Edward and Lisa Perkis -- March 2002 -- Disneyland Paris (NBC)
March 11, 2002-March 12, 2002
In the middle of our 12 day vacation to Southern England, we flew to France for a two day whirlwind trip to Disneyland Paris. Along with our two children (who stayed home in San Diego with Nana and Papa on this trip) we have annual passes to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim and have been close to 100 times each. Lisa couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a different Disneyland Park, and Ed, well, he pretty much couldn't pass up the opportunity to see if his head could explode completely when he tallied the bill for this trip. So March 11th and 12th were chosen for our Disneyland Paris days.
On March 10th, we were in Bath, England. We got on a beautiful bus (they call them coaches there) and spent a lovely day seeing all that the motorway had to offer as we made our way (eventually) to the Stanstead Hilton, right next to the Stansted Airport. We hit the hay early, as we had a 6:45am flight the next morning to Paris.
During our trip, Lisa kept a journal, this report is based on her journal and is denoted by the name Lisa before her thoughts (clever, no?) Ed did not keep a journal as he was too busy trying to figure out how many Euros are in a Pound and how many Pounds are in a Dollar. He added his comments about two weeks later, which makes them almost worthless, but they are denoted with the Ed designation (do you see a pattern developing?)
Lisa: March 11th, 4am -Rise and shine at Stansted Airport Hilton Godforsaken hotel in the middle of an enormous field. Ugh. Still dark and hopping the tram to the airport. The flight was delayed briefly but made it onto the Buzz flight to Charles De Gaulle airport. Arrived at 9:10 am.
Ed: The Hilton is nice enough to provide a complimentary shuttle from the airport to the hotel. Of course, to go from the hotel to the airport, they charge you $3 each. I was gonna walk on principle, but Lisa reminded me that I'm not one for principles or walking, so I paid the money but gave the driver a dirty look. I think he got the message. There was a Japanese woman at the airport who was also going to France on our flight. She asked me if it was the right flight! Me! I didn't know anything. Chances are she could have easily gotten on the flight to Luxemburg by following my advice.
Lisa: We eventually made it to France. Had our passports checked and found our luggage. Then found signs for the DLP shuttle--only asking two people on the way (parlez-vous anglais? Merci.) Found the bus--Hallelujah !! Primary colors, very hard to miss. Filled with all sorts of families chattering away in every language. First time we used Euros. Walked off without our change--driver chased me down and handed it to me. Very nice of him--could have kept it as an extra big tip.
Ed: It was pretty easy to find the bus. I was surprised. Charles De Gaulle airport is very charming. I'm assuming it is a converted industrial waste repository or it was once used as a prison.
Lisa: About a 45 minute bus trip though the French countryside--power plants, factories and farmland and a huge IKEA. It's a good feeling driving on the "correct" side of the road again after feeling off balance in England. Saw the Newport Bay Club Hotel off the freeway. Huge hotel. We were the first stop and went inside to check in. Lobby much too small for the capacity of hotel. Chaos. Finally found our room and got our bags dropped off. Very nice room--two full beds for some reason. Now off to the Park!
Ed: It was a nice hotel and fortunately the clerk spoke English (as did most DLP employees we found). She then said "we will give you a charge card that allows you to spend all your money on overpriced food and merchandise. We have taken the liberty of mortgaging your house so you do not need to worry about costs. Eight euros is very reasonable for a Coca Cola Light." I'm not sure I heard her correctly because of her accent, but I think that was the gist of it.
Lisa: Walked though Disney Village and on to the from gate of the Park. Very nice view of the Disneyland Hotel and Main Street Station. Very lame bag check. Could have smuggled several knives and a machine gun (not that we would have of course.)
Ed: Disney Village appears to be a typical American shopping promenade designed by someone who only knows about America from movies. And has consumed quite a few mind-altering drugs. The bag check was great. They seem to train their bag checkers at the same place they train their food service workers. More on that later.
Lisa: Main Street was very nice and open, the streets seemed wider, no really tall facades to hide the other lands. Lots of open blue sky. Temperature was around 60 degrees and wonderful.
Decided to grab a sandwich right on Main Street at the Market House Deli. Sat outside to eat. Shocked at how dirty the ground and tables were--cigarette butts EVERYwhere. Amazed to see people sitting down at a dirty table and not even bothering to clear off the previous people's trash. Garbage can filthy. Felt like a fussy American.
Ed: A CM did come out as we were finishing our lunch and start to "clean up" the area. Of course, by that time four small children had been lost in the trash pile at our feet. Other than that, Main Street was very nice. It looked like Main Street in Disneyland. I was beginning to get a feeling that I had paid a lot of money to see a lot of stuff I could have seen for free in Anaheim.
Lisa: We then went on our first ride at DLP--Phantom Manor. Could not get over all the smokers--right in the queue. Major culture shock, coming from San Diego, where cigarette smoking is banned from restaurants and most public places. P.M. was interesting. Intro was in French, then the "ride" part with no narration. The corpses were especially icky--more realistic. Storyline about a jilted bride. The coaches moved much faster than DL's.
Ed: I loved going on the rides and listening to them talk in foreign language and have no idea what was going on. It reminded me of when Lisa used to leave me in charge of our oldest daughter when she was a baby.
Lisa: Then we went and grabbed a fast pass for Big Thunder Mountain. And cut over to Indy. Only a 20 minute wait so we decided to go ahead and try it without Fastpass. Yikes. Big mistake. We were sick as dogs afterwards. The ride bears no resemblance to DL's Indy. The queue theming was terrible. The attraction is basically a roller coaster with loops. Jolted us like heck. Glad it was over quickly.
Ed: The Indy ride sucked. I mean it sucked big time. It sucked so bad I can't even begin to describe it. An insult to the Indiana Jones name. If Harrison Ford wasn't so busy scoring with women a third his age, he'd be insulted as well, I'm sure. Don't ride it. It sucks.
Lisa: Feeling old and queasy, we walked over to the Pirates of the Caribbean. Pretty good, but a bit jarring if you have memorized the DL version as we have. First of all, the boats take off the pier in the wrong direction. The scenes are similar but totally switched around. Two drops but in very different places--One right into the pirate ship invasion and one right under the burning logs scene. I know I'm biased to the DL POTC of course, but this version had no story line cohesion. They had not PC'ed up the wench chasing scene. On the positive side, the animatronics looked very fresh. It certainly kept our attention.
Ed: I didn't mind this POTC. The one thing that was sorta irritating was this woman sitting next to me who kept saying "We're going the wrong way" and "the drops are in the wrong place" and "I don't understand the story." Don't ya hate people like that?
Lisa: After POTC, we strolled over to Fantasyland and waited 20 minutes for the steam train. Was a beautiful area of the Park. The cherry trees were in full blossom. Gorgeous. The trains were very nice--the seats in each car were constructed in a U shape facing sideways so everyone in the car has a nice view. Train narration was in French and English.
Ed: I liked the train.
Lisa: After train ride--all the way round the park--we headed to Alice's Curious Labyrinth. I know how passionate some are about this attraction, but we felt it was a poor substitute for the dark ride at DL. All it did was make us hot and tired. One nice thing about it was the very nice view of Fantasyland the top of the fanciful house afforded.
Ed: You do get a nice view of Fantasyland. You also get very irritated and you get an almost unquenchable desire to kill the person who designed this "attraction." Superstar Limo, you have met your match.
Lisa: After our struggle to get free from the labyrinth, we felt like a popcorn and soda break. We sat right next to the giant beanstalk across from the teacups and had a nice time out. The popcorn is a lot like our Californian kettle corn--sweet and a bit salty. Although we did not ride the teacups, we enjoyed watching them. From where we sat there looked like there were a few more teacups than at home and the whole attraction is covered with a circus-type canopy. Very pretty.
Ed: Mmmmmmm Popcorn.
Lisa: Our fast passes for Thunder Mountain were ready, so we headed back over to Frontierland. What fun. Most of the ride takes place on an island in the middle of the lake the Mark Twain circles--the trains take a short tunnel ride over to begin and finish. Queue instructions done in French and English--the same narrator from the DL Big Thunder tells us to "hang on to your hats and glasses, for this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness" or something to that effect. Felt like crying when I heard his voice. God Bless the USA.
Ed: That's right. God Bless the USA, you'd all be speaking German now if it . . . Oh, what were we talking about? Thunder Mountain? Ok, sorry. By far the best ride in the park. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Wish they had that ride at Disneyland in Anaheim. Oh yeah, they do.
Lisa: After the ride, we wandered back to Main Street to catch most of the character parade. Huge crowds lining the streets for such a light day at the Park. Standard character parade, but nice bouncy music (in English) and fresh looking floats. Fresh compared to the Parade of the stars at DL which I've seen half a zillion times.
Ed: I generally rate parades on how hot the princesses are. These princess were of mediocre hottness. The music made me want to strangle the composer and the performers. Fortunately, Lisa bought the soundtrack CD. More on that later.
Lisa: When the parade had passed though, we headed over to City Hall and asked about the restaurant we were thinking of for dinner--Innoventions at the DL hotel. Unfortunately the only spot left to reserve was right during the Electrical Parade, so we had to say "no thank you." We should have made reservations first thing in the morning.
Ed: parked himself on a bench and I went shopping --or looking. Did not know what to bring home to the girls. Also was looking for a map for a friend who made a special request. I found the CMs in the shops rather unhelpful. In Anaheim, if a CM does not have a particular item in his/her shop, they are usually on the phone checking other shops and generally being as helpful as possible. At DLP, all I got was a blank look, and a "I don't think we have that." And I don't think it was a language barrier thing. I think they genuinely did not know what different merchandise was in each particular shop. One more word about exclusive DLP merchandise--there's not much of it and I was not overwhelmed by the style and quality of it. I was hoping for more French-themed Disney clothing, hats and pictures. In the end I bought things for my girls which I could have bought at any of the Parks--a Minnie watch and a Baloo plush. The only items that did please me were the exclusive DLP pins--and I'm not even a pin collector. I bought several for friends--they have a pretty one of the Castle and a nice Phantom Manor pin...something one will never see back home in CA.
Ed: Lisa shopped, I sat. This is pretty much the story of my life.
Lisa: Shopping over for the time being, we headed over to Discoveryland to see Honey I Shrunk...which was an interesting experience. DLP uses the original film dubbed into French. To hear it in other languages, guests are asked to put on headphones located next to the seat. So we heard Rick Moranis et. al coming though our headphones competing with the French dubbed version blasting out of the speakers. I think we should have just stuck with the French version--it was rather confusing hearing bits of both.
Ed: I'm a huge Honey, I Shrunk the Audience fan. I think it is one of Disneyland's unsung attractions. To see it dubbed in French while the actors are mouthing the English words was bizarre to say the least. I loved it.
Lisa: Time for dinner. Annette's Diner in the Disney Village. Very busy during the dinner hour. Ed and I each had the burger meal which came with a cherry coke and brownie for dessert. I had the mushroom burger which was very good. Still getting used to all the smokers in the restaurants. "Smoking sections" don't do a whole lot of good if you are sitting in the non-smoking section one table away. The service was very spotty. Never did get our brownie and never saw our waitress again to get the check--had to flag down another waiter to pay. We did not want to miss the MSEP. Had not had an opportunity to see it at our home Park since it had returned to DCA.
Ed: The food at Annette's was good. Incredibly overpriced but not particularly expensive if you are used to eating in Disney Parks. I would recommend it, IF you follow your waitress around and say stuff like "where's our food" or "when you bring our food, please bring what we ordered" or "we would like to pay for the food we ate, would you please let us do that." It seems simple enough, but she seemed to be having trouble with it.
Lisa: Headed back to the Park and rode It's a Small World. The facade was under construction, so it was hard to compare between our more familiar one back home. The ride itself had a few differences--The waterway goes right up to the edge of the facades, unlike ours at home which travels in a sort of moat. Some of the props were right in the water--nice touch. One thing I did not care for was the lack of natural materials used in the different lands--the majority of it were wooden cut-outs. Very two dimensional.
Ed: Yeah, like I'm going to compare the It's a Small World ride from two different Disney Parks. What kind of a loser do you think I am?
Lisa: After IASW, went to find a bench for the Electrical Parade. Noticed that most people waiting to watch the parade were massing in the amphitheatre area to the right of the Castle. Wondered if we were making a mistake sitting on a regular bench...did they know something we did not? Decided to take a chance and stayed where we were--a little past the castle heading to IASW. The parade started and came up through Main Street. The Castle sparkled with little flashing lights during it--pretty. The parade itself was super--the introduction was done in French and gave me a little thrill (we were in FRANCE). Most of the walking performers had English accents. Park closed after the parade--headed back to the hotel to write in my journal and sleep in my nice comfy twin bed.
Ed: The parade was very good. Like a parade in the day time, except it's at night, and there are lights at the floats. Sorry if I sound cynical, but I was really, really, really tired at this point. The beds were comfortable. Would recommend Newport Bay hotel to anyone. Very nice rooms, very comfortable beds, nice view.
Lisa: March 12th 8am. Ed forgot to set our travel alarm clock ahead 1 hr. for France, so we slept in till 8 instead of 7 as intended. We were so tired we didn't really care--grateful for that extra hour. Walked to the Park and headed over to the Marionette restaurant . The hotel package included breakfast. It was done in a buffet style. Huge trays of chocolate and regular croissants , ham, cheese, fruit , yogurt, juice and coffee. After several days of the traditional English breakfast, this was a welcome change. Ate far more croissants than necessary and fed the crumbs to the sparrows which looked exactly like the ones that beg at our Park. The day was cooler and more overcast--in the low 60s.
Ed: We ate in the Pinocchio themed restaurant. Ok, here was my chance to make back some of the hundreds of dollars that Disney was getting from me. Free buffet breakfast. Oh yes, I was gonna enjoy this. Another croissant? Well, don't mind if I do. More cheese with that? Yes, thank you. Wash it all down with some orange juice. Ha! I'm sure I ate at least $3 worth of food. That cut Disney's profit on my trip down to the low four figures. I was one smirky camper for the next fifteen or twenty minutes.
Lisa: After breakfast we grabbed a Fastpass for Peter Pan (cool) and headed over to do Snow White. The lines for the "less popular" Fantasyland rides are still much longer than those at home--longer queues are thoughtfully provided. The coaches on Snow White are three rows long instead of our two with each row raised a little higher than the one before. Stylish. The ride itself was almost the same--save for the additional ending of the prince and Miss White waving goodbye in the final scene. Exactly what our Snow White at home needs.
Ed: Now here is a Snow White ride ending that makes sense. The fact that I care about that makes me want to cry.
Lisa: Explored Sleeping Beauty's Castle--made me very sad in a way to see how beautiful it was and how shoddy our one back home is left. There is a large open walkway all around the tapestries and stained glass, and one can look right down to the Castle walkway--very airy. There is a beautiful view of Fantasyland our of the back balcony as well. And below the castle is the sleeping dragon who wakes occasionally and spews steam impressively. The cave itself has a walkway leading up through to the top of the Castle. It was very bittersweet visiting this castle--if only they would take a small percentage of the ideas and update our own beloved centerpiece in CA.
Ed: The castle here is open in the middle so you can see people entering Fantasyland below you. You can loogie right on their heads. Didn't seem in keeping with the spirit of the place, so I resisted. It was a very nice castle.
Lisa: Did not ride carousel but thought it was very pretty. All the horses are done up in armor, it being Lancelot's Carousel and all. Riding Peter Pan as a Fastpass was a new experience for us, and we happily hopped on with a minimum of wait. Like Snow White, the ships are an extra row larger. We still had the front of the ship all to ourselves. The ride followed the same storyline, but all the scenes seem more spacious. All the paint and materials seem very fresh. Captain Hook has a large gash on his leg as he is being eaten by the croc at the end of the story--I don't remember him being that gory from our ride at home.
Ed: I love Peter Pan. I love it in the USA, I love it in France.
Lisa: Decided to take one more ride on Big Thunder, than walked over to get a Fastpass for Space Mtn. While waiting, we decided to ride Star Tours. It was fun hearing C3P0's dialog in French--some of the tech announcements were in English. I wonder how they decide which parts of the attractions to translate and which to leave--it seems pretty random to me. For some reason, we got very motion sick on Star Tours--a ride we've ridden for years back home. It could have been the hot, stuffy atmosphere--none of the indoor attractions seemed to be temperature controlled. As a consequence, we did not feel up to riding Space Mountain--something I regret, for it is one of the main attractions of DLP and much different than ours at home.
Ed: Star Tours is getting very old for me. It was exactly like the Anaheim version. Whose stupid idea was it to ride that thing? Oh really? I don't remember saying that. Well, never mind.
Lisa: I put Ed on a bench to people watch and went looking for some DLP music. One of the shops had a CD listening station and I sampled some of the "exclusive" DLP music. Most all of it was in English, and mostly instrumental. I did find a parade CD with the introduction to the Electrical Parade in French, along with the music for the Character parade which we ended up seeing twice, so I decided to purchase it. Alas, I was told they were sold out and perhaps to look in another shop. Grrr. In the next shop I was told that that CD was completely sold out in every store and not even available in the Disney Village, but if I could possibly take a train to their nearby outlet mall, I might find it. No, thanks. I resolved to take a look at the Disney store in the Village on my way out, as I had ceased to rely on CM info at this point.
The Sweet Shop was my next stop. The store is tucked back in an alleyway of Main St. instead of having a nice large window front along the main strip as the Candy Palace does. This will pain some of you, but I found the shop very poor compared to ours at DL. Most of the items I saw that day were pre-packaged hard candies that one would find at any Disney store. There was only one small case of candy made directly in the shop. No honeycomb, no candy apples, no toffee, no familiar trays of turtles or divinity. I felt very homesick at this point! I finally decided to try their fudge, which the lady behind the counter very kindly cut up into six smaller pieces. One square cost about four dollars American. Found Ed and walked with him to City Hall to mail postcards. About five CMs waiting at the counter to help us. Handed over my cards to a CM who promised she would mail them.
Ed: Lisa shops while I sit. The story of my life.
Lisa: Walked over to Adventureland for a ride on Mark Twain--except it may have been the River Belle. Ed and I are at odds on which paddleboat we rode. They look alike. Enormous crowd trying to get on at once. Boat goes round the river "backwards" Interesting sensation. A beautiful black swan follows the boat. Narration was in French, with very pretty views of Big Thunder island, the "Old Faithful" recreation next to Phantom Manor, and the steam train which runs on the other side of the river. Rode Phantom Manor again--ride stopped just as were going to the exit walkway--just like at home. Messages in French and English.
Ed: I was shocked at the Mark Twain crowd. I felt like yelling out "it's just the Mark Twain people, get a grip." It wasn't called the Mark Twain. When the Mark Twain isn't called the Mark Twain, its time to get out of Dodge.
Lisa: Lunchtime. Walked over to Carnation Plaza to find it closed, as was Victoria's Kitchen. Walt's was just too expensive for us, so we headed over to Casey's Corner for hot dogs. Apparently everyone had our idea--the lines were enormous. Waited for about 20 minutes in line for a hot dog, coke, fries and a doughnut (which never made it into our bag). Cost about nine dollars apiece American. The shop was decorated with American baseball memorabilia.
Ed: Here's the funny thing about that "enormous" line. It was like 4 people. It took 20-30 minutes for them to serve the four people ahead of us. They serve two things at Casey's Corner as far as I could tell, hot dogs and cheese hot dogs. It took them forever to fill every order. Even though they had one person working the register and a separate person filling the order. I guess determining which ones are hot dogs and which ones are cheese hot dogs is a more daunting task than I realized. I seriously wanted to jump over the counter and help. I did like the décor of the restaurant. If you are a baseball fan and go to DLP, stop in a check it out, its pretty cool.
Lisa: Found a bench on Main St. and waited for the afternoon parade. It seems that everyone in the park masses on Main St. to watch the parade--we staked out our bench about 45 minutes before. Ed went for ice cream and came back with some very good strawberry and chocolate ice cream. Took him a long time to get it. Said there were "language barriers" I'm sure he will elaborate.
Ed: Ok, the guys at the ice cream shop were my hands down favorite French food service workers. I mean, they were really giving it the old college try. Between the four of them I don't think they understood more than 6 words of English. Which is understandable, this is France after all. Unfortunately, every customer spoke English. There were numerous quizzical looks during the order exchange but with the help of a chart that listed all the flavors and the use of fingers to denote scoops, they held it to under 5 minutes a customer. Surely some sort of record there. Ladies and Gentlemen of the ice cream shop, I salute you!
Lisa: Then the parade-- I'll never for get the music. They started it up several minutes before the parade passed by and continued playing it long after it had gone. "Dancing' a catchy rhythm" was recorded in English, but I kept wanting to add the preposition "to" after "Dancin"...perhaps it was originally written in French? Very cheerful and bouncy, though. Standard character floats. One float was a rooftop with chimney sweeps dancing in it and around it....but no Mary Poppins to be seen! I guess she was on holiday.
Ed: Ohhhh that music. Someone please kill me.
Lisa: After the parade we had a decision to make--stay another hour and try to meet up with Adrienne Vincent Phoenix, who amazingly was coming to DLP just as we were leaving, or try to catch an earlier flight back to England? We decided to try for the earlier flight, as our later one would get us into London rather late at night. We headed back to our hotel with a stop at the Disney shops in the Village on our way back. The first thing we saw were stacks of parade CDs at the front counter--the very CDs that at least three CMs told us were sold out, which reinforced my belief that the DLP CMs are not trained to have any knowledge of any store other than their own.
Got back to the hotel and collected our bags and asked if any shuttles were leaving to take us to the airport. Concierge pointed one out and rushed us on. I'll let Ed take over this part of the story...
Ed: I find it hard to describe the next part of our trip without tossing my computer out the window in a rage. Lets just say we had what could be the dumbest human being on the planet as our shuttle driver. He wanted us to pay the fare twice even though we had purchased our tickets directly from him. He announced the shuttle's arrival at our terminal by sitting in front of the stop for two seconds and making no noise whatsoever. He seemed to have equal trouble with French and English speaking passengers (I thought a Belgian woman was going to jam her bag down his throat.) Every time his idiocy was pointed out to him, he would shrug and hold his palms up as if to say "I'm sorry that I am alive." Thanks to him we missed the earlier flight and got to spend several lovely hours in the ugliest airport I have ever seen (and believe me, I've seen a few). The flight back to England was uneventful.
Ok, you may think I didn't like the park or that I didn't have a good time. Nothing could be further from the truth. I really had a nice time at the park. Its really beautiful and most of the rides were fun and the food (when we eventually got it) was good. It was fun to go to a place that was very similar to Disneyland but slightly different. I would certainly go again if they uprooted the entire park and put it ten miles from my house. It just isn't different enough to rate a trip half way across the world for me when I got the real deal an hour away.
Lisa:--I'll vouch for the fact that Ed and I had a great time. It's rare that we get two days at a Disney theme park--and the fact that we were actually in France and surviving made it even better. It also gave us a nice conversation piece with our "Disney friends", though our non-Disney friends and family would fall silent when we tried to explain how we went to France yet we did not see the Eiffel Tower. Finally, it made us very thankful for the park in our own back yard--beloved Disneyland and even California Adventure. So overall our trip was a wonderful success. And if Ed and I can survive at DLP with only two phrases of French and have a great time, so can any American.
Edward and Lisa Perkis