A quick trip to Madame Tussauds

With our daughter starting school in September and all of us keen to scratch our theme park / days out itch following our recent trip to Disneyland Paris, we made the decision to purchase Premium Merlin Annual Passes. We took some time deliberating whether to get one now or wait until our daughter was a bit older, but the opportunity to visit some of the attractions outside of school holidays before July clinched it for us.

A Merlin Annual Pass gives you entry to 32 attractions across the UK including Legoland, Alton Towers, Chessington, London Eye,  Sealife Centres and the Dungeon attractions.  As I work in central London I decided to choose the Sealife Centre on the South bank as my home attraction, and therefore we caught the train to London to collect our passes and to visit one of the attractions.

We arrived at the Merlin annual pass desk at the Sealife centre where they created our passes for us and gave us our Premium annual pass privilege pack which includes a lanyard, a pop badge, three £5 off fast track vouchers and some share the fun entry tickets to give to a family member to get into certain attraction for £15. We then took a short tube journey over to Madame Tussauds to use our passes for the first time.

Now I’m usually a very good planner, but choosing Marathon Day to visit London wasn’t one of the best decisions I’ve made. Nonetheless Madame Tussauds did not look too busy and with our passes we got fast track entry to the attraction. It was extremely satisfying to bypass the queue outside!

We weren’t sure whether our daughter would get much out of Madame Tussauds as she probably wouldn’t recognise many famous people (and I myself had no idea who these ‘Youtube stars’ were),  but nonetheless  we thought we would give it a go as it was included with our pass.

Madame Tussuad’s is a walkthrough attraction where guest follow a set path through the attraction and there is no real opportunity to go back once you’ve been through a certain area.

The first room focused on celebrities from the world of music and film (including a specific Bollywood area). Where in the past you couldn’t get too close to the waxworks, nowadays you are encouraged to get close for photographs and selfies. We were impressed with the likeness of the majority of the models in the room and took a few photos with a couple of film stars we liked. The room was very busy and as our daughter didn’t really recognise any of the people we decided to move on after a quick look around.

The next section was the newly opened King Kong experience, which was basically a walkthrough area themed like Skull Island with a giant spider above you, before you come face to face with a giant animatronic King Kong head with moving eyes and mouth, you could also feel his breath when he roared. I was impressed with the animatronic, it really did look real to the extent that our daughter was quite scared and would not go near it. Before we met Kong we had our photo taken as a family in front of a green screen with a waxwork model of Tom Hiddleston (Mrs Geeky Dad’s favourite actor).Throughout the attraction we came across a number of green screen photo opportunity but at £13 (before our annual pass discount) a photo we didn’t purchase any.

Following our confrontation with Kong, the next area focused on stars from the world of sport, famous artists, scientists and world leaders. We took a great picture of our daughter next to sprinter Usain Bolt whilst attempting to copy his famous victory pose. Again we were impressed with the waxworks in this area and there were lots of photo opportunities including one with Donald Trump in the Oval Office and outside 10 Downing Street next to the political buffoon Boris Johnson.

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A recent addition to MadamaTussaud’s is the Sherlock Holmes experience, which appeared to be in what was the old Chamber of Horrors (an experience I still have scars from after being subjected to it at around the age of 6). We chose to bypass this part of the attraction as we did not think it would be appropriate for our daughter (I had read online that part of it takes place in a morgue), however we plan to revisit without our daughter on a ‘date day’ as it sounds like something we may enjoy.

After skipping the Sherlock Holmes experience we came to a dark ride called ‘The Spirit of London’. You boarded a typical London black cab and were taken on a brief history of London told via scenes with animatronics. This included the building of St. Paul Cathedral, the Plague, the great fire of London, the blitz and 60s London. Despite some scenes being quite dark (“Bring out your dead”) our daughter enjoyed the ride. It reminded me of the dark rides they have at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It’s a fun addition to the experience and adds a bit of variety to the attraction.

The penultimate section of Madame Tussaud’s is a Marvel Superhero themed area. There are lots of photo opportunities with life size models of the Hulk, Captain America, Spiderman and other Marvel characters followed by a 4D Marvel movie that takes place in the old planetarium building. The 4D show was about 12 minutes long and included water effects, vibrations and other surprises. Our daughter was a little scared at some points in the film; especially some of the 3D effects which made her take her 3D glasses off. I guess it’s hard to explain to a 3 year old what 3D is and why it isn’t really there.

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The final part of the attraction was a Star Wars area with scenes recreated from all seven films of the Star Wars saga. We enjoyed having some photographs with Chewie on the Millenium Falcon and my daughter particularly enjoyed giving her favourite droid BB8 a hug. This was a nicely themed area and a good way to end the attraction, although if your not a fan of Star Wars I’m not sure you would get much out of it.

Overall we enjoyed our visit to Madame Tussauds. Out of all the attractions Merlin offers this was the one we were unsure of. Waxworks seem like quite an old fashioned concept these days and the attractions marketing is clearly trying to appeal to the celebrity culture, which doesn’t really interest me or Mrs Geeky Dad. However, the wax models were very impressive and I liked how close you could get to them.  Our daughter didn’t get much out of models of people as she did not recognise them, but she enjoyed the dark ride, Marvel and Star Wars areas despite the occasional mild scare. Taking just under 2 hours from start to finish I’m not sure I would want to pay full price for the attraction, however it was a good first time use our annual passes and we especially liked getting priority entry to the attraction. I’m not sure we will return with our daughter within the next year (she may like the attraction more when she is older) but Mrs Geeky Dad and I plan to go back on our own and experience the Sherlock Holmes experiences, which I’m sure I will write about.

Now we have our Merlin Passes we have a whole year of fun to look forward to. We have already had a trip to Legoland Windsor (trip report coming soon) and have dates in the diary to visit Chessington, Alton Towers, Warwick Castle and the other London based attractions.  We plan to do as much as we can before we are restricted to school holidays and even then we look forward attending Legoland and Chessington’s Halloween / Fireworks offerings during October half term.  As Merlin annual pass holders we no longer have an excuse for weekends to be boring!

 

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5 Disney films to introduce your child to the Magic of the Movies

5 Walt Disney Animations to introduce your child to the magic of the movies.

As a massive film fan I cannot wait to introduce our daughter to the magic of the movies. I often day dream about showing her the first Star Wars Film, the Wizard of Oz and when she’s quite a bit older some Hitchcock and Tarantino films (if the bride from Kill Bill turns out to be her favourite character in a film then my work as a Dad will be done!).

From around the age of two we started exposing our daughter to Disney and Pixar films with mixed results. Some films she was very engaged in, others incredibly bored and from the age of three she started getting scared of certain films, especially the monkey with the cymbals in Toy Story 3. Now, nearly 4, she is able to enjoy the majority of animated films we show her, although getting her to sit down for more than an hour when at home is never easy.

As someone with a keen interest in the history of films, when it comes to classic animation it’s hard to look beyond the Walt Disney Animation Studio. Whilst the studio has had it’s ups and downs in terms of quality (there are clearly defined eras in the studios output and we are lucky to be going through another really good period currently) for me it’s still the number one producer of animated films (although I should point out that Asian animation such as Studio Ghibli is something I would like to start watching). Don’t get me wrong Pixar has made some all time great films (which could probably form another Top 5 list), but I personally wanted to introduce my daughter to the fairy tale / classic literature inspired films of Disney.

Here are my 5 Disney films to introduce your child to the Magic of the Movies.

Snow White and Seven Dwarfs (1937) is not only an important film (it is the first feature length animation ever made), but is also a classic in terms of story telling and setting the tone for many Disney films that followed. It has, what I think, are the key ingredients to a perfect Disney film. Gorgeous animation, a plot with both happy and sad moments including a mild sense of threat and memorable songs (I think it’s fair to say that a large majority of Disney’s best films have catchy songs, although there are some exceptions). My daughter likes it because it has a princess with small animal sidekicks, although the portrayal of women is somewhat dated compared to modern Princesses (more on this later). Snow White is also a good measure on whether you child can handle some of the more sinister elements to Disney films as the wicked Queen is genuinely scary.

Alice in Wonderland (1951) Out of all the films on this list this is probably my wild card pick. Based on the literary nonsense novel by Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland doesn’t have much plot (much like the source material), but it has a uniqueness in terms of story, the Mary Blair style of the animation and the comedy. For a film that is not as acclaimed as many other Disney films, there are many iconic characters throughout and there is something about Alice in Wonderland that captures the imagination and makes me curiouser and curiouser…

The Jungle Book (1967) was released in one of the less popular eras of Disney animation (although I personally like a lot of the films in this era such as Robin Hood and The Aristocats). It was also the last film Walt Disney himself worked on. Based on the Rudyard Kipling novel The Jungle Book stands out as the best from this period of Disney animation. It has great characters such as Baloo, King Louie and of course the menacing Shere Khan. The songs in The Jungle Book are among the best in any Disney film, especially the jazzy “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”. If your child likes animals then they are bound to love The Jungle Book.

The Lion King (1994) No list of Disney films is complete without at least one film from the Disney Renaissance (1989 – 1997) a period where Disney could do no wrong and released classic after classic. It was hard to know which film from this period to pick, but the Lion King just pipped it for me, especially as a film to introduce young children to. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King has an amazing voice cast (James Earl Jones as Mustafa and Jeremy Irons as Scar stand out), a great story, some humour, some amazing songs which help move the story along and an opening sequence which is possibly my favourite 5 minutes of animation ever committed to film. Like most Disney films, The Lion King has it’s dark moments, but without them the high stake of the film simply wouldn’t be earnt. Simply one of the best animated films of all time.

Moana (2016) is the most recent Disney animation and my word is it fantastic. Based on Polynesian mythology, Moana is the story of a chieftains daughter (don’t call her a princess despite the animal sidekick!) and her adventures across the pacific ocean with the arrogant, yet amusing demi-god Maui. The animation is stunning, the songs are catchy and have been stuck in my head for months (Your Welcome!), but what makes the film for me is that Moana is a strong independent girl who can stand on her own two feet, she does not need a love interest or a man to save her. As a father of a daughter I cannot stress how important it is for her to be exposed to characters such as Moana. Since Tangled Disney have been very good with their portrayal of woman in their films and whilst I wouldn’t deprive my daughter of watching the older films involving Princesses (all which have a Prince as a love interest etc etc…), it’s great that there are now more modern and less patriarchal portrayals of women in animated films. Moana is the cinematic role model I would want my daughter to look up to. Well at least until she chooses to want to be like Princess Leia or Rey!

A few words on Frozen. I am sure some of you are surprised that the cultural behemoth that is Frozen has not made my list. Yes the songs are great, there are strong female leads and the story is decent. Not mention it’s one of my daughter’s favourite films, but I still don’t think it’s a bona fide classic yet. In terms of recent Disney films I actually prefer Tangled, Big Hero Six , Zootopia and the aforementioned Moana.

My Top 10 tips when visiting Disneyland Paris

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1. Have a plan.

Lots of people will visit Disneyland Paris without a plan and that’s fine. Lots of people like to relax during their time off and a part of that is ‘going with the flow’, and making decisions as they go along. You can do this when going to Disneyland Paris and you will still have a good time, however you are more likely to experience more and make the most of your time in the parks if you have a plan. My wife and I are planners and we like to plan a lot before we go on a Disney holiday.  Putting together our plan has become an essential part of the build up to our holiday and we really enjoy it. We will plan what days we will go to certain parks, book dining reservations, have a rough idea on times of parades / shows to ensure we fit them in and know which rides have busier queues later in the day to ensure we do them as soon as the park opens (looking at queue times on the Disneyland Paris app was useful in gauging this information). We will occasionally deviate from the plan or change our mind, but generally we stick with the spine of our plan and as a result we usually get to do all the attractions, shows and dining reservations  we want to do during our stay. It is especially important to plan if you are visiting during the peak season. If you don’t do this it’s likely you will miss out on some the things you want to do. There are lots of planning resources online. I recommend dlpguide.com,  thedibb.co.uk and Krispy Smore.

2. Character Dining

Even when visiting Disneyland Paris during the off season the opportunity to meet Disney characters and have your photo taken is a big draw, and as a result the queues can become very lengthy. A good way to see lots of characters without queuing is to book a character meal. Disneyland Paris currently offer a character breakfast at Plaza Gardens, a character lunch at Inventions (in the Disneyland Hotel) and Princess meal at Auberge De Cendrillon. We recently had lunch at Inventions and had the opportunity to meet five different characters during our meal (Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Pluto and Rabbit). We also ate at Auberge De Cendrillon and met three different princesses (and the mice Suzy and Perla from Cinderella). Each character will spend roughly 2–3 minutes at your table, pose for photos and interact with you. Whilst character dining isn’t cheap, it’s a sure fire way to meet lots of characters without the queues.

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3. Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours / Fastpass

If you are staying onsite at a Disney Hotel you can take advantage of extra magic hours at Disneyland Park. Between 8am and 10am (when the park officially opens) hotel guest can enjoy a selection of rides in Fantasyland and Discoveryland. This includes Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo and Buzz lightyear laser blast, all which get lengthy queues later in the day so it’s a good opportunity to experience these attractions before they have long queues. Some of the parks character meet and greets also open during this time.

All ticket holders can take advantage of fastpass on selected rides in both parks. Fastpass allows you to obtain a ticket for an attraction with a return time (a window of 30 minutes). So you simply return to the attraction at that time and join the fastpass queue, which usually means you are on the ride very quickly. You can only have one fastpass at any one time, so you can’t get another until your other fastpass return time (or two hours later).This is a great way to beat the queues and gives everyone a fair chance to experience the headline attraction.

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4. Book restaurant reservations in advance.

Disneyland Paris allows you to book table or buffet restaurant reservations 60 days before your travel date. This is essential if you want to ensure a table at particular restaurants during your trip, especially character meals and fine dining experiences (such as Walt’s). One of the best restaurants at the resort is Bistrot Chez Remy, which does a wonderful steak (and Ratatouille…!) and as a result is very popular..  If you don’t book then be prepared to be disappointed.

5. Take snacks / Brings waters bottles

If travelling with children take plenty of snacks (healthy and non-healthy). Queues are a reality of any theme park trip, but children aren’t always able to rationalise this and can become bored. This is where a nice snack comes to the rescue and can prevent a meltdown. Another tip (and this one will also help you save some money) is to carry some empty water bottles with you. Throughout the park there are drinking fountains which you can use to fill up your bottle with.

6. Baby Switch

Have you ever been to a theme park where there is an attraction that is not suitable for your child due to height requirements or the tone of the attraction, but you still wish to experience them? Disney have this covered with baby switch. Basically Disney will swap your child for another child who is able to ride with you…. I’m joking of course! All you have to do is speak to the cast member at the entrance of queue about baby switch. One adult joins the queue for the ride (say Big Thunder Mountain for example) whilst the other adult stays with your child at the ride exit or another designated point. Once the first adult has experienced the attraction, the second adult is allowed to bypass the queue and experience the ride straight away. This means as a family you only have to queue the once. We’ve found this worked really well when we used it a couple years ago.

7. Parade / Firework Spot

Two the highlights of any trip to Disneyland Paris is the afternoon parade and the night-time firework show (currently Disney’s Illuminations). Both are extremely popular and result in big crowds along the parade route and in front of the castle. To get the best spot for your children I would suggest finding a spot at least 30 minutes before the parade or fireworks start. If not, you might find your child can’t see as much as they would like. For the fireworks in particular, I recommend a spot in central plaza against the barrier around the flowerbeds. This area is slightly elevated and as you have a flowerbed in front of you rather than a 6ft man with his child on his shoulders, it gives you the perfect view of the castle to enjoy the spectacular night time show.

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8. Remember Disneyland is more than attractions.

Don’t get me wrong, attractions are the main draw for any visit to a theme park, but what sets Disney parks apart from other theme parks is the sheer amount of detail in the theming including some beautiful green spaces and waterways, not to mention a great soundtrack to all of the different lands. Sometimes it’s nice to take your time to look at all the details and take in the atmosphere. I love taking a stroll down Main Street USA looking at the details of all the buildings, with the smell from the bakery, and if you listen closely you can hear some of the inhabitants of Main Street from inside the buildings. Adventureland has a pirate area called Adventure Isle, with caves and waterfalls, which is also very atmospheric and a great place to explore. Disneyland Park in places has the feel of a Victorian style Park and you could have a fantastic day exploring without experiencing any attractions.

9. Experience attractions during parades.

Here’s another tip to help you beat the queues. If you have already seen the afternoon parade once during your trip and don’t wish to watch it again, then I recommend you use this time to experience some attractions. The parade is very popular and as a result wait times usually shrink during the 30 minutes the parade is making its way through the park. We even managed to watch the parade near it’s starting point in Fantasyland and then took a quick walk to Discoveryland to experience Buzz Lightyear Laser blast with no queue.

10. Disney Express Service

For me the quickest and easiest way to travel to Disneyland Paris from the UK is by catching the Eurostar train direct to Marne La Valle station which is in the heart of the resort and literally a 5 minute walk to the Parks. If you are staying onsite at a Disney Hotel you have the option to purchase the Disney express service to make you journey to the magic even quicker. Disney Staff are present on the train (or at the station in the case of Ashford International) and provide you with your hotel documents, park tickets and any meal vouchers before you arrive. When you arrive at Marne La Valle station you simply drop your luggage off at the Disney express desk who then transport your luggage to your hotel. This means you can head straight to the parks and start your holiday straight away. You then collect your luggage at your hotel later in the day and complete your check in. On your return journey you drop your luggage off at your hotel as you check out in the morning meaning you can experience the parks before your train journey home. Your luggage is taken to Marne La Valle station and you simply collect it there before you catch your train home. This service really saves time and means you can spend more time in the parks the day you arrive and the day you depart.

REVIEW – Wingham Wildlife Park

We were lucky enough to be given tickets to Wingham Wildlife Park, near Canterbury in Kent, from a friend who had won them in a competition. Since she was 6 months old our daughter has always loved seeing animals and was able to name many of them from a young age. Even now she likes to sit down and look at our animal encyclopaedia and ask about different animals, so naturally we jumped at the opportunity to visit Wingham Wildlife Park.

Wingham Wildlife Park opened in 1986 with a small collection of aviary birds, and over the years more and more animals were added to the park. In February 2008 the park ownership changed hands, with the following 3 years seeing the collection grow by almost 100 new species, including numerous animals which are of high conservation interest. We noticed that some of the animals who had been rescued from circus’ (such as the parks two lions) and animal testing laboratories.

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There are fun photo opportunities throughout the park

We have been to a several zoos / wildlife parks over the past two years and generally have mixed feelings. The places with smaller animals (such as Drusilla’s in Sussex) seem much better in terms of animal welfare, than those with bigger animals. I imagine it’s easier to recreate the natural habitat of a small animal, than something as big as Tiger, but I don’t proclaim to be an expert on the subject.

Wingham is in the same area of Kent as the nationally renowned Apsinall Foundation’s parks Howlett’s and Port Lympne, who are known for their strong focus on conservation, so it’s not surprising that until recent years we had not heard of Wingham before. Recently however we had heard through word of mouth that the park was very good and worth a visit with young children.

The park is medium sized and was very clean throughout. All staff we came across were very friendly and welcoming. There is a large variety of animals on display from reptiles, otters, parrots, primates, big cats and wolves. For the majority of the animals the enclosures seemed a decent enough size. The primates including the lemurs all look in good condition and generally happy with their surroundings. You could also get close enough to the animals to really have a good look at them. We particularly enjoyed looking at the chimps who Wingham Wildlife Park rescued from medical laboratories. They had a huge enclosure with indoor and outdoor sections. This did mean that you couldn’t always see them, but this is preferable to seeing them in a small enclosure. It really is fascinating looking at the chimps and it’s no surprise we share 99% DNA with them. There is intelligence in their eyes which you don’t see in other animals.

 

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One of the parks chimps

Wingham is also home to some impressive big cats including two tigers, two lions and two pumas. We really enjoyed looking at them especially the tigers. Our daughter found it amazing how they had similar characteristics to our cat Barnaby but were obviously 5 times bigger! The only issue all day was that two of the big cats (a Tiger and Puma) were pacing in their respective enclosures, which I believe can be a sign of stress. It did make me wonder whether it would be more humane if they were in a much bigger park with more space to roam.

 

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One of two Tigers at the park

A recent addition to the park is a Dinosaur area which includes a large number of animatronic dinosaurs, a sandpit / dig area and some great photo opportunities. We enjoyed walking around this section and reading the different profiles of each species of dinosaur. Let’s face it, kids love Dinosaurs!

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An Iguanodon? Feel free to get your Dinosaur loving toddler to correct me!

Wingham also has a picnic area, so we took our own lunch. Wingham do sell food but we didn’t look at this. Alongside the animals there is also a play area and indoor soft play which our daughter enjoyed charging around for 30 minutes whilst we had a rest.

Overall we enjoyed our time at Wingham Wildlife Park, it’s a nice sized wildlife park ideal for young children, especially with the soft play and Dinosaur area, but our day was slightly tainted by the sight of two of the big cats pacing. The owners of the park are obviously coming from a good place as the cats physical welfare wasn’t an issue. There is a large emphasis on conservation and rescuing animals from inhumane environments, which I can’t fault but I do wonder whether animals such as big cats should be in a larger environment.

 

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The most feroscious dinosaur we came across

REVIEW – Star Wars Identities – The O2

Star Wars identities is an interactive exhibition currently at The O2 in London showcasing props, models and concept art from everyone’s favourite space opera. Alongside the many items on show, there are interactive and educational elements around how different experiences (or forces) help shape our psychological and social makeup and how this influences the different paths we go down throughout our life.

At the start of the experience you are given a headset and a wrist band, which is used with the various interactive elements throughout the exhibition. In a nutshell, when you walk toward specific exhibits there is a commentary which plays through the headset providing you with interesting information on what you are looking at. It is also used when viewing some of the many video screens throughout the exhibition. The wrist band is used in conjunction with some of the interactive elements and stores information on the choices you make. This information is used to create your own personalised Star Wars identity, which you get to see at the end of exhibition. This technology was faultless throughout the time we spent in the exhibition and it really added another level of detail to the experience.

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Some of the costumes on display

 As a big fan of the Star Wars saga (especially the original trilogy) the main draw for me was the 200+ props on show which were predominantly from the first six films with a few items from The Force Awakens. The collection is seriously impressive with costumes from all your favourite (and not so favourite) characters including Luke, Han, Chewie, R2D2 and of course the imposing Darth Vader. The exhibition is well lit which adds to the experience. For me the most notable display was the spacecraft models which were displayed in a long glass cabinet with lights to represent laser guns with sound effects.  It was fascinating looking at the shear amount of detail on each model whether it’s be an X-Wing, Tie Fighter or Star Destroyer. It made me mourn the fact that these are now created in a computer rather than the handy worker of a master craftsman.

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Some of the models used in the Star Wars Saga

 The concept art on display provides a fascinating look at the evolution of characters from sketch to the final film. For example, Jabba the Hutt started life as a space pirate and early sketches of Yoda are more akin to a garden gnome than the green skinned Jedi master we have come to love. I also enjoyed looking at the art work created by Ralph McQuarrie and would loved to have purchased some prints of some of art on display.

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Some more costumes including everyone’s favourite Wookie

The interactive and educational elements add some welcome depth beyond the props on display. They cleverly use Anakin and Luke’s stories to compare how different or similar experiences influence and shape our identity, and the decisions we make in life. You are asked to make your own choices throughout the exhibition and at the end you are presented with your own character biography and a nice image of what you would like as a part of the Star Wars saga. I was delighted to be a lightsaber wielding Wookie Jedi! Whilst I found this very interesting and applaud the overall message about celebrating our differences (and we really do need to reinforce this message these days) I did find some of the educational style videos a little dull near the end of the exhibition having watched a large number of them.

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The imposing Darth Vader or as Luke likes to call him ‘Dad’.

The experience took around 90 minutes to complete, but you could probably spend longer if you were to study every item. Given the sheer amount of objects on display, I cannot imagine any Star Wars fan coming away disappointed. I particularly enjoyed looking at the concept art on display and the models. You really appreciate the amount of creativity and artistry that goes into making a film like Star Wars and indeed the Star Wars universe as a whole. Whilst I still think the props are the main attraction, the interactive elements are thought provoking enough and you leave with a positive message that whether you are from Tatooine, Hoth, Endor or indeed Earth, our differences are something we should embrace and celebrate rather than fear. To quote Master Yoda ‘Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering’.

Star Wars Identities is at the O2, London until 3rd September 2017

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Un voyage à Disneyland Paris – Day 5

We set our alarm for 7am and did some last minute packing, and then dropped our bags at the Disney Express luggage room at our hotel. We had our last breakfast in the hotel and then said goodbye to Hotel Cheyenne as we made our way to Disneyland Park for our last morning in the Parks before our train back to Ashford International at 4.55pm.

As we arrived we made our way to Buzz lightyear laser blast for one final battle, which Mrs Geeky Dad won by a huge margin, making the score 2 – 2. We then went over to Fantasyland and rode the carousel and It’s a Small World. It was then that our little lady said she wanted to go on Phantom Manor. We were all apprehensive about this as she really didn’t like it last time, but she even said she would keep her eyes open throughout the attraction, so we decided to take a gamble. Now knowing what to expect, she really enjoyed the trip through the Manor and even found the laughing Phantom funny. I was really pleased she enjoyed it the second time as this is one of our favourite attractions.

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Thrashed

It was now lunch time, so we headed over to the Cowboy Cookout for a final meal in the park. We all had either the BBQ ribs or BBQ chicken followed by a chocolate brownie or pecan pie. All of the food was lovely and probably the best counter service food we ate in the parks during this trip. There was also a country and western band playing in the restaurant which added to the atmosphere. With only a couple hours left to spend in the park we walked over to Discoveryland and did Autopia one last time. Our little lady really wanted to drive the car, so she had the steering wheel whilst I controlled the accelerator. By now we only really had time for one last attraction, so we decided to finish as we started the trip with one last ride through It’s a Small World.

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Outside Autopia

Feeling a little blue about our holiday ending (although ready for a few days rest), we took a slow stroll down Main Street USA, turned around and took one last look at the castle and said goodbye.

We spent about an hour in Disney Village buying some last minute gifts in World of Disney and spent some time in the Lego Store where our little lady designed her own minifigures which we brought. We then went to the Earl of Sandwich and brought some food for the journey home. We love the sandwiches here as they remind us of our honeymoon at Walt Disney World. I ordered the Hawaiian and Mrs Geeky Dad had Le Frenchy.  

We arrived at Marne La Valle train station an hour before our train departure and there was already a long queue. Apparently the incoming train was late, therefore passengers weren’t allowed down on the international platform. Once the train arrived the queue started moving, we were soon through security and on the train which departed about 30 minutes late. The journey to Ashford International was very quick (we only arrived 5 minutes late so the train clearly made up some time) and we were through passport control in time to catch our train home.

We all had a fantastic trip and we have already booked another trip back in June. We have really fallen in love with Disneyland Paris, no it’s not Walt Disney World, but it has it’s own charms and we can’t wait to get back.

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Un voyage à Disneyland Paris – Day 4

By this point of our trip we had ticked off the vast majority of attractions and experiences we wanted to do, so we had planned a more relaxed day in the Park revisiting some of our favourites. We also had a lunch reservation at Inventions which were all looking forward to. We went through our now familiar breakfast routine and arrived at Disneyland Park during extra magic hours.

We started off with Peter Pan’s Flight which we all enjoyed for a second time, we then went on Sir Lancelot’s carousel. Our little lady said she did not want to go on a horse so sat in the carriage with my Mum until the ride was about to start, then she changed her mind. By now it was too late and she spent most of the ride in tears! As there was only a short queue Mrs Geeky Dad took her back on the carousel and this time she had a horse which she loved. As there was no queue at all for Snow Whites Scary Adventures Mum and I decided to quickly go on it. We had already decided that our little lady would not go on this as last year she found it really scary. It’s a shame it’s so scary for smaller children.

Once our little lady had bravely ridden her horse we headed over to Adventureland in time to meet a character from the Jungle Book. I was hoping it would be Balloo (my favourite as a child) but it was the Jungle VIP himself, King Louie. After some great character interaction and photo with the king of the swingers we spotted that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril had a 5 minute wait, so Mrs Geeky Dad and I rode it just to tick it off our list of attraction we’d never done before. This is a very basic wild mouse style coaster with a one loop and some basic temple theming but it was fun enough, although I’m not sure I’d want to queue a long time to ride it.

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Meeting King Louie

We had a quick look at some of the shops in Advenuteland and wander through the Aladdin walkthrough attraction and then decided to ride Phantom Manor again. We asked our little lady what she wanted to do and she said she would ride it tomorrow, so my Mum agreed to take her on It’s a Small World whilst we went and said hello to the grim grinning ghosts in the manor hour.

Once we had all met up it was now 12.00 and our lunch reservation was 12.30, so we decided to take a slow walk to the Disneyland Hotel. It was the first time I had been in this particular hotel and I was really impressed. The whole interior was very Victorian and incredibly posh. It didn’t feel right being there in typical theme park clothes but everyone else was so we didn’t feel out of place. We made out way to Inventions and were seated in room with a castle view, we really couldn’t have had a better seat in the restaurant. For those who have not been to Inventions before, it is an upmarket character buffet. The selection of food is incredible, there are a number of interesting salads (including one with quails eggs), fresh seafood, beef medallions, curried chicken, pasta dishes. There was so much food and I happily had three plates worth before sampling many of small desserts on offer. The desserts included small cakes, pecan pie, meringue and lots of sweets too. Needless to say we all made the most of the buffet and were suitably stuffed. The food was first class and probably the best meal we’ve ever had at Disneyland Paris, and that’s before I’ve even mentioned the character interactions. We were lucky to have 5 different characters come to our table to interact with our little lady, sign our autograph book and post for photos. Each spent about 3 minutes with us and it was a really good way to meet a lot of characters in a short space of time, especially as we got to meet some of the big names. We met Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Pluto and Rabbit (from Winnie the Pooh) and all of them were equally brilliant and interacting with our little lady. We all had a fantastic time at Inventions. It is not a cheap meal, but the food is fantastic and the character interactions were great. If able to afford it, we will almost certainly try and get a reservation during any future trip.

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Meeting Minnie at Inventions

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Meeting Mickey at Inventions

Upon leaving the Disneyland Hotel, we noticed drizzle in the air, which soon turned to torrential rain. Not wanting to get soaking wet we decided to catch the Disneyland Railroad train from Main Street Station, hoping that a leisurely train ride around the park would be long enough for the rain to pass. We always like to do the train when we go to Disneyland as it an important part of all Disney parks history and is a direct link to Walt Disney’s legacy. It’s also an opportunity to see some added theming for each of the lands that you can’t really see otherwise. Unfortunately it was still raining heavily when we arrived back at Main Street Station, so we decided to go in to some of the shops on Main Street to keep dry at which point we bumped into Goofy at a meet and great with an umbrella and no one in queue. Seizing the opportunity our little lady had a great photo with Goofy and then we darted back into the shops to get out of the rain.

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Goofy in the rain

The rain had eased up a little so we decided to walk over to Discoveryland to see if Star Tours was open, which it was with a 5 minute queue, however our little lady and Mum weren’t keen to re-ride it, so they found somewhere dry to sit and Mrs Geeky Dad and I went on another adventure to a Galaxy Far Far Away. This time we were taken on a trip to Hoth and Naboo. Once again the ride was fantastic and we both agreed that Naboo was our favourite so far (despite being one of my least favourite locations in the films). I was also chosen to be the rebel spy, with my gormless photo popping up on the screen at the start, which I’m assuming was taken just after I belted up!

With it still raining we had a quick walk over to It’s a Small World as it was another longish ride that would keep us out the rain. After another 15 minutes of mental torture visiting the happy and singing children of the world, we were saddened to see that the rain had got worse. The park had visibly emptied and there were really not that many people around. We decided to have a look inside Sleepy Beauty’s castle with it’s stained glass windows and tapestry’s telling the story of Sleeping Beauty. By then the rain had died down a little just in time for Magic in Parade, which we watched for the second time this trip, the highlight this time being Eeyore who came up to our little lady and have her a great big hug!

Feeling a little damp and chilly we stopped off at the Cable Street bakeshop to dry off and have a hot chocolate (Disneyland Paris do very nice hot chocolate). Having dried off a little we spent a decent amount of time browsing the many sweet delights of the Boardwalk Candy Palace, purchasing some gifts for some of our friends and family and some snacks to eat there and then including some fudge, a marshmallow Mickey head and meringue Mickey heads.

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Mickey marshmallow

With sugar pulsing through our veins we were ready for another attraction so decided to go on Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast for the first time this holiday. This time I was victorious and was happy to win the best of three with Mrs Geeky Dad.

Once again the rain was very heavy, so we took some time out and rested in Café Hyperion watching some episodes of Star Wars rebels on the big screen and eating some snacks. It was now an hour until Dreams which we had planned to stay for as it was our last night, however the rain was so heavy that none of us really felt like standing in it for the duration of Dreams, therefore we decided to head back to the hotel, so we had time to pack our bags for our journey home the next day.

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Disneyland Hotel at night

Un voyage à Disneyland Paris – Day 3

Following our breakfast routine (two croissants with ham and cheese and three pain au chocolat!) we set off a little later this morning as Walt Disney Studio’s Park does not officially open until 10am. We arrived at the Disney Village area at 9am and had browse in the massive World of Disney Store. We then decided to queue at 9.30 to get into the Park for opening so we could do the Ratatouille ride before the queues got too long.

Once in the park we joined the queue for Ratatouille and within 7 minutes we were on the ride. I really liked the queue area for this ride especially a section where you feel like you our outside in a Parisian suburb. The ride system is combination of a dark ride and 3D screens including smells, water and temperature effects. The general story is that you are a rat and you are being chased through the restaurants kitchen. As a family we all really enjoyed this ride. For me it doesn’t quite work as well as similar rides I’ve been on (such as Spiderman at Universal) but it’s still very very fun.

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Ratatouille Area of the Park

We then got some Fast Passes for Tower of Terror, with a 30 minute wait until we could use them we decided to go on the Magic Carpets which had only a 5 minute wait. By now our little lady had become accustomed to flying in the air, so she was quite happy for the Magic Carpet to be in the air at all times. We still had a few minutes spare so we decided to take some photos at the Monster Inc. photo spot in the park until it was time for our reservation at the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

Whilst tall enough to ride Tower of Terror, we knew that this ride would be too dark and too thrilling for our little lady to do, so I initially went on the ride with my Mum and then got the benefit of going on it a second time with Mrs Geeky Dad. I absolutely love this ride from the queue theming (the library and boiler room), to the story and special effects, and not forgetting the awesome drops. For me this is the best ride in Walt Disney Studios and is a Disney classic. As a fan of the Twilight Zone I really hope they don’t retheme it like they have in California, although I appreciate that the Twilight Zone is probably not well known these days.

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The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

It was now 30 minutes until a showing of Mickey and Magician Show, so we joined the queue and were seated 10 minutes before the show started. We were second row (we could have sat front row but I decided against it due to my fear of audience participation, mainly due to being regularly picked when sat on the end of rows or in the front row of shows!). This show is absolutely fantastic. The basic premise is Mickey Mouse is tidying up a Magicians room and coming across magical artefacts which leads to interaction with classic Disney characters and Disney songs including the Circle of Life, Let it Go and Friend Like Me. I don’t want to spoil the show by giving away any more details but needless to say the combination of special effects, magic tricks and live music makes this a must see show.

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Mickey and Magician

It was now lunch time, so we headed over to Restaurant Des Stars, but with a 30 minute wait for a table we decided to eat at Restaurant En Coulisse in Studio 1. I had the Darth Vader Burger with Yoda Cupcake which again was very nice. Feeling stuffed we decided to let our meal go down by seeing Cinemagique. The film starts as a showcase of the history of cinema until a ‘member of the audience’ is literally taken into the cinema screen and we view his adventures through the history of film, including some very clever special effects.  I absolutely love this simple, but really effective show and I was sad to learn that it is now closed and is due to be replaced in 2018. As a movie buff and someone interested in the history of cinema, I think it such a shame that they’ve decided to replace the show. It is the kind of attraction that only Disney do and whilst I understand it may not appeal to everyone and a more modern show (perhaps involving Marvel characters) maybe more popular I will miss this attraction next time with visit.

After Cinemagique my Mum kindly agreed to take our little lady to see the Disney Junior show (which we saw the previous year) whilst Mrs Geeky Dad and I went on Rock N Roller Coaster. Our little lady really enjoyed the Disney Junior show again, although there are some characters in it she is not familiar with, (they really need to update this attraction) there is enough Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to please her. I imagine next year she will be too old for this attraction. As for Rock N Roller Coaster, we both enjoyed this ride especially the launch at the start. It’s a very fun coaster but both of us felt a little shaken afterwards. Could it be I’m finally getting told old for these kind of rides?!

As Rock N Roller Coaster had no queue we were on and off it within 5 minutes, so we decided to find a spot and wait for the Disney Junior show to end. Once we had met up with our little lady and my Mum, we spotted two Stormtroopers (First Order ones) meeting guests in the Front Lot area of the Park. This was a part of Walt Disney Studio’s Season of the Force, a celebration of all things Stars Wars. Both Stormtroopers spoke French and English and said basic commands ‘come forward’ and ‘move along’. Our little lady and I managed to get a good photo with them and I’m not afraid to admit that I was as excited as she was! (if only they knew I was the rebel spy…)

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Another part of Season of the Force was a show called Star Wars A Galaxy Far Far Away, this was a short stage show involving characters on stage and video clips from the films. The only English language showing that day was due on in 30 minutes, so we decided to have a look in the Art of Animation building to kill sometime when we spotted a short queue to meet Pluto in the Toon Studios area of the park. After 10 minutes we were second from the front of the queue when the cast member told us that Pluto needed a drink and would be back in 2 minutes, however 30 minutes later Pluto never returned. We were all really unhappy with this. All it would have taken is for the cast member to come out and explain that Pluto would not be back after all, but we got nothing. This simply is not the standard I expect from a Disney Park. The Star Wars A Galaxy Far Far Away was also cancelled due to the technical difficulties, but at least they told us this.

Feeling peckish and in need of a sit down, we decided to get a snack from Studio 1. I had a large chocolate pretzel which is was very tasty and possibly my favourite snack of the trip. We still had a couple hours from Star Wars A Galactic Celebration night time show so decided to a few of the smaller attractions. We went on the small Cars themed ride, which was similar to the teacups and the Slinky Dog ride in the Toy Story Playland area of the park and another quick ride on the Magic Carpets. We then saw that Ratatouille only had a 20 minutes wait so went on that again. By now it was dark and we decided to have a walk around the park with all the attractions and areas lit up. Walt Disney Studio’s is often described as the ugliest of all Disney Parks (more on this later) but at night with it was really quite pretty, especially the Parisian Area and the Tower of Terror.

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Nutella Pretzal

It was soon 8.15pm and time for Star Wars A Galactic Celebration this show was a combination of video clips, characters on stage, projections on the Tower of Terror and some pyrotechnics. Being a big Star Wars fan I really enjoyed the show and how it encapsulated the spirit of the Star Wars saga. Some of the projections on Tower of Terror were very clever and innovative using the structure of the Tower of Terror to create buildings and scenes. It’s such a shame that this show does not take place all year round as Walt Disney Studios desperately needs more entertainment during the evening and what better way to end a Disney day than a night time show.

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Star Wars A Galactic Celebration

Feeling tired we headed straight back to the hotel and our little lady was soon fast asleep. With my Mum happy to stay in and rest, Mrs Geeky Dad and I went to the Garter Saloon for a couple beers. That evening there was a country band playing music in the bar which added to the atmosphere of the bar. After our second drink we headed back to our room to get enough sleep for another day at Disneyland Park.

To conclude I wanted to comment on Walt Disney Studios as a park. As most Disney fans know this park is the ugly stepchild of all Disney Parks. It first opened around 2002 at a time when Disney was opening ‘cheaper’ parks (Disney’s California Adventure & Hong Kong Disneyland also opened in this period). It quickly became apparent that none of these parks met the publics expectations of what a Disney park should be and both Disney’s California Adventure & Hong Kong Disnelyland have had billions pumped into them to bring them up to standard. Alas, poor old Walt Disney Studios has yet to see the same amount of investment (although this could change if the Walt Disney Company are to take full control of Disneyland Paris resort). There is nothing wrong with the attractions at the park, whether it be the rides or shows. All meet the standard of theming and quality you would expect from Disney, except there aren’t enough of them. We really struggled to fill the time between 5pm and the evening entertainment at 8.15pm. The real problem with Walt Disney Studios is how it looks. It’s simply a series of studio style buildings spread throughout a vast expanse of concrete. Sure the theming of Studio 1 when you enter the park is great, the Tower of Terror looks imposing as it should and the Ratatouille area if the Park is a great example of how imagineers can get it right, but overall the park is ugly (although better looking at night). I also question whether the ‘Studio style theming’ is a bit old fashioned now. Sure it worked in the 90s but it really doesn’t make much sense when the park isn’t a real film studio. Why take a backlot tour of a fictional backlot?

In my opinion Disney need to bite the bullet and completely retheme the park in my opinion. There’s nothing wrong with it being a park celebrating the movies but make it a park that has specific areas themed around different studios and property’s they own. The rides based on Pixar films are all in the same end of the park so why not make that Pixar Place.  Perhaps use the left hand side of the park to make a Marvel area (it wouldn’t take too much to retheme rock n roller coaster into a Marvel ride, just don’t touch my beloved Tower of Terror), and of course there’s Star Wars, Walt Disney Studios, Disney Junior etc. so plenty of options. If they removed the backlot tour there would be plenty of room to make Walt Disney Studio’s a great park with plenty of attraction for a full day. Don’t get me wrong Walt Disney Studio’s is still probably a better day out than any theme park in the UK, but it could be so much better and Disney know it.

Un voyage à Disneyland Paris – Day 2

We set our alarm for 6.30am and made it to the Chuck Wagon Café at around 7.15am for our buffet breakfast. Breakfast was included with our hotel reservation, but from the end of March hotel guests will have to pay for their breakfast. Whilst we were there the food was your typical continental style breakfast with pastries, breads, meat, cheeses and cereal. This was fine for us and a good way to prepare for a day in the parks, but I’m not sure I’d want to pay extra for it unless they added hot food including pancakes and Mickey Waffles etc.

 

After eating around five croissants and pain au chocolat’s we caught the bus to Disneyland Park. The bus service at Hotel Cheyenne is very good and we never waiting more that 5 minutes for a bus to arrive. The journey is about 5 minutes.  We arrived at Disneyland Park around 8.30am during extra magic hours (for hotel guests only) and went straight to Peter Pan’s Flight which was showing a wait time of 15 minutes. After the short wait we boarded our pirate ship and flew over the street of London to Neverland and back again. Last year this attraction was closed due to refurbishment, so we were keen to do it and it was worth the wait. The attraction looked stunning and we really did feel like we were flying. This became a family favourite for us all this trip.

Excited from our trip to Neverland decided that we quite liked flying so we walked over to Dumbo the flying elephant and after a 20 minute wait we were flying again, this time on an elephant! Last year our little lady was afraid to do Dumbo due to it going high in the air and she still was a little anxious at first, but once we were up high she didn’t want to come down again. Following this, we went on Sir Lancelot’s Carousel and then went on The Pinocchio dark ride, which is surprisingly dark and sinister (cigar smoking kids turning into donkeys plays on the mind!), but being that bit older our little lady did not mind this.

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Dumbo the flying elephant

After experiencing four Fantasyland attractions in a relatively short time, it was now 9.30am and we still had another 30 minutes until the rest of the park opened (only selected attractions in Fantasyland and Discoveryland are open during this time). Our plan was to get a Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain as soon as Frontierland opened. Being mindful that our lunch reservation was not until 2.30pm, we decided to go to the Cable Car Bakeshop and have a snack to keep us going. I had a Nutella muffin, Mrs Geeky Dad had a blueberry muffin and my Mum and our little lady had a doughnut. We were all very happy with our choices and we enjoyed the décor and theming inside the shop.

At 10am we strolled over to Frontierland which had just opened and attempted to get a fast pass for Big Thunder Mountain but were told they were available from 11am. We decided to have a look around Adventureland where we saw The Genie from Aladdin at a meet and greet which had just opened. We waited a few minutes and then met The Genie. He was great at interacting with our little lady including hugs and high fives. Our little lady asked The Genie to sign our autograph book which he of course did and we then posed for some great photos. We then decided to take a look at the Swiss Family Tree House, which was looking clean and recently refurbished. Whilst not the most interesting attraction, it’s little things like the treehouse that make Disney stand out from the rest. Again the theming was great including waterfalls and of course the great views of the rest of the park from the top of the treehouse.

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The Genie

It was now around 10.45am and I decided to queue up or our fastpasses whilst the others had a browse in the shop in Frontierland. I managed to get a fastpass return time of 12pm. I met up with our little lady who had been treated to not one, but three Aristocat plush toys (Marie, Toulouse and Berlioz), which came as a set. Our little lady remembered them from last year and wanted them to go with her plush Figaro (the cat in Pinocchio) which she got last year. We had a quick look at the park schedule to see what we could do before our fastpass time and noticed that Woody from Toy Story was doing a character meet and greet in Frontierland so we found him near the Cowboy Cookout BBQ restaurant and joined the queue to meet him. After a 40 minute wait, which actually went quite quickly as we watched the fun interactions Woody was having with everyone, we met Woody for a photograph and of course got his signature in our autograph book.

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Meeting Woody

It was now time for the newly refurbished Big Thunder Mountain. We had made the decision that despite being over the height requirement our little lady would likely find this attraction too intense, so my Mum took her on It’s a Small World whilst we used our fastpass tickets. We went straight to the front of the line and were on wildest ride in the west within minutes. My initial thoughts were how much more intense the ride is compared to the Big Thunder Mountain at WDW, which for me made it a much better ride. Sure its still pretty tame compared to some rollercoasters but the sections in the dark parts underneath the rivers of the Far West were pretty intense. The whole ride including the mountain itself and the splash down looked fantastic, and the dynamite explosion at the rides finale added a little extra spark (pun intended) to the ride. After the ride we met up with our little lady and Mum, and we went over to Discoveryland to see if Stars Tours the Adventure Continues was soft opening (the ride wasn’t officially meant to open until after our trip but we saw it had been open on our first day). We were in luck and with only a 15 minute wait we decided to go on a trip to a galaxy far far away. 

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Big Thunder Mountain

The newly refurbished queue area was fantastic, with both C3PO and R2D2 present, and other droids including one who was in charge of scanning luggage. On the screen we were able to see inside the luggage, and there were often little jokes to look out for. For example, in one piece of luggage there was the silhouette of Buzz Lightyear and in another Chip and Dale. Mrs Geeky Dad and I were both unsure how our little lady would cope on this ride as she has not really done ‘thrill rides’ before. Once we boarded our Starspeeder, we put on our 3D glasses and were treated to a thrilling trip to Tatooine and Coruscant meeting Princess Leia along the way. The new ride was fantastic, it really felt like you were going through hyperspace and it was a very smooth ride. We all enjoyed it but I don’t think our little lady and Mum were keen to ride it again. As there are different variations each time you ride Star Tours I was keen to ride it again and hoped it would be open on other days during our trip.

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The Luggage Scanner Droid – Star Tours

We had promised our little lady that we would watch the Frozen Sing-a-long show today, and a performance in English was about to start in 20 minutes, so we had a swift walk across the park and took our seats for the show. Our little lady had decided to wear her Elsa dress today because of the show and she loved every minute of it, singing along to the words of all the songs from the film whilst Olaf and Anna danced on stage. Personally I didn’t think too much of the majority of the show (although I’m hardly the target audience), but the finale of ‘Let It Go’ with fake snow falling from the sky as Elsa arrived on stage was fantastic. Watching our little lady as she looked on in awe was quite emotional.

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Frozen Sing-a-long

The show finished at 2.10pm and with us all feeling peckish we were grateful that we only had 20 minutes until our dinner reservation, The Princess Meal at Auberge De Cendrillon.

We arrived at the restaurant and were seated after a short wait. As we walked through the restaurant we caught a glimpse of Ariel and Aurora. Our little lady was very very excited. Once sat at the table we were given ‘The Princes Cocktail’ which was a non-alcoholic fruit drink and fairy nibbles, which were cheesy choux pastry bites. We then ordered all three of our courses from the set menu. For starter Mrs Geeky Dad and I had the prawns in saffron butter, whilst my Mum and our little lady had Pumpkin soup. For main course we had the Veal, our little lady had the chicken  with roast potatoes and my mum had the turbot in champagne sauce.  Then for dessert our little lady had a white chocolate Cinderella slipper with chocolate mouse inside, Mrs Geeky Dad and Mum had mango or passion fruit ice cream in a mini pumpkin and I had the cheese board. We all enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The menu is very French, and overall the food was decent. My only complaint would be that some of our prawns were very mushy which made me paranoid that I’d get sick, but thankfully I didn’t.

Throughout our meal we met Perla and Susy (the mice in Cinderella), Cinderella herself, Aurora with Prince Phillip (no not that one!) and Ariel. Each character spent nearly 5 minutes with our daughter and she had some fantastic interactions. Of course each of them signed our autograph book.

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Meeting Aurora and Prince Phillip

Auberge De Cendrillon is not a cheap place to eat and is probably not worth the price for the food, but at the end of the day you are paying for the interactions with the princesses. Our little lady loved it and we got some great photographs, so to me it was worth the expense. To meet three princesses in the park would probably take at least 4 to 5 hours queuing and even then you would not be guaranteed three different ones. I probably wouldn’t do this experience again in future trips but am pleased we did it this time.

We decided to walk off our dinner by having a look through Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. Last year when we walked through this attraction it looked very faded and in need of some TLC. This year it looked almost brand new. It was brightly painted and all the effects were working. Like the Treehouse this was a pleasant walk through attraction with great views of Fantasyland from the top of the Queen of Hearts castle in the centre of the maze.  We had great fun bumping into characters such as the Cheshire cat and the caterpillar in the maze as music from the animated film played in the background.

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Curiouser and curiouser

As we left the maze it suddenly dawned on Mrs Geeky Dad that we had the left the bag with our little Lady’s new Aristocat plush toys in the restaurant, so we darted back and thankfully they had been handed in. Phew! Little lady and kitties reunited!

It was nearly time for Magic On Parade which started at 5.30pm, but we managed to sneak in another ride through It’s a small world first. We then picked our spot for the parade and waited for it to begin. Our little lady loves this parade. She likes the song and the number of characters that she gets to see, especially those who respond to her waves. The song is amazingly catchy and gets stuck in your head (“Magic everywhere!”). I think we will miss this parade (this was it’s last week) but I look forward to seeing the new 25th anniversary one with the steampunk dragon.

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Magic on Parade

After the parade we walked over to Discoveryland and rode Buzz Lightyear laser blast again. However, this time Mrs Geeky Dad beat me by a considerable amount and admitted that she found a way to get a really high score but she wouldn’t tell me! We then decided to go on Autopia as out little lady quite liked going around in the little car, driving by turning the wheel while I did the gas pedal. As a non-driver I also quite enjoy this ride.

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Autopia

 It was starting to get dark and we were all feeling very tired, so we decided to spend a little time sat in Café Hyperion to have a snack and a sit down. Mrs Geeky Dad and I shared a Darth Vader Burger which is a burger in a mustard sauce in a black bun. We both found it very tasty. It also came with a Yoda cupcake which is chocolate cake with green butter icing on top. It was delicious.

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Darth Vader Burger

 With Dreams due to start in 45 minutes we picked our spot in front of the castle. Mrs Geeky Dad held our spot whilst Mum and I went off to look through some of the shop on Main Street USA. I brought my first Disney Pin of the trip, a Buzz Lightyear laser blast pin. I always collect pins when I go to Disney Parks and I was hoping to buy some more to put in a frame, to go alongside our pins from our WDW honeymoon which are already framed.

After a quick perusal we walked back to our spot and waited 20 minutes for Disney Dream’s to begin. For those who have not seen this magnificent show, it is a combination of fireworks, lasers, fire, water fountains, high quality projection mapping on the castle and music. 

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Sleeping Beauty Castle before Dreams

The story is about Peter Pan’s shadow spilling pixie dust from the magic star on the castle which results in the shadow going through scenes and music from different classic Disney animated films, including The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Brave and of course Peter Pan. There are plenty of familiar songs throughout from both heroes and Villains. It is simply a stunning show and in my mind, the best Disney night time entertainment I’ve ever experienced. My favourite scene features The Genie from Aladdin singing ‘Friend like me’ and doing all sorts of interesting things with the castle including turning it in to a casino. All of us really loved this show. I don’t see how it will be possible for Disneyland Paris to top Disney Dreams but I’m looking forward to seeing the new show in the future.

 Once Dreams finished we made our way out of the park (using the Arcades either side of Main Street as a short cut). Fantasia Gardens outside Disneyland Park looked fantastic at night, with the music and fountains lit up. With our feet aching and tiredness setting in after a busy day, we caught our bus back to the hotel and it wasn’t long before we were all sound asleep.

 

Un voyage à Disneyland Paris – Day 1

For my first blog post I’ve decided to write about our recent trip to Disneyland Paris. I guess I should lay my cards on the table and admit that I LOVE Disney theme parks. Ever since a family holiday with my parents in 1998 to Walt Disney World in Orlando, I have been slightly obsessed. Don’t get me wrong I love going to theme parks in general but there is something special (dare I say magical) about Disney theme parks. For me it’s the attention to detail whether it is the theming of the different areas of the park, the music and even the gardens and waterways.  However doing Disney is not cheap, and I’ve only managed to get back to Walt Disney World once on our honeymoon in 2011.

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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

Until late 2015 I had never really considered visiting Disneyland Paris despite being only a short trip across the English Channel (or an even quicker trip taking the Eurostar from Ashford International, which is only 15 minutes away from us on the train). For me Disney theme parks were not just about the Parks, but about the US of A. Just leaving Orlando airport and being on the freeway felt like I was in the world of the many American movies I love, browsing the different chocolates and sweets in the massive supermarkets (take a traditional chocolate bar and add peanut butter) and of course the great service you get in the USA. How could Disneyland Paris ever compare favourably to this? Especially when you read articles about how poorly maintained the Paris parks were meant to be in comparison to their American and Asian cousins, and reports of poor service (usually based on lazy stereotypes of the French). Nonetheless with our little lady nearly three, Mrs Geeky Dad and I decided to do some research and plan a trip to Disneyland Paris.

Whilst researching we read about the Experience Enhancement programme and how Disneyland Paris were refurbishing many of their attractions and were giving the resort a new lick of paint (and pixie dust). This meant that whilst some attractions would be closed for periods in 2016, the resort was offering good deals to stay on site. With this in mind we decided to book a 4 night stay at the Hotel Cheyenne in March 2016 and we all had a wonderful time. It is not comparable to Walt Disney World, they are two very different resorts namely due to how many theme parks and hotels there are in comparison to each other. Obviously Paris isn’t bathed in sunshine as often at Florida is, but Paris certainly has some aspects which I would say were better than Orlando. For example, Disneyland Park is a much more beautiful park compared to the Magic Kingdom at WDW and some of the classic attractions such as Phantom Manor (Paris’ version of the Haunted Mansion) have their own unique spin which makes them stand out in their own right. Disneyland Paris exceeded our expectations and with more improvements on the horizon and our little lady being a year older we couldn’t resist booking another trip for March 2017.

It’s worth pointing out that this year Disneyland Paris celebrates it’s 25th anniversary and by coincidence we were there the week prior to the celebrations starting, which meant we did not get to see the new parade and night time show, but this didn’t worry us as it meant we got to see the excellent Disney Dreams show for one last time.

Day 1 – Travel Day

We (our little lady, Mrs Geeky Dad and my mum) set off from our home station to Ashford International around 9am, and after the typical Southeastern trains related stress about delayed / cancelled trains we arrived at Ashford International at around 9.35am giving us plenty of time to get through check in and security in time for our 10.58 direct train to Disneyland Paris.

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Ashford International Station

Once through passport control we went to the Disney Express desk and picked up our park tickets and other documentation. The Disney Express service is a paid for optional extra whereby you can get your park tickets and check in documentation at the station or on the Eurostar train, then you simply drop your luggage off at Disney Express Counter at Marne-la-Vallée station and your luggage is taken to your Disney hotel for you to collect later in the day. This gives you the luxury of being able to walk out the station and go straight to the parks which are literally a 5 minute walk away.

Whilst we were waiting for the train my Mum treated us all to a massive pain au chocolat and before we knew it we heard an announcement from Mickey Mouse himself telling us to make our way to the platform as our train was about to arrive. Our train left on time and two hours later we were at Disneyland Paris. Having only been to Disney Parks in Florida prior to 2016, I still find it slightly surreal that I can leave my home in Kent and be in a Disney park within 3 and half hours.

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Pan Au Chocolate

Mrs Geeky Dad and I are both keen planners and in our view you simply do not get the most out of a Disney holiday without a solid plan. We had pre-planned to spend 2 to 3 hours in Disneyland Park to soak up the atmosphere and experience some attractions before having a meal in the Disney Village area of the resort. Then we would head back to our hotel to complete check-in and get an early night in preparation for our week of adventures. Needless to say we kept to our plan.

I do not plan to use this blog to write about current affairs, mainly because I find it all too depressing, but I wanted say how impressed I was with the security at Disneyland Paris. Over the past two years France has been a victim to multiple terrorist atrocities and a place like Disneyland Paris would be an obvious target given how it can be seen a symbol of American / Western culture. Throughout our stay to enter the Disney Village area of the resort and by proxy the entrance to the parks each guest was required to have their bags scanned and walk through a metal detector. This was done quickly, efficiently and with a smile and whilst it is a sad reflection of our world that we need to do this, it certainly made me feel safe knowing that everyone is the Parks has been through security.

As with all trips to Magic Kingdom style parks there is nothing quite like that moment when you enter the park and walk down Main Street USA towards the castle. Not just the breathtaking view of the castle, but the music representing turn of the century America and the smell of freshly baked cakes emanating from the Cable Car Bakeshop. It might sound bizarre considering this area of the park does not have any attractions (unless you include the Main Street vehicles) but it’s my personal favourite. There is just a great atmosphere and so much detail in the design of each building and if you listen closely you can hear the inhabitants of Main Street inside the buildings.  As we walked up Main Street we noticed ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen playing and people gathering to welcome Anna and Elsa on horse drawn carriage. Our little lady became very excited at the sight of two of her favourite princesses and waved enthusiastically as they went by. We then nipped into the emporium to get her some Minnie Mouse ears which she said she wanted.

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Anna and Elsa on Main Street USA

After the obligatory photos in front of the castle we decided to go to Fantasyland and see if we could obtain a fastpass for Peter Pan’s flight. This was a ride which was closed during our trip last year, so we were keen to ride it. Peter Pan’s Flight is notorious for having long queues and the fastpasses for the day had already gone, so we made a note to ensure we did it during Extra Magic hours the following morning before the queues got too long. We then headed over to It’s a Small World, which was our little lady’s favourite ride last year (seriously I went on it over 11 times and still have the mental scars). Once again our little lady loved the ride and kept pointing out different animals and scenes she liked during the attraction. It’s a Small World is saccharine for even the most committed of Disney Fans, but it’s history as an attraction designed for the 1964 New York Word Fair and the fact it’s in all Disney’s Magic Kingdom parks mean it’s a must do each trip and let face it little children love it.

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It’s a small World

Next we took a spin on the teacups at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, and then took a stroll over to Frontierland for a tour of Phantom Manor.  Phantom Manor is probably my favourite attraction at Disneyland Paris (and Haunted Mansion my favourite at WDW). Having been scaredy cat when it came Ghost Trains for the majority of my life in recent years I’ve become a big fan of the macabre and have started reading horror novels and watching horror films from all eras of cinema. I just love the tongue in cheek humour of Phantom Manor and the amount of little details throughout the ride. It’s like taking a tour of old haunted house seen in a Hammer Horror or Roger Corman Poe films, but with a Western spin at the end. The ride fits so well in to the Frontierland land area imposing itself over the rivers of the Far West like a Wild West Bates Motel. Last year Mrs Geeky Dad and I had to ride this on our own as our little lady was too young, however I told her about the friendly spooks before this trip and showed her a video of the attraction on youtube and she was adamant that she wanted to ride it to meet ‘the friendly ghosts’. She was adamant to go on it all the way through the queue until the point of no return when were ‘locked’ in the stretching room and the lights went out. At this point she started to say she wanted to get out, but we managed to calm her down and she got through the ride albeit with her head buried in Mrs Geeky Dad’s shoulder. Despite her less than happy experience she kept saying she would like to do it again during the holiday, although we weren’t sure this would be a good idea.

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The Imposing Phantom Manor

After the spooky delights of Phantom Manor, we had time for at least one more attraction so strolled over to Discoveryland for Buzz Lightyear Laser blast which is a dark ride and with targets to shoot and at the end of the ride you are given a final score. On this occasion I was victorious with the highest score of all family members, but was this to be the case for the rest of the trip? Either way at this point it was 1 nil to me!

Feeling tired and hungry after a day of travel, we decided to say goodbye to Disneyland Park and head to the Rainforest Café in Disney Village. We had read mixed reviews of this restaurant but decided to give it a try as we thought the rainforest atmosphere and animatronic animal might make it a fun experience. We were not disappointed by the atmosphere and our little loved watching the animatronic elephants moving every few minutes. Mrs Geeky Dad and I toasted the holiday with a cold pint of Kronenberg and then we are ordered our main courses. Mum and I both had the Planet Earth pasta which was delicious and plentiful. Mrs Geeky Dad had beef fajitas. I don’t recall what our little lady had but I do remember she had a Haribo Ice cream for desert with gummy bears in plastic stick. For our dessert we ordered the Volcano, which is a chocolate brownie volcano with ice cream inside and smothered in cream on top including sparklers when it was brought to our table. Given the size of the dessert we shared it but still left a decent amount. We were seriously stuffed.

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The Volcano dessert at Rainforest Cafe

Deciding against catching the bus we decided to walk our dinner off and have a slow stroll back to Hotel Cheyenne where we would be staying for the duration of our trip. After checking in and collecting our luggage, we quickly unpacked and then did bed time routine with our little lady. When we booked our hotel rooms we specifically requested adjoining rooms so my mum could look after our daughter if we wanted to go out in the evening. We had initially planned to get the bus to the Disneyland Hotel and have a cocktail at Café Fantasia, but it was now past 8.30pm and it was likely that the bar would be busy due Disneyland Park closing around the same time, therefore we decided to stay local.

Hotel Cheyenne is themed around the Wild West and all buildings and the décor of the rooms fit in well with this theme. We stayed in the Butch Cassidy building. The hotel is currently undergoing major refurbishments and at least half the buildings were shut, but this didn’t really matter as we didn’t plan to spend much of our time at the hotel. Mrs Geeky Dad and I went for a cocktail and a beer at the Red Garter Saloon, which as you can imagine is themed around a typical Western saloon bar. After chatting about our plans for next day we decided to retire bed in order to be fresh for a full day at Disneyland Park, although typically my excitement meant I only got a couple hours sleep!