About a year ago, I decided that I would take my kids on somewhat grander vacation as my daughter was leaving for college in the Fall. So after weeks of planning, I mapped out a a route that took us through England, Scotland, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Austria, and France, ending with three days at the Disneyland Resort in Paris. For those of you who might be considering a trip to Disneyland Paris with your camera at some point in the future, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Packing & Gear
As I knew we would be doing a ton of walking and hopping on and off trains and subways with our luggage, I purposely packed light and only brought four lenses with my Nikon D7000 and tripod for the trip: My Nikkor 18-200mm VR, Sigma 10-20mm, Pro Otpic 8mm fisheye, and the Nikon 35mm f/1.8. After asking for some advice from Ryan Pastorino, I used the Lowepro Fastpack 250 which turned out to be the ideal bag for me as it doubled as my carry on. It held a surprising amount of items in addition to my ipad, camera, and lenses. I also used the Sun Sniper camera strap (Gregg Cooper’s suggestion) and it was very handy to have my camera at arm’s reach throughout the trip while having the extra safety of a steel cable running through the strap in case someone tried to cut it while walking through a crowd. After watching Ryan a few times in the park, I also stole his idea for the tripod, which was the Benro travel angel C1691T which is comparatively light compared to many of the other travel tripods as it is carbon fiber and folds down to a mere 17 inches. When folded down, the tripod fit neatly across the bottom of my Lowepro bag using the straps to hold it in place.
Again, all of my snacks, adapters, notebook, Picture Porter, iPad, tripod, Nikon D7000, and four lenses fit into the standard sized back Fastpack 25O. It was HEAVY, but I was surprised at what I was able to fit in there for our two week trip. I also knew that I had to find a way to store the 5000 – 10,000 photos I would be taking on the trip, and purchased the Digital Foci Picture Porter 35 to back up my SD cards while I was traveling. Ironically, I never got around to uploading my shots and am just thankful that none of my 32 gig SD cards died on me during the trip.
2. Arriving – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
So here are some things to keep in mind as you are planning your trip:
First of all, if you are flying in to Charles De Gaulle Airport, there is a bus service that is fairly reasonable and will get you to the park in about 20-50 minutes depending on traffic. The train situation is rather expensive, and if you are planning to do any travel by rail, please keep in mind that your Eurail pass is virtually worthless in France. The high speed rail tickets are all fairly expensive, and the ONLY high speed trains traveling to the station at the DLP resort are run by TGV, which holds some kind of monopoly on rail travel. I think there may have been a way to get to the parks from Paris via the metro and pubic transport, but it was very convoluted, much more time intensive, and still rather expensive for a family of four.
As we were arriving in Paris from Zurich, I wanted to save some cash and take the cheaper metro options once we arrived. As our hotel was adjacent to the Garde de Nord train station, we could have saved FIVE HOURS of headache and frustration if we had just bit the bullet and paid for a high speed train directly to Disneyland Paris. As it turned out, we wasted two hours GETTING to Charles de Gaul Airport, and another three hours waiting in various lines and wandering around in circles due to misinformation by train and airport officials. High speed rail is DEFINITELY the fastest and most reliable way get to the resort, so if you can afford it, don’t think twice.
If you can’t afford the high speed train, the bus service was much cheaper, but there was NO signage to speak of and we wasted at least an hour trying to find the bus which was NOT with the rest of the busses at the airport. Once we finally found the right terminal, we were at the resort within 30 minutes of the bus arrival.
Renting a car is certainly another option and if you are taking your family, you will certainly want to add up the costs of a rental vs. bus fare or high speed rail. In our case, we simply wanted to be able to hop on the high speed train as we were headed to London after our stay.
3. Disneyland Paris: The Entrance, Main Street and Castle
Having packed and arrived at Disneyland Paris, it was now time to begin shooting at the Resort.
The first thing that I noticed on my way in is how efficient everything is at the bag check area. There are no 75 year old ladies asking you to empty out every small pocket in your bags, or asking you how long your lenses are, or why you have a tripod, or what kind of camera you have. In fact, there were NO questions at all as I simply dropped my camera bag on an airport scanning machine belt and picked it up, seconds later, on the other side. As we were staying on property, we already had our passes to the parks, so we headed straight for the Disneyland entrance. This particular entrance has the distinction of being the first Disney park entrance to be concealed under a hotel. One of the other ways in which the entrance to Disneyland Paris is superior to U.S. parks is the fact that there are no cast members taking tickets at the gates. By the time you reach the gates under the hotel, you simply insert the ticket into the machine, and in you go!
In this first set of photos, I’ve included shots of the entrance and Main Street during early morning hours followed by shots taken after closing. Shooting in the early morning proved to be exceptionally challenging as the sun was well into the sky by 8 AM (as it was June in Northern France) and I found the contrast on Main Street to be exceptionally harsh. I bracketed as much as possible and came up with some shots that were passable, but I definitely had a much easier time shooting the golden and blue hours after the park closed.
The entrance is easily one of my most favorite spots at the Resort, and the Disneyland Paris Hotel is one of my favorite hotels. A bit too expensive for our family as one night with a park hopper was running around 800 dollars for the four of us. So….yeah. We stayed elsewhere.
As you enter the park from the hotel there is a courtyard between the entrance gates and the Train Station:
Once past the train station, you enter the main plaza area of the park, and you begin to understand why many folks consider Disneyland Paris to be the most beautiful of all of the Disney Parks.
Before arriving at Disneyland Paris, I did quite a bit of research online and was disappointed to find that the “off season” extends all the way until July 4 when the students throughout France are finally on Summer Break. In spite of being prepared for a few closures, I was shocked when we arrived to see roughly 25 to 30 percent of the park still behind refurb walls. The castle, two shops on Main Street, Indiana Jones, half of Fantasyland, half of Adventureland, the Tree House, and several other areas were still being worked on up until the day we left on July 1st.
If you are planning a trip from May through the entire month of June, expect multiple closures throughout both parks and plan to have refurb walls in the majority of your photos. I’ve tried to minimize the number of shots that include refurb walls for obvious reasons, but there was simply no way to shoot Main Street without including the massive refurb tarps on the buildings. At least the tarps featured the buildings that were underneath:
Here’s a few shots of the same area taken after park closing. Unfortunately, I had planned to go back to the hotel to grab my tripod, but a storm moved in late afternoon with an incredible sky and I chose to stay and keep shooting rather than make the trip back to my room. So…all of the golden hour/blue hour shots that follow will be handheld with higher ISO than I would have preferred.
I do need to mention that the park closed at 9:00 PM last year as there was no evening show, and at 9:00 PM in Northern France, the sun is still well above the horizon. As a result, I was smack in the middle of golden hour when the guests begin to empty out for the night. For those who visited THIS year, the hours changed significantly due to the new “Disney Dreams” show projected on the castle each night. I kills me that I missed the opportunity to shoot the park after dark, but the early closure did have one advantage in that I was able to shoot the golden and blue hours with an almost empty Main Street:
One of the key differences between the Anaheim and Paris parks is the use of brick pavers throughout Main Street and around their version of the hub. I found this much nicer to shoot than the cracked and broken pavement in Anaheim.
Up next: Frontierland and Adventureland