Sorry for the delay in getting this installment posted. I know this is the highlight of approximately no one’s day, but still. We were in Walt Disney World a couple weekends ago and since I’ve been working on some exciting things that we can’t wait to share with you soon. (This seems to be the excuse everyone else uses when they have a lapse in blogging, so I figured it will work…sitting on the couch watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia counts as an “exciting thing,” right?) If you’ve missed any of the first three installments, or want to revisit them, start by going here.
The good news is that all of the photos from this trip are now edited, which is generally the hold-up in getting these things posted. As for the text, I usually just run this site through Gizoogle, and copy and paste the results here. It’s quite simple, as my Control+C/Control+V skills are impeccable. Anyway, I hope to have the remaining installments all up soon.
We still had a bit of time to kill before our reservation at Blue Lagoon, so we headed over to the Storybook Land Canal Boats (actually called Le Pays des Contes de Fées, which translates to Fairytale Country) and Casey Jr, which were more or less right next to one another, just as they are at Disneyland. In Disneyland Paris, it was almost as if they were tucked away into their own mini-land (which was added to the park in 1994–this 2010 map gives you an idea of their location), almost how New Fantasyland is a bit separated from the rest of Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.
These are two attractions that we absolutely love at Disneyland, and the Paris versions did not disappoint. Casey Jr. was all upside. It was like a modernized version of the Disneyland classic, with no “downside” that I can think of. The beauty started in the queue, which winds and passes through a wooded area; there were some traces of fall colors remaining when we visited, making this area especially beautiful. The rest of the attraction is pretty much the same as Disneyland’s, except with superior visuals.
We also really enjoyed Le Pays des Contes de Fées, which had its pros and cons. The biggest pros was that it had much higher capacity than Disneyland’s version, as it loaded with a turntable system and had significantly more boats running that Disneyland’s. It was a walk-on when we visited, and I suspect the waits never get as bad as they do at Disneyland.
The other pro was the scenery. For the most part, I thought the scenes were better and more detailed than at Disneyland. It contains a lot of obscure references to films that most guests won’t recognize (I’ll admit that I didn’t recognize some without the aid of signs in the attraction) and has also been constantly updated since 1994 (there’s even a Tangled scene). The visuals here easily trump Disneyland’s, in my opinion.
The biggest downside was that there was no on-boat narration like there is at Disneyland, which is a big part of the charm of the attraction. In fact, there’s no narration, period. Even though I wouldn’t have understood it, I think it would have been great to have a Cast Member on board narrating the attraction in French. I never get sick of hearing French people talk, and I think this would have added a certain beauty to the attraction.
Another thing that I suppose could be considered a downside (but is probably more of a personal thing) is that there was no Monstro. He’s another part of the charm at Disneyland for me. Instead, you pass through the Cave of Wonder from Aladdin. In fairness, I frequently say I like when attractions differ a bit instead of directly cloning other attractions, and this was a nice distinction.
It was also a bit odd to see the Emerald City from Return to Oz as the grand finale of the attraction, but I assume this is a byproduct of the time in which the attraction was built. Perhaps now that Oz: The Great and Powerful has become a big hit for Disney, we’ll see this scene updated. Even though Oz: The Great and Powerful was pretty awful, there’s some great imagery in it that could definitely benefit the parks. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was highly overrated, but it brought us the bizarre greatness that is the Mad T Party, so anything is possible! The rest of the attraction has been updated very well over the years.
Following that, we headed over to Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. This is a hedge maze themed to Alice in Wonderland, with the Queen of Hearts’ Castle at the end, which offers great views of the park. As far as hedge mazes go, this was a fun one, and I personally am a fan of Fantasyland attractions that deviate from the standard dark ride formula.
It’s a nice diversion with some cool character details. Another one of the attractions and layers that makes Disneyland Paris special. The view from the Queen of Hearts’ Castle is spectacular, although the weather was far from great when we were up there.
Next up was Blue Lagoon. We hadn’t heard anything positive or negative about Blue Lagoon, but we knew we wanted to eat here for the view into Pirates of the Caribbean. There was a wait when we arrived and I didn’t know if it was appropriate to request a table close to the water, so I refrained from doing so. We were seated about as far from the water as possible, but we still had a view of the attraction and were able to enjoy the ambiance of the restaurant. The themed Christmas decorations (as was the case with just about every restaurant at Disneyland Paris) were very well done.
Here, we again did the meal packages. My photos of our meal are awful thanks to the restaurant’s lighting, so I’ll spare you those photos. I’ll also spare an in-depth write-up because our meal was absolutely awful all the way around. You can check out the menu and other info on DLRPMagic.
Succinctly, Blue Lagoon made the Walt’s meal look excellent by comparison. I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from eating here on our account as the ambiance is spectacular, but consider going light on the food.
Blue Lagoon was our only encounter with the stereotypical French attitude on the trip (and even this “encounter” was very mild). We requested a “carafe d’eau” (carafe of tap water) here, which apparently the waiter did not entirely appreciate. This is actually a bit of a sore subject for Americans visiting France, and if you Google “France carafe d’eau,” you’ll find forum topics with a lot of apprehension about people ordering tap water at restaurants in France, and some stories much, much worse than ours. The waiter wasn’t directly rude to us, but it was easy to tell he felt put out by it and was a little passive aggressive.
This didn’t really bother me, and I am not down on the restaurant because of this. In fact, I would have preferred if he were outwardly rude to us and the food didn’t completely suck.
Anyway, I mention this because numerous people have asked whether we encountered “French attitudes” on the trip. With the exception of this mild experience, I would say that we did not. I think part of this was our attitude in engaging others. We never assumed anyone spoke English, and always initiated conversations in French. Usually just mustering a few sentences (my go to translated to: “Hello/good evening, I comprehend a small amount of French, but speak French poorly. Do you speak English?”) before they started speaking English. I would say that those who we encountered spoke at least a serviceable amount of English 95% of the time. Failing that, we got by with my poor French and a great deal of pantomime.
I also don’t think I heard a single “have a magical day!” on the trip, but that didn’t bother me. I know the cheery attitudes of Cast Members at Walt Disney World and Disneyland are an important part of the experience to some people–if this is important to you, Disneyland Paris might not be for you.
Personally, I can’t say that constant cheeriness–much of it forced–does a whole lot for me. I’d rather have good service and genuine enthusiasm above interactions that might be contrived or fake. In Disneyland Paris, if someone is enthusiastic, it’s because they chose to be enthusiastic. In the states, I find it more difficult to tell if the enthusiasm is feigned, or if it’s genuine, so it all has less impact on me. But that’s probably just me.
As for the other guests, with the exception of some rogue smokers in queues, I have to say I preferred the guests in Disneyland Paris to the ones in America. In fairness, I’m not exactly wild about American guests. I find that American guests generally move slowly and aimlessly, and are often disheveled and poor-mannered. I didn’t see any of this in France. (I’ve heard that during busier seasons, this is more of a problem with the French cutting in line, walking on grass, etc…but we didn’t see any of this.) Again, this might just be a personal preference.
Following this late lunch we did some wandering (and it appears Phantom Manor) and ended up back in Cottonwood Creek Ranch, located in the northern corner of Frontierland. This is north of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the only attractions up here are seasonal (canoes and keelboats), making this a relatively desolate area of the park in the winter. During our visit, there were basically two things: Santa Claus Village and Cowboy Cookout BBQ. The former is Santa’s home in the park, and this locations features snowy rooftops, twinkling icicle lights hanging from the trees, and garland all around. It looks nice, and waits were moderate while we were there, even though it appeared that absolutely no one was in this area of the park.
As demonstrated below, with no one around to embarrass ourselves in front of, we also took foolish photos with the props in Frontierland.
The North Pole Post Office has a satellite branch here, and guests can (presumably) send letters to Santa and meet elves or Santa. Unlike other Frontierlands that just have the look and theme of the American West, this really feels like a quiet spot in the woods. When the attractions are up and running in the summer, I’m sure it doesn’t feel quite this authentic, but it was certainly nice in November.
The rustic ambiance that’s created by the barn, large trees, and the various props is superb. We didn’t meet Père NoÃ«l (that roughly translates to “Father Santa” or something like that), because the wait was too long for us, but we did meet Santa’s elves since there was no wait to see them. They were a hoot! They gave us a hard time, played with one another, and one even threw a (fake) temper tantrum. Clearly they took a page out of Buddy the Elf’s playbook and had some extra syrup and sugar with their lunches.
We also popped inside Cowboy Cookout BBQ. Unsurprisingly, it was very well done, and the menu looked mildly intriguing (we’ve heard that it’s one of the few places in Disneyland Paris that serves a good burger). We figured we might give it a try later.
We realized that the new “Disney Magic on Parade” would be running soon, so we headed to Main Street. Despite the park being fairly quiet, there were people lining the curb for this parade more than 15 minutes in advance, meaning that we didn’t get a curbside spot. The Magic Kingdom, which has been running the same tired parade concept under different names for about the last 15 years, has really ruined daytime parades for us, so we initially didn’t really care about this.
We should have learned from Soundsational at Disneyland that not all Magic Kingdom/Disneyland parades are required by Disney “law” to be atrocious. Disney Magic on Parade really impressed us. The floats were interesting, detailed, and popping with color. The characters were outfitted in cool sorcerer attire. The soundtrack was actually good. The whole thing was a high quality production all around.
We enjoyed it so much (and I was unable to photograph much of it due to our location) that we actually discussed seeing it again the next day! By contrast, we haven’t watched an entire run of the Magic Kingdom’s daytime parade since 2006. Here’s hoping the new Festival of Fantasy parade coming in 2014 finally gets rid of that 27 year old (no joke) Castle float and injects some life into Walt Disney World’s daytime parade!
After the parade, we decided to do something crazy: head to the Walt Disney Studios Park. The park closed in less than an hour, but it was our second to last night in the parks, and I was worried that if it rained the following night, I wouldn’t have ANY night photos from the Studios.
So, we went over there and took some photos. Since we didn’t do any attractions, I’m making the editorial decision to hold back on those photos (I’ll share them in the SmugMug Disneyland Paris gallery later). I figure the only reason that most of you continue to subject yourself to photos of the Disneyland in Paris is because you can’t wait to see my photos of and read my thoughts regarding the true gem in the Disney crown: the Walt Disney Studios Park. If I spill on that now, no one will want to read the remaining installments!!!
We stayed until closing and had the dubious distinction of being the last guests out of the park…
After our brush with greatness, we headed back to Disneyland to do some more night shooting and watch Disney Dreams again. This time, we focused on Frontierland, grabbing shots of Phantom Manor, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (photo), and the Molly Brown.
After that, it was again time for Disney Dreams! We again had a good spot for Disney Dreams!, and this time there were no shoulder-children to book our view!
The downside of photographing Disney Dreams! is that you can’t go to other parts of the park to photograph those at close, because Disney Dreams! starts at park closing, and all of the other lands have been cleared by the time it ends. At least I was able to grab this photo of the beautiful entrance to Adventureland.
Because of the way the other lands closed, and because we watched Disney Dreams all three nights of the trip, I ended up with a lot of photos of Main Street, USA. I’m not complaining about this, as it is the most gorgeous Main Street we’ve experienced.
The photo below contains (l-r) Victoria’s Restaurant, Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlour, and Casey’s Corner.
From the opposite side of the street, here’s Casey’s Corner and Gibson Girl.
Casey’s Corner again. There was some nasty flare coming off of my lens, so I went really dark with the exposure…the sky didn’t actually change from a nice nighttime blue to black in only a few seconds. France might be different than America, but it’s not a possessed land from a Ghostbusters movie.
This is Market Street, which is a side street off of Main Street. Unlike the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris still has both of its side streets (Flower being the other).
Market Street is my favorite area of Main Street. The amount of dimensionality and the number of differing facades, colors, and designs is just astounding to me. I tried to capture it all, in an interesting way, in this photo (and looked really foolish as I laid on the ground in the process), but it’s hard to comprehend in a photo. With the exception of the Arcades, I think this is the most beautiful area of Main Street, USA (the land…since this isn’t technically part of Main Street, the street).
Here it is without the distortion, from a distance. The billboards above Main Street Motors (right) are awesome, I think. If the US parks had these on Main Street, they’d be advertising the next Beverly Hills Chihuahua movie. (To advertise blockbusters, you have to be a moving billboard…like the monorail.)
Opposite Market Street is Flower Street. At 1401 Flower Street is Walt’s Restaurant (on the right). If you traveled to Glendale, California, you’d find Walt Disney Imagineering at 1401 Flower Street. Talk about a crazy coincidence, right?!
I was focusing on landscapes, so we didn’t have many photos of us yet. We decided to fix that with this gem…
As you can tell, my arm is stuck in this position.
Closed out the night with a few more shots of Main Street.
I explained the story of the photo below here, but basically, it was a happy accident as I fumbled around trying to get a perspective that worked. It’s one of my favorite photos from the trip.
For the second consecutive night, we were the last ones out. Security was once again great. I really don’t know why Disneyland Paris Cast Members get such a bad rap. I think a lot of people must go in with the expectation that people will be rude because that’s the stereotype, and then they try to find confirmation of that stereotype. We thought the Cast Members lived up to Disney standards.
In my world (where closing a Disney park means getting in bed at 2 or 3 a.m.), it was still early in the night, so I decided to hit some of the resorts after Sarah went back to Sequoia Lodge to go to bed. I started with Disneyland Hotel.
I had already visited Hotel New York the previous night, so I skipped it and Sequoia Lodge on my way the Newport Bay Club. Along the way, I stopped for some photos of the PanoraMagique Balloon.
It seems the same people who insist on 78% of Walt Disney World entertainment featuring the words “magic” or “dreams” have convinced Disneyland Paris that “Magique” is the perfect word to append to the names of attractions.
The Newport Bay Club (the equivalent of a “Deluxe” Disneyland Paris hotel) was like bizarro world for me. From the outside, it bears a striking resemblance to Disney’s Yacht & Beach Clubs at Walt Disney World. Not only is it in the same style, but they were designed by the same architect!
While I’ve been pointing out a lot of ways Disneyland Paris trumps the domestic parks in similar offerings, that is not the case with the Newport Bay Club. It’s like a cheap imitation of the Yacht & Beach Club. I’m sure it would be fine had I no frame of reference to the Yacht & Beach Club, but I had.
Just about everything about the resort felt inferior. The common areas were cramped and didn’t have the stately feel of the Yacht & Beach Club. Besides the exterior design, the whole place felt very utilitarian. There were hallways, stairs, a lobby, and dining spaces, but it seemed to lack all of the elegance and masculinity of the Yacht Club, and all of the seaside charm and splendor of the Beach Club. I doubt that I would give it much thought as a place to stay when we go back to Disneyland Paris.
The Newport Bay Club is directly across the water from Hotel New York. It’s like the Swan & Dolphin’s rectangular cousin!
Next stop was Hotel Cheyenne. If this were a Walt Disney World hotel, I suspect it would be in Value Resort category (based upon the prices I saw). For a Value Resort, I have to say that I was incredibly impressed.
While I don’t necessarily mind the over-the-top animated icons and boxy look of the Value Resorts at Walt Disney World (to the contrary, I think they are pretty much universally loved by kids), I think Hotel Cheyenne nails the concept of escapism theming in a value-oriented setting, with a design that could appeal equally to adults and children.
Unlike the Walt Disney World Value Resorts, Hotel Cheyenne transports you to a different time and place, and does a very solid job recreating this Wild West theme. I didn’t see the rooms, so I can’t speak to those, but this is definitely a place that I would consider staying, and I think this is probably the best discount alternative to Sequoia Lodge for people who want to stay on-site. (Although I discuss how staying on-site probably isn’t that important in our Disneyland Paris Trip Planning Guide.)
Next stop was Hotel Santa Fe, and this place was an odd, odd duck. There were some cool, campy nods to the American Southwest, like a crashed UFO and a drive-in movie screen, but overall, I got the impression that Hotel Santa Fe lacked a cohesive theme. I guess the style is modernist Southwestern Pueblo architecture, but I’m not even sure that’s a real thing.
I also noticed that a lot of the buildings were being torn apart and refurbished, and for the longest time while I walked around the grounds, I didn’t see a single other person, making me wonder just how much of the hotel was even open for business.
Hotel Santa fell flat for me. At present, I would not even entertain the idea of staying here. In fairness, once I saw a few buildings that were clearly not in use (all of which looked identical), I didn’t waste a whole lot of time there. So perhaps I missed something about its theme.
As I walked back to Sequoia Lodge, I decided to snap this photo. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Sequoia Lodge, but this has to be the saddest excuse for an evergreen decorated with lights that I’ve ever seen. Some strands were burnt out, and in other places, large clumps of lights were all together in one spot. It’s almost as if someone hurled the lights at the tree from ground level and called it a day with where they landed.
The sky was looking great and it still wasn’t too late, so I decided to head back to the Disney Village to do some more shooting. As I walked a bit beyond the Village, I saw this shot. Regardless of everything else about the park, I have to say that I like what they’ve done with the location of their Earful Tower. It’s great to see it in a prominent spot at the front of the park.
After this, I decided to call it a night and head back to Sequoia Lodge.
I really appreciate all of the comments you all have left on the first few installments of the trip report, especially the ones from outside North America. Like I’ve said, it amazes me that people in the US read this, let alone folks in other countries. Also, big shout-out and thanks to Dutch site “D-Log,” which featured a story about our trip report a couple of weeks ago. I have no clue what the article said, but I assume it was something along the lines of “here is an article by a clueless American who tries too hard to be funny and falls woefully short.” 😉 Any press is good press, right?!
Make sure to sign up for our newsletter if you haven’t already. The next issue will have a couple photos from Disneyland Paris that aren’t in the trip report (among other things).
If you’re reading this because you’re planning your own Disneyland Paris trip and have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comments. Remember to say hello if you’re not from North America, too! Share any other thoughts you have in the comments. We read and appreciate all of your comments!