|Discussion Boards | Reviews | News | Trip Planning | Shop | Travel | Site Map|
|Disneyland Paris Guide|| |
|Oo la la! A look at Disney in France|
|An American in Disneyland Paris - Update|
Money matters — You and the euro
France has adopted the euro (the symbol is shown above) as its official currency, which actually makes it slightly easier for Americans to compare costs. One euro is equivalent to roughly 90 cents U.S., but a one-to-one ratio works for rough estimates. Prices are still often shown in both French francs and euros, although the franc is no longer accepted as legal tender.
euros come in 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, 1 and 2 euro coins, and in bills for denominations over 5 euros. There are no 1- or 2-euro bills, so you deal with a lot of coins. This makes a security wallet even more important, to find some place to stash all those coins. The 1 and 2 euro coins are slightly different sizes and even have a contrasting color pattern, but they still look alike when you are in a rush. To make things worse, cashiers are still trying to learn to quickly tell them apart. I kept them in different pockets of my travel wallet to avoid giving someone twice what I intended.
It's a good idea to have some local currency when you land to help pay for taxis, tips, and quick snacks. Do not worry about adding this to your list of things to do before you get to the airport. Currency exchange counters are at every airport, and while you may pay slightly higher exchange rates for the convenience, you only need to convert a limited amount so it makes little difference. If you require a lot of cash, wait until you get on Disney property to make the exchange - the rates were the lowest we found, and there was no transaction fee!
MousePlanet reader Lisa says,
Souvenirs, Customs, and Taxes
Do not be fooled by the fact that stores do not add sales tax to your purchase. There is a value-added tax, or VAT (the French call it the TVA), already included in your sticker price. The VAT varies from country to country, and is currently 19.6% in France. Visitors from non-EU countries are generally eligible for a refund of the VAT for souvenirs and merchandise that they buy within the European Union (EU) to take back home with them.
To take full advantage of the VAT refund, it pays to do your research. The process can be time consuming, and many travelers just give up on the whole thing because it can seem intimidating. MousePlanet reader Peggy thinks that is a mistake, "This amount of money could add up to a lot, so I think it is important for travelers to be aware of it. I figure, for the amount I get back, I could help pay off what I put on a credit card."
Entire guidebooks have been written to help travelers clear the maze of the VAT system, but the following should help give you a feel for the basic process.
There are a few requirements:
If you meet these requirements, there are three basic parts to the transaction: shopping, clearing customs, and claiming your refund.
Shopping: Look for stores offering tax-free shopping. While most purchases except food and lodging are eligible for the refund, some stores— often those in non-touristy areas—do not advertise this fact because the paperwork is too tedious to deal with on an infrequent basis. Major department stores and brand-name boutiques are well-versed in the process, however, and smaller stores that offer the refund paperwork usually have a sign or decal in their window, and often include the service in their advertisements.
You must also meet a minimum purchase requirement of around 190 euros per store, per day. Many stores have joined collectives to allow you to combine purchases from several shops together to qualify for the refund. Most of these collectives are actually run by facilitating companies, which are processing agencies that take a commission of up to 20 percent of your refund when you file your claim. ETS is the largest of these facilitating companies, and the one used by the Disneyland Paris Resort. The advantage is that you have fewer individual stores to request a refund from later, and these companies are usually better about actually processing your refund in a timely manner.
If you are shopping off Disney property, you must present your non-EU passport at the time of purchase. You fill out a claim form, occasionally referred to as a rebate cheque, of which you are given two copies for your later use and records. Some stores use a government form, while those that participate in a collective use personalized forms. Most stores also provide envelopes for storing forms. Hang onto this envelope, as you definitely need it later. Designate one person as the "official shopper" for your entire trip, since having only one name on every form means only one person has to stand in line at customs.
All of the Disneyland Paris Resort shops offer tax-free shopping, and the good news is that you only have to go through this process once a day for all of your purchases. Shop to your heart's content, and just hang onto your receipts. As you leave Disneyland or the Studios each night, pop through City Hall or Guest Services and collect your claim form for the day. If you are staying on-property, the front desk can also assist you with this. It can take about 10 minutes to complete the forms, so leave enough time at the end of the day. When we visited last year, we only needed to do this once at the end of our trip, and we were able to combine our receipts for the entire week. It appears that the rule has changed in the past year, so make sure that you do this daily.
Clearing customs: When you get to the airport to leave the last EU country you plan to visit, you must present all of these receipts and forms, all of the merchandise, your airplane ticket or confirmed reservation, and your passport to a Customs agent before you check your luggage with your airline. The agent examines your receipts, your claim forms, and possibly your merchandise, before returning your forms to you.
To speed the customs process along, pack all of your merchandise into one suitcase. You must have your merchandise available for inspection, and the more prepared you appear, the better. If the agent suspects that you lack some paperwork or may be hiding something, you may be subjected to a line-by-line comparison of your receipts to your merchandise. I have seen this happen, and it is not pretty. If it does happen to you, packing everything into one bag means you save both time and embarrassment of having a customs agent sifting through your unmentionables.
Claiming your refund: Once your claim forms are stamped by customs, you can claim your refund in one of three ways:
Some shops require that you mail the stamped forms directly back to them, and they refund the VAT to the credit card you used in your transaction. Those that participate in a collective have their own procedures, which you must follow carefully to avoid losing your refund. It is pretty convenient to mail in your forms right from the airport, and your refund usually appears faster. Simply place a copy of the stamped form in the envelope the shop provided you with, drop it in a mailbox usually located near the customs counter, and wait for your refund to appear on your credit card statement within a few weeks.
Because Disneyland Paris uses ETS, you can claim your refund in person right at many European airports... except for the nearest Charles de Gaulle airport. If you leave the EU from de Gaulle, you must redeem your ETS refund vouchers by either mailing them from the airport in the pre-paid envelope, or mailing them to the U.S. address listed on the back of the form. Even if you do present your forms in person at an ETS counter, you should ask for a credit card refund, because ETS offers cash refunds on the spot in the form of a check written in euros or the local currency. They then gladly cash that check for you, for another processing fee. Instead, have ETS credit your charge card, so your bank converts the money to U.S. dollars and you save money.
It can take up to an hour to get through the Customs process, especially during peak travel periods, so leave enough time. With the added security guidelines already in place at international airports, the last thing you want to do is to rush to meet your flight. If you plan to cash your ETS voucher in person, make sure you leave ample time for that as well.
If you plan to visit, and shop in, multiple European countries, the procedure is generally the same. However, because each country has a different daily spending limit and VAT rate, double-check the current rules for those countries you plan to visit before you start your trip. Remember that because you only have to visit customs once when you leave your final EU country, you should keep all of your receipts in a safe place until you go home.
France seems to have finally come to terms with that mouse down the road, because the Disneyland Paris Resort (usually listed as "Parcs Disney"), is slowly beginning to appear on transit maps. If not, just look for the Marne la Vallée station.
On our most recent trip, we used the Disney shuttle from the airport to the Disneyland Paris Resort. For about 12 euros per person, our driver loaded and unloaded our bags for us, and took us to our choice of stops — any of the seven on-property hotels, or the Marne la Vallee train station. Since we were staying just off-property, we chose the train stop, and from there it was a quick five-minute train ride to our hotel.
On our return to the airport, we opted for a cab, which cost us 70 euros with tip. [For purely research reasons, of course - the two extra suitcases of souvenirs had nothing to do with it!] You can also take a train from Charles de Gaulle airport directly into Paris, and then another train from Paris to the Disney properties, although this is a much longer trip.
If your travels take you to and from the city of Paris everyday, remember that the Marne la Vallee station is in its own zone, and you may need a supplemental fare if you are using the RATP pass. I forgot this little bit of trivia, and am now the proud owner of a book of 20 bus and train passes from Bussy St Georges to anywhere in Paris — except Disneyland Paris, two stops away.
Peggy had a similar experience with her prepurchased tickets.
As Peggy notes, the Paris Metro system is not well-designed for people with mobility impairments. Some stations have elevators, some do not, and some have them only on one side of the platform. You could take an elevator down to the platform from one station, only to find that you cannot get back up to ground level when you return on the other side of the station. Even if a station has elevators, we found that they were often out of service. If you simply cannot handle stairs, a rental car or van may be your best option.
Those little things you forget
Only a quick three-minute train ride away from Disneyland Paris, Val d'Europe is a big, part Disney-owned shopping mall that offers almost everything you could possible need. The adjacent, newly opened outlet mall aims to be the hot destination for value-conscious locals and visitors alike. Auchon, the French "hypermarché," is a giant cross between a low-end department store and the biggest grocery store you have ever seen. Think Wal-Mart, but really big. Auchon is a great source for bottled drinks, snacks, and even prepared meals. Remember that you there is no French equivalent to Denny's. If you have already left Disney property, the mall may be your best bet for dinner.
Val d'Europe has a variety of boutiques, including French fashion stores and a local branch of Sephora if you want to bring home French perfume, and it also offers a break from resort food. But one thing you will not find is a drug store. The French keep medicines and some personal care products safely tucked away in entirely separate stores, known as pharmacies and easily spotted by the flashing green cross that they all seem to have. The French are not as pill-happy as Americans tend to be. French aspirin is a curious tablet that is dissolved in water, where it turns into a fizzy, mildly lemon-flavored beverage. Other remedies are equally alien to most Americans. If you cannot live without your favorite over-the-counter preparation, make sure you bring your own.
If you are dependent on prescription medications, bring adequate supplies of those drugs, and keep them on your person or in your carry-on luggage while traveling. Bring copies of your prescriptions in case you need to replace your medications while on vacation. Ask you doctor for a typed prescription, using the common, not brand name, of your medication. If you plan to go off the beaten path into farmlands or forests, or spend more than a few weeks overseas, consider getting a comprehensive medical exam before you leave. Some doctors specialize in travel medicine, and can provide you with the vaccines and remedies you need for specific destination.
You may also want to take along an extra pair of glasses or box of contacts (along with travel sizes of your preferred cleaning solutions) with you - it would be a shame to travel so far and then not be able to focus on the sights on hand.
While Walt Disney World regulars understand this concept, DLP visitors who first cut their Disney teeth at the California parks seem amazed to learn that reservations are often essential for the table service restaurants, both in the parks and in the hotels. While you may be able to snag a table for lunch with only a 20-minute wait, dinner, especially in high season, is frequently booked solid.
Take a few minutes each morning to make your dining reservations for the day. The hotels offer this service to their guests, and you can also stop by City Hall, Guest Relations, the dining reservations counter inside Studio One, or at the information board on Main Street. If you are interested in a character breakfast for the next day, be sure to book that at the same time.
On our visit last year, we were intrigued by the character lunch offered at the Lucky Nugget in Frontierland, but could not squeeze in a visit. We had better luck this year, and truly enjoyed the experience. The restaurant, set in a Paris version of the Golden Horseshoe, offers a lunch and dinner buffet of Western barbeque favorites, which translates into grilled sausages, fajitas, corn chips, ribs, roast duck, a pasta dish, and some other treats. Among the offerings at the dessert bar were cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. Your children will enjoy the children’s buffet, which offers macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets that I would swear come directly from McDonald's.
A live Dixieland band performs on an ornate stage, and characters roam the restaurant, signing autographs and posing for photos. The variety of characters was incredible — everyone from Minnie to Scrooge McDuck and even some of the Country Bears. I guess we know where they moved to after being kicked out of Disneyland. Chip and Dale host an afternoon dessert-and-tea buffet that is a real hit with children.
Much fanfare is made over Walt's - An American Restaurant, located on the second story overlooking Main Street. On the urging of several DLP veterans, we had dinner there on the last evening of our trip. The decor is impressive, with each room themed to a particular land within the park. It almost feels like Club 33, without the membership requirements. Unfortunately, both service and food were severe disappointments. I will give the place another try on a future visit, but I frankly do not see what the big draw is about a $19 hamburger.
After Peggy’s first day at Disneyland Paris, she and her family went in search of dinner – without reservations.
Members of the Rainforest Café’s Safari Club should tuck their club card into the travel wallet. The Disney Village branch honors the card, which allows members to skip the long lines; a real plus at the popular restaurant.
This is the section that generated the most reader mail, especially when Ian, our European columnist, made the comments that "(European children) are an untidy bunch who drop litter and cigarettes everywhere. American kids look like angels compared to this lot." One European reader, fresh from a trip to WDW, wrote in after his experiences with the American "angels" in Florida:
Perhaps it's a case of "the grass is always greener." I found that kids are pretty much the same everywhere: some run wild, others are well-behaved, and parenting styles vary from person to person. Both Lisa and Peggy had much the same experience.
If I had to make a broad generalization, it would be that European children are treated as children much longer than American children. A 5-year-old with a pacifier is not an unusual sight; in fact, we joked that French children must trade them in for cigarettes at age 12. It seems that the children are given a little more room to run wild outdoors and in playground areas, of which there are many around the resort. Some parents seem to expect that you will move aside to let their kids get a better view of a parade or show, even going so far as to push their children to the front of a line. Yet we found that European children tended to be better behaved in shows and restaurants.
We also received a few complaints about our characterization of the European concept of personal space. We noted that, "People don't consider it at all rude to brush against, or bump into you as they pass through a crowd." Some readers objected to that, saying that we were doing our European readers a disservice. One even chalked it up to the fact that Americans adults tend to be larger than Europeans.
Lisa admitted that she,
On the issue of cleanliness, she says,
After spending another week in France, I think it fair to say that Europeans really do have a smaller personal space zone than many Americans are comfortable with. That is not to say that people bump into you to be rude, or that they intentionally crowd you — it is just what they are culturally used to.
We found this to be especially true while standing in lines and navigating through crowds. Americans prefer to move past people without touching them, while Europeans seem to find it acceptable to bump against a total stranger, occasionally tossing a "Pardon!" over their shoulder as they pass. Peggy agrees,
On the issue of smoking, Lisa says:
In the wake of September 11, international travel has become more time-consuming than ever. The keys to making the journey as stress-free as possible are preparation and time management. Airlines suggest you arrive at the airport three hours before your scheduled departure. If you are as fortunate as we were, you can make it through the maze of checkpoints in under 20 minutes, leaving you lots of time to relax before you board the plane. If the airport is extremely crowded, you may need the full three hours to reach your gate.
When you get to the airport, go straight to the ticket counter to check in. From there, you may be sent to a screening location to screen and examine your checked luggage. The next stop is a security checkpoint leading to the departure gates, where you are examined with a metal detector and your carry-on luggage is X-rayed and possibly physically examined.
If you are packing electronics, such as a laptop computer, Walkman, hand-held organizer, cell phone, digital camera or even Gameboy, include them in your carry-on. If you pack this in your checked bags, they may be tagged for further inspection. You may be asked to demonstrate that your gadgets can be turned on and off. Make sure that you have fully charged batteries for every piece of equipment that you are bringing with you, and do not repeat the mistake that we watched one fellow passenger make. She decided that the battery for her laptop was too heavy to carry, so she put it in her checked luggage, but put the actual computer in her carry-on. When she was unable to demonstrate that her computer could be turned on, she was sent back to the ticketing counter to retrieve her battery from her luggage. We are pretty certain that she missed the flight, as we never saw her again.
You are asked for your photo ID and tickets, reservations, or boarding pass at every stop. Make sure these items are accessible but secure from wandering hands. When departing from Europe, you also pass through passport control on your way to the gate.
Even after passing through all of this security, you may be subject to a random inspection prior to boarding the plane. If your laptop has a "standby" mode, it may be best to leave it powered on until you actually board the plane. This could save you several minutes at each checkpoint, waiting for your system to boot up.
Be warned: random inspections are extremely intrusive. Security staff will remove every single item out your carry-on and inspect each by hand, often without the benefit of any privacy screens to keep your items from the curious eyes of fellow passengers.
The Disneyland Paris Resort has also implement new security procedures, requiring guests to submit to bag checks before entering the parks and Disney Village. Some resort hotels, especially the Disneyland Hotel, require proof that you are a hotel guest before you are allowed into the hotel.
Unfortunately, these new rules seem to be little more than window dressing. Lisa noted, "Though airports are very careful, security at the Resort itself was unbelievably lacking. The bag checks were conducted by one person who barely glanced at the hundreds of people streaming past him on the way to the main gate. It did not make us feel very reassured."
Despite the international outrage over the attacks of September 11, the patriotic spirit we experience in the States is not shared around the world. France, in particular, has strongly protested the recent decision to seek the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, the French citizen who is the only person charged in the terrorist attacks. Although travel to and around France is just as safe as ever, Americans should exercise caution.
Speaking English is not an automatic identifier, since many people cannot distinguish between English, American and Australian accents. However, avoid drawing attention to yourself by behaving like a "loud American." Avoid wearing American-flag clothing, and pay attention to local customs of behavior. These are always good tips when traveling outside the U.S., but they take on a special significance now.
Your passport is the single most important document you need when traveling abroad. Make two complete sets of photocopies of your passport, driver's license, and credit cards before you leave home: one to leave home with friends or family (who can fax or overnight-deliver them if necessary), and the second to take with you, along with an extra set of passport photos. Store these copies separately from the originals to expedite the replacing your cards or passport should they get lost or stolen.
Airlines now require that every bag have an ID tag, listing your name and contact information. The best ID tags have covered windows to prevent casual observers from learning where you live or where you are going. Use your business address instead of your home address. You might also include the address and phone number of your destination in Europe within the pocket of the tag.
Experts are split on the issue of luggage locks. Some say the bigger the lock, the better; others see this as a good way to lose a lock when airport security cuts it off to examine your luggage. Personally, I use heavy cable ties as locks when I am at the airport, as they prevent casual thieves from quickly getting into a bag. They are inexpensive, easy for airport security to remove, and quick to replace. I reserve the real locks for when I leave the bags in a hotel room.
Do not feel paranoid by taking these precautions. You are just being a smart, safe traveler. Being in a foreign country with no ID and no cash is an extremely scary experience—take steps to protect yourself before you leave!
Peggy has a final note to say to people who want to go to Disneyland Paris:
Despite the language barriers, the sometimes-frustrating French attitude, and the hassle of a 10-hour flight, France is a wonderful place to visit. The strong dollar, bargain-basement airfares and discounted hotel packages make a trip to Europe just as affordable as a trip across the country to Disneyland or WDW.
It seems the whole world is looking to France as their vacation destination - why not join them?
An American in Paris: Part One - A two part journey from America to Disneyland Paris (6/7/01)
An American in Paris: Part Two - Lani Teshima with some helpful advice (6/7/01)
Parenting at Disneyland Paris - Adrienne Krock with some helpful advice and tips (6/6/01)
Disneyland Paris Access Guide - Tony Phoenix explores disabled access at Disneyland Paris (6/6/01)
MousePlanet® is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company, its subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available at www.disney.com. This MousePlanet Web site provides independent news articles, commentary, editorials, reviews, and guides primarily about the theme park resorts of the Walt Disney Co. All information on this site is subject to change. Please call destinations in advance to confirm the most up-to-date information.