Laura Chapman -- January 1999 -- Disneyland Paris (SL)
29th January to 31st January 1999
Friday Night and Saturday
After a month of near constant over-excitement on my part, we set off from Waterloo on the Eurostar on Friday afternoon, at around four o- clock. We took the Eurostar to Lille (about two hours, plus the delay before the tunnel. There was a problem with the points or something; if there's one thing we Brits are used to it's train delays), and then changed to the TGV for the rest of the journey to Marne La Vallee. It might be a good idea if you are going this route to allow plenty of time between trains - we had 45 minutes and with the delay we came very close to missing our connection, which was the last train to Marne La Vallee that night. Luckily, the TGV was running a little late as well...
We arrived at Marne La Vallee after an hour and a half. The night air was crisp and cold as we emerged from the station into the bright lights of Disney Village. There were still crowds of people milling about, and
We walked wide-eyed down the centre, emerging onto the lakeside. We had to let out a little gasp at the scale of the hotels - the brochures don't give you any idea as to how large these buildings are - they're bloody enormous. You don't believe me, go and have a look.
The Sequoia Lodge was blissfully warm as we entered the lobby and headed for check-in. At first they couldn't seem to find our details. I'd requested a room in the main building with a king-size bed but when she found me on the computer, we were told we had been upgraded (I'm not sure why) and given the key to a suite on the ground floor. We also picked up our park passports for the next two days and our payment card (a piece of paper, I was hoping for something more like a credit card, but it worked) and then headed for the suite.
You could have swung a cat in there. You could probably have swung the whole cattery, in fact. The room was 50 feet long, with three huge windows, a cabinet containing a 30" telly, two armchairs with footstools, a bathroom, a separate WC, a coffee table, dining table and six chairs, a tree and a sofabed. No bed, though, so we had to make do with the sofabed, but it would have been churlish to have complained under the circumstances. Especially when we had a toilet each and enough room to do cartwheels.
A nightcap to end the day seemed like a good idea. Back upstairs to the Redwood Lounge which had a band singing various 90s artists covers. Not sure how appropriate "Creep" by Radiohead is in a Disney context, but they were pleasant enough. As was the bottle of Bordeaux that was finished off.
We passed a sleepless night - both of us kept waking up, thinking it was morning and time to go and then realising it was the middle of the night. By the time the wake-up call came (no Mickey, just a French woman's recorded voice) I was exhausted.
Saturday in the Park
So I was knackered already, but there was a whole Disney day out there just waiting for us! So, after a quick shower (note: French plumbing still as appalling as ever even in Disney, more of a drizzle than a deluge) we were out of the hotel at 8am and over to the Los Angeles Bar and Grill in Disney Village for our character breakfast.
Leaving the lobby the sunshine was nearly blinding, there wasn't a cloud in the bright blue sky, and the air was chilly and fresh. The weather for the whole weekend was perfect, if nippy. I was working on the theory that you can never wear enough clothes under these circumstances and I wasn't proved wrong.
The Character Breakfast was a buffet kind of affair: cereals, pastries, ham, cheese, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, tomatoes, waffles and pancakes, yoghurts, fruit and lashings of coffee. Our characters were Pluto and Goofy, plus some others who took me a moment or so to work out (Me: "Oh, it's Gideon" Kieron: "Who?"). Feeling a little foolish, at our age, we had our pictures taken nevertheless. It was good fun just to watch the characters with the little kids, some of whom were thrilled whilst the older ones were trying very hard to remain cool, as though this kind of thing happened all the time.
The entrance to the park is underneath the Disneyland Hotel, another huge building in a pink Victorian style. Main Street USA was open at 9.30, with the rest of the park opening at 10am. It seems as though during the week in January they opened the park on a split basis: Fantasyland and Discoveryland opening at 10 and then Adventureland and Frontierland opening in the afternoon. Luckily we were here at the weekend so we patiently waited at the hub for the announcement and then walked, not ran, to the Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril ride as I wanted to make sure to do the non-WDW rides whilst I was there. Queued for about 10 minutes and then onto the ride, the theming was well done, you walk past old Land Rovers and through a campsite before ascending the steps of what looks like an Aztec temple before boarding the ride. A good rollercoaster, plenty of twists and turns and a 360 loop. Perhaps the full buffet breakfast wasn't such a good idea after all.
As we were in Adventureland it seemed a good idea to have a wander around. We had a good snoop around the skull rock and Kieron jumped on the pirate ship to have his picture taken (it's a Bristol Rovers thing, don't ask). Pirates of the Caribbean next, which meant I was wandering around with *that* tune in my head for the next few hours. (Kieron, meanwhile, seemed to be humming the tune to "Chip'n'Dale - Rescue Rangers" for the whole weekend. Maybe it was something to do with staying at the Sequoia Lodge.)
After a bit of general wandering about (we didn'treally have a plan except hit the big rides early and late) we were in Discoveryland watching the queue for Space Mountain snaking backwards and forwards in that familiar Disney style. Checking our show guide I noticed that "Mickey's Winter Wonderland" show was on at the Chapparel Theatre in Frontierland so we took the train and got there 5 minutes before the show.
The show was good, the characters spoke in an interesting Franglas: "Shall we go and see Mickey and ses amies?". Plenty of singing, dancing, ice-skating and the Country Bears thrown in for good measure. Whilst in Frontierland the queue for Phantom Manor was only 10 minutes so we popped in. In the queue we were behind a little boy who was complaining because he wanted to see "Mickey". I was about to tell him that he should go and see the Winter Wonderland show, but then Kieron pointed out that he wanted to see "Mickey and Darren". Unless the mouse has a new friend that we aren't aware of, I think he might have been referring to someone else.
At this point in the afternoon (2pm) the place was pretty busy and I was coming over a little tired (never a good sign) so we set off back to the hotel to make use of the pool. Strolling back past the Lake and Hotel New York the ice rink looked popular. It would have been nice to have had a little skate, but after the rollerblade fiasco...never mind. The pool at Sequoia Lodge was lovely, although the jacuzzi was out of order (bah) and the water was a little chilly. This was more than made up for by the water slide, which Kieron rated as one of his top five rides! A futher bonus was the steam room and sauna in the changing rooms.
Back to the park at around 5pm, and a twenty minute queue for Space Mountain. Wow. The theming for this ride is excellent, with a Jules Verne theme and plenty of opportunity to see the cars whizzing around you as you shuffle along in the queue. I knew we would be shot up the ramp, but wasn't quite expecting the force of it. The ride is fantastic, a 360 loop, corkscrew and plenty of time to enjoy it all. We emerged at the end a little shaky on the feet with tears streaming (from the wind). Then a half hour wait for Star Tours, still a classic. The Phillips Visionarium exhibits were a little disappointing - the interactive screens were either frozen or blue screen. Hey hum, that's technology for you.
We staked out a place for the Electric Light Parade at around 7.15pm. Did I mention it was cold that day? I would strongly advise taking something to sit on, by the time the parade started 10 minutes late I could hardly feel my bum. The parade was lovely, but slightly truncated compared to the WDW version. Afterwards the exodus to Disney Village was such that we couldn't get into the LA Bar and Grill which had queues stretching back along the corridor to the toilets. Unfortunately, you can't make reservations for any of the Disney Village restaurants and we were futher hampered by the fact that Kieron is a vegetarian. Our Gallic chums haven't really grasped the concept of vegetarianism and so very few of the restaurants in the parks or hotels have a vegetarian option.
We went for a cocktail at the Sports Bar and decided to do a little shopping. The Disney Store was heaving, and the queues were somewhat erratic to say the least. Whilst I appreciate the commitment of Disney in educating our European neighbours in the noble art of queuing in the parks via the use of ropes and lines, faced with a circular counter and three cashiers it was inevitable that all hell would break loose. It was a matter of getting as close to a CM as possible and then trying to catch their eye and then thrust goods at them in order to pay for purchases.
Then I set out on the fruitless task of finding somewhere to eat. We tried the hotel restaurants for a table but failed miserably - be sure to make a reservation well in advance or else be prepared to face the short tempered wrath of the restaurant staff, who were extremely skilled at making you feel like the scum of the earth for having the temerity to even ask if there was any chance of a table. The woman at the Beaver Lodge restaurant told us there were no tables until 11pm. When we asked to reserve a table for then, she smiled sweetly and told us that the restaurant closed at 11, and then turned around and flounced off. Hmph.
(Did you hear that they had to rename the Seven Dwarfs when they opened Disneyland Paris in order to reflect French customs? They're now Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy and Grumpy.)
We ended up having to buy some tortillas from the shop in the Sequoia Lodge along with a bottle of wine. The shop didn't have a corkscrew for sale, but told us to try the bar. The bar then told us they didn't have a corkscrew, instead they opened all the bottles of wine they sold in the morning! Curious. I had to go to the restaurant and wait in a very long line in order to desperately beg the maitre'd to open the bottle, before finally returning to the room to drink it. Very quickly. Watched BBC Prime before falling asleep exhausted - Vic and Bob were some solace after the frustration of the evening.
Sunday at the Park
Up again, bright and early. You *have* to make reservations for breakfast, and having seen the queues the day before I took the hotel's advice and headed down for a 8am breakfast. Usual continental breakfast: cereals, pastries, ham, cheese and more coffee. Again I felt that having a circular buffet table surrounded by our continental neighbours was a recipe for disaster; it was elbows to the fore and each man for himself.
We packed, perhaps squirrelling away the odd Mickey soap (come on, give me your worst) and took our bags down to left luggage at reception. Discovered that for a small fee (25 francs) they would transport our luggage to the Eurostar terminal. Fantastique! That saved us a good half an hour at the end of the day and was a small price to pay for the convenience.
Having learnt my lesson from the previous night I went to make a lunch reservation. I was given a folder of menus for the various restaurants and having gone through them extensively looking for veggie options I plumped for the Walt Disney restaurant. To be told that it was shut. next we tried the Auberge de Cendrillon next to the castle, but they weren't answering the phone. By now it was 9.45 so I gave up and headed to the park
It was another beautiful day, I don't think we could have asked for better weather the whole weekend. Again chilly, but I was wrapped up well. We got there a few minutes after the opening and headed to Discoveryland to try and ride Space Mountain again. On the way we spotted Pooh, Eeyore and Tigger outside the castle, with a queue for photographs. I'm far too old for all this (yeah, right). There was an official Disney photographer there, and we had a ticket to pick up our pictures from the Main Street photography shop after an hour (cost = 59 francs). Pooh looked, I must say, a little odd. Head a bit too big for his body, and very little like the cartoon character. Eeyore and Tigger were spot on though. Kieron went up to say hello to Eeyore first, which confused him a little.
On to Space Mountain. When we arrived the queue was snaking back across the pavement a few hundred feet and my first reaction was to give up. But Kieron pointed out that no-one was inside yet, and the queue area wasn't open either. We joined the back of the queue, it started moving and we were inside and on the ride within 15 minutes. Result!
Plan A successfully achieved, on to Fantasyland to make this reservation (if it killed me). Another result: an extremely helpful CM called Dauphne studied the menu with us, and on discovering that nothing there was suitable went to ask the chef if he could do an omelette. French restaurant, it seemed reasonable enough. She came back looking surprised and told us that the restaurant had no eggs. But, they could do a risotto! Formidable! - we made a booking for 12 and went away with hope in our hearts that a decent meal would at last be ours.
We had an hour until lunch so had a little shop, and then decided to have a look at Alice's Curious Labyrinth. I wasn't expecting much from this attraction but was pleasantly surprised - it's beautifully themed, easy to walk around (you don't really have much chance of getting lost, don't worry) and you wend your way up to the Queen of Heart's castle which gives a great view over Fantasyland. Well worth having a look.
Lunch at Auberge de Cendrillon. Well, what can I say? It was perfect. The restaurant is quite large but is divided into sections so it seems quite cosy. The food was superb - I had a large, juicy steak with chips and a rhubarb charlotte, whilst Kieron had pumpkin soup (well, it was Cinderella's restaurant after all) and mushroom risotto with green beans and mange tout. Washed down with a bottle of Bordeaux the whole lot came to 340 francs and the service was excellent.
We were out by 1pm and took the advice to ride Small World at lunchtime, and it was practically a walk on. Strangely similar to WDW but a lot fresher in terms of paintwork. Then onto Frontierland to squeeze in Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, as we were determined to get all the big rides in and were doing so well. The queue was around 30 minutes, but moved quickly enough. The first drop, which takes you under the river and up the mountain was unexpected but the rest of the ride was as I remembered.
Back to Main Street to wait for the 3.30 Wonderful World of Disney Parade. We attempted a little shopping but the Main Street shops were a scrum, so picked up the Pooh photo (which came out really well) and then outside to sit down (on some shopping!) and wait. The parade was excellent - you couldn't help but notice that all the heroines were swathed in flesh coloured nylon where they had to expose any "skin" and good for them, it was far too cold to be gadding about in flouncy dresses anyway. The floats started with Steamboat Willy and then through the cartoons, from Jungle Book up to Hercules. My favourite: the Hercules dancers costumes, complete with cartoon muscles!
Time was running out - our train left at 6.42 and it was getting dark. What to do, what to do? Another ride on Space Mountain? We had time...but it was shut due to a technical fault. Denied. Kieron suggested a cocktail in Disney Village which seemed like a very good idea. We headed out of the park, and as we passed the swish Disneyland Hotel I stopped to check our drinks vouchers. And noticed that they said they were good for *any* hotel. Now here was an opportunity too good to miss. The lobby of this hotel is well worth seeing anyway, and the Cafe Fantasia was waiting for us with cocktail snacks and big, comfy chairs. It seemed the perfect end to a lovely weekend.
A wonderful weekend. Unlike WDW you can easily do DLP in two days without rushing. It's not *as* Disney as WDW, probably because the French ideal of service will never be the same as the American but inside the park gates the magic is definitely alive and well. If you live near Waterloo you really have no excuse. The only problem is that now I want to go back to WDW!