Disneyland Paris - John C. Kirk
Jan. 22nd, 2012
11:10 pm - Disneyland Paris
Last summer, I went off to Germany for a wedding, then I took a detour on my way home so that I could visit Disneyland Paris. I had a good time, although it would have worked better if I'd done a bit more advance planning.
My basic plan was to leave Frankfurt on Sunday morning, take the train to Paris Est, then take the metro from Est to Gare de Lyon, and take the RER A train down to Disneyland. Based on online timetables, that should get me there by about 14:00, so I could buy a 2-day pass for the 2 parks and spend 1½ days wandering around.
Unfortunately, I didn't book my train ticket in advance, and the train was fully booked. I may do a separate post about my euro travel; in brief, I've found that if you leave things until the last minute then hotel rooms get cheaper and train tickets get more expensive. Anyway, that meant that I didn't arrive at Disneyland until Sunday evening. I prebooked a room at the Kyriad hotel using laterooms.com, and it's quite easy to get to. I reached the nearest station (Marne la Vallee Chessy) at 21:30, caught the free bus at 21:36, and arrived at the hotel at 21:44. One of the parks (Walt Disney Studios) had already closed by this point, and the other one (Disneyland Park) was only open until 23:00, so it didn't really seem worth buying a 2-day pass at that point.
I had some trouble checking in, since the person I spoke to couldn't find my reservation. They called over a manager, who found my name somewhere else. I'm not sure whether this is a staff training issue or a quirk of the laterooms.com booking service, but don't panic if it happens to you. I went up to my room, but I got a bit stuck with the keycard. Fortunately a small child from a nearby room saw me struggling and came to my aid! Once we'd got the door open, he also showed me how to put the keycard in the wall socket (next to the light switches) so that I could turn the lights on. That type of thing is probably obvious if you travel a lot, but it was new to me; since it was dark by this time, I don't think I would have figured it out on my own.
Here are a couple of photos of my room:
They don't do single rooms, so this is a "family room" (intended for 2 adults and 2 children).
Once I'd dumped my stuff in my room, I went back downstairs to the bar. I'm a bit rusty at French, but my language skills were good enough to request a glass of wine. The barmaid smiled at me, and this made me feel quite sophisticated: see how I speak the local language and drink the local beverage! Of course, I realise that she probably behaves that way towards everyone, but I can dream...
I slept well (after I opened the window), then woke up nice and early the following morning. I bought my ticket (2 parks, 1 day) when I checked in, and this gave me early access to the Disneyland Park: it opened at 08:00 for hotel guests and at 10:00 for everyone else. They also asked me to book a 1 hour slot for breakfast, so I chose 07:00-08:00: I handed in my ticket when I went to the restaurant, then it worked as an "all you can eat" buffet, which was a good opportunity to fuel up for the day. Afterwards, I took a brief wander down to the lake, which was pleasant; that was one of the main reasons I picked this hotel, so I thought that I ought to visit it.
After that, I cleared out my room, although I almost left my suit behind; I hung it up in the wardrobe overnight, and only remembered it when I was surprised to have both hands free. So, key lesson: open every cupboard etc. when you leave, even if you don't remember putting anything in them. I then caught the bus to the park, although I didn't time it very well: I left the hotel at 08:20, and the buses left at 07:47, 08:10, and 08:33. So, another lesson: check the timetable when you arrive at the hotel, so that you can plan your departure the following morning.
Anyway, the 08:33 train got me to the park at 08:45, which still gave me a while to wander around before the gates opened to the general public. They have a cloakroom just inside the park, so I left most of my stuff there; this cost me €3.00 (about £2.50), which I think is quite reasonable, since I didn't want to carry it around with me all day. I just kept a few key items with me: passport, wallet, pen, paper, water, sunglasses, ebook reader, camera, and mobile phone. Although the park opened early, most of the rides didn't actually start running until 10:00, so the main benefit of arriving early is to avoid any queues for entry and to get a feel for the place (i.e. find out where everything is).
There are plenty of souvenir shops dotted around the park; in particular, there's one right next to the entrance that sells costumes for young children. I wasn't sure why people would want to carry a costume around with them all day, but I then saw several children wearing these costumes during the day so presumably they put the outfits on as soon as they bought them.
During the day, I fitted in most of the big rides, and several of the smaller ones too. I started out in Discoveryland (the sci-fi area).
* Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. This is basically a slow/flat rollercoaster, and the idea is to shoot at the targets as you go past. You can fit 2 people into each car, but I got a double seat to myself rather than sharing with a stranger, and that was true for most of the rides I went on. My final score was 8,900, which seemed respectable until I saw a young child in a nearby car who scored 75,700. Apparently there's some kind of knack to it...
* Space Mountain: Mission 2. There was no queue for this at all, so the only delay was walking through the empty tunnels (intended to hold a queue of people). This is one of the "big thrills" rides, but I wasn't too keen on it. I'm happy with speed, steep slopes, and dangling upside-down, but I don't like being shaken back and forth, particularly when my head keeps bouncing off the seat. I'm sure it's safe, but it was uncomfortable, and it reminded me of everything I've learnt in first aid classes about whiplash injuries from car crashes.
* Star Tours. This was funny more than fun. The actual ride itself wasn't particularly special, but I have to give them credit for the immersive aspects. The premise is that you're taking a shuttle ride within the Star Wars universe, and C3PO gave a safety briefing. The films established that he spoke several languages, so it sort of makes sense that he'd speak French as well as English; on the other hand, if you think about it too much then it gets a bit weird for him to speak any Earth language. On the way out, there were posters on the walls advertising tourist destinations within the Empire:
When I wanted to take that photo, there were several other people walking past (leaving the ride) so I had to wait for a convenient opportunity. This is where I developed one of my ideas about photo etiquette. With a digital camera, "film" is cheap, so just snap off a quick shot and then see whether it's any good. If so, great; if not, try again. Only point the camera in the right direction when you're actually taking the photo, and point it down at the floor the rest of the time. That way, other people won't feel uncomfortable about getting in the way. The same principle applies if you want to take a photo of your friends in front of a landmark or whatever.
Moving on to Adventureland...
* Pirates of the Caribbean. Having seen the film, I was interested to see where they got their inspiration from, but the ride and the film don't really have much in common. There are a couple of notable tableaux, e.g. the prisoners trying to get the key from the dog, but the filmmakers came up with most of it on their own (or from other sources).
* Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. This was a short ride, but I enjoyed it.
I then went over to Frontierland for a live stage show at the Chaparral Theatre. When I went, they had "The Tarzan Encounter", which now seems to have ended; it may return at some point. I've found a video, although that's not as good as watching the performance live. Equally, I'm not sure why you'd want to go to an event like this and then spend your time peering through a camera screen rather than enjoying the experience, although it's apparently quite common at pop concerts. (The most annoying version of this would be iPad Man.)
The rides at the park run continuously, so you can join the queue whenever you like and wait to get to the front. By contrast, the stage show has specific start times, and the seats (benches) are "first come first served" so you may want to arrive early. There's no queue as such, but it takes a few minutes for people to get into position. I arrived 10 minutes before the scheduled start, which was plenty of time. The show lasted for about 25 minutes.
It's specifically based on Disney's Tarzan film, and if you haven't seen it then you may not quite understand everything that's going on; they have to chop a lot out to condense the storyline. At the same time, if you are familiar with the film then there will still be things that are new to you here. It reminded me of Cats (the stage musical): you have people in leotards leaping around pretending to be animals. In this case, I think they were colour-coded: blue/grey for males, and orange for females. I was impressed by their athletic ability, e.g. dangling from ropes high above the stage or swinging out off the edge of the stage, without using safety nets. I think the best bit was when someone bounced on a trampoline and then landed on a horizontal bar; it's the equivalent of starting at ground level and landing on top of a swing's frame (in a playground). More generally, they all showed a level of trust, to not drop or collide with each other. There were a couple of odd choices: Turk's costume looked completely different from all the other apes, and they had an audience participation section (similar to what I've seen at pantos) shortly before the end. On the whole, though, it was very good, and one of the highlights of the day.
Staying in Frontierland...
* Phantom Manor. The queue was longer than it looked because it wound around itself, almost like a maze. However, it was worth the wait. There's so much detail that I probably missed a few things, and I particularly liked the paintings in the lift/corridor.
* Big Thunder Mountain. This is another "thrill ride", and it had long queues every time I went past. It's one of the FastPass rides, where you can get a timed ticket and then come back later for a shorter queue. However, the FastPass machines also had a huge queue, so it didn't look as if I'd save much time by using them! I came back to this at the end of the day, but they closed the ride down while I was halfway through the queue (mechanical problems) so I missed out on it. If I go there again, I'll try to do this one first.
The final part of this park was Fantasyland:
* It's a small world. This is in the "Fun for little ones" category, but I found it utterly charming, although the boat loading was a bit haphazard.
* Sleeping Beauty Castle. This was ok: there was no queue, so it was a quick diversion. (Ditto for Aladdin's passage in Adventureland.)
They also had a "meet the Disney princesses" event. Basically, this involved people dressed up in costume, then you could queue up to have your photo taken with them:
They did it in 30 minute shifts, but when I went past the queuing time was 45 minutes:
So, if you joined the queue to meet a particular princess, she probably wouldn't be there by the time you got to the front! There were a couple of similar photo booths for Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled, but they only ran for a couple of slots during the day so it was "them or nobody".
This is an interesting shift from meeting celebrities. For instance, suppose that I met Amy Adams (who played Giselle in Enchanted). Although she looks like Giselle, she's actually a completely different person. By contrast, the concept here is that you are actually meeting the fictional characters. The snag is that you still aren't, and the people you meet won't really display any of the same personality traits (e.g. Belle wouldn't talk about the books she's read lately). Still, it made people happy, and that's fair enough. I didn't queue up for this, mainly because I would have felt a bit out of place without an accompanying child, but if I saw someone in a costume like this at a convention (e.g. Comic-Con) then I might ask to have my photo taken with her. (The other issue is that I'd feel a bit underdressed in jeans.)
After that, I moved over to the Walt Disney Studios Park. I left my luggage in the first park so that I could reclaim it later; the entrances are within sight of each other.
* Stitch Live! I liked the film and TV series (although I was less impressed by the anime version), so I was curious to see what this was like. In particular, I remembered a Simpsons quote (from the episode "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show"): "No, Homer, very few cartoons go to air live. It's a tremendous strain on the animator's wrist." They actually made a pretty good effort here, and the voice clearly was being done live, reacting to what people said in the audience. I assume that this was similar to operating a puppet to get the lip-synch working properly. So, it was interesting from a technical point of view, but the content was mainly aimed at a younger audience.
* Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic. This was good, although unfortunately the TV was broken in my tram car so it was difficult to hear what the tour guide was saying. (I reported that to staff after the ride.) They warned us that we might get "a bit wet", but this was the equivalent of sea spray rather than a log flume ride.
I had lunch after that, although I can't find the restaurant on their website. Anyway, they all seem to have the same prices: I paid €12.99 for microwaved pizza, Coke, and a brownie, which isn't too exorbitant considering that they have a captive market.
* Rock 'n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. Dude! I took a FastPass ticket for this before lunch, so I didn't have long to wait, and it was excellent. This was the only ride where I had to share a car with someone else, but I was fine with that.
* Animagique. This was so-so: it basically involved people in costumes miming along to songs from the films.
* The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This was another very good ride, where they put a lot of effort into the atmosphere. You go into something that looks like an abandoned hotel, then sit inside a "lift" while things flash past. I put that in quotes, because it's all indoors so you can't get much sense of movement as you go up, and I wondered whether it would be more of a virtual ride like Star Tours. Suddenly, the wall flipped down in front of us and we had a pretty spectacular view of the park because we were right up at the top of the huge tower. Then the lift dropped, and I actually went into freefall for a few seconds, with the seat restraints holding me in place from above. In other words, the car looked like a lift because it was an actual lift! It went up and down a couple of times before the ride ended, which justified the (minimal) queuing time. I know some people hate these type of rides, but I really enjoyed it.
After I left the Tower of Terror I caught the end of a parade going past; I missed that on my program, otherwise I would have planned around it. There was also a big parade in the main park, due to start at 19:00: I would have liked to watch it, but I regretfully decided that I'd be cutting it too close for my journey back to London. I wanted to catch the 21:13 train from Paris (reaching St Pancras at 22:30 local time), and I needed to check in at Eurostar 30 minutes before departure, i.e. 20:43. I picked up my luggage, left the park at 19:10, caught the 19:29 train, and reached Gare du Nord at 20:20. I checked in at 20:28, so if I'd caught the 19:44 train from Disneyland then I probably could have just made it but I wouldn't want to rely on that.
As it stands, I did almost everything in a single day, and I think that 1½ days would have given me enough time to do it all; in particular, I could have watched the parade on Sunday evening, then gone back to the hotel afterwards. I wouldn't want to stay for a week because you'd have to keep repeating the same activities to fill up the time, but that may appeal to children. Anyway, I'm glad I went, and it contributed to a successful weekend.