I went on a nice long Disneyland Paris trip. There was a lot to catch up on, and I have opinions on it all. I also took some truly awful pictures, for which I apologize. They were taken with one of those itsy bitsy digital cameras, because I didn't want to schlep my Frigidaire-sized one around the world's largest Magic Kingdom park.
It's probably not your average report. If features neither a single picture taken from a Kodak Photo Point nor the phrase "bad show, DLP!". So again, I apologize. But here we go.
Thing I'd never noticed before #1
On the novelties
There were a lot of new things around the resort -- new to me, at least. They have all been reviewed and photographed a million times over, so I'll try to keep it short.
First off... Entering the Walt Disney Studios today is not quite the same as it was a few years ago. The large Cars billboard was being removed, revealing once again one of the few bearable sights of the original park. Walking out of Studio 1, there is Hollywood Boulevard. Walk ten feet and you find yourself in the Tower of Terror lobby.
Between it all, it almost feels like real Disney park, and like everyone else, I have nothing but praise for the additions. The problem is that once out of the Tower of Terror gift shop, one is back in Asphalt Valley. The harsh, shadeless vast is still there, with its storage facility architecture and scarce offerings. I couldn't help but liken the Tower to a stray Disneyland Park attraction, as if a tornado had picked it up and put it there. They will need to continue the placemaking project that started with Hollywood Boulevard; the park needs it a thousand times more than a new ride. But it is undeniable that this area is true progress.
Toon Studio I couldn't quite warm up to. This is entirely personal, but I felt that the Crush building was rather dull for what is essentially the land's weenie. It was far more prominent than the photographs suggested, and in that it does not live up to its expectations. I didn't actually go on Crush because I am the sort of person who gets motion sickness from opening a pickle jar (plus, if you scroll down, you'll see that I'd had a lot of fast food in my system), but I'm sure it's very nice on the inside. Maybe next time. The Cars area looked better, but the land never quite comes together. I feel Toon Studio could be good, but it's just not quite there yet.
As for the old Animation Courtyard area, this has not been changed much, and it probably should have. The area, specifically the sort of affairs found inside the Art of Animation attraction, could serve as a raison d'etre for the entire park; the heart, the soul. But it stops short and attempts instead to appeal to the ADHD generation by throwing shiny Pixar characters at them. I found it saddening.
High School Musical... Gah! Somebody shut those people up. American Idol has ruined an entire generation.
The Once Upon a Dream Parade was great. Very good floats. Awful but awfully catchy Europop tune. Can anyone tell it apart from Dancin' a Catchy Rythm? Does anyone care?
Candleabration... A little anticlimactic. Never have I heard such a confused applause. Mickey went on and on about fantastical splendors of magical dreams coming true and all the usual Michael Jackson ramblings, but in broad daylight no one noticed the candles going on in the background. But then this was the off season version.
The mini shows and streetmosphere were quite charming, and very frequent compared to previous years. It brought a lot of life to the park.
Disney Village is still Dullsville (although looking at these Pleasure Island stories, it could be worse!). Yes, it has trees now, and things have been repainted, but the cheap carnival rides are still there, painfully extending all the way to the supposedly chic Hotel New York. It is still overcrowded, dated and contains only one vaguely interesting shop -- one that will soon become a Starbucks (don't it always seem to go...). During the soccer finale thing, the place was indistinguishable from any beachside hormone-fest in Europe or Latin America.
One of those times when you might as well pick up all those frisbees off the roof.
1. When was the last time anyone saw the map-of-New-York-fountain? 2. Can you count how many lights in the trees still work? The Disney Village curse.
I'm not going to deny it. There were, as always, rule benders, careless smokers and people who insisted on throwing their trash into the 10 feet of decor in between trash receptacles. I've noticed they always go for the gardens, rocks, etc. Perhaps in testimony to Disney's abilities, people appear to be under the impression that they are in nature. As if Disney had erected a park around a convenient bit of French countryside that had always been home to a large orange rock with caves in it -- a belief that, according to an old guidebook I own, is actually held by many a visitor.
A man leaned on a trash can to toss his sandwich into the Phantom Manor gardens. A group of boisterous men attempted to circumvent the FastPass system by throwing three completely unrelated FastPass tickets into the Cast Member's hand and running past her.
Unfortunately, people did little to subvert expectations. I am very hesitant to say this because it is a touchy issue for obvious reasons, but upon their crimes, all the inappropriate-smoking-offenders turned to their travel mates and spoke either French, Italian or Spanish. I promise I was not looking for this outcome and am not implying some sort of crazy racist manifesto, but it did strike me as unfortunate. I'm not sure what to do with that information. I suppose it just means that smoking culture is still a little different in those countries, but what do I know.
Stereotypes were again affirmed in the Big Thunder Mountain queue, where a man lit a cigarette right in front of me. I asked him to put it out. He declined. I explained that it is against the rules to smoke inside a queue. He pointed to one of those themed signs that carry clever in-house puns and feature texts about mining signals or similar, but serve no actual purpose in the real world, and said, in French:
"Where is this rule, I don't see this rule, you show me this rule!" He blew smoke in my direction and turned around.
This is not to say however that the British -- that other very large portion of guests -- are in the clear completely. They can be a nuisance in their own special way.
For example, meet this man. It was a slow morning at the Salon Mickey shareholders' lounge, and it was just the two of us. In the middle of his complimentary breakfast, the man called out to the hapless receptionist girl and asked, no demanded for her knowledge on "these Indian bankers at the park". I'm not sure what he was aiming at, but it sounded cryptic and business-like. It also made me suspect that he owned just a few more shares than I do. The girl replied, and this is without a hint of hyperbole,
She looked genuinely frightened. She looked as though she would have given over all the chocolate croissants in the storage room if that would have made the man leave.
"Yes, zere is an ATM right at ze left of ze--"
"No no, not ATMs, Indian bankers!"
"Yes sir, zere are ATMs all over ze pa--"This went on and on. I felt so sorry for her. I intervened and said "I don't think she knows, mate." I said it in an Australian accent. When I'm on vacation alone, I like to try on different accents and identities. And this felt like an Aussie moment. He sighed and went back to picking at his breakfast roll.
"No. INDIAN BANKERS. What... do... you... know...about-the-In-di-an-ban-kers. Un-der-stand?"
"You can exchange money at ze--"
"NO. NOT ATMS, NOT BANKS, INDIAN--"
Thing I'd never noticed before #2. This phone in Adventureland will play a spiel every minute or so. Another phone gimmick that was new to me was the one at Town Square Photography -- pick it up the next time you're there. The conversation you "eavesdrop" on is hilarious.
On French strikes
On the last day of my visit, I waited for the automatic doors of the Bussy-Saint-Georges RER station to open, but they did not. It was a strike. I was experiencing a real life French strike. The excitement over this was met only by the rather disturbing realization that I was, in fact, stuck in this town.
Fortunately, I eventually noticed a very well-dressed man -- his suit was obviously tailored, and his hair was shiny, like a l'Oreal ad. Over his suit, he wore a pin lanyard. The bizarre juxtaposition made me lean in to his conversation, and I noticed that he was making cab arrangements for stranded Disney guests. How thoughtful.
He was the most Disney of Cast Members, talking excitedly and wide-eyed, throwing cheery phrases around. He was the sort of Cast Member MadTV bases entire sketches on.
I asked him about the cause of the strike. At this, he seemed noticeably uncomfortable. The cause had been the brutal beating of a subway staff member. His wounds had been severe. Gang beatings have no place in the Disney universe, and it brought me great joy to see him squirm to downplay the news and rebottle it as a minor glitch. I half expected him to blame the incident on "playful spooks" or a similar Disney ride breakdown euphemism.
A taxi was arranged and I got to the parks for €15, which I was happy to cough up at this point. A big compliment goes to Disneyland Paris here. They did not have to send anyone over; the French railroad companies certainly did not.
Gardens, rock work, waterfalls. Everywhere.
The quick service restaurants at Disneyland Paris get a lot of slack, and I thought I'd see if they really deserve it. I had been vocal on this issue, but in truth I had avoided most of the restaurants in recent years. So here is a quick recap of me in fast food land.
Au Chalet de la Marionette
Any place that serves "Mickey Burgers" isn't worth mentioning. But nice decor.
Backlot Express Restaurant
Relatively good sandwiches in a restaurant that itself resembles a lunchbox. It was alright.
Buzz Lightyear's Pizza Planet
Mickey burgers! But the cavernous Videopolis is still a breathtaking place. The restaurant itself is also wonderfully themed. It's just, the food...
Once you get past the age of 10, you come to realize that a hot dog really is just a frank in a bun. They have no relish and charge you €5 for one. Slow service. Nice decor.
Colonel Hathi's Pizza Outpost
Not awful, but not exactly exciting either. The pizza was tough and not entirely warm.
Cowboy Cookout Barbecue
I was genuinely surprised by this one. The atmosphere was great (live music!), the food was delicious. The place smelled of grilled meat. By a landslide the best counter service restaurant in the resort.
En Coulisse Restaurant
Burgers and prepackaged Nestle things. Not worth it. They named a burger after the Tower of Terror, but that's where the excitement ends.
Fuente del Oro
Mexican is a cuisine I hold very dear to my heart (and not just because it is responsible for so many a heartburn), so I was anxious about this one. The chili was by no standards authentic, prepared as though there was a tomato famine. The churros were a bit bland. But it wasn't awful, and at least it was interesting.
Pizzeria Bella Notte
Those pizzas again. They also offered a pasta dish, but it seemed unremarkable. Good decor, obviously.
Restaurant Hakuna Matata
It was here I had the pleasure of meeting the world's surliest Cast Member. After I had completed my order, she said, "Wha?!" and looked at me as if I had come to her house and woken her at 3 a.m. to do so. Thirty seconds later, she decided to snap out of her little trip and return to Earth to make me recite my order all over again. Lovely girl. I had a taco salad, which was okay, but probably not worth the price. It also lacked tortilla chips, which I've come to understand as a vital element in a taco salad, but I may be wrong. The other menu options mirrored those of Fuente Del Oro. Only open on weekends and peak days.
Toad Hall Restaurant
Unfortunately, it closed when it was my turn to order. But it mainly serves fish and chips. How interesting could it be? I might as well review a peanut butter sandwich.
Finally, after having clogged my arteries with fast food for days and days, I treated myself to a meal at the Blue Lagoon, which was great. Wonderful staff, superb atmosphere, yummy food. Conclusion: when you must do fast food, consider the Cowboy Cookout Barbecue. Otherwise, stick to the sit-down places. You'll be a happier person.
As for cocktails, the Cafe Fantasia at the Disneyland Hotel is still hard to beat. Brilliant me decided to pick soccer finale night to get a drink in one of the hotel bars. I went to each and every one of them, only to discover that they had all been converted into rowdy gatherings of soccer fans. All that is, except the Cafe Fantasia, which constrained the demographic to a small, separate room. It was lovely.
And another thing. There is a vending cart near the Tower of Terror that sells Perrier mocktails. They basically mix you up a cup of Perrier with a Monin syrup of choice and a garnish -- simple, but very nice. Do remember to ask for "plein de glace" (for extra ice), because this is France after all.
The rain forest is alive and well at Disneyland Paris.
On trash cans
Okay, so it's a little esoteric. But since these is no conclusive picture collection of Disneyland Resort Paris trash cans on the Internet, unlike Disneyland and Walt Disney World, I thought I'd take on this minor task and turn out an inconclusive collection of my own. So here it is, all the "classic" trash cans at Disneyland Paris, with the exception of one -- the generic Walt Disney Studios trash can. It's sometimes gray, sometimes green and features the park logo. You can picture it. It's dull. I suppose I could not be bothered to take a picture.
Note how almost all of them have an ashtray and none features the words "Waste Please", probably because of the language issue. Instead, there are decorative borders and patterns.
Frontierland (in the star, there is a number, probably a year: I believe it says "1835".)
Cowboy Cookout Barbecue, Frontierland
Arabian area, Adventureland
African area, Adventureland
"it's a small world" area, Fantasyland
"it's a small world" #2
Disney Studio 1
Tower of Terror area
When Euro Disney decides to fund a refurbishment, it's always something to write home about. That is not to say however that it will always be a very cheerful letter. Thus Disneyland Paris is a patchwork of the well-refurbished (Boardwalk Candy Palace, Big Thunder Mountain, the Disneyland Hotel), the awfully-refurbished (a significant part of Discoveryland), and the completely abandoned (Swiss Family Treehouse, Alice's Curious Labyrinth, the Frontierland Geysers). All in all, the current management still makes many misguided decisions and it continues to feel somewhat like one is visiting the slowly vanishing remnants of Euro Disneyland -- the Pride Lands in their pre-Scar days, to speak with a heavy dose of hyperbole.
At the Disneyland Hotel, something has always just been painted.
But what a park they built. Elements of brilliance keep occurring to me; take for instance the swap of Frontierland and Adventureland. The transition from Main Street to Frontierland is a lot smoother than to Adventureland, when you consider that you are traveling from a civilized turn-of-the-century America to a less civilized, slightly earlier America. Frontierland then meets up with Adventureland at its most Victorian spot -- Colonel Hathi's, while at the other path between the two lands, the pueblo architecture of Frontierland blends seamlessly with the African architecture of Adventureland. This land then connects to Fantasyland via the common theme of Peter Pan. To top it all off, Discoveryland takes on a fantastical Victorian theme and takes us home to Main Street -- where the Discovery Arcade makes the transition complete.
It seems to me that while Disneyland and its spin-offs are happily eclectic, Disneyland Paris was rearranged to make as much sense as the park possibly could. And there's so much else to marvel over. The way you're weenied into the Disneyland Park through the Disneyland Hotel, the enormous Pirates of the Caribbean queue, the amazingly lavish Big Thunder Mountain, the detail in the shops and restaurants. These are things you won't find anywhere else and thankfully, they're here to stay.
A Steve DeGaetano tribute. Or a shot of one of the last few occurrences of "Euro Disneyland".
In short, I had a wonderful time, marred only by a few public transportation issues (there are a few I won't get into as they will only display my own incompetence). Disneyland Paris is still a great place, even if us hardcore fanatics continue to find ways to be disappointed. Cultural differences will and should remain, and it is best not to be too bothered by them, even when you find yourself stranded or, well, fumed.
Now if anyone knows what's up with these Indian bankers...