Disneyland Paris Part 4: The more things change…

I have (finally) come to the end of my short series about Disneyland Paris. I have spent a lot of time writing about the differences, both good a bad, between the European Resort and its American counterparts. But as I draw this to a conclusion, there is only one important take away. Ultimately, Disneyland Paris is the same in all the ways that matter to me as a Disney fan.

There are certain things I expect when I go to a Disney Resort. I expect customer service to be above average. I expect cleanliness; not just in food service areas and restrooms, but in the hotels, the parks, and even the transportation. I expect a high quality experience that is more than I would get at any other similar resort experience. Most importantly, I expect my experience to be uniquely Disney in a way that I cannot experience anywhere else. These are the things that, for me, make a Disney trip worthwhile. Coincidentally, these are the things that we very much in evidence at Disneyland Paris.

If we are all honest, these are the things that consistently take us back to the Disney Parks. It’s not that the rides are that much better than their competitors. Some are, some aren’t. It’s certainly not competitive pricing. We return to Disney resorts, ultimately, for the emotional connection we feel to the place. There is only one other amusement park I have any chance of this level of connection with and it has so radically changed since I was a child that it might as well not be the same park anymore. Disney is different. Somehow even with updates, improvements , and both the loss and addition of rides it still feels like the same place. I can point out the spot I watched my first Disney parade. I can tell stories about attractions that still make sense to someone who rides now. I think that’s the key to Disneyland Paris.

Disneyland Paris is definitely different than the American Parks. The layout is different, the rides are different, the pace is different. However, when you walk into Disneyland Paris, you are walking into Disneyland. No questions asked. It has the same emotional resonance as the original Disneyland. Simply put, no matter the differences it feels right. It feels like Disneyland should feel. I am glad we went.

Disneyland Paris will never be my favorite incarnation of the Disney Parks. I will not make an effort to return. I have been there once and can cross it off my list of things to do. Would I go back if it was convenient with other plans? Yes, but I will not make it a primary destination. I have other things in the Paris area that I want to do first. Plus there are three Disney resorts in Asia that are calling my name. That being said, I’m glad I went.

If you are a serious Disney fan and contemplating a trip to Paris, I definitely recommend adding on a couple of days to spend time at the Resort. If you are not a serious fan who has a goal of seeing all six Disney Park Resorts, save your money. It is a great experience, but one not every Disney fan needs to have to feel complete. Enjoy the Park that you love. You’re only missing more of the same.

Disneyland Paris Part 3: Vive la Difference

I am returning again to my series about Disneyland Paris. I will finish! I know there is someone who desperately needs my insights. I may be entirely wrong in that belief, but it’s what keeps me going. Almost done with this series, so here we go.

Last time, I talked about the things that I didn’t like about the Disneyland Paris resort. Today I’m going to tackle the much more enjoyable task of telling about the things I absolutely LOVED about Disneyland Paris. These are more than just the things that I love about Disney Parks that are true in every park I’ve visited (that’s the next blog). These are things that felt unique to this particular Disney resort experience.

No FOMO

One of the things I’ve talked about in other blogs is the intensely organized way I tackle a Disney vacation. While some of that is my basic personality, a larger portion of it is the intensity needed to spend a day in a Disney Park. People line up before opening to get in lines first. They get Fastpasses as early as possible to avoid missing them. They cram onto buses so they don’t have to wait for the next one. They eat as fast as humanly possible so as to not take too much time out of their day. If you do not fucntion on this level at least a little, you will get run over, miss your ride/show/FastPass, or have to wait and hour and a half to eat dinner. This is not the case in Paris.

There are lines to get in, but those are because people struggle a bit with the ticket scanners. There are waits at the restaurants, but no more than any other restaurant in a busy area. People do not run or push, they meander. They stop and look around while they go from point A to point B. Children play at playgrounds. People have conversations on benches and just watch the rides. To say we were over-functioning our first day at the park is a radical understatement. I think the experience that best describes this difference is one I had at breakfast. We had decided to take a slow morning and so I was at the buffet without The Princess who was sleeping in. While I was eating, the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the Park was officially open. Now I have experienced this at WDW in a fairly identical way, sitting in a food area when the opening announcement came. In Florida, the announcement signaled a mass exodus. Trays were dumped, children were wrangled, and the room practically emptied as everyone headed to the buses. In Paris, I braced myself for a similar stampede only for there to be no motion at all. People listened politely to the announcement and went back to their meals. No change. The people were content to continue their morning trusting that the park would still be there after they’d had another cup of coffee. The whole vibe was relaxing and made for an enjoyable, slower paced trip.

Serious Roller Coaster Love

I absolutely love roller coasters. I was raised riding them with my mom, the crazier the better. Disney, while enjoyable obviously, was never a destination for my roller coaster love. Their rides, for the most part, are family friendly and low impact for roller coasters. The Matterhorn in Disneyland, which is The Princess’s favorite ride, reaches a maximum speed of 27 mph with no major downhills. While Disneyland Paris only has three proper roller coasters in the Disneyland Park, the slowest coaster is Big Thunder Mountain which hits a top speed of 40 mph and is the longest version of the ride in the Disney family of parks. The other two rides are faster and both have inversions, including Hyperspace Mountain which is also a dark ride as well as being the fastest version of this ride in the world. The stats step up across the plaza at Walt Disney Studios with RC Racers, Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Hollywood Tower of Terror, and Crush’s Coaster. Crush is the only one of the bunch that can be considered slow and short, but the cars are free spinning and add an amazing dimension to the ride which puts the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to shame. Couple all this with the shorter lines and it is a roller coaster lover’s dream.

Foodie’s Fun Time

This one should come as no great surprise. It’s France. The food is amazing. While I wrote last time that breakfast was disappointing (and I stand by that) everything else was delicious. Whether it was a crepe from a cart in the park or lunch at Bistrot Chez Remy, the food we had was a delight. We ate a several buffets since that was what was included in our meal plan. The upside of that was being able to try many, many different foods. The leisurely pace extended to the pacing of meals as well. We were never rushed. We were encouraged to take our time. The practice was to take small amounts of food from the buffet and go back up many times. None of this American practice of cramming as much food as possible on a plate and eating it as fast as possible. We took small portions, tried new things, and enjoyed our meal.

Another very unamerican thing was common in the hotel buffets: Taking food for later. American buffets, in general, forbid food leaving the premises. In spite of this I will often smuggle a banana or apple out of a breakfast buffet. Every time I do this I feel a little naughty, like I’m breaking a major law. Because both The Princess and I have food sensitivities, it is difficult to eat a lot of the available snacks on the go in the Parks. I overcome this by bringing food from home. This wasn’t really an option for the Paris trip. So, I would bring my bag with me and smuggle out items from the charcuterie wrapped in a napkin. Until I saw a family with a whole sandwich making station set up on their table. Kids and parents making up full lunches to take with them when they left. Completely in the open with cast members walking right by unconcerned. I stopped being sneaky and gathered our snacks for the rest of the day with no guilt. It was glorious.

Slow traffic

Finally, the two parks were just quiet. Not in an auditory way, in a usage way. I can’t speak to the reasons. I don’t know if it was because it was the middle of the week in April. We might have been there in an off time. I have no basis of comparison. It may be that Disneyland Paris is simply the least active of all the Resorts. I know, historically, they have had trouble connecting with Europe in general and France in particular. What ever the reason, With the relative smallness of the two parks, we had very little trouble getting through ride queues. The only ride we waited over an hour for was Crush’s Coaster and that was because it doesn’t have a Fast Pass option and it had been down for maintenance at Extra Magic Hours. We rode everything we wanted to ride, hit the major attractions multiple times, and were done every day by 6:00. It was nice.

So there you have it, the upside of going to Paris. As you can tell, it is definitely worth the time and effort to get there. In addition the the good far outweighs the bad in overall Park experience. Next time I will give you my final thoughts about the experience and my conclusions about the Resort.

New year, New whatever

So it’s a new year and with that comes a whole new wave of change. People want to exercise more, eat less, and make better financial decisions. They want to fix all the parts of themselves that they see as ‘wrong’. Because it’s a new year! New Year, New You: as the saying goes. Buy a new calendar and you can fix yourself. Gym memberships increase. Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem are advertising heavily. Organizing products are flying off the shelves. We are making ourselves the best version of ourselves we can be. At least for a while. The problem with rooting all this change in a calendar date is that when we fail (and we inevitably fail) instead of picking ourselves back up and starting over, we just give up and decide we will try again next year. January 1 comes again. We make our resolutions, and the whole process starts again.

As I approached the end of 2016, I examined my resolutions from last year and realized how far short I fell, especially in regards to this blog. And as I started into the self-shaming narrative that leads us to continue this unhelpful cycle, I decided instead to be gentle on myself. I looked instead at the things I accomplished last year. I looked at the goals I achieved rather than those I failed, Instead I looked at the unexpected joys of the years. I celebrated those things that happened that I never imagined as I sat writing out resolutions last year. I paid attention to the new things I learned, the new places I went, and the new things I did. None of which were even a blip when I was planning my year. We should all be gentle on ourselves.

We do not need a “New” us. Who we are is enough. Do we need to change habits and patterns? Maybe. If we do, it is not up to a calendar to determine that for us. If it is important, make a change. If it is important, decide on a random Tuesday to change your life. Don’t wait until next year. And if you make a mistake, forgive yourself and try again. And know that there is nothing wrong with maintaining the life your have right now. If you are happy and healthy, don’t mess with it out of some weird obligation to make a change simply for the sake of change.

All that being said, I have missed writing this blog. I am going to once again make it a priority for me. The first effort being to finish my series on my trip to Disneyland Paris this past spring. I’m also going to share my thoughts about the new “Frozen” and the end of the classic “Star Wars” saga. With the launch of Disney+, my goal of watching all the Disney animated features seems much more realistic, so we’ll see how that goes. The next Disney trip is fast approaching in February where I will once again attempt Disneybounding. Hopefully, this time the weather will cooperate. But here’s the deal. If I don’t manage to do any or all of these things, it’s going to be fine. These goals aren’t to prove anything to anyone else. These goals are for me. To give me a little guidance and (hopefully) a little inspiration when I find it lacking. It is also not date dependent. I can restart any day, any time because any day can be a new start if I choose it to be. The same is true for all of us.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Disneyland Paris Part 2: Not Quite Right

I’m going to continue this series with the things that I didn’t quite like about Disneyland Paris. I thought about finishing here, but decided that it’s much better to end on a high note. Unsurprisingly, There were many things that were different in Paris than in the American Parks. Also unsurprisingly, some of those things I enjoyed. Some I most definitely did not. I will start with the minor things and move up to the ones I found really odd. I will also give you my wisdom if you are thinking about planning your own trip.

Disney Dining Differences

Our package came with a dining plan included. Which I usually love. In fact when we head to Walt Disney World we always get a meal plan because we love to eat at all the places we can without worrying about the cost. When we go to Walt Disney World I will pay to upgrade the free meal plan to the middle level so we can have full service meals as well as counter service. Bearing this in mind I went to the appropriate web page to see if there was a similar advantage in Paris. I was shocked to find a veritable punnet square of options based on particular restaurants, number of meals, and where we were staying. It was somewhat intimidating, especially considering I had no reference for what restaurants we might want to enjoy. (Remember? No guide books)

Unlike WDW, there was no much flexibility. The free plan was for two meals a day to be eaten at buffets. In addition, breakfast was required with every meal plan. This didn’t bother me so much, but The Princess is not much of a breakfast eater. She’s good with a granola bar and coffee. Plus, breakfast had to be eaten in our hotel. Again this wouldn’t have bothered me much except that breakfast wasn’t very good. Both the bacon and eggs were under-cooked and the potatoes were overdone. This would have been tolerable, however, if we didn’t have food sensitivities that kept us from eating anything on the pastry station. (Imagine a buffet station literally the size of a small pickup truck covered in various croissant,) Our daily breakfast was the worst food we had the entire time we were in Paris, Disneyland or other. After the first morning, we would have tried the buffet at a different resort, but it wasn’t allowed. We ended up with a breakfast credit unused at the end of the trip, as the Princess couldn’t be bothered to get up early for runny eggs. Even if it was required to be eaten at our hotel, some meal flexibility would have been nice.

Pin Trading

I’m not much of a pin trader, but I do try to get at least one set completed on every trip. So, I packed a sandwich bag of pins and a couple of lanyards. I thought, “Yay! Paris pins!” I was sure that there would be a pin set or two that would only be available at Disneyland Paris. I’m still sure that’s true. I’m also sure that there was pin trading happening, but in four days I neer saw it. I only saw two cast members in green lanyards. There were also no pin kiosks or shops. I did see pins in a couple of larger stores as well as people wearing them, but I didn’t see lanyards. Randomly walking up to someone and asking to see their pins is probably a uniquely American thing to do. Europeans don’t talk to each other like we do so the practice probably never took off. Leave your pins a home. It’s not worth packing them. We got a couple of fancy pins for our collections and left it at that.

Photo Pass

The Photo Pass has become another one of my automatic purchases. I love getting the professional photos of our trip. The ride photos have never been a big deal for me, though they occasionally are amazing. I love getting the photos of us meeting characters but my favorite are the photos in front of the classic symbols of the Parks. I have photos of us in front of castles, trees, water towers, and Starship Earth. Our policy is to just stop whenever we see a photographer and get a photo. With Photo Pass we get a digital copy of them all. If they’re good, I print them. If they’re not, we aren’t out anything. A couple of years ago, I filled an almost an entire photo book for The Princess with our Photo Pass photos. It seemed like a no brainer to add a Photo Pass. Of course we would want to take as many photos as possible in Disneyland Paris. It’s Paris! In four days we saw one free range photographer and he wasn’t even in front of the castle! We got all of our ride photos, which seemed to be a big deal for people. We would get off a ride and have to wait in line to load our photo onto our card, which never seems to be the case here. The cast members would take time to adjust the image to center us, enlarge the image, and add cute graphics, but it was still just ride photos. So unless you really like ride photos, this is also something I’d recommend that you skip.

Walk Through Attractions

So this one is a little weird. One of the things that we always skip in whatever park we go to is the walk through of the Treehouse. Whether is belongs to the Swiss Family Robinson or Tarzan, we give it a miss. Honestly, because a walk through display is just not that interesting to us. We did it once when The Princess was little and never felt compelled to do it again. Imagine our surprise when we got to DP and there were seven of these things! We got in a queue that we thought was for a submarine ride, only to discover we were walking through a replica of The Nautilus from ‘10,000 Leagues Under the Sea’. While, these are vaguely interesting (the dragon under the castle is particularly well done), this isn’t how we want to spend our time. I would rather ride something than walk around looking at displays. The fact that there are so many of them reflects a different type of attraction ethos than what I am used to. Honestly, I didn’t care for it.

Characters and Autographs

Finally, this was really weird. The character vibe was strange. We weren’t planning on seeing many characters because we don’t speak French. This turned out to be a good thing. First, there weren’t very many characters to see. There appeared to be two character spost at Disneyland one of which was dedicated entirely to Mickey Mouse. The lines were never shorter than 45 minutes that we saw. There were more at Walt Disney Studios. One at the gate, that (again) had very longs lines. There were two dedicated Marvel character lines. One of these was Spiderman. At one point his line was an hour and a half. The other was Captain Marvel. This was the only line we were willing to stand in. The other two lines were monitored. To get in either of these lines I first had to download an app, and then log into the app in the booking window to make an appointment to see the characters. The appointments literally filled up for the day in the three minutes I was exiting a ride. This was a pilot program with the goal of shifting all of the character greeting to this format. I’m hoping it doesn’t succeed. I did not enjoy maniacally checking my app just to find I missed out on the booking window by minutes.

As I said, the one line we did stand in was Captain Marvel. It was somewhat fortuitous as we exited a ride across from her line just as it was opening. The interaction with her was a little stiff. Usually meeting characters is fun and they seem to be a bit more flexible with us as adults. Captain Marvel seemed to need to stay on script and was unsure what to do with my autograph book. She literally asked me if I wanted her to sign it. If character greetings are a big deal for you, be prepared to wait for the privilege and know that there will be characters you will not be able to meet. I would also suggest leaving your autograph book at home or, alternatively, be prepared to explain what you would like.

So that’s the list of the things that bugged me about Disneyland Paris. Next time you get to read about all the cool stuff that we loved about experiencing Disney in a new and difference place.

Disneyland Paris Part 1: Prepping for Paris

The Princess and I crossed an item off our bucket list when we visited Disneyland Paris earlier this month.  We have a life goal of visiting all of the Disney Parks before we die.  We are now 1/2 of the way to that goal.  It’s exciting! It was fun to see Disney interpreted for a different audience and I will talk about that in the next several blog posts.  But before all that, I had to plan our trip.  This, sadly, was very stressful.

if you have followed this blog for any length of time, you will know that when I plan a Disney Parks trip it is only slightly less involved than the moon landing.  (That is a bit of an exaggeration.  There is very little math.)  I plan travel, food, lodging, rides, and shows.  If we are at a Park at a peak visitation time, I avail myself of touring plans to minimize our wait times.  I plan our FastPasses, which stores we will be shopping in on which days, and prioritize characters that we want to see.  Planning ahead starts no less than six months out, sometimes longer if we are headed to a Park for a known event like graduation or a special birthday.  In fact, a couple of times The Princess and I have settled in at our favorite Chinese restaurant go to through guidebooks, make lists of hotels and restaurants to research, and plan the perfect trip.

As crazy as that sounds (and I know it sounds crazy), we are never bound by those plans.  We will change based on prices, bad reviews, or just because we feel like it.  For us, the planning is part of the fun of the trip.  We do have in our brains the perfect trip to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but barring an extreme change in our financial circumstances, they are unlikely to happen.  But still, we plan.

You can, of course, imagine my surprise when I went to my local bookstore and discovered that there were absolutely no guide books for Disneyland Paris.  Nothing.  When I went to the help desk to ask, the only available book was a self published guide from 2006.  I passed on ordering it. I thought that perhaps, there was just not enough demand for tour book so far away from the destination. So, I assigned The Princess the task of finding us a guidebook closer to Paris. (She was studying in London during the first part of the year. This is what inspired our trip.) She found guidebooks. For FLORIDA! Since printed media had failed me, I headed to the internet. I made an inquiry to an Disney Travel site about resources. They directed me to the 8-page download available at the Disneyland Paris website and wished me luck and good travels. I had already seen this document. It was basically a travel brochure with maps and lists of available hotels and restaurants with no subjective information. Undeterred I found a Disneyland Paris fan site. While it did have a thread with a link to menus and a list of the busiest attractions, no one appears to have posted in three years and people didn’t respond to thread posts.

So there I was. No resources, no plans, no idea of the best hotel, or touring plans. I had a three page entry in my Paris guidebook, an 8-page brochure, and information that The Princess had gotten from watching travel videos on YouTube. We got a meal plan as part of our package and I picked our restaurants based on Yelp reviews. Yelp! I had to get Disney info from Yelp. We showed up on our first day, with no plan, no guide, and really no idea what to expect.

It was fine. We had a good time. The food was amazing almost everywhere which was no surprise as it was France. The rides were unexpectedly different and we only waited in one extreme line. I have few complaints about our experience. I would definitely go back. However, I can’t get over the feeling that I missed something. Guidebooks are great in that they always tell you the #1 Must See experience. Usually it’s a ride. Sometimes it’s a show. Occasionally it’s a hidden treasure of a restaurant, Character meet, or other gem. I have no idea if we saw these little treasurers. Did we have the ideal experience? We may have. We may have found the gems all on our own. We may have had the Must See experience of Disneyland Paris, but I will never know. No one has taken the time to write a guidebook for discerning Disney tourists. So as much as I enjoyed our time at the Parks, I am left with serious FOMO.

What did I miss? I may never know.

Disneyland Paris Prologue: More Disney than you know

So you know how everyone has a bucket list?  There are those things that they want to accomplish like speak a foreign language fluently or learn how to make wine.  There are things people want to do like swim with dolphins  or skydive.  Then there are places they want to go at least once in their lives like visit the place in the country their family originated from, see every MLB stadium or, in my case, visit every Disney Park.

So if you are a regular reader of this blog, I will assume that you know that there are multiple Disney Parks.  Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t know it.  I have had conversations with people who actually think that there is Disneyland and only Disneyland.  There is some confusion about the location of said park as they are not sure if it is in California or Florida.  So here is a quick run down.

First there is a difference between Parks & Resorts.  All Parks have resorts, but not all resorts have parks. With the rise of the Disney Vacation Club there are Disney resorts in multiple locations around the world.  As fun as it might be to stay at Aulani in Hawaii.  I’m not including any of those places in my goal.  Also officially Disney sites have more than one ‘Park’.  Parks are officially considered each self-contained, themed amusement ride area that charges its own admission.  Therefore, Walt Disney World is not a park.  It is a resort that is home to four Disney Parks.

All that being said, here are the Disney Parks as of today.

The original park, Disneyland, opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California. In 2001, they opened a second park at The Disney Resort, Disney California Adventure. (2)

In 1971, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida opened its first park: The Magic Kingdom. The park was modeled after Disneyland and featured many of the same attractions. The Magic Kingdom was followed by Epcot (1982), Disney Studios (1989), and Animal Kingdom (1998). (4)

Disneyland Tokyo opened in 1983. The Tokyo Disney Resort added a second theme park Disney Sea in 2001. (2)

Disneyland Paris (originally called EuroDisney) opened 1992. A second Disney Studios theme park opened in 2002. (2)

Hong Kong Disneyland opened in 2005. It remains a single park. (1)

Shanghai Disneyland  opened in 2016 and is also a single park. (1)

So there are 12 Disney parks and a third of them are in Asia. One of my life goals is to get to all of them.  This past spring I got a little closer to that goal when The Princess & I visited Disneyland Paris.  It was very exciting, very different, and periodically, very stressful.  Over the next few blogs, I will be sharing my experiences of Disney abroad and my thoughts about how we experienced Disney in a different, but similar culture.

8 down, 4 to go!  Look out world.

Wishful Thinking

So, in case you didn’t guess, my post yesterday was complete fiction.

I have NOT been offered a position as Corporate Chaplin to the Disney Corporation and (sadly) will not be packing up and moving to the Happiest Place on Earth.  It was fun pretending though!

If I could create myself the perfect job, the one I made up yesterday would be fairly close to being it.  I hope you enjoyed reading my joke as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy April Fool’s Day!