Back To The Future (Again!)

And so the work begins again. After a near-18 month break from the Paris version of The Mouse, we were back in Marne La Vallee recently to start the process of updating the Brit Guide to Disneyland Paris for 2010.

dlp-re-sized1It’s probably not a moment too soon, as well. With Mickey’s Magical Party about to start – the latest in the seemingly never-ending array of marketing promotions geared around making the resort somehow ‘new’ or ‘relevant’ – it is highly appropriate to look at just what lies in store in the world’s second-largest Disney resort.
With it not being as familiar to us as Walt Disney World in Orlando, it is a valuable exercise to evaluate it in ‘big picture’ terms. In many ways, it is the same – but not the same.

Disney with a French accent has always been an unusual proposition and, even 17 years later, there are still things that just don’t ‘translate’ from the American to the European. Standards of cleanliness are one of them. Which is not to say ‘EuroDisney’ is dirty (although Susan would raise a big question mark to that statement over the ladies toilets in the Hotel Santa Fe!), just that there is not the same sense of scrupulous attention to detail around the parks, restaurants and hotels.

Then there is the fact the Disneyland Park bears a lot of similarities to Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, but many of those similarities are largely superficial. Yes, the ‘lands’ are basically the same, but it is easy to take a wrong turn in DLP on the assumption it is the same as in the Sunshine State.

The food and dining are also a completely different kettle of fish – anyone from the Florida parks would probably struggle to get their heads around the vast array of set menu choices in Paris, even in the basic counter-service restaurants. And the huge range in quality, from the barely edible to the quasi-gourmet, is also a bit of a stunner (bearing in mind that, with the exception of Epcot in Orlando, food offerings rarely veer from the predictable and reliable).

And then there’s that whole ‘European’ vibe thing, whereby you might hear six different languages and encounter six different cultural variations in the space of half an hour (along with six variations on the idea of ‘queuing,’ including the one where, if you jump over all the barriers in Pirates of the Caribbean, you have ‘queued’ successfully – that was a new one to us!). In Orlando, there is English (or ‘American,’ as we should more properly say) and Spanish, and, apart from the occasional Brazilian foray, there is little to disturb the mainstream status quo.

Therefore, it takes a bit of judicious re-orientation to bring ourselves back to ‘EuroDisney’ thinking and enjoyment, relaxing our more strict methodology in favour of the slightly laissez faire local attitude. But that’s just our problem; very few people will have the kinds of issues we typically encounter with Guest Relations as they are not usually trying to re-write a guidebook and looking for definitive responses.castle-resized

No matter. The important thing is the ‘big picture’ view and, on the whole, it remains a wonderfully positive one. The Disneyland Park itself is still, to our way of thinking, the most artistic of all the Disney parks. The Imagineers paid more attention to non-essential elaboration here than anywhere else, and it pays big dividends in scenic, eye-catching delight.

To wander the small-scale paths between Frontierland and Adventureland is to be immersed in a creative world of landscaping largesse that borders on folly; so much of it is unnecessary (and simply not allowed in the tighter confines of the Magic Kingdom parks in America), yet it all helps to create a more relaxed and cohesive environment.

The food remains a big plus too – at least at the positive end of the scale. The buffet meals at the reinvigorated Agrabah Café, Plaza Gardens Restaurant and La Grange restaurant (upstairs at Billy Bob’s) are all terrific value and quality. Walt’s and the Blue Lagoon are also still top-notch venues. The culinary wasteland that is the Walt Disney Studios park lives on, however, and several counter-service options in the Disneyland Park are also borderline painful.

Falling between the end of the 15th anniversary celebration and the start of the new Mickey’s Magical, etc, etc, our visit was also notable for the amazing lack of live entertainment (no Tarzan, Lion King or even Winnie the Pooh and Friends shows; little streetmosphere in the Studios), but this should be remedied once April rolls around.

That really just left the cleanliness issue as our one real ‘big picture’ beef from this visit. Anyone who looked out over the back roof while queuing for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, could not fail to have noticed the appalling build-up of detritus sitting there – from a plastic coat hanger to numerous empty drink cartons. Popcorn strewn all over the floor of the Liberty Arcade one afternoon (which was still there several hours later) was another indication either of staff shortages or a managerial blind eye to proper Disney purity.

Other stray thoughts that hit us on a slightly less than seismic scale included the following:

Why does anyone want to take a wonderfully coherent and entertaining show like Buffalo Bill’s and insert Disney characters into it (as happens this week)?

Stitch Live at the Studios is a truly massive upgrade on the old Studios Tour that existed previously in various limp versions.

Crush’s Coaster is a superb addition to the great panoply of roller-coasters (but why is the queuing area so dull?).

How many kids have to come out of the Armageddon show in floods of tears before anyone posts a decent warning about its unsuitability for the youngest guests?

The Tower of Terror area at the Studios also adds some much-needed depth to the park’s theming and eye-appeal.

Cinemagique is, without doubt, one of Disney’s greatest entertainment creations – and we will brook no arguments on that score. It is also, possibly, Martin Short’s greatest film work.

The four hotels of the Val de France area remain excellent value for money, despite their greater distance from the parks. The newly-renamed Magic Circus Hotel (formerly the Holiday Inn) and the Dream Castle are easily as good as any hotels on-property – and usually cheaper, too. The new three-bedroom VIP suite at the latter is also quite stunning

Arriving on the Eurostar is still the optimum way to enjoy Disneyland Paris. It is just so easy and convenient, and the local bus transportation works extremely well once you are there.

But beware the ticket machine at the Val D’Europe RER station – we tried to use it to get back to Marne La Vallee (one stop away) and the tickets it gave us turned out to be invalid for anything we tried. And there is no longer a ticket office at the station with anyone to help (even if they can be bothered – which also wasn’t the case!).


Planet Hollywood remains the busiest restaurant in Disney Village, with Annette’s diner a close second. But visit during lunch hours and you have a blissfully quiet restaurant to enjoy.

The closure of the NEX Games arcade under the IMAX cinema gives that part of the Village (effectively, around the back from the Gaumont Cinemas) a real ‘dead’ feel. This amenity lasted barely two years before closing and it is sad to see it all dark and unused.

The good news: after complaining for years that the Village needed a good coffee shop, it is finally getting one this summer (replacing the former Buffalo Trading Co, which closed late last year). The bad news: it’s going to be a Starbucks. Ugh. With all the good coffee houses around Europe (notably in Italy), why couldn’t they provide something with more character (and flavour)?

So, we left after 5 days with a case-full of notes – and VERY sore feet – glad to see the whole resort still busy, and with more to look forward to both this year and next. Now we just have to fit it all into the next edition…………!

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