Recently, I had the good fortune to visit Disneyland Paris for a few days as part of my honeymoon. We’ve all heard a lot about the two European parks, both good and bad, so I thought I would share my experiences. This was originally going to be a long blow-by-blow travelogue, but no one really wants to relive complete stranger’s vacation in that much detail–so instead, I’ll focus on what’s different, what’s amazing, what’s horrible, and what’s just generally interesting.
We commuted in from Paris both days, so we didn’t get a chance to explore most of the hotels or the Disney Village area. We headed through their security, which included airport-style x-ray machines, a big difference right off the bat. Entering the park might be the most jolting difference to a regular guest at the domestic parks– the Disneyland Hotel towers over the entrance, shrouding the park behind it. Countless words have been spoken and written about the awe felt as you pass under the train station arches as Main Street and the castle are revealed behind it, but the Disneyland Hotel provides such a complete curtain that you lose the tease that you experience seeing the castle from a distance. While this might seem like a negative, it only heightened my expectations as a Disney fan longing to experience a new park for the first time. And the reveal did not disappoint.
We visited during the Swing into Spring festival, a greatly scaled-down version of Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival, so both Main Street and the waiting vestibule between the train station and turnstiles were decorated with brilliantly colored flowers. The gazebo that serves as the center of Town Square was decorated with a Mary Poppins motif, complete with topiaries of Mary and Burt as well as plastic penguins. And behind it you could see Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty Castle) rise majestically over the hub. I’m sure we’re all familiar with it, but its architecture and landscaping shame the domestic parks. Main Street felt comfortably familiar, yet enticingly different at the same time. There were even plenty of scrims and construction walls up to make a WDW regular feel more at home.
We headed first to Tomorrowland– er, I’m sorry Discoveryland (I had to correct my self countless times while in the parks too)– to take advantage of the lack of people in the park at 8:00 a.m. The steampunk/Jules Verne influence was apparent, thorough and without the postmodern touches of Tomorrowland 1994. The look felt cohesive and complete, the most jarring elements being the lived-in authenticity of the Star Tours area.
Discoveryland also introduced us to a much more jarring authenticity: the lack of upkeep evident in the parks. It wasn’t dirty per se; on the contrary, the park was immaculate in that respect. Sweepers, including broom artists, were everywhere. It was the lack of long-term maintenance that stood out like a 20-story wand. There were cracks in the pavement that looked like earthquake damage. It was just very clear that long-term upkeep wasn’t on anyone’s mind. The other main area where maintenance was lacking was in landscaping. Areas where people were going to take photographs were immaculate but back pathways, including topiaries, were poorly maintained and overgrown.
The rides of Discoveryland were mostly familiar, yet oddly different. Of course, the most dissimilar was Space Mountain: Mission 2. The color scheme is beautiful and doesn’t stand out like the stark white version at WDW. Theming in the queue seemed minimal in comparison, but we didn’t really have to spend much time in it. In domestic park terms, the launch is reminiscent of the Incredible Hulk coaster at Islands of Adventure, and overall it is much more akin to Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster than either WDW’s or Disneyland’s Space Mountain. From the launch to the visuals, which admittedly I couldn’t see as well since I feel the need to take my glasses off, it is far superior to Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. I won’t say it’s superior to WDW’s Space Mountain, just because it’s so different.
Star Tours was still the classic version, but Rex spoke French. This was an interesting dynamic, as the video segments were all in English. This bilingual motif was repeated through many attractions, and used to great effect where questions were answered in a such a wordy manner so that people who only spoke one language could follow the whole conversation. The outside of Star Tours was much more interesting with a full size X-Wing, as opposed to a mismatched AT-AT and Ewok village designed to show it’s a facade. We didn’t ride Autopia, but the neon lined frontage was much more appealing than the Tomorrowland Speedway. The Oribtron (Astrorbiter) was a combination of WDW and Disneyland. Still placed in the center of the land, but on ground level, it seemed to speed around a lot faster, a speed that would be the most terrifying ride in any Disney park if it was on the third story. Buzz Light year was very similar, but with Disneyland’s detachable guns. Captain Eo was there as well, but was closed.
The two unique offerings in Discoveryland were Videopolis and The Mysteries of the Nautilus. I know Videopolis was once something more than it currently is, but now it exists just as a gigantic counter service restaurant that shows Pixar shorts. While nothing outstanding, it was a nice place to take a break and grab some lunch. The Mysteries of the Nautilus was a very cool walk-through attraction taking you through a recreation of Captain Nemo’s infamous submarine.
Walk-throughs appear to be a key part of Disneyland Paris. In addition to the Nautilus, there was an Aladdin walk-through in Adventureland, the Swiss Family Treehouse, a tableau of wild west history as you enter Frontierland, and three in Fantasyland. There you have the story of Sleeping Beauty, the Maleficent dragon in the cave’s below the castle, and the Alice in Wonderland maze. While these walk-throughs are not going to attract anyone to the parks, these all serve as fun distractions. The one exception is the dragon. I’m sure everyone reading this has heard of the animatronic dragon created for the castle at Disneyland Paris, but rarely do I think something lives up to the amount of hype that the dragon had generated. While not fast-moving or overly complex, the audio-animatronic gave you exactly what you’d expect from a dragon sleeping in its lair, and was the unique highlight to Fantasyland.
Fantasyland itself boasted little else that was unique. Laid out much more similar to Disneyland’s Fantasyland than Walt Disney World’s, the rides there offered little difference to their stateside counterparts. Pinocchio, Snow White, and Peter Pan are all there representing the dark rides, and the three traditional Fantasyland spinners (Dumbo, the Carrousel, and the Mad Tea Party) are there as well. Casey Jr. and the Storybook Canal boats are also in Disneyland Paris, but never having been to the Anaheim versions, I can’t really compare them, other than to say they were both short and cute. Paris’s “it’s a small world” doesn’t quite have the extensive mall area that it does at Disneyland, but is more isolated and has the style of the California counterpart. Alice’s Curious Labyrinth was possibly in the worse shape of any attraction in the park– parts were behind construction walls, and parts didn’t move that were supposed too.
Moving over to Adventureland (for some reason Adventureland and Frontierland’s locations were swapped) the unique “headliner,” Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril was undergoing a long refurbishment. The only other real attraction was Pirates of the Caribbean. Mush more akin to Disneyland’s version, you pass by the Blue Lagoon restaurant before proceeding up the waterfall first. Other than the backwards nature of the drops, the attraction seemed more of an updated version of the original with little changed overall. The surprise star of Adventureland for me was Adventure Island, a better version of Tom Sawyer’s Island. There were numerous caves, bridges, nooks and crannies and even a pirate ship to explore. It’s even built around the Swiss Family Treehouse.
Frontierland felt distinctive compared to its American cousin’s. Expansive and open, it centers around the Rivers of the Far West, with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the middle of it. Big Thunder is hands down the attraction I would trade versions with. Those long, extra drops to travel under the river add an excellent start and finish to a ride that for the most part is the same. The river is navigated by it’s own riverboats, the Mark Twain and the Molly Brown. At the far end of Frontierland lies Disneyland Paris’s gem, Phantom Manor.
It would be easy to dismiss Phantom Manor as just another version of the Haunted Mansion, but that would be a grave mistake. All the classic elements are there, but the way they are executed creates an entirely different ride. You start in the foyer and move to the stretch room, but with different narrations (unfortunately in French only) and different portraits. Here’ you begin to understand a different story. A bride is interrupted on her wedding day when a phantom disappears her husband and begins to haunt her. The majority of the ride is similar, with minor differences up until the attic scene. From here the old west Boot Hill story takes over from the graveyard scene, picturing the dead taking over a western town, in a much more terrifying ending. Oh, and Phineas, Ezra, and Gus (the hitchhiking ghosts) are nowhere to be seen!
Disneyland Paris caps its night off with Disney Dreams. The easiest way to describe it is a combination between World of Color and Celebrate the Magic. It is a story-based projection show that has the projections on both the castle and jets of water. The show is punctuated with fireworks, but they are not the focus of the show. It was truly an amazing show, and a draw in and of itself. The oddest part of the show was the crowd just sits down. They sit down right in the middle of the street and the hub. We got yelled at for standing. People really seemed to stake out their spots early, but all of Fantasyland and parts of Adventureland close an hour before the show to keep them clear for fireworks, so most people are looking for things to do by early evening anyway.
Of course, there is also the Walt Disney Studios park. This park has had a bad reputation, and one I can think was justified. While there are plenty of clones or takes on familiar rides and shows that does not mean it didn’t have some great unique attractions and features. One of the unique parts of the park is its entrance. You enter directly into a courtyard, but then pass through a soundstage building. There’s not a way to get to the main section of the park without passing through Studio 1, which is little more than a warehouse lined with retail and quick service dining. Aside from carts and one buffet restaurant, this was the entirety of food service in the park, and even retail was extremely limited, with just a few small exit shops. Yes, that’s right, Disney is missing chances to sell you something!
To be honest, though, the Studios park didn’t need any more. If you arrived at the park at rope drop, you could conceivably be finished with every attraction and show by mid-afternoon. And that is if everything was running. Certain attractions were just not open certain days. Armageddon appeared to be closed randomly, and from what we could see other attractions followed a similar schedule. Even at Disneyland Park, we were told that during the off-season every restaurant was closed two days a week and they rotated. This, compounded with early closures of most restaurants, made it really hard to find a decent dinner. Capacity just did not appear to be a problem at Disneyland Paris.
Since the new Ratatouille area was not set to open for a couple of months, the highlight of the park was Crush’s Coaster. This was the only attraction we encountered with more than a 30-minute wait for during our two-day trip. The ride itself is a combination between Primeval Whirl and a dark ride, but that hardly does it justice. It was a really fun, wild mouse dark coaster. The car, which features two rows of two sitting back to back, spins much more like a Tea Cup than Primeval Whirl once you hit the EAC.
The other really unique elements of this park were the shows. First, there is Cinamagique, a tribute to cinema. Picture the montage at the end of the Great Movie Ride, wrapped around an inserted plot featuring Martin Short. It was a very funny bilingual show, and features an amazing blend of interaction between live action actors and filmed element, and written cleverly enough that you could enjoy it speaking either French or English. It is truly a unique show, and I would love to see it transported over to Disney Hollywood Studios.
Another fun little show was Stitch Live! This interpretation of the living character initiative has the guests assisting the Galactic Federation in tracking down stitch after he blasts off from Earth again. The show itself follows the Turtle Talk pattern of interaction with the audience, who at the end even directs Stitch in a video game like scenario. The show was cute and would be a good replacement for Stitch’s Great Escape, though may feel a bit redundant with Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor right across the way. Across from Stitch Live! is Armageddon: Effects Spectacular. Never has the word “spectacular” been so poorly applied. An unworkable combination of an effects show, immersion theater, and walking tour, the only nice thing I can say about it was it may have been preferable to actually getting hit by an asteroid. The only other unique attraction was Anamagique which was closed both days we were there, and from what we gathered the only thing wrong with it was that the didn’t want to run it those days.
The park also contains many cloned attractions, including the original version of Lights, Motors… Action which after getting off Armageddon would have felt like rubbing salt in the open wound, so we skipped it. We also skipped the Art of Disney Animation since we were told jt was also a direct clone. There are versions of Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The Paris version of Tower is a clone of the California version. This was my first time on a version without the Fifth Dimension scene, and I never realized how key that was to the experience. The ride portion of Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster felt the same, but the theming was mildly different. Starting with the pre-show, Aerosmith is no longer mixing a track, but helping design the ride itself. Once inside, it’s no longer themed to the streets of Los Angeles, but more of a backstage concert experience.
While not at any of the domestic parks, the Studios park features a Toy Stoy Playland, which had also been hastily added to Hong Kong Disneyland. The three attractions there are little more than Toy Story skins on carnival attraction. There are also Cars Race Rally, a scaled down concept of Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and a Magic Carpets over Agrabah, which was closed for refurbishment. There was also an afternoon parade that traveled an area approximately the size of Town Square on Main Street.
Of course, the centerpiece of any studio-based park should be its tram tour. And appropriately, Disney Hollywood Studios embarrassing little brother has an equally embarrassing version of the tram tour. What was that? You didn’t think the DHS tram tour could be worse? Well you were quite wrong. Apparently, you don’t need narration or fully working trams. You drive past nameless props from movies and other, better, theme parks. After you pass all these things, wondering what they are, you get to Catastrophe Canyon, again with out any explanation. After you back track through the same props and past a boneyard featuring mainly vehicles from the Dinotopia miniseries, you enter what appears to be a ruined London. Then the tram stops and fire comes out of the ground. No one had any idea what was going on, but we later found out this was supposed to be Reign of Fire. Remember that movie? No, no one does. We also later found out there was supposed to be a narration, which might have explained at least something.
Overall, I would not say you have to make a trip to Europe just to go to Disneyland Paris, but if you’re in the region, I would say it will be worth your time. Disneyland Park is truly beautiful and offers a lot of unique takes on what we’re all familiar with. Walt Disney Studios Park is entertaining enough to fill your afternoon, and still has attractions worth the walk over. There is a very clear reason all multi-day tickets are park-hoppers. If you have any questions about the park, you can leave a comment or contact [email protected] and I’ll try and answer whatever I can.