A trip to a Disney theme park is always an exciting and memorable experience, whatever the time of year and whatever the weather. However, for return guests and Disney aficionados a trip during the holidays is kind of the holy grail. You’ll put up with the elevated crowd levels just to see the park all spruced up and decked in its winter finery. It’s kind of a bucket list thing for a lot of Disney fans: spend Christmas Day a Disneyland park and it’s something I’d never done as a Disney lover, until this Christmas!
Seeing all the things that Disneyland Paris had in store for Christmas had me excited to book a trip to experience it. Having done a big family Christmas the year before, I didn’t feel necessarily guilty for being away from the majority of my family and friends so my fiancé, David, and I decided to go for it. We’d spend Christmas in Disneyland Paris – Christmas Eve until 26th December (or Boxing Day to some).
David and I had last been to Disneyland Paris in February 2014. We recognised the crowds were probably going to be bigger at Christmas but seeing as we’d achieved a lot in our earlier trip, we were fine with having to wait a bit longer for stuff if crowds did descend on Marne-la-Vallée (it turns out we didn’t really need to worry about this too much, but more on that later).
In our last trip we’d stayed at the Sequoia Lodge, which is Disneyland Paris’s celebration of American national park hotels. It was a great hotel for a winter stay, and was top of our list to try again, but we decided to give one of the other hotels a try. David has a big love of westerns, and although in terms of amenities, it is lacking a pool/sauna, the wild west themed Hotel Cheyenne was very comparable in terms of comfort. It’s theming is not subtle, by any means, but it is kind of adorably likeable with its rooms themed around different icons of the American west and staples of western films.
We’re experienced Disney travellers by this point so we’d planned our trip to make the best out of the relatively short time we had there. We caught a very early flight on Christmas Eve and we’d leave very late on Boxing Day, which meant we essentially have three full days to enjoy the variety of Christmas delights Disneyland Paris had to offer. Stopping in an official hotel also meant that we had Extra Magic Hours too, which meant that we were able to enter either park on the three mornings we were there two hours before regular guests, which was invaluable to ensure we got to ride many of the latest and greatest attractions multiple times.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Disney Hotels, there’s little things about staying on them that still niggle me. I’m not sure if this is simply something that I’ve come to expect, from my years of travel, but I’ll never get used to having to pay extra for tea and coffee facilities in room in a hotel chain as relatively expensive as a Disney hotel. Granted, it’s not majorly expensive – a refundable€25 allows you rental of a kettle in the room and an additional non-refundable €8 gets you a tea and coffee set with a few tea bags, freeze dried coffee sachets (the less said about the disgusting Segafredo coffee served on site, the better), sugar, milk and four biscuits – but I’d just come to expect as standard by now. Similarly, the sparse amount of shower gels and soap offered in your bathroom just comes across mean.
But enough about the hotel – what festive celebrations did Disneyland Paris have for us over the three days? First, lets start with the decorations. I’m sure most Disney fans have googled for pictures of the parks and hotels all done up for Christmas – I know I had, but it’s very different seeing them in person. Disneyland Paris’s are very tastefully done. All of the six onsite hotels (I didn’t visit the Davy Crockett Campgrounds on this trip) have similar garlands in reception areas and the outside of buildings, as well as well-dressed trees in reception. The trees all are very similarly decorated bar a few unique ornaments themed to the hotel, so Hotel New York has taxi cabs and miniature Statues of Liberty, while Newport Bay Club has boats and lighthouses and Hotel Cheyenne has rusty gold buckets and horse saddles.
They’re all very charming and get you into the Christmas spirit.
In terms of Christmas attractions, much like other Disney Parks, Disney have approached Christmas with Elsa in mind. I was expecting this, as DLP’s publicity material for Christmas has Elsa dressing a tree (currently my holiday desktop wallpaper!) Firstly, let me preface by declaring how much I love Frozen. I think it’s potentially one of the greatest things Disney have ever made, and in my earlier February trip, I was disappointed that there wasn’t any more Frozen merchandise and presence in the parks. However, this trip – it just felt like overkill, with none of it done particularly great.
A positive to begin with – there were lots of great Frozen merchandise to be found through the stores, from dolls to mugs and Christmas baubles, there was lot of items with Anna and Elsa’s faces on it, and it was all really well made and of impressive quality. One of the nicest items that I’ve not seen elsewhere, and was in fairly short supply in the parks, was a great plush of Sven. It was super cute.
Now, onto the not so great. The big finale to a day in Disneyland Paris is Disney Dreams! The regular show, a mix of castle projection, coloured water jets and fireworks, blew me away in February. We made a point of watching it multiple times during our four-night stay. It was the most impressive nighttime spectacle I’d ever seen in a Disney Park (and, granted, I’ve not seen World of Colour, but I’ve seen Illuminations, Wishes and Fantasmic within the last 18 months). So it goes without saying that I was excited for an updated version of this show with a Christmas theme.
It was still visually impressive in some regards, with Sleeping Beauty’s castle looking amazing at night, but the projection element just felt off this time, and the Frozen elements were too heavily forced into the show. Disney has some great winter imagery from their films and shorts, from Bambi to Beauty and the Beast to old Silly Symphony shorts, yet these really only got seconds of screen time, whilst nearly every song from Frozen (bar, Fixer Upper and Do You Want To Build a Snowman) were played almost in their entirety. There was very little new animation either, just copy and pasted from the films. After how much I loved the original Dreams! I was really disappointed with this version and didn’t make a return visit after viewing it for the first time on Christmas Eve. There were great moments, though: hearing the crowd singing Let It Go, in multiple languages at the same time felt special.
Over the Christmas period, Anna and Elsa are also taking visitors in Fantasyland though expect long queues throughout the morning for the privilege. For those who don’t get to meet the Queen and Princess in person, the royal duo make an appearance just before the main Christmas parade as they ride down Main Street USA in a horse and carriage whilst the Love is an Open Door and Let It Go blare out the speakers through Town Plaza, Main Street and the hub. This was the element of the Christmas celebrations that seemed most thrown together. The programme guide had me thinking it would be royal procession with the guards and citizens of Arendelle leading a mini-parade of dancers and singers preceding the arrival of Elsa and Anna, and the main Christmas parade. In actuality, the two aforementioned songs loop continuously as the crowd in Main Street looks on quizzically, as finally a small horse and carriage with the royals finally comes into view.
Once they pass you, that’s really it – the music may still be playing, but you’ve seen everything, and the next parade, although scheduled immediately after in the programme guide, doesn’t in reality start for another ten minutes which leads to a lot of standing around and foot traffic on Main Street on one of the busiest days of the year.
I think it’s a feeling that’s being felt throughout the worldwide Disney Parks and fan communities, in that Disney need to cool it with Frozen (excuse the pun), unless they’re really going to create something special. Everything feels a little thrown together, from cut and pasted video contented and lip syncing in a carriage down Main Street, Disney can and should give this a little more thought.
Okay – with the negativity out the way, Main Street is home to one of the more impressive Christmas entertainment additions in Magical Christmas Wishes or the lighting of the Main Street Christmas Tree. This event happens three times nightly and is narrated by Jiminy Cricket as talks about the magic of Christmas with Pinocchio as the already impressive tree on Main Street changes colour and fake snow falls from the sky above the street. It was visually beautiful and the already awesome music loop of Christmas classics seemed to get even better at this point in the evening. Like the Disney Dreams show of February past, David and I ensured we caught this show multiple times during our trip.
There were lots of little pluses throughout the parks. Like I say, the decorations, mainly around Main Street USA in Disneyland Park and the entrance plaza in the Walt Disney Studios were really well dressed for the season with great trees, wreathes, lights and garlands.
Music loops had classic christmas tunes and characters appearances involved the usual fan favourites of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Chip and Dale, but this time in their holiday dress. A lot of the characters appeared from Extra Magic Hours onwards, so it was a really good reason to rush to the park first thing to ensure you got that brilliant photo with Mickey without having to queue for hours.
As a bit of a leftover from the Halloween celebrations, Jack from A Nightmare Before Christmas appears dressed as Sandy Claws in Frontierland which is a great photo opportunity, and Merida also is meeting fans just by Casey’s Corner.
The final big Christmas addition is a new sweet treat themed parade where Mickey and friends treat guests to festive songs and dances on gingerbread floats and parade vehicles. It wasn’t anything totally awe-inspiring, but there are a flew lesser seen characters (Chip and Dale’s Clarice, for example) and with Main Street decorated so brilliantly, there’s excellent photo opportunities to be had here.
There’s lots to this mini-trip that I haven’t really discussed yet. I’m planning to write about these in another article which will cover great dining experiences at Walt’s, The Lucky Nugget, Chez Remy, an amazingly well done themed area of the Walt Disney Studio’s Park housing the new attraction Ratatouille: The Adventure.
In terms of crowd levels the parks were a lot busier than they were in February (which was still a fairly busy period with it being school holidays in the UK), however they were not totally unmanageable. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were still fairly busy, but we definitely benefited from later opening hours, FastPass and Extra Magic Hours for hotel guests in the morning, which meant we could do some of the busier and newer attractions like Crush’s Coaster with minimal wait times. On Christmas Eve crowd levels dwindled towards the end of the day, presumably as local guests returned home to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones, and the parks were only really filled with hotel guests on Christmas morning. As Christmas Day progressed Disneyland Parc started getting busier, but again, it was not unmanageable. December 26th (or Boxing Day to us Brits) was another story. Presumably the family celebrations for the local residents now done, they descended to Disneyland Parc which caused wait times to climb (over an hour for the Disneyland Railroad nearly similar waits for Pirates of the Carribbean which the day before had been a walk on). Tempers were flaring also as we witnessed a few instances were guests and cast members argued over various issues from carriage capacity on trains to positions on Main Street for the parade. Having had a lot of fun and memorable experiences, we were happy to be leaving at this point.
I know that it seems that I’ve been pretty down on the experience with this trip report, but in actuality I had one of the best christmas holidays I can remember. How many times in your life are you going to be riding a roller coaster on Christmas morning? How many other boxing day mornings do you get to take a selfie with Mickey Mouse? Christmas is really what you make of it and I think David and I certainly ensured we had a Christmas to remember as we approach 2015 and our wedding in March. Disneyland Paris’s Disneyland Parc remains perhaps my favourite Disney park worldwide other than perhaps Epcot, but spending Christmas there was a treat which I’m sure will have to be repeated at some point.