Before we get to the meat of this installment of the Disneyland Paris Christmas 2012 trip report, a couple of housekeeping items. First, thanks for all of the comments to the first installment. It was cool for us to see so many comments from so many different places. For this installment, I would love it if anyone from outside North America who is reading would leave a comment. Even if you don’t have anything to say–it can be as simple as, “Greetings from ______________!” I don’t know why, but seeing these comments from other countries really makes my day! Second, the website seems to be doing fine with these photo heavy trip reports since I made the backend changes, so I’ve decided to really push things–this installment has over twice as many photos as the last installment (well over 100) AND you can click each of the photos in this installment to view them larger. So the photos are double the size and there are twice as many…hopefully this doesn’t end up causing me any problems!
Okay, on with the report! After doing two of the three “biggest” attractions on our list (Space Mountain: Mission 2 being the other), we headed over to Fantasyland to knock out a few of those attractions. I didn’t take any photos on any of the first ride-throughs, so I’ll share my thoughts on these later. From there, we felt like we could relax a bit and enjoy that famed Disneyland Paris ambiance. Just a few years ago I couldn’t have imagined being in a park we had experienced dozens of times and slowing down–let alone a brand new one on our first day there–which I guess goes to show how our touring style has changed (evolved?).
Frontierland was the first stop, as I had read much about its backstory in Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality. However, almost as soon as we stepped back into Frontierland, we noticed that Phantom Manor had no wait. We didn’t know if this was a bubble in the crowd or what, so we jumped at the opportunity. I still only took a handful of photos, mostly in the stretching room, as there was so much I missed the first time.
After Phantom Manor, we wandered into the Silver Spur Steakhouse. It was closed and we had no intentions of eating there later, but we wanted to check out the place. It was gorgeous, really reminding me of an elegant, old-fashioned steakhouse with a lot of masculine touches (things like Winchester sculptures) and woodwork.
From here we did some more wandering until we ended up back out by Main Street. Without question, we spent more time on Main Street this trip than on any other trip (even longer ones) at other parks.
We were under the (mistaken) impression that Walt’s was only open this one day of our trip, so we thought we absolutely must score reservations that day, right when Walt’s opened. Reservations can be made in advance just like they can at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but we hadn’t done that. Luckily for us, there was one slot open for a party of two, so we took that. It would be our first “real” meal in France, and I was excited about the prospect of dancing kitchenware preparing and delivering our meal.
We hadn’t hit Space Mountain yet, so we decided to wander over to Discoveryland. I often hear Americans say that Discoveryland is a brilliant twist on Tomorrowland. Given that, I suppose there will be some disagreement here, but in my mind, the premise of Discoveryland is more or less the current premise of Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland. Discoveryland is said to focus on invention and the spirit of discovery, but it’s basically Jules Verne’s take on the future with random attractions shoehorned into the land. To me, that’s pretty similar to Walt Disney World’s premise that Tomorrowland is a galactic spaceport based on Buck Rogers-era science fiction with a bunch of random attractions shoehorned into the land. Style points go to Disneyland Paris, as the aesthetic is more convincing there.
We planned on grabbing FastPasses for Space Mountain: Mission 2, but the crowds were so light that FastPass wasn’t being used. I think we ended up waiting around 15 minutes in the standby line, which was a ridiculously low amount of time considering this was late morning on a weekend.
It was pretty easy to see why Space Mountain: Mission 2 is one of Disneyland Paris’ flagship attractions. I assume most of you have seen the gorgeous exterior. The queue isn’t nearly that cool (it would be the greatest queue ever if it were), but it still carries out the Jules Verne style well.
The ride itself is simultaneously awesome and pure torture. The outdoor blast-off is all sorts of awesome, and there’s more of visual interest than the other Space Mountains, but the ride beats you up. I don’t mind the slightly rough track at Walt Disney World’s Space Mountain, but Paris’ Space Mountain takes rough ride to a whole new level. My head slammed around against the headrest and restraint throughout the ride, and my ears hurt and were red for a while after (it doesn’t help that they are ridiculously sensitive for some reason). But the pain was worth it, as it was otherwise an awesome ride. Sarah, who normally avoids more intense coasters (she doesn’t do Expedition Everest or Rock ‛N Rollercoaster at Walt Disney World), didn’t agree, I don’t think. It was a “one and done” for her.
Next up was Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. I “love” how each of these Buzz Lightyear game rides has a different name, yet they’re all the exact same concept. There must be a crack team working round the clock to optimize the names on these rides for different regions. The ride was more or less the same as the version in Disneyland, which is the superior version. Although I think they must have scored it by the metric system, as that’s the only possible explanation for my low score.
Next up was the brand new Christmas parade/cavalcade. This had been hyped up a bit on the English-language sites I read covering Disneyland Paris. I realize Paris is on the rebound and much of its annual entertainment budget was spent on Disney Dreams, but if Walt Disney World received this meager “parade,” online fans would tar and feather management. Then again, maybe French fans did exactly that. The Disneyland Paris forums I’ve visited are in French, and the sentences of French I speak best translate to “I can comprehend some French, but don’t speak it well. Do you speak English?” In other words, I pretty much rely on the Google Translate Chrome plugin when reading sites written in other languages, and I’m pretty sure it’s not 100% accurate. Unless people in other countries have some really bizarre colloquialisms.
In fairness, this was called “The Christmas Cavalcade.” In Disneyspeak, cavalcade basically means “a ‛procession’ that is not big enough to be called a parade,” and compared to other cavalcades we’ve seen at Disney parks, it was exceptional. But as the only parade-like entertainment offered for Christmas at Disneyland Paris, it was pretty weak. I think the idea is to build it out into a full parade as the years go on, and if that happens, it could have promise.
The costumed performers were pretty cool, with one exception: the soldiers were real humans, not toys! I assume Europeans have the same affinity for living toys that Americans have (Toy Story 3 was the #3 film at the European Box Office in 2010!), and the parade could definitely use some toy soldiers instead of human ones. It could also use some reindeer and gingerbread people.
Here are some photos from the Christmas Cavalcade:
We only had about 25 minutes until it was time to eat at Walt’s, which we figured wasn’t enough time for an attraction. In a US park, we probably would have done a quick ride and shown up 5 minutes late (if necessary), but we were unfamiliar with local custom, and didn’t want to risk it.
First stop was Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, where we headed to the upper level Sleeping Beauty walk-through called La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant. This walk-through doesn’t have as stunning of scenes as the one in Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, but it has greater variety, and when you add the beauty of the Castle itself into the mix, it’s pretty difficult to beat this walk-through.
From there we headed back to Main Street, where we decided to browse the Emporium. There, I saw about the coolest Christmas light display ever, which hung down from an incredible stained glass rotunda. (See photo here.)
When I saw the lights hanging down at eye level, my mind immediately turned to the potential for Christmas light bokeh. At first I tried to photograph random items with the lights naturally behind them, but this was a lot of work and I wasn’t doing too well. So, I swallowed my sense of embarrassment (at this part I’m so used to doing odd things like this that it’s more like shrugging it off…but I was in a different country, which did give me a little pause) and started arranging items I found in various spots with the lights in the background. The “highlight” of these was carefully balancing a Duffy on one set of lights and even posing his feet and arms. I would have been the hit of the party if we were in Japan, but in France, I’m betting I got some odd looks.
We were early for our Walt’s reservation, but come to find out, they run on “Le Cellier Time,” so we had to wait about 30 minutes in the lobby. It was pretty crowded, so I only managed to get a few shots.
Speaking of clocks, after I posted the last installment (that discussed the details in Disneyland Hotel, including the clocks), John from CharacterCentral.net sent me this message, “I did want to let you know about a couple things (since I think you may be interested)… you mentioned the clocks and artwork in the Disneyland Hotel… there is actually something very neat about those clocks. There is actually a clock for each of the 5 Disney resorts and the clock shows the time at that resort and the artwork on either side of the clock is actually concept art for the resort the clock is for. If you are interested Dan has some pictures of all the clocks which can be found on his stream starting here. Each clock also has a little brass plate next to it telling where the clock is for and what the concept artwork is for (example).”
Pretty awesome–and just another example of those “Disney Details” present all around Disneyland Paris. I wish I would have noticed this myself!
I hesitate to offer any review of our experience at Walt’s, because those to whom I’ve spoken that have dined at Walt’s on multiple occasions say our experience is not indicative of its actual quality. I’ll reiterate that just so it’s clear: OTHER PEOPLE LOVE THE FOOD AT WALT’S. OUR EXPERIENCE MIGHT BE AN OUTLIER.
With that said, the food at Walt’s was about what I’d expect from Cosmic Ray’s, but the design, details, and ambiance were out of this world (I guess I’d also expect that…). Much like Club 33, Walt’s is simply a place that every fan of Disney theme park history must eat. It’s probably a better tribute to Walt Disney than even Club 33 is. Based on that alone, Walt’s is a must-do if you visit Disneyland Paris.
Each room in the restaurant has a different theme that corresponds with a different land in Disneyland/Disneyland Paris, plus one room for the Disneyland railroad. We dined in the Tomorrowland/Discoveryland room, which was my favorite room, although I have to say that the psychedelic ceiling was a bit of a departure from the otherwise elegant decor of the restaurant. Still, it worked, and just gave the restaurant more charm.
A word to those soda addicts planning a trip to Europe…I would say our biggest “surprise” expense in Europe was soft drinks. Regular trip report readers will know that I consume copious amounts of Coke on our trips to help me stay awake well past the time when any sane person would’ve gone to bed. Europeans don’t guzzle soft drinks like Americans, which meant that most places served Coke in small bottles, with each bottle costing around $2-4 in restaurants. A little bottle doesn’t have the amount of caffeine I need to function, so at some meals early in the trip, we were spending $10 or more on Coke. Like a wise drug addict, by the second day, I switched to the more potent and cost-effective stuff: coffee.
The menu at Walt’s is set up to “encourage” guests to order a three-course meal. It’s like their own sneaky version of the Dining Plan. We planned on having three courses anyway, so we ordered from the Menu Grand Classique rather than doing a la carte.
I didn’t think to take a photo of the menu, and the one I see online seems to differ from what we had. I can’t remember the exact appetizer names, but Sarah had a cream soup and I had a three-part appetizer, the highlight of which was salmon. The appetizers were actually good, but not great.
This turned out not just to be a bad burger, but one of the worst I have had in my life. I didn’t even finish it, and I love burgers. The foie gras was good, but not good enough to save the dry, overcooked burger. I compared Walt’s to Cosmic Ray’s above, but in this case Cosmic Ray’s actually wins–they’re burger is better than the one I had at Walt’s. It’s partially my own fault for ordering a burger when I had been warned not to; plus, with so many great things to try, who orders a burger at a nice restaurant in France?!
Sarah ordered the Filet of Grilled Beef, which was definitely a much better option in a fine dining establishment. Hers wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t exactly tender and flavorful. Still, not what you’d normally order in France, but this was an American restaurant (actually, almost every single restaurant in the park served standard American fare).
Dessert consisted of crème brûlée, warm chocolate fondant, fresh fruit salad, and a mini macaroon. Dessert was probably the best part of the meal, especially the crème brûlée and warm chocolate fondant. Still, it didn’t even begin to compare to some of the decadent desserts we’d later have in Paris restaurants.
Since we had one of the last lunch seatings, we ate slowly so that I could get some photos of each of the rooms when empty. Unfortunately, Parisians are masters of eating slowly, and even at our slowest pace, we could not compete with them. I went into the rooms that were empty and snapped some photos of them, and tried to shoot around the people in other rooms. However, when I got to a room that had a breast-feeding woman right in the middle of it, that was sort of game over on my fun. Here are the rooms I did manage to photograph:
After lunch, it was finally time to check into Sequoia Lodge, where we went straight from lunch, as Sarah was exhausted (unlike me, she didn’t have $25 worth of Coke at lunch!). Sequoia Lodge recently underwent an extensive refurbishment and looks excellent; its theming is reminiscent of Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World, except with Frank Lloyd Wright inspiration oddly found throughout the architecture. Going just off the architecture and details throughout the resort, I’d say it has a slight edge on Wilderness Lodge.
However, it lacks the grand and cavernous lobby of Wilderness Lodge, meaning, among other things, that there’s no space for a giant Christmas tree. This lobby, to me at least, is a defining characteristic of Wilderness Lodge, and without it, Sequoia Lodge really fell short by comparison. Sequoia Lodge also lacked the interesting grounds of the Wilderness Lodge.
This is not to say Sequoia Lodge was a letdown–it was incredible–I’m just using Wilderness Lodge as a yardstick since most readers will be familiar with it. Sequoia Lodge had its own very redeeming qualities, and ended up being my favorite hotel at Disneyland Paris, and I visited them all (although if offered, I think I’d choose a room in Disneyland Hotel with a theme park view over Sequoia Lodge!).
One Walt Disney World “tradition” that I was very pleased to see carried over to Paris was the storied legacy of “creepy paintings of animals in random places for no apparent reason.” The flagship entries in this portfolio are undoubtedly found in the Grand Floridian, where paintings of a white rabbit and a white monkey sitting on cushions can be found proudly displayed in a stairway.
Sequoia Lodge’s entry into this series was no less admirable. Much as you’d expect to find a painting of a white monkey painting in a resort themed to Victorian-era Florida beach resort, you’d expect to find a painting of a cat on a stairway eyeing some songbirds in a cage in a hotel themed to a National Park lodge.
Our room at Sequoia Lodge was nice. It had clearly been refurbished recently, and looked good. Obviously it had more of a rustic look than an elegant look, but the theme was conveyed well and we were very pleased with it.
Sarah opted to stay and nap for a couple of hours, but I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to photograph the sunset, which would be happening soon if at all, so I headed back out. Once back outside, I saw that the sky was completely overcast, so there wasn’t going to be a sunset. By the time I got back inside the park, it was blue hour.
As soon as I stepped onto Main Street, I became really excited. Unreasonably excited. This was because the Castle was illuminated, but the Castle’s Christmas lights were not on! This meant that I would be able to get nighttime photos of the Castle without the Christmas lights. Probably not a big deal to anyone else, but as someone who loves nighttime photos of Disney castles, I essentially had a “2 for 1″ opportunity in that I’d be able to photograph the Castle with its “normal” look and its Christmas look in the same night! I guess thanks to the incredibly early winter darkness in Paris, they turn on the normal Castle lights before doing the lighting ceremony.
I raced to the Castle and set up my tripod for some photos. Since it was just me and taking photos is as fun for me as experiencing the attractions, I mostly focused on this while Sarah was napping.
I even set-up my tripod in the darkened Dragon Lair for a 30 second exposure of the dragon. Since his head moves and is lit by artificial lighting, I also had to merge in a much shorter exposure of his body. I doubt there are many other long exposure HDR Disneyland Paris dragon photos out there!
The Castle upstairs walk-through was pretty much empty, so I used my tripod up there for another long exposure. Look at all the people racing through the open area below.
The Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was starting soon, and I thought it might be worth seeing, so I headed up Main Street about 10 minutes before the show. Apparently this is a popular show, as I saw more guests on Main Street than I thought were in the park total that day!
I had a horrible view, so I decided to enjoy the show instead of photographing it. The show was really cute. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald, along with a human host came out atop a double decker bus and sang and danced before bringing out a child who used the power of magic (donning a sorcerer cap, gown, and magic wand) to light the Disneyland Paris Christmas tree. The show lasted about 20 minutes, and was pretty charming. It wasn’t until the show was ending, though, that the real magic happened.
That’s when the greatest Disney theme park Christmas song known to mankind, Chante, c’est Noël, began playing. The song is my new favorite for a couple of reasons. First, it’s awesome and catchy. Second, hearing it gives me goosebumps because it takes me back to that night. If you’ve ever heard that Parisians are cold and aloof, seeing their reactions to this music would totally change your mind. While this song played and people left the park, guests were singing along and dancing on Main Street. Not just a couple people, either. A lot. I don’t throw around the word “magic” with reckless abandon when describing Disney, but I thought this scene was pretty magical. I fumbled to capture some photos of the scene to no avail.
Sarah and I planned on meeting up in the hub about 30 minutes from the time the lighting show ended, so I wandered around Main Street, snapping some more photos. When I originally took the second (vertical) frame here, I thought it was completely empty. Only once I got home did I realize that a stroller, the arch nemesis of empty park photography, was in the frame. At least strollers were far, far less common in Disneyland Paris.
From Main Street I wandered to the hub, where there was no sign of Sarah. Since I didn’t have a working phone, I just had to wait. Shortly thereafter, she showed up, which was fortunate, as I was beginning to think we wouldn’t see one another again until the end of the night.
We were both eager to head back to Discoveryland to see how it looked at night. She wanted to take Instagram photos of Space Mountain, I wanted to ride it again and grab a couple photos of it, too. Sarah had brought a scarf back to the park with her, and I borrowed that to wrap around my head to keep from having red ears the rest of the night. I also popped the collar of my pea coat. I’m sure I looked quite stylish as I rode, but I set the bar pretty low with the Duffy posing from later in the day, so it’s not like looking foolish was anything new for me.
We also did the Nautilus walk-through, which was pretty awesome for what it was. I was impressed at how they wind you around a couple of times to create the impression that you’re actually in the sub. It was a nice effect and this walk-through turned out to be one of my favorite attractions in Paris.
As I gush over Disneyland Paris, it’s probably worth noting (if you didn’t pick up on it yourself) that the small things matter just as much to me as the big things. I enjoy most of the E-Tickets in the American parks, but attractions like the TTA, Casey Jr., and just wandering around exploring are just as important to me. As such, Disneyland Paris was my kind of park. If you are the kind of person who races from E-Ticket to E-Ticket (and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that), I highly doubt Disneyland Paris will appeal to you as much. It’s a park that’s meant to be sipped, like a fine wine. It’s not meant to be chugged, like a Bud Light.
From there we headed crossed to the other side of the park to check out Adventureland and Frontierland again. Once there, we stopped in La Girafe Curieuse. I have no idea why it’s called that…perhaps it has something to do with the giraffe peeking his head out about those shelves.
After that, it was time to head over to Phantom Manor again. I was really looking forward to photographing this at night, and I got some cool shots…unfortunately, I can’t post them. Sorry. Those photos might appear elsewhere in the future…
Once I was done taking some photos, we did the attraction. Again, it was a walk-on. We would actually never wait in line more than 10 minutes for it again on the trip. I tried photographing it this time, but had my wide angle lens mounted and didn’t walk away with much. I did manage a good shot of the stretching room WITH the ceiling illuminated! I’ve been trying this shot at Walt Disney World for YEARS and have never succeeded. Not only does the photo require great/lucky timing to capture the ceiling lit up, but it also requires a steady hand to get a sharp image with a slower shutter speed. The shooting “conditions” in Paris are exactly the same, yet I nailed the shot on the first try. Suffice to say, I was stoked.
I knew ‛it’s a small world’ celebration didn’t have an awesome lit-up facade like its counterpart in California, but I was still hoping for something interesting at night. No such luck, but I took a few photos of it anyway before we headed back to Main Street for the Castle Lighting Ceremony.
From what I understand, in the past that this was done via a stage show called Princess Aurora’s Christmas Wish, which sounds similar to the Cinderella’s Wish (talk about creative names!) show used at Walt Disney World to light the Cinderella Castle Icicle Dream Lights each night. Unless I really missed something, now only the fountains and lighting system from Disney Dreams are used for the Sleeping Beauty Castle lighting “show.” The show only lasts a couple of minutes, but looks pretty awesome.
After the trip, I learned that a lot of Christmas entertainment was scaled back this year because Paris spent so much money on Disney Dreams and refurbishing a good chunk of the park for its 20th Anniversary. The plan is for this to all be restored–and built upon–for Christmas 2013. I have no idea whether this is actually true, but it certainly makes a lot of sense.
The show certainly photographs well, at the very least.
After this, we headed back to Discoveryland for a few more photos since we had a bit of time before Disney Dreams, and it didn’t appear that we’d have much difficulty getting good spots for the show at the last minute.
We returned to the hub about 15 minutes before Disney Dreams, and there were still front and center spots available. It was a cold school night, and it looked like a lot of people had left as the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony ended.
There were only a few people in front of us, and my tripod easily rose over them. What it didn’t rise over was the kid that appeared on some dude’s shoulders at the very last minute directly in front of me. I tried to move and adjust for this, but the best I could do was relocate to a spot that had her only in the left-most part of my frame. Not a huge deal, but I still had to crop all of these shots tighter than I would have liked.
This installment is already way longer than I’d like, so I’ll save a review of Disney Dreams for a future installment. I’m sure you all care more about the photos, anyway!
When Disney Dreams ended, the park was closed. Just like the US parks, people linger about, leaving a bit of time for photography. We stayed as long as we could, snapping photos of the empty park.
Security was incredibly friendly, and they seemed very outgoing and jovial as compared to other Cast Members. We saw a couple of them dancing, and they even helped us with the photo above of us when I couldn’t get my wireless remote to work.
Not until we were the last two guests left in the park did they begin to hint that they were closing for the night.
No matter how much sleep I’m running on (and at this point, the amount was very little in the prior 2 nights), I always leave the parks energized after getting in the zone and taking photos. This night was no different, and in addition to that, I was hungry. We hadn’t eaten dinner, as our plan was to have dinner in the hotels each night after the parks close (Parisians eat late, so restaurants there are often open much later than the parks).
We had stayed in the park a little too late and no restaurants were open.
The only thing that was open was Redwood Bar & Lounge. We were too tired to drink, but they had a limited menu with some sandwiches. We ordered a smoked salmon sandwich to split. It was large, but mostly bread.
We ended up staying here for a bit, as this lounge was absolutely awesome. The furniture was large and luxurious, the lights were low with the table we were at being mostly lit by white strands of Christmas lights in a window that looked through to the lobby.
The most impressive aspect of the lounge was a large fireplace. I don’t really know how to describe this other than by saying it was “two-sided” meaning that while the fireplace was in a wall, there was no wall behind the fireplace where the wood burned–it was like a tunnel that went all the way through the fireplace from one side of the wall to the other, allowing guests on both sides of the wall to sit by the fire. Everything about this bar was awesome, and ambiance-wise, it’s my new favorite “normal” resort bar at any Disney hotel. Second overall to only Trader Sam’s.
It was around midnight at this point, and Sarah decided to call it a night. I had some more photos that I wanted to take, so I headed back out, starting with Sequoia Lodge.
Continuing to Hotel New York. This hotel was the second most expensive hotel at Disneyland Paris, but I wasn’t very impressed by it. It was designed by Michael Graves, something you’d know without anyone even telling you if you’re familiar with the Swan & Dolphin at Walt Disney World. Inside, Hotel New York was cool for its touches of New York City, but it ultimately felt way too much like a stylized 1990s take on New York. I understand that any representation of New York won’t be accurate (that’s necessarily the case), but its dated look is left me unimpressed. It’s not a bad hotel by any means, I’d just much sooner pay less and stay at Sequoia Lodge than stay at Hotel New York.
I planned on hitting all of the hotels, but I was way too tired, so I decided to head back to Sequoia Lodge. By this time, Redwood Lounge & Bar was closed, and empty of guests. I stopped in to take a photo from the table where we had been sitting (on the left of the frame you can see the fireplace flanked by Christmas trees). It’s not the greatest photo, but I love it because it transports me back to that first night of relaxing after a long day in Disneyland Paris.
…and that seems like as good of a way as any to end this installment. Part 3 will pick up from the next morning!
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