Marne la Vallée-Chessy, France
Thursday 13 February 2003
It’s A Scary World After All
Mother was concerned about me going to NATO countries that have been lukewarm about backing the USA these days. I have to admit a little concern myself upon hearing that highly trained British combat troops had been deployed to Heathrow. That’s why I was grateful to have chosen to front-load a couple of vacation days onto a business trip, because I flew into Charles De Gaulle in Paris instead of flying straight into London.
Of course, no trip can go without a bit of drama. My flight was at 5:10 pm, and I had ordered the car for 1:30pm, knowing that there was a possibility of getting stuck in traffic on the way. As it happens, there was no traffic, and I arrived well ahead of time. My reservations were with Delta, and the company car dropped me at the Delta terminal at JFK International in NY. I waited on line and when I got to the check-in desk, the guy told me that I was at the wrong terminal. Yes, my reservation was with Delta, but the fine print says, “Operated by Air France”. Delta called a shuttle van and I was spirited away to the proper terminal.
I checked in with Air France, business class. My luggage was tagged “priority”, and I was directed to go through security and then proceed to the lounge. Security was no biggie – I’ve had my laptop torn apart on a flight from Long Island to Orlando, but here they just scanned my stuff and away I went. I made a pit stop at one of the duty free shops to buy some power adapters for Europe and the UK. I then proceeded to the lounge, where I was greeted by name, had my coat hung up for me and my carry-on stowed away. This was a very nice place! Free food and drinks, including alcohol, places to set up laptop and charge cell phones, separate smoking room, big bathrooms with showers, the works. Time passed quickly there, and before I knew it, the flight was called. I proceeded to the gate to board, where I witnessed a woman from Algeria being detained and questioned because her passport had expired a year ago. My own passport had been checked twice already, once at check-in and once by security, so I don’t know how that woman got as far as the gate when it was expired.
The flight itself was uneventful. Well, even if there had been an event, I would not have known it. In an effort to reset my body clock, I downed the free champagne very quickly and chased it with ample water. Then I used the complimentary earplugs, eyeshade, pillows and blankee, got the business class easy chair into a comfy position and promptly went to sleep. One REM cycle later, they were serving dinner. They come around with those steaming face cloths, then they come around with little table cloths for your tray table! The flight attendants were all those impossibly thin, Barbie doll-like French women. Everyone spoke English too, but behaved like it pained them to be so patient with us stupid Americans.
I chose the halibut in lemon butter sauce with baby zucchini and baby carrots. There was also a salad of mixed greens with broiled shrimp and scallops and a tiny bottle of olive oil laced with lemon to go over it. Also included were fruit, cheese, bread and butter, and a chocolate mouse thing with pralines and a thin layer of yellow sponge cake on the bottom. After dinner was over, I downed some more water and juice, did the earplugs and eyeshade routine again, and went back to sleep.
Next thing I knew, they were serving breakfast, and saying that we were getting in 20 minutes early due to a strong tail wind. Breakfast consisted of Dannon La Creme yogurt (blech, I only do Yoplait 99% fat free) with a granola mix to sprinkle into it, orange and grapefruit wedges, bread, butter, jam and juices. The flight attendants had barely enough time to clear away the trays and hand out the coats they’d hung up for us when the captain was telling us it was time to land. Before he turned off the big screen TV, I saw that the temperature in Paris was somewhere around negative 20 degrees C. I don’t know precisely what that translates to in Fahrenheit, but I know it is cold!
Customs was again no biggie – they just looked at my passport and said have a nice vacation, and off I went to get the bags, which took a very long time to come out. However, when they finally did come out, mine were the 1st and 5th to do so – “priority”! In the meantime, I did a little investigating. Laura from OLP had booked me on a high-speed train that was only ten minutes to DLP. By poking around, I also found out that there is some sort of a shuttle called VEA that goes to “Disneyland Parc”. Have to investigate that for the future, should I ever desire to come back. We’d gotten in to CDG at around 5:40 am Paris time. The train Laura booked me on was the first one that went to Disneyland, and it wasn’t until 8:41 am. So I got the bags and schlepped them to the waiting room. I found the bathroom so I could use the complimentary toothbrush from Air France, wash my face, re-moisturize, etc. It was nice to have all that time to freshen up. However, the bathroom was DISGUSTING. Broken tiles on the floor. No trash can – the top of a cardboard box was sitting on the floor to throw trash into. Half the sinks did not work, only one of the hand blow dryers worked, there were no nice big disabled access stalls into which to pull the luggage, the toilets had barely an inch of water in them, people in France obviously never learned the concept of “flush”, AND in spite of signage everywhere, the French flat out refuse to acknowledge a request of No Smoking. There were cigarette butts everywhere, and it seems like everyone in France smokes, anywhere they wish.
Finally, the platform was posted for my train, and down I went with the rest of the passengers to wait outside. And this is where I found out precisely how cold it was in Paris that morning. Mes amis, it was just as bad, maybe a bit worse, than New York has been this winter! Mon Dieu! Merde! I started to people watch, and I was amazed at how little clothing these people were wearing. No one had a hat on. Me, I had one of those Totes scarf-that-is-really-a-hood babushka things wrapped tightly around my head and neck. I was regretting going for the “professional” looking black wool wrap coat, rather than my long, LL Bean down coat with the hood and insulated pockets. But not the French – no siree Bob, the French are running around in boiled wool jackets, shawls, fleece sweatshirts, etc. I started to think that maybe Europeans are heartier than I am. Maybe I’m just a hothouse flower. I cannot stand the cold and I love humidity. I was starting to think I’d made a fatal error coming to Paris in the dead of the winter, and began to suspect that this was why my package was so cheap!
Finally, the train came, and I began to understand that when it comes to getting on a train, people the world over are the same. They become incredibly rude, just like us Noo Yawkas, jockeying for position, pushing past the people who are trying to get off with THEIR luggage, etc. I hung all the way back, not wanting to play that game. Been commuting to Manhattan for nigh upon 13 years now, and I just won’t do that crap any more. Life’s too freakin’ short.
Finally got on the train, and realized that I’d have to walk down the train a bit to get to my assigned seat, and decided since I was only going to be on this sucker for 10 minutes, I’d just park it in the vestibule. No one came to look at my ticket or anything, which kind of surprised me. We passed by field upon field that had been plowed. Some of it looked like it was starting to spring greenery, which was amazing to me, considering how cold it was. I kept seeing piles of stuff that was smoking, as though on fire, and then I realized it was not smoking, it was STEAMING – compost piles, when properly made, actually heat up due to the microbial activity, and the result on a cold winter’s morn was steam in the fields! Sorry folks, the organic gardener in me gets all kinds of excited over a steaming compost heap!
In no time, we arrived at Marne la Vallée-Chessy, and I disembarked with my luggage in tow. I ascended via escalator from the platform, and when I went out the doors upstairs, I was right outside the gates of the Disney Village, which we at home know as Downtown Disney. There was a queue of busses with various names of hotels on them, but I didn’t see one for the Disneyland Hotel. BTW, the busses are very very long, and have this accordion thing in the middle of them, like holding two cars together – very strange and comical looking! So I consulted a nearby map, figuring out what the French words are for “You Are HERE”, and lo and behold, I discovered that the Disneyland Hotel was right around the corner, behind the train terminal. What’s better than this! I trudged around the corner, and there it was – the Disneyland Hotel, standing right at the entrance to Disneyland!
It was only 10:00 am, and my plan was to check in and give my luggage to the concierge so that I could go to the parks. However, they had a room all ready for me, so I was actually able to go up. The lobby of this hotel is stunning. There is a huge wood-burning fireplace at one end, and a grand staircase to the first and second floors at the other end. The floors are carpeted and bordered in marble, and there are several impressionist-type paintings of various Victoriana scenes. From the outside, the hotel looks a lot like the Grand Floridian – same architectural style, same red gabled roof, etc. It is laid out so that the main section stands like a sentinel at the gates of the park, and there are two wings that are connected to the center section via glass bridges/walkways on the second floor.
I got checked in, was given my park hopper and my id card to charge things back to the room, and away I went to my third floor room in wing 1. This is one area where they could improve – three separate cards, when all you need is one in WDW. On my floor, all the doors have knobs in the middle of them with little scenes from Peter Pan on them. I entered the room and immediately fell in love. Although it is not on the park side of the hotel, as I had hoped for, it is still spacious and charming. There are two queen sized beds. The headboards are tall-posted, made of blond wood, and in the center of each is a painting of the castle with a crescent moon nearby. The colors are muted greens, peaches and pinks. There are peach dust ruffles on the beds, and coverlets with botanicals on them. The carpeting has a hunter green field with pink and white rose buds on it. The armoire with the TV is painted on the doors with scenes from Peter Pan. The side with the TV has the pirate ship, and the side with the mini-bar shows Peter sneaking up on the ship. The molding on the top of the armoire has a carved crown. The room is wallpapered in a muted beige and cream stripe. There are watercolor pictures on one wall of four topiaries – swan, elephant, bunny and bear. Another wall has a picture of a garden with fountains and a gazebo, rendered as a very muted watercolor. The window is sort of an alcove, with a sloping ceiling over it, and the table and chairs stand just to the side of it, in the corner. I went to the bathroom and laughed out loud. The bathtub area is all ceramic tiles on the wall, and in the center of that wall is a big square of tiles that have nothing but the hippo in the tutu from Fantasia, in various poses. The mirror over the double sink has a frame with carvings of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs all around it. The backsplash and counters in the bathroom are marble. Finally, in the entrance way has a huge double-doored closet and inside are a multitude of hangers, two of which have long, fluffy, chunky terry robes hung on them.
I was so delighted with the room, and the beds were looking pretty good to me too, but I knew that the parks had just opened at 10:00 am and that I had much to see and do. I started out on the railroad, just to see the park. I was wearing a thick fleece I’d brought with me, with a bulky, wooly turtleneck under it, the babushka, flannel lined LL Bean jeans, thick wooly LL Bean socks, sneakers and gloves. I immediately knew I wasn’t going to be happy with this. I am amazed that there are so many people here in the parks, and it is freakin’ FREEZING. The seat of the railroad was so cold, my tush became numb. Clearly, I needed my long coat. I got off in Frontierland to head back for the long coat, but before I did, I got a good laugh. The railroad goes into a covered bridge-like structure, and inside are dioramas of the Grand Canyon, which everyone oo-ed and ah-ed over. There were animals like bears and wolves etc, and sound effects, but the animals were not animatronics – they looked like taxidermy to me. I was starting to think this was pretty cheesy of Disney – looked like the Museum of Natural History to me, and I’ve been looking at that stuff since 2nd grade. Not up to snuff for Disney. Finally disembarked and headed out of the park again. Ran up to the room and got the coat.
The problem with the coat is that the neck is open and does not stay shut (no button), so I figured I needed to go looking for the memorial sweatshirt, preferably one with a hood. That way I could ditch the babushka and have coverage for my neck. So I got the coat and headed out once more into the cold. I went over to Disney Village and cruised the shops. Passed by the obligatory McDonalds, Planet Hollywood, etc. In Team Mickey, I found a pullover fleece with a hood that says, “Disneyland Resort Paris 1992” and has an embroidered Mickey on it. Sold! I also purchased some DLP pins for my nieces. I went back to the room, reconfigured my outerwear, and headed out yet again. This is the beauty of this particular hotel – you can go back to the room a half dozen times a day, if you wish, cause it is right outside the gates of the park! I wasn’t really happy with the configuration. The black wool coat is rather form fitting, and getting all that layering under it makes it hard to move. I was also wearing a turtleneck, owing to the open collar of the coat with the big lapels - so stylish yet not practical. So even though I was now mostly toasty warm, I had this issue with the coat binding me around the armpits and shoulders, where all the material from all those layers kept bunching. And the lapels would not stay closed, exposing my chest. I was not happy.
Into the park once again I went. I got distracted by all the shops on Main Street, but saved the Emporium for my journey out. I love to shop. Even though I often don’t buy anything, I still love to shop, shop, shop.
This park is very weak on watches. Nearly every watch they have, which ain’t many, has Mickey on it. No Tink watches. I am bummed. Incidentally, I am wearing two watches while I am in Europe. One of the new, purple faced Tink watches from my Orlando trip last November is on my right wrist. This one is set to Paris time. My good old reliable Tink watch that shows her preening while standing on the mirror is on my left wrist. This one is set to NY time. Every time I switch countries during this trip, I will change the purple watch, and leave the other set to NY time. This way I don’t have to think/calculate too much.
And speaking of calculating, I hit the ATM while in Disney Village and got me some Euros. Last time I checked, it was .93 Euros to the US dollar, which is close enough for government work. So every time I buy something in Euros, it is basically just a tad bit cheaper than buying it with USD. Works for me. Next week I’ll have to have someone explain to me the British pound exchange rate and how to calculate.
At this point, I’ve discovered that something weird is going on with my cell. I changed bands and found a few networks in France, but I can’t make phone calls. I can receive calls, and I can text message back and forth with anyone else with a cell phone anywhere in the world, but I cannot dial out! I can also pick up voice mails, but have to fake out the voice mail system to do so. Weirdness. When I get back to the States, I will call the cell phone people about it, but I cannot do that at the moment, and I kind of like having an excuse not to call people back. Also, the caller ID is not working, which means I have to pick up voice mails frequently. It could be my mother or one of my friends or family, OR it could be someone from work, trying to make me answer a question or get involved with an issue while I’m on vacation time. So I’m just letting voice mail get it for the time being. Also, my cell internet access isn’t working, so I can’t read my email. Bummer!
After browsing my way down Main Street, I realized that it was like 1:00 PM and I hadn’t eaten anything since the hasty Air France breakfast before we landed, so I headed on over to Cafe Hyperion at Discoveryland. We in the USA know it as Tomorrowland. This counter service restaurant is laid out in tiers in a semi-circle, and there are giant screens with classic Mickey, Pluto, Goofy and Donald cartoons playing constantly. I got the Menu Hyper cheeseburger special, which is a double cheeseburger on a long mini-hero type bun, fries, and a brownie. I also ordered a cafe au lait, hoping to get warm. I headed up to the top tier, figuring that heat rises, and that’s when I realized that these hardy Europeans aren’t so hardy after all. Looked like half the crowd of the day was in the Hyperion, just sitting and smoking at the tables, up there in the cheap seats where it was warm. I finally found a single table and bit into my burger. UGH. It was cold. And I mean the cheese wasn’t even melted. I should have gone to McDonald’s! The fries were cold too, and the cafe au lait was tepid. I consumed it anyway. I had no desire to go back down there in the cold, after finally having found a table.
They keep all the doors of all the shops and restaurants open over here. In weather like this, it just isn’t practical. You find yourself looking for a shop to browse, and when you find a spot where the heat is blowing out of the ceiling, you just stand there trying to look interested in the merchandise in that area so you can get warm.
I was revived somewhat by my cafe au lait, and decided to forge ahead. First stop, Space Mountain! This was my first experience observing what is different about the Paris park and what is the same. Different: the queue was an absolute wreck. Food and wrappers and other trash, including the inevitable cigarette butts, all over the place. Same: while hurtling through space in the dark, people scream. Next, Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Different: Headphones with translations are available, but the English in my ears didn’t totally drown out the French blasting on the theater’s speakers, so it would have driven Janie bonkers. Same: the pre-show with the Kodak “True Colors” presentation, sung in English. There were subtitles available in other languages. Next up was Star Tours. I’ve never done Star Tours anywhere, so I don’t know what was different and what was the same. It was kind of strange to hear C3PO speaking French while we were in the queue. The video in the queue played over and over again (the “commercial” to go to the moon of Endor or some such), and it cycled through English and French versions. Similarly, there was a robot mechanic working on other robots while in the queue, and he also cycled through French and English. Soon I was seated in the vehicle. When the CM waved goodbye and left the room, a British guy behind me called out, “Buh-bye, love you.” Everyone giggled. The ride itself was in French, with an English translation flashing on a screen to the side. After Star Tours, I decided I’d had enough of Discoveryland for the day, and cruised counterclockwise through the park to Fantasyland.
Ah, Peter Pan’s Flight! Never did it before. Tried to last time I was in Orlando, but it was 101 every time I tried. Standing in the queue, I kept getting phone calls from people at work, and kept having to tell them I was having a day off. You must remember that NY is 6 hours behind Paris, so they were just getting their Friday mornings started by time I was in the queue for Peter Pan. Finally, I just shut off the ringer. I struck up a conversation with a woman from Great Britain and her son, who had lost their friends that they came in with, and the friends had the car keys to get back to the Davy Crocket Ranch. She kept trying to ring them on the cell phone, but they weren’t answering. I guess they forgot the cardinal rule of cell phones in a theme park – put the thing on vibrate and wear it on your body so that you will feel it. Otherwise, you might not hear it ring. Anyhow, the woman said that she much, MUCH preferred the Orlando parks, and not just because of the weather. She observed that the CMs aren’t as friendly or helpful in Paris, and I would tend to agree. Oh, they try, but I guess the cold is getting to them. Even if they work indoors, they have to wear coats and scarves all the time, on account of the doors being flung wide open all day. The ones who use registers use pens to punch the buttons, because they have gloves on.
After Peter Pan’s Flight, I went over to Pinocchio’s Fantastic Journey, which was really cute and somewhat dark, in the tradition of Snow White (over here, that’s called Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains). I really love the Blue Fairy, and wanted to visit the little store, Gepetto’s Workshop, but it was closed. Made a mental note to come back the next day.
I consulted my map, and determined that Pirates of the Caribbean was not far away, so I figured what the heck, and away I went. The queue had some rather desiccated looking palms lining it – how can they expect palms to survive the Paris cold? They probably dig them up and replace them every now and then. The pirate CM that was loading passengers was in rare form. He was arrrrrrghing in French at all the passengers, cracking everyone up. I got in the boat in front of a family of about six, spread over two seats behind me. One of the kids was complaining about something, and the mother said in an exasperated tone, “Oh, fer Pete’s sake, would you....” and the rest of the family finished for her in chorus, “...qwitcher BLOODY WHINGING!” Everyone laughed. Apparently, it had been her mantra during the entire vacation. I like that British word, “whinging”, and I wonder how it morphed from “whinging” in Great Britain to “whining” in the USA. Sometimes, we really DO speak different languages. Same: kids “whinge” at Disney parks the world over. As the boat pulled off, the pirate CM said something rapidly in French, and a bunch of people around him giggled. He winked at me, and my poor brain figured out he’d said something that ended in “tete a rouge”. I’m thinking he probably said, “We wants the redhead!”, but I can’t be sure. And then I realized – a genuine Frenchman (probably half my age) was flirting with me! But away the boat went, so that was that.
I don’t think this ride is as dark as the one at Orlando, and the animatronics certainly look a bit less ragged. But it is the same basic tableaus, right down to the dog that has the key to the jail cell. I think that is the same dog that they have at CoP. He gets around, that dog does.
After Pirates, I realized I was falling down on my feet and needed to get out of there and into a hot bath, then bed. It was only about 6PM, but I was really dead tired. I cruised through the Emporium before leaving the park, looking for birthday presents for my brother and sister-in-law (born in Feb and March, so they are due. And, incidentally, they are in Montego Bay this week, smart people that they are – THEY don’t go doing something stupid like going to Paris in February!).
Suddenly, I saw a young woman trying on a white down parka with a hood, and I looked around to see if there were any more. There weren’t. As she started to put it on, I thought to myself, “that will NEVER fit her – she’s too wide at the hips.” Sure enough, she zipped it up and it barely zipped over her hips. Another woman came into view, wearing a smaller version of the same parka. She had the same hip problem. She was consulting with her husband about it, and the other woman was consulting with her “mum”. I was the only one of us who realized what was going on. I was a woman with a mission. I casually browsed, staying close to the first woman and her mum. When they rehung the parka and walked away, I pounced. Too late, the second woman realized what had happened, and she started talking very rapidly in Italian to her husband. He got exasperated and walked away from her. She stood there looking at me like she wanted to kill me. Tough shit. The spoils go to the quick. I calmly took off the hated, fashionable wool coat and tried on the parka. It fit a bit loosely, which was fine for putting a bulky turtleneck underneath, and it fell below my butt. I put my hands in the pockets. Lined in down. I put up the down hood and pulled on the cords, cutting my ears off from the breeze of the open door. Perfect. Looked at the price tag. EU 105.00. It gets better. When I got to the register, I noticed that that there was a black mark on one of the sleeves, and asked the CM what he could do for me. He marked it down to 95.00 EU. SOLD! He rolled and smooched it flat into a bag for me, and I went back to the hotel. Hit it with hotel soap, and the mark came right out. I ask you – what is better than this?!?!?!!!!
I’ll tell you what’s better – a hot bubble bath in a deep, European bathtub, with a glass of white Bordeaux. I did fall asleep in there, briefly. Pruney, I climbed out and put my jammies on. Typed some bullets for this report, lest I forget what all I did all day. Housekeeping had already been in to do the turndown service. I noted that the linens were crisp, and included a duvet cover instead of a sheet. I was all snuggly warm very quickly. It was about 11:00 PM. Life was good. I was out like a light.
Saturday, 15 February 2003
I didn’t bother to set a wakeup call, for a number of reasons. First of all, in my experience, I cannot stand Mickey’s cheerful, squeeky little voice that early in the morning (“Everybody neat and pretty?”). I just want to reach through the phone and grab him by his scrawny little neck and shake. Hard. And I figured it would only be worse in French. Second, I really didn’t care what time I got up. I’m on vacation. I’m not one of those Disney commando types, arising at the crack of dawn to catch the opening of the park. I’M ON FREAKIN’ VACATION.
As it happens, I awoke naturally at around 7:00 am. The hair needed a good washing, and that is when I discovered that the blow dryers in the hotel suck out loud large. It’s like this vacuum cleaner hose coming out of the wall with a little attachment. There are two speeds – On and Off. Little to no hope of an actual hairstyle. Like it mattered – I was about to wear a down parka with a hood all day. After about a million years, the hair was actually dry.
I proceeded down to the second floor and across the glass bridge to the main section of the hotel, where I indulged in my free continental breakfast. OOOOO LA LA – actual croissants! With strawberry preserves! And decent coffee! Real French croissants are a marvel. They are crisp yet fluffy, dry on the outside yet buttery. A British colleague of mine says they are more pastry than bread, and she is correct. I downed about six of them, spread lavishly with the strawberry preserves. The orange juice was the kind where you just know they have that machine where you throw in the entire orange and it grinds it all into juice, seeds, pulp, skin, the whole magilla. Great stuff. There was much more available at the breakfast bar, but the croissants were so good, it wasn’t practical or necessary to try to eat anything else.
On the way back to the room to collect my coat, I dropped into the hotel gift shop and purchased a pair of fleece gloves. They were a lot warmer than my fashionable leather ones with the thin merino lining.
Thusly fortified, and armed with a park map, I decided that I needed to hit Disneyland Park with a vengeance, making sure that I experienced all the attractions that are different or not available at the American parks. My first mission was to make my way all the way to the back of the park (without getting derailed by shopping) to Adventureland, where I would experience Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril – BACKWARDS. I figured to cut through Frontierland. The back of the park is always sparsely populated at opening time, cause people just haven’t gotten there yet, so I reckoned it would be a walk-on. Problem: it isn’t clear from the map but the idea of cutting through Frontierland did not exactly pan out. The map should have said, “you can’t get there from here”. As I was going through the Critter Corral in Frontierland, I noticed that their idea of American wildlife consists of Canadian geese. I laughed out loud. Canadian geese don’t live in Canada any more. The entire population of Canadian geese (except for those who have apparently been highjacked to Disneyland Paris) are now the permanent scourge of Long Island. You can’t walk around any lake or pond on Long Island without putting your shoes in mortal peril from Canadian goose poop. So I had a good laugh about traveling clear across the Pond just to catch a glimpse of these common Noo Yawk pests.
I corrected my path and eventually made my way to Indiana Jones. I was right, it was practically a walk on, but as I watched the train before mine, I was wondering what would be the fate of all those croissants. The people getting out of the train were strangely subdued, and one man was actually clutching his stomach, while his wife was clucking her concern in some language I could not quite identify – sounded like German with a French accent, so my vote goes to Dutch, or possibly Flemmish. I resolved that if I had to throw up, I would do so in a rational manner, over the side, so not as to spoil my nice new white parka.
The thing about this ride is that you just don’t know what is coming, and that’s the hook. It wasn’t the wildest ride I’ve been on, but it was certainly the most interesting in terms of not being able to brace yourself for a big drop or a hairpin turn or even a big bump that briefly suspends your butt from the seat. But at least I didn’t lose all my lovely croissants.
Consulting my map once more, I crossed into Fantasyland. The French version of Disneyland actually has TWO castles. One is the big centerpiece of the park, Sleeping Beauty’s castle. SIDE QUESTION: this is France, why didn’t they build Beauty and the Beast’s castle? The other one is at the end of an attraction called Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, and it is where the Queen of Hearts lives. I went into the labyrinth and followed along the hedgerows for a while. I ended up coming right out the entrance again. Perplexed, I began to wonder whether one could actually get to the Queen’s castle via the labyrinth, and dragged out the map again. While looking at the map, I noticed that Small World was very close by. I looked up and saw the queue growing, so I figured I could always backtrack to the labyrinth later, and headed over there.
The French version of Small World is a lot more brightly lit than the one in Orlando. This is probably because the one in Orlando is older and they don’t want you to see that the dolls and the tableaux are becoming decrepit. Unlike the majority of those who visit Small World, I don’t find that the song remains with me all day. I have much more intolerance for something like Follow The Yellow Brick Road when it comes to having a song stuck inside my brain. As we wound our way through the countries, I noted all the different languages in which the song is sung, and how seamlessly they fade in and out as you move from one nation to the next. That alone is an audio programming marvel. The dolls look exactly like the ones in Orlando and they are precisely the same as the ones I saw at the New York World’s Fair circa 1964-65 when I was a little tyke. Suddenly, we were upon the American section. There were sillouettes of the New York City skyline. Look, there’s the Chrysler Building! Oh, and there’s the Empire State Building! And....holy cow, it’s the World Trade Center...oh...my... God...and I burst into tears, right there in the boat.
I don’t remember seeing the rest of the ride. I heard the little kid behind me say to his Papa something about “pleurs” which I vaguely believe is French for tears. I soaked my poor new fleece gloves in them. When the ride was over, I stumbled out into the sunshine and the rational piece of my brain began to wonder what the hell was wrong with me. I have never cried so much as I have in the last year or so. I’m not usually prone to weeping, and now it seems every little thing sets me off. I think I have too much stress in my life, in general. But in particular to the WTC, I am sad and angry at the same time that something akin to innocence has been lost forever because of some psycho terrorist jerks. The America of my youth and young adulthood has been stolen from us, and in it’s place are fear, soldiers in our streets, paranoid security checks at our airports, and a big, gaping hole where the Twin Towers used to be.
I sat on a bench outside Small World for a while to collect myself. I was feeling extremely lonely, which is unusual for me, the “self-actualizer” who actually requires alone time. It was too early to call anyone in the USA, and anyway all I could make my phone do was text messaging. Then I realized something else. The entire time I’d been in France, I had not heard one, not one single American accent anywhere. Lots of French, Brits, Germans, a few Italians and some other languages and accents, but I encountered not one American. I began to feel like I was the only person in Disneyland Paris who was feeling the way I felt, that there was no one around me who could empathize. I plummeted down a few rungs on Maslow’s Hierarchy at that moment. I reckon I was hovering around the area of Belongingness Needs.
I watched some little kids feed bread to the ducks nearby. Same: kids at a Disney park eventually turn their delighted attention to the duckies. I decided I needed some cheering up, and remembered that I’d wanted to check out the little store called Gepetto’s Workshop, to see if there was anything Blue Fairy-ish there. Alas, there was nothing there. I guess the Blue Fairy is not so popular. I don’t find much about her even on ebay, except for pins, which don’t really interest me. I resolved to cheer myself up. This is Disney, dammit, and I WILL have a good time!
Consulting the map once again, I realized that Discoveryland has Les Mysteres du Nautilus. Orlando used to have one of those, called 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and I vaguely recall it from a 1985 trip, back when only Magic Kingdom and Epcot were in existence. Off I trotted to the Nautilus, which was docked in a pond right outside of Space Mountain. There was no queue, and I walked right down the stairs. It took a couple of minutes of blinking for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. It was a little perturbing to find that everything was written in French – Nemo’s diaries and letters on the desk and most of the signage were all in French. It would have taken me a year and a day to stand there and decipher it all, so I went through the submarine a bit more quickly than I would have had it been in English. I did like the part with the little “theater” where you could sit down and watch as the giant octopus approached the porthole and then got zapped by the electric shock. Also cool was the organ playing eerie music, and then Nemo’s face appears reflected in the mirror above it, as though he were seated there, playing.
Exiting into the blinding, cold sunshine once more, I saw Le Visionarium across the way, which is known in the United States as Timekeeper. In Orlando, I always loved this attraction, because it was a good one to hit while waiting for Fast Passes to mature for Space Mountain or Alien Encounter. I like 360-degree surround movies. Go to Timekeeper or the Oh, Canada! exhibit at Epcot, and I’m the one spinning around in the dark trying to catch it all. Le Visionarium is another one of those attractions that is in French but there are headphones with multiple languages available. In Orlando, isn’t the Timekeeper voiced over by Robin Williams? Not in France. Half the jokes just aren’t funny with a generic voice. Still enjoyed the excellent 360-degree scenery while flying around the world with Jules Verne.
A little hungry and cold at this point, I popped into Hyperion for a cafe au lait and decided to try the omlette sandwich as well. Watched cartoons for awhile. Seems I always managed to catch Mickey’s Fire Brigade when I went in there, which is on the Mickey Mouse in Living Color dvd. They played it in French over at DLP, and i have to say that the voice over of the cow singing in the bathtub uses a much better singer than the English version! The egg sandwich was yummy, the cheese was actually melted, and the coffee was hot. Mmmmmm, food.
At this point, I made a pit stop to buy postcards for my nieces, and asked the CM for postage too. He was about to ring it up, and I thought to ask if that was enough to get the postcards to the United States. He was quite exasperated, but he looked up the rates in the book, determined that I needed .62 Euros per card, and he only had stamps in denominations of .46 Euros. So I told him to double the stamp order, and he was even more exasperated, not even bothering to mask his disgusted surprise that I would waste valuable Euro pennies on getting a bunch of postcards to so unworthy a place as the USA. He rung me up and gave me my change. Shameless, consumer oriented American hussy that I am, I left the change on the counter and walked out.
I was determined to get to the bottom of the Alice's Curious Labyrinth mystery - rather, to the top, cause that's where the Queen of Hearts' castle was. Back around I went to the Labyrinth, averting my eyes from Small World. As I walked the path, in and out of sunshine and shadows, I mused that in the summertime, people were probably grateful for those patches of shade, but this hothouse flower just shivered. Finally back at the Labyrinth, I reasoned that in order to get to the castle, I would have to follow some children that looked like they knew where they were going. And darn it if that kid didn't lead me through every little pint sized door and hole there was. Oooof, my aching knees and back! But my strategy worked - I must have picked a kid that had been there before, because in no time flat, I was in the Queen's castle. On the way, I thought of my friends at the Common Ground site. Yes, the hookah-smokin' caterpillar had given me a call, and I immediately thought of the BJB! There was real smoke and everything, but I don't think it was THAT kind of smoke. There was also a part where the Queen herself jumps up from behind a bush and starts yelling. Boy, she scared me - I beat it the heck out of there, fast! Finally up in the castle, I was beginning to regret that I have an aversion to cameras - that's one awesome view, from the back of the park clear to the front.
I had wanted to then visit the boat ride with the storybook scenery, but when I got there, I found that the "river" had been drained and that the ride was shut down. There was no mention on the park map of any closures, and I was a bit surprised and disappointed. I think there is a similar attraction at Disneyland California, but I don't recall riding it when I was there (it was over ten years ago). This was the case with a lot of the running water around the park and the hotel - some of it was functioning, and some had been turned off. That which functioned had interesting ice formations - for instance, the waterfall near Sleeping Beauty's castle was still spurting, but there was a spray buildup of ice all over the rocks, and I could see that the ice was limiting the waterfall's fury a bit.
And speaking of Sleeping Beauty's Castle - that was where I headed next. There are several features of the castle. The first thing I did was climb a long, curving staircase up to La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant. At the top of the stairs is a banistered gallery, and as you go round it, you can see the story of Sleeping Beauty illustrated in stained glass windows, paintings, and tapestries. The windows are just stunning, and before many of the works of art that tell the tale is an open "book" on a pedestal with the actual story, told in French. I started in earnest to try to read and comprehend it, but people with their children were a bit impatient with me as I lingered before each book, so I quit after about three pedestals. I still enjoyed the artwork immensely! At the end of the story, there is an exit outside to a promenade, and again there were excellent photo ops from up there. There are all sorts of staircases and ramps surrounding the outside of this castle - you can really crawl all over it. I wandered up and down and around, admiring the craftsmanship, the landscaping, and the materials that were used to construct the castle and the grounds.
Finally, I came to the entrance of La Taniere du Dragon. Inside the cave it is all dark and mysterious. The dragon was sleeping when I got there, stirring a bit, but with his eyes closed. A small crowd of parents and children had gathered round to watch. He started to stir some more, and opened his glowing eyes. Finally, he reared up from his slumber with a snake-like hissing and opened his mouth, lunging at his spectators. As he opened his mouth wide, I noticed that he'd had a forked tongue at one time, but one of the "tines" was broken off - Bad Show! Most of the children began screaming and crying, and the parents weren't taking them out of there, which pissed me off royally. When I'd had enough of watching the dragon by turns sleep, hiss, and lunge, I climbed a small set of winding stairs up to Merlin's gift shop, where all manner of crystal and ornate gadgetry could be found. There was a glass blower there, working on some decorative objects, and I watched him for a while before leaving the Castle.
Consulting the map, I remembered that I'd been advised to try Phantom Manor, which is in Frontierland and is the equivalent of The Haunted Mansion. I find this version to be much more technically improved than the one in Orlando, but some of the same tableaux still existed - for instance, the corridor of doors/tombs with the door knockers all knocking, and the room with the lady and the crystal ball. Also, the ghostly "hitch-hikers" on the carriages were there, as reflected in the mirrors. And I did so like the emphasis on the poor, ghostly bride and her tale of woe. I especially liked the little "ah ah ah" song she sung. Unfortunately, the ride went 101 three times before getting to the end, which made the ending anti-climactic. As you are exiting this attraction, the bride appears and says her little "hurry back" speech in both French and English.
Grabbed Fast Pass for Big Thunder Mountain as I was passing by. The return time was about an hour away. I figured to cruise some shops for the birthday presents for my brother and his wife (the ones who were smart enough to go to Montego Bay). I found a cute, long sleeved t-shirt in the Emporium on Main Street for Dani that said Disneyland Paris on it. Then I crossed over to the bakery for cafe au lait and a brownie that was being kept warm under heat lamps. One cool thing about the shops on Main Street is that behind each row of shops is a gallery with some historical exhibits of inventions that happened at the turn of the 20th century, and extra seating to spill into when the sit-down eateries are full. I parked it there, and was amused by some rather aggressive sparrows that were determined to swipe something, anything off someone's plate. I cruised the gallery, looking at all the inventions there (most notably, a really cool sewing machine), and then crossed back over and did the gallery behind the Emporium. There I found a small, red-curtained nook, and there was a young couple exiting, she giggling, he tucking in his shirt...I can only speculate regarding what THAT was all about! So I went in, and there was this really cheesy diorama in there, depicting some people on a boat (probably the Staten Island Ferry, judging from the angle). They were dressed in turn of the previous century type clothing, watching a fireworks display in New York Harbor, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. The thought flashed through my mind - rather, the emotion - that, thank God SHE wasn't the one blown to bits on 9/11. There was audio, the people talking in French, and the fireworks and Sousa march music playing in the background. The reason I thought it was cheesy is that they are not audio animatronics, they are just mannequins. I waited to see if it would be replayed in English, but it wasn't so I left.
Back to Thunder Mountain – ours is much, much better. I had been intrigued by this ride, because on the map, it looks like it is on an island, but when you get into the queue, there is no indication that you have crossed over any water and onto an actual island. In this queue, I experienced the most blatant line-cutting attempts I'd experienced to date. Most queues are two people wide. I am only one person wide, and it seemed to be an invitation to those behind me to try and pass me. I was starting to wonder if maybe I had "American Warmonger, Hate Me" stamped across the back of my new down parka - or are people at Disneyland Paris just rude to everyone? Someone actually tried to ELBOW me aside - can you imagine?!?!?! This has just never, EVER happened to me in Orlando or California at a Disney park. The ride itself is just fine, but not as thrilling, in my opinion, as the one in Orlando.
Off I went back to Adventureland and Pirates of the Caribbean, not to ride, but to buy the cool black, long-sleeved T-shirt for my brother. Right nearby was the Alladin storybook attraction. Again, it was diorama type exhibits, with the story written in both French and English, and music in the background. I then proceeded to the Swiss Family Tree House, noting that it was basically the same as Orlando, just newer. And what do you think happened to me on the way down? The real trees were barren, but the big Tree I had climbed still had all it's vinyl leaves. As I descended the stairs, something swirled down and landed just inside the fence and railing. I reached in and grabbed it - my very own Vinyl Leaf! I somehow thought that this was the best souvenir of all to take home from my DLP trip.
I decided to make my way out of the park to go back to the hotel, warm up, have some dinner in room, and then head out again for the evening. Between the pins I'd picked up for my nieces, the shirts for my brother and SIL, and the coat and memorial fleece I'd purchased, I needed another bag, and I'd spied just the thing in a shop in the Town Square. It was a small, black valise with telescoping handle and wheels. Perfect. Bought it and went back to the hotel for dinner. I had room service and watched the resort TV stations in various languages, before heading out once again into the cold.
When I got back to the park, I had plenty of time to take a trip around the entire park by railroad. It took about 30 minutes to complete, and when I got back to the Main Street station, I just stayed up top to wait for the parade to start. Standing in the cold is a bit different than walking around in it, and I started a game with some little kid, jumping up and down, to keep warm. Finally, the electronic voice announced the Main Street Electrical Parade, and that familiar, infectious music began. And who was the first one out? The Blue Fairy! I was so happy to see her, even in her enormity (that is one big-butt skirt she's got there!). I love the little turtles and ladybugs that twirl around in the street, and I like the emphasis on some of the older characters (Pinocchio, Snow White, Mickey and the gang. As it proceeded up Main Street, I left the park and went back to the room to pack. I was leaving the next afternoon, and wanted to get a decently early start on Sunday.
NEXT UP: Disney Studios, Paris
Sunday 16 February 2003 - Disney Studios, Paris
I did the breakfast buffet again on Sunday morning (came with my package). After consuming an inordinate amount of croissants, jam, juice, and coffee, I headed back to the room and went into complete bug-out mode. Since I'd done the majority of packing up the night before, it was a fairly easy bug-out. I stopped by the desk and returned my room key, then went over to Bell Services to check my bags for the day. Something interesting - they were very busy, and left the pile of bags in front of the desk for a while. So I stood off to the side and watched until they had all been taken into the luggage room before heading out to Disney Studios. Oh and I checked the time on my train tickets. Laura had booked me on the Eurostar to London, where I was to conduct business for several days, and then she booked me on the Eurostar from London to Brussels for the rest of the business trip. The tickets said that I was leaving for London at 17:43, or 5:43 PM. Plenty o' time to check out some attractions at Disney Studios.
The way the entire resort is laid out is kind of around a large circle, with a circular island of grass in the middle serving as a hub. Around the hub are the Disneyland Hotel and the entrance to Disneyland Park, the front gates of Disney Village (which we know as Downtown Disney), and the front gates of the Disney Studios.
When you enter the gates of Disney Studios, you are in a spacious courtyard with a fountain in the middle (turned off, and with chunks of ice in the bottom). To the right is the obligatory sprawling gift shop. To the left are Guest Services, restrooms and the like. And straight ahead of you is Studio 1.
Studio 1 is like a long, cavernous mall full of restaurants and shops - well, much like the Emporium on Main Street in the other park, it is more like a continuous chain of shops that you can walk through from one end of the Studio to the other. There was a photography shop that was closed, and there were some theatrical events on the schedule, but I was more interested in passing through the Studio and going outside to the animation attractions.
As you exit the Studio 1 building, a very familiar looking bronze statue greets you. Why, it's Walt and Mickey, hand in hand, welcoming you! I made a beeline to the animation exhibit and film, which was straight-ahead and then to the right. I was only in the queue for about 5 minutes, and struck up a chat with a British family consisting of mom, dad and daughter of about 11 or 12 years old. The dad was wearing a NO WAR button, and since I hadn't cracked a newspaper, surfed CNN or turned on a news station since I'd arrived in Paris, I didn't know that there was a peace march going on in the world that day.
The staging area consists of a timeline on the walls - the history of animation beginning with the cave drawings from France, progressing through Egyptian hieroglyphics, etc. all the way to present times. There are various gadgetry and gizmos to try - different inventions that people had made to animate their cartoons. I ran around like a crazy person, reading everything I could and trying all the whirlagigs and whatchacall'ems. Then, a short introductory film began, featuring Roy Disney, talking about his dad and Uncle Walt and the history of animation. We were then shepherded into an auditorium where various Disney film snippets were presented that followed basic themes in the films. They had sections on characters laughing, characters crying, characters who are best friends, characters dying (with some coming back to life, such as Beast, and some not coming back, such as Bambi's mother), etc. After this film, we were all moved along into a second auditorium. The CM presented in French, but each seat was equipped with headphones offering translations. I had actually seen this part of the attraction at Disney's California Adventure (DCA) a couple years ago. It featured Mushu, as voiced over by Eddie Murphy, and the history of the making of his character. The film explained how the animators had researched Chinese dragons in various art media forms (paintings, sculptures and other statuary, legends). Through interviews and conversation with Mushu, the animators pointed out that Mushu and other Chinese dragons are made up of the parts of other animals (the claws of this animal and the ears of that animal and the muzzle of a camel, etc.). However, in DCA, I seem to recall a part where Mushu exits the projection screen, and thuds and stomps are heard and felt around the studio, as though he was in the walls. They didn't have this feature in Paris.
I could have walked away totally satisfied with this but there was more to explore at Disney Studios Paris. I strolled over to Animagique and made note of the show times, then over to Cinemagique for the same. Now I had an approximate time schedule and could fill in between with other, secondary stuff I wanted to do. I walked back past Animagique and went to watch the Aladdin ride for a moment. This ride has a semi-circular surround of the Arabian skies, and an observation deck where the parents can stand and take pictures or shoot video of their little darlings as they go round and round and up and down on their flying carpets. The ride itself was basically the same as the one in Orlando, but there were no spitting camels in sight. I decided not to go on, consulted the map, and walked over to the Armageddon attraction. The basic premise was that a new scene for Armageddon was being shot today, and we were all recruited as extras. We were shown some film clips of the movie, and then asked to demonstrate our terrified scream-type skills. We practiced those for a little while, led by a cheerful young CM, a French woman with long, wavy, red hair, who spoke to us in both English and French. Then we were directed through the doors and onto the circular set. It was allegedly a Russian space station, which was about to get pelted with asteroids or something. It shook violently, and there was a cacophony of noise and thumping from the asteroids. Screens flashed with what was happening outside, pipes burst and bellowed steam. Great gnashing rents appeared in one of the walls, and we were in danger of being vacuumed out (there was real wind, which threatened to suck us out the hole. Finally, a fire erupted in the center of the room, which hit the audience with a REALLY hot blast that was most welcome in frosty Paris that day. Ok, so I've done that. Ugh.
I walked up the street to wander about, and took the backlot tour. Same demonstration as Orlando (water and fire in Catastrophe Canyon), also had statuary, cars, ruined London and Paris streets, NYPD squad car, planes from Pearl Harbor, etc.
I stopped for crepes and cafe au lait, watched the countdown for Rock-n-roller coaster go from 25 minute wait to 15 minute wait – oh, what the heck! The queue area was filled with European concert posters and rock-a-bilia (signed guitars and drums, gold and platinum recordings on display, etc.)
When I got out of RnRC, the parade was about to start. Tink was on top of a big drum, waving to everyone and acting too cutesy to be bitchy old Tink. I really wasn't in the mood for a parade, and noted that Animagique was about to start, so I clambered under the ropes and dashed across the street before the parade had made it around the corner, and darted into Animagique.
This is basically a kiddie stage show, done in black light and day-glo. As you are being seated, there is background music which a certain Nice Fairy Lady would love - lots of children giggling, whispering "Animagique!" and singing a cute little ditty with a lot of "la la la la", interspersed Disney themes, and more giggles. The premise of the show is that Mickey (speaks French) and Donald (speaks American English) are working at their jobs as animators, and Mickey goes on a break. Donald take the key to a vault off of Mickey's easel and ends up in a dark and cavernous place with tons of film reels. He has encounters with characters from a variety of Disney films, and there is a lot of song and dance. The show was cute, but the music was cuter, and I made a note to try to find it on my way out.
Walked over and did Cinemagique. THE BEST! Laughed and laughed! The CM in the beginning makes it a point to ask everyone to please shut off their cell phones as a courtesy to their fellow theater goers. The lights go down, the film starts, and a cell phone rings down front. A man gets up and starts talking on his cell phone. The CM is trying to make him sit down and shut up, but the man keeps walking away from him, still talking on the cell phone. He wanders onstage and toward the screen, and somehow gets pulled into the action in the film. Once on celluloid, he is Martin Short, and he begins falling in and out of different films through various doors and windows. At once point, he falls through a puddle in the street into a different film. Of course, there is a girl. She first appears in the first film, which is silent, so she cannot speak. However, when he finally meets up with her again, she can speak - French. They are smitten and follow each other in and out of various films, getting shot at and chased by gangsters, etc. At one point, he takes an arrow in the chest (they've fallen into some inexplicable combination of Brave Heart and Robin Hood), and there is much sobbing and gnashing of teeth...until someone pulls the arrow out of his chest, and it is embedded in his cell phone! So of course he isn't quite dead, and in the end, he has the chance to escape the film world, and wants the girl to come to, but she can't. So he goes back and they live happily ever after.
Went back to hotel and got my luggage. Bell services asked where I was going and I showed my train tickets. Ooops, the Eurostar leaves from Paris proper! I had been under the mistaken impression that it left from the train station around the corner from the hotel. I had about a 25 minute journey into Paris itself on a local train, then I had to transfer to another train for two stops to a place called Gare du Nord, and finally go through British customs and get on the Eurostar for London. I had no time to waste.
Got lost in the bowls of the Paris subway system. Arrows point down, but there is no “down”. Scary place, and if this was what it smelled like on a cold winter day, I can't imagine it in the summer. Kinda like New York! When I finally arrived in Gare du Nord, unbelievably there was no lift and I had to schlep all my bags up the stairs by myself.
Missed the Eurostar train by a couple of minutes. Another was to leave soon. Unfortunately, lost my reserved seating and had to go to the standby car. The seats looked horribly crowded, and I had been planning on doing some work on the train, so I elected to stow my luggage and rode on the jump seat in the vestibule. There were two youngish British women riding there with me, studying Islam and talking earnestly about the fires of hell that awaited them upon death. They also spoke about their French boyfriends with whom they had just spent the weekend and the amount of gossip they exchanged was beyond any soap opera I've ever watched!
FINALLY made it to London, found a cash machine and withdrew some pounds, and caught one of those big old black taxi cabs up to Temple Place, where I checked into Swisotel The Howard. Five stars, oh my! Right down the block from the London offices where I would work for part of the week, and then move on to Brussels for more work. Ordered room service for dinner, made some bullets for this trip report, and went to sleep.
Thus ends my Disneyland Paris Getaway.
Astounded by people dressed inappropriately – some fashion plates (fur coats and stiletto boots in an amusement park!). I'd never seen this in the American parks. Some stuff bordering on child abuse, with children running around in stockings and skirts, sneakers with no socks, no hats, etc.
Parents and children skipping together - saw three instances of this, and it was so sweet to watch!
I've never had a foreign language immersion experience before. So much French being spoken! Quite a lot of Brits here. Some German and Italian, and possibly Dutch/Flemmish (like German with a French accent). I heard NOT A SINGLE AMERICAN ACCENT the entire time I was there.
People are rude and not respectful of the environment in the European parks, as compared to in the American parks. Garbage thrown in the queues and in the streets, even in the elevator bank in the hotel (I picked it up there, couldn't stand to see it in the hotel). Someone threw out their gum onto the street right in front of me. Hardly any sweepers, could use a Swabbie over here.
Christmas decorations still up in some sections of the park. Christmas merchandise still displayed too.
Overt PDAs by French and British teenagers, including the lesbian couple I saw sitting on a bench at the hub in Disneyland Parc. It was kind of funny, one of them was on the attack, and the other one was clearly very uncomfortable, possibly about being "out".
Lots of surreptitious line cutting, and some not so surreptitious.
TV and other characters without the voices that we are accustomed to – obviously, the magic translates even if our stars are not used.