Disneyland Paris on a budget? You think I’m joking, right?
In fact, you probably think that I’ve been hanging out in Fantasyland too long. 😉
OK, I’ll be the first to admit that Disneyland doesn’t really fit into the budget travel category, and some of our readers might even feel that it totally contradicts the frugal ethos of HealthyWealthyExpat altogether.
But I’d have to disagree with that.
Disneyland may not be a budget destination, but it comes under the category of epic family holiday that creates lasting memories – especially for the kids.
I may be getting up there in age and can barely remember what happened last week, but I still remember that very special holiday to Disneyland in California around the time I was 12 or so that my parents must have saved up years for.
In fact, I have some very specific memories the likes of which have no parallel in my recollection of that time in my life. I remember the thrill of all the different rides, having the run of the park with my younger brother, the “Small World” show at night, and enjoying one very nice meal out for New Year’s Eve with my family.
This is the type of family experience that goes down in history – one that the kids will relive for years.
And that’s why we work hard and save our money throughout the year, living the frugal life by cooking our own meals, avoiding shopping safaris, etc. – to be able to afford a bit of a splurge when holiday time comes around.
The problem is that if you’re not careful, Disneyland can turn into a mega-splurge.
However, just like with any other travel destination, there are plenty of tricks that I discovered while planning and enjoying our recent trip to Disneyland Paris that will help you to keep the budget from blowing past the borders of Frontierland, while ensuring that your family is having the time of their lives.
Of course, everyone wants to stay in one of the Disneyland hotels.
You can walk to the park, get 2 extra hours of access each morning before the crowds arrive, take a mid-afternoon rest, and essentially be immersed in the magic of Disney 24 hours a day.
The problem is that, while there are sometimes good deals on packages available that include park tickets and meals during the off-season, prices are sky high during summer and other high-demand seasons.
When we visited in early July, the price of the cheapest hotel room was around €1200 for 3 nights for our family of 4. Yes, that included park tickets and buffet breakfast, but tickets sold separately were just over €400, so that still leaves the hotel cost at over €250/night. I knew we could do much better than that.
And we did.
There are plenty of private apartments and budget hotels available within a few kilometres of the park. We rented an apartment online through airbnb.com in Bussy Saint Georges, just two train stops away from Disneyland, for only €70 a night. We had a much larger space than a typical hotel room (a whole upper floor), separate bedrooms, and an optional breakfast provided by the host for just a few additional euros each.
Bussy Saint Georges is a great base for visiting Disneyland, as it is a full-service yet calm community with restaurants, budget hotels, supermarkets, and other services all clustered around the train station. And that same train that takes you to Disneyland can also take you the other way into the centre of Paris for the day if you so desire.
Here’s where you are going to have a much harder time than with accommodation in shaving the cost down. I scoured the internet for hours to find discounted tickets, but came up empty-handed.
However, in my investigation into ticket prices on the official Disney website, I found that Disney was using a little financial magic. Different country sites had different special offers. The UK site had different offers than the international site which had different offers than the French site.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a 3 day ticket for the price of 2 days on the international site that didn’t exist on the UK site. And that offer was only available online.
So the procedure is:
2. Buy your tickets online (this also avoids ticket line-ups on your first day at the park)
We saved over €100 just by checking all the sites out.
As we were at the beginning of a longer driving holiday around Europe, we had a long-term car rental at our disposal. We drove about 10 minutes on semi-rural, traffic-free roads to the park each day.
Parking was about €10/day in the Disney Village car park, which is cheaper and actually closer to the main entrance than the Disneyland car park.
If we had taken the train the two stops to the park each day, it would have cost about the same amount.
While we enjoy taking the train, we found that with two young kids and a stroller it was much quicker and easier to take the car. And at the end of a long day walking around the park, I think the kids appreciated a direct line home rather than a walk to the station, the train ride, and another walk to the apartment.
If you are coming from somewhere closer to the centre of Paris, then the train is probably your best bet. Check out the combined park/transport tickets on the Disney website for a reduced fare.
Food & Drink
Oh my, this is where you can get burned at Disneyland!
In our experience, it is very difficult to get something that tastes good and is even remotely healthy for a decent price. If you want to eat well, you need to go to one of the sit down restaurants and spend €75-100 for a family of four for a meal. All the budget places are really just overpriced fast food joints dressed up with fancy names.
We knew this going in, but in the interests of research for this post decided to try our hand at finding a decent lunch for a reasonable price on the first day.
After walking into a number of eating establishments lining Main Street, we found ourselves at a “hot dog” place that at least had some decent looking salads on the menu.
The kids only ever eat hot dogs at other people’s parties, and were keen on one, so we bought a huge one for them to share and a big salad for ourselves (before you start thinking that we starve our kids, you should know that we had plenty of snacks with us, so didn’t need a full lunch). In fact, the salad was pretty good and the kids did enjoy the hot dog, but just those two items cost over €14!
Oh, and I waited in line about 30 minutes for it.
The typically French solution: PICNICS
Contrary to popular belief, the folks at Disneyland Paris will let you into the park with food in your bag.
So for the following two days we hit the local supermarket in the morning and grabbed bread, cheese, meats, pre-made salads, hummus, etc. for around €10 for the whole family.
When we got hungry, we just found a nice bench or piece of grass in a calm area, unrolled the picnic supplies, and dug into the baguettes.
We didn’t have to waste our precious time in the park waiting in line, we could enjoy an alfresco meal, and on one day a couple of Disney characters even stopped for photo-ops right next to us.
And to treat ourselves for saving all that cash while enjoying a better meal than Disney could have provided us, we always had a big ice cream in the afternoons. In terms of ice cream, I do have to commend Disney for having some unique flavours at a price on par with establishments outside the park.
For dinner, we left the park and headed back to our leafy suburb of Bussy Saint Georges to enjoy another alfresco meal on the grass of one of the local parks. We found that after 8 or 9 hours at Disneyland, both adults and kids had had enough. It also provided a chance to wind down away from the crowds and feel a bit more like residents, with the locals walking by on their evening strolls and French kids playing around us.
Tip: Take your own water bottles and fill them up at the fountains in the park when they are empty. Bottled water at Disneyland is VERY expensive.
Fantasy or Reality?
Clearly, Disneyland Paris isn’t cheap. It would be hard to go for under €250/day for a family of four.
But you don’t have to pay twice that to have a great time either. Let’s take a look at our daily costs:
Tickets: 135 (2 adults & 1 kid – our 2 year old was free)
That’s probably about 1/2 of what we would have paid for the Disney package and supplemental food. Not a bargain for a day out, but again, this is a once in a childhood experience.
Most importantly, the kids had a great time.
Our eldest ranked it her top experience on our 7 week trip in Europe.
Spending double the amount for the premium experience wouldn’t have garnered a higher rank. 😆
Do you have any tips for enjoying Disneyland Paris on a budget? Share your wisdom with our community by posting your comments in the box below.