TPJThemeParkJames

Disneyland Paris

25-27 March 2006

I first visited Mickey and his French mates back in 2006. This is the contemporaneous account I wrote at the time.

Up until now I have somehow avoided the Disney theme park phenomenon. In January 2006 I decided this would be the year to put that right. Disneyland Paris were offering some good deals on their website - 3 nights/4 days for the price of 2 nights/3 days plus a further 15% off. I did a bit more research and found it would still be cheaper to book it independently, travelling on Eurostar and staying in the Holiday Inn just outside the resort for the bargain price of €60 a night.

More:  Disneyland Paris

<>Off to La Chambre de la Souris

With everything sorted, I set out to the House of Mouse with my friend Paul on a Saturday in late March, at the end of Disneyland's low (aka cheap) season.

We arrived at Waterloo International ready to catch our train ...

... direct to the heart of the magic on the special Disney train.

We were in Coach 16 - about as far as you can walk along the platform. I don't think it would have been much further if we'd walked all the way to Disneyland.

At least we weren't going anywhere near there - we were going to Disneyland. Disneyland, erm, what? Disneyland Paris? Oh.

As well as my first time to Disneyland Paris, this was also my first time on Eurostar. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but the journey through the tunnel itself turned out to be a bit of an anti-climax. It's just a long train tunnel. Although it's a lot quicker than the ferry, it doesn't have much of a view. The big advantage Eurostar has over the ferry is its speed. The journey from Waterloo to Marne-la-Vallée took under three hours.

We arrived on time - something of a novelty for those used to British public transport, although the myth of efficient timely French rail services would be busted later.

The station PA was playing a variety of Disney music as we disembarked, which was a nice touch. Not that most people were paying attention. We were all having much more fun trying not to slip over on the rain soaked station platform. Why an undercover platform was so wet will probably remain forever a mystery.

After an extremely bizarre conversation with one of the Disney hotel representatives, we made our way past the welcoming party of armed French soldiers and on to drop off our luggage.

Disney really try hard to make things easier. Rather than needing to go to our hotel to drop off our bags, they provide a place to leave them for a reasonable enough €2.50 per item. I can but guess that this "Guest Storage" service is also used to store spare park customers.

<>CineMoistgique

Having left our bags in the real world, it was time to enter the world of movies at the newest of Disney's European parks, Walt Disney Studios.

The park is widely known as the lesser of the two and something that can easily be covered in a few hours. EuroDisney's, erm, small issue with their Disney Dollars a few years back meant that the park had to be vastly scaled back from the original plans - apparently it's only a third of the size it should have been.

The symbolic entrance gate and Earful Tower. Notice the yellow slip hazard cone - these were to feature heavily over the first couple of days.

A giant Chicken Little was there to greet us outside Disney Studio 1.

Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse beckon guests in

Michael Eisner (boo!) adds his welcome

First stop was Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at the back of the park. This is a coaster everybody seems to rave about. It's themed around an experiment Aerosmith are carrying out to combine music and rollercoasters, with the result being a ride "through" some of their music.

Wahey! I'm about to experience my first ever Disney ride!

The entire ride takes place inside. After a short pre-show riders get into the station and, after a few minutes more queuing, board the trains. After bashing your knees as you realise just too late how deep the cars are, you're seated and ready to go.

Rock 'n' Roller Coaster uses an LSM launch to accelerate trains up to 57mph in 2.8 seconds. The specs are pretty similar to Rita at Alton Towers, but it doesn't feel quite so forceful.

Once they are up to their top speed, the trains are right in the heart of the rock show, taking in three inversions in the minute or so ride time. The coaster itself is extremely smooth - see: Vekoma can build smooth rides (even if they won't officially admit to having anything to do with it)!

Next up was Armageddon - all plans for what to do afterwards were abandoned.

One of the meteorite drilling machines from the film.

Armageddon starts with a presentation about special effects and introduces the scene we are about to take part in: A load of rocks are about to hit the old Russian Space Station we've somehow found ourselves inside.

It's very interesting seeing the various ways Disneyland Paris deal with the problem of presenting things in multiple languages: being in Europe they can't rely on everybody speaking the same one. In Armageddon, the main presentation was made in French, with screens around the pre-show area displaying subtitles in English, German, Italian and a few other languages.

Following the presentation riders are shown through to the space station set. The director calls "action" and the effects begin. Bits falling off, smoke, water, fire, shakes and drops all feature heavily. It may not be particularly realistic but it was a lot of fun and, at the end of the day, Armageddon wasn't the end of the world.

After a few more rides on Rock 'n' Roller Coaster we went to see CinéMagique, one of the mostly highly praised shows in the park.

The magic of cinema awaits ...

CinéMagique is extremely impressive. Without giving too much away, it tells the story of the history of the movies through a very clever film mixed with lots of Disney surprises. I have no idea how some of the special effects work - maybe they really are magic?

The Studio Tram Tour had broken down and Animagique had finished for the day, so we made for The Art of Disney Animation. What a disappointment after seeing CinéMagique! In the first half of the attraction we were sat down in front of a screen and shown a seemingly endless montage of not particularly well edited clips from various Disney films in different languages. After that finally came to an end we were moved into another theatre for a presentation from an animator. This was made in French, with headphones available for translation into other languages. Unfortunately they were not good enough to block out the loud French soundtrack so it was very difficult to follow what was going on.

With no sign of life in the tram tour and having done everything else available to us, we decided to head out of the Studios and in to the main park for the last few hours of the day.

Most people had the same idea.

<>Robots, Mountains and Tours

Disneyland Paris was designed from the start with the less-than perfect climate in mind. There are more attractions undercover than at other Disney parks across the world and even Main Street has alternative Arcades to walk down in inclement weather like the rain we had on Saturday. Why then build so many paths out of tiles and other materials that immediately become slippery at even the slightest hint of wetness?

Welcome to Disney's Slip and Slide ride

Having just about stayed upright through the park entrance we arrived on Main Street USA, the superb and much copied gateway to all of Disney's Magic Kingdom parks.

The society of yellow Jedi Knights and I get our first glimpse of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Our first point of call was the Information Board below the castle to find out queue times. We took the chance to ask whether the new Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast ride was open. Although it doesn't officially open until April 8th, it had a "soft opening" the previous Monday. We were told that the Monday opening had been a special surprise and it would not be open again until April 7th. There was no chance of a ride until then ... but it may be worth going and having a look at 5pm. I discovered this special Disney-speak all over the park. It seems that a cast member has an official story they must tell you. After they've given the required corporate spiel they often hint at the truth.

Since it was almost five o'clock anyway we headed over to see what was going on, only to find it already open.

Even though it was still raining, the (non-slippery floored) queue was almost an hour.

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast is similar in concept to Tomb Blaster (CWoA), Duel (Alton) and Golden Nuggets (Drayton) - shoot at things and get points.

The second half of the queue is inside. It was like a crazed cross between the X:\No Way Out and old Fifth Dimension queuelines.

Zurg is out to steal all the batteries in the Universe. If I was Paul I wouldn't stick my hand that close.

A big screw screwed into the wall with little screws! Well I thought it was funny.

Here's an all-singing all-dancing audio-animatronic Buzz. Ok, maybe not singing or dancing.

Eventually we arrived in the station and boarded our Space Cruisers.

As well as guns, the ride cars have a joystick that allows riders to spin the car around 360° at will. Even if you're not good at hitting targets there's something to do!

If the reactions of people on Saturday are anything to go by, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast should be a hit (get it?)

Since we were in Discoveryland and had been standing next to it for the previous hour, it only seemed sensible thatSpace Mountain: Mission 2 should be the next experience.

The ride takes place inside a big mountain.

Riders are blasted into space by a large cannon.

We're going on a mission to a supernova.

The queue moved very slowly so it took a long time to get on the ride. Unfortunately my second Disney coaster was nowhere near as good as my first. Ride-wise, it's rough and the restraints were very hard against my shoulders - not a problem I encounter very often.

The special effects are rather mediocre too. There are lots of stars all over the place and a few planet models. The supernova itself is projected onto a far too obvious screen. It really wasn't up to the standard of other Disney theming - something very surprising since the ride was only re-themed a year ago.

After being blasted into space, we went for a more leisurely commercial tour.

Star Tours is a simulator ride through the galaxy featuring R2D2 and C3P0 from Star Wars.

The queue turned out to be very long because only two of the six simulators were in operation.

After a long wait we boarded our StarSpeeder for our tour.

Even if the wait was long, Star Tours turned out to be a great way to end the day. It is one of the more violent simulators I've ridden, and definitely one of the most enjoyable.

Night had fallen over Disneyland.

<>Clowns in the Val de France

After collecting our luggage we headed to the bus station to catch the Disney shuttle bus to our hotel. If you had two buses and wanted to paint them different colours, what colours would you choose? Disney chose yellow and pink. Guess which colour ours was. At least you couldn't see the pink from the inside.

Our hotel room was really nice, with circus theming throughout.

There was even a separate kids area for kids and Jameses.

After getting checked in we headed back to Disney Village for something to eat.

We ended up in the Rainforest Cafe. We were accompanied on our table by a giant elephant who periodically had a conversation with his friend a few tables away. Being a rainforest, there was also a rainstorm every so often which accurately echoed the weather outside.

<>At the End of the Day the Earth is Tiny

On Sunday we planned to spend the day in the Disneyland Park. Thanks to the change in timezone and the change to Summer Time, we had to get up far too early so we would be there for park opening.

Here comes the pink bendy bus!

Disney Village in the daylight.

A reminder of the real world: everybody had to pass through a security check before they could enter the fantasy world.

The Disneyland Hotel where all the rich people stay.

Mickey says it's quarter to nine.

Time to enter the park

Crowds gather waiting to begin their day

The rope drop ceremony took place outside the castle at exactly 9am.

We started our day in Fantasyland, taking in three dark rides in quick succession. It's something the first time visitor wouldn't think of doing, so ten bonus points to Paul for suggesting it. Later in the day the queues had built up to over half an hour for each.

Peter Pan's Flight - my favourite of the three.

Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

Les Voyages de Pinocchio

Everybody loves a good tune, even more so if they can sing along. With that in mind, there's no more perfect ride than It's a Small World. Described on the park map as "the happiest, most tuneful cruise that ever sailed the world", they missed off "the catchiest, most irritating, most can't-get-it-out-of-your-head ride song ever".

Come on, sing along ... "It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small small world..."

Shhh ... don't tell anyone but there's a dragon living under the castle

With the song still in our heads ("It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small small world...") we headed over to Discoveryland for some more rides on Space Mountain.

Entering a world of pain.

Another train launched into space.

The last ride of the morning ...

Honey I Shrunk the Audience is a great 4D movie. After a load of blah blah about the power of images (can you tell Kodak is the sponsor?) we were led into the auditorium to watch the presentation of the Inventor of the Year award. Prior to accepting the prize, Professor Szalinski was supposed to give a demonstration of his shrinking machine. Bet you can't guess what happens...

<>Legendary Lions

A big difference with Disneyland to parks in the UK is that the experience is much more than just rides. There are the characters to meet, the parades and of course the shows.

Of all the shows on offer, I'd heard about The Legend of the Lion King and had been told that it should not be missed. Since it was closing for a week the following day, we had no option but to see it on Sunday. Unlike the other shows where you can just turn up at the right time, you have to collect (free) tickets for Lion King.

It took a while, but we got tickets for the midday show in English.

The show takes place in the Videopolis Theatre.

At this point I'd like to thank everybody who recommended the show. It was amazing. Even though they perform it five times a day, the cast seemed to genuinely be enjoying themselves. A range of special effects are employed to tell the story, with the most impressive of all being a giant curtain of water which stretches right across the stage.

The water curtain at the end of the show

<>Scuttled!

Think of Disneyland Paris landmarks and several things immediately spring to mind. There's the Castle which can be seen from almost everywhere in the park. In recent years the Earful Tower at Walt Disney Studios has been added to the skyline. By next year it will be accompanied by the finished Tower of Terror. Then of course there is Big Thunder Mountain - both the mountain and the ride, which was where we headed at the end of the Lion King show.

Big Thunder Mountain is in Frontierland

The first view - it looks huge

The queue for Big Thunder Mountain was over an hour long

We opted for collecting a FastPass and coming back later ... much later.

Lunchtime at the Cowboy Cookout Barbeque - yee hah!

There was even a band playing whilst we ate - Disney going way beyond the call of duty in their attention to detail. A real magic moment.

After lunch we planned to ride Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, but the queue was again in excess of an hour. We collected yet another FastPass and headed deeper into Adventureland in search of ...

Pirates!

... of the Caribbean no less.

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the staple rides in each of the Disney resorts across the world. Whilst blockbuster movies usually spawn theme park attractions, this attraction has spawned a whole movie franchise based on the ride.

We started on our boat tour through the coastal town that had just been invaded by pirates when suddenly the sky erupted with light. At first I thought it must have been Armageddon (postponed from the previous day), but then I realised it was the house lights. Announcements in a huge range of languages were played throughout the building telling everybody what had happened and that the ride would be back in operation soon.

For some reason, broken down boat rides have a tendency to drift slowly backwards until they encounter another boat, then float forwards again. Seeing part of the ride in reverse with the house lights on lent itself to an excellent opportunity to take some unique photos:

Inside Pirates of the Caribbean

Save the poor women!

None of the pirates came to help us

A long line of boats behind us

After a while the pirates went back to work, although it took ages for the boats to get back to the station because so many had backed up. It might not sound like a good part of the day, but it was actually very relaxing and made for a nice sit down!

Eventually we disembarked and headed back through Adventureland for our appointment with Indiana Jones.

<>Indy and Front Ear Land

After escaping the pirates it was time for our FastPass ride on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril.

From the outside the ride looks tremendous fun, riding around an ancient temple in runaway mine cars. There's even a hidden loop - Disney's first ever inversion.

The reality is rather different. It is intolerably rough. With the potential for headbanging I'm surprised more people don't come off concussed. Looking at the RCDB entry gives some clues as to why: It's an Intamin, a company not well known for the smoothness of their coasters. Secondly, it was a copy of a Pinfari design. Copied designs and Intamin track do not a good coaster make.

Something more gentle to aid recovery was needed. Struggling through the mass of people that had accumulated in Frontierland, we went to Phantom Manor, the old Victorian mansion on the hillside in Thunder Mesa.

The Manor may look abandoned, but 999 spirits lie within

Another Disney triumph! Creating a haunted house that isn't too scary for the kids yet is engaging enough for the adults sounds impossible, but Disney have managed it. What they didn't manage was to keep the ride running all the way around, meaning we again had a wait mid-ride after it broke down. Second breakdown of the day, and second very welcome extended sit down. If only Disney rides were less reliable and this could happen a bit more frequently...

Big Thunder Mountain, a riverboat and the Castle

Time for a break, we returned to Main Street for a tea/coffee

That damn mouse gets everywhere ;)

<>Journey to Big Thunder

Feeling a bit more awake after a caffeine fix, but still not wanting to walk all the way, we caught the Disneyland Railroad for a tour around the outside of the park.

The train at Main Street Station

The train passes through a tunnel containing a Grand Canyon diorama before arriving in Frontierland

Adventureland is next

A quick stop in Fantasyland

This is where we had queued for Lion King tickets earlier in the day

Discoveryland was our final destination

We still had some time before our FastPass slot on Big Thunder Mountain, so we took the opportunity to re-ride Buzz Lightyear which was open again for the afternoon.

Buzz Lightyear was attracting a lot of interest ...

... and another long queue. We waited almost an hour again (no FastPass until official opening on April 8th)

My score was no better than before (Level 3), but Paul managed a Level 4

One of the few remaining things to try in Discoveryland was the classic Autopia

Riders get to drive a car around the circuit, controlling the accelerator and the steering (to a degree at least - guide tracks stop you going too far off course)

At least I was better at this than Karting

At last it was time to use our Big Thunder Mountain FastPass!

The ride is loads of fun and brilliantly themed

The train travels under the lake and then around and through the mountain

After riding it it's easy to see why Big Thunder Mountain is so popular

There was just enough time for a re-ride on Pirates of the Caribbean to end the day

We were allowed to stay on and ride it twice, confirming it as my favourite Disneyland Paris dark ride

Time to walk through Adventureland and back to Main Street after an incredible Disney magic filled day

>

Even Mickey was feeling a little tired

The crowds walk back down Main Street

Goodnight Mickey - see you tomorrow!

We stopped off at Planet Hollywood for dinner

A quick explore of Disney Village and then back to the hotel

<>Behind the Movies II

Monday was the "finishing off" day - a chance to ride the things we had been unable to during the weekend and re-ride some of the other attractions.

After storing our guests - sorry, baggage - at Guest Storage we began our day in Walt Disney Studios

Well I never: blue skies! I didn't think they had those in France

Characters were outside signing autographs

Some had more problems than others!

The Fantasia statue

We had to wait inside Studio 1 for the park to open

The opening ceremony is very creative, featuring music, sound effects and lighting

A quick Rock 'n' Rollercoaster to start the day

Even though the park is full of movie making equipment and props, it still feels empty compared to the detailed theming of Disneyland Park next door

Tower of Terror is currently being built and is due to open in late 2007, which will add to the attraction count.

Toon Studios will also be opened in 2007, containing a new coaster and an attraction based around the new Cars movie

One of the reasons for re-visiting Walt Disney Studios was to see Animagique

It was a brilliant show featuring Donald Duck meeting a variety of other Disney animated characters brought to life through special effects, puppets and full-sized costumed characters

The Studio Tram Tour was another reason for returning

The tour starts by passing beside a rather random selection of backlot props

The tour highlight ... cue screaming kids!

Better put the fire out

Now that's a lot of water

Hey, I thought we were in Paris?

The result of the Paris riots?

No wonder British trains never run on time

The final attraction to see - the Moteurs Action Stunt Show Spectacular

The show featured some spectacular stunts

Everything was filmed and then replayed on a giant screen

Some of the stunts were quite dangerous

The Ballet Chase didn't go according to plan - the red car got clipped and sustained a flat tyre so couldn't be used for the rest of the show. Lucky they have spares!

The show featured some really great stunts and moments of real excitement. Unfortunately each stunt took ages to set up, meaning the show didn't flow very well and felt way too long.

As we made our way out of the stunt show our progress was somewhat impeded by a huge crowd gathered around the park's main thoroughfare. We realised the Disney Cinema Parade was about to start. Since there was only a couple of minutes to wait we decided to stay and watch.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: Walt Disney Studios proudly presents Disney Cinema Parade!

And ... ACTION!

Studio truck

Chicken Little

Minnie

I say nothing

Donald!!!

Presented in Technicolor

Everybody came to join in

and cut!

We got to be in the parade! Well, walk behind the final float through the parade route anyway.

After a bite to eat in Disney Studio 1, filming was over so we headed across to Disneyland for our final few hours.

Au Revoir, Mickey!

Almost at the end of our time at Mickey's European estate, we spent our final few hours back in Disneyland.

The weather had improved substantially since we first set foot in Disneyland on Saturday

The official welcome - better late than never.

It's sunny on Main Street!

First up was a return to Phantom Manor for a breakdown free ride. Well, almost. It broke down just before we boarded, but not for long.

From one dark ride to another - the superb Pirates of the Caribbean. (And from one breakdown-whilst-waiting-in-the-queue to another).

Casey Jr is a powered coaster with the best themed trains I've ever seen. According to the Disneyland Paris website this should have been closed for during our visit. Finding it open, it would have been rude not to ride.

Easy Donald! I just wanted to say hello.

We had walked over to Discoveryland in the hope of a final ride on Buzz Lightyear, but the soft openings were only a special for the weekend apparently. Star Tours instead then.

We had a quick browse inside the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and had a close encounter with a giant squid

Our last ride of the trip had to be one of the best: Big Thunder Mountain

There was just time for afternoon tea

Inevitably though, time eventually ran out and we had to catch our train home

French railways. Always on time. Apart from when you're catching a TGV to Lille and changing on to Eurostar. Originally delayed by 15 minutes, the train eventually turned up almost half an hour late. Slightly worrying when you only have an hour between that and the connecting Eurostar departure.

Thankfully we got to Lille Europe with plenty of time to spare. Our Eurostar train arrived at the platform on time ... and didn't move. After a while the train manager announced that we were unable to depart because of some people on the line ahead. This story then changed to there being two people on the roof. The police were called and removed the potential illegal immigrants. However, they then had to wait for permission to re-instate the electricity supply, resulting in a thirty minute delay. In the end we made it back to Waterloo and then homeward courtesy of South West Trains (urgh).

Disneyland Paris was a remarkable experience. Up until now I've been used to UK theme parks. I've known they have their flaws and that other people say how much better other parks around the world are. Now I believe them. Disney really go out of their way to create - in their words - magic moments, shielding their guests as much as possible from the harsh realities of the real world and letting them enter into an imaginary fantasy. At times the experience feels a bit controlled and contrived, but this is easy to forgive when viewed together with the incredible theming, the attention to detail, the reliability of rides, the efficiency of the staff and the atmosphere they have managed to create.