Disneyland Paris on a budget: 10 tips for military families
When I was a little girl, I looked forward to curling up next to my sister most Sunday evenings to watch the weekly showing of “The Magical World of Disney” on my parent’s small, staticky, pre-HD television. Together, we fell in love with the classic characters, whimsical music and enchanting fairy tales.
Now that I have children of my own, Disney is still very much a part of our family culture. My husband and I love snuggling up with our boys while we watch a digitally remastered edition of an old favorite, introducing them to the songs and stories of our childhood.
As much as I adore all things Disney, up until last spring, I had yet to set foot inside any of the theme parks around the world. When we found out Disneyland Paris is just a few hours away from my husband’s current duty station, we couldn’t wait to start planning our family’s first Mickey Mouse vacation.
Traveling in Europe can be expensive, no matter where you go, and Disney theme parks have a reputation for being particularly pricey. Nevertheless, it is possible to plan a magical trip to Disneyland Paris on a military family’s tight budget. Here’s how!
Plan ahead and avoid peak times
For the best prices throughout the year, plan ahead to qualify for any early booking advantages that may be available. Choose your vacation dates so they do not coincide with holidays (like St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and Christmas), special events and breaks throughout the school year. Visiting during the week is even better!
If you have a large family, consider driving
If you’re a family of four or more, do a little number crunching before you decide to purchase train tickets or airfare. Instead of having to pay the rate for each person (children included), not to mention long-term parking and airport fees, calculate how much it will cost for you to take your vehicle. For example, the drive to Disneyland Paris is just under four hours from Ramstein Air Base (RAB) in Germany, with a 60-euro round-trip toll fee. Estimate how much it would cost to keep your gas tank full, then do the math. For our family, it made more sense, financially, to take the car. If you do decide to drive, make sure you have your International Driving Permit (IDP), which is strongly encouraged for servicemembers and their families stationed in Europe.
Call about military discounts available at on-site hotels …
Depending on the time of year, there may be military discounts available only by phone for your stay at one of the Disneyland Paris hotels. Before you book a room off-site, call +33 1 60 30 60 53 to speak with an adviser about any of the special rates you may qualify for.
Or stay in a nearby partner hotel
If you’re unable to book a room on the park grounds with a military discount, consider staying at a nearby partner hotel. Many of these family-friendly accommodations, such as the Vienna House Dream Castle, Vienna House Magic Circus and Algonquin’s Explorers, include breakfast, free parking, Disney gift shops and complimentary shuttles to and from the parks. We stayed at the colorful, laid-back pirate-themed Explorers hotel, and our boys have been begging for us to take them back. For the best rates available, reserve your room on Booking.com or directly through the hotel’s website.
Present your ID to receive a generous military discount at the gate
Military families are eligible for a discount of 50 percent off adult and child (3-11 years) 2-Day Park Tickets at Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney Studios. All you have to do is present a valid military ID at the gate for one servicemember and up to four accompanying people. If the servicemember is not present, dependents may present their IDs to receive the discount.
For more details, visit ForcesDiscount.com.
Bring your own stroller
Even if you think you might not use it, I highly encourage you to bring your stroller along — just in case. We thought we'd give it a go without one at the beginning of our first day there, but we quickly found ourselves wishing we’d brought it along to help carry the bags and souvenirs we picked up along the way. Instead of forking over the 12 euros it would’ve cost to rent one, we made the long trek back to our family car to retrieve our own.
Purchase these things before you go
The weather in Europe can be unpredictable. So you won’t end up blowing your budget due to unexpected conditions, bring your own ponchos and umbrellas just in case it rains, and pack sunglasses, hats, sunscreen and misting fans for the summer months. Also, generic Disney souvenirs, such as costumes, light-up toys and glow-in-the-dark jewelry for the night parades, trading pins and t-shirts are best bought before you go. Save your money for the Disneyland Paris items you might not be able to find anywhere else.
Pack snacks and refillable water bottles
Next to the cost of transportation and accommodations, food can be one of the biggest budget-eaters during a family vacation — especially when you are spending your days at a theme park. Thankfully, we were able to bring small snacks and water bottles into the park without a problem. Making stops to refill them at the water fountains saved us time and money. Also, even though coolers are not allowed inside the gates, there is a picnic area just outside the main entrance. If you’re really wanting to pinch your pennies, pack one before you go, and leave it in your vehicle until your stomachs start growling. You can head back into the park for more fun once you’ve curbed your appetite.
Make your own Disney character autograph book
There’s just nothing like giving your favorite character a big squeeze in person. The trend at Disney parks is to bring your own autograph book to meet-and-greet sessions for the characters to sign. Instead of waiting to buy one when you get there, make your own from materials you already have around the house — or download these adorable, free printable Disney character autograph pages from Hip2Save.com!
Get fee free travel advice from a Disney expert
If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help planning your family’s trip to Disneyland Paris, take a deep breath. Ears of Experience is a free travel agency owned an operated by military spouse Amy Sinclair. Give Amy a call at 1-877-80MOUSE or visit her online at TheMouseExperts.com.
Thanks to many of these tips, our first trip to Disneyland Paris ended up being one of the most memorable — and budget-friendly — trips we’ve taken together as a family so far!
If, like me, you come back from your trip Disneyland Paris and find yourself dreaming up ways to add more magic to your family vacations, consider taking a Mediterranean Disney cruise next. Military families can receive special rates for certain cruises throughout the year. Visit disneycruise.disney.go.com for more information.