You’re getting ready to run your first, or another, Disneyland Paris Run Weekend event (September 19-22, 2019), and whether it’s your first or 100th time to Europe, France, or Disneyland Paris, I want to share some tips and tricks based on my multiple trips to France and my time running the Disneyland Paris (DLP) races last year. Some of this information is at the 101 level, and that’s intentional. And some of this info may be dated if Disney or the Government of France decides to change something. If you’ve never traveled abroad, this whole process can be intimidating. And if you’re a regular travel guru, this list may remind you of a few things.
General European Travel Advice
When it comes to traveling in Europe and France, there are a few things I recommend keeping in mind. Firs, it benefits everyone if you take some time to understand the culture of the location you’re visiting. Knowing the nuances of the culture in which you will be immersed can help you avoid awkward situations. For example, you usually have to ask for a check when dining at a restaurant. The French consider it polite to not rush you and let you enjoy a leisurely meal. It’s not poor or slow service. It’s respectful. In addition, you also do not need to tip in France. The price of your server’s salary is factored into your meal price. It’s customary to round up at a sit-down restaurant though. If your meal is 28,50€ (Euro), I might leave 30€ for example. (Note, you’ll often see commas in place of a decimal for dollar amounts in Europe.)
Second, it benefits you to understand a few key phrases in the local language. The French really appreciate it when you make an effort. They don’t expect you to be fluent, but here are some common terms I suggest you practice. In addition to these terms, I HIGHLY recommend that you learn any phrases associated with an allergy or medical condition you may have. I would write those phrases down in your phone, too, in case you can’t pronounce a complicated phrase or there are similar words.
- Do you speak English? — Parlez vous Anglaise?
- Hello or good evening — Bonjour or Bonsoir (translates to “Good Day” or “Good Evening”)
- Please — S’il vous plait (translates to “if you please”)
- Yes/No — Oui, Non
- Excuse me — Excusez-moi
- Sorry – Pardon
- I don’t understand French — Je ne comprends pa Francais
- Where is… — Ou est…
- I would like — Je voudrais
- Where is the bathroom — Ou est les toilette (Note, if you ask for the bathroom, there may not be a toilet. And be prepared for some unique bathrooms. Sometimes it’s a hunt to flush a toilette. Look down and up if you’re stumped)
- How much — C’est combine?
- The check please — L’addition s’il vous plait
- I can’t eat…(insert allergy or restrictions here) — Je ne peux pas mange…
I highly recommend downloading a translator app on your phone or bringing a pocket translator book to help you along. It will go a long way. In my experience though, with these simple phrases, most French citizens have a decent understanding of English and can help you or find someone to help you. Especially if you’re visiting a touristy area like DLP and central Paris.
You’re starting to plan your packing list (what? Everyone plans their packing list nearly two months out, right?)… what do I put on my list so I can keep an eye out for some sales? I like to review the Rick Steves packing list (and all of his content really) when planning.
- Your passport – URGENT, make sure your passport does not expire within six months of your return date. If your passport expires six months from the second to last day of your trip, you will not be allowed to enter France. Go listen to the Joyful Miles podcast from the DLP races last year to really understand this. (Part 1, Part 2)
- Electric converters – Power outlets are different in Europe, which means power supplies are different too. You need to both change the physical plug since the typical power plug won’t work in Europe, but you also need to convert the power voltage from 220V down to 110V. I like an adapter that has multiple ports for some USB plugs and standard US plugs like this one.
- Medical certificate – French law requires that participants of any timed race have a signed medical certificate. You had to have submitted this when you registered, but bring your physical copy with you too.
- Medication – While there are pharmacies in Europe, they may not have the brand you like of OTC medications or prescriptions. France is a highly sophisticated country, so you should be good, but if you have strong preferences, bring your own. I know someone that is allergic to red dye, so they can’t take any medicine that has been dyed red/pink (Pepto, Benadryl…). I would bring my own OTC meds in that situation.
- A few Euros in cash – I would come prepared with some Euros. You can exchange for them at your bank in advance. Historically I have just taken money out of an ATM when I arrive so that I have a couple hundred Euros on hand just in case. Keep your eye on the exchange rate and make sure banks don’t charge you a huge fee. Do NOT use the cash machine kiosk’s in the airport… you’ll get charged a huge fee.
Be sensible in your packing, otherwise. You know what you generally need. Remember, you can buy things when needed if you forget. If you’re spending a lot of time in the parks, wear comfortable shoes. Same thing if you’re going into Paris. Yes, the French take great pride in their appearance and will dress fashionably. So, I personally won’t wear yoga pants around central Paris when I visit, but I will wear comfortable shoes with all the walking I plan on doing.
You hear a lot about Paris in the news lately, but it is still a very safe place to visit if you’re smart. Like most major cities in the world, the major tourist attractions and public transportation locations will be targets for things like scams and pickpockets. Be smart and you’ll be fine. Keep your belongings close to you. Don’t carry a big tote bag with your wallet on top. Don’t fall for the tourist scams like having someone braid some bracelet onto your wrist so tight it can’t come off and then force you to pay for it (yes, I’ve seen this happen). If you’re on a crowded metro, keep your hand on your purse/wallet and phone. Be alert. I was on a metro train once when two kids ran off as soon as the door opened. A minute later the police returned with a wallet that the kids had stolen from someone. Men, keep your wallet in your front pocket and put your hands in that pocket. Same with your phone. Don’t purchase the chintzy Eiffel Tower knick knack for 3€ from someone selling junk off a sheet. These are illegal sellers. I commend their desire to make a living, but you can get in trouble with the police if you get caught purchasing from illegal vendors. If you have a running belt, consider using that to keep your valuables in under your clothes.
This statement is for September, when the Disneyland Paris races take place. Be prepared for all sorts of weather conditions. Bring layers. It can be cooler in the mornings and evenings and it can warm up during the day. Layers will be your friend. A light rain jacket will help. Bring variations for your costumes too. I had to wear long sleeves under one of my race costumes one day while I was sweating like crazy another day. Watch the weather in advance, but be prepared for lots of weather situations. Having been in Paris in March, April and August as well, I can say that I usually experience some unpredictable weather every trip.
Getting to DLP
Okay, let’s dive into Disneyland Paris. If you’re flying into Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport, it’s very easy to get to DLP. Your first option is to take the train. The train station is connected to the airport and goes directly to Marne la Vallee, Chessy, the train station where you will disembark. You walk outside of the train station directly into Disney Village (Paris’ version of Downtown Disney or Disney Springs). The other options are to take an Uber or Taxi or to take the Magical Express bus. You must pay for the Magical Express bus and book it in advance, which is a bit different compared to Walt Disney World. The train will take you about 10 minutes to get from station to station. Driving could take you up to an hour depending on traffic. The benefits of driving or taking the bus is that it’s easier to manage your luggage.
Arrival at DLP
If you’re staying on-site, odds are you will not be able to access your room until 3pm (or 15:00 as they often refer to it in Europe). That means you may need to freshen up in the hotel lobby bathroom if you took a red eye into France. Pack your essentials to change into in a carry on or use a packing cube so that you can easily access your necessities. The hotels on-site are all very centrally located and are walkable from the train station and the parks. There is a shuttle from the train station to some of the hotels, but I never used it.
The DLP hotels will have a lot of the same amenities you’re used to in the United States. Some of the “value” hotels may not have all the same toiletries. Last year, a few folks staying at those hotels didn’t have wash cloths, whereas the comparable moderate hotels did. There will be hair dryers in the rooms and basic toiletries. The hair dryers aren’t top of the line, but they work. My best advice is to look at photos on online review sites to see if you notice the amenities you need. And guess what, if you forget something, you can most likely buy it there.
Okay, the French are known for their food. What can you expect in DLP? Honestly, you’re going to get mostly Americanized theme park food with a little French flair. Don’t expect gourmet French food, but the French Fries will be excellent, as will the roast chicken. If you want real French food, you’re going to need to go outside the parks. The restaurants in DLP are similar to the United States in that there are quick service and full-service restaurants. You can book reservations about 60 days in advance by calling the reservation number. To avoid international fees, consider calling using a VoIP system like Skype. The full-service restaurants accommodate guests via seatings. What does this mean? It means they may have 3-4 different seatings for lunch. Once those are done, the restaurants will generally close for a bit before serving dinner. It’s not a continuous service. This means you can’t book a 3pm reservation before the 5K most likely because the restaurant will be closed. This can also be the case for the counter service restaurants. Expect longer meals too, whether it be quick service or a sit-down meal. Remember, the French take their breaks and their meals seriously. Meals are meant to be a social time and a way to decompress. Embrace this, don’t get frustrated by it. If you have an allergy like I do (Gluten), a manager will take your order and make sure you’re taken care of. I always was fine at restaurants with my allergy. Speak up and advocate for yourself. I’ve seen mentions of frozen meals being offered to those with allergies, but I was never once offered one. I always had a good meal (except the one instance where I was served raw chicken, but that’s another story).
The parks are fantastic in DLP. If you’ve been to Disneyland in California, there’s a similar vibe with the smaller theme park and intimacy compared to Florida’s Walt Disney World. In a way, it’s like they learned from WDW and DL and pulled some of the best features from each. Many of the rides are similar, but some of them are greatly improved. I absolutely LOVED the DLP versions of Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Small World and others. There are some rides unique to Paris, too, that are can’t miss rides. These include Crush’s Coaster (think a combo of Nemo and Friends, Triceratops Spin and Space Mountain, but in a good way), Ratatouille, Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, RC Racer and more. Explore the castle in DLP, it’s amazing.
DLP uses paper tickets, so you’ll see lots of folks walking around with lanyards for those tickets. If you’re staying on site, you can get a paper ticket for Extra Magic Hours too. Definitely leverage that when you’re not participating in the races. Fastpasses are available the way they are in Disneyland, as paper fastpasses. We rarely needed them during the week, but during the weekend the locals come to play and fastpasses help reduce the time waiting in lines.
Photopass is different in DLP. Don’t expect photographers down Main St. or in front of the castle to take your picture. You’ll only find photographers at the character meet and greets for the most part. So, bring your camera and become comfortable asking other guests to take your picture. Offer to take their picture if they’ll take yours!
We already talked about the medical waver required for the half marathon, so make sure you get that completed well in advance. Otherwise make sure to get your training in before hand and you’ll have a blast.
Before the event you should receive an email with your race waver. Last year they came very late and most people had to print them at the expo after waiting in an extremely long line. Mine came literally an hour before I left for the airport, so I didn’t have to wait in the line, but it was still stressful.
The Expo is in a permanent tent-like structure. It’s significantly smaller than any WDW or DL race, so be prepared. When you first enter you will get your wristband for your Castle to Chateau medal if applicable. Then you pick up your bib and race shirts. If doing a challenge, you will get your picture taken to make sure you are the one completing the races (sound familiar?). If your shirts are the wrong size, there is a place to exchange them. There’s a small section where you can buy race merchandise, but don’t expect a huge store. And finally, there are some vendors. These vendors are more like sponsorship booths if you’ve ever been to a conference. Only a couple of vendors sold actual merchandise. The good news is that your wallet will thank you. The bad news is that you may need to get creative with commemorative merchandise if you want something to remember your trip. Consider making your own shirts or looking on Etsy if you want something special.
The races all started in one location and ended in another location, regardless of the distance. Logistically it’s easier for them to do it this way. Last year the races started behind the expo tent. There isn’t a staging area before the corrals like many are used to. Instead folks go right into their corrals after (optional) dropping bags off at bag check in the expo tent. There’s a stage and some screens where announcers talk in French and English and they preview upcoming movies or show different clips. Speaking of corrals, unless you can run a sub 1:30 half, the corrals were random last year. It’s uncertain if that will remain the same, but it definitely makes things interesting if that’s the case. Expect lots of fun costumes, so join in on the fun. You’ll also see tons of people wearing the race shirts, more then in the US for sure.
The 5K is a night race! Yes, you read that correctly!!!! It starts at 8pm, just as it’s beginning to get dark outside. This race runs through the parks and is a great race. Because it’s dark, be prepared to take it slow in certain areas and be alert. There will be characters out, and many lines will be long. You are supposed to maintain a 16 minute mile. I’m not sure how strict that is. We reached one character line and were told it was an hour wait for the character. I’m not sure I buy that time, but if they’re letting folks wait in a character line for an hour, I’m skeptical that the time limit is enforced strictly. Still, be prepared. We took an hour and 45 minutes last year to complete the race starting in corral B. Don’t be alarmed if you finish the race at 10pm is what I’m saying. As a result, I recommend getting your stuff together for the 10K if you’re doing both before heading out for the 5K to save some time and optimize sleep. I recall one water stop during this race, which is typical for a Disney 5K.
The next morning you need to wake up and run another race if you’re doing the 36k Challenge. This race starts at 7am, and you can walk to the start. That means no 3am bus or 2am wakeup. You can wake up at a semi-reasonable time and walk to the start with ample time to spare. I would bring a few snacks with you for breakfast if needed, as I didn’t see too many places to grab breakfast that early in the morning. I didn’t look hard though since I don’t eat before a race. I heard there were some options though. You’ll head over to the same corrals from the previous night and will hang out for the start. Again, this race goes through both Disney Studios and Disneyland Paris and weaves in and out of the backstage and all areas of the parks. Expect more characters and a good time. You need to maintain a 16 minute mile here as well, but it took us over 2 hours and 45 minutes to do this race because we goofed off plenty. You’ll run up Main St. and through the castle for the first time this race. There were two water stops I believe last year during this race. Snack boxes with some European goodies were provided at the end of every race along with water and an electrolyte drink.
This is it, the half marathon and what many people aim to complete to get that elusive Castle to Chateau medal. This race also starts at 7am, so no super early wakeup again. The French do something right here for sure. It starts and ends in the same place as the other two races. The difference for this race is that the first 5 miles or so are in the parks and then you get to experience the French countryside. Characters will be throughout the parks in the beginning and once you enter the countryside you’ll experience lots of bands, musicians, cheerleaders and locals out rooting for you. It’s quite the experience. If you’ve ever run a Disneyland half, it will feel similar but with a picturesque route outside the parks. You run through the nearby town and around a dirt/grassy trail. This course has a few small hills and isn’t as flat as the 5K and 10K, but it’s not bad. Again, you need to maintain a 16 minute mile throughout. Character lines were a little shorter since the distance can be intimidating to some. There were around 7 or so water stops with an electrolyte drink (a European brand) and some snacks like granola bars. I can’t speak for how they were, as I couldn’t risk consuming them with my allergies. If you’re sensitive, bring your own fuel. You’ll re-enter the Disney property through the hotels and will finish running through Disney Studios where you’ll receive your Half-Marathon (21k) medal. If you run a challenge (31K, 36K or Castle to Chateau) you collect those back at the Expo tent.
Are you participating in the Disneyland Paris races? Are they on your bucket list? Or have you participated in the past? Let us know, ask us questions or share your tips.
Disneyland Paris Race Weekend: http://run.disneylandparis.com
Rick Steves Travel: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/france/paris
Top Translation Apps: iTranslate, Google Translate
2018 Run Guide (stay tuned for the 2019 guide): http://run.disneylandparis.com/sites/default/files/files/hmw2018_guide_en_hdef-compressed.pdf
Medal Design (use closed captioning for English): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-cyolsOcxA
Curious Axel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAZZyqHdbYK29c_lm-I7a2g