Disneyland Paris Attraction

by Alain Littaye, contributing writer

When Disney executives gave the green light to Walt Disney Imagineering for the Euro Disneyland project in the mid-'80s, the Imagineers knew they had to built a different magic kingdom. In France, they didn't have to care about earthquakes, like they did in California, or hurricanes, like they did in Florida—but they had to take into consideration the cold winter and rainy weather of Marne-la vall?e, where the park was going to be built .

In addition to the weather problem, they would be building a park with a castle—in Europe, land of centuries-old castles and fairy tales. These and other problems were, however, going to be resolved masterfully, with taste and intelligence by Tony Baxter's team, to create in France what is simply the nicest Disney's Magic Kingdom in the world.

One of the major differences between Disneyland Paris and other Disney theme parks appears to the visitors before they even buy their entrance tickets: The Disneyland Hotel is the very first Disney hotel located at the entrance of a park, with a view of the park for the guests who stay at the hotel. The ticket offices are located under the hotel. From there, you go through the gates and walk under the Euro Disneyland Main Street Station, finally arriving on Town Square and Main Street.

At first view, Main Street looks like those of the other parks. However, this one has two arcades—a tribute to Europe's famous covered arcades: Liberty Arcade, which celebrates the Statue of Liberty—a gift of Europe to America—and Discovery Arcade, which celebrates the great inventions of last century.

The other reason for these two arcades is the weather. When it rains, the arcades are a precious shelter, and an alternate way for visitors to go from Central Plaza to Town Square. Personally, I'm so used to these arcades that each time I walk in Main Street in California's Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, I turn to the left when I arrive in the middle of Main Street, expecting to find them, just to realize that I forget that they don't exist there.

If there is one thing that is really missing in the Magic Kingdom parks in the U.S., it's really these arcades. When you don't have them, suddenly, Main Street becomes more claustrophobic, as there is no right or left exit through an arcade.

The castle, of course, was a big problem. Europe is full of real castles—all of them different and beautiful, whether you are in Germany, Spain, or England. The Imagineers knew they couldn't compete with the classical architecture of France's famous castles on the Loire River. Tom Morris succeeded brilliantly with the Sleeping beauty Castle, which while reminiscenct of other castles, has a fairy-tale touch that you cannot see anywhere else.

Frontierland, too, is very different, but for other reasons. There is no Tom Sawyer island, since Mark Twain's hero is not as known in Europe as he is in America. In addition, research had revealed to the Imagineers that, for many Europeans, the image most associated with America comes from Western movies, and the big open spaces of the national parks.

So no Tom Sawyer Island here, but instead there is a very large Big Thunder Mountain Island located in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West. This Big Thunder Mountain version is the biggest, the nicest, and the quickest of them all—and, probably, too, a little gift that Tony Baxter did for himself.

Tony Baxter, as you know, is the creator of the first Big Thunder Mountain concept, and was, for Paris, the executive show producer for the whole park. He had other wonderful show producers for each land, and for this Frontierland, it was Jeff Burke.

Putting Big Thunder Mountain in the middle of the river, as an island, was an absolutely great show idea—there is no doubt about that. It was exactly the right thing to do. But, it's also the best location to be sure that one of your favorite creation won't be destroyed and replaced by another attraction in the future. One thing is sure, Big Thunder Mountain is here forever, and, as I've said, it is the best version—it was twice as ingenious to build it this way. Tony fully deserves it.

Adventureland is a big surprise for most Americans who enters it for the first time. It's the biggest Adventureland ever built, with probably the nicest entrance—a kind of Hollywood “thief of Bagdad” set. The only thing we might miss here is probably the Jungle Cruise. One of the reasons why a Jungle Cruise was not built here was that many, albeit cheap, versions exist in Europe in other theme parks.

But we have an Adventure iIsland that is unique, with Captain Hook's ship, and a great Skull Rock. On the island, you'll also find the Swiss Family Robinson Tree, and also a big tribute to Stevenson's Treasure Island with caves, labyrinths, and hidden treasures.

The Pirates of the Caribbean follows the Anaheim version, which is undoubtedly the best version ever done. It has a more logical storyline, with the the skeleton sequences located at the end of the attraction, and not at the beginning like they are in Florida. The Blue Bayou restaurant is replaced here with a more Caribbean-themed Blue Lagoon—as I doubt that any French knows what a bayou is.

And, of course, there is the Indiana Jones Temple of Peril roller coaster, perfectly well-themed indeed, but that I will exchange with pleasure for an Anaheim's Indiana Jones Adventure, even if they kept the room to eventualy build it in Paris.

Tom Morris, the show producer of Fantasyland, has done a terrific job with this land. I have always thought that Disneyland Paris Fantasyland was the best of all, and I still think it. All Fantasyland major attractions like Snow White's Scary Adventure (Blanche-Neige et les Septs Nains) and Peter Pan's Flight are of course here, but “it's a small world,” for instance, has been really improved, with more luminous colours inside the attraction. In addition, there are other wonderfuland unique attractions, such Alice's Curious Labyrinth, a maze themed around Alice In Wonderland, and the Old Mill Ferris Wheel (Les Pirouettes du Vieux Moulin), inspired by an Oscar-winning, short animated feature.

With Discoveryland, Tim Delaney and his team of Imagineers had another challenge. Everybody know that the Tomorrowland concept has always been difficult to manage because as time goes on, the future which was imagined 10 years before becomes the present. So, at Disneyland Paris, Tomorrowland has been changed in a Discoveryland concept. The land is a tribute to European visionaries like Leonardo da Vinci with the Orbitron (Orbitron, Machines Volantes) attraction, Jules Verne with the Nautilus (Les Myst?res du Nautilus) and Space Mountain.

Disneyland Paris's Space Mountain is undoubtedly the most thrilling and fastest version ever built, and with its new Mission 2 theming, which opened this past April, a wonderful trip to “the edge of the universe.” The exterior theming - with the huge Columbiad cannon is a wonder, and the night lighting of Joe Falsetta is simply gorgeous.

The huge Hyperion balloon located at the entrance of Videopolis is reminiscent of Tony Baxter's great Discovery Bay project for Disneyland in Anaheim, and until recently, the Visionarium was one of the best 360-degree movie ever done. The area also has one of the best audio-animatronics, too, with the Timekeeper—the attraction is now closed, and will be replaced by Buzz Lightyear next year.

So, as you can see, there is a lot of reasons to come and have a closer look of Disneyland Paris. Very likely, most of the people who already visited the park will tell you how much they loved it. It will be true, but the good news is that it's even more beautiful when you see it with your own eyes.