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Jentasmic: Top 5 Disney Dining Memories

11 Feb

The view from Walt's American Restaurant, Disneyland Paris

In this week’s Jentasmic! column at Studios Central, I meditate further on that all-important question: Is theme or food more important in my Disney Dining experience? In particular, I look at my five favorite memories, and consider how much food, theme, or other factors influenced the experience overall. For example:

Walt’s American Restaurant, Disneyland Paris. The food was pretty good, especially given that we’d chosen to eat “American food” in Paris. We’d scored a table by the window, at the right time for the evening parade. Sadly, the parade was rained out, so all we could watch was the parade of tourists in hastily-purchased ponchos, heading for the front gates. But what made it special? Knowing that this was the only place on the entire planet that a Guest can sit in a restaurant on the second floor of Main Street, overlooking the crowds. No forced perspective here — it’s a full-fledged Main Street second floor.

Head on over to Studios Central to read the rest. . .

Free Hugs at Disneyland Paris

18 Dec

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.

Recent Highlights from Those Darn Cats Podcast

27 Sep

Happy days!

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:

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.

You can find us on iTunes or Podcast Alley, or subscribe via RSS feed.

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, Disneyland Paris

14 Sep

Buzz Lightyear

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.

Little Green Man

A speaker is housed in this walkie-talkie, giving some of the familiar spiel as you're on your way through the queue

A speaker is housed in this walkie-talkie, giving some of the familiar spiel as you're on your way through the queue

Astro Laser Mode D'Emploi

The Etch-a-sketch replacing the Viewmaster here was a nice touch. Mission diagrams were drawn throughout Buzz' comments, which were of course bilingual.

The Etch-a-sketch replacing the Viewmaster here was a nice touch. Mission diagrams were drawn throughout Buzz' comments, which were of course bilingual.

The ride remains the same....all your old friends are here.

The ride remains the same....all your old friends are here.

There are also a few extra touches of awesomeness, as it's the newest installation of this attraction. having opened in 2006.

There are also a few extra touches of awesomeness, as it's the newest installation of this attraction. having opened in 2006.

Yup, I was looking everywhere for the lanyard tags like they sell at the US parks. But no dice.

Yup, I was looking everywhere for the lanyard tags like they sell at the US parks. But no dice.

Ride photo

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?

No Disco Dancing

12 Sep

Lisa, disco dancing is not permitted at Disneyland Paris. C’est pour votre sécurité.

Safety sign

At Crush's Coaster, Walt Disney Studios

Phantom Manor: Best. Mansion. Ever.

7 Sep

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.

Phantom Manor at a distance

Phantom Manor entrance

Phantom Manor

Gazebo

A fountain in the courtyard, in the entrance queue

A fountain in the courtyard, in the entrance queue

Maintenance issue? Nope, excellent themeing.

Maintenance issue? Nope, excellent themeing.

Looking down on the courtyard from the entrance queue

Looking down on the courtyard from the entrance queue

Watching the sun set behind Big Thunder from the Manor's porch

Watching the sun set behind Big Thunder from the Manor's porch

The exit queue is even better than the entrance

The exit queue is even better than the entrance

Tombstone

IMG_0211

IMG_0214

Another tombstone

Saloon doors tombstone

Tombstone for miners

Hurry back, hurry back! Be sure to bring your death certificate

Hurry back, hurry back! Be sure to bring your death certificate

Curiouser and Curiouser: Alice’s Labyrinth

2 Sep

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.)

He's late, he's late!

He's late, he's late!

I never know which way to turn

I never know which way to turn

Honk!

Honk!

Much like a scene from a sidewalk cafe in the 1st district of Paris, actually

Much like a scene from a sidewalk cafe in the 1st district of Paris, actually

Time for the caucus race! This section of the labyrinth comes shortly after water fountains that'll soak you if you're not careful or lucky (hence, I kept my camera covered there)

Time for the caucus race! This section of the labyrinth comes shortly after water fountains that'll soak you if you're not careful or lucky (hence, I kept my camera covered there)

Every caucus must have a leader, n'est-ce pas?

Every caucus must have a leader, n'est-ce pas?

Once again, I'm baffled

Once again, I'm baffled

She is always so cranky! This figure pops up at you (slowly), yelling in French

She is always so cranky! This figure pops up at you (slowly), yelling in French

We're almost there....

We're almost there....

....and finally, we arrive at the Queen of Hearts' Castle

....and finally, we arrive at the Queen of Hearts' Castle

Give my regards to the Dormouse on your way out!

Give my regards to the Dormouse on your way out!

Disneyland Paris: Beautiful, and Flawed

2 Sep

Disneyland Park

The first thing to hit us at Disneyland Paris was the odor of horse urine.

The themeing was lovely, but I didn't want to linger quite as long as we did

The themeing was lovely, but I didn't want to linger quite as long as we did

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.

Watching sunset behind the castle, from the Phantom Manor queue

Watching sunset behind the castle, from the Phantom Manor queue

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.

Strolling through Alice's Curious Labyrinth

Alice's Curious Labyrinth is one of the most relaxing attractions in any Disney park

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?).

I did enjoy the Pinocchio ride....

I did enjoy the Pinocchio ride....

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.

...but not the rubbish in the queue area

...but not the rubbish in the queue area

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.

Just one corner of the delightfully steakpunk Discoverly

Just one corner of the delightfully steakpunk Discoveryland

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.

Size does matter

Size does matter

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.

Talk about tombstones quaking!

Talk about tombstones quaking!

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.

Random, and Somewhat Cranky, Round-Up

22 Jul

My friend Geoff just Facebook’ed an awesome 1985 video of the Skyway ride from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland.

Apparently, we have oneandatwo to thank for this fabulously retro moment. Thanks, oneandatwo!

In other news…..I’ve been irritated lately by the discussions around the recently-leaked Magic Kingdom Fantasyland expansion plans. It seems that every time this comes up, people are talking about how frustrating it is that Disney (and in particular Fantasyland) doesn’t have enough stuff “for boys”, that it’s all princesses and fairies and we need more pirates and villians. Um, I think there’s a lot in Fantasyland that’s pretty gender-neutral….Peter Pan, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Snow White….

And I just always hate how we tend to break things out into “boys stuff” and “girls stuff.” I grew up playing with Barbies and Hot Wheels, and so did my brother. And I can’t help but remember the dirty looks I’d get from strangers when my son was younger, and liked to pretend to drive the Barbie Jeep at Toys’ R Us. I mean really, it had a phone and way more controls and accessories than the “boys” version….so why shouldn’t he like it?

Plus I can’t help but wonder….is there a Universal Parks fan community out there, and is there a similar level of uproar that there’s not enough girly stuff? Harumph.

But yes, I do agree with John Frost when he says:

Disney is essentially writing off the tween boys and focusing all their attention on the girls with the idea that moms and their daughters control the vacation purse strings.

What else am I cranky about? Well, I have no interest in guinea pigs saving the world in 3D, and yet I know I’m gonna end up seeing that movie and spending the extra bucks for the additional dimension.

But not everything in the world makes me cranky! I’m glad to learn that there is apparently an awesome Star Wars craft show going on in Fort Lauderdale through August 29, 2009: Stitch Wars. A Flickr set dedicated to the event describes it thusly:

Stitch Wars

Stitch Wars

A long stitch ago in a Gallery not so far, far away, an alliance of crafty rebel artists was formed to honor the epic fantasy world of Star Wars. Wielding mighty tools of knitting and crochet, cutting through the great expanse of felt, these daring individuals used their handmade patterns of survival to restore freedom to the galaxy. Beginning July 18th 2009, their Jedi mind tricks will bedazzle you and sway your thoughts to the Dark side of the Art World. May their farce be with you.

And hey, a question I’ll throw out to you European and/or well-traveled readers…has anybody been to Parc Festyland in the Normandy region of France? Their web site (French only, but Google can translate to English if you like) amuses me tremendously, especially the fact that they have a section called Prehistyland dedicated to, well, prehistory. I’m gonna be in the neighorhood next month and have a strange desire to drop in, but the reviews I’ve found online are so terribly bad I think I’ve been scared away.

Une Table à Walt’s, S’il Vous Plaît

2 Jul

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.

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