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Oo la la! A look at Disney in France
An American in Paris - by Morrigoon

DLP Town Square
Town Square 
Photo by Hal Schultz

Last summer Hyperboy and I decided to meander across Europe for a month. Well, okay, we'd been planning to since high school, but this time we actually did it. I was pulling for backpacks and Eurail passes, but this being Hyperboy's first time to Europe he felt more comfortable on a tour. This tour began in London, and was to end in London, after crossing from Paris. Disney geeks that we are, we decided to forego that last leg and go solo (duo?) to Disneyland Paris. All the crazy goings-on of the next 48 hours can be found in the following ramblings.

After saying goodbye to all our new friends we'd made on the Contiki tour - a whirlwind 18-35 year olds only tour of Europe, Hyperboy and I grabbed our bags and headed for the RER. We took the RER all the way to Marne La Vallee and its most illustrious inhabitant, Disneyland Paris. Now I'm sure there are other ways to get there which are faster and more comfortable, but this was by far the cheapest. It wasn't unreasonably uncomfortable either - no more so than traveling on any subway in any major city with luggage. Of course, by the time you reach Disneyland Paris you're above ground which affords you some views of the Parisian suburbs.

The station we arrived at was clean and efficient. It not only housed the RER stop but the Eurostar (chunnel train) as well. Wish we'd known that ahead of time - our travel agent did not know that the Eurostar ran to Marne La Vallee. So we bought return tickets from Gare du Nord, in Paris proper.

Those who travel to Disneyland Paris from London should keep this in mind - you can go DIRECTLY to Disneyland Paris from London (Waterloo Station). I will say that the service we received on Eurostar was very good. From the station, you walk to the appropriate stop for your hotel's bus. It's not a long walk (depending on how tired you are) but it's good to pack light so you don't have to drag hoardes of stuff with you. They use large, jointed buses to ferry you to the hotels. This is a good thing, as the buses can be crowded at peak hours.

We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe. Nothing fancy, but it has a cute theme and is also the least expensive of the Disney- owned hotels. It's a Southwestern pueblo- style hotel. There are several separate buildings of rooms. Their restaurant serves Tex- Mex food in the afternoon and evening. A continental breakfast is included with your hotel stay - pick up your reservation card for the next morning when you check in. One cute feature of their restaurant is the "Casita Bandidos" - an area with smaller tables and chairs exclusively for your kids. This would be a great chance for your little ones to meet some European youngsters.

After dumping off our luggage, we headed straight for the park. The Guest Relations window (to the right of the main entrance) is well staffed with the kind of friendly folks you'd expect.. And yes, the majority of them speak at least passable English. The tickets for Disneyland Paris remind me of the tickets for a subway; except they're plastic (not cheap paper). Of course, the fact that your tickets go in a slot and come out the other side does not mean you miss out on seeing a friendly face - each station has a Cast member at it ready to welcome you. (Side note: their costume ROCKS! It's my favorite costume in all Disneydom)

Space Mountain and Autopia
Autopia and Space Mountain  Photo by Jason Schultz

First stop: Space Mountain, a Disneyland tradition for Hyperboy and I. This Space Mountain, while bearing a similar name (though it also goes by De La Terre A La Lune - from the earth to the moon), is NOTHING like its namesakes in Anaheim or Florida. It's such a different ride that they could rename it, stick it in Disneyland where Innoventions is now, and no one would complain. 

First off, it is themed from the outside as a Jules Verne-esque future, where joy riding to the moon would be as common as a boat ride to Catalina Island. Your cars are "shot" from a "cannon" into space at speeds rumored to be 60 mph. While I'd take that number with a grain of salt, I will say that you do go quite fast as you enter "space". This coaster, unlike its namesakes, has both a loop and a corkscrew as you plunge and twirl amongst the glowing asteroids. You even pass a friendly moon which bears a remarkable resemblance to the "face on the moon" from a classic 1930's silent film (also called from the earth to the moon I believe?) This attraction does offer photos.

Right near Space Mountain was the Buzz Lightyear's Pizza Planet. There is some cute theming, consisting mostly of a Toy Story-themed kids play area which is supervised by castmembers on the Space Mountain rotation. Unlike Pizza Port, it is not "scatter bar". It is set up like the older buffeterias, which can be (and was for us) very slow. Their offerings consist of 2 kinds of pizza, salads, and a kind of chicken sandwich, along with the usual sodas.

One item they offer is quite unusual: the Pizza Burger. It is a burger, where the bun is actually pizza. Sounds gross to me but some have said they liked it. After my previous French burger experiences (the French CANNOT do burgers - eat French food, that's why you're there!), I wasn't adventurous enough to try it. I just had a pepperoni pizza. Quality wise I'd rank it between Village Haus and Redd Rockett's Pizza Port.

The toppings were of good quality but the crust was weak. I more than made up for that with dessert: a fruit tart (Hey, when in France eat what the French do!) Yum!

After lunch we saw the castle. Much like the Sleeping Beauty's Castle at  Disneyland in California, it has a walk through telling the Sleeping Beauty story. Only, instead of dioramas this story is told in stunning stained glass and tapestry.

The castle is a stunning structure filled with the little details that mean so much to a hard core Disney fan like myself and, I believe, the first time visitor as well. It extends beyond the facade and the Sleeping Beauty windows. If you enter the shops within the castle, you will feel like you've just landed in Snow White's corner of the Black Forest. Look up and all around you - there are details everywhere! Then venture down to the cave of the dragon, beneath the castle. In an almost impossibly dark cavern sleeps a scaly dragon, snoring and occasionally spouting steam. Every 10-15 minutes he wakes up, roaring, spouting steam at you, and struggling at his chains. The park guide map warns: "dragon may impress younger children".

It impressed me too!

After our scaly encounter we ventured into Frontierland. The imagineers took into account France's interest in the old west. Frontierland is vast and well done. We strolled past the Golden Nugget theatre and the entrance for Thunder Mountain (most of which takes place on the island, more on that later) and made a beeline for Phantom Manor. After a few uphill steps you arrive at a large covered queue area. This comes in handy as in my experience the French weather can be erratic. (Our day started sunny and ended in a downpour - and this was July...) 

The queue was well themed with dark, mostly dead looking plants, and a few broken statuettes in little mini-gardens which the queue snakes around. The Phantom Manor, you may have heard is themed as a run-down house from a western ghost town. Entering the stretching room you will notice that the portraits are different. Well kids, it doesn't stop there! 

Phantom Manor
Phantom Manor  Photo by Jason Schultz

Phantom Manor is much scarier than its cheery American counterparts. You actually see the ghost host in the stretching room, holding the rope of his victim and laughing maniacally. I'd compare the appearance of the Ghost Host with the Phantom of the Opera, as described in the book by Gaston Leroux. From there, the inevitable hall of portraits and staring busts. Is it just me, or are they also scarier? Must be those glowing red eyes. You board your doom buggy in the house's great hall, in front of a grand staircase that would make Tara look bad. This "candlelit" hall has the unfortunate tendency to go dark during the electrical storm raging outside (lightning - very cool). 

Throughout the ride you repeatedly see the Ghost Host and his bride, though they seem to deteriorate as you go along. She can be spotted crying at her dressing table (could it be that skull in the mirror that frightened her?) in fairly good shape, but by the end of the ride she's been reduced to little more than a skeleton with shreds of white fabric that once resembled a dress, pointing the way out. The ghost host appears in the graveyard, with his ghost hound (the temptation to say "Zoul" and hunt for the gatekeeper is almost too great). He can also be seen at the end of the ghost town sequence, a laughing skeleton, teetering dangerously in his tattered clothes. 

It's worth noting that the score for the Phantom Manor is much more "haunting" than the original score. You exit through the barn of this old house, passing beneath drying spices and hanging garlic. In front of you is the geyser, meant to be seen from the riverboats. Stay a while and read the graves. You will spot the graves of the butler, who "kept the master happy" and the maid, who died a year later and "kept the master happier."

From Phantom Manor we started our search for Pirates. Along the way we happened across Skull Rock and the Pirate Ship (restaurant? sure looks like it!). We spent a few minutes exploring skull rock from the inside, trying to pitch centimes into the eye holes. After taking a photo for a couple fellow tourists (once an Annual Passholder, always an Annual Passholder, even in another park!), we headed into the very well-themed Pirates queue. 

Pirates has a cute costume, though much more stereotype pirate than traditional - but cute! Not bad at all. There was a cast member with a microphone greeting everyone in French and English, while other cast members helped load guests into the boats. The story in this Pirates of the Caribbean is reversed, otherwise it's very similar to its predecessors. One major and important! difference is it has the old chasing room (YAY!!!!!!!!) I much prefer the old chase scene to the new one.

Somewhere along the way here I know we ended up at the Pocahontas play area, which is designed for the really little kiddies (and for mom and dad to get a bit of shade and a sit - good idea!)

It was near the Chaparral Theatre (which was closed on this day) and a BBQ place. Leaving there we'd passed a fast food restaurant being visited by Timon and Rafiki. We also found a half-built petting zoo complete with an albino peacock.

After Pirates, Hyperboy and I decided we simply must go find the Alice hedge maze, so it was off to Fantasyland!

Trés cool... the hedge maze is a remarkably fun, and (accountanteers are you listening?) likely very inexpensive attraction. There are several different areas within the maze: a caucus race, a tea party, jumping waters, the queen's garden (complete with half-painted roses) and even the Queen of Hearts' castle, which you can climb up. Speaking of which there's a great view of the rest of Fantasyland from up there. You realize just how vast their Fantasyland is.

One of the things near the maze was an attraction called the "Old Mill", sure, it was just monkey buckets, but it was the old mill!  It was kind of a Ferris Wheel with cars on the ends of the windmill vanes.

We ate dinner at Plaza Gardens (yep, Plaza Inn renamed). Pasta was okay, dessert was delicious. I had Creme Caramel (flan) which came with whipped cream and a small cookie. Unfortunately the cookie had a bug on it - I went up asking just for a new cookie, and my whole dessert was replaced! I don't think they understood my English, I only needed a new cookie, but needless to say I was pleased with their solution. Lest we forget we were in France, among the liquid selections were wine and beer - Hyperboy had to have one, if for no other reason than the novelty of drinking alcohol "within the berm".

A bit later (a lot later - long line) we hit Indiana Jones. It was a very good roller coaster - but that's all it was, a roller coaster, outside, over a bit of a temple. Nothing like the marvel we have in Anaheim. I guess now they're running it backwards - that would be fun, but I still like our Indy better.

It began to pour, so we did some shopping as well as go see the Aladdin thing. In the Adventureland gate (which, surprise, resembles Aladdin's palace) there is a small set of dioramas of the Aladdin tale. Cute, worth 10 minutes out of the rain. When it began to subside, we headed out into Fantasyland again. 

I got the fool idea into my head of going on Snow White. No, it wasn't different from Anaheim - except you actually saw the prince in it. What made this noteworthy were the odd goings-on while we were standing in the queue. With all of us in line, they let several cars go empty, then I saw a "suit" board a car. I was assuming (foolishly) that maybe someone was causing mischief inside. That is, until Michael Jackson and party passed by. Hello randomness! I didn't mind the extra wait for that - it must be really difficult to enjoy a Disneyland visit when its so hard for you to go anywhere.

Poor child of his had to have its head covered with a cloth for privacy.

Aurora's Blue Dress
Aurora's Blue Dress  Photo by Morrigoon

Back a'shopping we went, and found that French girls get better princess dresses! The Cinderella dress has a hoopskirt, and Sleeping Beauty's dress is BLUE (like it should be, thank you very much!) It looks terrific. Well by now it was drizzling again and the park was closing (it was a weekday). We walked back to the entrance through one of the covered arcades that run behind each side of Main Street. Great for inclement weather - which it was.

On our way we ran into Minnie Mouse, dressed up in her finest turn of the century garb.

Disney Village
Disney Village  Photo by Hal Schultz

Outside the gates we figured we'd check out the Disney Village. It's like Citywalk. Special perhaps for Europeans, but nothing new to us, so after a few laughs (some American references were SO corny!) we headed back to the hotel. I suppose I should tell you here that as hotel guests we could have gotten into the discos for free but we were way to tired to wait for them to open. 

Disney Village has a Planet Hollywood, Annette's Diner (50's), the inevitable Tex-Mex, a McDonald's, a Billy Bob's (line dancing if I remember correctly), a crepe ODV cart (whole park had those... what a GREAT idea! (hint, hint), a tourist board office, a Disneyland Paris store, and other myriad places you'd expect there. It was good for what it was, but it was BEDTIME, and I mean NOW.

Back at the hotel we collapsed. Not asleep yet, we went to get a soda at the "Cantina", their self-serve restaurant. Then we crashed. We had tried to change our breakfast reservation but by that hour all the earlier times were taken.

Next morning we packed up all our luggage, (did I really buy THIS much stuff? I hadn't even bought any Disneyland Paris stuff yet!), and checked it in at our hotel's luggage desk. They'll hold your stuff for you for free. Then it was breakfast time. They offered croissants, break, ham, cheese, yogurt, and cereal. (After 3 weeks on tour where "continental breakfast" meant "bread" this was a sweet layout.) 

After breakfast we re-entered the park to pack in as much Disney-inspired fun as we could before we had to head back into Paris (to catch the Eurostar from Gare du Nord - remember, we'd booked it to leave from there instead of from the park).

Big Thunder Mountain RR  Photo by Hal Schultz

One of the items on our priority list was Big Thunder Mountain, which we had not done the previous day. Now you board Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on one side of the river, but you ride it on the island. Meaning - once you board the train heads into a tunnel, under the water, and rises on the other side for the bulks of the ride, heads back under, and you disembark back where you started. Not only does that make the island look very interesting, it makes the ride even more fun!

Also, given that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Phantom Manor are both western-themed and being across the water from each other, they compliment each other. Really good show there.

We took some time to re-ride Space and Phantom, then went to the Cinderella restaurant which someone told us we had to do. It was nice, but I never did find the glass coach that dessert was in until we were leaving. Unfortunately it was also a slow table service restaurant (All table service in Europe is slow, you're expected to dine, so don't wait ‘til you're starving before going out.) It used up 2 1/2 hours we didn't expect. 

After lunch we did a quick marathon of shopping. I bought a bunch of wall maps, two sorcerer Mickey hats (in Disneyland Paris the stars and moons are yellow, and the hats are smaller), 3 watches (one Disneyland Paris logo, one Space and one special edition Honny I Shrunk the Kids watch - it was the new attraction there at the time), a baseball cap, 4 CDs, and a Disneyland Paris T-shirt. Once outside the gates Hyperboy had to mail a postcard so we went into the Disney Village real quick, where I bought another T-shirt (a better one!). I managed to get a huge plastic Disneyland Paris bag to put it all into. It wouldn't last forever but it would hopefully get me to London (it did). We took the bus back to our hotel, got our luggage and headed to Paris.

Au revoir Disneyland Paris!.... I'll be back.... with bells on!..... really!........

By the way, the service on the Eurostar is really good!

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