The Disneyland Paris Resort markets itself as the perfect place to spend the Christmas season, drawing in thousands of excited guests hoping to catch a glimpse of Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus. A host of festive special events are laid on daily to keep the crowds entertained - but were the Enchanted Christmas 2010 celebrations worth braving the freezing temperatures for?
Theme Park Tourist's Nick and Natalie attended the events during the week leading up to Christmas - a week which saw severe weather conditions hit the Paris area. Disneyland Paris twice found itself buried under several inches of snow (see our photos here), but continued to operate throughout (although a few outdoor attractions, such as Big Thunder Mountain, were understandably closed during the most extreme weather). However, some guests struggled to make it to the resort with those flying from other countries or travelling via the Eurostar rail link from the UK being hit particularly hard.
Despite the snowfall, the resort continued with its array of Christmas events. Centred almost entirely on Disneyland Park rather than neighbouring Walt Disney Studios, these include a festive show, a Christmas parade, a tree-lighting ceremony and the chance to meet Santa Claus himself.
None of the Christmas events carries an extra charge, with all being included in Disneyland Paris' standard admission price. Although rates for the resort's on-site hotels are steep in the period immediately surrounding Christmas, it is possible to stay in more reasonably-priced hotels in Paris itself or its surrounding suburbs - all within an easy rail journey of the theme parks. While the parks are busy (particularly on dry days), long queues can be avoided by hitting the rides early in the day or towards closing time.
Dressing up for Christmas
While December's blizzards created a "winter wonderland" that Disney's Imagineers could only have dreamed of, Disneyland Paris looks stunning in all weather conditions during the Christmas season. In daylight hours, carefully-placed fake snow and dozens of small Christmas trees add to the already-charming look of the resort's theme parks. However, it is during the evening that the resort really comes to life - with literally millions of lights creating a dazzling visual spectacle.
In Disneyland Park, the decorations are centered on Main Street, USA. As guests enter the park, they are greeted by an enormous Christmas tree, but it is the spectacular Sleeping Beauty Castle which draws them further in. The central plaza in front of the castle acts as the focal point for many of the Christmas events, with festive tunes blaring out from loudspeakers throughout the day.
With its more functional design, Walt Disney Studios is a less obvious location for Christmas celebrations. While less effort has been made to dress the park up than at its sister park, there's still no mistaking the time of year with Christmas trees and oversized-presents strewn liberally around central areas.
Santa Claus Village
For kids, a highlight of attending the Enchanted Christmas celebrations is the chance to meet with Santa Claus in his "village". Although the overall experience will be familiar to anyone who has met Santa in a shopping mall, the location is a little more impressive. Situated in Disneyland Park's Frontierland, Santa's Village is a decent attempt at making-over the Woody's Roundup Village area as part of the North Pole. Most of the kids we saw emerging after meeting Father Christmas wore satisfied grins on their faces.
Mickey's Winter Wonderland
Hosted in the Chaparral Theatre next to Santa Village, Mickey's Winter Wonderland is a live show mixing Disney characters, singing, dancing and even figure skating. The plot (which is told through a mixture of French and English dialogue) may be a little hard for some children to follow, but most are unlikely to care. A host of Disney favourites - including Mickey, Donald and Minnie - feature prominently, and while adults may find the schmaltz a little overpowering, younger children are likely to have a great time.
Disney's Once Upon a Dream Parade
Though not strictly a Christmas event, the daily Disney's Once Upon a Dream parade at Disneyland Park does feature a tacked-on ending known as Disney's Dreams of Christmas. This takes the form of an extra float designed to resemble Santa's sleigh, with Santa himself riding on-board and waving to guests.
We've never been fans of parades, which seem to bring out the worst in theme park guests as they muscle to the front ahead of families who have been waiting patiently to secure a good spot. If you've already seen the Once Upon a Dream parade, the extra float is not worth waiting around for - you'd be better off taking advantage of the shorter lines at the park's attractions. If your kids are insistent, though, we suggest watching from the Central Plaza close to Sleeping Beauty Castle, so that you can make a quick escape into one of the park's themed lands when it finishes.
Lighting up the park
Disneyland Park hosts two nightly ceremonies in which first the Christmas tree in Main Street, USA and then Sleeping Beauty Castle are illuminated. Unlike the Christmas parade, we rate these as not to be missed. In both cases, kids are able to see the Disney characters, listen to some great Christmas tunes, and see a very pretty light display - all without too much waiting around in the cold.
If you don't want to see both ceremonies, or don't have time, be sure to see the castle ceremony in preference. Always among the best-designed Disney castles, Sleeping Beauty Castle becomes a truly breathtaking sight once the 400,000 lights are switched on. Seeing the different sections lit up in turn is more satisfying than catching them all at once, and there's the chance for a prolonged view of the Disney characters in the Disney Showtime Spectacular Celebrates Christmas show directly afterwards.
Christmas has often been a troubled period for Disneyland Paris, with strikes, travel problems and inclement weather often causing problems for guests. However, the resort has dealt with 2010's blizzards as well as anyone could reasonably have expected, keeping attractions, shows and restaurants operating a near-normal service even during the most severe weather conditions.
With all of the Enchanted Christmas events being included in the standard admission price, the only financial disincentive to visiting Disneyland Paris over the holidays is the cost of travel and accommodation. However, when operating normally, the Eurostar offers a reasonably-priced option for UK visitors (when booking early) and an array of low-cost airlines fly to Paris from all around Europe. Similarly, budget-friendly accommodation options can be found just a few train stops away.
We can think of few better places to spend the build-up to Christmas than at Disneyland Paris, arguably Disney's prettiest resort. Even without the special Enchanted Christmas events and extensive decorations, it would be a great time to visit. With them, we wholeheartedly recommend making the trip.
You can see more photos from the event in our Enchanted Christmas 2010 gallery and more snow pictures in our Snow at Disneyland Paris gallery.