Greg Ferguson -- May 2005 -- Disneyland Paris (NBR)
Who are we?
3 days and 3 nights, staying at the Newport Bay Resort on property, from May 22 to May 25, 2005.
DAY 1: After spending ten days gallivanting through Bavaria and Paris, my wife and I scheduled three days and nights in late May 2005 at the Disneyland Paris Resort. As the final portion of our European vacation, our intention, given the shorter off-season open hours, was to experience the parks each day, enjoy nice dinners and nightly relaxation. We arrived at the Disneyland Paris Resort Sunday morning, around 10am, via the RER train from Paris. With our increasingly heavy luggage strapped over our shoulders, we exited the RER station and made our way towards Disney’s Newport Bay Club Resort. On our honeymoon in 2001, we stayed at the Beach Club Resort at Walt Disney World, so we were looking forward to staying at a similarly themed hotel. As we trekked through Disney Village we watched scores of families eagerly heading towards the parks, which got us both really excited about what was ahead of us these next few days.
As we walked around Disney Lake, we got a good look at the Hotel New York and the Sequoia Lodge. Both looked very nice, even with all of the scaffolding on the Sequoia, a recurring theme for us during our European jaunt. From a distance, the Newport Bay Club looked beautiful. We could not wait to see the inside, hoping that by some miracle our room might be ready. As we entered through the rear entrance, we carefully maneuvered up the stairs with our luggage, past groups of small children heading out for fun! The lobby was a madhouse. In all my days and in all of my travels, I have only seen one other lobby that busy and that was in Las Vegas on a boxing weekend. Granted, the average age of the people in the lobby was much lower than Las Vegas, but the noise level certainly was not. As we entered the check-in queue, we noticed a traffic jam in the middle of the line. A group of people were speaking to a CM who was standing in front of a small table covered with file boxes. As we soon discovered, before one can check-in, you must get your paperwork from this CM and complete the form before approaching the registration desk. The problem was that our paperwork was missing. We had all of our confirmation documentation, but they still needed us to complete more forms. The helpful CM diligently searched the boxes, but after several minutes she gave up and retrieved some blank forms for us. Upon reaching the registration desk, we handed the CM our information and began what became a very long registration process. Our reservation was indeed in their system, but apparently these pre-bundled documents that they provide the guests in the queue include not only registration forms, but the theme park passes as well. So, after registering us, the CM departed in order to procure our passes, which apparently cannot be done at the registration desk. What seemed like fifteen minutes later, she returned with tickets in hand, provided us with maps, and gave us a rundown of the two theme parks. Raring to go at this point, we asked about checking our luggage until our room was ready and were directed to a storage station outside the main entrance to the hotel. We checked our luggage fairly quickly and were surprised to learn that there was no luggage delivery service provided. Oh well…we were off to Disneyland Parc!!
I first visited Disneyland Paris, then called Euro Disney, in 1994, two years after the park opened and I have many pleasant memories of that experience. My wife…this was her first visit. Being a Sunday, Disneyland Parc was fairly crowded, but we never waited more than 20 minutes for a ride all day. As we walked down Main Street, Lisa granted me the privilege of selecting the first ride. I chose Phantom Manor. Unlike its American cousins, PM is a very graphic and a somewhat scary and disturbing ride. I especially like the underground graveyard and ghost town scenes. Thoroughly satisfied after the ride, we headed over to Pirates of the Caribbean. PotC was Lisa’s favorite attraction at DLP. She felt that the design of the ride and the overall décor was perfect. She especially liked the fact that the skeleton pirate scenes were at the end of the ride instead of the beginning. It just seemed to make more sense to her. Next, we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, one of my favorites. We had gotten Fast Passes earlier for the ride and were surprised to see a large number of people at the FP entrance when we arrived. It seemed that a lot of people felt the FP start time was more of a recommendation. To their dismay, the CM strictly enforced the start time, which was good; the problem being that all of these people decided to stay there and wait, making it rather difficult to get into the queue. Eventually, we did make it on the ride and loved it. The best part in our opinion is the final straight away as you speed in the dark through a bat cave.
Starving at this point, we headed to the Cowboy Cookout Barbecue for lunch. Longing for a little home cooking, we both ordered the Magic burger and fries combo. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were starving, but these were some of the best burgers that we have ever had. The burgers themselves were quite basic; bun, meat, cheese, onion….but what we really liked was the sauce. It was probably just Russian or Thousand Island dressing, but it was really good. While we were enjoying our meal, we overheard a young girl tell her mother that she was only able to get her a single salt packet because there was a chicken protecting them. The mother did not believe her daughter, but the girl insisted that this was the case. She claimed that she was unsure if it was real or a “robot.” I did not think about it until it was time to go. Lisa wanted to wash her hands so we headed to the restrooms. While waiting, I propped myself up across from a condiment table. Suddenly, I noticed something move in the corner of my eye. Sure enough, there was a live chicken sitting in the cubby of salt packets. It was just sitting there, contently clucking away. A small boy was fascinated with the bird. He would bound over, climb up and pet the bird, then run away laughing. He repeated this process five or six times while I waited for Lisa. Once she emerged from washing her hands, I pointed to the chicken and said, “Look, that girl was not making it up after all.” We both laughed, Lisa pet the bird and we headed out.
Wanting some thrills, we decided to give the Indiana Jones coaster a try. I heard that it was running backwards for a time, but that it recently switched back to forwards. The posted wait time was 20 minutes, but the sign was a little off, as we walked directly onto the ride. We both found the coaster to be a very rough ride. I found myself feeling a little woozy afterwards and Lisa was not very impressed. We then meandered around the park for most of the day, just taking in the scenery and the shops mostly. We rode the train from Frontierland to Fantasyland, took a few minutes to explore the Nautilus in Discoveryland, which I really enjoyed, and then around 3pm headed back to the hotel to get our room.
Here is where the “ugly” part of our story begins. We arrived at the registration desk and got our key cards, room number and directions. Lisa wanted to get our bags from the luggage check, but I decided, and I am very glad that I did, that I just wanted to go to the room first. We exited the elevator on the third floor and followed the first sign to the right. Seeing the room numbers at the beginning of this hallway, we soon realized that we were in for a long walk to our room. Sure enough, we had just about the last room on that wing. I figured, somebody has to have it, so why not us? While we walked down the seemingly endless hallways, we noticed that as we got further away from the lobby, the condition of the hotel got increasingly worse. Carpet stains galore, chunks torn out of the wood runners, and stretches of ink, pencil, or some type of marker that ran the length of the halls….Strike 1. We could not believe the condition of these hallways and prayed that our room was not the same. I tried my key card at our door and it did not work. After five attempts, Lisa tried hers and we entered the room. It did not take us long to identify a number of problems with the room. First of all, every piece of furniture was damaged to a certain extent. Nothing was falling apart, but everything was severely dinged up. Items that we noted as missing included a chair, the safe, and several towels. Finally, I opened the balcony door and immediately noticed that the paint on the floor was peeling in large chunks and the wood frame was covered in green mold….Strike 2. This was not what I have grown to expect from a Disney property.
We called the front desk to inquire about the safe and towels. We figured that we could live with the room for a few nights. It was very clean, but it was just in sorry shape. They told us that the safe was located between the two beds, which was a problem because we had a single king size bed. They then referred us to a place in the dressing area, but alas no safe. Fifteen minutes later, a CM came to our room. Unfortunately, she had been informed that we could not open our safe, not that we did not have one. After assessing the situation, she informed us that she had no idea where our safe went and that there were no other safes to be had. While Lisa and I discussed our options, the CM immediately tried to change the subject, pointing out what a wonderful view we had. Agreeing with her completely, I brought the conversation back to the safe. The CM stated that we could secure our items with the Concierge desk, which was open 24 hours, but we did not want the hassle of having to hike, and I mean hike, to the concierge every time that we needed one of those items. ….Strike 3…we are out of here! We asked if we could change rooms, to which the CM stated that she did not know, but if we did that we could lose the excellent view. Willing to take that chance, we went back the registration desk and explained the situation to a new CM. The only room available that included a lake view had two double beds. At first Lisa did not like that idea, but she agreed to look at the room before she made up her mind. The new CM escorted us to the 6th floor, an Admirals Floor and from the moment we walked out of the elevator I knew that this was going to be a better situation. The small lobby outside the elevators was furnished with two nice tables and a mirror. After a quick left turn, and one to the right, we were at the room. Not two seconds after walking into the room, Lisa turned to me and said, yes, this is perfect! And it was perfect! No dinged furniture, no peeling paint, no stained carpets, and no vandalized hallways! And the view was fantastic! We thanked the CM for her help and went down to finalize the move and to claim our luggage.
We headed back to Disneyland Parc an hour later and bummed around the place for a little while, stopping by the castle to meet the dragon. When our stomachs started to rumble, we headed to Disney Village to enjoy a Disney theme park tradition of ours…Rainforest Café. The menu, though similar in nature, did not offer the same number of items that we are accustomed to seeing in the United States. Still, we both managed to find something tasty to eat; me a steak and Lisa some curry chicken. Totally satisfied, we then walked around Disney Village a little while, and then headed back to the hotel for the evening. On the way, we remarked how light it still was given the time of day. In fact, throughout our entire trip, it did not get dark until 10pm each night. Amazing!
DAY 2: Day 2 began with breakfast in the park. We arrived at the designated gate a little before 9am, joining the growing “early entry” crowd. Since we had 30 minutes before our scheduled dining time, we decided to tour the castle. We especially liked the stained glass and the “sleeping” knights. Once we finished here, we were surprised to see that nothing else was open; yet another difference between the Paris parks and those in the States. At Disneyland and WDW, we love early entry for the ability to jump on some rides before the masses enter the park. We were a little disappointed, but given that it was a Monday, we figured that the crowds would be minimal. Soon, our breakfast time arrived and we queued into the Chalet de la Marionnette in Fantasyland. Again, I will use one word to describe this scene….madhouse. We immediately discovered that buffet etiquette in DLP was nothing like we were accustomed to at home. Not that it was bad, it was just different. Instead of a row of food selections, there were three round tables with food and cold drinks, flanked by two rows of hot drink dispensers. It was a free for all. We could not distinguish any sort of queuing system, save for the hot drinks. If you saw something that you wanted on any of the three tables, you headed straight to it and grabbed. Catching on quickly, Lisa and I split ranks with the understanding that if you thought that the other person might want something you had access to then grab it! The selection was actually pretty good; yogurt, cereal, croissants, rolls, fruit cocktail, strawberry jam, and orange juice. The hot selections included hot chocolate and a variety of coffees. We grabbed what we could and managed to find an available table for two. Overall, it was an enjoyable breakfast.
By the time we finished eating, the park had opened. Since we were in Fantasyland, we decided to ride all of the “kiddie” rides before the throngs of guests arrived. We found the dark rides (i.e. Snow White, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio) to be very similar to their American counterparts, save for the French language soundtracks. Next came Alice’s Labyrinth. I tried to hide from Lisa in there, but she would have none of that. It’s a Small World was nice. We liked the colorful façade. And, we found it interesting that the American characters in the ride all wore cowboy hats. Finally, our favorite two Fantasyland rides…Casey Jr. and Le Pays des Contes de Fees. We were amazed at how fast the Casey Jr. train wizzed up above Storybookland, plus the fact that, unlike Disneyland, the train was on a coaster track instead of an actual railroad. That probably explains why it went so fact. LPdCdF was outstanding! We loved the fact that some of the buildings included miniature characters…Dopey in front of the mine, the old witch waiting in front of the dwarves house; Peter, with his gun ready, watching for the wolf; Chernabog atop his tower; and Dorothy and her gang in front of the Emerald City. Yes, the Emerald City! It was massive, in a miniature sense, and is not in the U.S. versions.
After an average fast food pizza lunch at the Pizzeria Bella Notte, we headed over to the Studios to check things out. Unfortunately, we discovered that the tram tour would be down for the duration of our stay. Oh well, we had been on the one at WDW plenty of times. With Armageddon temporarily down and show times for the stunt show and CineMagique a little later, we decided to ride Rock’N’Roller Coaster. I loved it! I have never ridden RRC in Florida, so this was a first for me. I could not believe how smooth the ride was, even with the loops, and the soundtrack was perfect! By the time we exited RRC, it was time to for the “Moteurs…Action!!! Stuntshow Spectacular.” The show was pretty cool…cars, motorcycles, jumps, explosions, and some cheesy humor. Plus, after they did an incredible stunt, they explained how they did it. For example, after the “hero” car completed a backwards jump, they showed us how the car was actually designed with the driver facing the trunk. So while it appeared to us that he made a backwards jump, the only actual thing that was backwards was the car body.
As the masses trickled out of stunt show stadium, we decided that we wanted a little snack, but were not certain what sounded good. We examined the menu at a nearby eatery, but were not impressed. Then, as we meandered near the Armageddon attraction, we came upon a cart selling fruit slushies. Hello!! I ordered the Strawberry & Banana, while Lisa got a Mango. Both were very refreshing and perfect snacks while we waited in line for Armageddon, which by now was open. Of all of the queues that we waited in, this one was probably the one that moved the slowest, which was strange given the large number of people they include in each group. We eventually entered the first room, where the very entertaining CM, along with some rather amusing audio-visual accompaniment, detailed for us what we were about to experience. The Armageddon attraction allows you to experience the infamous space station scene from the movie. You know, the one where all heck breaks loose, as meteorites hit and fire rages. The overall experience was exciting to say the least. It was very, very loud, as the meteors collided with the station. The room shook heavily, smoke blew out from every direction, and fire bellowed from the middle of the room. When it was all over, I was surprised to see only one child crying.
Since the next show of CineMagique was still an hour away, we checked out some shops and relaxed a bit. Eventually, the time arrived and we made our way into the theater. The theater was an oasis for our tired feet. The seats were very comfortable and the air conditioning was heavenly. The next thing you know a CM appeared on stage, welcoming us to the show and reminding us to please turn off our cell phones and pagers (which turned out to be part of the show). Touted as a historical parade of the movies, CineMagique began where the movies began….with a silent movie. Just then we hear a cell phone ring and immediately a CM appears with a flashlight, identifying the culprit in one of the front sections of seats. The rude audience member then answers his phone loudly and proceeds to wave off the CM, walking up onto the stage. Yes, this rude audience member is in fact part of the show. As the “audience member” continues to talk on his cell, the characters in the movie suddenly notice him and attempt to smack him through the screen. Unfortunately, they cannot break through to the real world, so they call upon a magician (the movie is set in ancient Arabia), who casts a spell, pulling the rude man into the movies! The man, now played by Martin Short, now finds himself stuck in the movies, and I mean all of them! As he attempts to find his way back to the real world, Martin makes his way through a slapstick silent movie, a Laurel & Hardy pie fight, a dance number, a western gun battle, a Star Wars chase scene in the Death Star, and finally a medieval knights attack. The way that they integrated Martin into all of the movies was seamless, but the best effect of the show was near the end. In an effort to cut a hole between the movies and our world, the knight hurls his sword at the screen. In an instant, part of the screen cuts open and a massive sword cuts into the stage. Martin’s character then walks out, beckoning to his love interest to join him. Unfortunately, she is unable to cross over, so Martin chooses to rejoin her in the movies. CineMagique was very entertaining and the perfect way to end our short tour of the Studios.
We returned to Disneyland Parc and made our way to Tomorrowland. The sign for Space Mountain indicated a wait time of 20 minutes, but we almost walked right onto it. One word to describe Space Mountain Mission 2….amazing! While I regret that I never had the opportunity to ride the original DLP Space Mountain (it was still under construction when I first visited), Mission 2 was something that we could not miss. The new visual effects were phenomenal, especially the supernova explosion and the comets. The soundtrack was great…a must for any good coaster I feel. I was glad to see that some remnants of the old version remained, such as the Columbiad cannon and the Electro de Velocitor at the end of the ride. The ride itself was a little rough, not nearly as smooth as Rock’N’Roller Coaster, but we enjoyed it.
Dinner that night was at the Blue Lagoon restaurant, located within the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. To get us in the mood, we rode PotC one more time, then headed over. We were seated along the water, which not only allowed us to watch the boats coast by, but allowed the passengers of said boats to wish us “Bon appetite!” Since we decided to treat ourselves, we both ordered a cocktail. I ordered something called a “Blue Lagoon” since its ingredients were similar to a Blue Hawaiian, which I love. Unfortunately, it was more like a Pina Colada, which I cannot stand. Luckily, Lisa likes Pina Colada’s, which she had ordered, so I let her enjoy two cocktails, while I ordered a Coke. We both ordered the price fixe menu, which seemed a little pricy at first, but given the quality of the food it was a deal. Lisa thoroughly enjoyed the Saint-Jacques scallop appetizer, grilled swordfish, and chocolate cake. I loved my Tahitian-style shrimp cocktail appetizer and baked banana dessert, but was less than impressed with the chicken curry main dish. But, I would still come back here in a heartbeat. Overall the food was very good and the ambience could not be beat. There was even a point where no one was riding Pirates any more, so a CM, dressed in full pirate regalia, manned a boat and coasted by our tables with his sword drawn and a sneer on his face.
By the time we finished dinner, the park was near closing so we headed back to Disney Village to check out some more shops. Being an admirer of Disney theme park attraction posters I hoped to be able to find some for DLP. I figured that the best place to look would be the Disney Gallery store in DV, but alas there were none to be found. A little disappointed, we returned to our room, taking the long way via the New York and Sequoia resorts.
DAY 3: Day 3’s breakfast was at the hotel and it was more of the same madness. However, this time, instead of the three large tables in the park, there were familiar buffet facilities set up, which if used effectively could move people through the line quickly. Unfortunately, the method of acquisition was the exact same as the day before. We could not identify any sort of formal queue for the food, save for the two empty tray locations. Other then that, it was see it, go for it, get it! Lisa actually got quite a laugh as she watched this man become very agitated while two women unknowingly blocked his access to the butter. The overall spread was the same as the day before, save for a couple for cold cut selections. Again, it was included in the room charge and we felt that it was pretty darn good.
After our petit dejeuner we headed back to Disneyland Parc. We discussed whether or not we wanted to return to the Studios, but agreed that there really was nothing there to pull us back. Day 3 in the park was pretty uneventful. We almost walked onto every ride that we wanted. Lisa rode Space Mountain on her own, since it left me a little woozy the day before. She was more able to enjoy it this time around because she did not have to worry about me and my dislike for going upside down. Next, we tried Autopia, then Star Tours, which kind of surprised us in the fact that while the robot pilot spoke French, the dialog in the film portions that you see were in English. We then rode Pirates one more time, then Phantom Manor, and finally Big Thunder.
By 3pm, after walking through more shops and having a small lunch, we realized that we were done. We were actually burned out. So, we discussed our options. We agreed that we wanted to be able to sit down someplace, relax, and be undisturbed for a few hours. Suddenly, I got an epiphany! Let’s go see Star Wars Episode III in French! Having already mentioned this possibility to Lisa prior to our trip, she knew that I would bring it up again if I had the opportunity. Luckily, Lisa could not argue against it as it fit all three of our criteria. Plus, I added, it would be really cool to tell people that we saw Star Wars in French! So, we headed over to theater at Disney Village to check out the show times. We were in luck….the next show was less than an hour away. As we approached the box office, I asked the cashier if they spoke English. She said yes and I then asked for the tickets. She then looked at me and said, “You do realize that it is in French and not subtitled?” I figured as such and replied affirmatively, saying that it was ok. The next thing you know we had our tickets and headed towards the theater. Once we entered, my mouth dropped. Where we live, prior to the house lights dimming we get bombarded by modern popular music, accompanied by advertisements and silly trivia or puzzles projected on the screen. Here, the black and red decorated theater sported red fiber optic lights on the front 25% of each wall and ceiling that blinked in tune with the music that was playing from above….Star Wars music! It was an incredible sensory experience; one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Suddenly, the house lights dimmed and it was time for the previews; or so we thought. The next thing you know, we are watching a series of rather adult oriented commercials for a variety of every day household products. I know, they do things a little differently in Europe…no problem. Then, the previews began, but just when we thought that the movie was next, another set of commercials came up, followed by a few more previews and then more commercials. It got a little too much in my opinion, but as long as we were in the air conditioning and off of our feet, then we were happy.
When the film let out, it was time for us to head back to the room to freshen up before dinner. For the final dinner of our entire vacation, we made reservations at the Yacht Club in the Newport Bay Resort. As usual, we both ordered from the price fixe menu. It really is the way to go. We both thoroughly enjoyed a goat cheese and sun dried tomato tart for an appetizer. For our main dishes, I ordered a filet of duckling in a pineapple reduction with Thai red rice, while Lisa ordered the fish (which neither of us can remember exactly what it was). For dessert, I had an incredible crème brule and Lisa enjoyed the petit chocolate cake. Oh, and I cannot forget the wonderful bottle of wine that our waiter recommended. It was one of the best overall meals of our entire trip!
With the meal over and daylight finally disappearing, we decided to walk off dinner and snap a few final pictures. One of the bummers of our trip to Disneyland Paris was the fact that the parks closed before the sun went down. Disney theme parks take on a beautiful glow at night when all of the lights are on. The best we were able to do was to see the main entrances of each park, which although wonderful to look at, paled in comparison I am sure to what we could have seen inside had the parks been open late. C’est la vie!
Back at the Newport Bay, we stopped by the front desk to check our room charge balance. Our plan was to room charge as much as we could during our stay, using our Euros only for very small purchases, such as outdoor vending carts. Then, on our final night, we would take all of our remaining Euros, sans what we needed for the shuttle the next morning, and use them towards our room balance. Whatever was left on our balance went on our credit card and we were not stuck with any foreign currency that would have cost more than their face value to exchange back home.
DAY 4: Check out morning arrived, as we once again braved the buffet breakfast. Fed, we grabbed our luggage and made our way to the designated location for the VEA Shuttle pickup. Right on time, our shuttle to Charles de Gaulle arrived. We bought our tickets from the driver (no reservations are needed), loaded our luggage, stepped on board and enjoyed the comfortable 30 minute drive to the airport.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Overall, my impressions of Disneyland Paris Resort are good and bad. It seemed to me that in the ten plus years since I last visited, the resort has seen some serious neglect and need some TLC in some places. I already detailed the problems with our “first” hotel room, but in addition to that we saw several cracks in the pavement within the parks; some so bad that stroller wheels were getting stuck in them. Of those cracks that were repaired you could see distinct color differences between the repaired sections and its surroundings. The smoking was a bit of a problem. Not that it was happening; we knew and were fine that it was allowed in the parks. Our problem was with the folks who smoked while in line. This was not allowed, yet not one CM said a word about it and I saw several occasions where a CM looked directly at a line smoker and did nothing. On the good side, everything that we ate and drank was fantastic, save for my cocktail at the Blue Lagoon, but Lisa liked it a lot. We really liked riding different versions of our favorite Disneyland and Disney World attractions. And, the CM’s were all very nice and seemed to really enjoy their jobs. If I had to make a top ten list of our favorite DLP memories from this trip it would be: