot across to the other side of the platform to the RER A – when Marne-la-Vallée is lit up on the platform display, that's your train. The trains run on average one every ten to fifteen minutes and take around 40 minutes.
Travelling from Paris to Disneyland
Just reverse the process. Take the RER B from Marne-la-Vallée to Châtelet Les Halles, where you change to the RER B train in the direction of Aéroport Charles de Gaulle/Mitry-Claye. Get off at Gare du Nord for the Eurostar, or for onward travel around Paris on the Metro.
Paris for teens
Once in the city, Paris is your oyster. If queuing for standard sightseeing fare like the Louvre seems like too much and your teen fancies something quirkier, seek out some of the smaller museums like the Museum de la Mode, which has a revolving exhibition schedule. The Catacombs are an astounding series of underground rooms in which bones and skulls removed from overflowing cemeteries in the 13th century are piled high (book and go early).
Pere Lachaise cemetery contains the final resting places of Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde amongst others. Galeries Lafayette Haussmann is a stunning 19th century department store with an amazing glass dome and a fine fashion, shoe and beauty offering.
Paris for teens in a day
If you're doing Paris in a day and want to combine shopping with a little culture, here's a doable plan:
Head for the top end of the Champs Elysee and look back up for a view of the Arc de Triomphe. Walk east five minutes until you hit Sephora (beloved of Youtube bloggers and thereby familiar to teenage girls everywhere) on your left. Factor in at least 20 minutes here, then cross the road to LaDuree for some of their famous pastel macarons.
Carry on eastwards down the Champs Elysee, through the Place de la Concorde, towards the Jardins de Tuileries (or jump in a cab – look out of the window for some good views). Pop into the tiny Musee de l’Orangerie for a small but satisfying shot of impressionism, or cross the Seine to the Musee D’Orsay for a much bigger collection – but also, queues.
Nip into the fabulous Angelina's for a pot of hot chocolate, then carry on down the Rue de Rivoli, which a bit further east is is filled with the kind of brands that teens love – Forever 21 and so forth. Then carry on eastwards towards Le Marais – a hip neighbourhood with lots of independent shops, fashionable cafes and bistros for dinner.
Uber or Metro it back to the Gare du Nord to get the RER back to Marne-la-Vallée and a shuttle to your hotel.