Top Tips for Disneyland Paris – my personal advice for a happy holiday

DisneylandIn Easter 2013 the Relevant family went to DisneyLand Paris (a.k.a. EuroDisney) for a 4 day holiday. We had such a nice time, and I thoroughly recommend going there. Since then two of our friends have also gone, and I gave them some hints & tips based on our experience. These tips seemed to help our friends, so I have published them here in the hope that it improves the holidays for some other families!

  • All tips are based on when we visited (Easter 2013). Things may have changed since we were last there, so apologies if any of the advice is no longer accurate!

Preparation (before you go) 

  • Book Cafe Mickey by phone at least a week in advance (see later why)
  • If your kids have NOT seen any of the following DVDs, then I recommend they do, because I think if you show them to your kids they’ll get more out of the trip:
    • Snow white and the seven dwarfs
    • Peter Pan
    • Toy Story
    • Dumbo
    • Mickey Mouse clubhouse (or anything else with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto)
    • Alice in Wonderland (not a great film though in my opinion)
    • Pinnocio (not a great film though in my opinion)
    • The film “Aladdin” is quite a good idea to see beforehand too
  • Bring snacks/water (see later).

If you are staying in a Disney hotel

  • You get 2 hours ‘extra’ in the park beforehand (8am to 10am) before the ‘normal’ visitors are allowed in. Although only 10 or so rides are open during this period, it’s a LOVELY time to go around the park, so it is well worth maximising this time. Therefore I highly recommend that you go in as soon after 8am as you can.
  • Hotel reception will ask you what time you want to take breakfast (you will get a ticket for that time). If you can get up early, then I recommend go for 7am option for breakfast (earliest). Then you’ll probably come down at 7:15am, have breakfast, and leave and get in the park 8:15am to 8:30am which is GREAT.
  • When we arrived last year, there was a bit of a queue (10 minutes or so) to check in. Some people were getting a bit annoyed (the kids get excitable so the parents are stressed). Bear with the reception – they are trying their hardest to please everyone. Try to keep in a good mood! Set your expectations that there may be a delay, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Inside the Park

  • The main parade is at 5pm. We found that the best position was almost at the end of the parade, on the outside or the road curve about 100 yards before the finish (which is near the entrance to the park). This gave us the best views. Get there about 4:45pm (they’ll come past from approx 5:10pm onwards) and you should be able to get a spot right on the edge of the road. If you get your child to bring a doll of her favourite character (we did this with Jessie) you may find that the character will come over and give her a hug (Jessie did that with our daughter!)
  • Firework spectacular is great but late at night. It lasts 30 minutes, but then there’s a MAD rush to exit the park at the end. So my advice is to leave at 25 minutes past the hour (Peter Pan will say some stuff which you’ll know means you’re near the end) to beat the rush
  • Use FastPass effectively. Basically, some of the rides have FP machines next to them. All you do is (as soon as you can after 10am) put your park ticket into these machines. This’ll print out a voucher for you which will allow you speedy access to the ride about 1 hour later. When you have finished on the ride (i.e. after you have used your FastPast ticket), immediately go to the next FP ride and print out some new FP tickets/vouchers (i.e. repeat the process). If you are clever, you should be able to use FP 2 or 3 times a day.

MOST IMPORTANTLY I’d say that:

There are two parks (the ‘main’ one and the ‘studio’ park).

  • The parks are BIG, and therefore it takes a LONG time to go across each park (especially if you have young kids)
  • It also takes a long time to walk between the parks and the hotel
  • Some of the best/cheapest restaurants (e.g. McDonalds) are outside the park, so again you have to walk a while to get to them. Plus if you want to get back to your hotel (e.g. getting more water or whatever) it’ll be a long walk

So the MOST IMPORTANT thing I’d say is that you want to do everything you can to minimise your walking. Here’s my thoughts (no particular order) to achieve that:

  • You can hire buggies when you are there (extra cost). At times we wished we had, but (on the other hand) they are something else you have to worry about when queuing for rides (so if you can avoid using them, then do)
  • Make sure you use your 8am-> 10am ‘early opening’ time wisely. Most of those rides will be empty from 8am to 9am (although they do start filling up afterwards). Lots of the Disney rides are quite short, so just re-queue immediately afterwards and go on things multiple times. Probably the best example of this for us was the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. This has NO QUEUE at the beginning, so we went on about 3 times on and on. Then it has HUGE queues later!
  • However, at approx 9:45am think about where you want to go when the rides open fully. Make your way to the queue of your favourite ride. If it’s the Princess Pavillion, you need to start queuing a little earlier (approx 9:35 or so) or there will be a huge queue (during the day, it’s normally at least 90 minute queue, so probably not worth it unless you queue first thing!). In fact, I personally would ONLY do Princess Pavillion *first thing* in the day like this!
  • If you are hotel guests, then you get an additional advantage on other visitors. If your ride is outside the FantasyLand (e.g. in AdventureLand) then you can start queuing nearer (at the back of Peter Pan) at 9:55am, from where you can get there quicker than they are (they’ll be starting from the ‘Main Street’ part). It’ll all make sense when you’re there!

Once the parks are fully open (10am), and after you’ve gone to your favourite attraction first thing (e.g. Princess Pavilion) you’ll find that it’s about 10:30am and all the big rides will have big queues by now. My best advice is to:

  • Get your first Fast Past ticket (Peter Pan’s flight is probably the BEST example of this. It has AMAZINGLY long queues, and yet it’s not actually that good a ride – don’t bother going on it unless you use FP. Only go if you use Fast Past or go @ 10am) now
  • From then onwards, my advice is to NOT have a plan. Instead, just do ANYTHING that you see (whatever is closest) that has a queue less than 20 minutes or so. Just go to the nearest next ‘logical’ ride that has a small queue, not what your kids are telling you to go on because they’ve seen it in the map – it’s probably miles away!

Basically, what I’m saying is that LOADS of the rides will have very short queues (less than 5 minutes) throughout the day. There are signs on each ride to give you the queue length, and these are VERY accurate in my experience. Here are is a list of rides and the sort of queues that I expect to see during the ‘peak’ part of the day:

Short queues always:

  • Casey Junior (and I think this is a GREAT ride!)
  • Le Pays de… (storybook boat)

Short queues for much of the time (although sometimes they get longer):

  • Mad Hatter’s teacups
  • It’s a small world
  • Thunder Mesa Riverboat
  • Flying Carpets (Studios park)
  • Slinky Dog (Studios park) – we LOVED this ride

Also, here are a load of attractions that you can go to that NEVER have queues, because they are just exhibitions. They are fun though!

  • La Taniere… (Dragon’s cave)
  • Alice in Wonderland Labyrinth
  • Pirate’s beach
  • Swiss Family Robinson
  • Adventure Idle (lots of caves to go for spooky looks)
  • Le Passage… (Aladdin) – not great, but passes the time if you have imagination

Make sure that you always are going on something (rather than just walking around) because (a) there’s always something with a short queue if you look for it (or are prepared to go on things multiple times!) (b) the more you walk, the more the kids will complain!

Sometimes the park gets so busy you just need some time to chill out and relax. There’s a HUGE (but actually quite hidden) burger restaurant called “Videopolis”. That’s a good place to get food (not cheap, but not expensive either) and a good sit down with a bit of calm (escape from the people outside!).

Here’s a couple of rides that I don’t recommend for young families, because they are too wild for young kids:

  • Space Mountain 2
  • Rock and Rollercoaster

There are also some things that you just go to and watch. They are very good.

  • My personal favourite was “Animagique”. 30 minutes of fun, and a nice excuse to sit down
  • “Moteurs action…” is a good stunt show, although it can get very cold watching it.
  • We didn’t go to “Stitch” or “Playhouse Disney” because (although they looked OK) the English-language versions were always on at the ‘wrong’ time of day for us.

Get the leaflets (map and show times) just after you enter the park, and check the showtimes for the above so you don’t miss them

When we first went to Disney, we found that the ‘studios’ park was quieter than the ‘main’ one, so it was a good place to get quickly on rides etc. However, when we went at Easter we found the opposite – it seemed to be more crowded! Don’t spend too much time walking between the parks – probably best to do one in the morning, and the other in the afternoon?

France is one hour ahead of UK, so that first night it’s a good idea to think if you can stay awake all evening so you can make it to the final ‘spectacular’ (it’s quite late) with fireworks etc. because the kids will feel that it’s one hour earlier than it is. Having said this, it’ll make them VERY tired and they won’t want to get up in the morning for breakfast!

The two hotels we stayed in had photo sessions in the lobby around 8am to 9:30am or so, with various characters. You end up having to queue for a bit (e.g. 20 minutes) to get your turn. This is OK, but I reckon it’s best just to wander into the park and ‘bump into’ them (you will, especially if you are there for 4 days!) and just get your photo when you see them. Saves time and is more exciting.

When you queue for “Big Thunder Mountain” (which is DEFINITELY one of the BEST rides – definitely go on it!) the queue splits into two (left and right). I cannot 100% remember, but I think it’s the LEFT queue that will be shortest (you’ll see – it’s obvious). Basically, EVERYONE naturally tends to go “right” which makes that longer. Do that as one of your first rides (when it opens) and make sure you queue left. Or use FastPass (I think it has it). Don’t miss this ride!

Check your kid’s height beforehand. Luckily our daughter (3 at the time) is very tall for her age, so we found that she was tall enough for ALL of the rides that she wanted.

There’s a shortcut between “It’s a small world” and “Star Tours”. I *wish* I’d used it more often, since it saves LOTS of time

When moving from the entrance to the other side of Main Street, it’s FAR quicker to use the two ‘tunnels’ (one on the left, one on the right) which are behind the shops. It’s also a nice relaxed place to chill, sit down on a bench, go to the toilet etc. Definitely useful when making a quick escape after the spectacular show is about to finish at night!

 

Eating (and saving money!)

  • Food is not cheap there. We found that the “Earl of Sandwich” was good for a light lunch, and there’s also McDonalds. The Rainforest Cafe was fun but expensive. However, MUCH better is to go to Cafe Mickey (same price as Rainforest Cafe) where you get to meet the characters and it’s much more fun (see below)
  • I cannot recommend highly enough booking a table (you’ll need to do it a week in advance – there’s a telephone number you can call in the UK before you travel) at Cafe Mickey, for one of their character meals. The first sitting starts at 6pm (the characters come out at 6:15pm) so try to get that sitting – it’s great fun. You must must must must must book it before you go on holiday, or you’ll find it’s all booked up when you arrive
  • We didn’t eat there, but it looked fun eating at the restaurant at the “Pirates of the Carribean” restaurant. I’d definitely give that a go if ever we went there again (unlikely!)

Saving money in Disneyland is NOT easy. Perhaps the only tips I can give you (except McDonalds and Earl of Sandwich) are:

  • Bring some water bottles (sports caps) and refill them in your hotel room each night/morning. That saved us a packet!
  • There is a coffee/cake shop in ‘Main street’ on the right hand side (as you face the castle) about half-way along. If you get there approx 10:30am it’s not so busy. It does coffee and a muffin for only about 3 Euros which is not bad.
  • In general, coffee is cheap in Disneyland, but soft drinks (for the kids) are VERY expensive.
  • Bring lots of non-perishable snacks from the UK (e.g. multi-packs of Twixes or whatever) to give the kids. They cost a FORTUNE at the park. There is simply NO method to get relatively cheap food there (apart from taking a piece of fruit each from Breakfast for the day!)

I hope that these little snippets of advice help others have a fab time. If there’s only one piece of advice that you take on board, I hope that it is  to remember to book ‘Cafe Mickey’ a week before you go!

Life is a journey, don’t repeat your dad’s mistake!

JourneyIn my previous post, I wrote down some of the advice that I had been intending to give to my kids but (for one reason or another) do not seem to ever get around to telling them. As I imagine my daughter staring down the road of her life, here are more of Roger’s thoughts (on that topic) which I hope may help her and others like her.

  • Looking back, one of the defining characteristics of my life has been that I have always concentrated on the destination, not the journey.

Let me try to give you an imaginary example of what I mean. Like many of you I’m sure, Mrs Relevant and I like to take our kids out for trips at the weekend. No doubt we see these trips as educational, but also we enjoy the family bonding. Among the different cultural places that we have visited (over the years) many have been National Trust houses, so let us imagine the family going to one of them.

Roger always likes to be prepared, so he has checked the map, worked out the best route, decided on the perfect time to leave to ensure that they arrive the moment the gates open, printed off some leaflets relating to the information of the house, checked the weather and decided what activities (outdoor/indoor) would be suitable, packed a bag full of treats and drinks to supply the family for several hours.

CAR_happy

  • Wow, Roger sounds like a great dad eh? This trip is bound to be a success!

Well, not entirely actually. All this preparation meant that Mrs Relevant was stuck with the kids all morning (before leaving) doing all the things that the kids demanded. She never had any time to achieve what she wanted (i.e. prepare her clothes etc.) so she is rushed and is not in a good mood. Her grumbling and moaning at Roger has rubbed off on the kids, meaning that Junior is telling off his dad for upsetting mum. His sister reacts, defending her dad, and soon the whole car is moaning at each other.

  • argumentBizarrely, these two characters really do look my kids!

So what went wrong? Well, Roger was concentrating too much on the destination (getting all the details ready, concentrating on getting there) and not thinking about the journey (the pleasant family-time that should have started the moment the family woke up, to the moment they returned from their outing).

The whole point of that visit was not to ‘achieve’ something (like get to the monument/attraction) but to have a great day out. Roger’s approach often centres too much about ‘ticking the box’ of doing something, rather than taking the time to appreciate what is happening all around him at the time and enjoying that.

  • So my advice to my daughter as she’s looking at the distance up the road? Don’t spend all your time looking ahead at where you are going. Instead, do spend some time looking around you (marvelling at what an amazing world you live in) and enjoy what you have right now.

One Father’s advice to his children

Dad's adviceMaybe this will not resonate with other parents, but I think it probably will.

Many emotions (naturally) whizz around a soon-to-be-father. For most of the 9 months it is fabulous excitement, then the final hours contain a lot of fear and dread. All we really want is for the event to be over, and a healthy baby safely delivered into the arms of its healthy mum. However, once all of that was over, I found myself many times holding my baby and thinking of the advice that I would give him/her as he/she grew up. Naturally the child was too small to understand my words – no matter, I thought, I’d tell him/her soon enough when they had grown up a little.

Well let me tell you that life seems to get in the way. You imagine that there will be ‘perfect times’ for your pearls of wisdom to be offloaded to your kids, but (instead) the maelstrom (that is family life) causes this to never happen. Suddenly you find that (as in my case) your eldest is a teenager and you are not sure that you have ever given him the ‘benefit of your wisdom’ yet, and you are not sure you ever will.

  • This blog post is an attempt by Roger to gather his thoughts so he can give his kids some of the advice he kept forgetting to give them as they were growing up.

So what sort of amazing advice does Roger think his kids could benefit from? Well, that’s a very good question. If Roger considers the question honestly, he’s not sure that he has any world-class advice to give. Sure, his life hasn’t been a disaster, but has it really been a great success either? Would my kids benefit from taking the same kind of decisions that their father took, or has the world changed so much that my past experiences are completely out of touch now?

  • Well Roger has finally decided that it’s best to put something down in writing (even if it is not perfect), and perhaps he can improve on it later. So think of this blog post as ‘work in progress’.

Where to start? Well, I can tell you what has been at the forefront of my mind (when I think of advice) for many years – Baz Luhrmann’s fabulous song – Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen). If you’re unfamiliar with it, then the lyrics can be found here, or you can just listen/watch the song here.

It’s not perfect (a couple of the lines do not resonate with my experience of the world) but in general it is so close to the truth (of what life brings) that it’s a fantastic place to start.

Yes you do need to worry about SIDs when you clone virtual machines – reasserting the ‘myth’

Google_trust

  • This article’s alternative title is “Do not always trust Google, or even those who seem so much smarter than you are – you never know, you may be cleverer than you think!“.

Today I did what a lot of I.T. people have done in the past, and will no doubt do in the future. All I wanted to do was make a ‘test’ Active Directory to do some testing with. I won’t go into all the details, but (suffice to say) I made two copies of my ‘test’ VMWare workstation image (loaded with a blank / vanilla-build installation of Windows 2008 R2)

  • On one of these images, I renamed the server and ran ‘dcpromo’ to make it a domain controller.
  • The intention was to make the second server image a member of that new AD (domain)

Having been in the I.T. business for 20 years I was well aware of the need to change the SID on one of these images (to stop potential problems) so I did a quick Google to remind myself of how to do this. I was surprised to find out that (near the top of Google’s results) was an article (also referred to here and here) written by seriously clever (Microsoft-associated) people telling me that it was no longer necessary to re-SID (a.k.a. ‘NewSID’) Windows 2008 R2 servers (and indeed that it probably was not necessary for many earlier versions of Windows either).

Like many people, I was massively surprised by this. However, I’ve recently found that taking Google’s advice (instead of relying on my gut belief) tends to be correct. Incidentally, similarly I’ve found myself trusting my SatNav more and more – and switching off my personal “I’m sure I know the best route” mechanism), but that’s another story.

  • I therefore decided to take the plunge, and *not* change the SID.

In some ways I was unsurprised to find that my system did not work. The solution? To change the SID of course!

If you’re interested in the full details, read on. If not, I guess it’s a lesson to us all – sometimes do not trust Google!

====================================

Here is the strange thing I saw when trying to add domain users into my ‘administrators’ group (on the second/member server):

Weird things before I changed SID

Weird things before I changed SID

The solution was to run sysprep (for example see instructions here or here). Afterwards, everything looked OK:

after_Sysprep

If you are really interested, then I believe that the answer to all of this is explained by Chris Lowde in his post (5 Nov 2009 8:39 AM) here.

Pensions – are they worth it?

Image Pensions – a boring subject for many, but absolutely crucial for others. What does Roger think?

Well let me give you an idea of my views by simply telling you the following true story.

This morning I received a letter from a pension provider. When Roger was much younger (about 16 years ago to be precise) he started his first pension. It was at his first ‘good’ job, and they arranged for him to meet a pensions advisor. This lady asked when Roger would like to retire. I explained that I though that my line of work was for young people, therefore I would have to retire at 55 because (by then) I’d be past it. So 55 it was.

I soon left that job, but not before I had put £1470 in my pension pot. Each year since, I get a letter telling me how much my pension pot is worth. This morning they told me that in 15 years time (when I am due to retire) they estimate that it will be worth £3800. In other words, after 30 years of investing my money, they will have just over doubled my money. Maybe I’m being ungrateful, but surely that’s not particularly impressive for 30 years of investment by ‘clever’ investment experts?

My story has not quite ended though. They estimate that (when I reach 55) it will provide me a yearly pension of £80. Yearly, I stress, not weekly or (even) monthly. In general, when I retire I’ll get 25% of this (£950) back immediately (one-off tax free amount), but then I’ll have to wait another 6-7 years before I get the rest of the original money that I invested (i.e. total of £1470).

  • In other words, I gave them £1470 in 1997, and they tell me that they’ll give me all this money back in 2028.

In other words, I give them money, and then 35 years later they’ll give me back the same amount (£1470).

From 2028, they’ll still be giving me £80 per year. However, it will take another 29 years (of this £80 per year trickling) before I finally get back all the money that I have in my pension pot (total £3800) when I retired.

  • In other words, I have to wait until I’m 84 before I actually get hold of the full value of my pension pot.

I hope I live that long.

Oh, and let’s not forget that your pension income is subject to tax. No wonder modern young people are dissuaded from starting a pension!

Choice is bad

choice1

I’m not the first to say so (for example see here) but for many years I’ve been telling Mrs Relevant that there’s far too much choice in the world.

I know, it sounds counterintuitive – but (as an example) think about the last time you bought a car. Even if you narrowed it down to a particular make and model, think about what colour you should purchase. Or the trim level. Or the engine size. Some manufacturers event have variants of the same size engine (for example a more powerful but less economical variant of the same 1.6 engine). Even if you’ve made it this far, should you buy the optional extras such as the parking sensors? They may even ask you what size alloy wheels you want. 16″? 17″? Does it really matter? You betcha – larger wheels have more expensive tyres but can give better road-holding. Oh, decisions, decisions…

But let’s face it, retail decisions are nothing compared to the ‘life’ decisions that we face. In the glorious past (and here I’m thinking of the halcyon days of the late 70’s and early 80’s) people would buy a house and send their kids to the local school. If you were lucky you’d move to a ‘posh’ part of the town where (inevitably) the schools were nicer, but the key point is that there was no choice in schools. Nowadays parents are given choice – choice to decide which school to send their little Johnny or Jane to. Oh the pressures of ranking 5 schools in order of preference, and sending that out to the local council! How can a parent truly decide which school will be best for their child? I’m sure they can narrow it down to a top 2 or 3, but can they really be sure that their #1 choice will be the best one they could have made?

I like to think that (in general) the world is populated with people who want to ‘do the right thing’ and that the only real problem is that those people simply are not sure what the right thing is. In other words, we want to make the right choice, but often the physical act of choosing is too tiring/difficult that we end up in a mess. I’m sure I’m not the only person whose nadir is the thought of having an occupation (for example a soldier) who is constantly ordered to do things (without any free choice). However, in some ways that lifestyle is attractive. No decisions to make, no tired brain – I imagine that it frees up a lot of ‘weight’ hanging on the mind.

Before the recession, recent (the previous 20 years or so) politics in Britain was dominated by the idea that giving the population more choice was good. The idea that a state-controlled life (such as the much-derided communist systems) was a good thing sounded absurd. However, I personally think that people’s happiness is not increased (directly) by increased choice – instead, there is a much more complex relationship.

  • People living in the Soviet era may have had less freedom and choice, but I suspect that their day-to-date happiness was governed much more by their love-life, what they were hoping to have for tea that evening, and how well their local football team was doing.

We (in Britain particularly) have created a society where life is an endless series of choices, and we worry that we are making the best choices for our loved ones. All I’m saying is that (looking back) it was a delight to live in earlier ‘simpler’ times. Back then we had very little choice, so there was no pressure to make the right choice.

Anyway, before I go, I just want to lighten the mood by suggesting that if you want a quick laugh then click here.

  • It made me chuckle anyway 🙂