Time of Year: Spring
Travel Method: Plane, Train
Resort: Hotel New York
Accommodations: Standard Room
Ages Represented in Group: Adult
DLP Experience Represented in Group: Rookie
Comments: Our second consecutive Paris trip report has Rachel, her sister, and their father spending three days at Disneyland Paris.
Rachel Van Houten -- May 2003 -- Disneyland Paris (HNY)
Our Cast of Characters
- Me, Rachel, 20. Big Disneyland fan, 150 + visits. 2 visits to WDW.
- Sister, Emily. Also 20. Above average Disneyland fan, about 60 visits. Also 2 to WDW.
- Dad, 40-something. Also a Disneyland fan, 100 + visits, 1 trip to WDW. Dad is a huge sport and we love him to death. Not only does he "sponsor" all of our Disney adventures, we think he has more fun than we "kids" do!
- Plane (to London)
- Eurostar train (to Paris)
- RER (commuter train) to Disneyland Paris
Setting the Scene Here's the thing about my family: we don't do family vacations. There's 5 of us, and the only time we've all gone somewhere together strictly for vacation was a week at WDW six years ago. We all enjoy a nice day at Disneyland, being longtime annual passholders, but those are usually half-day affairs with just two or three along for breakfast or a Fantasmic viewing. It's not that we don't like the idea of vacationing, it's just hard to fit in everyone's taste, schedule, and budget. Disneyland Paris was one place I have long dreamed of visiting but always accepted as some unattainable destination. Our trip, therefore, could only come about by luck.
It all started when Emily decided to live in London for a year. I had been planning on visiting her for months, and I bought my ticket about six weeks in advance. Suddenly, Dad had a short break coming up in his work schedule and decided he wanted to come too. Even though Emily and I had already made lots of plans, I was all in favor of the addition to our crew. With Dad along, not only could we have more fun, but we could "live it up" (ie Dad's motto that means "it's ok to spend money if you're having a good time"). With him along, a side trip to Paris became financially feasible. And so just days before I was due to hop the pond, Dad booked his plane tickets (amazingly, he got on my flight), a London hotel, and a Disneyland Paris package. I've been collecting Disneyland Paris brochures religiously for years, and we finally located a phone number that connected us with an English-speaking booking agent. Dad really wanted to stay in the Disneyland Hotel (the pink Victorian confection that forms the entrance to the park) but he was told that because it was a holiday (it happened to be a French holiday that day) the booking agent for that hotel was off. So we ended up booking a room in Hotel New York, which is the Art Deco salute to the Big Apple and the second-most-luxurious hotel in the Resort. Our package was a 3 day, 2 night accomodation that included park-hopper tickets for all three days and two free breakfasts in the hotel restaurant. It cost approximately $660, which we declared a deal.
Disneyland Paris was to be the final stop in Dad's part of the Europe trip (I was staying on longer). Not to bore you with details, but we flew in on a red-eye direct from L.A. to London Heathrow. We spent four days sightseeing in London, then took the Eurostar (i.e. the train service thru the Channel Tunnel) to Paris (Gare du Nord train station, which is near Montmarte). The trip, which takes you through scenic countryside (aside from the tunnel, of course) is about two and a half hours. Round-trip fare was approximately 85 British pounds per person (1 pound = $1.70 at time of conversion; summer deals are now running for 59 pounds). Eurostar also runs directly to Disneyland Paris, and in hindsight, it's a better idea to take it directly there as Paris is, well, seedy. We had three days of sightseeing in Paris. The museums and landmarks did not disappoint, and are well worth a day trip at least if you are going to Disneyland Paris. Our hotel was really gross and we got really erratic service, if you can even call it that! But one thing we hadn't counted on was rain. It rained almost the entire time we were there. Although we had brought umbrellas and coats, we simply hadn't considered the prospect of being wet and cold the entire duration of the trip. Also, understandably, we were exhausted from both the time change (France is 9 hours ahead of L.A.) and the amount of walking we had been doing.
On the evening of the 18th, we still had lots more Parisian sights to see, and we intended to follow of our original plan: arriving at Disneyland Paris in the late afternoon on Monday, May 19 and just hanging out in the hotel so we would be fresh for the next morning.
Monday, May 19
The morning dawned rainy and cold. We checked out of our "hotel" but now had to drag a huge suitcase with us through the wet, unevenly-paved streets. After a near-disaster trying to get into Sainte-Chappelle, even Dad's desire to see more great cathedrals was dampened. So we made the decision to cut the Paris part short and head to Disneyland around 10:00. From where we happened to be, we had to take two Metros (subway lines) to a station that connected with the RER, which is a commuter train that goes out into the suburbs. Emily helped Dad use a ticket machine that took a credit card to buy our roundtrip tickets, which were about 7 Euros each. (At the time of the trip 1 Euro was approximately equal to $1.15.) We waited about ten minutes for the train to arrive. We tried to rest on the half-hour trip, which goes through the not-so-scenic side of the city. I kept looking for the Castle (memories of the bus ride into WDW came to mind, when I can remember seeing the white towers in the distance and getting very excited!) But the park cannot actually be seen from the train, even though the station is smack in the middle of the Resort property. Grey, wet stone walls were what greeted us. It wasn't until we had come up out of the station that we realized that we had arrived.
It was still raining, and our first priority of course was to check into Hotel New York. We couldn't actually see it, though, and by consensus decided it must be on the other side of Festival Disney, which is the small street of shops and restaurants similar to Downtown Disney in intention if not actual fact (it's grey and dirty). We reached the end of it and from there it was just a short walk to the back entrance of Hotel New York, which faces the small lake around which the resort hotels are situated. It was only around 11:00, way before check-in time, but we decided to make a go of it anyway. We were so excited that the front desk staff spoke English (the staff of the hotel where we had been staying Paris proper either couldn't or wouldn't try to understand what we were saying.) The cast member who checked us in was extremely nice and accomodating. She found us a room immediately in the "Brownstone" area (the hotel, while a single tower, is divided into districts depending on the kind of room). She also presented us with our three-day passes and gave us introductory literature (in English). We took our baggage up ourselves to our fourth floor room (which was actually the fifth floor as Europeans start counting floors with the second floor being the first... don't ask).
Our room was just a standard issue Disney room with two queen beds, but after the horrible experiences at our Paris hotel, we were extremely pleased with it. FYI, it also had a desk, a table, two chairs, the tv bureau (the tv got European Disney channels and BBC news), a stocked minibar, and a closet with a safe. It was appointed in the Deco style of the hotel, with apples on the headboards, a lamp shaped like the Empire State Building, and black and white photographs of New York City. There was a spectacular view out the full-length windows of-- the roof of the convention center next door. The bathroom had the shower/bath, two sinks, the toilet, and a hair dryer. Toiletries were the same little-black-box Mickey variety you get in the States. We never figured out why there was a speaker connected to the tv in the bathroom that couldn't be shut off, or especially why there was a phone in the bathroom. Must be a European thing.
Dad and Emily were ready for a nap, but I turned on the resort tv station-- just a few minutes of footage of the parks made us all ready to see the real thing.
We walked over to the park (thru Festival Disney and the Disneyland Hotel courtyard area) and were immediately surprised at the lack of crowds. We had heard that spring was a good time to go, for this reason. I don't know if it was the rain, or the school calendar or what, but the resort in general was practically deserted during our stay. In retrospect, this outweighed the rain.
Of course we all wanted to go on rides, but because we hadn't had lunch yet, we decided to get a snack first. Main Street, and the park in general, has many more restaurants than Disneyland, but most of them were closed during our stay. We settled on the Cable Car Bake Shop, which sells tarts, pastries, chocolate confections, cookies, and coffee drinks at prices much lower than you'd find in Disneyland's Blue Ribbon Bakery (we each got a couple of items and a drink apiece, and it was only about 8.50 Euros). Even though it's counter service, the Bakery has a large seating area with dark-panelled booths with charming Tiffany-style lamps. The back of the restaurant, and all of the Main Street establishments on the right side, opens onto the Discovery Arcade. No, it's not a video-game room, but a long covered walkway and seating area themed to the retro-future Discoveryland with intricate posters envisioning urban cityscapes of the twenty-first century (on the left side of the street is a similar deal called the Liberty Arcade, which has tableaux illustrating the building of the Statue of Liberty). We were content to just sit there and eat slowly. We were having such a good time already, and we hadn't even gone on any rides yet! Eventually we headed out of the Arcade into the rain, and decided on Discoveryland (ie Tomorrowland) to start with simply because it was closest.
The Orbitron (Astro Orbitor) was completely gone for a refub, and the Autopia was also closed for the duration of our stay. Big deal. Space Mountain became our first ride of the day. We had heard a lot about it, but weren't prepared for the thorough theming. You really get a sense of story in the Disneyland Paris parks in general that you don't get as much in Disneyland. The backstory of Space Mountain, for instance, deals with the Baltimore Gun Club and how its members have invented a cannon that will shoot "from the earth to the moon," like in the famous silent French movie.
The cars travel slowly up the incline tunnel first, pausing to build anticipation before a sudden launch similar to California Screamin'. The interior is whimsically painted with blacklit planets and other astronomical sights, and, of course, has the famous first upside-down loop of any Disney coaster (not a large one, it might be noted). (And did I mention there was no line? Nearly every attraction we visited in our trip had a queue of five minutes or less! Many rides have Fastpass, but there wasn't any reason to get it.)
Next off we headed to Phantom Manor, which is in Frontierland. (Frontierland and Adventureland are flip-flopped in location from their configuation at Disneyland). I am a huge Haunted Mansion fan, and I was extremely excited to finally see the Manor in person (having collected pictures and information about it off the internet for years). The exterior did not disappoint-- it was even larger and more forbidding than I had expected. (For those who don't know, Phantom Manor is specifically themed to being an Old West Victorian mansion, both inside and out). Its placement on the hilltop, though, was obviously borrowed from the Bates mansion in "Psycho." The queue area is huge compared to Disneyland's, and it winds through the garden area. When I could hear the tinkle of the haunted music box emitting from the tiny gazebo, I realized again that the Imagineers really outdid themselves in re-envisioning the original Disneyland plan. But then, we went inside. And I hate to break it to you Haunted Mansion fans, but I was rather disappointed in the interior. To be fair, there are some "improvements". For instance, the Ghost Bride actually holds the floating candlestick in the Endless Hallway, a nice variation on the "Pepper's Ghost" effect. And if you look closely, you really can read the "tribute" labels on the bottles in the saloon set (see "The Art of Imagineering" book). But there is generally a pronounced lack of detail, particularly in the end scene, which envisions the ghosts and ghouls of an Old West graveyard. Its rubber inhabitants were shoddily crafted, the animatronic motions were unsophisticated, and the lighting was plainly visible in some parts. Of course, it was still far superior to anything in a non-Disney park, but I had simply expected more.
Next we had hoped to go on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, but it was unfortunately down for some reason during our whole trip. This was kind of a bummer as it looked fantastic and it's one of our favorites in Disneyland. So instead we headed into Adventureland to ride Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril-- Backwards, which is a roller coaster and not a dark ride as it is in Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland. Emily and I love coasters (Dad, not so much) and we thought that this would be great. We were ultimately disappointed. The theming is just so-so (they don't even play the authentic Indiana Jones theme music) and we hated the ride. It's sort of like a Wild Mouse with a loop thrown in for good measure. There aren't any big hills or anything. The problem with it, and actually with all the Disneyland Paris roller coasters, is that the ride is exceedingly jerky, causing intense whiplash. You really get knocked around, and both Emily and I hit our heads pretty badly on the over-the-shoulder restraints. I honestly don't believe that the Indy coaster would pass DOSH inspection in California. While we waited for our headaches to go away, we decided to try Pirates, which was actually quite a distance from Indy, even though it's still in Adventureland. (The huge Adventureland is roughly divided into the Arabian bazaar entranceway, the jungle-y Indy area, and the Adventure Isle/Pirates section). Pirates is entered, as in WDW, through a fortress-type building, winding through the damp stone of Caribbean fortress. If you think about it, it actually makes more sense to see the escapades of French pirates rather than English-speaking buccaneers, as the Caribbean area was settled primarily by the French. The ride is fairly similar to the Disneyland version, but there are more scenes and of course, the soundtrack and dialogue is in French except for the actual theme song, which is in the original English. The restaurant inside the ride, the Blue Lagoon, is themed to a tropical island, with palm trees and sand and fishing nets and that sort of thing. We considered eating there, as it has an extensive menu, but decided it was too pricey (about 25-30 Euros per person) and too, er, exotic. We were really hungry though, as it was around 2:00, so we wended our way to Fantasyland and eventually settled on the Bella Notte restaurant for lunch. This is a counter-service restaurant ostensibly serving "Italian" food. It wasn't bad, although the rubbery cheese mass we got probably wouldn't pass for pizza in the States and the garlic bread almost made our eyes water, it was so garlicky! The tiramisu was good, though. (Lunch was about 14 Euros for the three of us). The restaurant had a large seating area similar to the Village Haus in Disneyland, and had theming that incorporated Fantasia characters as well as Lady and the Tramp.
Some live characters came in as we ate; Br'er Fox had a clever way of expressing that he was looking for Br'er Rabbit, without even saying a word. We found a pay phone next to the restaurant and took the opportunity to get out of the rain under the awning and call our family at home. We had purchased phone cards before we left, so it wasn't hard at all. After about half an hour, the rain let up temporarily and we took the opportunity to see the Castle.
Le Chateau au Belle au Bois Dormant is every bit as beautiful in person as it is in pictures, although it isn't as large as you might expect. It's highly photogenic from all angles (unlike its Disneyland counterpart) and it can be approaced and entered from all sides. In its "dungeon" is the Dragon's Chamber, where a lifesize audio-animatronic dragon is imprisoned. It's very convincing and scared more than a few young children when it woke up! (Although it has Maleficent's horns, it isn't her per se). On the ground floor of the Castle are several souvenir shops. And if you climb the grand staircase, you can view the truly remarkable tableaux that tell the story of Sleeping Beauty through illuminated manuscripts, stained-glass windows, and tapestries (much classier than the dioramas in Disneyland castle!). The sun seemed to want to come out for the afternoon parade, which we watched from the drawbridge. We happened to be at the Resort for "Princess Weeks," and there was a special "Princess Parade" performed at that time. It wasn't really up to snuff for a Disney parade though. The soundtrack was an up-tempo, likely multipurose song (in English) about "Gettin' ready for the Disney parade" which didn't fit the whole princess theme. Floats were generally unimaginative and the few dancers who seemed to tag along in the procession didn't have their choreography coordinated. But hey, obviously we aren't the target audience for the "Princess Parade" and seeing it wasn't part of our day's plans anyway, so I can't complain. I will complain about the rain though-- it started really coming down about halfway through (luckily the characters already had umbrellas, but why Ariel should need one is beyond me). We went back through the castle into Fantasyland and decided on It's a Small World because it has a covered queue. Its facade borrows from the Mary Blair original but is more cartoony and brightly colored. Its interior is similar but reconfigured from the original and, obviously, plays the song more often in French than in English. The ride is sponsored by a French phone company and the exit is through a charming display of tiny houses in which short cartoons of children calling each other around the world are projected. It's rather cute, and we spent a long time inside because it was still raining buckets. We got on the Disneyland Railroad simply to stay dry and rode it around to Frontierland, where the depot is conveniently located next to the theater in which the Tarzan show was just beginning. We ducked inside (it's a covered theatre) and watched the show, which is mostly an acrobatic showcase-- there's no story, but there is a good use of the Phil Collins songs. Terk comes out during the show (speaking four or five languages) and invites kids in the audience to participate in the "Trashin' the Camp" number. The rain had let up by then, and we went back into Fantasyland and rode Snow White's Adventures and Pinnochio's Daring Journey, which are identical to the Disneyland versions except for the French dialogue. Storybookland Canal Boats are one of our Disneyland favorites, and we headed for those next. Like Disneyland, each boat is named for a Disney heroine (in French); unlike Disneyland, there isn't a guided narration, the boats just run on a track past the miniature scenes. There were some interesting substitutions for the Disneyland scenes, including the Beast's castle, the village from "A Night on Bald Mountain," and Grandfather's Cottage from "Peter and the Wolf." There were also actual miniatures of the characters, which are absent in Disneyland. Although they attempt to do the Giant's quilt and the other miniature gardens, the climate seems to be working against their efforts.
At the end of the ride, the sun came out for the first time that day! The park looked even better sparkling and shining in the sunlight. So we didn't even mind that we had to wait in line twenty minutes for our next ride, Casey Jr. Circus Train, which is more like a little roller coaster than the Disneyland version. After that, we went through Alice's Curious Labyrinth, which was everything we'd hoped. It's long but not frustratingly difficult, and has a lot of creative inclusions of the Alice characters. The park closed at 8; we were ready to leave around 7:15. There was no nighttime show or fireworks, and because of the disorientingly long day (it was bright from 5 AM to 10 PM when we were there), the lights on Main Street didn't even turn on in the evening.
We returned to our hotel and decided that we would have dinner in the Parkside Diner, which was one of two table-service restaurants in Hotel New York. We made a reservation on our way up to our room and sat down to eat at 8. The Parkside Diner is charming-- it tries to replicate an American institution but it's much classier than your average diner. It's spacious, with many tables and booths. The decor is chrome and bright colors, and photos of real American diners hang on the walls. Our server was ok; not particuarly friendly or attentive, but he made a good effort to understand us. The menu, which comes in many languages, is extensive compared to, for instance, the PCH Grill at the Paradise Pier Hotel. I am vegetarian, and there were several choices (I had ravioli). We all shared a bottle of Merlot. Dad had the prix-fixe menu, which was offered in all of the table service restaurants in the resort, which include a choice of appetizer, main dish, and dessert for a certain price. I think he had ahi or some other fancy fish. (In fact, in general, all of the resort restaurants had more and better choices than Disneyland Resort restaurants. Also, all table service restaurants in the parks and hotels offer wine and beer. And the French drinking age is 18...) For the three of us, dinner was around 80-90 Euros. We didn't leave until around 11 (ok, the wine and exhaustion had made us rather silly and talkative) and there was actually still some light in the sky when we went to bed shortly thereafter.
Tuesday, May 20
After our long day before, I was afraid we'd see more of our hotel room the next day than the parks-- we had every right to be exhausted! But thanks to the time difference and the glaringly bright sun that streamed in our window at 4:30, we were up bright and early. We went down to the complimentary breakfast around 7:30. They didn't even check our hotel IDs-- we just went in and started eating. It was held in the Parkside Diner, but a long, attractice buffet had been set up. It supposedly was a "Continental" breakfast, but it wasn't like an American-style hotel breakfast. I'm not a big breakfast eater anyway, but the differences suprised me. Instead of the steaming chafing dishes of scrambled eggs and bacon that you might expect, there were dinner rolls and cold cuts among the offerings. There were, of course, mountains of croissants, as well as pain au raisins (a sweet, sticky pastry), pain au chocolats (croissants with a tiny amount of chocolate inside), cold cereals (generic corn flakes and granola), and fruit salad. There was also tea, coffee, milk, and juice. While waiters attentively restocked the buffet and cleared dishes, they didn't take requests for espresso drinks or anything like that. If you wanted those, you probably could have gotten them from room service or from the hotel bar. Dad had decided the night before that he wanted to go back to Paris and do some more sightseeing on his own. So Emily and I saw him off at the train station around 8 and were left to our own devices til 3, when we had agreed to meet up again at the Hub in Disneyland. Because the park didn't open til 9, we had some time to explore the Disneyland Hotel. It's every bit as beautiful as it looks in the pictures. Because it straddles the park's entrance, its main entrance and lobby is hidden on the right side (it took some time to find it; signage was unclear). The lobby is not as fancy as the Grand Floridian, although it evokes that era with clever paintings that attempt to link the hotel and Main Street USA with the past. There is a large fireplace and comfy, pastel-colored chairs to relax in. Emily and I went up the grand staircase and walked through the main corridor, which connects with the shops and restaurants (with entrees in the 30-50 Euro range) that are in the center of the hotel. We even went down and scoped out the pool area (it's indoors but tiny) and the kids' babysitting area, which has a Fantasia theme. We took some time to write postcards, but we had yet to find a place to buy airmail stamps or a cast member who could tell us how much postage to the States would be.
Just after 9, we went into the park (there wasn't early-entry for hotel guests). Kids at heart that we are, we headed for Peter Pan's Flight. Just like Disneyland, it already had a line. (It was still only about a ten-minute wait, though.) And not surprisingly, it was identical to the Disneyland version. Oh well, it's still a fun ride!
At about 9:30 we went into Disney Studios Paris for the first time. We didn't have high expectations for the park as a whole, and we were basically correct. Although it occupies a lot of space, it has only a few attractions and none that we were particularly interested in. Entry is through a large soundstage building themed to Old Hollywood with similar murals and signage to the former Hollywood and Dine restaurant in California Adventure. It was here that we saw the only live musicians in the whole resort, a large Cuban-style big band. Most of the park's attractions are housed in soundstages. The paths between them are decorated with images from obscure French films, most of which didn't seem to be "family" films, from their descriptions (posted bilingually).
We went on Rock 'n Roller Coaster. Like the other coasters in the resort, it wasn't a smooth ride and it was fairly short, but it was ok. I think the WDW version is longer.
For reasons I am still not too clear on, Emily really wanted to see Moteurs Action!, which is a car stunt show. It's done in a huge arena, outside, and is a whopping 50 minutes long. There isn't really a storyline; it's just a demonstration of some car stunts that have been done in movies (not specific Disney movies, just in general). The show was co-hosted by two men. One would say something in French, and the other would repeat it in English. This got annoying after a while. Most of the show was just talking and setting up for the stunts, not actually doing them. There was some audience participation, though-- guests were selected to come down in the arena for a skit in which they would pretend to be shot dead by the "villains" wielding machine guns. Obviously, that kind of thing could never be done in the States!
Even though it was by now 11 and the sun had been out, it was actually getting colder so Emily and I returned to our hotel room to get our coats. While we were there, we decided to explore the nearby hotels. Hotel Cheyenne has a Western woodlands theme, kind of like the Wilderness Lodge. Newport Bay Club is like the Yacht Club in WDW. It's housed in a massive yellow clapboard building that looked like it needed a major renovation. Obviously Paris is subject to much harsher elements than the Disneyland Resort, but that's really not an excuse for the faded, peeling paint. Inside it was fine, but the exterior was really in bad shape. Having worked at a theme park, I know how hard maintenance of such a large area can be, but this was really blatant "bad show."
We then went to the post office in the train station and managed to buy postcard stamps; we went to separate clerks and then realized that they sold us different denominations of stamps! We used them anyway and they all got to their destinations eventually. Around noontime we went back in Disneyland and went looking for a place to grab a quick lunch. We settled on the Market House on Main Street, which sold sandwiches. French sandwiches, though, aren't like Americans ones-- they come on tasteless, thin white buns and don't have condiments. I had one with only tomato and mozzarella, and, for 4.90 Euros, it was filling but not particularly good. The princess parade was going by, so we watched it as we ate at a sidewalk table. We also took in some of the magnificent detail that really sets the scene, through intricate signage and billboards and props. Some of the signage is a little TOO thorough; shops are advertised above their doorways as being one thing (ie, Bixby Brothers Men's Attire) but it turns out to be just a regular souvenir shop. (This may have been to disguise the blandness and lack of specialization in the shops around the resort.)
Despite the shabbiness of the Disneyland parade, we thought we'd give the Studios parade a chance, so we headed over to see it. While we were waiting, we went on Flying Carpets over Agrabah, which doesn't really fit in with the "studios" theme, but whatever. The parade was, as we expected, short and unimaginative. The floats were very small scale and only a few characters were involved. Whatever. We peeked inside one of the Animation buildings, but, not surprisingly, it had the same sort of things as its counterpart in California Adventure (the voice-dubbing interactivity, character art exhibits, drawing tables, etc) but in a much less imaginative setting.
It was coming near to the time to meet up with Dad again, so we went back to Disneyland and found him in the Hub. (A word about the Hub-- it's just that. The Partners statue is in the Studios, so there's nothing to really mark the spot. There was what looked like it might be a flower bed, but for all 3 days while we were there it remained a pile of dirt). We really wanted to go to Walt's, the restaurant on Main Street, but it was already closed (why it was only open for three hours each day is beyond me). As it was clouding over again, we decided to visit some of the things we had enjoyed the day before-- the Tarzan show, the bakery, Storybookland Canal Boats, and Space Mountain. We also went in Le Visionarium, which I think is the same as the Timekeeper in WDW but all the dialogue was in French. Headsets along the leaning-rails can be tuned in to various languages of translation. Judging from the amount of fellow guests wearing the headsets, it was easy to see how international the Disneyland Paris clientele is! We also went in the Nautilus walk-though diorama, which was surprisingly interesting and well detailed. Towards the end, the Giant Squid "attacks" the sub, which set a few young children crying. From there, we went back into Adventureland and went on Pirates again. We then got lost in Adventure Isle's caves, which stand in for Tom Sawyer's Island. The many levels of the dank, smelly caves were genuinely disorienting but eventually we found the entrace to the Swiss Family Treehouse. It hasn't stood up too well against the elements, but it does have an amazing view at the top. It's the tallest point in the park accessible to guests, and the Eiffel Tower and the Paris skyline could be seen in the distance (it's about 15 miles away). From there we took another turn on Phantom Manor.
It was now around 6:30 and we were ready for dinner. Emily really wanted to try Annette's Diner, in Festival Disney. We had to wait a while to actually get in, and we were eventually seated on the upper non-smoking level, away from the roller-skating waitresses and '50s tunes that had attracted us in the first place. Service was poor-- the waiter kept forgetting to bring us our silverware even after the food had arrived! Everything on the menu is themed to some kitschy Americana reference-- I had the "Beauty School Dropout," which was grilled cheese with roasted vegetables inside. Emily had tomato soup. Dad had a burger and a beer. It was fairly authentic American food at a reasonable price (entrees in the 7-15 Euro range). It was only about 8:30 and we didn't have dessert at Annette's, so we decided to find somewhere else for that part of the meal. We took Dad into the Disneyland Hotel to show him around, and we called our Stateside family from the lobby. We decided that the dessert offerings in the hotel restaurants weren't worth the steep prices (10-15 Euros). So around 9:30, we finally settled on the Yacht Club Restaurant at the Newport Bay Club hotel. It had a dessert buffet for 8 Euros that was unlike anything we'd seen before-- a myriad of strange fruit pies and chocolate cakes were on the sideboard, with pudding and jello for good measure. Dad and I had that; Emily had a nautically-themed sundae ("the foghorn") that was about 6 Euros. We went back to Hotel New York, across the lake, and turned in around 10:30 that night.
Wednesday, May 21
This was our last day in the parks, and because we had to catch several trains to make it back to Paris in time to catch the Eurostar back to London, we knew we were on a tight time schedule if we wanted to have lunch at Walt's, which opened at 12. So after a late breakfast, we spoke with the concierge in the hotel lobby, who made our reservation and gave us a receipt. We checked out and secured our bags at the reception desk so we wouldn't have to carry them around the parks that morning. Dad hadn't been to the Studios yet, so we went there first. He agreed that there was very little to see and do. (There were some attractions, like the Backlot Tour, that we intentionally skipped because they didn't appeal to us. We certainly would have had time to go on everything if we had wanted to). Emily wanted to see Animagique, which is a live stage show inside a theatre.
Its main novelty is that the musical numbers-- Pink Elephants, Under the Sea, and a few others-- are performed under blacklight, in both French and English. However, it was all prerecorded and very low-tech, and, I'm sorry to say, probably the worst live Disney show I've ever seen. Luckily it wasn't very long!
It was cloudy and sprinkling a bit as we went into Disneyland at 11. The Mark Twain was under refurb but there is actually another steamship, the Molly Brown, that cruises the Rivers of the West (ie America). So we went on that instead. It has a soundtrack that is a dialogue between Molly Brown and the captain which sounded cute, but it was entirely in French. The river is easily twice the size of the Disneyland version, with a lot of intricate rockwork and detailing. Once again, we were bummed that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed because we could see the twisting track (on its own island) from the boat.
Our last ride actually was the Carousel du Lancelot in Fantasyland. Inexplicably, it only went around one time and stopped, so everyone got off.
Everyone assumed that the ride was over and mobbed the exit gate, which was locked. Most people, including me, just climbed through the bushes around the gate because the Cast Member refused to open it. Others just got back on the carousel and waited for the next ride. It was weird. There was no announcement, even in French, to explain what was going on. Another thing that would never happen in Disneyland!
By now it was 12:05 and we were ready for our lunch at Walt's. We strode in and presented our reservation receipt but, to our consternation, realized that the concierge had not only misspelled our name, but had made the reservation for 1:00 and not 12. The maitre d' acted like we had made a mistake and was reluctant to seat us, but eventually gave in. I don't know what her problem was-- only one other party was in the entire restaurant! While Disneyland Paris has several table service restaurants of renown-- Cinderella's Inn, Blue Lagoon, Plaza Inn, and Silver Spur Steakhouse-- Walt's is by far the most famous and "exclusive." It is situated on the second storey of the left part of Main Street (above where the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Gibson Girl, and Penny Arcade would be, in Disneyland). It calls itself "An American Restaurant" but its lavish decor and menu is beyond most American tastes; this is not the kind of place where Walt himself would feel comfortable! The lower lobby is adorned with antiques, including a harpsichord, and a glass elevator similar to the one in Club 33 in Disneyland. We were shown up the stairs and into one of about seven or eight small dining rooms. The walls are decorated with photographs of Walt in Disneyland (some famous, some not). Each dining room has a different theme corresponding with the theme of a "land", and it is carried out in the wallpaper, woodwork, knickknacks, and framed art. The rooms are not officially named; while it would be a nice touch for the hostess to say "You will be dining in the Grand Canyon parlor," that isn't part of the experience. That was, however, the room into which we were placed. It had four tables; two were against the windows. However, a large leafy tree was directly in front of the window, so there wasn't much of a view. Paintings of the Grand Canyon, as well as a stained-glass window, set the theme. A British family was also dining there, but the waitress who served us didn't speak English and we once again had to get out the French-English pocket dictionary. The menu came in a heavy, hardbound book, so, despite its collectability, we couldn't very well take it with us! Dad and I decided to get the prix-fixe menu, which was 28 Euros each; Emily ordered a la carte and her meal wasn't much cheaper. For the prix-fixe menu, you could choose from most of the a la carte menu, regardless of their individual prices. My meal began with a small salad; the main course was a portabella mushroom and a tomato stuffed with mushroom paste. Dessert was "pear cobbler" but it was much denser and sweeter than the American version. On our way out, we peeked in all the rooms. There was a much larger Frontierland room next to ours, which had a large, dark-panelled bookcase. The Fantasyland room was the largest, and it had beautiful green Morris-style wallpaper and framed images of concept art for Sleeping Beauty Castle. (And for those who are wondering, the restrooms were very lovely also, comparable to the Blue Bayou's at Disneyland.)
We had just enough time to leave Disneyland, walk back to the hotel to reclaim our luggage, and get on the train. The train station is truly no-man's-land-- freelance souvenir vendors sell their stuff right off the sidewalk, and we saw a person getting forcibly searched and arrested by policemen! Not very Disney, and not a great last impression of the Resort. If you've stuck with me this far, you might still be wondering, "Is it worth it?" Of course, it all depends on your own taste and priorities.
There's a few things that you might not consider, as we didn't, as you plan your trip.
- Disneyland Paris is in a foreign country! Most of the cast members we came into contact with speak some English, but not all do. It would certainly help to bring a travelers' French dictionary with you, especially if you have special needs and anticipate having to talk with Cast Members frequently. If you know German, French, or Italian, that might also help, as many guests and cast members are from those countries. Also familiarize yourself with the Euro coins and bills before you leave home-- definitely exchange all your currency before you arrive to get the best rate. Of course major credit cards are accepted all over the resort, and there are ATMs. Some cultural things you really can't prepare for, like the places where smoking that is allowed (everywhere!), but when in Rome...
- Prepare for the unexpected. We didn't consider it would be cold or rainy, and it was both. But on the flip side, we expected moderate crowds, and the parks were practically deserted. It really depends on the crowds and your party, but it shouldn't take more than 2 days to see everything.
- Definitely visit downtown Paris! You can ride the Haunted Mansion in four places in the world, but there's only one to see the Mona Lisa or the Eiffel Tower. The RER train is the cheap and fast way to get between the city and the resort. If you're uncertain about riding public trains, the resort itself sponsors bus shuttles in and out of the city. You can book those once you arrive.
- Disneyland Paris, even considering the exchange rate, is generally cheaper than either WDW or Disneyland. One day tickets, which we saw advertised, were only 35 Euros, and they were running a special for a free upgrade to annual pass! We were really "living it up" with sit-down dinners every night, but you can eat well from the counter service restaurants for 15 Euros a day if you wanted. Prices and quality were generally better aligned than in Disneyland restaurants. All menus had more choices than in Disneyland, especially for vegetarians. The selection of merchandise was disappointing but was priced lower than in Disneyland. I bought a small photo album for 6 Euros; most pins were also 6 Euros. There is also a "bargain" shop located directly outside the park next to the ticket booths which had a good selection of shirts, old souvenir books, etc.
- Disneyland Paris is not Disneyland Anaheim; it is run by different people with different guidelines. Cast Members in general function at a lower energy level and service than their American counterparts. Not to generalize, but you will most likely meet rude Cast Members. You will see and smell things you wouldn't dream of seeing in the States. But don't let that hold you back, as the attention to detail and sheer size of the parks tops Disneyland Anaheim hands down. I would definitely recommend visiting Disneyland Paris to any Disney park fans, but just know what you're in for before you travel.
Rachel Van Houten