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Practical travel advice
|Lani Teshima, editor|
What you should know before you visit Disneyland Paris
Dreaming about a romantic getaway to France, and slipping a Mickey (Mouse, that is) into your trip? Or maybe you think overseas travel is too daunting. In today's Trip Planner, we look at some helpful basics to know before you get on the plane (or even before you buy your airline tickets).
If you've never been overseas (or have only traveled to Canada or Mexico), you need to obtain an passport issued by the U.S. government that identifies you as a United States citizen, and permits you to exit and reenter the country.
The process of obtaining a passport usually takes about a month, and you can apply either at a passport office (located primarily in larger U.S. cities) or a passport acceptance agency (which include many federal, state and probate courts, post offices, some libraries and a number of county and municipal offices). All persons in your party need their own passport, including children. Children 12 and younger need not accompany you to the passport office in order to obtain their own passports.
In order to apply for a passport, you do need to prove both your citizenship (with a state-certified copy of your birth certificate, a naturalization certificate, or a certificate of American citizenship), as well as your identity (with a government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license).
You also need to get two identical passport photographs of your face (taken within the last six months) to accompany your paperwork. You shouldn't have too much trouble finding a copy center or similar store that can take your photos for you. Look in your local phone book under passport photos.
The application fee is $60.00 and passports are valid for 10 years.
Where a passport allows you to exit and reenter your own country, a visa gives you permission to enter the destination country. By agreement, Americans vacationing in France for less than 90 days do not need to acquire a visa.
Money: Don't worry so much about getting traveler's checks; there are ATMs everywhere. In the park, ATMs are located in the Discovery arcade on Main Street, Adventureland, and Discoveryland.
Credit cards: Double-check terms with your bank. Many of them charge extra for overseas purchases!
Debit cards: Do not use your "looks like a credit card" fake VISA or MasterCard checking account debit cards. These offer no real credit-card type protection. If your bank refuses to give you a regular ATM card, make sure to keep your fake card in your security wallet.
Security wallet: Keep your valuables next to your skin under your clothes. You are far more likely to encounter pickpockets in some European cities than in the U.S. (on the plus side, there are far fewer violent crimes there). This is particularly important in Paris. Ladies, never set your purse on the ground next to you while you are dining at the local en plein air cafˇ. If you do, you just might find yourself sans purse when you go to retrieve it. Avoid using purses with a large opening; an unwanted hand can too easily get into such a purse. Replacing your cash is minor compared to replacing your passport (which involves countless wasted hours of your precious vacation time at the American Embassy).
The single most important thing you should do for your trip to France is to pack everything into one carry-on bag. You might think it's not important to ÷ or unfathomable that you could ÷ get 20 pounds worth of stuff into a bag no larger than 9" x 22" x 14", but let me assure you that you can, and you should.
Have you ever met someone who said, "I wish I'd taken more stuff on my trip to _____"? Probably not. Most people pack too much, in the mistaken notion that they should take everything they might need. This is what I've coined, at my Web site, the "traveload" philosophy. Instead, spread out everything you plan to take onto your bed, then scrutinize every item, and ask, "Do I really need this mask and snorkel for the hotel pool? Do I need this big golf umbrella in case of rain?"
You may be wondering why it's so important to travel lightly. In America, we have grown so accustomed to cars and paved roads, that many of us can go days without having to do more than 10 minutes worth of walking in a day. This is not the case in Europe, including France. You will find many beautiful cobblestone streets in smaller villages, and France's mass transportation system makes it easy to avoid renting a car. If you have to lug big suitcases with you, however, you pretty much rule out your ability to be able to get around easily on the bus, subway, or train.
If you're going to take public transportation from the airport and the resort, you must manage to get yourself and your luggage to the bus stop or train station, onto the vehicle, off the vehicle, up at least two flights of stairs (if you're on the train), and then over to the resort. If you want to pay the extra money, the Disneyland Resort hotels offer a service where you can check your luggage at the Disneyland station, and have it taken to your hotel from there. But you're still responsible for getting it that far. Moral of the story: Pack light!
If all you have at home is the huge suitcase your folks gave you for graduation, it's time to go shopping. The most popular form of carry-on is the rolling upright, made popular by the Travelpro brand. These are vertical wheeled suitcases with telescoping handles. These are excellent for business travel and for people with bad backs. However my preference is the "travelpack" ÷ a convertible soft-sided bag that can be carried with a handle strap, shoulder strap, or with hideaway backpack straps. These let you walk hands-free and travel easily on buses and trains.
Since most of what you carry is clothing, take just a few outfits and wash them periodically in your hotel sink. You're on vacation so nobody notices if you've worn the same shirt every other day.
For step-by-step instructions and details on how to travel with just a carry-on bag, consult my Travelite FAQ Web site.
Pack lightly yourself: Before you even start packing your bags, start packing light yourself by walking for exercise. Even if you're busy, just take 15 minutes or a half an hour to walk briskly, at least three times a week. You'll lose weight, get fit and feel good, but more important, you will more stamina for all the walking on your vacation and will better enjoy your trip.
Deodorize your clothes: If you are a nonsmoker, you might seriously consider taking a small spray bottle of Febreeze fabric deodorizer, or some dryer laundry sheets with you to help you get rid of the smoke smell from your clothes (the French smoke -- a lot). Other ways to eliminate or mask smoke smell: Sprinkle some baking soda on your clothes and lay them out overnight; pop a piece of charcoal (in a sock or a tissue) in your bag; carry a small potpourri sachet in your bag.
The Ugly American: There are some things you can do to prevent standing out too much, such as avoiding wearing bright white leather athletic shoes, or real colorful running shoes, which can mark you as an tourist when you step beyond Paris or the park area. Better to go with plain neutral walking shoes from companies like Rockport or Hush puppies. Although many locals dress this way, the idea is to not stand out and make yourself the primary target of pickpockets.
Check the weather reports before you go, but expect variety in the weather. You may get 70 degree weather with blue skies and fluffy clouds, 30 degree weather with gray skies and thunder, rain, hail, and snow, all in one day.
However don't use this varied weather as an excuse to bring four season's worth of clothing! The most important way to deal with this is to layer your clothing. Get yourself some silk underwear. They weigh as much as a pair of pantyhose, and they keep you toasty warm under your regular clothes. Layer over it regular T-shirts, cotton shirts, and sweaters (or better yet, use synthetic counterparts like microfiber shirts and Microfleece or Polartec sweaters) under a good hooded windbreaker, and you're in business. Instead of lugging thick socks, wear two pairs at once! A hat, scarf and gloves will go a long way to keep your extremities warm as well (or just use a longer scarf to wrap around your neck and head instead of carrying a separate hat).
For winter, Cindy Lamb recommends a good wool peacoat or you might also consider a lightweight ski parka.
If the rain gets so bad your windbreaker doesn't help, pick up an umbrella locally. The umbrella vendors pop up as soon as it starts to rain.
If you're a serious shopper drooling in anticipation of going shopping in Paris shops (or within the Disneyland Paris resort), don't forget that Uncle Sam will want you to pay appropriate duties when you return (think of it as a delayed sales tax).
On your flight home to the US, your party is given a customs declaration form, where you need to declare the total value of everything you got while on your overseas trip.
Don't understate the value of your goods; the US Customs agents you deal with at the airport do this for a living and are very good at catching cheats. It's far better to be honest and pay some duty, than to lie and have to pay a fine.
The first $400 worth is duty-free. The next $1,000 worth is charged a flat duty, while anything above that is taxed at different rates (depending on the item). This may sound complicated, but the Customs agent can help you with your form.
By the way, if you are taking anything of value with you that is made in France, be sure to file a Certificate of Registration so you are not assessed a duty on it on your return.
With the basics under your belt, you're now ready to learn about traveling to Disneyland Paris, as well as those cultural differences that make France memorable for you.
Handy Web sites
Consular Information Sheet for France and Monaco (including specific information about crime)
French Government Tourist Office's Maison de la France Web site
Rick Steves' Paris 2001: European veteran Rick Steves has an updated book just on Paris.
Michelin: The Red Guide Paris 2000: Many travelers to Europe consider Michelin travel guides to be indispensable. The red guides provide comprehensive information on hotels and restaurants.
Michelin: The Green Guide France, 3e: A perfect complement to Michelin's Red Guide, the green version lists historical and landmark information of famous sites.
The Paris Mapguide: If you want a printed map book to prepare beforehand (and take with you), get this handy guide.
Fodor's 2001 Paris: Fodor's popular travel books provide glossy photos and easy navigation, making for great armchair reading even if you don't make it to Paris.
The Paris Shopping Companion : A Personal Guide to Shopping in Paris for Every Pocketbook: Don't let Disneyland Paris be the only place you shop; Paris is world famous for great shopping.
Lonely Planet Paris: Lonely Planet guides are famous for filling its pages with tons of off-the-beaten-track information. If you're adventuresome and you're ready to hit some secret hideaways, this is the book to get.
Take the Kids Paris and Disneyland Paris: A book geared specifically for families going to Disneyland Paris!
Paris for Families: An informative book for taking your entire family to Paris.
Michael Brien's Guide to Paris by the Metro: A book in Michael Brien's series about public transportation in Europe, this is a handy book for using the Paris Metro.
MousePlanet's team of contributors for this article:
Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, who was most recently inducted into the Disneyland Paris fan club.
Sue Kruse, who has traveled extensively to New York City, as well as to England and France.
Cindy Lamb, who has contributed Disneyland Paris trip reports to MousePlanet.
Ian Parkinson, a former Paris resident who currently lives in London. Ian is MousePlanet's Disneyland Paris columnist
Tony Phoenix, who has traveled overseas and has lived in France for two years.
Lani Teshima, who used to travel frequently while a resident in Hawaii, and who is MousePlanet's travel writer and packing expert.
Email the Baglady!
Email Lani at email@example.com to ask your travel-related questions! Don't forget to visit her Travelite FAQ for a comprehensive guide on how to travel with just one carry-on bag. [Clicking on the link will open a new window.]
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