I can’t say I was expecting to see a member of the Free Hugs movement at Disneyland Paris last summer. But I can tell you I did in fact hug him, and the look on his friends’ faces when I recognized the sign made my day.
In the interest of shameless self-promotion, here are a few highlights from recent episodes of the Those Darn Cats Podcast, which I co-host and co-produce with my BFF Lisa:
- How to Not Suck at Disneyland Paris: Tips, tricks, and random commentary from my son and me after several days at our happiest place in France. (Well, actually I think we had an even better time at a tiny café in Bayeaux, but what the heck.)
- Scurvy Monkeys and Voicemails: We’re joined by hosts of the Scurvy Monkeys and Disney Dudes Podcasts, both of which are bizarre and irreverent in their own ways, and then listen to some truly astounding voice mails
- More D23 Mishaps and In the Mode: My co-host and BFF is even crankier about D23 than I am, perhaps because she is an actual member.
- Ladies and Gentlemen, Introducing Miss Devon Dawson! Lisa interviews the voice of Jessie, the Yodeling Cowgirl, from the Riders in the Sky album Woody’s Roundup.
Now, don’t be fooled by the fact that my 13-year-old son sometimes joins us on the podcast….it is often not family friendly, and I don’t advise listening to it with kids around. Especially that one with the Scurvy Monkeys.
Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast in Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland doesn’t vary much from its stateside counterparts: You spin the car around, you shoot at the Zs, you complain that your gun isn’t working right, you mug for the camera in the final room. But hey, in Paris it’s partially in French, plus the guns come out of their holsters (as do those in Anaheim, but not Lake Buena Vista).
I lost track of how many times we visited this attraction during our four days at Disneyland Paris last month. But I can tell you that the Fast Pass machines there are more prone to delays than any other Fast Pass machines I’ve ever seen. It seemed that every single time we approached for Fast Passes, several of the machines were out of paper.
But no matter….it was fun to hear Buzz speaking French, fun to play shooting gallery, fun even to sit around taking pictures on my last time through the attraction since my gun, yes, was not working properly.
My BFF has pointed out that at some point on the park map, our hero is referred to as Buzz L’Eclair. This seems to translate literally to “Buzz Flash” or “Buzz Lightning,” which feels like an odd translation but must work quite smoothly for dubbing, given the similarity of the words.
And hey, while we’re talking about Toy Story attractions and such….yup, I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of the Toy Story Mania game for Wii, which comes out tomorrow! In fact, I ordered mine at the local Game Stop, to get the bonus Toy Story Mania wiimote face plates (unlike the link above, that goes to my Amazon Affiliates store, the virtual equivalent of buying me a Dole Whip to thank me for the blog). My one question, as I anxiously await playing it tomorrow: Will the game feature special cut scenes between plays where you head back out to the line, check to see what the Fast Pass return time is like, and chat amongst yourselves for 90 minutes before you get to play again?
Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris is hands-down my favorite Haunted Mansion at any Disney Park worldwide. The ride itself is quite a bit different from its US counterparts, with a ghost town finale entirely unlike the graveyard scene you’ll see elsewhere (though fear not, your favorite song is still there). The themeing is a bit different too, to suit its Frontierland environs.
DLRP Magic has provided a ride through video on YouTube; there’s also a higher quality version at their site.
One of my favorite things about Phantom Manor is the reduced presence of your Ghost Host. I seem to recall from a Tony Baxter Haunted Mansion walkthrough video that the decision to use minimal narration was prompted by a desire to make the attraction accessible to a multi-lingual audience, but ultimately it makes the attraction spookier, and focuses one’s attention more closely on the visuals, which themselves are often far creepier than anything the stateside Mansions offer. There’s still a playfulness to the happy haunts, but a scarier side too.
The entrance and exit queues may just be the best, most extensive themeing I’ve seen at a Disney Park. I could have lingered for hours taking pictures, reading epitaphs, and just soaking up the atmosphere.
All photos below are reduced-size; click on them for more pixels than you probably need, suitable for computer desktops or framing.
When we first visited Disneyland Paris in 2005, I would not have imagined how enchanted my then-8-year-old son would be with Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. Somehow though, this simple attraction is an absolute must-do for us now, which we wandered through twice on our recent trip.
It’s very simple really: A hedge maze sprinkled with characters from Alice in Wonderland, finishing up at the castle of the Queen of Hearts. There are a few water features (watch out!), several characters that pop up from out of sight, and a small Queen of Hearts Castle.
(All pictures below are sized down for your convenience, and linked to larger versions with far more pixels than you’re ever likely to need. Ditto was true for my opening trip report yesterday.)
The first thing to hit us at Disneyland Paris was the odor of horse urine.
Well, that’s not entirely true. After all, by the time we entered the Disneyland Railroad underpass that marks the start of Main Street USA, and where the horse urine stench hit us, we’d already spent about an hour in line for our admission media, so we’d had plenty of time to appreciate the excellent themeing in the ticket queues. But generally speaking, I don’t feel like I’m at Disneyland until I’ve walked right down the middle of Main Street USA. And this time, that came with an extra special je ne sais quoi.
I was baffled by it, quite frankly. I’ve never smelled such a thing at Anaheim or Lake Buena Vista, even on a hot day. The horses weren’t even out and about, actually; perhaps it was too hot to make them work. But nonetheless, their presence was unmistakable. I’d been in New Orleans the week prior, and even Bourbon Street at 8:00am didn’t smell as strongly as Main Street USA.
Things improved substantially from there, of course. After all, how could they get much worse? But indeed, Disneyland Paris is a distinctly different experience than its US counterparts, and sometimes does fall short of the US Guest’s expectations.
In some cases it’s as simple as culture clash. One can’t — and perhaps shouldn’t — expect the same sort of homogenous ever-smiling Magic from Cast Members in France as one does in the United States. Can you imagine trying to ensure that a largely-Parisian workforce would act like the Cast Members you’re accustomed to in Orlando? (I’m not even going to mention how far beyond the pale the Tokyo Cast Members go in their niceness and attention to customer service details!)
I’d argue, though, that this cultural conflict doesn’t have to be a problem if you’re willing to remember that you’re essentially out of your element and in someone else’s country, where their own customs prevail. Besides, plenty of the Cast Members are super-friendly and welcoming, especially if you approach them with a smile yourself. French culture does not expect the always-on happy face that United States culture assumes, and perhaps this is not a bad thing. After spending the past two weeks in France, I must say there’s something refreshing (and feels more authentic) about knowing that if somebody’s smiling, they really mean it.
But it seems to me that the more significant issue, horse urine aside, was that the processes and systems at Disneyland Paris are essentially replicated from the US Disney parks, without the significant re-engineering necessary for a whole different set of social norms and behaviors.
A case in point: While queued up to enter Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, one of my son’s favorite attractions, a Guest some ten places in front of us in the line had a question or problem to discuss with the Cast Member on duty. Now, in one of the US parks, the Cast Member would have asked the Guest to move out of the queue while the question was discussed, so that those lined up behind her could continue to enter the attraction. But instead, the line stood still for at least five minutes as the discussion took place. I saw many similar events during the three days I spent at Disneyland Paris this August, and have come to believe there may be a cultural norm that wouldn’t permit for the Cast Member to ask the Guest to step aside to let others pass. Certainly I did notice during my time in France that when a service worker was assisting me in some way, I was given their complete attention until our interaction was completed.
But the queue was not designed to easily flow around this sort of situation; it was not possible for another Cast Member to simply redirect the rest of us through another turnstyle (and I wonder, would it have been rude to do so if it had been possible? The Guest with the question had, after all, been in line before us, so would it have been expected that we should have to wait for her to enter first?).
Another case in point: While smoking is forbidden in the indoor queues and on attractions, it’s permitted in the Parks, and one does see plenty of smoking everywhere. However, there don’t seem to be adequate ash trays/cans throughout the Parks. I remember watching one Guest drop a cigarette butt on top of a wet drain in Fantasyland, and scoffing at her….then later realized that I didn’t see anywhere else for her to put out her cigarette. If smoking is permitted, one must make allowances for where all those butts are gonna go.
Sadly, maintenance in general seems to be quite an issue, given the number of worn patches on various attractions, and the amount of litter I saw in the Pinocchio queue one evening. And yes, that certain smell on Main Street.
It’s a shame that differences in Guest behavior (and, in the case of smoking, Park policy) haven’t been accounted for in Park planning, as the attractions Imagineering at Disneyland Paris is simply top notch. Their Phantom Manor is spectacular, with themeing in the queue far beyond that of either of the Haunted Mansions in the States. Ditto for the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, though the Anaheim attraction is better. La Taniere du Dragon is spooky good fun and unlike any other Disney attraction, as is the Nautilus walkthrough (no, nothing like the Finding Nemo submarine ride). The architecture and landscaping of the Castle are spectacular and distinctive, as would be necessary to pass muster with a European Guest. The Discoveryland theme is delightfully steampunk, much less dated than the retro-future of the US Tomorrowlands. Even the Walt Disney Studios Park, while largely a failure in themeing even after recent improvements, has two rather charming shows in Animagique and Cinemagique.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting more photos from my trip, as well as commentary on a few of the attractions I particularly enjoyed (or didn’t). I’ll also be playing live audio from the trip, including a couple ride throughs, on the Those Darn Cats podcast in the reasonably near future.
If you’re a Disney fan (and why else would you be reading this blog?), I wouldn’t encourage you to make a trip to Paris just for Disneyland. But I would encourage you to consider substituting a trip to Paris for one of your usual jaunts to Walt Disney World, especially if you’ve never been to Paris before. Lying on the grass on a sunny day in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower is so much more satisfying than walking through the Epcot France pavillion. Exploring the skulls and bones in the Catacombes is spookier than the Pirates queue.
There’s a great exhbit of women artists right now at the Beaubourg museum, at Georges Pompideau Center. And yes, for about $160 US you can get a Francillien Annual Passport at Disneyland Paris, so you can get a little Disney fix in while you’re at it.
And no, I still really can’t explain that horse urine.
On a dreary July afternoon in New England, is it any wonder a girl’s thoughts turn to Disneyland Paris?
Yesterday, I finally made up my mind about the one table service dining reservation I’ll be making for this trip: I called to book a 3:45pm window table at Walt’s: An American Restaurant. It’s not like I’m really wanting a big meal at 3:45 in the afternoon…..it’s that everyone has suggested that one really should book this restaurant at a time that the parade should be going by (including Adam Goodger of the Disney Brit Podcast, whom BFF Lisa and I interviewed on Those Darn Cats Episodes 55 and 57). And that sure does sound good to me!
Calling to make the dining reservation was a reminder that I need to brush up on my French before this trip (45 days away!). Yes, the initial phone menu asked me to press 2 for English, but the Cast Member answered in French, sending me into a sputtering, “Um…..parlez-vous anglais?” Usually, I like to at least start out with “Pardon, je parle seulement un petit peu de Francais….parlez-vous anglais?” in my sweetest, most apologetic voice possible, because honestly I do know that I am essentially in their country, even when just calling their reservations line, and it would be polite of me to acknowledge their graciousness in speaking my native tongue instead of their own.
But I digress….the Cast Member did speak English, the reservation has been made, and I’ve got the confirmation number. And a little reminder that I can’t keep procrastinating on my French practice.