Steve Zlick -- July 2003 -- Disneyland Paris (HNY)
Our Cast of Characters
(The Following is a Trip Report about Disneyland Paris and some of Paris itself) as experienced by MousePadders innerSpaceman and Zapppop - July 5 through 15, 2003. Some days previous to this Trip Report appearing on MousePad in serial form, Padder Gemini Cricket posted a short report of his own. What follows is my rather lengthy response)
Well friends, Gemini Cricket wasn't the only MousePadder in Europe earlier this month. Zapppop and I were also loose in France and, in fact, met up with the Cricket at EuroDisneyland and in Paris for Bastille Day. There is nothing like La Fete Nationale (as they call it) in the City of Lights, and we had a doozie. But, that's getting ahead of the story.
Mr. Cricket inspired me with his European trip report to dash off one of my own. Naturally, me being me, this one's a bit longer than his. But for anyone interested in the exploits and adventures of Zapppop and iSm on foreign soil, read on ...
Let me start off by saying that Paris is a beautiful, amazing and quite charming city. We stayed in a trendy area of the Rive Gauche (that's the left bank of the Seine) known as St-Germain des Pres, right in the heart of the city. Tiny, winding, little streets lined with sidewalk cafes and art galleries. Serene and atmospheric by day, wild and streetacular by night. Our hotel, pretentiously called L'Hotel, was the essence of Parisian charm. Gemini Cricket and Ralphie may have had the wonderful opportunity of seeing Oscar Wilde's grave, but Zapppop and I had the distinct pleasure of sleeping in the room where Oscar Wilde DIED! It was, in fact, the most beautiful suite of rooms I have ever stayed in - wonderful antique architecture, finishes and furnishings. I wish we had spent more time there, but Zapp and I were on a mission (ok, it was my mission) to see all the wonders of Paris in four days.
Did I mention that Paris is a beautiful and amazing city! And how much more beautiful it will be when they complete the massive stone-cleansing process that almost every monument and cathedral in the city is presently undergoing. Centuries of grime and filth are being removed from the treasured architectural wonders of Paris, and oh what an astounding difference it makes. The black and brown streaked gunk of the ages may give the buildings that very antiqued and ancient look, but the pure, clean stone takes you back to the dawn of creation and restores the dignity and glory of these architectural masterpieces that dot the city.
Many of these masterpieces are gigantic, gothic cathedrals. There is a huge cathedral every third block in Paris. Sort of like 7-11s in the San Fernando Valley. But instead of being able to see the next convenience store from the last, there is always a humongous, towering cathedral just around every corner. This many outsized houses of worship seems rather overboard, but perhaps this particular quantity of fantastic temples of God were necessary to appease the deity for the very bloody and violent history of Paris. Anyways, Zapp and I tried to pick out the 20 or so most glorious cathedrals and churches out of the 60 or so in the city, but we did end up getting a bit of cathedral overload. (Uch, another gothic cathedral, how boring!) There is a reason, however, that the star attractions are the star attractions the two best cathedrals are on the Ile de la Cite, the ancient island in the Seine where Paris began. Saint-Chapell is stunningly glorious and took my breath away. A chapel made entirely of hundred-foot-tall stained glass windows, it is surely one of the man-made wonders of the world. And the illustrious Notre-Dame is awe-inspiring. Though it looked much like every other cathedral in town, the ancient and abiding spirit of the place was undeniable. Zapp and I were fortunate enough to be treated to a live choir performance, and the feeling I got when the Latin singing echoed off the centuries-old walls sent chills down my spine and actually brought tears to my eyes.
But there was more to Paris that dozens of cathedrals. Our feet were bloody stumps at the end of four days, but we did end up seeing about 93 of the hundred or so things we attempted to see in the city. Oddly enough, one of our favorite places turned out to be the cemetery in Montmartre - a veritable village of the dead with acre after acre of lavish tombs and crypts where Zapppop and I had the guilty pleasure of playing like children. But in fact, Paris is awash in blood and death. The place de la Concorde, now home to the ancient Luxor obelisk that Napoleon looted from Egypt, was once the spot were the masses gathered after La Revolution to watch the guillotine sing it's where thousands of Parisians were made a foot shorter as their bodies were relieved of their heads. Before that, the Place Maubert, on the other side of the Seine, was the preferred destination for stonings and live burnings of witches. But our tour of Paris was not entirely morbid.
Among the more traditional tourist destinations, we were most impressed with the Louvre - which we adored more for the lavish architecture and decoration of the palace itself than for the unbelievably amazing collection of art and artifacts housed within it. We felt compelled to make a lengthy second visit to the Louvre on our last day in town and ended up seeing about 70% of the exhibition space by the time we were done. After the glory of the Louvre, however, we found the fabled Palace of Versailles, outside of Paris, to be a gaudy, tasteless disappointment. The Sun King, for all his fame and power, had no taste, really. His palace is all red velvet, gold-plated, overdone kitsch. We were so disgusted with Versailles that we broke down and ate at a McDonald's in the village. Well, the sentimentality and nostalgia of burgers served in foam boxes brought us more pleasure than did the stately pleasure palace of Louis XIV.
Other than Mickey D's, we were strictly French in our dining. As confirmed by Gemini Cricket and NotAfraid in that other Euro thread, the French sure can cook! We splurged big time on a couple of haute cuisine meals. The Tour d'Argent was the embodiment of luxury and dining excellence. We got high on a $300 bottle of wine (from the most extensive wine cellar in Europe, and a carte de vin thicker than all the Harry Potter books combined). I dined on the delicious duckling which they have specialized in since 1542 (ok, so I ate a poor little duckling - the veal of the avian world - but it was the most delicious meat I have ever consumed). During dinner, we were treated to a delightful view over the Seine of a dramatic, blood-red sunset against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral. Tres jolie!
We had another great meal at said Eiffel Tower in the Jules Verne restaurant. The food and service were excellent and the view was breathtaking. Private Wonkavator to the 2nd level of the Eiffel Tower Zapppop and I walked down through the amazing structure afterwards. But the best meals were to be had in much less formal settings, in the cafes of St-Germain des Pres and the Rive Gauche. So quintessentially Parisian!!
Another traditional dining experience in Paris is the suppertime picnic. All over town - in parks, on bridges, on the quays of the Seine, Parisians by the hundreds lay down a blanket, break out the wine and cheese and bread, and have a picnic. One of the most popular spots for this is the Champ de Mars, the long field at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. And just as twilight finally fills the air, at ten o'clock p.m., the Tower transforms into a pulsing spire of twinkling lights. Thousands of individual white strobes have been installed along every beam and girder of the famous tower, and each evening at 10, 11 and midnight, the lights erupt for ten minutes to turn the Eiffel into the world's largest twinkle Tower. Our thanks go out to the Pad's very own Ghoulish Delight for tipping us to this phenomenon, else we might have departed before 10 p.m. On yet another night of our trip, we did indeed make it to the very tippy top of the Tower, and the view was astounding (especially when you stick your head through the guard rails and look straight down). The hourly twinkling strobe effect up close at the pinnacle was like being at the Disco On Top of the World.
We were also treated to some great live music in Paris. In addition to the choir at Notre- Dame, we happened upon live band concerts at the Luxembourg Gardens and outside the Saint-Eustace cathedral. There were also some amazing musicians toiling away in the subterranean Metro stations. Not only your classic Parisian accordion players, but violinists, tuba players, oboe players, and even pianists with entire keyboard setups deep underground.
There were also nightly jam sessions on the quays along the banks of the Seine. Some of these impromptu gatherings produced some fabulous, rock-out music, and really added to the party atmosphere along the river at night. One of the best Seine party spots was the Pont des Beaux Arts, just across from our hotel. As the only strictly pedestrian crossing of the Seine, this bridge sees a lot of lively action. One particular evening, folks were even diving into the Seine in their underwear! Those crazy Parisians!!
(On another particular evening, we saw someone actually get thrown in the Seine during a minor teen gang dispute. That was crazy of another kind.)
Four days in Paris went by like a flash. Luckily, we were going to return to the city for the great national celebration of Bastille Day. Oh, that's what I was going to talk about, wasn't' it? Oh well, that's coming up. But first ... a few days at EuroDisneyland A fabulous and beautiful park that any Disneyland lover would, well, love.
Let's see, where did we leave off? Oh yes, the boys (that's me and Zapppop) were headed to EuroDisneyland from Paris.
By the way, we hate the name Disneyland Paris cause it's like calling the Anaheim park Disneyland Los Angeles. So it will always be EuroDisneyland to us. Who can keep up with all the name changes anyway? (Officially, it's now Parc Disneyland")
For one horrible afternoon, we dropped out of the posh, posh traveling life and hauled our own baggage across Paris to the RER station to catch a train to Marne la Vallee and EuroDisney. Poor Zapp had old-style wheeled baggage that kept tipping over; the schlep in the hot sun was further than we'd thought; and finding the train to Disneyland was confusing. When we finally arrived at the end of the line (specially extended by Disney to its property), I found that my 5-day train pass had somehow expired while I was on the train, and I couldn't get past the exit turnstiles out of the station. I had to pass my bags over a wall to Zapppop and then climb over myself.
But after one more haul in the blazing heat, we were once again welcomed into the lap of luxury and the open arms of the Hotel New York. We were shown to our suite by none other than the hotel manager, where we were greeted with a fabulous view across the lake, surprise Unlimited Fast Passes for the length of our stay, and a chilled bottle of champagne. Now that's more like it!
All through our stay in Paris, I had been getting Zapp used to the concept of wine with dinner, wine with lunch, wine with everything (hey, it's France). He cannot stomach white wine, is fairly agreeable with red, but on this day we discovered Zapp's true wine love champagne! As some of you may know, actual champagne comes from the Champagne region of France the other stuff from anywhere else falsely billed as champagne is actually just sparkling wine. Well, this was the real stuff; this was the good stuff. And what better way to make my first entry to EuroDisneyland but as a drunk. (Well, a classy drunk It was, after all, champagne.)
So this was my first time in EuroDisneyland. Zapppop had been here once before, about a year ago. He was going to show me around the place. But first, we had to make it past Main Street. That was more difficult than you might think, what with me practically peeing my pants at all the marvelous sights and bizarre sensations.
Entering a strange Disneyland is a bit surreal. There's a train station, there's City Hall, there's the Emporium, there's Town Square but it's all different, yet alike; strange yet familiar. It's like a dream about Disneyland that you can't wake up from. My only other experience with this had been the Tragic Kingdom in Florida, which was more like a nightmare about Disneyland.
This place was indeed a dream.
One that I never wanted to wake up from.
Oh, that Castle! That pink, storybook Castle! It completely dominates Main Street, and the Hub, and the Park (you can see it from everywhere!) It's huge - but is it an overbearing fortress like a certain one in Orlando? It's pink - but is it a garish birthday cake - hmmm, also like a certain one in Orlando? No, it manages to avoid both follies and maintain a fanciful dignity as a storybook castle come to life, the true Castle of Sleeping Beauty (Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant) with its square-shaped trees, its tumbling waterfall, and its graceful form rising out of a mountain slab on one side. And are those tiny mirrors twisting in the wind, or actual fiber optics implanted in the walls and spires that cause the Castle to subtly twinkle with fairy dust before my astonished eyes?!
The Castle had me enthralled. The whole place had me enthralled. It is a tremendously beautiful park, replete with wonderful details and imagineering excellence. Zapp's pictures will do more to convey the loveliness of this park, but suffice it to say that, in my drunken, first-impression state of mind, this Disneyland had me reeling. My many visits to Orlando's Tragic Kingdom had me convinced that a worthy copy of the original Disneyland simply could not be done. That conviction has been proven wrong. The makers of this park took note of everything wonderful in Anaheim, and everything horrible in Orlando, and have created a Disneyland that in many ways surpasses the original. Ugh, it makes me cringe to even to type those words, but it's true. So I'll be pointing out the ways in which the French Disneyland improves upon the California park, and I'll be sure to also point out the areas in which the original Disneyland remains the best (all in my most humble opinion, of course). Instead of boring you with a detailed account of every minute of our four-day exploration of EuroDisneyland, I'll simply go land by land and give you some impressions of this magnificent theme park. But first ... a few more words about that amazing Castle.
As beautiful and fairytale as it is from the outside, the inside of the Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant is where I really started to get jealous. They, too, have a version of the Sleeping Beauty Walk-Thru, but there would be no possible way to shutter it for terrorist concerns without closing down their castle completely. That's because the inside of the Chateau is one big, open atrium - with the story of Sleeping Beauty unfolding for guests on the second storey. Climbing a regal staircase, you rise along with the great halls' rock-carved pillars as they blossom to become elegant stone trees on the upper level, with their own fiber-optic twinkly effects in their boughs. The legend of the Princess Aurora is told at first through a series of stained-glass windows that perfectly capture the look of the film and the storybook opening of the fairytale. These are enhanced with physical objects here and there, such as an actual burning spinning wheel in a fireplace, and stone pillars carved with figures of the woodland creatures that befriend Briar Rose. Then the story shifts to being told through gigantic tapestries, this time punctuated by such touches as morphing picture windows, fiber optic fairy dust, and the figure of Maleficent's Raven after being turned to stone. A statue of Aurora and Prince Philip dancing in each other's arms completes the tale (the dress is neither pink nor blue, but bronze), and then guests are guided out to the terrace for a wonderful view over Fantasyland. It's an amazing and satisfyingly appropriate way to tell the tale - and, frankly, it puts our hokey dioramas to shame.
But that's not all about the inside of this castle. There's a fantastically themed Merlin store, strewn with magician's gear and conjurer's trappings. Hmph, all the stores at this Park are marvelously themed, better themed than some of the actual attractions at the original Disneyland. But Merlin's has got something extra a hidden passage that leads to a stone staircase which takes you down to the rocky cavern beneath the Castle where lies ... the DRAGON.
I know I'm not busting out with breaking news about the presence of a dragon beneath the Chateau, but I must at least relay that this is no cheesy dragon of the sort that is featured in Fantasmic. No mere reptile head on a broomstick here this is a fantastically crafted audio- animatronic monster. It belches smoke from its fearsome, fang-filled mouth. Its ragged claws clutch at the rock, its scaly stomach rises and falls with its fiery breath, and its wings attempt to beat in the confined space of the cavern. It snorts and coughs and, every few minutes, becomes enraged and frantic, roaring in agony, and surely angry enough to grab the nearest child and eat it! were it not for the iron collar that chains this malevolent dragon to a rocky outcrop at the edge of a fetid pool beneath the Castle.
Yes, my friends, Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant RULES!
But enough about the Castle. And that's enough for today's rather long episode merely an introduction to the wonders of Euro Disneyland. In our next installment, Zapppop and innerSpaceman explore Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland and Discoveryland, and compare adventures and attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and Space Mountain with their counterparts in the other Disney theme parks of the Western Hemisphere.
Gosh, I am so sorry about being late with the next installment of our story. Zapp and I decided that the tale could be improved by including links to photographs! That's ready at last - and so, from here on out, every time you see some underlined text, you can zap over to one of zapp's photographs of our amazing adventure. You know what they say a picture is worth a thousand words. And one of zapppop's photos is easily worth 725 of iSm's words.
When we last saw our Americans in Paris, they were just beginning their tour of DLP, EDL, whatever it's called nowadays.
So EuroDisneyland ... what's it all about?
Let's take a look around the place with zapppop & iSm and see what's up with this park in far-off France.
Main Street U.S.A. - is based mostly on the DisneyWorld variety, but with architecture less cartoonish than that found in the Tragic Kingdom. It's a most agreeable Main Street, a bit wider, stores a bit roomier, and a pleasant feeling of American nostalgia that must mean something entirely different to the local audience than it does to us. There's a gazebo in Town Square that immediately blocks your view of the amazing Castle at the end of the street. But soon enough, it catches your gaze and, boy, are you caught. The huge Chateau dominates Main Street in a way that is quite foreign to our Anaheim counterpart, with our much more humble Main Street Buildings and our far more demurrer storybook castle.
Perhaps the most odd and unique aspect of Marne la Vallee's Main Street is the presence of two arcades, indoor walkways, that run down either side of Main Street behind the stores. These wide and inviting passages are a welcome weather-proof alternative to Tokyo Disneyland's absurd Main Street solution of covering the entire street with a glass roof. And, boy, could we ever use them here in California during parades and such, instead of having to wend your way through the crowded stores. The Discovery Arcade and the Liberty Arcade each have exhibits, amazing murals and, at the Liberty Arcade, a wonderful nighttime tableau of Lady Liberty practically hidden in an alcove. I never would have found this little gem were it not for the keen services of my tour guide zapppop. And there were many other hidden gems of this Park to be found.
I think the most unexpected of these was just inside the entrance to Adventureland.
Euro Disneyland's Adventureland is very different from the others. It starts off as an Arabian marketplace, and tucked down an alleyway is an Aladdin walk-thru that was eerily like our almost forgotten Sleeping Beauty walk-thru in Anaheim. A charming collection of window tableaus, very nicely done. Take a look.
Further away from the Hub, their Adventureland starts to take on the more typical trappings of an equatorial forest. Frankly, it never got as tropically lush as ours, but it is much, much bigger. Way down towards the thickest part of their jungle, I could see the tops of the Temple of Peril poking above the foliage. This backwards, looping Indiana Jones coaster is disaffectionately known as the Temple of Pain, for the chiropractic havoc it sometimes wrecks on riders. Think we'll skip that one for now.
On to Isle!
Wow, this place is every DisneylandFanBoy's dream of Tom Sawyer Island / Fantasyland Pirate Ship / Swiss Family Treehouse Come Back to Life !! It's all there, and more. Intricate caves, rope bridges, a shipwreck, and Skull Rock, too! All without having to set sail in a raft, this fantastic Disneyland playland gives Tom Sawyer Island a run for its money. The suspension bridge, the pontoon bridge, 1 wrecked ship and 1 pirate ship, caverns a hundred times more intricate and involved than Injun Joe's and all the other caves on TSI combined, plus a full-on Swiss Family Treehouse - it's all a load of fun and happily easy to get to. As you could see from the previous photo, their pirate ship bears a striking resemblance to our old Fantasyland pirate ship. The French version of Skull Rock, however, is much more foreboding than ours ever was.
Across from Skull Rock and the ship is a towering fortress that is home to the French version of Pirates of the Caribbean. I was prepared for the worst, but that's not what I got. While not the best Pirates either (in my estimate) it certainly does have some twists that make it a ride of its own. Warning: Thar be spoilers ahead. If you haven't been to EuroDisney, and are thinking of one day going to Euro Disney, you may be spoiled about a good many rides and attractions I'm going to talk freely about in these pages.
After a wonderfully realized queue that winds through the fortress, their Pirates gets off to a fast start - dispensing with all the bayou and cavern stuff and, instead, straightaway hauling your boat up into the fort as it's being ransacked by buccaneers. At one point, a scurvy pirate swings in on a rope, just above the boats and, in another moment, your boats plunges down into their version of the pirate ship scene. This part is less magnificently realized than the original, with a much smaller set-up and cloud-filled skies that are much less convincing. Coming out of the drop, the boats breeze through this scaled-down pirate ship scene very swiftly, and then proceed into your regularly scheduled Pirates of the Caribbean already in progress. Then, near the end of the ride, things get a little weird again when the dog with the jail keys scene (which spans both sides of the boat channel) is followed by an abridged version of the cavern scenes - culminating with the (cursed?) treasure, where boats back up waiting to unload.
Though it would eventually grow on me a bit, I must say that I was not all that impressed with Euro Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. Going in straight chronological order with the skeleton stuff at the end, and starting off with a bang at the Fortress Attack were interesting twists - but I definitely prefer the original version. It is by no means a bad ride, and it's a thousand times better than the horrific Florida version. Still, I think they missed the boat by foregoing the very moody and dramatic opening scenes in the caverns and doing without the whole evil curse element of the experience. Oh, and while they had some cool fire effects in the burning town, their cloud effects suck. In fact, after the lackluster clouds in the pirate ship scene, they did without any clouds whatsoever for the rest of the ride. All in all, I was not terribly impressed but neither was I bitterly disappointed.
Things took a decided turn for the better in Frontierland.
The land is dominated by Big Thunder Mountain, which sits on an island in the midst of the Rivers of America, er, uh, Rivers of the Far West. Despite how preposterous it may seem to have a scraggly southwest desert mountain rising straight out of a bucolic river, it actually works in way that I simply can't explain. It just looks tremendously cool sitting out there on the water, and the rushing trains barreling around and through the mountainside added a nicely kinetic feeling to Frontierland. But now, down to business how was the ride??
Lemme just come right out and say it - Big Thunder Blew Me Away. Without doubt, the best Big Thunder Mountain in the western hemisphere, and the wildest ride in the wilderness. (I was tickled to hear our old ride safety spiel in the loading area.) The train takes off like a bat out of hell and immediately plunges you down into total darkness, as it shoots beneath the river to get out to Big Thunder, um, Island. Once there, the runaway train ride really rocks - careening through cactus-strewn, snow speckled deserts, and racing through a mining camp populated by braying burrows and hungry goats. The train shoots out over the river on a curving trestle, and splashes down into the water at a rickety mining dock. The western environment was completely convincing, with the most realistic looking mountain and authentically southwestern flora than I've seen on any version of this attraction. Yes, this French Big Thunder is better than either of its American counterparts. The ride has a thrilling conclusion as your train once again plummets beneath the river, storming through a bat cave to make a sudden, squealing stop back at the station. This Big Thunder Railroad starts and ends with a bang, and everything in between is first rate. Best - Big - Thunder - Mountain - Ever.
Well, it's about 10 in the evening, and it's finally getting dark. A deep orange sunset over Big Thunder Island Mountain looks so unbelievably American and, just around the river bend, high on a hilltop, there stands a dilapidated old mansion. Phantom Manor. Time for one more ride.
The Manor looks more like the Norman Bates house than a haunted mansion. The attraction itself is a mix of Haunted Mansion and, well, something else. Things start off nicely as you climb the hill toward the Manor there is eerie music coming from a gazebo teahouse off to one side and, further up, even creepier sounds start and stop, seemingly random-like, from an overflow queue area that I'm glad we don't have to wait in. Really, the combination of sights and especially sounds on the grounds of the Manor have already given me the creeps.
Floorboards are appropriately creaky as we walk the Manor's deck towards the front door. Besides the western architecture, the real difference about the outside of Phantom Manor is that it's run-down and more typically haunted-house looking than it's HM counterparts. None of this we'll take care of the outside and the ghosts will take care of the inside kind of thing. Here, it's the ghosts' show all the way. For a little while, you are lulled into thinking that you are simply on a westernish version of Haunted Mansion - there's the entry hall (this one's got a changing portrait, like DisneyWorld's), the stretch room, and the corridor with morphing pictures. All well and good, but already you begin to notice a not-so-subtle difference. This Mansion, er, Manor has a definite story line. The set-up is all in French, but it's clear from the changing portrait and all the pictures in the stretch-room that this attraction is all about a jilted bride. And when we're trapped in the chamber with no windows and no doors, the Phantom has a very different way out than the Ghost Host. For high above us, amidst the lightening strikes, we see not merely a man hanging from a ceiling noose, the suicides of the Mansions - but a dark and gloating figure (the phantom?) actually hanging some poor wretch (the groom?) by the neck it's a murder! (gasp!)
Things start to go very astray at the doombuggy loading zone. Instead of the dark, amorphous area of the Mansions, this is a quite recognizable interior room in the Manor a salon with a grand staircase rising to a large picture window in which frequent lightening strikes reveal the carcass of a gnarled, old tree just outside. From here on in, there is no more ride narration. But the story is clear it's all about bride, bride and more bride.
She makes her first real appearance right at the outset, a full-on AA figure standing lost and alone in a hallway of the Manor. And who is that ghost materializing and dematerializing in the endless hallway? Why, yes, it's the bride again. Is she a ghost, then? Is she alive or is she dead? As we move backwards through the corridors of the Manor, we see that its conservatory has a ghostly-playing piano instead of a ghoulish coffin - and the glass walls of the room very convincingly reveal more scraggly dead trees just outside, amid the lightening flashes. They do lightening windows very well at Phantom Manor.
As we proceed down the corridor, we can see that the ghoulies and goblins trying to break through the doors are far more aggressive than their American counterparts. The doors bow and bend quite violently, and one particular ghoul has pushed the top of a door out so far that he can make a grab for you! We round a corner, and the familiar clock striking thirteen comes into view - but instead of a shadowy claw moving across its face, it is rather the eyes patterned into the wallpaper that come to life one pair glowing, and then another, and another glowing eyes moving with your doombuggy across the wall. A very creepy touch.
When we enter Madame Leota's chamber, we find that they have dispensed with the floating musical instruments, and instead have a rather dramatic background behind yet another set of very cool windows that wrap around the curved chamber. Black draped curtains and massive Griffin statues are set against a milky backdrop of swirling ether, a view into the netherworld of another dimension. The background is so striking that one hardly looks at Leota! What's that she's babbling in French anyway? Well, at least they've managed to master the floating table effect that we flirted with unsuccessfully for a while in Anaheim.
The ballroom scene is strikingly similar, but of course it's not merely a ball, but a wedding reception. Piles of wedding gifts lie on the floor near the fireplace, and the table is set for a matrimonial feast, with a layered wedding cake at one end. But what's that? Atop the cake there is only the figure of a bride, hmmm, with no groom. And there stands the bride herself, on a stairway behind the table, looking, well, lost and confused again. Instead of ghosts streaming in through the open windows, we see the skull-faced figure of the Phantom, revealed to us for the first time as he chortles and laughs at the bride's sad predicament: Jilted at the altar! Little does she know that her groom is dead and that she will spend eternity waiting for him. Ha ha hahahahaha!
But the ghostly wedding guests continue to twirl and dance into the hereafter. There are no dueling portraits above them, but rather a painting of the Manor in happier times. And those aren't skulls that come rolling out of the massive organ at the end of the hall, but whole skeletons endlessly emerging from the maddening drone of the pipes.
As we leave the ballroom, we depart the Haunted Mansion entirely and begin to explore a very different attraction. We are not in the attic, but rather in a plain, empty room with a crackling fire in the hearth. Then we round a corner to enter ... ah, the bride's boudoir. There she is at her vanity mirror, softly sobbing. Why, look, she's horribly old! And, oh my, this must be foreboding the entire mirror transforms into a brooding skull. Our doombuggies then take us outside the Manor, but we are already on the ground floor with no need to descend. Far from the happy-go-lucky graveyard with its musical ghosts and partying ghouls, we are in a tiny back-yard cemetery ... and there stands the Phantom, gleefully cackling as he stands over a freshly dug grave, a six foot hole in the ground just waiting ... for who? For you?!
Just then we are startled by a huge, snarling dog ... a hound from hell with glowing red eyes and drool dripping fangs. And now the ride gets really bizarre and Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore. Our doombuggies take us below the ground and into the foul realm of the undead and buried. Skeletal zombies are breaking free from their coffins, and rotting corpses are reaching toward you, crawling from their graves and grasping at your doombuggy. It is nothing short of totally freaky, but just as quickly as things get scary, they take a turn towards humor. It's a rather jarring transition, but I can just imagine little kids wetting themselves during the corpse-athon if it were to go on another minute.
So, we swing around a corner and there are our old, familiar friends the singing busts, doing their souped-up, jazzy version of Grim Grinning Ghosts. The zombies and skeletons join in the fun, dancing and playing instruments one of them actually banging away on a skull-head xylophone. And just when you thought things couldn't get weirder, you are unexplainedly transported to a wild west town at sunset, with a gunfight going on between a sheriff and some bad guy. A wolf is howling in the distance as we move through the town and come upon some of its curious denizens. Are they dead? Are they alive? What's going on here?
There's an apothecary where some fiendish man has mixed up a chemical soup and is jeckyll-and-hydingly swallowing the batch. At the saloon next door, things seem all in order. A barkeep, a piano player and (ahem) a lady of the evening stand around, quite normally. Oh, but what's that holding a candelabra to illuminate the ivories for the honky-tonk man? It's a gangly, ghoulish arm reaching out from inside the piano. Ah, so things in this town are not all that they seem. In fact, just across the way, there's an even more telling display. It's a poker game in progress, but -um- there are no poker players. Just chips and cards moving through the air by themselves! Cards being dealt, bets being laid, all without a soul in sight. Oh, there are souls there alright. Just not in sight. This creepy little touch of the ghostly poker game is my single favorite effect in Phantom Manor.
And, speaking of the Phantom, there he is again! Clothes all in tatters, skull-face all a'grimace, cackling and laughing as usual. I mean, really, that's all he does! And then, in one last apparition, is the ghostly bride floating in space, with her gown of white now a ghastly shroud, its filmy white tendrils waving in the air as she soars into a blinding, white light. Yes, go into the light. There is peace and serenity in the light.
The ride ends with the classic mirror trick. No hitchhiking ghosts here, but each doombuggy is reflected back with the figure of the Phantom climbing over the top of the vehicle, about to reach in and ...
Well, not quite. There's still Little Leota to deal with. Unfortunately, she's shunted off to a side room and is viewed, at your option only, through cell bars as she performs her eerie incantation in Franglish. But what Phantom Manor lacks in Leota, it makes up for with the Boot Hill Cemetery just outside.
This western graveyard comes complete with the expected collection of funny tombstones, but there are also a couple of twists of a, hmmm, less humorous nature. If you dare tap on one particularly large crypt, you will be answered by the deep and echoing thump-thump, thump-thump of the tell-tale heart deep within. And if your presence is sensed on a viewing platform in the middle of the graveyard, strange sounds and creepy music will fill the air around you. Music is used to excellent effect at Phantom Manor its prominent score is very different from the Mansion music. Featuring absolutely eerie, plaintive solos by the bride, the Manor's musical themes are very dramatic and quite scary.
So, did I, um, go into a little bit of detail about Phantom Manor? Yeah, well, I love that ride. I'm not knocking the Haunted Mansion (in fact, I think I may slightly prefer its more non-specific non-storyline), but the Manor is a fabulous ghost ride. HauntedMansion- like for a while and then, whoa, does it ever veer into something completely different.
One of the things I admire most about Phantom Manor and also about France's Pirates of the Caribbean is the way the Imagineers realized that the elevation changes (the drop in Pirates, the stretch room in Mansion / Manor) were important elements of the guest experience, and remedied the mistakes made in Orlando through great effort and not-strictly-necessary expense. You see, neither France nor Florida is in need of a berm; there is no city to keep at bay, but merely empty countryside beyond the boundaries of those parks. In Florida, they just dispensed with going underground to get outside the non-existent berm. There are no drops on Pirates, and the stretch- rooms in the Mansion simply rise above the guests ... they do not descend one foot. In France, however, the Pirates ride purposely hauls the boats to an upper level just so they can plunge down a drop a bit later in the ride. Phantom Manor was put way on top of a hill so that the elevator stretch rooms could descend and return guests to ground level. These are two touches that I really appreciated.
Well, it's almost closing time on our first day in the park (we actually rode a few more attractions than I've described, but I'll cover those in future installments when I get to talking about those Lands). So, it's time for nighttime entertainment fireworks and the new parade, Fantillusion. We had seen the new parade heavily advertised in Paris, and we were looking forward with great anticipation to what would be only like the 6th run of this brand new pageant.
Unfortunately, we were very disappointed with Fantillusion. It was nothing but a stop- and-go latter-day electrical parade. The floats themselves were pretty enough, but not particularly impressive. Take a look.
The floats traveled in packs of three, moved along and then stopped for a ten minute interlude while they performed some rudimentary trick (Aladdin and Jasmine being levitated on a flying carpet, for example) before moving on again. Depending upon where you were along the parade route, you were either rewarded or shafted. If you got Maleficent turning into a dragon, well fine. But otherwise, the float transformation was not all that spectacular. (Honorable Mention goes to Jafar becoming a giant cobra, but no other floats are worth even mentioning at all). And the music well it was catchy ... like a bad cold. Annoying, cloying, repetitive and daft. If I never hear that song again, it will be too soon. Reportedly, the French version of Fantillusion is a fraction as long as the Tokyo version was. In that, and only that, the French are lucky.
The fireworks show in EuroDisneyland is called Tinkerbell's Fantasy in the Sky. That's because it's all about Tinkerbell, and the musical score is all from Peter Pan. There are some neat effects at the beginning of the show when Tink flies around the castle as a point of twinkling light, trailing behind her a shower of sparks. Some nifty pyro-on-a-wire accomplishes this very cool-looking effect. And then, in a reverse twist on the usual, Tinkerbell (the live performer) actually flies up from the ground to the Castle on her (much thicker) wire. The fireworks then begin and they, too, are not your classic Disneyland variety. Apparently because of complaints by neighboring farmers on behalf of their easily spooked livestock, exploding shells in the skies have been banned. So the EuroDiz fireworks are all of the flare type. I must say that, with what they have to work with, they do an excellent job. It's not as amazing as the Disney fireworks we're used to in the States but it's beautiful nonetheless, the towering Chateau provides a very dramatic setting, and the crowd loves it all the same.
Zapppop pretty much despises the EuroDisneyland fireworks. They do represent an unfortunate compromise with the park's neighbors, but much the same can be said for our Disneyland's inability to run any fireworks whatsoever on a school night. As for myself, beautiful is beautiful and Tinkerbell's Fantasy in the Sky is surely better than a finger in the eye.
Well, my friends, thus ends my first foray into Disneyland Paris. It's a wonderful park, but I found myself wondering if four days here would be overkill. Ha little did I know that we would barely have enough time to experience all the wonders of France's magnificent Disneyland.
The Adventure Continues
Well another day dawns in Marne La Vallee, the sleepy French town that has become home to Disneyland Paris. Or should I still refer to it as Euro Disneyland? Wait a second, what's it they're calling it nowadays? Parc Disneyland? DLP, EDL, PDL? It's all a bit schizophrenic. But what's in a name, you say? Would not Disneyland by any other name be as fun?
I suppose, then, it doesn't matter what they call the place. But I can't help but have nagging doubts about a place that can't make up its own mind on what its own name is. And things once named can't so easily be changed. It takes more than a decree on paper to alter how people think of something they've already gotten used to. And, unfortunately for the French Disneyland, it takes much more than a change on paper, but rather a re-working of lots of infrastructure and signage and materials. Not just once, but twice, three times? Inevitably, the various name changes do not catch up with current whim and you end up with a hodge-podge of different names scattered all over the resort.
Zapppop just loves the fact that they can't get the names straight, and that traces of various discarded names still exist here and there ... and over there, and there. For myself, I just have to smirk at how very unprofessional it seems to change names so many times, but without making sure that each change is reflected everywhere it needs to be.
For the record, the park was known as EuroDisneyland from its opening in April 1992 until May of 1994. Then, until September of '94, it was bizarrely re-named EuroDisneyland Paris until the more reasonable (if totally inaccurate) name change to simply Disneyland Paris took effect that October. One might have thought that would be the end of it, but no. In March 2002, the name changed once again, this time to Parc Disneyland. And so it goes. Anyone want to guess what the name will be next year?
Why, it was only last year that the EuroDisneyland Railroad finally became the Disneyland Railroad. Still, attraction posters in the park have not been updated to reflect that change. In fact, every attraction poster in the park bears the EuroDisneyland mark at the bottom. And they were not about to change out all the china in the restaurants, each piece of which bears the EuroDisneyland legend. Someday, perhaps, as breakage occurs, the china collection might be brought up to date. But around the lake where the hotels are located, the large metal EuroDisney lamppost plaques are obviously going to be around to embarrass Disney for a long, long time.
But it's not only the theme park itself that has identity issues. The name-change craze has been going on all over the resort. It was only a few days before its grand opening that Space Mountain received its new name. From inception all through the completion of construction, the name of the attraction was going to be Discovery Mountain. That name survived even the drastic downsizing of this attraction to merely the outerspace rollercoaster we know (and totally love) today. But while they did manage to change the signs at the last minute, they never removed the DM initials from the ride vehicles. And I guess they figured that guests would never see the Discovery Mountain control panels. But then, they didn't figure on zapppop!
And over at Disney Village (their quasi-Downtown Disney), it seems again that not all departments got word about the name change from the original Festival Disney. There's one particularly good spot where a sign directing guests to Festival Disney is situated pretty much right in front of a giant Disney Village sign.
So please excuse me if I lapse back and forth between using EDL and DLP; I just can't keep it straight in my head. Simplicity would be nice, but the classic, plain old name of Disneyland is, um, taken.
So now that I've mentioned Disney Village, how 'bout I tell you a bit about that? Zapp and I have to walk through it each and every day as we go between the park and our hotel. And now that I've gone and mentioned our hotel, why don't you just come with us on an expanded walk to the park this morning that takes us around the lake to the various hotels and then finally through DisneyVillage to EuroDisneyland, um I mean, Parc Disneyland.
The grand hotel of the resort is the Disneyland Hotel that actually sits above the entrance to the theme park. Ironically, though we passed beneath its graceful arches several times a day, we never once went in to the hotel itself. It's a very nice, pink Victorian confection and, as the entrance to Disneyland Paris, it has I trust become reasonably familiar-looking to all. The Main Street train station is a nondescript, practically invisible building and so it is the Disneyland Hotel that guests see from inside the park when gazing down Main Street, U.S.A. But the replacement of a grand railroad depot as the entrance icon by a functioning resort hotel did not turn out as badly as I had feared. From inside the park, the vast hotel does look a little big to be on a turn-of-the-century town square, but, well, it's a very pretty building. As for what it's like inside or the experience of being a guest there, I'll have to defer to zapppop he stayed there upon his inaugural visit to DLP last summer. All I'll say is that even though I've always sort of objected to a profit-making hotel as the entrance to Disneyland, I sure wish my blood were rich enough to afford a suite overlooking Main Street U.S.A. and the Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant. Maybe that kind of thing shouldn't be for sale, but I'd buy it if I could.
I had much less mixed feelings about the main resort area three suitably nice hotels situated around a good-sized, man-made lake. They are the Sequoia Lodge, the Newport Bay Club, and the Hotel New York. The little resort zone is strikingly like a scaled-down DisneyWorld (much easier to get around) each of the hotels actually having a close WaltDisneyWorld counterpart. And that's basically my problem with them they are, to me at least, simply second-tier versions of existing hotels, designed in many cases by the same architects who created the original versions.
Robert A.M. Stern's Newport Bay Club is a decidedly toned-down version of his DisneyWorld Beach Club and Yacht Club. Even with it's similarly iconic lighthouse at the shore, the French entry is far less nautically grandiose. While still a beautiful clapboard building on the outside, the interiors seemed a little cramped, too modest in theming, and just did not impress me.
Far less grandiose than it's U.S. Counterpart is the Sequoia Lodge (designed by Antoine Grumbach). Though certainly a pleasant place, with a suitably woodsy atmosphere and tips of the hat to American National Park lodges, the Sequoia is many levels less grand than the Peter Dominick designed Wilderness Lodge in Florida. As with the Newport Bay, perhaps if the theme were not copied, I wouldn't find such petty faults. It's a very pretty hotel (and the least expensive of the three on the lake).
Then there's the Hotel New York. Designed by Michael Graves, it is similar to his DisneyWorld entries, the Swan and the Dolphin. But only in that all of them are boldly colorful and blatantly fanciful. The New York is not so much a copy in theme, as a sister in style. Though we were not there in the season of the fabulous ice skating rink, we still found the Hotel New York to be the finest of the three on the lake (and by far the closest to the park). It's got lofty yet comfortable public spaces, sophistication with a wink and a smile, and wry tributes to the Big Apple that were especially appreciated by this ex-NewYorker. With my admittedly limited experience, I would still wholeheartedly recommend the Hotel New York as being skyscrapers above the rest. Maybe zapppop can weigh in on the Disneyland Hotel, NotAfraid and Cemeinke might chime in with a word or two about the Sequoia Lodge, and perhaps LisaP or E&CDad might have a thing to say in defense of the Newport Bay Club. And, oh yeah, further out bus distance only are two budget conscious hotels the Cheyenne is cute and campy looks like a fun old west town; the Santa Fe is a dive a glorified adobe trailer park that suffers as well from a poor reputation
Now that we've completed our circuit of the lake, we can proceed with our usual stroll through Disney Village to the park. All I can say about Disney Village is that it makes me appreciate Downtown Disney more than I did. The Village is, how to put this generously? Um, Ugly. Basically a row of long, white, aluminum buildings along either side, broken up here and there with a few CityWalkish touches like oversized figures of an Elvis-like crooner and cowboy&girl dancers set in giant go- go-dancer towers in the midst of the main walkway. Some of the tenant businesses try to display some individuality the Rainforest Caf« has an elephant and an alligator outside, Planet Hollywood has a celebrity mural (with, big surprise, Arnold, Sly, Demi and Willis featured quite prominently). Annette's has a couple of cool vintage cars out front. But the place is really architectural dullsville. No, beyond dullsville this would be uglytown. Of all the shops and restaurants, Annette's is the ginchyest, with its swooping 50's look and really neat vintage signery. The Planet Hollywood is more Plain-it than Planet, and the Rainforest Caf« has got to be the dullest and least interesting link in that ubiquitous chain. Ironically, it's the McDonald's here that's really got style: Nifty use of golden archery in a recently expanded location (billions served, after all).
Funny how I used to think of California's Downtown Disney as dullsville. I now have a new appreciation for the somewhat staid, but demonstrably art deco, arts&crafts, and big easy architecture of our local shopping and dining Disneyland annex. I will, however, give Disney Village kudos in one area it's alive and kickin' at night. During every night of our visit, there was a live rock concert in the Village, and the place was swarming with kids dancing, hanging out, kickin' back. It was downright Videopolis-ish. They also have these long lines of white lights strung in a grid pattern over the top of the Village that look good as a christmaslight ceiling against the black of the sky. I gotta say that, after dark, DisneyVillage downright rocks.
Passing out of the Village and into the resort's rather plain version of the Esplanade, we pass by the security check-point. Security is a little different at the France Disneyland Resort than it is at the California Disneyland Resort. They don't search your bags as you enter the theme park, but rather as you enter Disney Village. You only get searched when entering from the Esplanade end (not the hotel end), and they not only go through your bags, they wand you (getting, um, quite personal at times). This security check goes on all day long, but get this when Disneyland closes at 11:30 and hoards of people stream into Disney Village, they give up on the security check altogether just at the time when there are hundreds upon hundreds of kids in the Village at a rock concert! Curiouser and Curiouser.
And what's this going on this morning in the Esplanade between the two theme parks? Why, it's a full-on, authentic French protest!
Seems that ex-employees of the actual Disney animation studio are ticked off that they've all been laid off, and the studio shuttered while the fake studio of the Walt Disney Studios theme park continues to operate (if that's what you want to call it). I was very surprised that this kind of organized employee protest was allowed to take place on Disney Property. But even more shocking surprises were in store for me when I decided to take a look at what they are trying to pass off as the second gate at Euro Disney.
Let me just say that the Walt Disney Studios Park is a complete and total INSULT. I had heard some bad things about this place, but nothing could prepare me for the depravity, the vileness, the shear animosity toward guests that is demonstrated by this pathetic and despicable excuse for a theme park. It is nothing but a collection of vacuous soundstage buildings, plain trailers and temporary sheds with naught but billboards as decoration. The only building that was designed in any way was a nice replica of a typical studio building from the Disney lot in Burbank. Other than that, strictly plain-wrap all the way. The attractions were all garbage (having been pre-warned, we -in fact- skipped most of them). Best of the lot was the Rockin' RollerCoaster, a decidedly scaled-down version of the Florida original. Not that it wasn't fun careening through an empty warehouse with lots of cool disco lights, but there was no sign of even the rudimentary scenery flats of its predecessor that gave riders the impression they were rushing through Hollywood to ... well, somewhere.
Just about my favorite thing in the park was the Singin' in the Rain picture spot. Against a building facade straight out of the famous dance scene in that movie, they have a lamppost set up with an umbrella attached at a jaunty angle, and actual water showering down as rain a perfect photo set-up.
But that single Singin' in the Rain facade was the only vintage Hollywood architecture in the entire place! The company that has an entire Studio theme park in Florida brimming with beautiful Hollywood architecture cannot muster anything but sheds for a Studio park in France. And while Disney managed to put together a single Hollywood street for its California Adventure park in Anaheim, it would not put forth even that meager effort for what it is billing as a movie studio park in Marne la Vallee. Not a single penny would need to be spent in design fees, yet not a single franc was spent in utilizing existing designs for this park. This, my friends, is an Insult! And charging the same admission price as for the amazing Disneyland right next door that is nothing short of an outrage.
I remember complaining about the admission price of the Disney-MGM Studios Park when it first opened in Florida half the park of its DisneyWorld neighbors, and yet ten times the park of its counterpart in France. Many of us recall complaining about the admission price of Disney's California Adventure one tenth the park of its Disneyland neighbor, and yet ten times the park of EuroDisneyland's neighbor. As it now turns out, I must practically praise DCA as a bastion of good imagineering and design excellence and I shudder when I think of the poor saps who pay good money to get into the Walt Disney Studios park in France.
Within an hour, I'd had my fill of the place and it was back to Disneyland for Zapppop and me, where we belong!
Whew, you say finally back to Disneyland!
Sorry to disappoint, but this post is already way too long and so our return to Disneyland will have to wait for the next installment. But coming up next time: Fantasyland and Tomorrowland! I mean, er, Discoveryland! And then ... Zapp and iSm get a visit at DLP from none other than MousePad's own Gemini Cricket, and the mysterious Ralphie. Stay tuned.
The Adventure Continues Back to Disneyland!
As we re-enter EuroDisneyland this morning, let's just march straight up Main Street and go right through the Castle to Fantasyland, the Happiest Land of them All.
Or is it? Oh, it's a pretty happy land alright, but happiest of them all. I'm not so sure. The good and bad about Fantasyland is that it's big and roomy and pretty well spread out. We all know how cramped and crowded our little Anaheim Fantasyland can get well, there's little danger of that here. Once past the Castle courtyard, with its Lancelot Carousel and adorable village architecture (nearly cloned from California), the land spreads out into a wide open space that somehow loses definition. Imagine the layout this way where Anaheim has StorybookLand, France has Dumbo on one side and TeaCups on the other. The Dumbo area is huge, with a moat surrounding it on three sides. The TeaCups, in order to shade them from inclement weather, are under a huge pavilion that resembles a flower-shaped UFO set down in Marne la Vallee. There is a pathway in between these two spinning attractions, and a whole other walkway around back behind them but there are not enough buildings along the edges of the Land to fill up the horizon of all that space. It sure is nice to be able to move around so freely, but it somehow lacks the feeling of place that California's charming storybook village provides.
Ok, enough about the scenery. What about the rides?
We didn't ride Dumbo. It's the same ride as in California, except for that moat and a very large queue area. Neither did we ride the TeaCups which are actually named what everyone calls them anyway (rather than the Mad Tea Party"). Though their flower-petal roof is much nicer than the covering for the Florida teacups, nothing can beat the beauty of Anaheim's open-air Tea Party, with its lovely trees and evocative party lanterns (to say nothing of its fantastic new rave party lighting at night).
We were very disappointed to find the Carousel partially in a box, while the canopy is being renovated. It's a very beautiful carousel, with its outer ring of steeds magnificently clad in armor and chain-mail, all individually resplendent in fantastical designs. A bit separate from the Carousel, there is a fairly large Sword in the Stone area in the Castle courtyard. Also here in the courtyard are two familiar dark rides, looking much as they do in Anaheim: Pinocchio's Daring Journey and Snow White's Adventures. Both are practically identical to the California versions, inside and out. Most likely in response to the sometimes confusing conclusion to the Anaheim Snow White ride, the French version has an extra scene which assures guests that the pale princess does indeed wake from the sleeping death and ride off with her Prince Charming to live happily ever after.
Also in the courtyard are two tributes not to be found in any other Fantasyland. A burgeoning beanstalk growing skywards (a salute to the cartoon 'Mickey and the Beanstalk' as well as to the more familiar Jack tale) and L'Auburge du Cendrillon, a restaurant honoring the beloved Cinderella complete with fairytale pumpkin coach, and the tall, rickety tower where our heroine was imprisoned by her evil stepmother when the Grand Duke came around with that fragile glass slipper.
Over in a far corner of the Land, we find the amazingly popular Peter Pan's Flight (the only dark ride here that is a Fast Pass attraction). At this edge of Fantasyland, Peter Pan becomes part of the veritable Pirates section of the park, with Adventureland's Pirate Ship and Pirates of the Caribbean just over the border. Peter Pan is also very similar to the California version, with one important exception. They try to fit in more guests per vehicle on all the French Fantasyland dark rides and so Snow White and Pinocchio have three rows of seats instead of two, and each Peter Pan flying pirate ship seats two rows of guests. While the extra seating has no negative effect on Pinocc and Snow, the large motion base for the Peter Pan vehicles does have a detrimental effect on the way the pirate ships swoop and soar. That would put the Peter Pan championship squarely back in Anaheim were it not for the glowing red Exit signs that absolutely ruin that version of the attraction. Perhaps the perfect Peter Pan's Flight is still out there somewhere, waiting to be found ... near the 2nd star to the right.
Next door is the stately manor of Toad Hall. Not a ride this time, but a restaurant this Toad Hall is a fully convincing ancestral manse, inside and out. One almost expects Toad to be holding forth in the main dining hall, with Moley and Badger bustling about with beer and cakes for all.
Further along the outer ring of Fantasyland is Alice's Curious Labyrinth. While there is no Alice darkride, EuroDisneyland does have a very nice tribute area, with the March Hare's house serving up refreshments, and a lovely tea party area to snack in featuring the Doormouse popping in and out of a giant teapot, and some wonderfully wacky chairs to sit on during tea. The spinning Teacups are right next door, and the Curious Labyrinth beckons children of all ages to explore its daunting maze. Curiously, however, it is unexpectedly closed when we try to enter. I suspect they need some extra time to explore every nook and cranny, and get all the guests out of there before the already early closing time for Fantasyland which is cleared of all guests a full hour before the fireworks begin.
Continuing around to the other end of Fantasyland, we find the French version of It's a Small World. They made a nice stab at interpreting the original facade, but in my opinion they botched it. It's less dimensional than the original, and where it does strive for 3-D-ness, there are bare wood support props clearly visible everywhere. Very bad show. The color scheme is a peach-based, washed-out version of the much-reviled pastel treatment. The clock is not nearly as elaborate. While not remotely as horrible as the Florida version (which has merely a painting of the facade on a flat, indoor wall), the French version falls far short of the glorious Mary Blair original. Worst of all, guests in the queue and on the boats cannot see the facade at all because everything even the boat channel is covered to protect guests from inclement weather.
Things only get worse on the inside. Instead of Mary Blair's amazing abstract sets, there are very literal, 2-dimensional flats, in day-glow colors, of famous landmarks Sidney Opera House, Big Ben, the Kremlin, etc. The result is colorful, but dreadfully flat and non-interpretive. The soundtrack, as we in Anaheim who were stuck with it for over a decade well know, stinks. The only saving grace of the attraction is that the sets come all the way down to the water, creating a very natural, river-like effect as opposed to the boat-channel look of the original. And, natch, there is an America section that neither of the American Small Worlds possess. After disembarking the boats, there is an optional walk-thru post-show featuring more models of famous landmarks with video-screens in them. Little animation bits are featured on the few screens that were actually functioning. Kids might like this part of the show (if more of it was working). This Big Kid did not like It's a Small World at all. Glichhh, filthy taste in my mouth. Get me back to Anaheim pronto. Our beautifully restored original is an absolutely unique Walt Disney Mary Blair masterpiece!
Also on this side of the Land is a big, empty space where they were going to put The Little Mermaid dark ride. And another big, empty space that was slated to hold the Beauty and the Beast animatronic stage show. Then there is a lovely, but long unused Old Mill ride a ferris-wheelish set-up of wooden buckets that revolve along with the sails of the windmill. Alas, while the Mill is sometimes open to serve refreshments, the ride has been shuttered for many years. Still, the Old Mill is a lovely structure the empty mounds where great attractions were destined to be are, however, depressingly neglected areas.
But there is one more bright spot to Fantasyland a little area beyond the berm (sort of where Anaheim's ToonTown is) that is home to EuroDisneyland's Casey Jr. Circus Train and Storybookland. The train, though not much wilder than the Anaheim version, runs on rollercoaster rails instead of train tracks, and has a lap bar for every guest. But it, too, runs along the rim of the ultra-charming Storybookland. A gigantic, open Storybook sits on the turntable where the boats load for that attraction. Because of the language barrier, there are no live hosts on the boats and the attraction is experienced without any sort of narration. Obviously influenced by the Disneyland original, this Storybookland is its own animal, with an almost entirely different collection of fairytale environments such as Rapunzel's tower, flowing with the heroine's long, golden tresses; Hansel & Gretel's temptingly dangerous candy gingerbread house; the Beast's Castle and Belle's village from Beauty and the Beast; a snow scene from Peter and the Wolf; and the haunted village and forbidden mountain of the demon Chernobog, from Fantasia. The miniature sets are marvelous and, in a distinct departure from the original, feature diminutive characters among the exquisite, tiny settings.
All in all, a very respectable and primarily pretty Fantasyland. Though a little empty- seeming in parts, the spaciousness is very nice helped, in no small part, by the astonishing lack of strollers here and throughout the park (seems that Europeans are quirky in that they actually teach their offspring to walk).
Still, the charm of the original Disneyland's fairytale village is woefully absent, and the plain fact is that, despite various salutes and tributes, there are three Disney film dark rides compared to Anaheim's five. Crowded and cramped as it often is, and with that small 1950's castle that nevertheless is the Disney icon, the charm and abundance that the original Fantasyland finally achieved in 1983 remains the finest expression of the stunning diversity of Walt Disney's artistic genius, the exceptional union of his animation masterpieces and his groundbreaking theme park, and truly the happiest land of them all.
EuroDisneyland's last land, it's unique land, is Discoveryland. The (supposedly) final solution to the ongoing Tomorrowland problem, this version of T- Land with its distinctive Jules Verne / H.G. Wells era stylings, theoretically will never be outdated. The architecture and pervasive neon are equal parts retro and futuristic, and the Land gets a good portion of its turn-of-last-century sci-fi feel from the presence of two amazing traveling ships the Hyperion airship from Island at the Top of the World, and the Nautilus submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And, of course, the massive bronze cone of Space Mountain dominates the entire Land and lends it a retro-techno theme that seems equal parts tomorrow -and- looking-back-at-tomorrow through the eyes of yesteryear.
As you enter the Land, you see that Space Mountain is perfectly placed to fill the view and draw you in. (Just as if you were to turn around you'd find Big Thunder Mountain perfectly situated to lure you westward into Frontierland.) They graduated wienie school with flying colors at EuroDisneyland. They may not have as many mountains as their counterpart theme parks around the world, but they sure knew where to put them.
We are welcomed to Discoveryland by the jutting volcanic rocks that have seemingly become de rigeur for the entry to any Tomorrowland (yeah, whatever ... I called Discoveryland Tomorrowland the entire time I was there). Discoveryland's rock slabs are a cool variety which have water streaming down them and bubbling pools at their base but now that I'm finally in the Land where this bizarre trend originated, I still have to wonder what makes these rocks futuristic, or even retro-futuristic? It seems the answer may lie with the history of Space Mountain. Originally conceived as Discovery Mountain, the attraction was to be an absolutely huge structure which would take over most of the acreage in Discoveryland. Housed within it was to be a free-fall ride, an erupting volcano, the Nautilus submarine, and a wild roller coaster thru a futuristic power plant and debris-strewn outer space. The Mountain was to be so large, in fact, that there would have been no room left in the Land to walk around it and guests were expected to walk through the Mountain to reach destinations such as Star Tours and the Videopolis Theater / Cafe Hyperion complex via elevated tubes. (The ports for these tubes were actually constructed, and can still be seen on the side of the Videopolis Theater.) Well, it turns out that before the Mountain was drastically down- sized, before its contents were reduced to merely the rollercoaster, and before its style was changed to a bronze techno cone it was to resemble an actual volcanic mountain with fluted and jutting rock slabs at its base. And the jutting rock pillars at the entrance to the Land were meant to seem like the solidified remnants of past volcanic eruptions of Discovery Mountain. And this remnant of an attraction-that-never-was has made its way to both versions of Tomorrowland in America.
It seems only fair, then, that DLP inherited the Hyperion dirigible from an original Disneyland place-that-never-was (the long-planned, but never realized Discovery Bay), and inherited the Nautilus walk-thru from an original Disneyland yesterdayland attraction (which graced the very first Tomorrowland from 1955 to 1966.) The latter-day 20,000 Leagues walk-thru in France is made much more convincing than its predecessor by the presence of an almost full-scale Nautilus submarine at the surface of a pond alongside Space Mountain. When you descend the stairs at the edge of the pond, the illusion that you are actually entering the Nautilus is fairly convincing. In reality, the walk-thru takes place off to the side in an underground bunker but that does not make it any less wondrous and persuasive. As we wandered through the perfect reproductions of the 20,000 Leagues sets, I not only felt like I was exploring Captain Nemo's famed submersible, but also that I was exploring a bit of Disneyland history that I'd never gotten to see with my own eyes (my first visit to the Park was not until 1970). It was so unbelievably nifty to amble around the submarine of my long-ago boyhood fantasies (and my very recent DVD viewings) as we meandered through the Chart Room where all distances are measured from Vulcania; to the Diving Chamber its cumbersome suits and oversize helmets standing ready for undersea exploration by the faithful crew; then into the Power Supply Room with its mysterious source of endless energy protectively shielded behind a bubbled safety grid. And of course, the Grand Salon the lushly appointed heart of the ship, with Nemo's imposing, baroque pipe organ as the focal point. I can almost hear the faint strains of the Tocatta and Fugue as my eye is drawn to some movement at the side of the Salon a steel iris is opening on one of the huge, circular viewports that look out to the undersea realm. Expecting the calm beauty of a coral reef, or perhaps the vague blackness of the vast open sea, I am shocked and amazed to see a giant squid heading straight for the ship! It's a huge monster of the deep, all waving arms and clutching tentacles. It grabs hold of the Nautilus with its snake-like appendages and pulls its horrifically snapping beak close to the window as we gasp in terror. Are we to be pulled down to the depths of the ocean by this ghastly creature?! Ah, but I might have known that Captain Nemo would be prepared to deal with the threat electrical charges course across the exterior surface of the Nautilus, and painful blue sparks jump from the ship to the astonished squid. As the steel iris closes over the viewport, the creature retreats back to the ocean ... chastened perhaps or perhaps simply waiting for its chance to attack again one day .... or three minutes from now.
Though the walk-thru did not contain some of the rooms that were featured in the original Disneyland exhibit (Professor Aronnax's Cabin and the Wheelhouse come to mind), the experience was made much more impressive than the original by the presence of the Nautilus moored just offshore as we ascended back to the surface.
Sitting in the middle of Discoveryland is the Orbitron, the descendant of the Rocket Jets. California's Astro Orbiter is pretty much an exact copy, but the French version has a border of hedges that blocks views of the rocket riders until they are airborne. There is a quirky CircleVision film in the Visionarium, about a time travel experiment gone haywire. It's a fairly enjoyable movie, and ties into the theme of the Land very smartly by featuring both Jules Verne and H.G. Wells as characters. But if rumors are true that this is the Visionarium's last season at EuroDisneyland, I don't think too many people will be all broken up about it.
Star Tours is basically the same ride as in the States, but this time it's in Franglish. The hapless pilot droid and all the boarding procedures are in French, but thank goodness the Rebel pilots still speak the intergalactic standard English. As a big Star Wars fan, I found Franglish Star Tours to be a complete hoot. There is a post-show area that is sort of a customized video game arcade, and it is the only aspect of this much-cloned attraction that sets it apart from its counterparts elsewhere. The exterior of the attraction boasts a full-size X-Wing Fighter. While not as cool as the giant Imperial Walker in front of Florida's Star Tours, it does beat out the rather boring entrance to the California version.
Discoveryland's Autopia was a pleasant surprise. Simple touches like techno- architecture on the overpasses, a futuristic cityscape, and amusing roadside- advertising-of-tomorrow make this edition just about the best Autopia out there. And the roadsters are really nifty. Here's zapppop about to zoom off in one!
And while we're zooming off, I should point out that EuroDisneyland's Space Mountain is widely renowned for it's launch-effect lift-off. But that's just the start of a marvelous adventure that is, without a doubt to yours truly, the very best attraction in Disneyland Paris.
Imagined as a turn-of-the-century rocket shot to the moon, this baby is not your Papa's Space Mountain!! About the only relation to the previous space mountains is that it takes place in outer space. But not in the outer space of starfields and chocolate chip cookies no, DLP's Space Mountain is set in an imagined outer space that is brimming with tumbling asteroids and littered with space debris. This fantasy aspect is mixed with the very realistic facet of there being no particular up or down ... in space.
Columbiad, the World's Largest Gun is a massive cannon at an 1899 scientific exposition. So powerful is this piece of humongous artillery that it can purportedly shoot a rocket all the way to the moon. Snake oil claim or scientific fact? Well, we are about to find out as we are harnessed into our bronze rocket module and sent out into the guts of the cannon. With ultra-dramatic orchestral music filling the air, our rocket is loaded into the Columbiad and we are prepared for blast-off. Large sections of the barrel wall slide back and forth as the Gun readies to fire, revealing Discoveryland far below and exposing the bristling top of Space Mountain to our view. And then, without warning, we are launched into the stratosphere at the speed of sound, and really cool musical sound accompanies us on our dizzying journey into imaginary space!
Suddenly we are zooming through an area of outer space that has seen some catastrophe or disaster. Dozens of blue, cratered asteroids are everywhere around us, and bits of flotsam and jetsam from abandoned spaceships also fill the blackened void. We ourselves seem headed for disaster as our rocket careens totally out of control thru the asteroid field. All sense of direction, all knowledge of up or down, is lost as our ship zips and zamms and loops and spins past space junk and around cosmic rocks. Though the track was simply laid out in loops and corkscrews, never have I experienced these standard coaster components so fabulously executed. The loop in outer space is absolutely disorienting. And the corkscrews are used to spin you into the back of a sputtering rocket engine and twist you right into the innards of a spark-filled asteroid. Finally, the rocket seems to find its path and heads straight up, up towards the man in the moon the huge, blueish orb of our familiar satellite, with its craters quite clearly exhibiting the distinct characteristics of a friendly, human face. Ah, bliss and contentment at last ... until suddenly the rocket veers off course again, and it's more spinning and careening and upside down and space rocks. Finally, the ship blasts into the port of some futuristic power plant place and skids to a stop.
As long as I live, I will never forget my first ride on DLP's Space Mountain. I was so discombobulated and disoriented and thrilled and, yes, drunk, that I was in fits of convulsive laughter throughout the entire ride. That's right, laughter. It's my reaction when things are stupendously wonderful, outrageously ingenious and fantastically fun. As we were shooting through asteroids and spinning out of control, I just laughed and laughed, and laughed some more. I laughed my head off until the ride was done, and then I simply said ... Again!"
It was the first of 20 or so rides on Space Mountain in the upcoming days. I could not get enough of it. Anaheim's Space Mountain is a much beloved ride. Orlando's original is a fantastic experience. The Space Mountain of Marne la Vallee is like no other. It is Space Mountain on steroids, Space Mountain through asteroids, Space Mountain in Space. The upside down stuff really sells it. This Space Mountain just Rocks!!
Whew, after all that spinning around and upside-down, I am sure am hungry. What's there to eat around here?
Well, to my surprise, Discoveryland is the only EuroDisney-Land that does not have a fine table-service restaurant. Really, one of the surprising things about DLP to me was the abundance of good restaurants where one could have a nice, leisurely meal inside the theme park. I had thought that Zapp and I would have most of our dinners at the hotels, under the assumption that there would be no place for a decent meal in the park. But it turns out that there are no less than five table-service restaurants in the park, and we were going to make a stab at trying them all. We'd already had dinner at the Blue Lagoon, DLP's answer to the Blue Bayou. The place is themed as a tropical beach, with thatched-roof huts and lots of bamboo. Just like the Blue Bayou, this one had a river running through. And, also like its California counterpart, floating down that river were boatloads of guests about to embark on their European Pirates of the Caribbean experience. The abbreviated journey through the Blue Lagoon seemed like an afterthought to the Pirates ride, more like a detour really the body of water in the Blue Lagoon room is tiny compared to Anaheim's bayou. Still, it was a nifty gimmick that enhanced the meal, and I must say that the menu at the Blue Lagoon was amazing. Not the selection of food, but the actual menu. Chock-full of original Pirates artwork, le carte du Lagoon Blue was really fun to thumb through. The meal was rather fun, too. We had a table right at the shoreline, and it was somehow comforting to know that European Pirates riders ask Blue restaurant diners to throw rolls to them just like American Pirates riders do.
But tonight tonight we dine in Frontierland. Ah Frontierland how beautiful it is at sunset! I think I am going to miss the very late, late nightfall and the long-lingering twilights. What better time for a cruise along the Rivers of the Far West? Finally to see the far reaches of this bewitching European Disneyland. Since the good ship Mark Twain was in dry dock undergoing repairs during our visit, our sunset cruise this evening will be aboard this park's first lady of the river, the Molly Brown.
As the sidewheeler paddled out into the stream, we left behind the frontier town and headed out past the Big Thunder Mining Co. to the wilds of the far west. Leaving behind civilization, we come across an abandoned Keel Boat, once used as a genuine attraction in these parts, now left for scenery. And over there yonder, why that's an abandoned canoe loading dock I heard tell that Indians once plied the river with their own attraction hereabouts. No Indians in sight now, no Indian Village, no animals to speak of. In fact, the only animatronics we came across along the river was Old Joe and his dog the little critter yapping away as poor Old Joe just rocks and rocks in that chair on the porch of his rickety river shack. The wilderness was pretty enough, even if the trees turned out to be still a bit on the young side. And maybe I missed some beavers or something in the fading light, but dang it if there just weren't enough critters to convince me that I was in the far West and not the north of France.
Once back on terra firma, though, we realized that our river cruise had built us up quite a hunger, so we headed straight through town to the Silver Spur Steakhouse. As we stepped inside, I could have sworn we had been magically transported to the old frontier. The Silver Spur is a gem equal parts wild west saloon and cattle baron lounge. There was smoke in the air (yes, you can smoke in French restaurants), the fine aroma of sizzling steak wafted through the parlor from the vast, open kitchen at the rear of the place, and I would not have been shocked at all to discover gambling going on in the back room. The ornate restaurant was graced with about fifty candlelight chandeliers, all decorated with iron figures of buffalos. We were in Kansas City. It was 1865. Really, the themeing and atmosphere were so strong that something happened to us that rarely happens in a Disney park we fell into theme characters and never came out of it while we remained in that restaurant. Twangy accents, hokey homilies, and hick dialogue were the order of the evening. Neither Zapp nor I broke character all night. And despite the fact that we kept each other in a constant state of amusement, I only lost character and busted out laughing once from one of Zappop's redneck zingers. And because of Zapp's new-found fondness for champagne, we decided to dispense with the customary wine with dinner and just go for a bottle of the bubbly. I was a bit concerned that our French waitress might not be in on the joke (and really think we were hicks or, worse, insulting) when I ordered up a bottle of yer best sham-pagg-nee. But it turns out that she spoke perfect English and was on to our spoofing. She was a German girl who had lived in the States for a few months, and she played along with us for the rest of the night.
Being that we were dining rather late, business at the Silver Spur was slowing down and our meals were a long time coming. But that was just fine with us, as we sat there chatting and getting deeper and deeper into our wacky characters as we got deeper and deeper into the champagne bottle. In fact, we may still have been a little tipsy from our earlier bottle of wine. You see, we had made the delightful discovery that our hotel's little welcoming gesture of a bottle of bubbly was not merely welcoming at all. In fact, there was a new bottle of wine or champagne in our room every day. We'd go back to the room in the mid-afternoon, go for a swim, drink our bottle of wine and go back into the park. So our usual wine with dinner would just be adding to the accumulated buzz, and, well, nothing goes to your head quite like champagne. Dinner arrived just about the time the bubbly was polished off mmmm, yum ... steaks with all the trimmins. Broiled to perfection just like we likes em mine still able to moo, and Zapp's charred to a crisp.
By the time we finished our meals, the place was practically cleared out. But we were in no hurry to leave this charming locale. I'd have smoked a ceegar if I'd had one (and I don't smoke). By golly, I'll be hogtied if that night at the Silver Spur didn't just turn out to be the most enjoyable meal I had in all of France. Ah well after a spell, Zapp and I wandered outside (or is it stumbled outside?) and, lo and behold, the mood was not broken. Fantasy come to life still prevailed as we were dumbstruck by the amazing sight of a full moon rising over Phantom Manor. Creeeepy.
But the park was closed and all too soon we had to head for the hub and the crowds in time for the fireworks, and re-join the real world of Disneyland.
Disneyland Paris has a very distinct and unusual summertime pattern. It gets dark at ten o'clock, and the park officially closes at 11:00. Pretty much everybody is still in the park at that point and, since all the Lands are closed, they are basically corralled into the Hub and Main Street for the fireworks that start at 11:15. After that, at 11:30ish, the entire guest population leaves in one massive exodus. But for now, they are here every man, woman and child that filled the entire park all crammed into the hub and Main Street, U.S.A. People are everywhere. Literally everywhere. On the grass, on the hills, in the trees. It's astonishing, but there is no concept of out-of-bounds at DLP. During parades and fireworks, folks routinely hop the fences and sit and stand in areas that we would be so busted for in the American parks. I mean, have you ever once climbed a fence to be in a grassy area at Disneyland or DisneyWorld? They'd be on you in three seconds. Here, nothing was off-limits.
Why, people were even climbing and clamoring onto the Discoveryland jutting rock slabs for a good view. Natch those slabs being the only unclaimed real estate in the Hub at that late moment, Zapp and I also scrambled up onto a rock pillar, and found ourselves perched above the crowds with a clear view of the splendidly illuminated Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant, focal point of the fireworks show which was to about to unfold. It was almost unbelievable to us that we would be allowed to sit up here to watch the fireworks. And we could plainly see that the crowds below likewise had no concept of boundaries or barricades. The people were just so nonchalant about being on the grass and on the hills, behind the fences, and up in the trees (my god, don't they have lawsuits at all in this country?). Nothing was off-limits! And as the fireworks exploded above the Castle, you could see the flares reflected in the evil glint of our eyes Could it be true? Is this a Disneyland where nothing was off limits?
Now Zapppop and I had been very good on this trip ... though we have a decidedly deserved reputation for, let's call it -peeking behind the scenes- at our local, stateside Disneyland ... here on foreign soil, we were being strictly good and proper tourists. But this no boundaries mentality simply could not be ignored. Just how far could we push this seeming leniency? What exactly can one get away with here in terms of what is, and what is not, off-limits? The secret realms of Euro Disneyland summoned us with their siren call, and who were we to resist it?
Oye, what's that? Who would be calling us in the suburbs of Paris, France like six thousand miles from home? Groggily, zapppop reaches for the phone and manages a grhodhp greeting. Oh, it's none other than fellow MousePadder Gemini Cricket, also in France with his s.o. Ralphie and they are, guess what, down in the lobby. Yeah, sure, we remember we had sorta made plans to show you guys around EuroDisneyland. That's right. Come on up!
We barely had time to throw on our complimentary Hotel New York comfy white robes when smiling Gemini Cricket and his cutie of a beau, Ralphie, were at our doorstep. They had awoken at the crack of dawn and had taken the train out from Paris for a MousePad meet at a different Disneyland. Zapp and I were, um, not quite ready to start the day. So while we showered and got dressed and such, we spent some time getting to know Ralphie (whose very existence we doubted until that moment), and getting reacquainted with the Cricket (aka G.C.), whom we hadn't seen for almost a year (in fact, since the day that Zapppop and I first met). Actually, of course, G.C. and Gemini Cricket are each an aka for a real name most likely known to most of you. Ditto for the registered trademarks Zapppop, Zapp, innerSpaceman, and iSm. It's probably a bit silly to stick strictly to our MousePad screen names in this story, but to protect the privacy and legal liability of all involved, that's what we're doing. Oh, and Ralphie is not G.C.'s B.F.'s real name either.
We treated Ralphie and G.C. to continental breakfast at our hotel. The breakfast is complimentary for hotel guests, and there were no problems having our hotel guests' guests join us. In fact, if you're ever making a day-trip to DLP, you could head over to the Hotel New York for a decent free breakfast no questions asked.
Well, after waking up and getting ready, taking the Metro to the train, and the train to Marne la Vallee, and trudging to the hotel, and waking up Zapp and iSm, and waiting for them to get showered and dressed, and having breakfast it was finally, without further ado, time for Gemini Cricket and Ralphie to make their first visit to Disneyland Paris!!
Once inside the park, G.C. was like a little boy in a toy store. Or, more precisely, like a Disneyland fanboy at a new Disneyland. He was grinning from ear to ear as we walked up Main Street, and was as giddy as a schoolgirl as we approached the pink storybook castle. Gemini confessed that strange emotional stuff goes on with him when he first encounters a new and different Disney park. Flush with the dizziness of Disneyland discovery, he loved every inch of Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant from its fairytale turrets on the outside to its sensational exposition of the Sleeping Beauty story on the inside. And he was magnificently impressed with the dragon imprisoned in the caverns below.
With just one day to spend in the park, we were going to have to limit ourselves to the E-Tickets and other highlights. And that way, we could also keep Gemini Cricket's amazement level at the boiling point.
Utilizing Zapp's and my Unlimited Fast Passes, and the regular ones we could get using G.C.'s and Ralphie's admission tix, we were able to procure simultaneous Fast Passes for both Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain, which we tackled in short order. Gemini loved the spinning, swirling, turn-you-upside-down-and-shake-you twists and turnings of Space Mountain and both he and Ralphie concurred that DLP's Big Thunder is the best of its kind, the pick of the litter.
Next up was the park's other coaster, the one that was new to all but one of us.
Ever since Zapppop's bad experience with the Indiana Jones Temple of Peril the prior year (he was in pain the rest of the day he rode it), he has naturally been reluctant to tackle that one again. He convinced the Cricket that the Temple of Pain was to be avoided, and so Ralphie and I risked life and limb (ok, neck and back) to ride the backwards, looping coaster. The track wraps around an Indonesian temple barely larger than the one which graces the entrance to the much more elaborate Indiana Jones Adventure at the original Disneyland. As such, the coaster ride is barely 50 seconds long. We scarcely had time to enjoy the novelty of riding backwards before it was all over. The ride's loop is very tight and was the most enjoyable backwards element. There has been talk of returning the attraction to a forwards direction, but without the gimmick of reverse travel, this ride will hardly be worth queuing up for. (As it was, our VIP Fastpasses came in handy one more time.)
Our results? No neck aches, no back pain but not a whole lot of enjoyment either. It was a fun 50 seconds, but the ride is stuck in such a far, dead-end corner of Adventureland that, even if there were no queue for it, it would hardly be worth the walk.
Now that we'd experienced all the turbulent and thrilling attractions that DLP has to offer, we switched gears and turned to the French adaptations of classic Walt rides Pirates of the Caribbean and Phantom Manor. The Manor seemed to make the bigger impression on the Cricket, with its decidedly weird twist on the Haunted Mansion plot. We had some fun being buccaneers and ghost hunters but to really let loose, we needed something more participatory than a ride-thru attraction. Luckily, Disneyland Paris has that kind of stuff in spades. So we toured the submarine Nautilus and exposed them to the terrors of the giant squid attack.
Then we took the boys to Adventure Isle, where we promptly lost them in the maze of caves.
"Ralphie! Gemini Cricket! We called and called, our voices echoing through the vast caverns and dank grottos but to no avail. (Maybe we would've had better luck if we'd used their real names instead of their M.P. aliases.)
Suddenly stranded without our two friends, Zapp and I realized that much as we had enjoyed the sweet romance of being alone together in sultry France (ooh-la-la) it was nice to have some company ... some other manboys to play with at Disneyland. So we were quite relieved when we finally found Ralphie and the Cricket (almost 20 minutes later!), and we whisked them off to two play zones that we had not yet explored ourselves on this trip so that we could share some mutual discoveries together instead of just showing them around the place.
The first of these was Fort Comstock. Located at the entrance to Frontierland, this garrison was not a mere gate like in Anaheim, but was more akin to the dearly departed Fort Wilderness of Anaheim's Tom Sawyer Island. All the play elements were there (except the thumb-catching guns, of course). And this fort also had lots of character dioramas, featuring the likes of Daniel Boone, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody and, of course, Davy Crockett. The armory, officer's quarters, galley, bunkroom, and the brig all brimming with period props and life-size characters in splendid costumes. We whooped it up like boys at Cowboys and Indians as we ran up the stairs to man the battlements, and spied wild Injuns from the lookout towers of the wild west fort.
After that, it was off to Alice's Curious Labyrinth in Fantasyland, where we got even sillier. Whistling and humming the tune of March of the Cards from Alice in Wonderland, we waddled and spun through the maze in bizarre playing-cards style. Through water obstacles, through tiny doorways, through swirly maze and hedgehog maze, through croquet fields and mushroom fields ... through everything but the looking glass on we went, whistling and marching. Ok, well, maybe it was mostly me doing the whistling and the marching. But the boys did join me in a jolly caucus race. Round and round and round we went, pausing only to wait for a certain caterpillar to pass the hookah before we gathered up the strength (and inspiration) to continue on.
And we were certainly in high spirits as we bumbled, stumbled and trudged on through the confusing and curiously exciting maze, all under the watchful eyes of the Cheshire Cat, as we made our way to the tower at the center of the labyrinth for a dodo bird's eye view of the mania and mayhem.
Once we found our way out of the Curious Labyrinth, I became very curious about the curious direction this Disneyland has taken away from intricate, immersive (and expensive) attractions and towards creative, frolicsome (and relatively cheap) play areas. I'm not as impressed with the Curious Labyrinth as I am with Anaheim's Alice in Wonderland attraction, but didn't I just have way more fun in the Labyrinth than I usually do on the dark ride? Euro Disneyland has no jungle cruise with its denizens of dozens of animatronic animals, and no critters to speak of along the woodsy banks of its Rivers of the Far West but its forts and treehouses and suspension bridges and caves are not confined to a raftaway island, and instead are spread throughout Frontierland and Adventureland as major attractions. There are no coral reefs and sunken ships in a world of liquid space, but there is Jules Verne's submarine Nautilus to explore.
It's less uniquely Disney-like, this lack of AA animals and relative paucity of ride thru attractions. But does that make the emphasis on play on attractions a bad thing? It's certainly less expensive, but the play zones are undoubtedly some of the most fun experiences to be had at a Disneyland park. Cheaper, yet effective. A gorgeous park, but with a much smaller array of actual rides than either of the American parks (even with those parks' alarming rates of receding attraction counts).
Well, there's no way to know what's more Disney or less Disney without resorting to the hackneyed and time-worn dilemma What Would Walt Do?
And for the answer to that question, we turn to a late lunch on Main Street ... at Walt's, an American Restaurant where at the very least we will be able to find out What Would Walt Eat.
We'll never know the answer to the first question, but the answer to the second is that Walt would eat very well. Walt's is a wonderful restaurant. It's divided up into a series of small rooms on the upper floor of a corner building on Main Street. Each room is dedicated to one of the Lands of EuroDisneyland, and they are chock full of an amazing collection of imagineering artwork and sculpture. The cuisine of regional American specialties was appreciated by us yankee expatriots, and everything we ordered was absolutely delicious. We dined in the Frontierland Room, where there were many paintings of the Grand Canyons (Yellowstone's as well as Arizona's) most of them background work for the Euro Disneyland Grand Canyon Diorama (which was, unfortunately, closed for refurbishment during our visit all dark except for the lightening). Because we were having a very late lunch (the last meal of the day for Walt's), the place had emptied out at about the time our bottle of wine emptied out. And so we got to leisurely explore the other rooms the science and pseudo- science models of the Discoveryland room, the fanciful animation pieces in the Fantasyland Room, the hareem splendor of the Adventureland room.
After lunch, the four of us went back to our suite at the Hotel New York. For a breather. Oh yeah, and for that daily bottle of wine that we knew would be waiting for us.
Sure enough, a nice red was ready to be enjoyed. Sure, we had just had a bottle with lunch, but that doesn't mean we were going to let today's hotel wine go to waste. Ralphie was rather glad that Zapp and I seemed to have an appreciation of wine. Can't say as we really do, but while we were in France, we had a very good appreciation. Wine with dinner, wine with lunch, wine in the afternoon with friends at the hotel. Nothing to uncork the wine with, so we make our 4th request for a corkscrew. But the hotel steadfastly refuses to provide one, opting rather to send up a waiter to open and pour. Moments later, when we are having trouble with our CD player, the hotel graciously sends up a stereo and a technician to install it. Ah this is the life.
Beautiful view across Lake Disney. Fine wine. Good company. Oh, and yeah, we're all in France!
It was very nice to get reacquainted with the Cricket, and to get to know the elusive Ralphie. Though not nearly as into Disney as his beau, Ralphie was making a good go of it and seemed to be having a wonderful time. G.C., of course, is a Disney fanatic and was having the time of his life. I was very happy that he was enjoying himself, cause the Cricket is a great guy and, well, I kinda owe him a debt of gratitude.
Ya see, Gemini Cricket sort of fixed up Zapp and me. Well, not exactly but we might never have met if it were not for the Cricket's MousePad meet almost one year previous at Disneyland in Anaheim. I went to my first M.P. meet specifically to meet the Cricket, whose posting personality I had come to admire. Well, as I momentarily snuck backstage to get a look at blueprints to the CircleVision building, NotAfraid (our putative hostess) mentioned that it was the sort of thing that someone called Zapppop liked to do. Hmmm, who is this Zapppop anyway? Later in the day, as we were watching a Bangles concert at California Adventure, the disreputable Zapppop himself showed up. It was kismet and, as they say, the rest is history. Zapp and I have been together ever since. Do we owe it all to Gemini Cricket? Who knows? But it wouldn't have happened (or, at least, happened that way) without him.
But enough of all this personal stuff. (Must be the wine).
Back to the park!
Straight up Main Street, straight through the Castle. Fantasyland ahoy! Time was running short, so we suggested to our friends that we not bother with the dark rides, since they were practically duplicates of the California versions. Instead, we took Ralphie and the Cricket beyond the berm to have them experience DLP's fascinatingly divergent StorybookLand. They seemed pretty impressed with the beautiful miniatures, and I know that the Cricket appreciated the unusual choices in source material ... everything from Disney's very popular take on The Little Mermaid to Disney's completely oddball take on Return to Oz.
After this, we realized that there were really no more attractions that we wanted to show off to the Cricket and Ralphie, so we went ahead with pre-planned dinner reservations at L'Auburge de Cendrillon (The Royal Inn of Cinderella). This was a major time killer and, after such a late lunch, may have been ill-advised. But Zapp and I were trying to hit all the table-service restaurants in the park and, if we did Cinderella's, we'd be missing only the Lucky Nugget (DLP's version of the Golden Horseshoe). Aware of the hourglass running out quickly on our day, we decided not to wait for a table in the courtyard, near the full-size Pumpkin Coach, and acquiesced to a table indoors. That was a mistake.
There was no air conditioning. It was sweltering in Paris, a veritable heat wave that was even a bit much for Angelinos like Zapppop and myself. The interior of the restaurant was lovely, a charming inn with tapestries illustrating the Cinderella story but it was like an oven. And the food was just so-so. But nothing another bottle of wine couldn't help our third in just about as many hours.
And so we drank, and talked, and laughed, and sweated. Next thing we knew, twilight was coming on and time was running out.
Though we'd covered the park pretty well, I was looking forward to a few repeats of the highlights knowing how this was going to be Gemini Cricket's only day to experience these surrealistic alter-attractions. But the Cricket wanted to do some shopping, and he wanted to ride the Carousel with Ralphie (how romantic). We would have to imagine how the Lancelot Carousel would look in all its splendor, without a box covering the canopy. It is a gorgeous piece of work with inset panels along the crown depicting knights of the round table and acts of chivalry, giant lances supporting the canopy (ok, these, too, were in a box), and lead horses along the outer ring all clad in shining armor of magnificent designs. The inside horses are all of different colors, arranged to form a rainbow effect as they spin around and around. The Grand Gemini of Cricket and Sir Ralphie mounted their steeds and rode off into the sunset. And back around to the daylight, and then off into the sunset again. And again.
Once we'd seen our pals ride into the sunset for the fifth time, the thrill was gone and Zapppop and I wandered off around the side of the Castle. Back near the hub, we could see that people had already started to trespass on the grass in preparation for the parade later that evening. Once again, Zapp witnessed the taunting lack of boundaries, the mockery of barriers, borders unenforced. And so was hatched the plan to see how far he could go. Zapppop figured that the ultimate walk on the grass would be to jump the fence, leaving mere Disneyland behind and plunging straight into the story of Sleeping Beauty to mount the grassy hill, high above the cube-cut trees, and scale the craggy mountain peak that thrusts straight into the side of the Castle! Could it be possible? Would you get away with simply having the audacity to climb the hill up to the Castle? Well, if anybody has that audacity it would be zapppop, wouldn't it? And so, over he goes fence?-what fence? and up he climbed, quick as you please, to the top of the hill at the side of the Castle. And there he stood, casually leaning against the forbidden walls of Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant. And as I learned for myself when I joined zapp up there a moment later this was not anything like touching the Chateau at drawbridge level. This was way above the battlements, high atop the stonework keep and deep into the palatial, pink, storybook chateau beyond. The hub and the crowds were far below us; just above, turrets and clouds.
It was amazing. This was decidedly off-limits, absolutely out-of-bounds yet in full view. This was unlike any of our previous, um, backstage excursions to remote or unguarded Disneyland territories this was appallingly obvious, in the middle of the park ON the Castle, of all things!
No one yelling at us. No one paying us any mind whatsoever. We could just sit there. And we did.
It was a very pretty place.
But it was not likely to be a place that G.C. and Ralphie looked for us when they got off the Carousel. So Zapp and I descended the hill, back over the fence, back down into Disneyland.
We met up with the boys inside Fantasyland. So what to do now? Well, we'd showed them the park, most of the rides, some of the restaurants now it was time for Gemini Cricket to go shopping! Of course, we had to pass by the Castle on our way over to Main Street. And so we had the perfect opportunity to tell Ralphie & G.C. about climbing the hill to the side of the Castle. But really, what better way to tell than to show And faster than you can say 'Bob's yer uncle,' zapppop was back over that fence and up on that hill.
Somehow, Gemini Cricket did not seem amazingly surprised to see zapppop bound on up to the side of the Castle, and stand there gloating like the king of Disneyland. What was surprising, to the Cricket as well as to myself, was that a couple of CMs walked through the area, glanced up at Zapp ... and just kept walking. And then a couple more. And another CM. Hmmm, oh look, there's someone scaling the Castle. Mmmm? Oh, yes, hmmm, look at that."
In all, six cast members walked by the Castle, saw the guest atop the hill, and ignored it. I was dumbfounded. Why, I bet zapppop could have climbed the Castle like King Kong and gotten away with it.
Eventually, zapp grew tired of his lofty perch and came back down to hang with us mortals. We walked through the Hub on the way to Main Street. As the sun continued to slowly set, and the Cricket hit the stores, I realized that perhaps it was a good thing that our International Hub-to-Hub call hadn't worked out after all. Just around now, at 9:30 p.m., we had planned to be here in the Hub of EuroDisneyland to place a call across the time zones to Disneyland in California, where a group of MousePadders would undoubtedly be meeting on a Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. in their Hub. But a certain accident with a certain swimming pool and a certain cell phone (and a certain idiot) on the day before we left for Paris left me (the idiot) unable to communicate with the U.S.A. on this particular night. It would've been very keen to talk with our pals on the other side of the planet and compare what was going on in our hub with what was going on in theirs. But passing the phone among us and among them, all the greetings and exchanges, would've taken a lot of time (and cost maybe a lot of money). And all hopes of repeating any of the rides would've been dashed. So, maybe it was for the best that the call didn't work out. (Woulda been nice though.)
After the shopping spree, we did have time for a couple of do-overs. We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as the sun plunged beneath the horizon and the sky lit red. And we chilled to another tour of Phantom Manor as night fell over Disneyland.
By the time we got back to the Hub, it was crawling with people. Up in the trees, all over the hills, covering every square inch of earth, as usual. This time, though, folks had not only breached the fences, they had broken them! A large section of fencing had literally been smashed out by the unruly mob (how Parisian!) and was lying in a twisted heap on the ground. It was very hard to find a decent place to watch the fireworks. We climbed this way and that, moving along the ridge on the Frontierland side of the hub, but there just were no good spots left. Somewhere in the confusion, I lost the Cricket and Ralphie and Zapppop. Or did I abandon them? Well, they seemed content to glimpse half the fireworks show, but that wasn't gonna do it for me on my last viewing of Tinkerbell's Fantasy in the Sky. Zapp never did care all that much for the scaled down pyro of DLP's fireworks, and I have the feeling he convinced G.C. that it wasn't really worth clamoring over children and elbowing people in the eye to get the perfect view of them.
But, by my onesies, I was able to get into the middle of the hub, with the Chateau dead center, and the low-level pyrotechnics bursting all around it in a perfect frame of color and light. True, it's not 'Believe,' it's not 'IlluminNations.' It's a more intimate, more charming exhibition. Very French. And Tres Jolie!
And then, almost as soon as it had begun, our magical day in the faraway Disneyland was over. It was time to go home and for Ralphie and Gemini Cricket, that meant getting on a train back to Paris. For zapp and me, it meant a short stroll back to our hotel. That sounded like such a better deal. So we offered our friends a much closer place to spend the night. After all, we had a suite. An entire extra room with a pull-out sofa-bed. We tried to tempt them with easy comfort and convenience, but they seemed determined to head back into the city. Then we pointed out that zapp and I were thinking about going into Paris ourselves the next day, it being Bastille Day and all. Why didn't they just stay in our hotel suite and we could all go into Paris together the next day, and extend the fun into tomorrow. How's about it?
But no ... Ralphie and the Cricket insisted on going back to Paris, and so we walked them to the Chessy train station. It looked to me like Gemini Cricket didn't really want to go back to Paris. In fact, it looked to me like the Cricket was really rather sad. Are you sure you wanna take the train all the way back into Paris, and then take the Metro all the way back to your hotel, and get back there at like one in the morning instead of just coming back to our room, having a pillow fight, telling some ghost stories, and going to bed? Yes, they said but not at all convincingly.
So we bid each other a fond adieu, and then left Gemini and Ralphie at the station.
Back at our room, I couldn't help but have the feeling that going back to Paris was not what the Cricket had in mind. But we got ourselves ready for bed, and all tucked in, snuggly and warm ... still, I half expected to get another call from Ralphie and Gemini down in the lobby. The clock ticked away, though, and the time for the train to have left for Paris had long come and gone. And so zapp and I figured we might as well, er, um, go to sleep. And just as we were (ahem) nodding off ...
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
pounding at our door.
What the ....!? Oh, sure, now the Cricket and Ralphie come a'knockin'! Changed their minds after all. They had seen some sketchy characters on the train, and figured dealing with the RER and the Metro in the wee hours might not be the best way to go. So once again they rousted us with sleepus interruptus. But it's all good. We were really very glad that the boys did not have to trudge home on the trains and could instead just spend the night in our spare room.
This way we'd get to do some Bastille Day stuff in Paris together and we talked about our plans, and our day at Disneyland, and stuff & things till, oh, two in the morning. And then, crawling back to bed and bidding our friends goodnight, zapp and I finally got to sleep.
And it really was sleep this time.
Next Up the Final Installment of our Epic Story Bastille Day in France!
Bastille Day Part One
Wake up, Monsieur Zapppop, wake up!
Monsieur Zapppop, arise and greet Monsieur Soleil!
Zip from Zapp.
Ok, Zapppop is just not waking up this morning. No response to sweet Franglish nothings whispered in his ear. Well, fortunately we have sleepover guests Gemini Cricket and Ralphie who are already up and getting ready for the big day.
For this is the Big Day. Bastille Day. La Quatorze a Juillet. Le Fete Nationale. The annual celebration of the anniversary of the French Revolution. Big Day in France, especially in Paris. And with Paris being only 20 miles away, and what with our guests heading back that way anyway I figured I'd hitch a ride with them and just get back to Zapp when he was feeling more, well, alive.
So, I left a note for the sleeping Zapp, telling him I had gone to Paris and would be back around 1:00. A quick shower, another complimentary continental breakfast, and the three of us were off on the train to Gay Paris on this day of national jubilation!
There are two main, official celebrations in the city, each attended by tens of thousands of Parisians and tourists. There is the military parade that marches down the Champs Elysees in the morning, and the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower in the evening. Good tourists that we were, we intended to witness both events. If I'd been able to wake up Zapppop well, we had toyed with the idea of spending the entire day in Paris and just seeing what mayhem and revelry might unfold. I had heard rumors, for instance, that the students at the Ecole des Beaux Arts would paint their bodies red, white and blue on Bastille Day and run naked through the streets of St-Germain. Since we had already seen folks diving into the Seine in their underwear in that neighborhood, I was fairly sure that Bastille Day would see some bizarre craziness in that part of town.
With Zapp back at Disneyland though, I'd have to head back there mid-day (and truth be told, I wasn't quite done with Disneyland myself) and so I'd just have to settle for the official celebrations. Ralphie, the Cricket and I tried to make our way to the Place de la Concorde, where the giant review stand for the big parade was located. The metro trains were particularly crowded this Monday morning, as there were lots of folks like us trying to catch a last minute spot to watch the festivities. Fortunately for us, my French had improved enough in the past week for me to comprehend the faint announcement that the train would not be stopping at the two stations closest to the Place de la Concorde that morning. Yikes.
So we got off at the Louvre and started to make our way to the parade route on foot. Once we emerged from the Metro station, however, it was immediately clear to us why trains were being diverted from any stations near the procession. The entire city was a veritable police state, with gendarmes and barricades and national guard troops everywhere. We were shunted away from the parade route and made to cross to the opposite side of the Seine. Only then were we allowed to walk freely in the direction of the Champs Elysees. It was going to be a bit of a walk, but we had lots of company. Seems we were not the only slackers in France. It was then nearly 10:00 in the morning, just about when the parade was scheduled to begin. If you wanted a good spot to watch it, I suppose arriving in town more like 7:00 would have been better. On a morning such as this, however, I much preferred sleeping in a bit and just doing the best we could once we got to Paris.
As it turned out, the best we could was to get to the Pont de la Concorde, the bridge which crosses the Seine to the Place de la Concorde. As we soon discovered, the parade would head down the Champs Elysees to the Place de la Concorde and then split; with one half heading north, and the other going south across the bridge towards us. Ok, well half a parade is better than no parade and that's what we get for having the cheek to arrive just as the parade kicked off. For no sooner did we nab a place on the wall overlooking the Seine, then the festivities began.
And they began with a bang. Well, more like a boom ... a sonic boom ... as a squadron of fighter jets zoomed above the Seine, trailing behind them a vast stream of red, white and blue smoke that colored the sky in the French national hues for the jets that followed ... and followed, and followed. Squadron after squadron of jets and bombers and planes of all kind came streaking through the skies, following the course of the River Seine. Must have been every plane in the French air force. And then the armed forces came promenading down the Champs and across the bridge. Army troops and navy troops and marines and what have you. Marching in cadence across the bridge, greeted by huge applause from a grateful nation. Part of the appreciation poured out for these servicemen and women may have been pure patriotism, but surely part of it was for the performance of these troops. For as they marched, they sang. Clear, clean voices pierced the air with unintelligible French marching songs. It was unexpected and absolutely stirring. Then, after many squads of regular troops had passed, the fashion show portion of the cavalcade began. These troops didn't sing, but they were outfitted in such outlandish uniforms that it was like a history-of-warfare runway romp. 17th century uniforms, 18th century uniforms, french foreign legionnaire uniforms. Eccentric hats, flowing capes, spiffy boots and breeches it was total pomp in most unusual circumstance. We definitely missed the singing, but the costumes, er, uniforms were eye-popping.
But after the fantasy of the uniform review came the drab reality of modern military strength. All of a sudden, the theme shifted radically to camouflage and hardware. Helicopter gunships filled the air, while trucks and humvees barreled down the boulevards. Regiments of tanks lumbered towards us in a misguided show of martial might. All the anachronistic charm of the military review was lost once the concept was brought into the modern age. And so, as glory gave way to guns, Gemini Cricket and Ralphie and I beat a hasty retreat from the scene.
Though there were no floats, no marching bands, no celebrities in motor cars, and very few horses in short, nothing that would make it seem like a parade by U.S. standards the procession was enjoyable on its own terms. It was a throwback to some other century, with armies marching beneath the Arc de Triomphe to the cheers of a grateful citizenry. Old World to the max, somehow fittingly European.
Back at Disneyland that afternoon, I was able to witness a most modern parade, the Princess Parade. It had floats, it had music, it had Disney characters. It, too, seemed a crowd pleaser. But it didn't please me at all. This new daytime parade was nothing more than a severely edited version of DLP's customary Wonderful World of Disney parade, but with everything un-princess left out. Something akin to sculpting an elephant by carving away from a block of marble everything that doesn't look like an elephant, the Princess Parade was merely the Wonderful World of Disney parade with every float not related to a princess just cut out. The guests were not so much getting a new parade as they were getting half of an old parade, being called a new parade. I call it a rip-off, and it was pretty much indicative of the general state of entertainment in this park.
I've already remarked on how disappointing the over-hyped Fantillusions turned out to be. In essence, both daytime and nighttime parades are lame. The park's main stage show is a Winnie-the-Pooh kiddie romp that compares favorably with the likes of Mickey's Detective School and other such aimed-at-the-toddler-crowd entertainment. You can't miss the Pooh show at EuroDisneyland, because the park's main theater is right off the hub, on the Discoveryland side of the Castle. It's an open-air amphitheater right smack in the center of the park -so you better like Pooh, cause you're gonna get a lot of it. I'd seen enough bits and pieces of the show passing across the hub to know that I really did not want to see any more than bits and pieces of it.
All in all, my impression of entertainment at Euro Disneyland was fairly grim. Still, Zapppop had been encouraging me to go see the Tarzan Encounter, and since we had some unexpected time on our unexpected last day in the park, we hiked over to the far end of Frontierland to catch a performance. This was way, way back there the furthest thing away from the hub in the entire park. The huge Chaparral Theater was jammed to the rafters with people, with dozens more arriving along with us near showtime to snag what few seats were left. Clearly, there was some advance buzz about this show.
Well the Tarzan Encounter was a fusion between Disney entertainment and modern Las Vegas Tarzan the Ape Man meets Cirque du Soleil. Hidden within the intricate and colorful jungle sets were riggings and trampolines and bungee cords. It was all about acrobatics in monkey suits, to the strains of Phil Collins' groovy Tarzan songs. Spinning, flipping, catapulting, non-stop ape action! The costumes were ingeniously simian yet supple enough to perform stunts in. Only the rambunctious ape Terk was represented as a classic rubberhead, leading a rousing chorus of children from the audience in a literally smashing rendition of 'Trashin' the Camp' with pots and pans and bric-a-brac lowered from the rafters.
The other costume highlight was the near-total lack of costume on the show's eponymous star, Tarzan (hubba hubba). More flipping and spinning and catapulting, but this time by a muscle stud in a loincloth! And the highlight of the show, where the sparks really fly, was the aerial pas de deux by Tarzan and Jane. With a little assist from some bungee vines, the jungle lovers were able to glide and soar through the air in a most romantic and astounding dance above the jungle canopy and above the audience. The act is a direct lift from Cirque's Alegria and Mystere but so what?! It's great! The whole thing was a Cirque du Soleil homage ( there, that's a better word than rip-off"), and it all added up to the best live entertainment based on a Disney film that I have ever seen in a Disney park.
Lively, dazzling, imaginative and breathtaking. The rest of the live entertainment in the park is terrible this season, but The Tarzan Encounter makes up for it all.
As glad as I was to make one more excellent discovery about EuroDisneyland, zapppop and I now had only a couple of hours left to get in some final rides and to savor what we could of this beautiful park. And when the chips are down and time is short, it turns out pretty quick that Zapppop and innerSpaceman's Top 3 Fave Euro Disneyland Rides are:
No. 3 Big Thunder Mountain Railroad the one where Big Thunder Mountain is an island with the best Big Thunder landscape and wildest Big Thunder ride in the world.
No. 2 Phantom Manor the one were a frontier haunted mansion quickly morphs with a surrealistic wild west ghost story to leave you feeling unsettled and spookified.
And No. 1 Space Mountain the one where space is a treacherous asteroid field with no up and no down, no gravity and no relation whatsoever to any Space Mountain you have ever known!
Yeah those are some great rides (oh, and why didn't we ride Space Mountain at least nine more times?) and the park is home to lots of other good attractions, some really nice restaurants, well-above average shops, and some of the best imagineered environments on earth.
But somehow I felt, well, unfaithful being this enamored of EuroDisneyland. As I was headed back to my hometown gal, the original Disneyland I mean the real Disneyland I almost had to convince myself that the original was still the best. I had to remind myself what I loved about Disneyland ... what there was about Disneyland that even Disneyland Paris had not surpassed.
I must have been crazy spending my last moments in DLP thinking of how DL was better. Maybe I had a guilty conscience, but several things immediately jumped to mind:
First and foremost, Disneyland's got the Rivers of America. DLP made the same astounding mistake as Florida's Tragic Kingdom almost no waterfront along the Rivers of America (or, in this case, the Rivers of the Far West). Whereas the first Disneyland has that wonderful full curve of river-front walkway stretching from the Mark Twain dock in Frontierland all the way across New Orleans Square, DLP has only sporadic, small specks of river-front access for the guests. The psychological importance of this large body of water (especially in warm weather) cannot be overestimated. It's simply bad show, and poor guest psychology, to allow so little contact with it. And with the woods being so young and immature, and with there being hardly any animals along the riverbanks well, I will just cherish Anaheim's bountiful Rivers of America all the more.
And speaking of that stretch of river along the waterfront of New Orleans Square ... well DLP has no New Orleans Square. They have no Liberty Square. They have no charming little Landlet of their own that each of the American parks has. The unique squares of Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom are perhaps the most evocative areas of those parks. That Euro Disneyland did not create its own unique little land is a definite shortcoming.
While we're on the subject of New Orleans Square, let me once again sing the praises of the best, the original, the absolutely superlative Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland, U.S.A. The last attraction personally overseen by Walt Disney, the first Pirates ride remains the absolute best of the breed and arguably the absolute apogee of the theme park ride experience. DLP's Pirates is a nice riff on the theme, but it can't hold a candle (or a torch) to the original.
Let's see ... what else? Ah, the Jungle Cruise. EuroDisneyland is unique among the world's Disneylands in its lack of a jungle cruise. Something about catering to a European audience. Pfshst! DLP is deficient, plain and simple. And speaking of jungle, the vegetation in Adventureland is just not adequate to convey a tropical atmosphere. The foliage in Frontierland is likewise not up to snuff. The trees in the hub are practically non-existent and, in fact, the foliation in the park is just not mature enough even after 11 years to provide a suitably lush environment. This is not to fault DLP. The foliage in Anaheim's Disneyland itself was once young and unconvincing. It's just that I now have a new appreciation for Anaheim's robust vegetation.
No one has as charming a Main Street U.S.A. as the original Disneyland. While EuroDisneyland did not go as ridiculously overboard with the Victorian brush as they did in Florida, its Main Street is clearly from the same mold. They've definitely toned it down a bit, but the buildings are still too garish, too ornate to have ever been on a typical American main street at the turn of the century. Disneyland U.S.A. has the only Main Street that represents the midwestern towns of Walt Disney's youth, is the only Main Street constructed in the charming (approximately) five-eighths scale, and has the only buildings that represent the actual idiom of the turn of the century American heartland (including our uniquely styled, old fashioned Emporium!)
I am not harping on all of this to degrade Euro Disneyland. I think I have promoted the plentiful virtues of that park quite abundantly in these many pages. It's just that EDL is the first Disneyland-style park I have seen that compares favorably to the original, and yet I don't want to give anyone the idea that it overshadows the original. They are both wonderful theme parks. My old opinion that the Disneyland concept could not be successfully copied is now in tatters. But there are still many areas in which the original Disneyland shines, and I just want to give the original its props.
Just one more, and then I'll stop ...
One of the things folks often diss about Disneyland nowadays is Sleeping Beauty Castle. It is often viewed as being too tiny and ill-fitting of modern sensibilities. The Cinderella Castles of Florida and Japan, and the Chateau of Marne la Vallee each tower over their respective parks and many people have gotten used to the latter-day concept of the gigantic Disneyland castle. I think it's essentially the Big is More syndrome. But I contend that the Disneyland Castle was never meant to overwhelm Main Street in the way the big castles do. I think it was intended to blend a little more, to be high on charm and not necessarily on spectacle. There's nothing wrong with Sleeping Beauty Castle. Its diminutive size is not a flaw. It is quite simply the most classic Disney building of all time. And one of the best things about the original Disneyland that it's the one and only home of Sleeping Beauty Castle.
Hmmmmpft. Castle. Can't take my eyes off that Castle. That other Sleeping Beauty castle. As Zapp and I take our lamentable leave of EuroDisneyland, I look back with a tear in my eye toward Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant. This fantasy castle has busted my old opinion that big castles are bad castles. It's huge, it overwhelms Main Street, but it totally works. Au revoir, Le Chateau.
Au revoir, Euro Disney.
Bastille Day Part Deux
It's the final stretch. The last part of Zapppop's and my epic adventure in France Bastille Day Fireworks Fantasmagoria at the Eiffel Tower.
But first, a moment to swill some wine back at our hotel room, shower, change, and hit the road!
Then it's the train into Paris me for the second time that day. I'm feeling like a real commuter. Once we transfer to the Metro system in the city, we can tell that it's not your typical day in Paris. Trains heading towards the Eiffel Tower are ultra crowded, as seemingly everyone in town makes their way to the Champ de Mars that's the long field in front of the Tour Eiffel, already very, very crowded when we arrive, nearly 45 minutes late for our meeting with Gemini Cricket and Ralphie.
We were supposed to meet them at the farthest end of the field from the Tower, near a glass-walled memorial of some sort. We look all around, but not a sight of either of them. No way to find them in the crowd of, hmmm, roughly 100,000 people! But then bounding towards us came the friendly, smiling Cricket and he took us back with him to a place he and Ralphie had carved out in the park. Just a little bit in from a walkway on edge of the field, about 1,000 meters back from the Eiffel Tower, they had set some blankets down in a sequestered little area that was up against a low railing. Our backs were against a small, fenced-in rectangle that enclosed some short, conical shrubs and this walled-off no-crowd zone was our bulwark against the masses. Our backs were protected on this one side, and so we only had to maintain our territorial integrity on the other three. In front, the iconic Eiffel Tower loomed before us, nicely filling up the forward view with, hmmm, one of the most famed sights in all the world. Our friends had scouted us a very good location.
And more than that, they had supplied all the provender for a classic French picnic some cheeses, French bread and, of course, a bottle of wine. Tres bon. As we picnicked along with half of Paris, celebrating their national holiday I had to reflect on how fortunate we were to share this moment with some friends from home, a tiny spec of America and an isolated island of English in a sea of France and French. Oh, hmmmm, except for those girls who just sat down next to us who are yup clearly speaking English. With a definite twang, but definitely English. Turns out the gals next to us are from Dallas, Texas which is arguably part of America. Our little island just got a bit bigger. And the coincidences pile up, as we find out that it is the Texan gals' last day in France, too. Yeah, so we got a little flirty with them. Flirting is just so much easier in your native tongue.
Hey, wait a minute ... aren't all four of you guys, um, gay? Yeah, that would be correct (sort of technically speaking, both Zapp and I are bi), but our purpose at the moment wasn't amorous. No, our ulterior motive was alcoholic. Ya see, we had gone through our only bottle of wine, and the gals from Dallas had plenty of wine. But just as things were getting very friendly, some pals of theirs appeared and whisked them away to a supposedly better spot on the Champ de Mars. Drats.
Hmm, so let's look around us and see if any others of our neighbors have some excess wine. Um, no. Fine. Actually, one of our neighbors looks like they had an excess of wine this blond lady is completely passed out on the ground next to us. That's nice.
Okay, well, let's just look around for someone selling wine. With a hundred thousand Frenchmen all gathered in one place, there's got to be more than a few people selling wine. So we scanned the crowd, and wow what a crowd! Just masses and masses of people, stretching as far as the eye can see.
But not a wine vendor in sight anywhere. So Ralphie kindly volunteered to go in search of wine, while we held down the fort. It was becoming increasingly difficult to do, as people just kept pouring into the already packed field. Well, at least our backs were safe with that no-penetration zone of bushes right behind us. Or so we thought. Just then, these three dudes walk right over to us, hop the fence, and plant themselves among the plants. They are loud and boisterous, and obviously drunk. They are all nursing beers and smoking cigarettes, and they seem to be French but they also speak perfect English. We were a little taken aback at first, what with our seemingly safe space being invaded but after a while, these drunken guys became like our best friends. They definitely added some life to the party, and gave the festivities a needed shot in the arm.
Ralphie soon returned, mission accomplished, wine in hand and, hello, who are our new friends? Oh, um, Ralphie, I'd like you to meet Drunk French Guy Number 1, and Drunk French Guy Number 2 and Drunk French Guy Number 3. And Drunk French Guys, how do you do We are Getting-Drunk American Guys. So we sat around and drank while they sat around and smoked. And after our second bottle was empty, we started trolling around for wine again. The Drunk French Guys (DFGs) wanted champagne, and so they started accosting every person selling water or wine and making them promise to come back with some champagne. When that didn't work, they took to just repeatedly shouting Champagne! into the crowd. Well, two of them did anyway. DFG No. 3 got real quiet and kinda faded into the background, but the other two seemed to get like a contact high from our second bottle of wine, and just got more loud and obnoxious by the moment. They were calling out to pretty girls and babbling semi-coherently in a mixture of French and English. The leader of this bunch (DFG No. 1) was a tall, gangly dude, with punkish blond hair and sporting a tight, white tee-shirt, and he constantly had a cigarette dangling from his lips. So we pretty much figured he was French. His sidekick, DFG No. 2, might have been an American, however. He had a classic midwesterner face, and he was wearing a decidedly American sports jersey. The Leader was all attitude and wry remarks. The sidekick was simply drunk out of his mind. Both of them were highly entertaining, and we soon realized that what we took at first to be an intrusion turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.
'Cause ten o'clock had come and gone, and no fireworks. No ten p.m. twinkle lights on the Tower. No nothing. We had heard the fireworks were supposed to start at ten. (Well, at least that's what the gals from Dallas told us). But nada. And so the Drunk French Guys were the best diversion we had going for us. In fact, with a hundred thousand Frenchman all drinking wine, I would have thought more people in the crowd would be like Leader dude and his Sidekick. I was feeling a bit tipsy myself at this point, so maybe I thought I'd be stirring something up when I leapt to my feet and shouted out Viva la France! Viva le Republique!!"
Hmmmm. Nothing. I guess I thought the crowd would burst into singing Le Marseilles or something, but apparently I failed to stir any patriotic fervor. The DFGs had better luck a few moments later when they started belting out some French drinking song. It was a lusty little ditty, a single refrain lasting about 30 seconds. But they just kept repeating it, over and over, singing (often badly) at the top of their lungs. Every once in a while, from some far-flung corner of the crowd, someone would respond with another refrain of the song. And that would just encourage Leader and the Sidekick to sing even louder. They would sing and sing, and keep at it until someone else sang it back to them. And then they would just start all over again. Sometimes Zapp and I would sing along it was all gibberish to us, but it got so pounded into our heads that I can almost still sing it today.
Ten-thirty. Eleven o'clock. Still no fireworks. Okay, so maybe it wasn't completely dark at ten. But it's been pitch-black for over half an hour what gives? The crowd doesn't seem to mind the delay too much. There's a definite energetic buzz in the air, but the mood is still mellow and not at all restless. But my personal buzz is starting to, yikes, wear off. We've got no more wine, and no one ever came back with any champagne.
All this time, the passed out lady next to us has remained unconscious. She has not moved a muscle in almost 2 hours! Gemini Cricket points out that the plastic bottle at her side looks like a bleach bottle! Hmmm, that would explain a lot. But nah, could she really ...? Ok, I had to find out. So I slinked towards her, and slowly, carefully reached over her comatose form ... hand stretched towards the bottle of bleach ... my fingers close on it and GAK! She Lives! Ghribifriagnicilkous! she unexpectedly shouts (I think it translates into my precioussss"), as she clutches the white plastic bottle to her breast and summarily passes out again.
Well, that freaked us out a bit. And Bleach Lady would stay that way, comatose and occasionally mumbling, for the remainder of the evening. We never did find out definitively if she had been drinking bleach, but it would not have surprised us. I suppose she could have poured booze into a white, plastic, Chlorox-shaped bottle ... but, then again ...
It's going on 11:30 by this time, and the crowd is starting to get a little antsy. I have become so desperate to keep my buzz going that I bummed a cigarette from DLG Leader (who had taken off his tight tee-shirt). Ah, that's better. Sweet nicotine high. Mmmmm, cigaaarettttte. Mmmmm, bare-chested, saucy French dude.
And then, at 11:40 p.m., with barely any Bastille Day left at all, the Bastille Day fireworks festivus began. Pretty explosions and colors and sparks and, well, you know ... fireworks. A whole bunch of the pyro was visible only beneath the great arch at the base of the Eiffel Tower, so when isolated persons decided they'd like to ruin it for everyone else by standing up, the crowd shouted them down. But after a just a few minutes, 1 standing person became 5, became 20, became 50, and then every one of one hundred thousand people had to stand up to see the show. Ugh! What is it about (some) humans and their inherent lack of consideration for others? If everyone had just cooperated and stayed on the ground, every single person there could have enjoyed the show comfortably seated. Grrrrr. All the really lovely pyro that went on beneath the arch was lost to a good portion of the crowd.
And as the show went on (and on), I'm sure a whole lot of people wished they could have stayed comfortably seated. The fireworks just kept going, and exploding, and bursting in air. Sometimes with the Eiffel's twinkle lights on, sometimes not (that broke it up a bit). The pyro was not particularly hi-tech, but what they lacked in special effects, they made up in, um ... bulk. In fact, if it were possible for fireworks to get monotonous, these might have approached that point. Finally, after 30 minutes, they stopped. But, of course, it was only a pause before the finale which went on for another 15 minutes! And on and on and on.
No complaints from me, mind you. I can watch fireworks all day if I have to. There was no musical score (at least that we were able to hear at the far end of the Champ de Mars), but fortunately I had my mp3 player with me and was able to provide my own musical accompaniment the collection of classical French compositions that form the soundtrack to the excellent Epcot attraction Impressions de France (tres appropriate, non?). But the fireworks went on for so long that I had to listen to it more than 4 times through before the stupendous, extravagant, grand finale filled the skies above the Eiffel Tower. Now when you have a fireworks show that runs for, let's see, 45 minutes you'd best have a very grand Grand Finale. And grand it was. Magnifique and Formidable and Tres Tres Jolie.
It was one of the longest fireworks display I have ever seen. So long, in fact, that it started on Bastille Day and ended on some other day. It was now 12:30 a.m. and uh- oh the Metro system runs only till 1:00 a.m. Anyone who doesn't make in on a train in the next half an hour is going to be without a ride. And the last train out to Marne la Vallee leaves from a place pretty far from here at about 1:30. Yikes.
Bastille Day Part Three
We head to the nearest Metro station, but it is jammed. Okay, fine, maybe one a bit further away from the action. So off we go to the next station down the line. But it, too, is jam packed. Just a set of stairs filled with people heading down underground to a station literally overflowing with folks. In fact, the only movement on the stairs is from people pushing through the crowds to get back up the looks on their faces overcoming any language barrier Don't Go Down There!!
The streets, too, are jammed with people. One hundred thousand men, women and children with nowhere to go. A great many of them are, like us, just going from Metro station to Metro station, hoping to get a break. Finally, we come to a station at the elevated portion of the line this time with a crowd of people on the stairs leading up to the platform. While I was reluctant to be the canary and head underground to check things out at the subterranean stations, I had no problem with pushing through the crowd to get a look at the situation on the train platform above us. And just as I reached the top, a train pulled into the station. Inside the cars, people were literally plastered to the windows, flattened against every visible surface. When the train doors opened, no one got off and no one got on. The train was already packed so tight that no one could enter. I thought I had seen crowded Metro trains before (and crowded Subway trains and Bart trains and what you), but ohmygawd!
It was hopeless. After that train left the station, no more trains passed by. It was after one a.m. The Metro had shut down. Upwards of 98,000 people were stranded in the Invalides Quarter ... and Zapp and me well, we were stranded in Paris for the night.
At that point, we are reeeallly glad to have Gemini Cricket and Ralphie as our pals, cause what else would pals do for each other at this moment but (hopefully, hopefully) invite us to spend the night at their place. And of course, Ralphie and G.C. are such splendidly good guys that that's exactly what they did. Happy that they could return the favor, they invited us to spend the night in their hotel room in the Latin Quarter. Hurray!
Now all we had to do was, um, get there.
Ugh, there was nothing for it but to walk. And walk and walk and walk some more. We had plenty of company, as thousands of people were also stuck with no way home but their two feet. And so we walked through St-German des Pres and through the Latin Quarter. All the while getting further and further away from the center of town. The crowds walking with us thinned and eventually disappeared. By two in the morning, we stopped passing cafes with customers and started passing cafes closing up shop. If there was any revelry and celebration going on overnight for Bastille Day in Paris, we had gotten too far away from civilization to notice. Mile after mile, kilometer after kilometer. After four days walking all over Disneyland, which was preceded by four days walking all over Paris, my legs were pretty much bloody stumps. This march was grueling and evil. Latin Quarter, my eye! We were way past the Latin Quarter and well into Montparnasse by now. If Ralphie and G.C. were under the impression that their hotel was in the Latin Quarter, they were woefully misinformed. In fact, the part of town that Ralphie and the Cricket were inexorably leading us into was kinda creepy and lonely and dank. Granted, it was the middle of the night but I was not happy about where we seemed to be heading.
Just then, the unmistakable blare of Euro police sirens ripped through the night. And suddenly, a police cruiser zipped past us on the boulevard. And another, and another. And some more. And then a few more. Police car after police car a convoy of nearly 25 police vehicles streaming down the boulevard at 2:00 in the morning. What was it? Some big terrorist bust? Some horrible Princess Di-like disaster? We changed course and followed the convoy for a few blocks, but soon lost them. Our momentary excitement faded into fruitlessness, and all we had to show for it was a few extra blocks to walk.
Finally, we arrive at G.C. and Ralphie's seedy hotel. But as we tramp through the lobby in a daze, the night manager calls out to us, Eh, Monsieur, where do you think you are going? I look back towards the front desk to see a rather scuzzy looking fellow with scraggly hair and bad teeth accosting us. Ralphie explains to this guy that his friends had been stranded in the city and were just coming up to his room for a few hours until the trains started running again in the morning. Oh non, Monsieur, we can have none of that. If your friends are going to stay in ze room wiz you, zey will have to pay. What, huh?
"But they're not going to be sleeping here, Ralphie implored, they're just going to sit up with us for a few hours until the trains are running. So sorry, monsieur, the night clerk replied, but you are not allowed to have guests in your room at all not for anything longer than 15 minutes. We were all pretty much taken aback by this. After the forced march I had just been taken on over the last hour and a half to get here, I was really in no mood for such nonsense. Can't go up to their room?! What kind of a dive were our friends staying at? And what kind of scam was this place trying to pull on us?
Sure enough, the clerk continued, Of course, if zey wish to stay until morning, we have a vacancy or two, and they must rent their own room. Well, we had walked all this way; it was the middle of the night; and we had no place else to go. Our choice, it seems, was clear. No Way, I said to the night clerk, and proceeded to get into a bit of an argument with him. Not wanting to cause too much trouble for the Cricket and Ralphie, however, I did not let things get too out of hand. Once it was clear that the petty night manager was not going to budge, I consulted with Zapppop for a quick moment and we decided to blow the place off.
So we spilled back out onto the street and, um, hey, oh yeah it's the middle of the night and we've got nowhere to go. Ralphie and Gemini Cricket sheepishly followed us outside. Clearly, they were mortified. Here they were simply trying to show us the same courtesy that we had shown them the previous evening, and not only were they stymied in their attempts at a good deed but the very friends they were trying to help were now thrown out onto the street to fend for themselves on the dangerous alleys of Paris. Penniless and in peril.
Well, maybe not in actual peril. (Though I really did not like the neighborhood we found ourselves stuck in at what o'clock ayem.) But we were penniless between us, Zapp and I had about 5 euros. So the first order of business was to find an ATM. Which we did. But it would not dispense money in the middle of the night. And neither would the next one we found. Gemini Cricket was feeling so bad at this point that he gave us 20 euros. I suppose I could have tried to ease his conscience, assure him that we were going to be ok, that sort of thing but I was still too perturbed by the whole situation to let either G.C. or Ralphie off the hook quite yet.
The two of them suggested that the two of us find a taxi to take us back out to Disneyland. Somehow, I didn't imagine that two Yanks like us with a limited command of the language and zero knowledge of the lay of the land were likely to get a fair shake on a 40 kilometer cab ride at this hour. Not that I had any better ideas. Other than, well, just spending the night out on the streets. And what did Zapppop think of that? Well, he wasn't exactly brimming with ideas either. More like, hmmm, seething with anger. Maybe that's too strong a word (I think I have seen Zapp angry like twice), but, well, he definitely seemed like he was in a very bad mood. And I'm sure it wasn't directed at either Ralphie or G.C. No, in Zapp's eyes, I was the architect of this particular disaster.
So we were going to, um, wander the streets of Paris until daybreak. That was my big plan.
And the first part of the plan was to get out of this scurvy neighborhood and back to a, hmmm, more comforting part of town. Ralphie pressed his map of Paris on us, and then he and Gemini Cricket, wishing us the best of luck, returned to their half-star hotel.
So ... there we were. Middle of nowhere, middle of the night. In a foreign country. Just me and Zapp, alone in the world. We headed north, back towards the Seine and the areas of town that we knew. There were very few other people on the streets, and the characters we did see were of the slightly unsavory sort. But before long we made it to the Boule Mich, um, that's the Boulevard St-Michel, the main thoroughfare that cuts through the Latin Quarter. Things were less dicey from then on, cause there were plenty of people on the boulevard, even at that late hour. Not the kind of people you'd necessarily like to get to know, but people.
We stumbled on into the night, weary and bedraggled, ever north toward the Seine and safety. Of course, it was just last week when we saw someone get thrown into the Seine in a gang dispute, but it was the safest place I could think of. What I actually had in mind was the Place St-Michel, a beautiful plaza just south of the Seine. Its focal point is a tremendous and magnificent fountain, featuring sword-wielding avenging angels and winged dragons spouting water. It has been the heart of bohemian Paris for the past few centuries, and so I was sure that it would be populated around the clock and would likely be an opportune place for us to hang out until the sun came up.
When we finally arrived at the Place St-Michel, we found it to be populated by a handful of sleeping homeless, and an equal number of nocturnal students, all assiduously scribbling in journals. It was silent as the grave, and just as discomforting. All that sleeping and writing ... it was so somnolent and creepy.
Stay here? Maybe not.
Just a little bit further then ... we drag ourselves to the very banks of the Seine to see if any better prospects would present themselves. And what should greet our bleary eyes but the stunning sanctuary of Notre-Dame!. Illuminated in the darkness, the towering cathedral beckoned us as it had countless other downtrodden pilgrims through the ages.
The plaza in front of Notre-Dame is a pretty lively place, even in the middle of the night. There were about 30 people in the square, in small groups clustered here and there. One group of about 10 were a little too lively a noisy gang of young ruffians, and there were more than a few sketchy characters under the trees at the edges of the square and in other dark corners. But we felt as if there were enough people to make the place suitably safe and that, well yeah, the spirit of the revered cathedral offered additional protection of its own.
We sat down on a stone bench and settled in for the night (or what was left of it). After all that walking, we finally had a chance to just sit and talk. It was a little after three, with no trains running till near six. It didn't seem that we were going to get much sleep, so I tried to find out what, besides the obvious, may have been bothering zapppop. Well, you probably know where this is heading. After all, what business did I have in coming to Paris with no reliable way to get back to our hotel if, for instance, the fireworks started really late.
Yeah, I really owed Zapp an apology. Paris in Bastille Day was all my idea. He would have much rather stayed at Disneyland, where (according to his sources) they had Real Fireworks that one and only day of the year cause the farmers could not object. Now, he may never know if that tip was true, and yeah, it sucked that he had to walk miles and miles only to be put out on the streets, having to stay awake till daybreak, and then fly home to the States in the morning. But as I drifted off to sleep on the cold stone, I asked Zapppop if he, too, didn't think that this crazy night was the best adventure of our whole vacation.
And then I fell asleep on the stone bench while poor zapppop kept watch though the rest of the night.
Wake Up, innerSpaceman!
Huh, wherameye? Ahhh, Paris at Daybreak!
Many of the monuments and buildings were still lit as the dawn crept into the sky. And the dim, early light painted Paris' ancient architecture as a fairytale city. I suppose it's easy for me to say, since I did get a couple hours of sleep but I was really glad to have spent the night at the gates to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. To wake up in this storied place seemed such an unforgettable amazement to me, that it was (almost?) worth all the trouble of the night before.
And as we walked through the town towards the station, everything seemed inordinately charming and perfect. It was delightful to watch the homeless people awake and pack up their meager belongings, to pass by cafes and food vendors as they prepared to open for business, to see the city come to life as it has done for a million dawns through the endless centuries.
And so that was our trip to Paris, France. The rest is all the usual blur and torment of getting back home. At the hotel that early morning, it was Zapp's turn to sleep for a bit while I packed up our stuff. It was sad to leave the Hotel New York, but we had to catch a bus to the airport. A bus which stopped at every Disney hotel after ours and stopped at every airport terminal before ours. Then misdirection three times by airport personnel assured that we were really late for our flight. Check-in had closed and they gave us a major hassle just to get aboard our plane. They ransacked my luggage, and were not too happy when they found the gun inside my bag. Well, it was a toy gun which we intended as a gift to cemeinke, whom we knew would appreciate that they still sell guns in France's Disneyland. They made us leave the toy gun behind, so I hope cemeinke will be satisfied with this honorable mention.
They had also given away our reserved seats, so zapppop and I could not even be near each other on the 11-hour journey home. Ironically, after supposedly just making the flight, we sat on the tarmac for over an hour waiting for a connection from Barcelona. But we eventually flew away from France, across the ocean to home.
P.S. our vacation didn't stop when we got back to the States. We then spent five more days at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. We had come home in time for Disneyland's birthday, an annual festivity that I have not missed in 25 years. To celebrate the park's 48th anniversary and our arrival home from France, we held a little soiree in our hotel room the following night for a bunch of our MousePad pals. And the next evening, Zapp and I even got to have dinner at Club 33.
It was a whirlwind vacation, a globe spanning adventure, the time of our lives.
As I write it all down and look at all pictures, I am awed at all the stuff we did and the things we saw. The city of lights, great works of art, grand cathedrals, unexpected surprises and tender moments of joy.
If you'd like more examples of the wonders we've seen, about two-thirds of Zapp's photographs are available (while supplies last) by clicking on his signature. (The thumbnails don't really do them justice a slide show should take you only an hour or two).
Thank you all for allowing me to share our story. Sharing is one of the nicest parts.