Disneyland Paris Resort trip report. January 11-13th.
I would love to start this article with the bragging rights that, having visited the Disneyland Paris Resort this January, I have finally seen every Disney park around the world. Of course, that pesky little Hong Kong one just opened, and since I have absolutely zero desire to trek out there to see it, I guess I can’t really brag. So I rephrase: I’ve been to all the parks I’ve dreamed about going to, and it feels good to get one of life’s guilty pleasures goals out of the way.
So yes, getting to Disneyland Paris. Oh, the joys of Disneyland Paris. This would be my forth Disney resort, having been a local at Disneyland Resort Anaheim, then visiting Tokyo, and finally Florida (considerably underwhelming after following Tokyo.) Anyhow, I must agree that Disneyland Paris is (like popular opinion seems to dictate) absolutely the most beautiful of the “Magic Kingdom” style parks. Despite worries of some sort of terrible upkeep reported on these boards, I found both parks to be very clean, and the cleanliness/attention to detail/effects up to the usual Disney standards. Not insane Tokyo standards, but very much to the level of the American parks (more like the current upkeep of Disneyland then Disney World, which is a big compliment.) Me and my partner stayed at the surprisingly fun Disney’s Sante Fe, and the cost of our 2 night/3 day package (which INCLUDES breakfast, 2 three day park hopper tickets, and room fee AND taxes) came to US $220 total. Yes, that’s not per person, that’s TOTAL. And this was booked directly through Disneyland Paris’ official website. It actually makes Disneyland Paris the cheapest of all the Disney Resorts (not including Hong Kong, which I can’t compare) at least as far as a package deal.
That said, I actually really liked Disney’s Sante Fe. If you check out some pictures on Disney’s website, it may look kind of generic and pre-fab, which it most certainly does…at first. But the interesting thing about Disney’s Sante Fe is the bizarre way that, to me, the hotel stands out amongst Disney hotels. We’re talking brown, mesa-like, rounded squared-off buildings. Despite the freezing temperatures in Europe during our entire stay, the colors and theming chosen for Sante Fe literally make it seem eternally muggy, and helped offset the cold air. I didn’t expect the hotel itself to strike me as anything special, being prepared for a ‘value experience’, but it has a weird minimalist design approach that I’ve never seen in another Disney hotel. For something that has been written so little about, I found the need to compliment the rather bold choice to go all-out, well, all-out bland with the mesa design. For intents and purposes, the design works really well…and they didn’t cheat with it….the mesa complex itself is ‘dug’ I’d guess 40 feet or so below a grassy berm, giving the effect of being ‘below the grass’ and emphasizing the contrast from the grassy green surrounding walls, to the stark brown structures, several being whimsical contemporary spins on realistic mesa architecture. Definitely unique among any Disney hotel, and compared to the budget-priced, yet much more generic All-Star hotels, I feel this one is unfairly judged. The rooms, a bit bigger then the All-Star rooms, were American-sized, and adequate.
Might as well get the bad out of the way: Disney Studios Paris. Good lord. I mean, good LORD. This has to be one of the weirdest, and most schizophrenic parks I’ve ever been to. It’s HANDS DOWN worse then DCA, although I have to say the surreal feeling you get while visiting (reminding me completely of the long-gone SuperStar Limo ride at DCA) was entertaining for it’s overwhelming lameness at times. Let’s start at the beginning: the entrance. Wow! This HUGE and IMPRESSIVE studio front in bright yellow… it really is a grand entrance and much nicer then either MGM or DCA. I could tell it was pretty beautiful, but unfortunately, during my visit, this, the only bright spot to this dreadful park was covered up by a GIANT CHICKEN LITTLE HEAD. It was not a good sign. Once inside the giant studio front, you’re greeted to a little miniaturized version of DCA’s Hollywood Backlot street, except with different LA buildings chosen, a bad static starfield type ceiling (static LCDs rather then twinkling fiber optics), and dozens of projected stars and words flying around the floor and walls trying their best to blind you from how cheap and ugly the cheap looking interior really is. A terrible food court, a terrible gift store, and a weird bar with the Tiki Room motif, but made to look like the bar at the Beverly Hills hotel in LA. Just strange. And what happens once you make your way through this brief street and out the back? All that buildup for….. nothing. Asphalt as far as you can see, with giant prefab ‘studio’ buildings dotting the landscape. Almost no trees, and no landscaping. DCA looks like the Ewok forest in comparison. An unfinished concrete DCA-version of Tower of Terror smack dab in front of me upon existing the entryway was the first sign that I was not inside a full-day park. And that’s an understatement. I must admit that by the time I got to Disney Studios Paris, it was after I had already spent a day at the lovely Disneyland Paris, and right away I got this horrible feeling of “god, don’t waste too much of your precious three days at the resort here” and I really did not spend too much time in the park. I missed two of the attractions, namely “Anamagique” and “Cinamagique”, not because I didn’t want to see them, but because their show schedules were positioned so I couldn’t see one right after the other, like an average parkgoer would want, but instead have to choose one or the other, with a good 2 hours between the next showtime for the other show, a way of guaranteeing you’ll spend longer in the park. Needless to say, I decided to pass on both out of sheer contempt.
I made my way back to their version of Rockin’ Roller Coaster. The exterior theming was, like all of Disney Studios Paris, just crap compared to Florida’s (although, besides the oversize guitar in Florida, it wasn’t that inspired to begin with.) The ride is the same fun indoor Vekoma looping/corkscrew coaster that actually rides quite a bit smoother then it’s Florida counterpart, and is missing (a plus in my mind) the tacky and very Mummy: The Ride (Universal Hollywood version) lit-up billboards that you fly through. Actually, come to think of it, there isn’t ANY sets whatsoever in Paris’ version. You are quite clearly in a dark, unthemed warehouse, with plenty of strobes, lasers, and flashing effects to try and distract you from the lack of inspiration. A brief relief from the rest of the park, Florida’s lame Areosmith preshow has been dramatically cut in the Paris version, and is now quite amusing since, making no sense whatsoever, plays like the Areosmith guy is having a drug hallucination about loops and corkscrews, before being cut off by the preshow’s doors opening to exit and let you onto the ride with virtually no explanation/setup as to why you’re there. But, as it was a half-baked idea to begin with, it’s a fun rollercoaster in the dark that, despite not having anything to see besides a Spencer’s Gifts-style light show, actually rides smoother, and possibly faster, then Florida’s, putting both versions on equal terf.
Next up was the Lights, Motuers, Action Stunt Show thing. Other then the finale, where the car drives through a building, this show was cheesy, boring, and unfortunately, very long. I had heard good things about this initially, and was sad to find that the show really didn’t have much to draw you in. Certainly, it’s leagues less interesting then the (now decade old) Waterworld attractions at the Universal parks. Yes, yes, the crowd being in the movie bits were fun, but only if you know the individuals that are selected. Maybe it’s the fact that I work in the movie industry, and look at everything with a very cynical eye, but this was just an hour of my life I wanted back.
Another idiotic blow was the absolutely terrible Armageddon attraction. I have had a hard time finding any really good description of this one, and after experiencing it, I now know why Disney journalists have a hard time writing about it. The closest thing to it would be Backdraft at the Universal Studios parks, but it’s really unlike anything Disney has made before, and is much closer to a ‘walkthrough’ type of attraction, except with the walkthrough being replaced by two ‘stand and watch’ presentations, the first of which is ridiculously long and insulting to the audience, the second of which is sort of delightful and brief but, in effect, completely ruined because of the preceding 30 minutes of soul-destroying misery. The story here is that you’re on the set of Armageddon, playing the ‘role’ of people trapped in a space station coming into contact with the meteor from the movie. This is explained to you, and then rammed into your head again, and again, first in a embarrassing 10 minute video with the only actor they could get from the movie, then again by an inane CM who goes over and over how you should look ‘scared’ and ‘astonished’ by the sights you are about to see, as it’s being recorded (which it’s not, as there is absolutely no post-show where you will see yourself ‘on the set’). This section lasts ANOTHER 10 minutes, and I had to feel bad for the poor CM who was trying to get an extremely bored audience into the mood. There’s no effects here, nothing to get you into the concept. Not even simple cameras in the room that could be taking shots of the audience as the CM talks about being ‘ready for the camera’. After this unengaging, frankly, BAFFILING segment, you watch ANOTHER nearly 10 minute video about the ‘magic’ of Jerry Bruckheimer films before you are finally ‘cleared for the set’ and ushered mercifully from the pre-show room to a fake wooden paneled set corridor where you wait (for another 5 minutes mind you) to enter the very small show room, where you stand in circle-fashion around another circle (actually a funnel attached to the ceiling). This room is fairly detailed, and to give due credit, kind of cool with a unique very claustrophobic effect of being in a little space station. The attraction basically consists of sound effects of machinery breaking and people yelling as the comet approaches. As it does, lights go off and on, and nifty little effects like bolts of light shooting through the room and “blasting” holes in the walls (scrims with lighting effects) and equipment dangling from the ceiling starts to appear to fall on the audience. This leads up to rather impressive fireballs burping out from the funnel everyone is looking at, simultaneously timed with dripping water so the heat from the very real fire isn’t so hard to take. Another unique aspect of the fire segment is that it is very, almost disturbingly, close to you as well…which is rather impressive. Finally, the room almost ‘collapses’ around you, the height of the room cuts almost in half, and then you exit (or rather, ‘scene over, good job, please leave’). The major problem with the show part of the attraction is that everyone is looking at that big ‘what’s it going to do’ funnel in the middle of the room, unfortunately distracting people from all the many unique and cool effects that are going on along the sides and ceiling of the room. So, the average non-geek guest will just focus on the middle (like you are arranged to stand) and basically get a show consisting of a bunch of darkness and loud sounds until the ‘wow’ effect of the fireball finally appears, and it’s over. The rest of the effects are pretty much lost on the average audience by the simple fact that not everyone is turning around and looking at the whole room (and they pack it too close to really be able to even do that). Even as it stands, the 5 minute little show isn’t nearly as bad as people say, but the 30 minute buildup is so intense, so long, and so boring, it makes the very modest little ‘show scene’ seem like complete crap, because it is in no way worth the hell you were just put through. They could make this so much better simply by removing 25 minutes of the preshow, thereby making the entire attraction a 10 minute experience. Then, I bet ya, this attraction could go from being (as it stands now) one of the worst ever Disney attractions to ‘that was harmless fun’. Also, on a technical note, because I’ve never seen this mentioned anywhere, the ‘collapsing space shuttle’ effects, nearly all of them (minus the fireball) is EXACTLY the same design as the in-cabin effects on the Tokyo DisneySea attraction “Storm Rider”. It’s more insulting to know this, since it’s extremely obvious to a guest who’s been to Tokyo knowing that Armageddon surely was originally conceived as a “Storm Rider” clone, but for budget reasons opted to cut out the ride, and simply keep the collapsing building effect as an attraction in itself. Bad show, bad attraction, but very interesting to the Disney geek after you connect all the obvious dots of how this one went wrong. As a side note, “Storm Rider” in DisneySea has a preshow too. However, it’s only about 10 minutes and is made exciting due to the use of an extremely impressive animatronic robotic arm/laser weapon demonstration (not to mention a usually very hot Japanese guide explaining it to you in a very overly excited way.) To say I was not impressed with Armageddon is an understatement, but now at least I know where the failures came from instead of the very vauge reviews consisting of ‘it sucks’.
Next up, well…. I didn’t want to see anything else. I had felt I was losing my IQ every second I was staying in this park. But hey, I’m here… so I checked out their Tram Tour. This has to be the stupidest, most embarrassing attraction ever designed by Imagineering (although I have yet to see Stitch’s Big Escape.) First off, everyone knows that there isn’t a real studio at Disneyland Paris. Even the little kids said so waiting in line for the tram. However, the onride video continually states how it IS a working studio, even though there is clearly no studios in sight. Boring, dated sets from Dinotopia are your first sight, and next on the tour is a direct clone of Catastrophe Canyon from Florida. Yup, it’s exactly the same, fun, little diversion. Nothing was skimped or trimmed here, which is nice. Then you turn around and, I wish I was joking, go BACK through the lame Dinotopia sets, back past the loading area (in clear view), and make a turn to go past 7 or 8 prop cars used in various movies. After nearly dying from boredom, you finally arrive in the London ‘set’ from Ring of Fire. Now, this was a surprise to me, as I hadn’t read about this portion anywhere. The set itself is immensely detailed and is a very cool little charred up London. It really stands out in a park where there’s absolutely nothing close to this level of detail. But uh oh, the video recorded actor says, there’s a DRAGON here. Oh boy! I said to myself, a big animatronic dragon…this should be fun. After all, even the artwork on the ride’s entrance clearly showed a dragon breathing fire in front of a captive audience. But nothing was happening. Hmmmm, I thought, well maybe just a dragon crane-head like they did for Fantasmic at Disneyland. Still nothing. Sounds now… a roar…. Okay…. here it comes!!! Suddenly a big gust of fire shot out from within a hole in the bottom of the set, near a bunch of burnt up cars. Ooooooo fire! Any second that dragon is going to rise up! Another burst of fire! Then the tram started to move again. “Better get away fast” the tram guy said, as the tram took a quick turn to the left and started it’s journey BACK PAST the 7 or 8 prop cars you had just seen. Wait a second. What? Surely that has to be a joke. THEY COULDN’T EVEN DO THE DRAGON? I mean, next door in Disneyland Paris they have a ‘living, breathing’ fully anamatronic beast that lives under their castle. And that’s a walkthrough. The tram pulled to a stop, having arrived at the exit gate, and people started unloading. I was in utter shock. It was beyond making your audience feel ripped off, it was just sad. The most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen at Disney park, made even worse by the fact that they hammer home the ‘it’s really a studio’ part throughout the ride.
Still in shock, I stumbled to the Aladdin’s Magic Carpet dumbo ride literally shoved into the back corner of the park. There was not a single person in line and it was operating without people. Having not been on the one in Florida, I thought, hell why not, and climbed on. I suppose it is like the one in Florida, except it’s somehow made worse by a static, fiberglass “director’s chair” Genie (with sunglasses on) yelling pre-recorded “you look great! Smile for the camera! ACTION!” each time you make a rotation. That, not the ride, made me ill. Feeling ill, I walked into the Animation exhibit. No immersive screens like in DCA. I walked right out. I spotted the Disney Channel exhibit and walked towards it. Directly in front, clearly visible from within the exit of the attraction were 5 or so mini-simulators for Virtual Space Mountain lifted from DisneyQuest in Florida. Finally a good attraction!!! Then, to my horror, I remembered something I had read on a message board, where they said that in order to get to the DisneyQuest part, you have to wait through almost ONE HOUR of videos and preshows. Surely, on a day like the day I was visiting, when there were maybe (at most) 300 people in the entire park, and only 3 people, JUST THREE, in the line for the Virtual Space Mountain simulators, I could just (as suggested in another board) walk through the exit and get in line for the simulators (the last room you arrive at after the torture of the preshows.) I liked Virtual Space Mountain, and thought it could possibly wash the bitter vile down that I just had to endure from the last three ‘attractions’. A CM spotted me and started to (incredibly rudly I may add) yell at me in French. I politely said that I don’t speak French, and could they get someone who spoke English. I continued waiting in line for about 10 minutes (they were only operating one simulator.) Finally, it got to my turn, and I went to the console and started to design my coaster with Bill Nye. After I had finished, waiting for the simulator to be available, a CM approached me and asked me if I had come through the exit. “Yes” I told her. “I come all the way from the US, and I really didn’t want to have to wait through an hour of Disney Channel ads. I didn’t cut in line, I just didn’t want to have to do the preshow, because I have very limited time in Paris, is that okay?” Not only was it not okay, she told me, “you must see ‘the visit’, not seeing ‘the visit’ is forbidden.” I looked blankly at her, and looked for a hint of humor. After all, there was no one behind me. No one that had endured ‘the visit’ and was waiting for a simulator. It was just me, and two very angry French people. She then started escorting me, (actually pulling my arm) not to the exit, but towards the start of the Disney Channel ads. I literally screamed, escaped her grasp and darted to the exit. She yelled ‘I am calling security’. She didn’t need to… I was already leaving.
I considered complaining to guest relations, but what would be the point? I went over it in my head. Yeah, I had walked through the exit. But I didn’t cut the line for the simulators. I waited my turn. What got me is that they deliberately waited until I had finished designing my coaster until they told me I had to do ‘the visit’ or leave (the English speaking CM I had requested had arrived about 5 minutes earlier and just stood there watching me) I can understand if that’s the rule, but you must understand that the park was beyond dead (there was literally no one cuing for ‘the visit’) and no guest deserves to be yelled at, especially when I was neither making a scene, nor were was there anyone cuing behind me. The best thing to compare it to would be going through the exit of a fastpass distribution area, which I’m sure most of you have done. Since we all know Disneyland so well, many times going through the fastpass distribution exit (and then waiting in line, like everyone, for a fastpass machine) can save the time of walking all the way to the sometimes very out-of-the-way fastpass distribution entrances. It’s not ‘cutting the line’, but rather an easier way to get to point B directly then going through point A. On crowded days, you couldn’t do this, as you’d clearly be cutting in front of people. But on dead days, well, why not take quicker closer route? I was simply trying to have fun in a park where, very much so, ‘it’s forbidden’. That the CMs couldn’t accommodate my request on a day where, very clearly, there was no one I was cutting in front of, is in my mind, extremely bad show. It’s just mean to have a guest wait 10 minutes in a line, design their coaster, and then be told to view an hour of commercials or not be able to ride. It goes to show you how low morale must be at that park, since they obviously do not care about a guest’s enjoyment in the least. In short, I will never return to that cesspool of a park.
Ahem, now that Disney Studios is out of the way… my next post will be about my thoughts on the magnificent Disneyland Paris, and all of the underrated and hidden gems of this breathtaking park. I can now officially compare the dark rides of all four magic kingdoms, and will break them down for you. And what trip report would be complete without video and photos? All that and a much happier me, coming soon.