Jolene goes to Disneyland Paris
Friends that know me well know that I have a soft spot for Disneyland. I grew up on Disney movies, and in typical SoCal fashion, I frequented the park with my friends, donning Mickey ears and gorging on turkey legs. Over the course of my young life, I have visited Disneyland over 100 times, so you could say that I'm quite familiar with the franchise and I am, well, a Disney enthusiast. I'd always dreamed of visiting some of the other Disney parks; I've never even made it to Disney World, so you can imagine my excitement when I realized my first non-Anaheim, Disney experience would be in PARIS, during the 25th anniversary of the park!
If you've read some of my other blogs, you probably get the sense that I am a planner. Our trip to DLP was no different - I found decent tickets, studied the layout of the parks and even made a separate trip itinerary just for activities on our Disney day. DLP is composed of two parks: Disneyland Park and Hollywood Studios. We spent most of our time in Disneyland Park, but we did do a couple rides in Hollywood Studios.
PRO TIP: HEAD OVER TO DLP GUIDE FOR GENERAL DLP INFORMATION, RESTAURANT RESOURCES, PARK MAPS, AND MORE. THIS SITE WAS VERY USEFUL TO ME IN PLANNING MY TRIP.
I'd prepared myself before the trip - I read about how many Europeans are not supportive of DLP, seeing it as a capitalistic American intrusion, imposing on one of the cultural centers of the world. I understood that view, but even with that in mind, I had a positive, wonderful experience.
We visited on a Friday in October, and due to the date and season, paid a minimal price for tickets. If you visit the DLP website, you will be directed to a ticketing link, complete with a color-coded calendar to illustrate ticket prices.
We were able to purchase "Magic" tickets for both parks in one day. I bought the tickets online ahead of time, saving us the time and energy of waiting in lines and missing out on more time in the parks. To get there, we took the RER train straight from Paris, directly to the parks (Marne-la-Valee Station). It was a fairly easy trip (although it can take at least an hour, depending on where you are leaving from), and due to the later opening times, we stopped at the Trocadero to watch the sunrise over the Eiffel Tower. I guess you could say our morning was magical even before we arrived at DLP.
PRO TIP: PURCHASE YOUR TRAIN TICKET AT A TRAIN STATION KIOSK. IT IS A STRAIGHT SHOT, AND YOU CAN EASILY PURCHASE A ROUND TRIP TICKET. THIS WILL ELIMINATE YOUR HAVING TO WAIT IN LINE AT THE END OF THE DAY.
I'd also like to add a quick reminder here: Please check the weather before you go! We were graced with a beautifully clear and sunny day, which only called for a light sweater. Our day was pretty comfortable and we weren't scrambling to find indoor activities to keep warm. If you are visiting in the fall, please make sure you are appropriately dressed!
When we arrived, I was already floored by the spaciousness of the surrounding areas, including carefully landscaped greenery. I could already tell what I'd heard was true - DLP is all about the details.
I excitedly ran through the entrance of Hollywood Studios, transformed into a toddler, and headed towards Crush's Coaster, a spinning under-the-sea adventure in the dark. All the videos I'd watched did not prepare me for the madness that is Crush's Coaster. I am not a rollercoaster aficionado; I purposefully left off many of the popular, yet more intense rides. I read rave reviews about Crush's Coaster, even stating it "wasn't that bad," so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. However, about 2 minutes into it, I was screaming bloody murder, including the phrase, "I MAKE BAD CHOICES."
PRO TIP: TO AVOID SPENDING MORE TIME IN LINE THAN NECESSARY, HEAD STRAIGHT TO CRUSH'S COASTER AND GET THAT DONE FIRST.
When I regained my composure and readjusted to the bright outside lighting, I suggested we head over to Ratatouille, since it was close, and it was the only other ride in Hollywood Studios I was dying to get on. I'd heard critical reviews, disappointing reactions, and many comments that made me wary of this ride. However, I am not the world's biggest Ratatouille fan, and perhaps reading those comments gave me a reasonable expectation of the ride. I rather enjoyed it and would gladly get on it again. Again, DLP did not disappoint with the details both on the ride and in the mini "Paris" surrounding it.
After our Pixar fix, we booked it to Disneyland Park, for our full dose of Disney magic. The entrance to the park actually passes underneath the Disneyland Hotel, and it is breathtaking. I was already taken aback just by the entrance, even though I'd seen more than my fair share of pictures. I didn't think it was possible, but I actually got more excited and couldn't wait to see what this park would bring.
There are so many things I could say about this park, but I don't want to give too much away. Simply, it really is about all the details. I've found that guests who visit DLP expecting classic Disneyland (Anaheim) standards leave unbelievably disappointed. I purposely read ahead to avoid leaving the park in that kind of state, and it worked. I took most of the decor, attractions, and details at face value. I realize that Walt did not personally handle this park, but to me, it did not lack the Disney magic. One thing I've learned through traveling is that many times, our experiences are stifled by our expectations, and our unwillingness to drop any pre-conceived notions we may have. I tried my best not to project my previous Anaheim-related experiences on DLP.
If I had the time, I would've ridden Phantom Manor (DLP's Haunted Mansion equivalent) about 10 more times. I absolutely loved it, both in story and visually. Again, I'd read ahead so I had a pretty thorough appreciation of the attraction the first time I rode it.
I also enjoyed DLP's Pirates of the Caribbean; the line itself is very Indiana-Jones-esque, and transports you into their world of Spanish architecture and eerie dungeons. The ride's sequence also differs from that in Anaheim, and I believe it makes more sense.
One thing that DLP does more than Disneyland in Anaheim is walkthroughs and observation points. It was obvious to me that DLP values aesthetic, beauty and overall appearance, and there are more than enough opportunities for guests to admire the park. There are several observation points on Sleeping Beauty's castle, as well as a wonderful walkthrough inside, complete with stained glass windows and storybooks. You can head outside onto a balcony that overlooks Fantasyland, and walk down one of the towers via spiral staircase to exit.
In this area, one of my favorite details was the dragon that lives under the castle. She is large, striking, and comes to life! I was most surprised at how close guests can get to her - when you're feet away from a growling dragon underneath a castle, you are truly transported into Fantasyland.
Lastly, on the topic of visuals, I actually had a lot of fun going through Alice's Curious Labyrinth. In all honesty, after reading some other blogs, I expected an uninteresting fake labyrinth, where guests could just bring their young children who recognize some of the characters. I was thankfully very wrong! Not only is the labyrinth real (there are multiple paths you can take!), but there is a real charm with the characters featured, and the view from the Queen's castle is fantastic. For me, it was totally worth the time spent.
We rode as many rides as we could in the limited time we had; we accomplished everything except Thunder Mountain Railroad (which I am still mildly sad about). We even managed to see a parade and stood in awe as a fire-breathing dragon made its way down Main Street.
One ride that also didn't disappoint was DLP's version of the Storybook Land Canal Boats, also known as Le Pays des Contes de Fées. Especially since the day was so beautiful, the ride seemed exceptionally stunning. The blue-green of the water paired with the blue sky made the miniature castles and scenery that much more whimsical. We were surely whisked away into the heart of Fantasyland during our peaceful boat ride.
Soon after our adventures in Fantasyland, we experienced a definite highlight: dinner. I'd read many negative reviews related to the poor food (and even the lack of food) in DLP; Jennifer and I agreed that Walt's was our best bet, even though it was a pricey option. We had reservations at 4PM, literally right at closing. Fortunately, we arrived early hoping to be seated early and were informed that they decided to close early! The good news is we still were able to have a wonderful meal without being rushed.
PRO TIP: MAKE SURE YOU CHECK IN WITH THE RESTAURANT BEFORE YOUR RESERVATION, JUST IN CASE. IT IS COMMON FOR MANY RESTAURANTS IN DLP TO CLOSE EARLY, UNANNOUNCED.
Our meal at Walt's far exceeded our standards. Again, I had low expectations per the other posts I'd read, so maybe I just lowered my standards too much. Regardless, I would gladly eat there again. We were seated at a window table in the Fantasyland-themed room, so we could watch the sun begin to set as we enjoyed our beautiful meal.
Jennifer chose the special 25th-anniversary pre-fixe meal, but I opted for the Signature meal. Many of the options reference foods that Walt Disney himself preferred or enjoyed. My meal came with a pineapple upside down cake, and our waitress informed me that pineapple was one of Walt's favorite fruits. For my starter, I chose the crab flakes and soya beans in a lightly-spiced chilled watermelon soup, and for my main I chose the half lobster poached in butter, with leeks braised in orange juice and a potato cake.
As dusk began to settle over DLP, we had the sad realization that our day was ending, and we had to make every last moment count. We admired the park in a new way as it came alive in the dark - the castle was a beautiful sight, and smaller lighting details became more noticeable throughout the park. Our last ride of the day was Peter Pan, a perfectly magical Disney ending to a super fun day. We also opted to spend more time shopping rather than spend our last precious hour in the park standing in line for Thunder Mountain Railroad. It was a tough decision to make, but I wanted to soak up every last ounce of the park before our time was up.
Last but not least, we witnessed the glorious nighttime spectacular, Disney Illuminations. The castle is brilliantly lit up with projections and scenes from favorite Disney films. Their fireworks are not like those in Anaheim, but that doesn't make the show any less amazing. I won't give too much away, but let's just say Jennifer and I both ended up shedding some literal tears.
Overall, it was close to a perfect day. I did not go in expecting a park identical to the one in Anaheim, that I hold so dear to my heart; I had to adjust my expectations to realize that first, I was on a different continent, and second, many times our ideas of what something "should" be ruins our potentially awesome experience. I loved Disneyland Paris for what it is - a beautifully crafted, seriously aesthetically pleasing park, with a different kind of Disney magic. It was incredibly difficult to leave the park, but Mickey was there to wish us the best!
I also threw together a quick video of my Disney adventures, which you can watch below.
Until next time,