Bonjour, Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris – take me back! I love you so much.

Sidenote: A lot has changed in me since I left my Disney days behind. It took me some time to finally want to visit the parks again, but this allowed me to appreciate my experiences tenfold and reflect on them lovingly as a result. In the past four years, I’ve only been back to Disney parks three times – in three different countries – but I’ve been brought to tears with ecstatic emotions each time. It made me realize how much I really do miss Disney, the people, the atmosphere, etc., so this was written from that perspective. 

I had been looking forward to coming here since I first planned to extend my trip back in February. And yes, it ended up being one of the highlights of my entire trip without a doubt. And yes, Disneyland is just as enjoyable and memorable if you go alone. And yes, I got away (somehow) with taking my selfie stick in… 😉

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It was seamlessly easy to get to Disneyland Paris from Paris city centre. It basically took an hour on the dot from Montmartre to the entrance gates, via metro and RER, no hassles of parking, traffic, or mass crowds. The wonders of public transportation. Despite only getting four hours of sleep (staying on the Eiffel Tower until midnight closing was so worth it), the Disney girl inside of me was still bursting with glee and bounding amounts of energy.

I was overwhelmed with joy when I got to the entrance of Disneyland. A pristine, pastel pink Victorian building sparkled in the morning sunrise (which I later discovered was the Disneyland Hotel). While the 25th anniversary decor was quite underwhelming and sparse (especially compared to the 60th anniversary decorations in Disneyland, CA that exploded everywhere in silver, blue, and diamonds), perhaps Parisians prefer less gaudy setups. Nonetheless, it was still gorgeous.

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Since both parks opened at 10 (wow, so late), I dabbled about in the (rather small) World of Disney store before the gates opened…

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…only to realise that Walt Disney Studios Park opened 15 min in advance (at 9:45) to accommodate people lining up for FastPasses for certain attractions. I completely forgot about this little loophole, so I committed a Disney sin by full-blown bolting to the gates, then running straight to the Ratatouille attraction. This wasn’t even necessary, since I just whizzed into the single rider line without even waiting. By 9:55, I was off the attraction and casually strolled next door to Crush’s Coaster with a 5-min single rider wait. Proper lucky!

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Queues. Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that… 

I had dreamed about going on Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy (“Remy’s Totally Zany Adventure”) for so long because of my love for the film. Heck, I YouTubed videos of the ride throughs in July 2014 when it first opened. However, since it was a 4D virtual simulation ride, it wasn’t really my favourite and I was let down by my high expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it was still extremely cute, especially the rat cars you ride in, and the ride itself was the perfect length. I’m just more of a thrills/rollercoaster girl (duh, I bungy jump and cliff dive for fun). You’re shrunk down to Remy’s size and are chased by Chef Skinner through the “sights, sounds, and smells” of Gusteau’s restaurant – although I think the smells component was broken, because I sadly didn’t smell any Parisian foods. Maybe that was the missing piece I needed to love the attraction… 😉

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And now, for a typical Ditz Debbi Story: Because of my over-enthusiasm, I boarded the rat car as fast as possible with my huge backpack still on while trying to lower the lapbar, until I was stopped by the Cast Member (duh, backpacks and bags always go on the ground). It’s as bad as when I went to DCA last year and forgot where the Single Rider line was (so I waited in the regular, ridiculously long queue). So after apologising profusely, I cowered in shame because I felt like I was officially one of “those” Guests.

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I ended up going on the attraction again before the park closed (at 7pm! WHAT, so early) because the single rider line was just a walk-on. I loved, loved, LOVED the ambiance of the Ratatouille area itself – moreso than the attraction, ha. It’s obviously the most French area of both parks – especially because of the Ratatouille soundtrack and the fact that the film was based in Paris anyway. The attraction is housed in Gusteau’s restaurant, while Bistrot Chez Rémy is a fancy French restaurant that also shrinks you down to Remy’s size – so the props inside are from a “rat’s-eye view.” Look at that menu – so adorable. It’s proof that simply nowhere else compares to the level of detail and imagination of Disney.

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Check out the detail on this fountain. Disney, you win 100% with attention to detail.

Crush’s Coaster was cute, and since I barely waited, I was chuffed. I don’t think it’s worth the horrid 180+ min. queue (yes, it gets that long), especially since the ride is over in less than a minute (it seemed to whiz by in the blink of an eye). The tracks could have been hidden (not great show!) for a more immersive underwater experience, but otherwise, the whirly-twirly rotations of the shell imagineering was really unique.

I felt sick on RC Racer since I went on it directly after Crush’s Coaster, and then I realized it must be a sign I’m getting older. Sigh.

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This was the first time I’ve ever played in the parks solo for an entire day. While I was embarrassed by that prospect, I ended up loving every minute. I’ve become so accustomed to being on my own that it’s probably to the point of selfishness now. I love racing around, eating what I want, doing what I want, going as fast as slow as I want, and not answering to anyone. Whereas others would most likely take a lot of rest breaks, I’ve become accustomed to 6am wake-ups and after-midnight bedtimes for the past three months – and I prefer to travel that way to maximize my time.

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True, I was running around like a maniac in the first few hours of the day, but it was mainly to ensure that I’d beat most of the queues for non-Fastpass attractions. In reflection, the longest queue was only 45 min. long according to the info board, so it clearly wasn’t crowded at all. Plus, I didn’t see any ECVs or wheelchairs in the parks – literally zero – and only a few strollers. Man, that would be a dream in DLR and WDW…

Walt Disney Studios Park (Marnee-la-Vallée) is basically the equivalent of Disney California Adventure Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, except much smaller than both. It’s divided into four small lots – Backlot, Production Courtyard, Toon Studio, and Front Lot. The primary focus is probably Toon Studio (Ratatouille and Crush’s Coaster) and the neighbouring Backlot and Production Courtyard (Rock n’ Roller Coaster and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror). I managed to hit all the main attractions I wanted to see in less than an hour. Madness! Despite its small size, I still loved exploring it and seeing the contrasts between other parks. For instance, Disney Studio 1 (Front Lot) was similar to Hollywood Land in Disney California Adventure Park – just squished down in scale and indoors rather than outdoors. Cars Land was about the size of a classroom (literally), but still had similar replicas and buildings. Since I rarely get to visit the parks, my mouth was just open in awe the whole time as I tried my best to take in everything. Some things never change – I’m always going to be a Disney girl at heart, and I’m always going to love the beautiful element of escape from reality that it offers.

I got goosebumps when walking through the (eerily empty) Backlot because of The Force Awakens score floating through the background, despite how the music didn’t really match the atmosphere, ha (it wasn’t Tomorrowland, after all). All I remember was how big I was smiling when I was exploring, juggling my three camera devices (this was also the first time I’ve ever taken a fancy camera to the parks). My happiness level was off the charts, as Baymax would measure.

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Ehrmagerd, selfies everywhere

Disneyland was lovely, as expected. I was delighted to ride everything on my list (plus more), and also had spare time to wander around and take photos (my favourite pasttime) in the evening.

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Sleeping Beauty Castle (Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant) is stunning. Sure, it’s very small, but it features stained glass windows with images from the movie, a balcony accessible to visitors and an animatronic dragon underneath the castle (La Tanière Du Dragon). That dragon is freakin’ amazing.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril was nothing like Indiana Jones Adventure in CA – it was a janky, clanky rollercoaster on a similar track to Goofy’s Sky School. I got some serious whiplash, so I understood why it was only a 10-min wait.

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Pirates of the Caribbean and Hyperspace Mountain were sadly down for refurbishment, but Phantom Manor was incredible. It was exactly the same as Haunted Mansion for the first few minutes, but it ended up being a longer ride. It had a much darker, unique plot along the lines of “The Phantom of the Opera.” A young girl’s groom is hung by a Phantom, who haunts the Victorian manor, and you’re taken through the Phantom Canyon (which replace the graveyard). YouTube is a gem – just take a look at the ride through (or don’t, if you don’t want to spoil it for yourself in the future – it’s better in person anyway. The Phantom Canyon part is around 4:19). The Phantom Canyon scenes look like they’ve been modeled after parts of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, with similar characters and skeletons roaming about.

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Big Thunder Mountain was probably one of my favourites (but you need a FastPass for sure). It felt like the longest attraction in the park, perhaps because I wasn’t expecting it to be that long. As soon as you take off, you’re shot off into pitch blackness, light-speed/Space Mountain status, for a good 10 seconds, and it’s absolutely terrifying and whimsical. After a year-long refurbishment, it just re-opened in December and is probably one of the most popular attractions now in the park. A new scene was added, as well as lots of crazy lighting, fog, and technical effects.

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I also enjoyed Adventure Isle – while similar to Tom Sawyer’s Island, it had more intricate secret caves and hideout spaces that took me awhile to explore.

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Spyglass Hill, Disneyland Paris > Spyglass Hill, Whittier 😉

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My phone data plan conveniently expired as soon as I stepped through the gates, so I didn’t have any access to the app (and attraction wait times). I spent the day phone-less, but that forced me to take in all the sights and sounds without an electronic device – a blessing in disguise.

Also, it’s been well over five or six years since I’ve been on It’s a Small World – and I was welling up with tears as the boat passed by all the landmarks I’ve had the lucky opportunity to see in person. I realised just how much more meaningful the attraction is, now that I’ve travelled parts of the world (and there’s still heaps more to see – it’s a huge world, actually).

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Disneyland Paris’ version is a bit different from ours, mainly because the soundtrack is a bit more ornate and they focus more on huge cardboard designs of landmarks popping out at you (i.e. Leaning Tower of Pisa, Golden Gate Bridge, Big Ben). According to Wikipedia, the scenery design “is a complete departure from Mary Blair’s distinctive style, though the dolls used remain identical to all other versions,” so that could be why I noticed such stark differences. It also includes a scene from North America (Canada and the U.S. are represented), and I can’t recall if the versions in Anaheim and Orlando do the same – it’s been that long since I’ve been on this attraction.

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The Storybook Canal Land Boats (Le Pays des Contes de Fées) were also lovely, since I hadn’t ridden that in over five or six years as well. I loved Alice’s Curious Labyrinth since it was a maze rather than an attraction, although I was battling the heat at that point and dripping in sweat (and April heat in Paris is probably nothing compared to summertime – it was only the equivalent of 75F and that was too much for me).

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The longest attraction queue I waited in was Peter Pan’s Flight (I missed the FP), but I wanted to go on it primarily because I’ve now visited (and love) London. I also met Darth Vader, accidentally walked through Les Mystères du Nautilus (Captain Nemo’s submarine – it wasn’t an attraction, just a cool setup where you walk through and look around), did about ten laps around the whole park (because that’s how small it is – but beautiful!), and just took it all in.

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Stars on Parade was redone for the 25th anniversary, but it only had one showtime – 17:30. I waited in the wrong place (Main Street, near the entrance gates – so I could run to the exit and hop to Walt Disney Studios Park again one last time before it closed), so I was waiting at least 45 min. before getting to see the entire parade. It was lovely, with all sorts of elaborate costumes and floats, but it wasn’t even 1/10th as great as Disneyland’s Paint the Night parade (which sadly ended).

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There were several interesting things to note about Disneyland Paris: Their fireworks show starts ON the dot of park closing (10pm), so you don’t get any time to enjoy the park after the show ends. If you buy tickets online (which you should definitely do, since it’ll always be cheaper), you must print out the e-ticket (can’t scan your phone), and that serves as your ticket for the day. It’s not traded in for a regular ticket like at the other parks. It was a hassle to scan this huge paper every time for FastPasses and to re-enter the parks, so I’m not sure why they haven’t replaced this system yet.

Food was not Disney branded, either- nothing was Mickey-shaped or even Disney-themed in the slightest (i.e. no Matterhorn Macaroons). I was quite disappointed, because I fully intended to experience the beauties of Disney food – and the “best” was their version of the Dole whip in Adventureland (they only offered it as a pineapple float, but it was still delicious). However, everything from food to general merchandise was much cheaper than in Disneyland (CA) – and the same rang true in Tokyo.

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Considering that I went in early April (beginning of high season and the kickoff for Easter weekend), the queues weren’t surprisingly bad. Also, ever since the devastating Nov. 2015 Paris attacks, the attendance has been at all-time lows.
Overall, I was very impressed by how clean, vibrant, and polished everything was. It could have been because of the 25th anniversary, but I developed preconceived notions that this park would be dirty, small, and not the greatest based on others’ feedback. Nope, it was phenomenal. Yes, it’s very small, and you can easily fit both parks in one day, but I found it to be even cleaner than DLP in CA. Most notably, everything in Fantasyland seemed brighter and the colours seemed to pop more (the park is newer, after all). And with less attendance and obstructions (i.e. strollers/wheelchairs), there’s obviously less pollution.

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Cast Members were very friendly. The uniforms were much plainer (some remained the same, like Tower of Terror’s, but some Fantasyland attractions were just plain pastel), and nametags just listed their name without a hometown or university. The Disneyland 60th Anniversary (Diamond Celebration) name tags were far more dazzling than DL Paris’ plain 25th anniversary ones. So overall, yes, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim will always win out in terms of how much they go above and beyond the highest qualities of Guest Service, especially being the original. 😉

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Okay, and the best part of Disneyland Paris – Illuminations.

Illuminations blew my mind. It was the 25th anniversary fireworks show (also with an added water fountain display – not as elaborate as World of Colour, but still dazzling). It was really similar to the Disneyland Forever fireworks show – and I don’t think anything could compare to that one, because that one was just INCREDIBLE – but it was one of the most beautiful shows/displays I’ve ever seen. There weren’t as many fireworks (obviously, Anaheim does it best, thanksverymuch), but the fact that this was in a different country probably made it more meaningful to me. There was a Disney Nature pre-show before 10pm that was full of stunning landscape/animal projections.

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The combination of LED lights and projections on the castle, water fountains, and fireworks all at the same time was just visually overwhelming for my senses and I started crying tears of happiness. I’m such a sap. I didn’t even cry on the Harry Potter studio tour, yet I cried from ecstatic joy during this show. I chalk it up to sentimentality and all of my attached Disney memories and background that goes along with this (because yes, I’ve missed Disney for a long time now).

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Emma Watson was even projected onto the castle as Belle. Perfection.

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The Star Wars portion was obviously my ultimate favourite. The post-show was also beautiful, with the 25th anniversary logo shining above the water fountains and projected onto the castle. And even though I was almost crushed to the ground while everyone else filed past to exit, it was worth staying 5 extra min. to take photos until the whole, “Disneyland Paris is now closed” spiel blared out over the speakers.

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It was incredibly bittersweet, since the end of the show marked the end of my Disney visit as well as the end tail of my dream trip. Do all dreams have to end?

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After Illuminations ended, mass herds of us filed down Main Street to exit. Suddenly, I heard high-pitched shrieks – a whole group of them – and people started splaying and running every which way near the gazebo. My body locked up and couldn’t move. The colour drained from my face and my heart nearly stopped for a few seconds- my greatest fear was that this was a terrorist threat.

… Mickey Mouse was standing at the top of City Hall, waving and enthusiastically yelling goodnight to all the Guests.

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I felt stupid, yet really relieved. I just couldn’t believe that Mickey caused that much commotion, let alone scared me into thinking it was something on a much worse scale. It’s a scary thought – that it could happen anywhere, at any time – and it’s hard knowing that our world is now in this constant state of fear and safety precautions. My heart breaks for everyone that was affected in past events, and we can only hope that all of this chaos ends rather than continues.

Disney Village (like Downtown Disney) was also lovely – a bit similar to Walt Disney World’s. Again, because it was a completely new setting, I was in complete awe taking photos of everything (I even snapped a photo of the glass-paneled McDonald’s – because I found it hilarious that Disney has a partnership with them in Paris). Being me, I stayed up until the last train left – so by the time I made it back to my hostel, it was 1 A.M. and I was honestly about ready to faceplant from exhaustion. But every second was well worth it, because I cherished every second of this grand Disney day. *cue cheesy Disney music here*

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Thank you, Disneyland Paris. You showed me that I will always love and appreciate Disney, and I will cherish my Disney trips with all my heart no matter where they are in the world. It was like coming back into the Disney realm with a fresh perspective and appreciating all the experiences I had, whilst reveling in the beauty of Paris.

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