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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!