During a summer trip to Paris last year, my husband (Richard) and I combined two of our passions: international travel and Disney! We’ve made 10 visits to Disney World in Orlando together, but had never visited any of the parks outside the United States until this trip.
While planning a trip to Paris to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, we decided it was a priority to plan a day trip out to Disneyland Paris to experience the beauty of one of Disney’s international parks and compare it to our beloved Disney World. One unique twist to add: I am a wheelchair user, so we were very interested in exploring the accessibility of the Paris park.
One of the reasons we keep going back to Disney World every year is that it is one of the most accessible places on earth. I never have to worry about feeling left out because I can participate in so many attractions, activities, shows, parades, dining experiences, and so much more. While every individual’s disability may provide various challenges, I find Disney World’s attention to accessible design and their staff’s attitude towards inclusion to be top-notch and a warm welcome.
While there are a couple of attractions that I cannot experience at Disney World because I cannot make the transfer from my wheelchair with my mobility disability (lack of strength and flexibility are my greatest challenges), they are notably some of the older ones that were not designed with access in mind. Yet, these attractions are a handful compared to the vast entirety of the parks, so I never find myself lacking options.
In preparation for Disneyland Paris, Richard did extensive research to learn as much about accessibility in advance as possible. First, we had to find out how best to travel from our hotel in central Paris to the park. It was a lucky happenstance that the hotel we booked was a couple blocks from a train station with a line going directly to the park! (More on that later.)
We also discovered that it would be helpful to visit Guest Services on our arrival and get a Disability Access Pass. For this, I needed a doctor’s letter describing my disability and that I use a wheelchair. The pass would be presented to park staff so that they could tell us about the access of the attractions and guide us to the accessible entrance (if available). Richard also researched accessibility of the Disneyland Paris attractions, but the information was rather limited online and we were not certain what all to expect until we visited the park ourselves.
As experienced Disney park visitors, we naturally also researched restaurant options, attraction priorities, and what to expect overall from a visit to Disneyland Paris. Since we only had one day, we made a list of certain things we wanted to see and planned to only visit the main park (similar to Magic Kingdom at Disney World).
One of the debates I had before our visit was whether to take my motorized wheelchair that I usually use, or temporarily switch to a manual wheelchair that Richard would push. I prefer my motorized chair because it makes me independently mobile. However, if we have to get up a step or navigate a tight space, the manual chair is more flexible in that regard. Another concern for me was the effort Richard would expend on pushing me, in addition to the extensive amount of walking required for a Disney park. Since we learned in our research that the train to Disneyland Paris was accessible and that the paths of the park were also accessible, we decided to go with my motorized wheelchair because I would be more comfortable for the day.
We traveled to Paris and enjoyed nine days of seeing the sights before spending our last day at Disneyland Paris. Because I was a little anxious about the train travel, we visited the station a couple days in advance to find out what we needed to do for travel. I was so glad we did because the operation was very different from my previous (and extensive) accessible train rides. We learned the easiest plan was to go early and visit the desk for help to purchase tickets, get an escort to the train, and have boarding assistance. The train staff helped me get on the train using a portable metal ramp from the platform at both ends of the trip. Otherwise, it was very easy and the ride was less than an hour from central Paris.
Author boarding train to Disneyland Paris in motorized wheelchair
When we exited the train at the Marne-la-Vallée/Chessy station, we were expecting some walking to the park and were surprised when the gate was literally just outside! We went through the usual security and bag check before strolling along a path to the entrance building where you can visit guest services and purchase tickets.
From the moment we began our approach, Disneyland Paris was beautiful and lush with plants and gentle theme music—and, of course, a gorgeous fountain! It took us a few minutes to find the right place to go for Guest Services in order to pick up the Disability Access Card, but once we did, the process was simple and straightforward. The cast member spoke English and we had no problem communicating that we were requesting the Disability Access Card and had a doctor’s letter to verify my disability and access needs. They completed a form then filled out a card that I would carry for the day. With the card, we also received a discount on our park tickets.
After obtaining the Disability Access Card and purchasing our tickets, we were shown through a gate where they scanned our tickets and opened a wider door for my motorized wheelchair to pass. Then the real magic began!
Planned similarly to the entrance of Magic Kingdom in Disney World, we arrived on Main Street and passed shops and eateries on our way to the gorgeous castle. This magical building not only seems bigger with all the towers, it has a scary resident in the dungeon accessible by path—a steam-blowing, growling dragon! After taking some photos of the castle exterior, we made our way to pay respects to the dragon. The pathway was fully accessible with only some trouble seeing in the dark. But once our eyes adjusted, there was plenty to see—and hear!
Next, we entered Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, a walk-through shrubbery maze themed with Alice in Wonderland characters featuring the Red Queen’s castle with a spectacular view of the park. The maze was fully accessible for my wheelchair, though it was tricky turning back when we occasionally hit a dead end! Unfortunately, the castle didn’t have an elevator so I wasn’t able to get upstairs and see the full view. But Richard took some great photos, so I was able to see later. Outside the attraction, we saw Alice and the Mad Hatter walking about and the Red Queen at a meet and greet station. Another cool and different experience in this park was that more characters roam and do impromptu meets, so we saw a number of characters throughout the day.
As avid Small World fans, we had to see the Parisian version. Similar to Disney World, we waited for a special boat that could accommodate my wheelchair, so I was able to roll right on. The happiest ride on earth didn’t disappoint! The variations were so fun, yet it all felt familiar and aligned with the classic attraction. What was really cool was how bright the colors were and the updates in the animatronics.
We spent some time walking through Fantasyland. Unfortunately, although I can ride Peter Pan at Disney World, when I inquired at this attraction, they would not let me try to board. It may have to do with the selections checked on the Disability Access Card, which is a useful tool but may have been too limiting for me as I can walk a few steps with assistance. We also were not able to ride the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs attraction, likely for similar reasons.
One of our must-do’s on any Disney World trip is a visit (or several) with Mickey! Parisian Mickey did not disappoint and the photos turned out great. We also met and chatted with Sleeping Beauty (Aurora) and the Prince (Phillip). They seemed to enjoy the chance to speak in English for few minutes as they were from the United Kingdom.
Continuing the Parisian tradition of beautiful walks, we thoroughly enjoyed the Pirates' Beach area and took a lot of photos, including the skull cave and the pirate’s ship. Adventureland and Frontierland were also fantastic places to walk through. There was lots to see and enjoy from my wheelchair, although I was disappointed that Big Thunder Mountain was not accessible. I enjoy this ride in Disney World, but when we inquired, they said they were not running an accessible car. Typically, there is a car with a fold down seat that makes it possible for me to transfer onto this ride. Instead, we were able to take the steamboat and have a water tour of Frontierland, including viewing some of the amazing geysers on Big Thunder Mountain.
One of the attractions I was most looking forward to experiencing and had read about was the Phantom Manor. It has a different look and different story than Haunted Mansion in Disney World, but just as many grim grinning ghosts. The transfer was a little bit different in that the car did not have as much room, however we were able to make it work and even rode twice. It was a lot of fun to see the creative twists of this attraction!
After a delicious burger at the Lucky Nugget Saloon, where we enjoyed some live music and dancing, we made our way to Discoveryland. The area reminded me of a more fantastical version of Tomorrowland with Jules Verne-inspired design. We really enjoyed walking through the Nautilus and seeing some of the surprises of that underwater world. It was completely accessible with an elevator, but sometimes a little confined in maneuvering space.
Unfortunately, as much as I love coasters, there was yet another I could not ride: Hyperspace Mountain. Richard blasted off and enjoyed the attraction, which is an updated version of Space Mountain. It’s much more thrilling and even goes upside down. But the seat wasn’t suited for transfer.
Before leaving the area we would have liked to visit Mickey’s Philharmagic, but for some reason this attraction closes early in the evening, so we missed it. That will have to be on the list should we ever be able to plan a return visit!
We had a magically full day at Disneyland Paris! Before riding off into the sunset on the train back to the city and a good night’s sleep, we went back through the castle to admire the stained glass and say our farewells to the dragon. I’m so glad we were able to make a visit to this park and get a taste of the international Disney experience.
Overall, I would say that wheelchair users can definitely enjoy a visit to Disneyland Paris and have plenty to see and do. The most accessible areas were the walkable attractions and lands. Otherwise, transfers onto rides were a little hit and miss. Hopefully in the future, Disney will bring some of the accessibility of Disney World to this international park.
For help planning your accessible trip to Disneyland Paris, see the information about accessibility on their website.