Only a few hours after going to bed, it was time to get up for our 7:00 a.m. breakfast time slot at Sequoia Lodge. We opted for Sequoia Lodge rather than going to Disneyland Hotel this morning because Sarah thought she might go back to bed after breakfast and the walk to Disneyland Hotel and back would waste a decent amount of time.
Breakfast at Sequoia Lodge wasn’t nearly as good as it was in Disneyland Hotel at Inventions. The only standout to speak of was this delicious juice that reminded me of the juice served at ‘Ohana’s breakfast. I don’t know what it was called or what it contained (probably a mix of passion fruit, pineapple, and mango, but I could be entirely wrong), but it was delicious. I made repeated trips to the breakfast bar, coming back with a fresh cup of that and of coffee each time. I probably had 5 cups of coffee that morning, and for someone who doesn’t drink coffee (or even for someone who does) that’s a lot. This was basically my regimen for the trip: sleep very little, drink a lot of caffeinated stuff. You might want to consult a physician before undertaking a similar regimen, but I’m pretty sure they’d highly endorse the practice and tell you it’s incredibly wise and the best way to become physically fit.
Sarah went back to bed after breakfast, but I was too wired to possibly even consider sleeping, so I headed to the parks, opting again for Disneyland Paris. We did go to the Walt Disney Studios Park eventually, I swear.
I arrived just after Extra Magic Hours started. In my opinion, Extra Magic Hours were pretty pointless at Disneyland Paris. The park opened two hours early (so at 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m.) for Extra Magic Hours, but there were so few attractions open and so many people showed up that the attractions that were open all seemed to have longer lines later in the first two hours than they would later in the day. I could see EMH being great during the busiest seasons, but during our low-season visit, the crowds were actually worse during EMH. Perhaps locals and regulars have more refined strategies for EMH and know what, exactly, to do to save time, but I couldn’t think of anything. Instead, I just wandered around Main Street and Tomorrowland, and did a couple attractions at a leisurely pace.
What I should have done was take photos. The fog is heavy in France early on winter mornings, and looked much different than your ordinary early morning view of Main Street. It’s been hammered into my head as a photographer that overcast skies are a time when you put the camera away, but in this case, the fog would have been a great opportunity for unique photos. Luckily, this finally dawned on me the next day.
First up was ‘it’s a small world’ celebration. This wasn’t the first time I had done this attraction, but I finally took some photos to go along with my thoughts on the ride, so here they are…
I was relatively unimpressed by Paris’ ‘it’s a small world.’ I am not quite as ga-ga for Mary Blair’s art as other Disney fans, but I recognize that it is art. Disneyland Paris’ ‘it’s a small world’ is also art, but it’s better described as clipart. It just looked cartoonish and very unsophisticated as compared to what you’d find in the other ‘it’s a small world’ attractions. It lacks the angularity, reductionist architecture, and engaging color palette found in the other versions of the attraction.
Interestingly, the design is overall more detailed, and perhaps this was an attempt to make it more sophisticated for a European audience that likely isn’t familiar with Mary Blair. The result is the exact opposite. While there is beauty and refinement in the deceptively simplistic look of Blair’s ‘it’s a small world,’ the more “detailed” small world in Paris lacks this refinement. The dolls redeem the set design to a degree, but overall it’s just not as good of an attraction as it is in the US. You can somewhat see this for yourself in the photos.
I think the best comparison is Disney hand-drawn animation from Walt’s era as compared to the hand-drawn animation in a Saturday morning cartoon. Casual observers may not notice the differences in either case, but those familiar with the art notice serious differences. In any case, I was not a fan of the ride’s aesthetic.
Ironically, I previously criticized the level of effort (or lack thereof) put into the “celebration” overlay for the holidays, only to find out that almost every doll receives a costume change and that many of the details in this overlay are nuanced and lost on those who are unfamiliar with the regular version of the attraction and worldwide cultural traditions. So I guess my eye for detail isn’t quite as keen as I thought!
In any case, I still think that “celebration” is less of a holiday overlay than “holiday” at Disneyland. There are a lot of set pieces, lights, and scents in the Disneyland version, and “celebration” seems sparse by comparison. Most importantly, the exterior facade is not illuminated for the holidays, nor is the area around ‘it’s a small world’ decorated in Paris.
Next up was Peter Pan’s Flight. Every version of Peter Pan’s Flight is different, and while I think this is the best version, it’s not head and shoulders above Disneyland’s or Walt Disney World’s. I give it the edge because of the lighting in the ship scene (pictured above) and in a few other scenes. It also appears to be in better overall shape than the Walt Disney World version.
I enjoy this attraction in each of the parks we’ve visited, but I wouldn’t say the differences in the versions are incredibly significant. Disneyland Paris’ is the best, Disneyland’s is second best, and Walt Disney World’s is third best, with slim margins separating the three.
Still no sign of Sarah, so I headed for Phantom Manor and did that. As I got off the attraction, she found me. I don’t really recall how we communicated to find one another, or if it was just random. In any case, we did Phantom Manor again. The photos below are not all of the greatest quality, but this is an incredibly difficult ride to photograph, and I figured including some less-than-stellar photos for illustrative purposes would be better than leaving them out…
People have asked about whether we felt disadvantaged by not being native French speakers in Disneyland Paris. The Phantom Manor Stretching Room is perhaps the only place where we felt this way.
All of Frontierland has an intricate and inter-woven storyline involving the Ravenswood family, which founded Thunder Mesa Mining Company in the city of Thunder Mesa, which is where Frontierland is set. Natives in Thunder Mesa believed that the land was home to a “Thunder Bird” and mining on it unleashed some sort of curse. Henry Ravenswood (the founder of the Mining Co.) built his house (which later became Phantom Manor) on a hill overlooking the Mining Company. Yada, yada, yada, bad stuff happens…there’s an evil Phantom…and Henry’s daughter is the bride in Phantom Manor.
There’s always a fine line between researching a destination and learning so much beforehand that there are no surprises when you arrive, so that’s the extent of what I knew about Disneyland Paris’ Frontierland and Phantom Manor before we arrived in Paris. I figured the attraction would fill those in.
It did, but it raised just as many questions as it did answers. The Stretching Room being entirely in French didn’t help this (apparently Vincent Price originally recorded an English version of the narration for the Stretching Room, but since so much of the park had to be in French, that recording was nixed). One night after the parks closed I consulted the world’s foremost scholarly resource on any subject, Wikipedia, for more backstory information on Phantom Manor. The Wikipedia article on Phantom Manor proved quite excellent, actually; it was like a light going off in my head, and I got so much more out of my next ride-through the attraction after that. If you don’t ever plan on going to Disneyland Paris, I recommend reading that now (because I’m not going to regurgitate it below). If you do plan on going, print it out and read it before you second ride on the attraction. It will be like having an epiphany!
When attractions and lands have incredibly complex backstories, my reaction is often that they’re contrived and added after the fact to offer explanation for what really should just be a bit of randomness in the parks. Frontierland’s storyline is complex, but I didn’t find it contrived at all. It’s really interesting and organic, and leaves enough gaps for the imagination to fill. Overall, very well done.
As for Phantom Manor, it’s also incredibly well done, and is a substantial departure from its Haunted Mansion cousins. Phantom Manor is much more dark (which I’m told is in response to Europeans being unmoved by the more comical spooks of the Haunted Mansion), but it’s not ever remotely gory or actually scary. It’s just darker in tone.
This tone is established as soon as you see the exterior of the Manor. It’s dilapidated, as are its grounds, and to me is reminiscent of Bates Manor (not Motel) from Hitchcock’s Psycho. As a huge Hitchcock fan, I absolutely loved this. I know the rub here is that Walt Disney himself wanted the Haunted Mansion to be pristine on the outside, notably saying that Disney would take care of the outside and the ghosts would take care of the inside.
Not to sound flippant, but…whatever. Walt Disney did not build Disneyland Paris, or any park after the original Disneyland, for that matter. It’s impossible to know how his feelings in the early 1960s about his original park in California would have evolved in the late 1980s when applied to a park in Europe. What I do know is that I think Phantom Manor looks spectacular, and I think it works incredibly well in a Disneyland-style park.
The queue reminds me a bit of Walt Disney World’s Tower of Terror (the outside part) in terms of detail. It’s also similarly foreboding. More on this in a later installment when I have photos to accompany text.
The actual attraction starts out much like Disneyland’s. There’s the Stretching Room followed by the walk-through Portrait Gallery in the queue. In fact, a lot of the ride is very similar to Disneyland’s version of the Haunted Mansion in the respect that the scenes are generally the same, but elements of the Thunder Mesa storyline and the evil Phantom are incorporated into the ride to make it substantially different. Again, it’s one of those “familiar but different” things.
The similarities end with what would be the Graveyard scene in Haunted Mansion. Instead, (and this is my interpretation) you sink underground and enter into a paranormal version of Thunder Mesa (the internet dubs this “Phantom Canyon”). To quote the classic film Bad Boys 2, “$%#! just got real.”
This whole scene is pretty wild, and came as a total surprise my first few times through the attraction. I’m really glad I avoided photos and video from inside the attraction, as this was a total shock after seeing the other familiar scenes. It’s a really fun scene, and we both really enjoyed the visual style and chaotic nature of the scene.
Overall, we both loved Phantom Manor. It was our absolute favorite attraction at Disneyland Paris. After I got over the initial excitement of the seeing the Phantom Canyon scene, I have to say that my favorite scenes were all of the early ones. The story of the attraction and the characters of the Bride and the Phantom were very interesting, and the Phantom especially created suspense as you wondered what, exactly he had done or would do.
I realize the Mansion attractions are not meant to have linear storylines, but Phantom Manor comes much closer to having a linear storyline with the presence of these characters. The Phantom Canyon scene does provide a nice transition from the story of the Bride (which arguably had been wrapped up with her in a state of unending sadness as an old woman) to that of the guest, who is being invited to join the ghostly world of Phantom Canyon. This transition was only implied to us, as the Mayor AA at the beginning of Phantom Canyon (an old Dreamfinder AA!!!) who invites guests to be the 1,000th ghost, was missing.
I really liked the loose story of Phantom Manor, and how it nicely ties together with all of Frontierland. The queue and cemetery after the attraction are both great, and it’s clear a ton of effort went into this attraction. It was a very bold and ambitious move by the Imagineers use one of Disney’s most iconic attractions as the framework for an attraction that is fundamentally the same, but radically different in execution and result. For that alone, I’ve got to applaud those Imagineers. It’s somewhat akin to making a sequel to The Godfather. If you succeed, you get The Godfather Part II, which is highly praised and considered by some as superior to The Godfather. If you fail, you get The Godfather Part III, which is universally recognized as a flaming pile of goat feces.
I really like The Godfather Part II, but I’m not one of those people who considers it superior to the original. I feel the same way about Phantom Manor. It’s an amazing attraction, but it’s tough to top the Haunted Mansion on the framework of the Haunted Mansion. As a wise man once said, “you can’t beat pigs with more pigs.”
That said, when not poised to fail with a comparison to one of the greatest Disney attractions ever, Phantom Manor is absolutely amazing…and is pretty close to being the pig that beat the other pig.
Taken as a whole, Disneyland Paris’ Frontierland is my favorite Frontierland (despite the notable absence of the Country Bear Jamboree), and is quite possibly my favorite land in any Disneyland-style park. New Orleans Square is pretty tough to beat, and if you ask me which is my favorite on different days of the week, you’re likely to get different answers. It’s really close.
Here are photos of the second ride-through…
When we got off Phantom Manor the second time, I noticed that the clouds were starting to break. There was blue sky visible!!! Figuring this wouldn’t last long, we headed towards Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant and I went crazy taking photos. The last one of these photos below is nothing special, but it shows just how light the crowds were. I didn’t wait for people to clear to get that photo, it just happened during my normal course of shooting. It’d be pretty difficult to get a similar shot in Walt Disney World or Disneyland!
Within 15 minutes, the sky was again mostly overcast, so we headed to Main Street to watch the Christmas Cavalcade. After that, we did some more wandering around on Main Street, checking out the shops and such. We did Snow White’s Scary Adventures, too.
Despite our poor meal at Walt’s, we really wanted to eat at Blue Lagoon, so we headed to Adventureland to make reservations. I probably should have done this first thing, but I didn’t think of it. Availability was limited, but we were able to get a reservation for a late lunch.
Since we were right next to Pirates, it seemed like a good time to do that again.
Pirates of the Caribbean is housed in a fortress, but very different than the one in the Magic Kingdom. This is more like a bunker-style fortress that’s prepared to do serious battle. The exterior and the queue are both great and most comparable to Walt Disney World. The queue is incredibly long; even when there’s no line, it takes about 5 minutes just to walk through the thing. There’s also outdoor shade that (I assume) can act as overflow queue. They must have been expecting 4 hour lines when they built this thing! Definitely the most detailed of all the Pirates queues.
As for the ride itself, Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland Paris is most comparable to the Disneyland version. It has most of the same “extra” scenes as the Disneyland version, although they appear at the end instead of the beginning. Although it’s a bit anti-climactic, if you’re approaching the attraction as a logical story instead of some random vignettes, I think Disneyland Paris’ organization works better. Here, the logical consequence of the decadent and nefarious lifestyle of pirates is death and despair. To reach that same conclusion in Disneyland’s version, you have to assume the beginning is a story framing the rest of the story. That might work in Heart of Darkness, but this is a theme park attraction. (Not only that, but you have to totally disregard Jack Sparrow at the end to make any sense of the attraction.)
Beyond the better natural progression of the attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland has a few scenes and effects that are incredibly impressive. The two biggest “scenes” are a swinging pirate that comes out of nowhere at your boat, and two sword-dueling pirates. A lot is also accomplished with shadows and implication elsewhere, all to great effect.
Oh, and there’s no Captain Jack Sparrow. Nothing against Jack Sparrow, and I totally get why the ride has been “enhanced” with Captain Jack in the US, but having seen the ride without the characters again for the first time in years, I have to say I far prefer it that way. It just seems much more organic, and I don’t really think the movie characters add anything. They don’t really bother me, either, and like I said, I completely understand why they’re present in the US versions. I just prefer the attraction without them.
Pirates of the Caribbean ranked just behind Phantom Manor as our second favorite attraction in Disneyland Paris, and is by far the best version of the attraction that we’ve experienced. It builds upon the superior building and queue from the Magic Kingdom for something superior even to that, and then it takes the substance of the Disneyland attraction and improves upon that. I really can’t think of any ways that Disney could improve upon this version of Pirates, short of trying to reinvent the ride, as was done with Phantom Manor. But that would be risky (see The Godfather Part III). I’m really glad their Pirates was essentially just a substantial improvement upon the stateside versions, rather than a reinvention.
After Pirates of the Caribbean, we headed to Frontierland, where I spotted this excellent building. Being a photographer and an absolute dork, it only seemed fitting to combine the two traits in this photo of me looking like an absolute dork in front of the building.
Everything ends better with a cliffhanger, and although there isn’t really one here, I suppose you should anxiously await the next installment of this trip report because in it we finally go (or don’t go) to the greatest theme park known to man or martian: The Walt Disney Studios Park. YOU WON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS UNTIL YOU READ THE NEXT INSTALLMENT.
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