Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Category: Disney Parks

Cinderella Castle and the Hub at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

The Most Important FastPass+ at Every Disney World Park

Booking your FastPass+ reservations is an essential step when planning a visit to Walt Disney World. Not all FastPasses were created equal, however, and it’s important to make the best choices when making your selections. I’ve put together a guide to the most important FastPasses at each Disney park. I factored in the popularity of the ride and the usual standby wait time along with my own personal preferences. Your choices will obviously vary based on your tastes and the people in your travel group, but here are my best recommendations for your initial three Disney World FastPasses.

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What to Pack for a Disney Vacation

Your resort is booked. Your dining reservations are set in stone. Your FastPasses are all scheduled. The only question that remains is what to pack for your Disney vacation.

Packing for Disney parks

Packing for Disney parks can be daunting for first time visitors. There’s a lot to think of ahead of time, and I really don’t like having to waste money buying overpriced essentials at the airport, parks, or hotel just because I forgot to bring something I need. I usually start my packing lists about a month in advance and keep them on my laptop so they don’t get misplaced. I have sort of a “master” list in one file that I alter for each specific trip.

Suitcases and a dog

My dog wouldn’t stay out of the picture, so I gave up and just took the shot with him in it.

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An Ode to Wishes

The Magic Kingdom’s nighttime fireworks spectacular, Wishes, will soon be performing its final show. It has been inspiring guests to trust their heats and make wishes since it debuted in 2003. As a former Cast Member who spent several months working at the park, I’m particularly attached to Wishes and was devastated to hear of its upcoming finale. Wishes’ replacement, Happily Ever After, is slated to have its opening performance on May 12th. The clips of the new show that have been released look very good, but before we welcome that new show, it’s time to look back at what has made Wishes so magical for so many years.

From the iconic flares that kick the show off to the castle-framing fans of light to that evil face that I was always determined to see right-side up to the spectacular beauty of the finale, Wishes was not to be missed. No fireworks show will ever capture my heart quite the way Wishes did.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

Who would think something as simple as a flare would be such a dramatic part of the show?

Being an intern at Disney World meant working the closing shift, and while that had the downside of ending late at night most of the time, it also included the perk of daily Wishes viewing and/or listening. Within a few weeks, those of us who worked at night had seen and heard the show so many times that we could tell how far into the performance it was based on just the sound of the firework bursts. The soundtrack wasn’t played in the ride station, and even though it’s open air, you couldn’t see the fireworks in the station, but we quickly learned to judge how far along the show was by the sound of the explosions echoing through the park. The light, airy bursts from the love section, the crackling sizzle that accompanied the villains portion, and the thundering booms leading up to the finale were as distinct as the music that accompanied them. This wasn’t just fun – it was a valuable skill on nights when the park remained open after Wishes, because the end of the show would signal an upcoming rush of people wanting to board.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

That silhouette still makes me smile.

If there weren’t many guests around to load and unload, we’d have our own sing-alongs providing an off-key, but spirited soundtrack to the invisible fireworks. And, let’s face it, sometimes the presence of guests didn’t even deter us from performing – hey, they call us Cast Members at Disney because we we’re all part of the show, right?

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

It’s even pretty when viewed from across the Seven Seas Lagoon!

By the end of our time working there, Wishes was so ingrained in my heart that it would bring a tear to my eye during the finale. That’s also when my favorite firework of all time explodes – the biggest, loudest shimmery gold one you can imagine. Wishes was an almost nightly ritual for several months, and I spent my last evening as a Cast Member standing on Main Street singing along. Just like certain songs can transport you back to a place and time that you remember fondly, this 12.5-minute long combination of lights, music, fireworks, and a flying fairy will always make me think of some of my happiest days.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

This one! This is my favorite firework of all time.

I tried to make it back to Orlando to watch it one last time, but the whole full-time job thing made that impractical. I’ll have to console myself with listening to the soundtrack over and over again. As luck would have it, I’ve taken enough pictures over the years that I could probably reconstruct it if I arranged them all together. These are some of my favorites.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

What would you wish for?

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“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.”

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“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.”

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This is perfection.

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

The genie has some wishes to grant!

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Uh oh, be careful what you wish for.

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Always let your conscience be your guide.

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Good news: the Blue Fairy is here to save the day.

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The Hercules music used in this section is perfect.

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“Wishes! Dream a dream. Wishes! Set it free.”

Wishes fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World - Orlando, Florida

“Wishes! Trust your heart. Just believe!”

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And the grand finale.

I know Wishes isn’t the height of all entertainment, but it will always be near and dear to my heart. I have so many amazing memories associated with this show, and it’s the only way I want to end my evening at Disney World.

Check out this incredible video by OnlyHDVideos:

Do you have any fond memories of Disney shows or attractions?

Planning to go visit Disney World solo? Here are some tips to make the most of your trip.

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The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.Pin - Wishes2The Wishes firework spectacular is ending its 13-year run at the Magic Kingdom. Look back on some great memories and photographs with a former Cast Member.

How to Visit Disney Parks Solo

When you tell someone that you’re going on a trip to Disney World or Disneyland, one of their first questions is usually, “Who are you going with?” If your answer happens to be “no one,” frequent reactions include disbelief, confusion, or, worst of all, sympathy because poor little you couldn’t find someone to go to Disney World with you. Solo travel isn’t for everyone, but for those of us who like it (or have no other options), it can make for some of the best experiences you’ll ever have.

As a veteran of several solo Disney trips to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, here is my best advice for making the most of your time alone…with thousands of other people.

Paradise Pier at California Adventure

Have the right attitude

The biggest, hugest, most important thing is to have the right attitude. If you go in expecting to have a blast, there’s a pretty good chance you will. If you go in expecting to be miserable the whole time, odds are you will. Part of it comes from knowing yourself. I’m fairly reserved and can spend whole weekends happily talking to no one but my dog, so taking a trip alone is absolutely fine by me. If you’re a chatterbug who prefers constant companionship, you may need to do a little mental preparation for being by yourself for a few days. I absolutely look forward to my solo trips – whether Disney or elsewhere – largely because of the next item on this list.

Do whatever you want

Enjoy your total freedom. I mean it. Do whatever you want whenever you want without having to have a group discussion about it. Want to ride Splash Mountain seven times in a row? Do it, because no one else in your group is going to complain about getting wet. Want to get to the Magic Kingdom before the park opens so you can see the entrance show and be there for rope drop? Do it, because no one else in your group is going to complain about having to get up too early on vacation. Want to have a Dole Whip, a Mickey bar, and a churro all in the same afternoon? Do it, because no one else in your group is going to judge you.

No matter how well you get along with your friends and family, there’s always going to be some level of compromise involved in your plan for the day, whether it’s which rides to Fastpass, where to grab dinner, and what pace you’re going to go during the day. When you’re by yourself, you never have to compromise, and it is not a terrible feeling. On my solo Disneyland trip, I spent one day at each park. It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel after spending the day at Disneyland that I realized I had only sat down for about 40 minutes the entire day (while I was eating lunch at Blue Bayou), aside from the rides I was on. I just never stopped going the ENTIRE day and I got so much more done than I ever would’ve with other people. When I’m traveling, I have this crazy extra gear that kicks in and almost no one can keep up with me. I don’t have to worry about slowing myself down when I’m traveling alone.

Gorilla at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida

Go ahead and spend an hour taking pictures of gorillas if you want to.

Be prepared

If you’re traveling in a group and you forget to pack sunscreen, odds are someone else can let you use some of theirs. When you’re by yourself, you don’t have anyone else to rely on. It’s really important to make sure you bring everything you’ll need for your whole trip so you don’t end up wasting time and money buying overpriced essentials in the parks. I always start my packing lists about a month before my trip. I keep a basic list in a Word document on my laptop and then modify it as needed for specific trips. The advantage of starting it early is that over time, you think of other things you’ll need and can add them to the list. It sure beats having those “OMG, I forgot the toothpaste” epiphanies at the airport or in the car.

Plan ahead

Do a little research before you go. Find out which rides offer Fastpasses and which ones have single rider lines. Make your dining and Fastpass reservations as soon as possible. You’re not going to be able to book popular restaurants and rides if you wait until the week before to start looking for time slots. Get a general feel for how the parks are laid out. Make a list of your top 10 must-do attractions so you can make a rough plan for the day. You can always adjust your plans on the fly, but conquering the parks can definitely be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first trip.

Spaceship Earth in Epcot at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida

I could spend all day just taking pictures of this incredible structure.

Take your time and enjoy the scenery

Take tons of pictures. Wandering the parks on your own really opens up your eyes to the fantastic little details you can find in the parks. It’s easy to get absorbed in conversations when you’re there with a group, but walking around alone gives you a chance to spot great photo opportunities and notice things you’ve never seen before.

Mickey Mouse at Disneyland in Anaheim, California

Who needs travel buddies when you can hang out with Mickey Mouse himself?

Use PhotoPass

Take advantage of PhotoPass. Selfie sticks are banned in the Disney parks, so that’s not an option. PhotoPass is a great way to get beautiful shots. I’ve purchased Memory Maker at WDW, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. It’s well worth it at WDW and Disneyland, but was a waste of money in Paris. The American parks have Photopass photographers stationed seemingly everywhere so you can easily get hundreds of pictures on a trip that lasts for a few days. If Memory Maker isn’t in your budget, the photographers and/or character attendants will also take pictures with your own camera or phone if you ask. My favorite aspect of the PhotoPass pictures is the fact that they generally snap a whole bunch of pictures as you greet, hug, and pose with the character. They’ll usually only take one posed picture with yours. If candid shots are your thing, you’ll probably love the Memory Maker pictures. The other advantage is that you can download them very quickly on your phone so you can share them online and show people back home how much fun you’re having without them.

Ask other guests for help

Don’t be afraid to ask other people to take pictures for you. This is kind of going out of style with selfies taking over and talking to strangers not being a thing anymore, but every single group shot I have from the family vacations I went on as a kid was a result of my parents asking another tourist to snap a picture of us with our camera. They’re not always great, but in the age of digital photography, you can always just delete blurry pictures. It can definitely be awkward when you first give it a shot, especially if you’re fairly shy like me, but I’ve never had anyone say no or steal my camera. If you don’t want to start out by immediately asking someone for a favor, try looking around for people taking selfies or a parent taking a picture of their spouse and kids and ask them if they’d like a picture of all of them together. If they agree, take their picture for them (They’ll probably be thrilled to get a nice group shot. Great job adding to the Disney magic without even being a Cast Member.) and then ask them if they’d mind doing one for you afterward. Only a truly terrible person is going to turn you down at that point.

Monorail at Disneyland in Anaheim, California

I found myself alone in the Disneyland monorail, so I found a place to set my camera and take some pictures.

Use your self-timer

If asking other people to take pictures for you isn’t your thing, try playing around with the self timer on your camera. I’ve gotten some really good shots using the 10 second timer and setting my camera on an available surface. You could also try using a mini tripod. This strategy works better in quieter areas of the parks where other guests aren’t likely to accidentally wander into your picture as you’re waiting for it to snap.

Breakfast at California Adventure

Being alone isn’t going to stop me from having some Disney waffles for breakfast.

Book a table for one

Don’t be afraid to dine alone. This used to be the most awkward thing for me to do by myself. I was sure that people all over were snickering at me sitting in a restaurant all by my lonesome if I didn’t have someone with me. Then I started traveling for work constantly and I had no choice but to get used to it. It really doesn’t bother me at all anymore. Sure, I may have felt a teeny bit silly checking in for a reservation for one at the Blue Bayou, but I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and would’ve been really disappointed if I had skipped out on the chance to eat at one of the most famous Disney restaurants just because I was in California by myself. In all reality, other diners are much more focused on their own meals than looking around to mock other guests.

Take advantage of the single rider lines

Use the Single Rider lines. They’re not always super fast (I’ve seen Test Track’s showing upwards of an hour on the wait time sign before), but in many cases using Single Rider can be almost like having a free Fastpass. I use them even when I’m traveling with my family because it’s often worth it to get on the ride faster. If you’re traveling solo, you’re not going to be sitting with a group anyway, so why wait in the regular line?

Skip ahead in regular queues too

Don’t be shy about being a party of one in ride queues. Pay attention to Cast Members as you’re approaching a load area. A lot of times they’re looking for a party of one or two to fill an empty seat or row in a ride vehicle they’re loading. If you hear them calling for certain sized parties, raise your hand and you may get to skip a bunch of people. I’ve gotten pulled to fill the last seat of a Space Mountain train from way back in the line, skipping at least ten trains’ worth of people in line in front of me. It’s not a huge difference, but it can get you in and out a little quicker, and it’s good for CMs (they get to keep their ride throughput high) and other guests in line behind you (filling in those empty seats as efficiently as possible speeds up the line for everyone).

Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Florida

Take your time and just gaze at the castle

Enjoy the atmosphere

Resist the temptation to pop in some headphones and listen to your own music all day. Being alone with no one to talk to makes this seem like a great way to pass the time in lines, but Disney is the one place I will not carry my headphones. There is so much great area background music and millions of uniquely Disney sights and sounds that you’ll be missing out on a lot by retreating into your headphones.

Find a way to entertain yourself

Figure out how you’re going to pass the time in line by yourself. Unless you meet some friendly strangers, you’re not going to have anyone to talk to. Some of the queues have fun interactive areas to distract you, but the majority of them still have plain old railings and ropes. I’m a reader, so I’ll sometimes toss a small paperback in my backpack to kill some time in line. If you’re going to spend the day playing on your phone, invest in a portable battery pack. You can buy them in the parks, but they’re expensive. I’ve used a Mimo PowerTube on a couple trips with great success. It gave me the freedom to not have to ration my battery life in order to get through the day.

Most importantly: just have fun! If you’re on the fence about taking a solo trip, just go for it. Even if you don’t have the time of your life, it’ll still be worth it. You can always find a travel buddy for your next trip if you don’t like traveling solo.

Have you ever visited Disney parks solo? Do you have any tips for my next visit? Let me know in the comments.

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Tips and tricks for making the most of a solo trip to Disney parksTips and tricks for making the most of a solo trip to Disney parksPin - Disney Solo3Tips and tricks for making the most of a solo trip to Disney parks

Disneyland Paris – Disneyland Park

As a kid who grew up roadtripping to Disney World almost every year and a former Cast Member, it’s long been a dream of mine to visit all of the Disney parks worldwide. I recently got to check Disneyland Park off of my list, putting me halfway to this goal. Here are my thoughts.

It Knows How to Make a First Impression

The entrance to Disneyland Park is truly majestic. Putting the Disneyland Hotel over the entrance was a stroke of genius, and it wasn’t until we were on our way in that I understood why the rooms there were so much more expensive than the other hotels on-site.

Disneyland Hotel at Disneyland Paris
As we were walking through the train station to get onto Main Street, I was practically bouncing with excitement. I’d been looking forward to exploring the Studios, but I was positively giddy to hit what I considered to be the main attraction.

As a lifelong WDW visitor, my first trip to Disneyland California a year previously had been the realization of a goal many years in the making. It was both new and familiar in a fascinating way because so many things looked like the Magic Kingdom I’d known and loved my whole life, but were just different enough to throw me out of my routine and cause me to really appreciate the details. Walking into Disneyland Parc was accompanied by the same sensation. Main Street looked almost like it does in my WDW-based mind, but at the end was a stunning, pink castle.
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris

The castle. It absolutely lived up to my expectations. In fact, the only thing preventing me from declaring it the best out of the three Disney castles I’ve seen so far is my own childhood nostalgia. And a general dislike of the color pink. The gorgeous details on it were incredible, and it only got better when it was lit up at night.

We happened to hit the park while a lot of rides were being refurbished for the 25th anniversary, but the only thing I was really disappointed about missing was Big Thunder Mountain. Many Disney fans cite it as their favorite version of the ride, and as a Frontierland girl from my Cast Member days, missing out on it was hard. Since it was a slow weekday during the off-season, a lot of the quick service restaurants were closed too, which left a good stretch of Adventureland almost completely empty.

Ride Highlights

My two favorite ride experiences at the park were It’s A Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean. I thought both of them topped the versions at either of the American parks. WDW’s Small World, with which I’m most familiar, starts out with a lot of detail and cultural variety in the European room and then sort of slowly fades as you move through the other continents. It felt like the Small World here made more of an effort to acknowledge individual cultures in other parts of the world instead of just tossing a couple dolls out there and calling them African. It even had a whole room for North America with Canadian hockey players and American football players. I was delighted. The final show scene with the kids from all over the world seemed better too. And cleaner.

It's a Small World at Disneyland Paris

Pirates of the Caribbean had a much better storyline than the WDW version and is a lot closer to the original in California. Most of the iconic show scenes were close approximations of the WDW ones I was used to, but there were additional elements that I really liked. We were totally unprepared for there to be a camera on the drop, which got us a great picture of my mom, who hates drops and barely tolerates the one on Pirates, on our first ride.

Space Mountain was the other ride that stood out to us. We rode it four times during our day and a half in the parks. It’s much more intense than the WDW version (I can’t comment about DL’s because it was under refurb during my only visit there) and we loved the speed and loops weaving through planets. It’s currently being turned into Hyperspace Mountain, but from what I’ve read it doesn’t sound like the track will be changing. I would’ve loved to have seen that theming as I am also a huge Star Wars fan, although it doesn’t really seem to fit with the overall theme of the building.

Space Mountain 2.0 at Disneyland Paris

Disney Dreams

DLP’s shining moment was Disney Dreams. Do not miss this show if you visit. We lucked into an almost front row spot and had a fantastic view of all of the show elements. When I watch Wishes at WDW I normally prefer to be a bit further away from the castle. My ideal spot is usually right where Main Street widens out to the Hub, but we would have missed out on a lot if we had been that far back. With the pending demise of Wishes, I’m hopeful that the new fireworks that that replace it incorporate some of the elements I loved in this show.
Disney Dreams at Disneyland Paris

This show is amazing!

Disney Dreams combined the best elements of Wishes, World of Color, and the castle projection shows and wove them together with classic movie clips and songs to make a thoroughly enthralling spectacular that I didn’t want to end. Everything from the fountains to the projections to the fireworks was perfect.

Per family tradition, we wandered through the Emporium and snapped some pictures on the delightfully empty Main Street before heading out of the park and making our way back to the hotel.

Read more about our trip to Disneyland Paris:

What to see at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris – Walt Disney Studios

Our first taste of Disney park magic at the Walt Disney Studios. While we were doing our pre-trip planning, I was looking at the Studios’ ride line-up and was kind of under the impression that it was a half-day park. I wasn’t wrong. The week we were there, Studios was the EMH park instead of Disneyland Park, and the first morning, we did everything but Crush’s Coaster (it was broken) and the shows in less than two hours. We were there on a very cold and rainy Monday in November which undoubtedly contributed to the lack of lines, but I still don’t think it would be a full-day park.
Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris

I love empty parks.

My favorite area of the park by far was the Toy Story part. I’m a sucker for goofy photos and there were so many cute spots for pictures in that tiny little section of the park. I also loved the way the fences were styled like K’nex. I wished that the weather had been better the morning we spent there because if it hadn’t been raining, I could’ve wandered through this area for hours. I’m now even more excited to see the Toy Story area that is currently under construction at Hollywood Studios in Disney World.

Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris

We’re fun people.

My favorite ride in the Toy Story area was the RC Racer. I’m a roller coaster junkie and love the stomach-flipping feeling that you get from big drops. Even though this ride is pretty small, it was quite a bit of fun and delivered plenty of that feeling. For those who are nervous about coasters, the sensation was more along the lines of a pirate ship swing ride than an actual coaster.

We did the Backlot Tour next and it was great to see the familiar Catastrophe Canyon since it’s no longer at WDW’s Hollywood Studios. The tour itself was a little weird though. There was a video with two narrators – one speaking French and one speaking English – but they were conversing with each other in their own languages so half of the dialogue was in French and half was in English. It made it impossible to understand unless you knew both languages. It would’ve been much better to just go with a French voiceover and have English subtitles on the bottom of the screen instead.

We had an early lunch reservation at Bistrot Chez Remy. We picked it more for theming than the menu and were not disappointed. We were the first table seated that morning because we accidentally showed up a few minutes before they opened. I loved the clever little touches the Imagineers added to really immerse you in the world of Chef Remy. There were giant paper drink umbrellas over some of the tables, and our chairs were designed to look like the tops of champagne corks. I hung my coat up on a fork that was almost as tall as I am. It was exactly the kind of cheesy that I love.

Bistrot Chez Remy at Disneyland Paris

All four of us had steak frites with ratatouille, and it was about what you’d expect for theme park food. The steak was decent, but not memorable, though the fries it came with were delicious. I’d never had ratatouille before, so I was excited to get to try that. It tasted a lot like minestrone to my unsophisticated palate.

Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris

The Ratatouille ride consistently gets rave reviews, but I didn’t really fall in love with it. I felt like it was lacking something and was a little hard to follow. I was fascinated by the ride system and the way the cars moved through moreso than the ride itself. I could also see it being a problem for people who get motion sick.

Crush’s Coaster was closed the whole first morning, so we had to come back during EMH on our second morning to ride it. My sister and I tried to talk our mom, who doesn’t even like kiddie coasters, into riding it. after the first 30 seconds or so of the ride, we were convinced that she should give it a shot. We had gone through the outdoor curve and the slow show scenes and thought it would be perfect for her. Then we got into the main building where things opened up and we were zooming around curves left and right. It packed quite a bit of punch for such a small ride and I loved it. It was the only ride we had to wait in line for more than five minutes for on either day – it had gone up from 25 to 45 minutes by the time we got off – or we would’ve ridden it again.

My only regret at the Studios was missing the shows. I had read about them before coming and was excited to see them, but the timing just didn’t work out for us. We were only at Studios for a couple hours the first morning and less than an hour the second morning and left before the first showings each day. No one else was willing to walk back later in the afternoon to check the out, so we ended up skipping them.

Read more about our trip to Disneyland Paris:

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Disneyland Paris – Disney Village

Disney Village serves as the gateway to the two Disney parks at Disneyland Paris. It’s full of shops and restaurants both Disney-specific and part of large chains. I was able to dine at two of them (both featuring Mickey!) during my visit.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

Our initial introduction to Disney Village was chaotic and involved a lot of power walking, but when we got a chance to take it in more slowly later on, I found it quite enjoyable. We had spent way too much time eating and touring Pointe du Hoc and were afraid that we were going to miss our 9:30 reservations for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the Disney Village, which I was hoping would present a delightfully cheesy picture of the American West. I was not disappointed.
 Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Disneyland Paris

We had to run from the Sequoia Lodge to get there on time, but we made it with seconds to spare. I’m told that we missed a fun singalong with Goofy out in the lobby area, which would’ve been fun, but I was just relieved to get to see the main show. We were given straw hats representing our team color – getting to cheer “Go Blue!” warmed this Michigan girl’s heart – and took our seats just as the lights were dimming for the intro.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Disneyland Paris

I was pleasantly surprised by the food. I’d read in a bunch of places that the overall food quality at DLP is a bit lacking, so I went in with kind of a skeptical mind. We started off with a bowl of chili, which is a dish that I’m fairly picky about due to my dad’s most excellent family recipe, and I thought it was fairly good. It was served with a side of tortilla chips, which was a little odd, but it was tasty and hot and I loved that it was served out of a big metal bucket.

The main course was delicious as well. I got a large piece of bone-in chicken, a couple of ribs, an unidentified sausage, and a pile of really good potatoes. We also got some sort of tropical juice and a choice of soft drink or beer. I wasn’t a huge fan of the sausage, but everything else was delicious. Dessert consisted of some of the best apple cobbler that I’ve ever had anywhere. It was served piping hot and I definitely burned a lot of my mouth eating it because I just couldn’t wait for it to cool down. I keep thinking that eventually I’ll learn to let my food cool before eating it, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe my thirties will bring me more wisdom.

The show was as cheesy as expected. Minnie, Mickey, Chip, Dale, and Goofy performed a couple of song and dance numbers and there was a cowboy brawl around a campfire. Annie Oakley did a bunch of sharpshooting and the cowboys raced to deliver letters a la the Pony Express. Sitting Bull and a group of Native Americans were also featured.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Disneyland Paris

Buffalo Bill himself

The end of the show pitted the audience members against each other, as the cowboys and Native Americans split up into four teams for some skill competitions. They were either totally rigged to keep the score close, or the judges were totally blind, but it was fun to cheer our guys on. Each team also had a rodeo clown to lead it in cheers and get everyone into the competition. The last task involved audience participation passing a ball up and down the rows and then giving it to the actors on the field to try to make a basket with it. I don’t think any of them has a future in the NBA, but we got really into cheering them on. Our team ended up winning, which was great because my family tends to be pretty competitive.

The winning team gets to have three audience members chosen to help “guard” a stagecoach shipment of gold. My brother and I were both chosen, so we got to climb down onto the sand – I wouldn’t recommend volunteering if you’re wearing heels or other shoes you wouldn’t want to have filled with dirt or if climbing up and down a short ladder would be difficult for you – and were taken backstage to participate in the final scene. We got to ride in a stagecoach with the ringmaster as it drove around in the arena. We were pretty terrible guards because we were almost immediately attacked by bandits, forced out of the stagecoach, and tied together like characters in an old cartoon. Fortunately, it’s a Disney show, so without giving away any spoilers, it had a happy ending. It was the perfect way to kick off our Disneyland Paris stay.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show at Disneyland Paris

This post is going to feature an unfortunate amount of pictures of me.

We were delighted to find that the Disney Village stores are open late, even in the slow season, so we took advantage of that and did our souvenir shopping early. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the merchandise was fairly cheap for Disney theme park items. Even taking the exchange rate into account, things seemed like a good bargain. I bought a light-up Christmas ornament for 14 Euros, and most of the regular ornaments I looked at at Disney World a few months earlier were around the $25 mark. Their pins were pretty pricey though. Most of them were 7-10 Euros, which is a lot more than they retail for in the American parks. If you’re a pin fan, I’d recommend buying them from the Disney Shop Parks app or at one of the American parks if you’re able to unless there’s something specifically DLP-related that you want.

Cafe Mickey

Our other experience in the Disney Village was eating at Café Mickey on our last day. We had purchased the dining plan, and this was the only character meal it covered (characters will no longer be appearing at the restaurant after the end of March) and it sounded like a fun way to wrap up the Disney portion of our trip.

I hadn’t looked at a menu prior to booking, and we found that there were only a few options available. I ended up with a cheeseburger, which is the kind of thing I usually avoid when traveling abroad, but nothing else really appealed to me. For dessert, I had a Mickey cupcake, which was adorable, but looked better than it tasted.

 Cafe Mickey at Disneyland Paris

We were amused by the eclectic mix of characters milling around. I’ve been to plenty of WDW character meals and they usually have some kind of theme ie. princesses, Pooh characters, Fab Five, etc., but this one featured Mickey, Rabbit (from Pooh), Goofy, Pluto, and the penguin from “Mary Poppins.” I was particularly excited to see Rabbit because I’d never met him before, and it’s rare for me to get to see new characters after working at WDW for almost two years through college and grad school.

Cafe Mickey at Disneyland Paris

I’ve spent enough time in Europe to know that meals take longer than most Americans are used to, but we were shocked at how long it took for our food. It took at least half an hour for our desserts to come, and they were all pre-made, so it’s not like there was a lot of prep work involved. When we finally got out of there, we had to run back to the hotel to get our luggage out of storage and hop on the RER train. We almost missed our Eiffel Tower tickets because we were running so late. I would leave yourself a huge cushion of time if you’re planning on dining there because you might end up missing Fastpasses or other commitments if you cut it too close.

Cafe Mickey at Disneyland Paris

Meeting Mickey is a good excuse to be late.

I really liked having the Disney Village as the gateway to the parks. It felt very much like Disneyland in Anaheim. As much as I’ll always consider WDW to be my Disney home, the way it’s spread out will always be a major drawback. Park-hopping with a five-minute walk sure beats a 20-minute bus ride and going through security again.

It’s also a great way to get a taste of Disney without having to shell out for park tickets. If you’re a Disney fan visiting Paris but don’t have the time, funds, or desire to spend a day or two at the parks, you could hop an RER train out to Marne-la-Vallee and spend an evening at the Disney Village enjoying the food, dinner show, or general Disney atmosphere before heading back into the city.

Hot air balloon reflection at Disney Village in Disneyland Paris

Fireworks from Disney's Sequoia Lodge at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris – Sequoia Lodge

This is important to know about me: I am a huge Disney nerd. My family visited Disney World frequently when I was a kid, I worked there for almost two years during and after college and grad school, and I’ve gone back multiple times as an adult. I’ve always dreamed of going to all of the Disney parks worldwide, and one of the reasons I chose to go to France alone in November was because I knew none of the friends I’ve traveled with before would want to spend time at Disneyland Parc. Then my mom and sister and brother jumped on the bandwagon and it turned into a 2/3 family vacation.

We wanted to stay on site to make the most of what we figured was a once-in-a-lifetime trip there, so we chose the Sequoia Lodge. I’m a huge fan of the Wilderness Lodge at WDW, as well as the real National Park lodges out west that it’s based off of, so I was pretty excited since this seemed to be a close approximation of those. The lobby was pretty and well-themed, but lacked some of the grandeur that the Wilderness Lodge has. The Christmas decorations in the lobby added a warm, homey touch for the holidays though.

Family photo by Christmas decorations at Disney's Sequoia Lodge

We took some family pictures in the lobby thanks to the magic of self-timers on cameras.

As WDW veterans, we were not surprised to have to check in with security when driving onto the property. We were unprepared to have to show proof of our reservation though and it took me several minutes to dig through my phone in search of the confirmation. (I was saved by Google’s new-ish Trip app, but that’s a story for another post.) They also required us to pop our trunk for a quick peek before we were let into the parking area.

I dropped my mom off so she could check in while the rest of us parked the car. When the rest of us came in we were surprised to find more security there. My sister and I had to put our purses through an x-ray machine and we were all wanded with a metal detector before being allowed to enter the building. The security was a little off-and-on, so when we came back in hauling our large suitcases, no one was manning the checkpoint and we just walked in. The whole thing felt like security theater., which I hate. The whole thing just felt silly since none of the other doors even had key card locks to limit access to registered guests.

Other than the security show making me roll my eyes a little, we were thrilled with the hotel. One evening, we wandered through the Hotel New York and Hotel Cheyenne and were even more happy with our decision. The interior theming at the New York hotel was almost non-existent (although I thought the outdoor ice skating rink a la Rockefeller Center was a nice touch for Christmas) aside from some large apples decorating the check in counter. I liked the theming at Cheyenne a lot, but it’s very spread out and would’ve been a long walk to/from breakfast and the parks.

Snow flurries from Disney's Sequoia Lodge at Disneyland Paris

We woke up to snow flurries the first morning.

Golden Forest Perks

We had had to make some modifications to our reservation to add my brother who decided to come at the last minute, and somehow while calling the reservation line my mom got us upgraded to a Golden Forest room at no extra cost. This entitled us to a special check-in area (basically there was a desk and chairs you could sit down at and a bowl of Disney chocolate coins that I may or may not have taken a whole pocketful of), guaranteed room in the main lodge, an upgraded breakfast, access to a lounge with free pop, water, and hot beverages in the evening, and an extra Fastpass per person for each day of our stay.

Having the room in the main lodge was by far the best aspect of it. We didn’t realize until the second night that there were separate buildings that had exterior walkways. This wouldn’t be an issue in the summer, but it was cold when we were there.

I also enjoyed the upgraded breakfast. I don’t really have a frame of reference for what it compares to, but the scrambled eggs were way better than the usual breakfast buffet ones, and I had about three helpings of perfectly cooked bacon each morning. We didn’t get much of a chance to use the lounge in the evening, but I did discover on the second night that they would give you cans of pop and bottles of water to take back to your room, so I walked out with an armful of drinks to share with the family.

Our room had a perfect view of the parks and getting to see the landmarks when we first checked in was incredibly exciting. On our second night, after the parks closed, there was some kind of special fireworks and “bonfire” presentation on the lagoon outside of the hotel. Instead of standing outside in the cold for another hour, we just went up to our room and watched from the window in our nice, toasty room.

Fireworks from Disney's Sequoia Lodge in Disneyland Paris

The room was large by European standards and had plenty of room for the four of us. Our only complaint was the lack of outlets. There were only three places to plug things in in the room, and one of the outlets was controlled by the master light switch so it couldn’t be used when the lights were off at night. If you’re planning on traveling with a larger group, bring power strips or splitters because plugging in all of our phones, cameras, Fitbits, and other assorted electronics was a challenge.

We never hit up the bar in the lobby, but it had a roaring fire and was packed with people who looked like they were having a fantastic time. Instead, we spent our only real evening there attempting to use the pool. The Sequoia Lodge is the only place I’ve stayed at in Europe that actually has an indoor pool. We had to walk (run, actually) outside to get to the pool building. The map of the hotel we’d gotten when we checked in made it look like it was an enclosed walkway to get there, but it was not. And it was very cold. You entered the pool area through a locker room that had showers and a sauna, and for some unexplained reason a bunch of men were wandering through all of the changing areas.

I thought the pool area was very pretty and I liked the fake rock formation that housed the waterslide. My mom and sister were not pleased that you had to swim through the pool to get to the hot tub though. I found it a bit perplexing, but I went for a quick swim anyway. The hot tub ended up not being as hot as I’m used to and having to jump in the cool pool to get out of it kind of negated the effect, but I would’ve spent some more time there if the others hadn’t been waiting for me to leave. I settled for a couple runs down the waterslide and we headed back to the room. I had brought my waterproof camera on the trip just for this pool, but I sadly discovered that it does not work well indoors at all. I’ve gotten some gorgeous shots with it at several different beaches, but this was the first time I had used it inside. I didn’t end up with a single usable picture, sadly.

The hotel also has a great luggage storage area outside of the lobby and they took our crazy amount of luggage with no problem. We found out as we were rushing to leave that there was a quick shuttle from the hotel entrance to the train station, which saved us from having to powerwalk all the way there and try to figure out how to put our giant suitcases through the tiny bag scanners at the entrance to Disney Village.

I would definitely recommend the Sequoia Lodge if you’re planning on staying on-site at Disneyland Paris. It seems to have the best combination of theming and location, and was pretty reasonably priced compared to the higher-end resorts at the American Disney parks.

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