Guide to Disneyland Paris (Disneyland Park)
Disneyland Paris’s Disneyland Park is home to many iconic attractions that are familiar to US-based fans, such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, Phantom Manor (Haunted Mansion), Peter Pan’s Flight, “it’s a small world”, Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain (Space Mountain) and more. Disneyland Park is the primary park or “castle park” for Disneyland Paris featuring Sleeping Beauty Castle.
According to the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) in 2017 Disneyland Park was the 12th most visited park in the world and 9th most visited Disney Park. By comparison, it ranks just ahead of Disney California Adventure in Anaheim and attendance from 2016 to 2017 grew faster than all but three parks ranked ahead of it, which makes it reasonable to assume this may become a top 10 park in attendance in the next year or so.
Continuing through September 9, 2018, Disneyland Paris is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. As someone who visited the park as a kid in 1992 the first year the park opened, I was immediately impressed that the park felt more Disney than I recall while still maintaining a very unique and welcoming French feel. During my first visit when the park was called Euro Disney Resort, it was only the second Disney park outside the United States and I personally recall a certain lack of the Disney magic so important to the park experience. Today, Disney magic is alive and well in the park and anyone who recalls trips in the past in which they might have been less than 100% impressed would be well served to take another trip and experience how much has changed.
One of the defining characteristics I noticed throughout Disneyland Park is more paths and exhibits. There are more opportunities to wander around the various areas of the park and take in the sights and sounds of areas that aren’t completely crowded with guests. This provides Disneyland Park with a more relaxed environment than you will find in the US parks.
Sleeping Beauty Castle or Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant
As is the case with all of Disney’s Castle Parks the castle is the star attraction of the park and that star shines the brightest at Disneyland Park. Inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle Sleeping Beauty Castle or Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (French for “The Castle of the Beauty in the Sleeping Wood”) is, in my opinion, the very best of all of the Disney castles. If you’re not sure you agree, check out our comparison of the every Disney Castle and make up your own mind.
While this is purely speculation on my part it appears the Disney Imagineers were mindful that the close proximity of the worlds best castles such as the Palace of Versailles and Schloss Neuschwanstein had probably shaped for many guests what a castle should be. To combat the inevitable comparisons the Imagineers put much more design thought into this castle.
The size of Sleeping Beauty Castle falls between Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World and Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland. From the central plaza in front of the castle straight ahead is the entrance to the castle which takes you from Main Street U.S.A. to Fantasyland. To your left looking towards the castle is a grass and tree area that to me is very reminiscent of the grounds around the castle’s inspiration, Neuschwanstein. On the opposite side (to your right looking towards the castle) is the stage which is sufficiently out of the way so as to not distract from the beauty of the castle as you walk toward it.
Inside or beneath the castle is La Taniére du Dragon or Cave of the Dragon, which is home to a large animatronic dragon that periodically comes to life, growling and intimidating anyone who dares disturb it.
Above the dragon’s cave in the castle proper on the 2nd level is a gallery with stained glass windows depicting the story of Sleeping Beauty along with knights, tapestries and a spinning wheel to round out an appropriate castle décor.
Finally, walking through the main level are a few gift shops: one specializing in Christmas items and the other for handmade glass figures.
Similar to its US counterparts, Disneyland Park is divided into five main sections. First up as you enter is Main Street U.S.A. I found one of the most notable differences with Main Street USA versus US parks is the inclusion of Liberty Arcade and Discovery Arcade. These two covered walkways run parallel to the main street and not only provide a back entrance into the Main Street shops but also have various hidden gems and exhibits.
Going from left to right the next land is Frontierland: home to Phantom Manor, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and more. The entrance to Frontierland is an impressive old west-style fort with many areas to explore. Phantom Manor was closed for renovation during my trip which was too bad as I know it to be an excellent ride. Nevertheless, we covered it as the second attraction on this list of the top eight thrilling worldwide Disney attractions.
Adventureland had the most impressive entrance of any of the lands. It was near the quality of the Morocco pavilion in Epcot which for my taste is the most impressive of all of Disney’s themed areas. Further, into Adventureland one of my other highlights was Adventure Isle featuring Skull Rock, the Pirate Galleon and Davy Jones Locker. Adventureland is home to Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, a thrilling roller coaster that includes an inversion.
Fantasyland’s impressive primary entrance is Sleeping Beauty Castle. The area is very bright and welcoming and is home to Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups, “it’s a small world”, and more. “it’s a small world” was built in a style similar to the Disneyland version on the outside but inside the ride is unique to Disneyland Paris.
I found it interesting to see the ride’s extensive US section which despite Disney’s focus on Americana wouldn’t seem appropriate in the US parks for this particular ride, but in France makes a lot more sense. As someone from the US expecting “it’s a small world” to be a celebration of other countries and cultures I could have been happy without that particular section but riding in the boat behind guests from England I could tell from their reaction that section was the most exciting and impressive part of the ride to them. Seeing that reaction can’t help but lead to a sense of American pride.
Rounding out the park is Discoveryland, which while similar to Tomorrowland in the US parks, felt much more modern and futuristic. The attractions for this area were Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, Autopia, and more.
Must-Do Rides & Attractions
Disneyland Park has a better version of Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain than its US counterparts. I’m fairly confident Phantom Manor would have been amazing too, but unfortunately, it was closed for renovations so I was unable to visit it… just another excuse for a return trip.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, while largely similar to its US counterparts, is an improvement over those pre-existing rides. The main portion of the attraction itself is on its own island, but the loading station is on the “Frontierland mainland.” Therefore, both the start and end of the ride goes through an underground tunnel connecting the two areas. This extends the ride and allows for new twists and turns you wouldn’t otherwise find. Thanks to a cooler climate than Central Florida or Southern California you might even get to experience Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the snow as Inside The Magic shared back in February during a cold spell in Paris.
Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain is easily my favorite version of Space Mountain and came in at #7 on our list of Top 8 exciting thrills at Disney theme parks worldwide. I’m normally not a big Space Mountain fan, in fact, at Walt Disney World I would consider Space Mountain to be the worst of the 3 mountains (Big Thunder, Splash, and Space) ranking it as merely good but not great. I believe Hyperspace Mountain in Disneyland is better than Space Mountain but neither US version can compare to Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain which is truly a great ride. The storyline for the ride is you have been enlisted by the Empire to fight off TIE fighters and blow up a Star Destroyer. I found everything about Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain to be well done to the point that if my day only allowed for one final ride, I would ride it over the nearby Star Tours ride despite typically being a huge fan of Star Tours.
Saving the best for last, Pirates of the Caribbean is my personal favorite ride at Disneyland Paris. If you’re familiar with the US versions you may think you know the ride fairly well, but trust me– this version is so much better as we outlined in this First Look. Before you even get to Pirates of the Caribbean walking through Adventure Isle is the first part of the rides immersion process, then an excellent queuing area immerses you even more. Once on the ride, I felt as if more of a story came alive as the scenes more seamlessly transitioned from one to another.
Another Disneyland park feature I feel bears special mention is Fuente Del Oro Restaurante, a quick service location based on the film “Coco.” Fuente del Oro Restaurante is located in Frontierland near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and serves traditional Mexican fare such as Tacos, Fajitas, Enchiladas and more. What stood out is the “Coco” theming, which is sure to impress young and old alike given “Coco” is a relatively recent hit from Disney/Pixar.
I would love to see Disneyland or Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World copy Disneyland Paris and bring this restaurant to Frontierland.