Of course, whilst we were near the French capital we HAD to visit Disneyland Paris. This trip was a big surprise for the girls. Andy and I had been thinking about it for a while but we were waiting to see how the budget was going and how much time we had. We were put off because August is one of the most expensive times of year to visit and probably the busiest and hottest – not brilliant choices! BUT, it was Disneyland. And we are in Paris. And we may not (probably won’t) come back through this part of France. And……well, we decided that the girls had been so positive and enthusiastic about doing this trip and have coped so well with every challenge we have put in front of them that they (and we) deserved a bit of fun. Not that the rest of the trip isn’t fun – it most certainly is – but we’re talking here about Disney fun. Total, out of this world, unbridled, magical fun. And we had an absolutely fabulous day!
I wish I had had a camera in my hand to capture the joy on their faces when we told them that we were going to be making a trip to Disney. All along when people have asked us if we were going (which lots of people have), we have been vague about it, saying that a lot of it was closed for maintenance work and so we didn’t think we would go and the girls haven’t said anything. They haven’t plead to go or put any pressure on us, so it was fabulous to see and feel their excitement when we told them!
Disneyland was about an hour and a half drive from our campsite, on the other side of Paris, so we were up and off early to try to get there just as the park was opening and make the most of the day. And we were amongst the first to arrive and so were parked quite near the entrance, which was great. Once again, security was very tight and we had our bags checked and X-rayed. Somehow I think you expect this at such a major attraction. There were also armed military at the entrance to the park, although I don’t remember seeing them once we were properly inside.
Two parks in one
We had bought and printed our tickets in advance so we didn’t have to queue and were very quickly inside. Disney were doing a 2 for 1 offer, so we could visit both of the parks if we wanted to. I didn’t even realise that there was another park, but in actual fact there is Disneyland and then right next door to it, but with a separate entrance, there is the Walt Disney Studio Park, which is similar but not as big and is more to do with film making.
We decided on the Disneyland Park first. It is divided up into different ‘lands’ – Fantasyland, Adventureland, Discoveryland, Frontierland and Main Street, each one with a slightly different theme. And as you walk towards the gates, you really do feel that you are about to enter a different world. And to get the most from the experience you have to be prepared to suspend reality as you cross the threshold and bring out your inner child. This is a land of make believe and magic. It is a land where everything is perfect and there is no bad in the world. There is no dirt – everywhere is almost clinically clean – and no litter, no graffiti. The flower beds are full of perfect-looking flowers, all of the staff (or cast members as they are called here) are smiling and there is happy music playing everywhere. It all puts a smile on your face and a spring in your step! In fact, I felt very much as though I might be on the set of The Trueman Show. If you have seen that movie with Jim Carrey, you will know what I mean!
So, we started by walking up Main Street towards Sleeping Beauty’s castle, since the girls were quite keen to get close to the castle and M in particular hoped that she might be able to see a real Disney princess, preferably Rapunzel. Unfortunately, the castle was one of the parts of the park that was closed for maintenance/renovation! Not a good start! The queues for rides were still fairly short and so we didn’t waste any more time but just got on any rides we saw that we liked the sound of. First was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, quickly followed by Pinocchio. The girls have never been to a theme park like this before and so they weren’t quite sure what to expect, but they soon got the hang of it. For most of the rides you sit in a carriage or boat that takes you round through the ride. You queue up and then are shown where to stand ready to board. The carriage pulls up, comes to a halt and then the people exit on one side and enter from the other side. There is no queue jumping or trying to push past and it is all very slick, very quick and very orderly.
Disneyland app and Fast Pass
Each ride has a sign at the entrance telling you how long the wait will be and Disney also have a great smart phone app that gives the same information so you can quickly see at a glance where is busy and where isn’t – ideal to cut down on your queuing time. The other great thing that cuts down your queuing time is to make use of your 3 Fast Pass tickets. These allow you to skip the (main) queue on many of the busy rides, although not all rides have a Fast Pass option. Where they do, you scan your park entry ticket at the entrance to the ride and the machine prints you out a Fast Pass ticket with a time slot of around 30 minutes on it. Then you simply return to the ride during your allotted time and either walk straight in or join the much smaller Fast Pass queue.
To be honest, because we used the Disneyland app, we didn’t have to wait very long for any of the rides. We could look at the waiting times for each ride and head to the one with the shortest queue. Between the two parks we managed about 14 rides, as well as seeing the parade, so we thought we did pretty well.
We loved the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, because it was underground and on the water and had fun parts where your boat climbed up and then splashed down a steep slope. Another favourite was Peter Pan’s Flight where you flew over Neverland, and the enormous Lancelot’s carousel, where the horses were 4-deep and we could all ride side by side. We went on It’s a Small World twice because M loved it so much. It was funny because I went to Disney in Florida when I was about her age and I still remember It’s a Small World as one of my favourite rides from that trip!
Walt Disney Studios Park
After lunch we ventured over to the Walt Disney Studios Park, which is set up a bit like a film studios with a back lot and production studio areas, together with a Toon Studio where cartoons come to life. We wanted to do the backlot tour, but it was temporarily closed, so we ended up trying the special effects ride, Armageddon, instead. This was the only part of the day the girls didn’t enjoy – too much waiting around in the heat and then some close up and scary (to them) special effects with fire and lots of crashes and bangs.
Another big surprise
After that, they wanted to return to the safe and non-threatening environment of the Disneyland park instead! By now it was mid-afternoon and we were all getting hot and tired. We stopped, found a bench in the shade right opposite the central plaza and got some ice lollies to cool us all down. And it was whilst we were sitting here that we had the second surprise of the week – M spotted Mr Hassall, a teacher from the girls’ primary school! We knew that he was at Disney today because a friend had mentioned it on Facebook earlier but we never for one second imagined that we would see him! There were even more people here than at Versailles the other day when we bumped into a friend of mine from school, so the odds were stacked against it! But what fun and how amazing for it to happen twice in two days! We were left wondering who else we might bump into on this trip! Anything is possible! As another friend quoted on Facebook, ‘It’s a small world after all!’
It was also very fortuitous seeing Mr Hassall and his family, because they gave us a great tip about seeing the parade later, which was to find a front row spot on the parade route about 40 minutes before it was due to start and stay there. It was great advice. It meant that when the parade came through we had a space right at the front with a fabulous view. The crowd along the route was several people deep and the girls would’ve struggled to see had we been any further back. Thanks Mr Hassall!
The parade was so much fun! It was full of energy, with every single cast member giving their all, dancing, singing, smiling, waving and giving out that ‘Disney magic’!
After the parade, we had something to eat and fitted in a few more rides, including the excellent Buzz Lightyear ride where you have to shoot at targets with a laser gun. It was by now getting quite late and we started to think about heading home. Despite some very tired legs, we walked back over to the Walt Disney Studios Park, to see if the Studio Tram tour had re-opened. It had, and it made a great final ride, possibly my favourite of the day. The action featured an oil tanker bursting into flames with a flood gushing down the hillside towards us and completely engulfing the tram on which we were sitting. We could feel the heat and then the spray from the water, but amazingly didn’t get soaked!
All in all, we had a truly magical day and one that I’m sure we will all remember for a long time to come!