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