Dennis Greenblatt -- March 2001 -- Disneyland Paris (HNY)
March 6-7, 2001
This a trip report for my one night stay at Disneyland Paris. I did an eight night vacation February 28 to March 9. I stayed overnight at DLP on March 6 at the Hotel New York. This trip was to celebrate my 35th birthday and my recent victory over an illness.
I have vacationed in Paris in 1998 and in 1999. During each vacation, I did a day trip to Disneyland Paris on the train (RER). This trip, I decided I wanted to actually stay one night at the resort. I knew the cost approximately because I had brochures from prior trips and the official website is very informative as well as a terrific fan run site called MouseKingdom.
To book my room, I first called the CRO at WDW. They transferred me to someone who gave me prices. They are about $10. more than the brochure prices. I suspect this is to cover their costs. I asked for the Hotel New York. The CRO said "no availability". I decided to submit my room request on the Official DLP website and got a response two days later WITH a room at the Hotel New York. It was the "BELLA NOTTE" package for two adults (mid season) for 1814 FRF ($259.00). This includes one night accommodation, one continental Breakfast and unlimited access to the Theme Park on March 6 and 7, 2001. I booked it. All I had to do was FAX my credit card information to an overseas number they gave me. No problem! I received my e-mail confirmation. By the way, I entered my Disney Club number and received a discount - or at least the e-mail SAID the price included the Magic Kingdom discount. Who knows....
Since I was getting to DLP from Paris, I took the train. The trains / subways / metros (whatever you want to call them) run all over Paris. Once they leave the boundaries of the city, it becomes the RER. It is the suburban train and requires a more expensive ticket than the regular city-limit ticket. For example, if you want to go to Versailles, you take the RER C line and for Disneyland Paris you take the RER A line (A4 to be exact). The roundtrip RER ticket which includes the metro and RER train cost $11.00 per person. They hand you two tickets. One to get there and one to get back. You must hold onto the ticket being used. You need it to EXIT the train station as well as to get in! If you lost your ticket on the train to the DLP stop, I don't know how you would leave the station once you are there! The station stop is Marne-la-Vallee Chessy. I laugh when I see "Chessy" because I think of Cheesy and The Mouse!
If you were going to DLP right from the airport, it is also easy. There is a bus shuttle service called VEA Navettes Disneyland Paris. The signs are clearly marked. For example, I flew into Charles de Gaulle from New York and the doorway exit 30 was the stop for the DLP bus. As you walk around, there are signs over the doorways with a number and a list of what that exit offers. Very easy.
Get your money from the ATM machines in Europe. Forget travelers checks and money exchanges at the US airports. The way to get the best exchange rate is to use the ATM! If you have a bank card that uses a four digit pin number, GREAT! Please remember the ATMs in Europe do not use letters next to the numbers. So, if your PIN number is a word, you must remember the number! (Yes, this happened to me). I also bring a credit card that uses a PIN number for cash as well. MBNA cards are the best for exchange. They DO NOT charge a fee. Bank ATM cards charge a minium of 3% at most - if ANY! The money counters get 10% or so. If the exchange rate is 7.3 FF to the dollar, a currency exchange counter will give you 6.4. Please, use you bank ATM or credit card to charge or get money from an ATM based on your cards policies. Review them BEFORE you go! It is also a good idea to call you phone company and have them give you an access number to call using THEIR line. I want to use MY calling card with MY phone company so I don't get charged to use another phone line. You can also buy a phone card. It is rare to find coin operated phones. The phone cards are purchased in the TABAC shops on any local corner in the city. Or at the boutiques in the Hotels at DLP. I think I have covered the basic travel "need-to-knows" for the most part. If anyone has any specific questions, let me know.
Time to go to DLP! I walked a block to my Metro stop and made my way to NATION. This is one of the big train stations in Paris. Here I waited for the RER A4 line to Marne-la-Vallee Chessy. The monitors at the platform tell you when YOUR train is coming. Since the platform is shared by many trains you need to know which one is YOURS. I looked at the monitor and asked the conductor. Take no chances!
In 30 min. I was there. A quick trip. As the train approached the station, I noticed out the moving train window that we were passing by the Rock and Roller Coaster building of the new Studios under construction. Upon getting out of the train, I looked over across the platform and noticed the Disneyland Hotel through the trees. When I reached the top of the stairs off the platform, I looked out and saw Space Mountain. Very cool and I am getting real excited! After inserting my RER ticket in the turnstile to EXIT the train station, I looked out the glass doors to the entrance of the Disney Village. How cool! When you walk out the station, you ARE RIGHT THERE. After having cold rain the previous four days in Paris, I was happy to see this was a warm sunny day. Could this BE any more perfect?! The answer is "Yes!" as I was to find out at the Hotel New York. I paid for a STANDARD and got upgraded to a SUITE. Oh, the Disney magic!
The first order of business is to go to the hotel and check in. Here is when you get your park tickets. They WILL NOT give you a room until 3pm. It is the same policy in Florida, but in Florida, if a room is available, they will give it to you. It is not the same in DLP. It seemed VERY strict. The check-in was fine. They seemed surprised that I booked over the internet and did not have a printed confirmation (I would later get in the mail once I got home to the USA). No problem, give my bags to Bell Services, I got my two-day passport and off to the park which was open from 10am to 8pm today.
I made a quick stop to the package holding area just outside the gates (15FF I think). This replaces the lockers underneath the train station. There was a bomb threat years ago and those lockers have gone unused ever since. (Can you imagine?) I have to explain that this trip to the park was exciting for another reason besides visiting the park. Today I would meet my French pen-pal Frank! I have been writing back and forth with Frank since two years now. We met on RADP and we arranged to meet at City Hall at 12 noon! Frank runs a website geared towards French people visiting WDW. His site is: HTTP://WWW.IFRANCE.COM/DISNEY-WORLD/ I made some videos for him on the opening of Disney's California Adventure and the Vault Disney EPCOT opening and some various WDW stuff. Anyway, THAT was the package I dropped off at the main gate. Frank came by himself today. Perhaps next time, he will bring his wife and baby girl.
Bag checked, through the turnstiles and there I was, FINALLY! Time for a coffee and time to absorb the atmosphere.
It was so nice to be back and I was anxious to see if there was any visible changes or damage as a result of the storm last year. This storm took out 10,000 trees in Versailles! The town square seemed lacking trees. Was it the storm or were the trees cut for a better view to the castle or did I just not remember there weren't trees there to begin with?! (Age, I guess. Afterall I JUST turned 35...).
In the trip reports I did after my 1998 and 1999 visit, I spent so much time trying to describe how well designed this place is and how well constructed. Since the Travel Channel's special on Disneyland Paris this past week, many have seen first hand what I am talking about. The Travel Channel special (The secreats of Disneyland Paris) makes this trip report easier. They spent a lot of money here and it shows. In a recent wave of discussions on Disney's new found budget conscious approaches this park is in complete contrast. For that matter, Animal Kingdom is another good example of what a park could look like given the funding. Both are outstanding in my opinion.
I don't want to give the impression that I am "Florida Bashing" in comparison to this park. Florida is wonderful but please remember that Florida has had 30 years of development in comparison to Disneyland Paris' 10 years. DLP was designed after three other magic kingdoms and the imagineers had the luxury of learning from past mistakes and having LOTS OF MONEY to use. I think the more these parks are developed, the better they are. Also, instead of cramming in an attraction as an afterthought, they designed with the big attractions in mind. The result is perfection. This has got to be the best designed and thought out Magic Kingdom park. I love Florida's hub, Tomorrowland, and seven seas lagoon. Florida is WDW and is the best for being surrounded by 47 square miles of land. But comparing Magic Kingdom to Magic Kingdom - Disneyland Paris wins. The attractions are better thought out and the quality of construction shows. The "show" is better here.
Another feeling that strikes me while visiting Disneyland Paris is a feeling of "unspoiled". Let me explain. This park feels the same way WDW's Magic Kingdom did in the 70's when it was only a couple of hotels and a park. Disneyland Paris doesn't feel like it is being exploited yet. In Magic Kingdom, I feel like I am avoiding the gift shops like an obstacle course. Upon exiting an attraction, SURPRISE! another gift shop to run through before truly exiting the building. In Disneyland Paris, you don't notice that overwhelming ploy for your money. Here it feels like it is more about the magic - more pure or unspoiled. For example, when exiting Its A Small World, you have to pass through a room. I was ready for a gift shop after being conditioned by WDW's Magic Kingdom and to my surprise, it is a wonderful extension of the ride. Granted it is a room sponsored by France Telecom (who sponsors the ride itself) and the message is communication, but it is presented in such an enchanting way. The room is circular with fiber optic fairy dust chasing around the room that lands at the set pieces in the room. The sets look the sets in the ride with "shadow boxes" built-in. You peer into a little scene to watch a cartoon character projected onto glass so you can see the real three dimensional scene in the background. There is a pathway that winds through the room so you can explore and watch these little scenes about communication. It feels like you are wandering through the ride sets. Here is a website that has pictures of the room http://www.smallworldfan.de/ after the pic of the attraction which again show HOW MUCH MONEY went into the is park. Did I say how obvious it is on how much money was spent? Perhaps this room will one day fall victim to the gift shop. I hope not.
The irony of all this is how I scoured the place for merchandise. Me, who normally dodges the gift shops actually went on a hunt to find particular items. The Disneyland Paris picture book was sold out in English and French - URGH! Also, there was not one pin to be found that said "Disneyland Paris". Correction, ONE pin. A Space Mountain pin. The rest were character pins that could have been bought anywhere. I suppose pin trading is not big here. One clerk in Disney Village actually said something to the effect of "Americans go crazy for Disney (big and flashy) and in France they want subtle merchandise." Which I don't believe. I thought I read one of the troubles the Park had in the beginning was the lack of loud, graphic merchandise. As well as too many sit down restaurants contrary to the Travel Channels statement. Yes, many sit downs were incorporated into the park, but one of the changes made was the introduction of fast food venues as demanded by the guest!
I had also looked for some specific attraction merchandise. I did buy lots of CD park soundtracks that I think are great and a shot of me on Space Mountain with Frank! The hotel shop was great and I landed a nice T-Shirt. In France I need an extra large. In the USA, I but medium or large. France still cuts their clothes like we used to ala 1980. A run through the Disney Village rewarded me with some postcards and candy. I was pleased. Lets get back to the park!
The sun and blue sky made for a visual treat. The pink castle looks superb against the blue sky. Main Street has more detail and depth. Think more moldings and deeper moldings. There are also more balconies and roof work. The billboards are fun with the dimensional coffee cup that spurts smoke like a steaming hot cup of coffee. Main Street vehicles are abundant. There must be a half dozen or so going at one time. Main Street is ALIVE. I love the real brick pavers on the road in contrast to WDW MK's pavement. The real working glass street lights are charming. I DID mention they spent LOTS of money here, no? There are two indoor corridors that run the length of Main Street (one on each side). You can enter a store from Main Street and exit out the back of the store into an indoor corridor. These "arcades" are themed to the inventions of the Main Street period. One focuses on the creation of the Statue of Liberty. The corridors feel more French than they do "Turn of the Century" American but they are beautiful by any means. They too have real working glass lanterns. Charming.
When you reach the hub I noticed it was more intimate than Florida's. Florida has beautiful landscaping and waterways. Here it is more direct.
The park: The design, show and feel. It is about 30 acres bigger than WDW's Magic Kingdom. I have heard people say that "bigger is not always better" but in this case I disagree. Some praise California's Disneyland for being compact. I have talked with someone who felt that Disneyland Paris was too spread out. They walked and "took forever" to get to another part of the park, I was told. For me, that is part of what makes for a better "show".
Remember, it is 30 acres bigger than WDW's Magic Kingdom *without* a "Jungle Cruise". That makes even more land to work with! (starting to get the picture?) The result allows for the "lands" to really immerse you in the theme. You are more involved and get a sense of exploring the theme. Imagine the immersing feel of "Tom Sawyers Island" to EACH land.
The attractions and spaces are more involving as well. For example: The castle. At WDW's Magic Kingdom you look at the castle and walk through it - pretty much done. You do not get a sense of exploring the space or becoming involved with the building unless you book a table for the restaurant upstairs. It is like a "pretty piece of china to look at" as one imagineer put it. By contrast, the castle in Disneyland Paris becomes a space to explore. It has pathways that wind around it, below it (including a dragon's liar with an animatronic roaring dragon), an upstairs room that leads to an outdoor balcony offering wonderful views of Fantasyland.
Another example is Phantom Manor. You enter the attraction just like you enter the grounds to an estate. There is a gate, gardens, front porch, and cemetery which has tombstones and crypts that overlook steaming geysers on the banks of the Rivers of America. The space becomes involving as you explore and discover the grounds of this attraction. By contrast, the show building for WDW's Magic Kingdom is propped up on a hill - out of reach - that we just sort of look at as we walk by it in a straight line to a set of doors that lead us to the attraction. Disneyland Paris has a better "show". As you enter the front doors of the Manor from the front porch, you go into the foyer leading into the stretching room which opens into a hallway (a hallway that really FEELS like a hallway from an old Manor) into a furnished room that has grand staircase (ala Gone With The Wind). Here is where you get on the ride vehicles. This is an example of how involved "the show" is at Disneyland Paris.
Other examples of this include "Adventure Isle" which includes the Skull Rock caves to explore that blend into the Swiss Family Tree House (another place to explore) which blends into the Pirate Ship (another place to get involved with and explore) - you get the picture. I hope the "Quest for the Unicorn" maze gets built in Animal Kingdom because "Alice's Curious Labyrinth" in Disneyland Paris is a BLAST!
How do you out-charm Europe? The answer - Disneyland Paris' Fantasyland. Fanasyland feels like a real storybook town. The place oozes charm and makes WDW's Magic Kingdom look like a tacky roadside carnival. Discoveryland is brilliant with the Jules Verne theme (I still really like Florida's Tomorrowland) and Adventureland is very "Animal Kingdom/Typhoon Lagoon-like" with a dash a Epcot world showcase pavilion. The suburb design is only outdone by the construction quality and upkeep. The place is perfection.
Not only do the outdoor spaces become places to become involved with but also the spaces have a much better show. More elaborate and better thought out. I did mention they spent A LOT OF MONEY here, didn't I? Well, it shows... In abundance!
The food: I thought the food in general was good. Afterall, it *is* a Disney park. I ate in two sit down restaurants, one fast food counter service place, and some quick eateries on Main Street. None of which I was disappointed in except for the mayonnaise type dressing on the hamburger. I think it is a French thing. I love the popcorn with sugar instead of salt although I ate a bag real quick and went on Space Mountain and the result was a headache!
The Entertainment: The Mulan show in Discoveryland was outstanding. It is held in Videopolis. There is the Hyperian Cafe inside and tiered seating so you can have your lunch and watch the show. A traditional bleacher seating is right in front of the stage.
The parade was very good. The music was excellent. One criticism of Disneyland Paris' parades in general is the loop of the soundtrack. Instead of making the parade soundtrack the length of the parade, they have this one great song that looped four times! I will still tapping my toes but at the same time rolling my eyes... here we go again! They did the same thing for the Halloween Parade. Florida kicks-ass in the parade department!
Meeting FRANK: What a GREAT guy who spoke English so well! As I mentioned in an earlier post, Frank has been my pen-pal for a couple years. He lives 40 min. outside Disneyland Paris and has an annual pass and runs a website geared toward French people wanting to visit WDW. His job includes translation of English and his English was GREAT. We had a lot of fun running around the park and it was nice to have him show me things he really likes in the park. Frank and his wife stayed at the Wilderness Lodge for their honeymoon in 1998. Maybe next time I will get to meet his wife and baby girl!
Now that I have built this place up so much in this report, let me add some reality to it. WDW's Magic Kingdom has had several years of development compared to DLP. Therefore it does not have the amount of attractions as WDW's Magic Kingdom. Disneyland Paris, of course, does not have the Florida weather and the Disneyland Paris hotels are not US standards but rather European standards. If you have traveled in Europe, you know what to expect. Americans going to Disneyland Paris are dissapointed with the lack of "Disney Quality" they expect from WDW. If you go with this understanding, it will help.
Please note, two of the hotels do not have air-conditioning or pool. As an American traveling to Disneyland Paris, I don't think you will be happy unless you stay at New York Hotel or the Disneyland Paris Hotel. The three-star hotels are fine as "DLP's" versions of moderates (Newport and Sequoia). There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Both have pools and air conditioning and are fine but not as nice as you MAY expect. (Perhaps a cross between WDW's Value and Moderate resorts). The two budgets do not have pools or air conditioning. The Cheyenne Hotel has one double bed and one set of bunk beds. Can you imagine two adults sharing a double bed?! Not THIS fat American. Did I mention most Europeans are MUCH thinner than us Americans. It was easy to spot another American in Europe. We ARE bigger. Well, some German's came close but I think in their case it is the beer and not the fast food as it is in our case! Damn, in Paris, it seemed if some of the French turned sideways, they would disappear. *Rant Over - back to the subject* In general, the beds are not queens, even in the four-star hotels. In the New York Hotel, we had doubles (again, this is a European standard).
I would also plead with anyone going to Disneyland Paris to make time to see PARIS!!! The flight is long and it is so wonderful to be in a different country and experience a different culture. It would be a shame to miss it. I think I appreciated Disneyland Paris more after visiting Paris. I had a chance to absorb "the beat" of the people, the city, and the culture. How wonderful it was to be in Paris - THAT was magic. Disneyland Paris just added to the magic of Europe. Disneyland Paris is not a resort destination like Florida. WDW feels like a complete vacation unto itself. I don't think Disneyland Paris is - yet. They are constructing the second park which they hope will turn it into a resort destination. I hope I am not coming off too judgemental or snobby. The bottom line is "life is too short" so do whatever makes you happy without hurting anyone. Please just consider not making this a solo destination.
The hotels: Once you leave the park, you walk by the Disneyland Hotel. The Disneyland Hotel is built at the entrance to the park. The restaurants at this hotel have views of Main Street as do some of the rooms. (I believe these are "Castle Club" rooms and I am SURE you pay for it.) After the Disneyland Hotel is the train station. Beyond that is the Disney Village. This is Disneyland Paris' version of Downtown Disney. It is slightly longer than the length of Main Street. At the end of the street you are looking at Lake Disney. If you look to you left, you will see The Hotel New York. Look to the right and you see Newport Bay Hotel (further away) and right across the lake is the Sequoia Lodge Hotel. So, the closest is New York. The other are not THAT much further away. Between the New York Hotel and the Sequoia Lodge Hotel is a "river" spawned by Lake Disney that leads to the two budget hotels. It is ironic that the nicest themed hotel is a budget hotel. The Cheyenne is outstanding for theme. I wish they would build a version of it for Florida and make it comparable to a moderate.
Some info about our hotel - The Hotel New York. I thought it was great and loved the location. As I said in my first post, the room was upgraded to a suite (or is was just a mistake nobody caught!) The rooms and public spaces were great in my opinion. It is not very attractive from the outside (a poor man's Swan and Dolphin) but Graves did a fabulous job on the inside. I loved the pool area and the Park Diner. The framed prints around the Hotel was from New York circa 1920-30 and the posters from the 30's New York World's Fair gave me the chills! GREAT! The Hotel had a well equipped Fitness Room that is not an extra charge. They also had a Salon and video arcade. The pool area was great. After four days of running around Paris, I was ready to soak in a nice jacuzzi and relax with a swim. The pool is indoors of course. There is an outdoor section that was closed off. You cannot get into the pool area with your shoes. You are directed into the changing rooms to leave your stuff (key included), handed a towel and pointed to the pool. As you enter, there is an automatic foot wash that is activated by your movement. It took me by surprise and I looked down and laughed. I felt like a car wash! The inflatable pool toys were abundant as well as life jackets for the kids. The pool area has a drink bar as well. Another nice thing was the sauna and steam rooms. VERY nice after sight-seeing Paris in four cold, rainy, windy days! The breakfast in this hotel is easier than the three and two star hotels. In those hotels, you must book a time to eat your breakfast because the hotels are so big. This is not the case for Hotel NY and I assume Disneyland Hotel. If you stay at the non-four star hotels, you have the option to eat breakfast in the park. You enter the park and must take the train to Fantasyland. It is here you have your breakfast one hour before the park opens. You see, the reasons to pick either Disneyland Hotel or New York Hotel become even clearer. If you book the other hotels understanding all this, great! Some people are upset with the set-up.
The staff were terrific! I talked to some of the cast members. It is evident that they do not get a lot of information about what is going on in the resort. I knew more about the new park being built than they did! (I tried to give one a website to look at but I wrote it down wrong.) This CM was so nice and helpful. I was on a quest to find pins that said "Disneyland Paris". We got into a conversation about merchandise and American's attitudes with Disney and so forth. He actually gave me his cast member pin! I tried to give him a pin in return but he wouldn't except it. I felt like I should do something nice back but all I gave him was a wrong web address! If anyone goes to the Hotel New Youk and runs into a youngish guy (part Sicilian, part Egyptian named Fayiel (sp?) ) on the night shift in the Hotel's boutique, give him this web address http://www.mousekingdom.de/index_e.htm (I wrote down .com instead of .de) He called on the phone to try and locate the merchandise I was talking about. All the staff were great!
If you visit Europe and you are from California, they will get weak in the knees. Europeans have such a fascination with California. If I say I am from New York, they are like "Great!" But if I was from California, their eyes get wide, a slight swooning, and a stutter. I had a pin I bought from Ebay that said "Disney's California Adventure" and, well... the looks I got!
Well - it is getting late and I need to go to bed.... I will finish up with another report on Paris itself. I suppose it is off topic but hey, why not? Any questions, PLEASE e-mail or post. I will be happy to answer! THANKS FOR READING!!