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Practical travel advice
|Lani Teshima, editor|
What you should know when visiting Disneyland Paris
by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix
Until last month, Mexico was the closest thing to a foreign country that I had visited. I come from a family of landlocked Midwesterners, who think that a vacation to California is pretty darn exotic. Marrying into my husband's family of international globetrotters was quite a shock. I can't think of a single person in Tony's immediate family who has not been overseas at least once; most of them several times.
As we planned for our European vacation last month, I had a ton of questions. What should I wear? What should I see? What should I expect? Armed with advice from my husband, his parents, and others, I arrived in London well-prepared for the adventure ahead.
In "Un Américain dans Paris, Partie Une" (An American in Paris, Part One), we helped prepare you for your trip to France. In today's column, our intrepid MousePlanet team provides you with tips on transportation, food, and culture to help smooth out your trip.
If you're a car-dependent American, learn to read the train maps before you go. Train routes are usually designated by the first and last stop on a line, so you need to know what route you take, and in which direction. Since Disneyland Paris is not labeled on the maps, you need to look for the Marne la Vallée station.
There are five ways to get to Disneyland Paris using public transportation:
Buses: You can catch buses from the airports, but beware. Just because people aren't standing in lines doesn't mean they won't all rush towards the bus when it arrives. You may need to use your elbows aggressively to push your way onto the bus. The buses drops passengers off at each hotel, which makes for a very long journey with the French traffic and the hotel drop-offs. If you are taking the bus back to the airport, make sure you leave lots of travel time before your flight.
There is a bus that takes you right to Disneyland Paris. It's not very expensive and saves you some hauling of luggage. The only difficult part is in finding out exactly where the bus actually picks you up. However, the buses are clearly marked for Disneyland Paris, and the drivers usually speak some English.
Reseau Express Régionale (RER): Regional railway network that runs all over France, including the center of Paris. This is the rail service you use to get from Paris to Disneyland.
By rail you can travel from Paris on the RER for 49FF one way for an adult. This drops you off at the railway station. If you are staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels, you can hop right onto a Disney bus that takes you there from the station.
RER trains now stop at Val d'Europe (the big, part Disney-owned shopping mall), which is only a couple of minutes away from the park on the train and worth a visit. Sea Life Centre has just opened a very impressive aquarium there.
In addition to RER, Paris also has the Metro, which is similar to city subway systems in the U.S., the Metro runs only within Paris.
Keep in mind there are two systems: the RER, and the Metro. The RER is part of a train network in Paris that provides good suburban service to the entire surrounding area. The Metro is the Paris version of a subway and is good for getting around Paris proper.
The most important thing to remember is the name of the city that serves as the terminus on each end of the line. For instance, to go to Disneyland Paris, you must take the RER. There are five lines to the RER, A, B, C, D, and E. Disneyland Paris is at the end of the A line. There are two versions of the A line that head in the direction for Disneyland Paris, A2 and A4. A4 ends at Marne la Vallée, which is right at the doorstep to Disneyland Paris. If you accidentally board the A2, you head in the right direction, but end up in Boissy St Léger instead of Marne la Vallée, causing you to waste time backtracking.
The RER is good for long hauls, and the Metro for short. Keep your ticket with you at all times, especially when using both RER and Metro in one trip. Know the difference between the two, as maps may show these two systems as either combined or separate.
Paris proper to Disneyland Paris by train is a pleasant 45-minute trip through the French countryside. If you're taking a day trip to Paris, buy a Mobilis card for the appropriate zone(s). Mobilis is an all-day pass that lets you use the train and the buses all day for the cost of the pass.
Although Disneyland Paris hotels in Marne la Vallée are most convenient for visiting the park, experienced travelers and adventurous first-timers may wish to stay in Paris instead, where there is so much more to see and do. Disneyland is not difficult to reach by train, and you would still be near all those Paris landmarks that you shouldn't miss, such as the Notre Dame and the Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). When considering that the resort hotels are still quite a distance from the park itself, why not stay at the heart of Paris, where you can visit the Lapin Agile or the Moulin Rouge and also be able to pop on the Metro and step right into Disneyland Paris? That way, you spend the 45 minutes gazing at the lovely countryside and saving all your walking strength for your day(s) exploring Disneyland.
Eurostar: Eurostar is a marvelous way to travel from Waterloo Station, in London, to the Gare du Nord, in the heart of Paris and on to your destination of Disneyland Paris. This high-speed train service drops you off at the same station as the RER.
Trains ą Grande Vitesse (TGV): High-speed French rail service that travels to other mainland Europe destination, but not to the UK.
Sue Kruse emphasizes the importance of packing light. "I arrived in Paris by way of Eurostar, the Chunnel train, from London. From the Gare du Nord, I needed to get over to the Tuileries area where my hotel was. I purchased tickets for my family and myself (since I am the only French-speaking family member). A simple "Quatre ą Madeleine" (four to Madeleine) was all the French I needed to buy tickets for four to our destination. There were tons of stairs to navigate going into and coming out of the Metro. Lugging copious amounts of luggage up and down said stairs would have been a trial."
Taxi: Taxis drop you right at the hotel door, and can be a better choice if there are more than three of you traveling from the airport, since you only pay a single fare for your entire party. In comparison, a single fare on the airport bus for one-way travel is 90FF (while the equivalent for three people on the airport bus, 270FF gives you quite a good taxi distance).
You can of course get there by car and all the hotels have parking lots nearby.
Many of the restaurants in the park are sit-down, table-service affairs. There are many counter service restaurants, and lots of "real food" at outdoor vending (ODV) carts, such as potatoes with chili and cheese. There are at least three different character meals: breakfast at the resort hotels, lunch buffet in the park, and tea in the park.
If an item is served as a "menu", at counter service locations this means a combination meal. For example, a Chef Mickey Menu is a Chef Mickey hamburger, fries, soft drink, and dessert. Dessert is traditionally eaten at every meal, and is usually included in your menu. They even have "menus" at the ODV carts - popcorn and a coke, or pretzel and a Coke - and you actually save money on them! "Menus" at table-service restaurants refer to full meals, which are often prix fixe (fixed-price).
Cindy Lamb recommends: "Even if your French phrase book says it's acceptable, do not snap your fingers or say 'Garcon!' This is considered rude. Instead, refer to the waiters and waitresses as monsieur or madame, which works just fine." Cindy adds that if you make a sincere attempt to speak some rudimentary French, your waiter may voluntarily speak to you in English.
Sue adds, "I never experienced a problem finding someone who spoke English at Disneyland Paris. In fact, I felt like I was home. One thing I have always found to be true in Paris though is that if you try to speak the language, they are ever so much more helpful and understanding." [For your convenience, Sue provides some basic French phrases in today's side bar.]
Tips are included in the meal, and usually marked on your bill as service est compris. There is no additional sales tax. Although you may be polite and leave a few coins for a meal well served, you should not leave a standard tip as you would at home.
At table service restaurants, the waiters come by with your bill and a little credit card reader. Your credit card is swiped right at the table and handed right back to you, so your card never leaves your sight. Some machines even conveniently print your receipt right there for your signature.
There are more fast food places in the park than full-service ones, a couple of which often close up for the winter season. Full-service restaurants in Disneyland Paris are:
There are no full-service restaurants in Discoveryland.
For a review of the sit-down restaurants in the park, visit Ian Parkinson's reviews.
Breakfast can be a special affair if you're a Disneyland Resort hotel guest. A special breakfast is available free for hotel guests right in the park! The food is very good and includes cereal, breakfast meats, cheeses, fruit, bread, yogurt, tea, and coffee. To enjoy this all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet in the park, make your reservation with the hotel as soon as you can. Arrive at the park about 7:45 a.m., and board the train at Main Street Station. Ride to Fantasyland and enjoy this breakfast in one of the restaurants there. One perk: You also get into the park before all the other guests and get to ride first. Unfortunately, this breakfast is not available at all, even for a price, for people who are not staying on-property.
Soft drinks are expensive in the park; even more than what you pay in the U.S. parks. For example, an ordinary Coke can cost $3.00 to $3.50.
Bottled water in France may just as easily be carbonated (think Perrier), so know what you're ordering. Tap (or table) water, served in glasses, is free. You're charged for bottled water, and you must stipulate whether you want it sparkling or still (flat). Bottled water is also sometimes referred to (in a somewhat colorful way) as "gas" or "no gas."
Tap water may taste a little different from what you are accustomed to at home, but it is fine to drink for most individuals. Although you shouldn't experience gastrointestinal problems from drinking tap water, you and your children may wish to stick to bottled water if you have a highly sensitive system, as you would any time you travel, even in your home country.
Condiments are provided in packets at counter-service restaurants for free within the Disney resort, but usually cost extra once outside the resort. Ketchup is considered a child's condiment, and is much sweeter than Americans are used to. Most adults eat their fries with mayonnaise, of which there are two types: vegetable- and egg-based. If you are accustomed to American mayonnaise, the vegetable-based version may not be to your liking (although it is a plus for vegans and persons allergic to egg). Mustard is spicier than the traditional American yellow type, but is really good, and definitely worth a try.
[Trivia: The "french" part of french fries refers to "frenching," a culinary term to describe cutting foods into narrow strips, and not to the country of France. For this reason, you don't need to capitalize "french." French-fried potatoes date back to 1894, and the term "french fries" probably dates back to the 1920s.*]
Hot dogs are. . . well, not what we're used to. According to Ian, hot dogs should be avoided altogether. "Hot dogs are terrible everywhere (even at Casey's), as they are prepared in advance and stored in foil bags until they are served. This causes them to get soggy and bland."
Hamburgers aren't necessarily bad, but may not be made of 100% beef (as it may include horse meat), and may not be of the highest quality meats. If you go to Paris expecting a regular American burger, Cindy warns you to think again. "The French cannot do burgers! The best burger I've had in France was in Disneyland Paris, and I would rank it right up there with (convenience store) AM/PM burgers." Instead, she suggests, get the pasta, which they do really well.
Madeleines are buttery, seashell-shaped, cookie cakes found in vending machines in the Metro, and according to Sue, are the favorite of Marcel Proust. They are sometimes available in the U.S. in some bakeries and coffee shops, if you look around.
Crepes: How can you miss enjoying these French snacks? Paris has strategically located crepe carts throughout the city for your convenience.
Snacks: Great snacks you can find in Disneyland Paris:
Snacks you won't find in DLP (so don't bother looking), include buttered popcorn and tortilla chips. According to Ian, churros-like pastries are available, but are round, like donuts.
Personal space: The European concept of "personal space" is smaller than what you are accustomed to in the States. People don't consider it at all rude to brush against, or bump into you as they pass through a crowd. If you're used to your two-foot bubble, be prepared to fight your ground. And if they push in, push back: it's the only language they understand.
Ian notes that you may be surprised to find that kids are generally not very well-behaved, nor are they usually managed by parents in Europe. "They are an untidy bunch who drop litter and cigarettes everywhere. American kids look like angels compared to this lot," says Ian, who suggests you simply rise above it and enjoy the rest.
Cindy agrees. "Some teens try to take advantage of intimidated tourists by shoving their way past them ... you don't have to let them."
Don't forget that with smaller personal space and ill behavior around you, you need to be extra careful to hide your valuables in your security wallet!
Line-cutting: The concept of "lines" also differs, and you may find a need to be more assertive to maintain your place in a queue, or your spot along a parade route. Feel free to spread out your arms to prevent others from cutting in front of you.
Smoking: At times, you may feel as if all the American smokers who were pressured to quit simply moved to France. It may feel like everyone smokes in France. Don't be surprised if you see entire families puffing away, from dad right down to the 12-year-old. France is one country where its residents defend their right to smoke vehemently. Ian suggests you think twice before asking anyone to put a cigarette out, as this may lead to a fight. One option if you are sensitive to cigarette smoke, is to wear a surgical mask. Be aware however, that although it's a common sight in countries like China and Japan, Ian says he's never seen anyone wearing surgical masks in Paris.
Alcohol: Many European cultures have extremely tolerant views of youngsters drinking alcohol. This has a long historical basis, when wine was ensured to be free of the types of illness-inducing bacteria and bugs found in unsanitized well water. In France, teens as young as 14 can imbibe in alcoholic beverages legally in restaurants. Note however, that with tolerance comes responsibility. DUIs are universally frowned upon, and punishment (even of a first offense) is profoundly and extremely severe in most European countries.
Try to keep an open mind if you have never traveled overseas. Some of the food may look unusual, but don't forget that French restaurants are very popular back in the States. If your kids insist on eating American fare, you can always go to the McDonald's at Disney Village.
If you discover that some foods are absolutely unpalatable, remember what they're called so you can avoid them. Conversely, jot down those dishes you find a real liking for. Even if you can't pronounce them, you can show the dish's name to the waiter. Don't forget that these are the kinds of experiences that create wonderful memories that you share as amusing anecdotes when you get home.
If you're like many Americans, your only exposure to a foreign language is from a couple of years of high school, many moons ago. If you're truly intimidated about learning and using a bit of French, visit your local bookstore and pick up a laminated card with illustrations that you can point at. Rest assured however, that most DLP Cast Members have some knowledge of rudimentary English, and all DLP menus are translated into English somewhere.
Don't let rusty stumbling blocks keep you from enjoying a visit to the other side of the Atlantic. Grab your passport, and ...
Voyez-vous ą Paris!
*French fry trivia courtesy of Hidden Valley.
FF: French francs, the official currency of France (also denoted using "FRF"). Current exchange rates peg the French franc at about 7.5 francs per $1 US, or 13 cents per franc.
: This is the symbol for the "Euro," the new standardized currency of a number of European nations, including France. In general, EU 1 is a bit less than $1 US. Current exchange rates peg the Euro at roughly EU 1.17 to $1.00.
Eurostar: A high-speed train that runs from Waterloo Station, in the heart of London, to the Gare du Nord, in the heart of Paris and on to your destination of Disneyland Paris. Note: In summer, Eurostar runs a direct line from the Waterloo station to Disneyland Paris and back.
Marne-la-Vallée: The Metro station closest to Disneyland Paris.
Metro: The Paris version of a subway; good for getting around Paris proper. Good for short hops.
RER: Stands for Reseau Express Régionale, and is part of a train network in Paris that provides good suburban service to the entire surrounding area. Good for long hauls.
service est compris: When this shows up on your dining bill, it means a service charge has been included.
TGV: Stands for Trains ą Grande Vitesse, and is train that runs through Europe, and especially through France.
S'il vous plaĒt
L'addition s'il vous
OĚ EST les
Easy Speedy French 1: 2 listening tapes
Easy French Phrase Book: Over 750 basic phrases for everyday use
iParis: Load a map of Paris onto your Palm OS handheld, and configure the various transportation routes.
Paris train maps, including RER and the Metro, all in English, from Paris.org.
Paris transportation information by RATP, the official .
Bed and breakfasts: Lodging options for the adventuresome who are ready to go beyond the traditional resort hotel.
Europe Through the Back Door: Official Web site for PBS travel show host Rick Steves, this site has comprehensive tips and information about France (and Europe in general).
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.
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