Recently, our good friend “BloberGlawp” became our (only) Foreign Correspondent, writing a great compare-contrast post about leaving Canada and taking his family on their very first trip to …
My Wife: “Honey, landing in Paris and taking the train is cheaper than landing in Frankfurt”
Me: “You know what’s in Paris right?”
My Wife: “…yup”
It’s weird, this Disney addiction.
Last month my family and I had the opportunity to experience Disneyland Paris while in Europe visiting relatives. Being a very close replica of Disneyland in Anaheim, I thought it would be nice to share with fellow Disneyland enthusiasts what our two days there were like.
First, I would like to warn everyone visiting Disneyland Paris of a mistake I made: comparing parks. Just like you shouldn’t compare your kids to other special little ones, you shouldn’t compare the Disneyland parks. Each have their strengths, and just like kids, each have traits that will make you go nuts.
After the first day at Disneyland Paris, having spent much of my time comparing everything to what I knew and loved in Anaheim, I found myself underwhelmed. What I saw was not exactly what I knew. This unfamiliarity struck me as this park being inferior to Disneyland proper, and as I left my feelings were that Disneyland Paris … sucked!
Only later that evening, with a nice glass of liquor in hand, did I realize how unreasonable I had been all day. I wasn’t in Anaheim. Of course things weren’t going to be the same. I should expect everything to be different, and I should explore and enjoy these differences.
Setting the bar very high, Disney Anaheim has a few decades of magic ingrained into it’s walls that it’s European counterpart cannot have. What always strikes me in the Californian parks is the attention to futile detail that often go unnoticed. Take for example the washrooms: in the USA most of the washrooms are themed. Just to name a few, the one near Alice in Wonderland is playing card themed, the Carthay Lounge washroom looks like something out of a club in the 20’s, and Main Street’s also has a turn-of-the-century feel to it. This almost makes you want to go in every single one just to find out what it looks like! Sometimes they are as gorgeous as the park itself, especially the one at the entrance to DCA, with it’s mosaic walls. Paris washrooms look like McDonald’s washrooms from the 1990’s. Pastel green and white tiles, basic boring melamine countertops. Every single bathroom, from Main Street to Fantasyland are all the same. Every single one.
Sure, having a fancy place to dispose of human waste instead of a smelly ugly pastel green colored washroom isn’t really that important. But still, it’s a nice touch. It’s something a well established and lucrative park can look into. A detail, the (maybe less lucrative?) Paris park would reject as being an illogical investment. Not that Disneyland Paris isn’t gorgeous, it just has fewer bells and whistles. On a scale, if Anaheim is a 10, Paris is a 9.5. Barely noticeable, could be mistaken for purposeful simplicity. Hardly something you ever see in Anaheim.
None the less, once you get the hang of it and don’t compare it to Anaheim, Disneyland Paris is a pretty awesome park. Now that I’ve told not to compare, I’m going to do just that for the rest of this article.
Crowd Management :
Paris has learned from Anaheim, and made sure the park never feels too crowded: large areas for easier crowd displacement, placing restaurants in between rides and attractions to spread out those waiting in line, larger “boats” to move more people through the rides simultaneously … there’s even an indoor alleyway with entrances to the stores next to the Main Street that seems to help unclog the sea of people that walk in and out of the park. It probably helps that the park wasn’t at capacity when we were there (we always go to Disneyland Anaheim on weekdays to avoid crowds) but it seems like this park is efficient at not feeling like a sardine can. Good job there, doing that thing, whoever you are.
Big Name Rides :
The big rides we love are similar to the original rides, but still very different. Some will appeal to nostalgic Disneyland park fans, as they seem closer to what I’ve heard the rides used to be. Other differences are just weird.
For instance, Pirates starts with the climb instead of ending with it. There is no ghostly Squidface projected onto misty waterfalls, and not one Jack Sparrow to be found! I think it may be closer to the original ride, before the movies took it over. There’s also a photoshoot at the last drop. Very weird. That’s me in the back, looking and feeling very confused.
Haunted mansion feels like a much darker ride to me. No “funny” ghosts, and the theme seems to be a bride ghost searching for her groom, which I can only imagine is taken from the movie. The outside waiting line area outside is very barren, without a pet cemetery, not much vegetation, a few stones here and there and a old abandoned gazebo. The waiting line seems to match the macabre ambiance of the ride itself and I suspect this area is also poorly lit at night and adds to the experience of an old abandoned haunted mansion, but since the park is open during the day as well, this left us feeling a bit … unfulfilled.
Star Tours is not 3D, and is always the same show (again, retro?). It’s a Small World is open, which was also very strange for us because it’s never open in California when we go. Indiana Jones is a roller coaster. Big Thunder dwarfs it’s American counterpart – it’s unbelievably good! Peter Pan has a fast pass, but isn’t as gorgeous as Anaheim’s version.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to visit these parks during the off season and especially during the week. In our case this payed off big time. School was out for some kids in other countries resulting in a few large groups in the park but it was still pretty much half full. 7 times out of 10 we literally walked on to the rides without waiting, the rest of the time we waited in between 10 and 30 minutes. Sometimes we didn’t even bother getting fast passes, sometimes the booths weren’t even open. It was so empty at one point we rode Pirates twice without getting off the boat as no one was waiting in queue when the ride ended. It was pretty freakin’ sweet.
Something that struck me as odd – when the rides weren’t narrated in French, they weren’t narrated at all. Sometimes this was kind of disappointing. For instance, the Storybook Land boat ride had no Skipper to tell us all about the magical stories that the ride is based on. Instead, the lands had little signs indicating what we where looking at. It works, but it’s kind of un-romantic and cold. At Disneyland, the entrance is Monstro, from Pinocchio. At Disneyland Paris, it was … well, I still don’t know what.
Walk-Thru Attractions :
There seem to be quite a few of these compared to Anaheim. Some are quite interesting, like the Aladdin walk thru and the Alice in Wonderland maze. Nothing to write home about, but they are there and got the Disneyland Anaheim-nostalgia blood flowing. One in particular I couldn’t wait to do was The Nautilus. 20,000 Leagues under the sea was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. I remember watching it on “The Magical World of Disney” which aired every Sunday evening at 6 pm on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the walk-through didn’t disappoint, at all. Exploring the boat, I felt like I was a kid again.
Europe is quiet, America is loud :
Ever notice how we are often yelling at each other on rides, or even when waiting in line in Disneyland? Well, we do, and I suspect the volume of the ambiance music/visuals is set in order to distract your mind from the fact that you’re waiting in line 45 minutes for a 3 minute ride. It’s also probably that loud to drown out the screaming, impatient kids.
Europeans don’t do this. They seem to care more about eardrums than entertainment. Same goes for the rides themselves, as I noticed the audio volume is medium level at most. It’s also bizarre to see unlit screens (like the one below) and other line attractions not being present. At least you can hear your phone ring while on a ride right? Right?
Another thing that I never noticed much in California is wear and tear, chipped paint and twitchy animatronics. It was common in France. Not really a problem, but made things less “Disney Perfect”.
The Price :
Disneyland is never cheap. We all know this, and Disneyland Paris is no exception. To make things worse, the euro cost roughly $1.50, so you have to add 50% to everything you’re buying. That being said, it’s interesting to see how Europeans seem to hunt for deals everywhere forcing merchants, restaurants, and hotels to offer surprising deals when you start shopping around.
We got a decent 4-star, non-Disney hotel room with buffet breakfast (a fantastic one – the French know their breakfast!), complimentary bus ride to the park every 15 minutes, swimming pool, tv and the worst wifi in the history of free wifi for three nights at the cost of €265 or $400. Also, when booking, search around the internet for park tickets as they often go on sale. At gate a single park adult price is €80 ($120) We got ours online for €40 ($60). *all prices Canadian
The Food :
We didn’t eat much in the park, as we stuffed ourselves with a huge breakfast every morning at the hotel. When we did eat, we found some of the park food to be expensive and kind of gross! Some of it was decent, though – great, even, and fairly priced. So … it’s very similar to Anaheim in that way. One very odd thing about European restaurants in general: they aren’t always open. They tend to be open a little before lunch, close in the afternoon, then open (or not) again in the evening. Disneyland is the last place on earth you’d expect to find a locked commerce, yet this bizarre tradition is alive and well in the park. So plan ahead if you want to eat at a specific restaurant. Fortunately, the park displays what restaurants are open and at what hours the day you’re visiting, you just have to make sure it will be open when you want to go. We wish we had noticed this before trekking halfway across the park to find the Hakuna Matata closed, at 5:30 PM.
Another concept the park fails miserably at is fast food. As in, delivering food and serving hoards of famished tourists quickly. The restaurant lines were horrendous, something you’d figure they would remedy by opening all the restaurants all the time. But they don’t. You will wait in line longer for your food than you wait for most rides.
What was similar to Disneyland – and an added annoyance – was the impatient tourist. Being rude with cast members and cutting in line seems to be a lifestyle in some countries. And I don’t mean just cutting in line to join family members that are waiting in line already. I’ve seen that before and I understand – there can be a million reasons for such behavior (good and bad). We saw cutting in front of the person directly in front of you while he’s distracted momentarily by a bird his son showed him. And even tho I’m not going to stereotype the dwellers of any country in particular, it’s real stupid to cut in line only to position yourself right in front of the now angry Canadian (ahem!) you just flew in front of, because you’re going to be in front of that angry Canadian for the next 15 minutes while he complains and rips at impolite tourist who cut in line in every language he knows, loudly. So don’t do that, ok?
Other than that (and the smelly bathrooms), the Disneyland Paris was a blast. I’d go again in a heartbeat. Was it better than Anaheim? No. Was it as good? I’d say yes.
Because it was different.