In April of 2020, we had planned to take our son to Disneyland (Anaheim) for the first time but had to cancel that trip (you know, COVID-19). So, at the end of our year living abroad in Valencia, Spain, we thought it would be fun to cap the year off with a trip to Paris. Lucas had finished a year of school abroad, and we wanted to celebrate it and make up for the missed Disney trip. For us, it was a chance to revisit one of the world's best cities.
Since we only spent one day at Disneyland, we stayed in the city center at Hotel Louison and commuted to the park. Hotel Louison is in the Montparnasse neighborhood and within walking distance of many shops and restaurants.
We had a combo package, including park tickets and an air-conditioned coach that took us to Disneyland. To reach the pickup location, we walked to the Metro from our hotel, and it was a quick 20-minute train ride.
If you have been to Disneyland in Anaheim, you will feel at home at the Paris location. It is arranged in a very similar fashion, from Main Street to Tomorrowland. Many rides are similar, in name and design, including Hyperspace Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. The park was busy but did not feel overly crowded. Lines for rides could be longer than an hour, but the two Premier Access options can solve that problem for an extra fee. We rode a few of the popular attractions first; and only waited about 30 minutes. Later in the day, we purchased a Premier Access One pass to skip a line at Big Thunder Mountain, our son's favorite roller coaster.
Disneyland Paris allows you to purchase lunch in advance, which we did, and saved a lot of wait time at Café Hyperion, one of the main eating areas. It was a super smooth process. We walked into the Café, walked to the order pickup line (which happened to be empty), showed our receipt, and collected our food. I highly recommend this! Another option is to reserve a table at one of the a la carte restaurants in advance. There are also some options outside the park, just outside the gates, in Disney Village.
Our shuttle was scheduled to take us back to the city center at 6:45 pm, but we wanted to enjoy the park later into the evening. At the entrance of Disneyland is the Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy train station, which serves regional RER trains and several TGV (high-speed) lines. We opted for the RER, which gave us an extra 5 hours at the park, and it was worth it even though we were pretty tired for the day. A private car is another option and the most convenient.
EIFFEL TOWER & SEINE RIVER CRUISE
We had pre-booked tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower. We had early afternoon tickets, so we had a lovely slow morning with fresh coffee, then walked to an early lunch on the way to the Tower. Lunch was at a tiny spot a few blocks from our hotel, Chez Germaine, which I highly recommend. After lunch, we walked to the tour meeting spot and admired The Tower along the way as we got closer.
We had pre-purchased tickets to the Summit (top/3rd floor of The Tower), but unfortunately, it was closed due to a technical issue that day. We still went up to the 2nd level and enjoyed the views with sparkling wine. We didn't want to rush our visit, so we also stopped in the restaurant on the 1st level for escargot, (French) onion soup, and wine. We had a lovely view overlooking the stunning Trocadero Gardens.
In the evening, we took a one-hour Seine River Cruise, which began near Île de la Cité and a little bit west of the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful way to see the lights of the city, including the sparkles on The Tower. On the cruise, we observed Notre Dame up close, saw hundreds of people sitting along the river and enjoying the warm summer evening, and listened to the boat operator tell stories of the city and landmarks.
SELF-GUIDED BIKE TOUR
We had heard about Paris’ transformation into a biking capital, so we rented bikes to see the city on two wheels. My husband found a bike route in a New York Times article and we set off to trace it. We started at Place de La Republique, a little north of the Seine, and rode to the Latin Quarter. We rode past the Panthéon and several sights from the TV show Emily in Paris.
After a Parisian lunch, we continued along the Seine, passing several major museums, including the world's largest, The Louvre.
At the Eiffel Tower, we left the Seine and made our way back to the hotel. While there are a lot of protected bike lanes, the network is incomplete. Along the Seine, the bike ride was relaxing and filled with stunning views of the river and architectural wonders. However, if you stray outward and into the neighborhoods, you can find yourself riding along traffic. Paris is no Amsterdam…yet. The Olympics are a catalyst for improvement, but it has a long way to go to become a low-stress bike city. Unless you are an advanced rider and are comfortable near cars, I would recommend taking a guided tour by bike. This is a city that is enjoyable on foot or bike, but get a guide to take the stress out of it.