Disney Parks Discovery Series – Disneyland Paris Review from Erin Foster

Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris is our first stop in our Disney Parks Discovery series

Readers will have of course noticed that my primary focus here at ZannaLand is the Walt Disney World Resort. It is where I have enjoyed countless memories from childhood through present times. As much as I love everything about it, I also write about it because I have not had the good fortune to experience any of the other parks and resorts Disney has to offer. I hope to remedy this sad state of affairs as soon as I can but until that time, I figured I should not in turn, deprive you of the wonderful experiences out there. That’s where my friends come in.

I asked for some help in bringing an overview of the non-Disney World parks to my readers and first up is the lovely and intelligent Erin Foster, from the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, a self-admitted Disney Geek and in my opinion, a veritable font of Disney knowledge. Erin recently returned from her family’s first trip to the Disneyland Resort Paris. Once I got over wishing I could somehow stow away in their luggage, I asked her to share her experiences here with us. Je vous présente avec plaisir, Madame Foster!

 

Disneyland Paris from a WDW Geek’s Perspective

 

Cinderella Castle with Erin Foster's children

These Disney kids are experts at this park...time for exploring a new castle!

My family wanted to go to Paris for spring break. I know, I know, sounds magnifique. But back in my semester abroad days, I had a bad experience in Paris and was reluctant to go back. Then my hubby dangled the ultimate Disney Geek carrot: a trip to a new Disney park. I had been to Disneyland in California once, to Orlando’s WDW many dozens of times, but I had never been to Disneyland Paris. And so it was bon voyage.

 

In advance of our trip, I purchased several books about DLRP, but ultimately decided not to look at them until we arrived in France. I decided to have as pure of an experience as possible – with an eye to putting myself in the shoes of a Disney novice. As it turns out, this was all but impossible as so much of Disneyland Paris is so much like the other Disney parks.

We decided to make DLRP the first stop on our trip, so we took a cab directly from Charles de Gaulle airport to the resort, about a 45-minute drive. We stayed at the flagship Disneyland Hotel. For the Disneyland Hotel, picture the Grand Floridian, only very, very pink. And much like the Anaheim Disneyland, the flagship hotel is truly steps away from the park. As we left the Disneyland Park on our first day, I counted and found that it took exactly 11 seconds to walk from the exit gate to the closest entrance door to the hotel. The other parts of the resort, Disney Studios and the Disney Village, are about as close as the Beach Club is to Epcot.

 

Disneyland Paris Resort hotel

Disney transportation pulling up the the Disneyland Paris Hotel

 

Our hotel rooms were quite spacious, perhaps even a smidge larger than the deluxe rooms at WDW, with soothing pink and green décor throughout. The hotel includes two table service restaurants, a bar, a gift shop, a gym, a small indoor pool, a salon, and various other amenities.

 

Disneyland Paris Resort hotel

Part of the hotel above the Main Gate of the park.

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Resort hotel

Lobby of the Disneyland Paris Hotel

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Resort hotel

The main park exit is just under the right side of this overpass. The hotel entrance closest to our room is just under the left side of the overpass. Crazy close and beyond convenient.

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Resort hotel

More of the hotel from the other side.

 

When we arrived, our room was not quite ready and we were starving, so after dropping our bags with bell service, we had a spectacular character buffet lunch at the in-house restaurant called Inventions. {please click that link and head over to the Disney Food Blog for Erin’s guest post on her experience at Inventions – it is truly astounding. ~Z} Then off to Disneyland park.

We got our maps and got our bearings. Despite the chilly temperatures (high 40s) and cloudy skies, the park was packed. We stopped and took the obligatory photos on Main Street not-quite-USA. The feel of the entry was extremely similar to the other parks. Gate at one end, castle at the other. Shops on either side. Many of the stores were even in the same place as in WDW. The candy shop is early on the right. The main merchandise shop is on the left. And Casey’s Corner, selling hot dogs, is the last shop on the right before the turn into the various lands. I loved seeing all the nuanced differences between this Disney and “my” Disney: guests smoking in the queues (not a good difference, but interesting to note), gigantic rental strollers, terrible popcorn, excellent brioche in the bakery, etc.

 

Disneyland Paris Main Street USA

The Disneyland Paris entrance to Main Street, USA

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Main Street USA

City Hall on Main Street, USA

 

While I wanted to see some of the uniquely DLRP attractions, I was also keenly interested in doing a compare/contrast of the Euro versions of US rides. Our first stop was Big Thunder Mountain. Unfortunately, it was having a “temporary technical difficulty.” We found that during our two-day trip this would happen at Big Thunder more than once and also at the Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio rides. We never did get to the last two because they were down so much during our time there. This was a true disappointment.

The first ride we actually got to experience was Phantom Manor, their version of the Haunted Mansion. The queue was, sadly, a bit boring. We had hoped to see funny tombstones in French, but there were just a few lonely trees along a generic waiting line. Once inside, the initial experience was similar to WDW, you’re put into room with no windows and no doors (this they do say in French) with portraits high above. The room then stretches, as do the portraits. Here, you very clearly get the sensation that you are in an elevator, traveling downward. The ride itself is perhaps a bit longer than the WDW version. Many of the components are the same: a floating head in a crystal ball, a dining room, the Happy Haunts, even some of the wallpaper. However, much of the ride is quite different. Several minutes are through a ghostly Wild West scene. And rather than ghosts, there is a spectral skeleton as your traveling companion at the end.

 

Disneyland Paris Phantom Manor

Phantom Manor - DLPR's version of the Haunted Mansion

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Big Thunder Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain as seen from Phantom Manor.

 

 

We then wandered through the park a bit, just to take in the sights. We found that there is no Liberty Square equivalent at DLRP. There is an Adventureland and a Frontierland. These, particularly Frontierland, are gigantic compared to WDW standards. The main thoroughfares in Frontierland wend through rope bridges and caves and things to climb, almost as if Tom Sawyer Island were spread throughout half the park with rides scattered about.  The other areas of the park are Fantasyland, which has a similar feel to WDW and Discoveryland, which we might think of as Tomorrowland, but with a much more old-timey feel.

 

Disneyland Paris Adventureland

Entrance to Adventureland.

 

 

The centerpiece of Discoveryland is Space Mountain: Mission 2. Hey, Space Mountain, one of our favorites! Sorry to say kids, don’t try this one at home. Space Mountain in France is NOTHING like Space Mountain in Florida. Well, they both happen in the dark, but that’s about it. Mission 2 is what would happen if Space Mountain and the Rock n’ Roller Coaster got together and had a love child, but then got mad when it cried and tried to shake it to death. (Too much? Sorry.) Really, there was a whole lot of stroke-inducing light flashes and head vibration and upside down, but not a lot of heart and soul. I’m sticking with WDW on this one.

 

Disneyland Paris Space Mountain

DLPR's Space Mountain

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Discoveryland

I've always loved the Jules Vern-esque theme to DLPR's Discoveryland ~Z

 

 

Our first-day Fantasyland choice was Small World, because how could you not. The exterior is a bit like Anaheim, with outdoor clocks and lots of white and gold. You wait outside and even start the ride outside. The ride itself is much the same, singing dolls in many languages. There was a larger US presence with dolls in rodeo gear, in baseball and football uniforms, and wearing Dolly Parton wigs while dancing in front of the Hollywood sign. Overall, the ride seems brighter and more cheerful than WDW (how is this possible, I know). One big factor seemed to be that the dolls themselves were cleaner. Every time I go through WDW Small World, I look at the Polynesian hula dolls and I see the white dust in their hair. I want to take a vacuum to them. No dust in this version.

 

Disneyland Paris Small World

The American section of "it's a small world".

 

 

We had gotten Fastpasses for the Indiana Jones ride. Interestingly, there is only a 30-minute return window at DLRP. While there is an inversion in this ride, overall it is relatively gentle as upside down coasters go. Much more to the liking of the entire family. Do we sound like wimps? I guess we’re wimps.

 

Disneyland Paris FastPass

The Fastpass window is only 30 minutes long in Disneyland Paris.

 

Of course we had to do a bit of shopping. The Emporium-esque store on Main Street was crazy crowded because of bad layout and poor traffic flow. Though we did note that while much of the merchandise was somewhat similar to the US stores, there were no Vinylmations and fewer pins than at WDW.

The absolute strangest part of the trip for me happened on the morning of day two. The official Disneyland park opening time was 10:00 a.m. There was morning Extra Magic Hours beginning at 8:00 a.m. GREAT. Since we’re only steps from the park, we wake the kids at 7:00. They’re pokey and they fight over who get more time in the bathroom and yadda, yadda, yadda, we’re leaving the hotel at 7:50. I am freaking out because, as we all know, being at the park only ten minutes before opening at WDW could put you at the back of an ugly line. So we get to the park and there is literally no one there. No one. We had to hunt around for a security guard to confirm that the park really did have morning EMH. At about 8:03, a cast member comes to the gate and asks us to wait a few minutes because they’re not really ready for guests. At about 8:10 a few other guests, like two more families, show up and they open the park. There is an entirely different vibe going on over there. I have to say that I kinda missed the morning race walk.

Because we were there early, we got to ride on Buzz Lightyear four times in a row. With a few small differences, the experience is mostly the same at the other versions. I liked that the targets had lights that turned on when you hit them. This made it much easier to tell whether your shots were good and how to aim. We also rode on the Orbitron several times (think AstroOrbiter). We then made several attempts to go on Fantasyland rides that were supposed to be open during EMH, but they were all having those pesky technical difficulties. Very disappointing.

 

Disneyland Paris Buzz Lightyear

Inside Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

 

We did finally get to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. There are many of the same scenes, but they come in a different order, but no Jack Sparrow here that I could see. This made it feel like a throwback to the older US versions of the ride.

Big Thunder Mountain was a big thunderous hit with the whole family. The feel is the same as WDW (tame-ish coaster), but the ride felt much longer with more too look at and more story line.

In addition Dumbo, Snow White and the Teacups, Fantasyland has a large walk-through maze: Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. There were little doors and obstacles and a Cheshire Cat made of plants. My tweeny girls enjoyed the novelty of it. I think it would be super great fun for the 4-8 year old set.  Walking through things seemed to be a popular diversion at DLRP. In addition to all the Frontierland walk -through attractions (which included the Swiss Family treehouse), there were dioramas or storybook displays of the Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty stories, as well as dioramas in the Small World exit queue. Somehow I don’t see Americans being patient enough to appreciate these calm and non-interactive displays.

 

Disneyland Paris Alice's Curious Labyrinth

Alice's Curious Labyrinth...

 

 

 

Disneyland Paris Alice's Curious Labyrinth

I love this shot! ~Z Curiouser and curiouser!

 

 

 

DLPR Alice's Labyrinth

The Cheshire Cat in Alice's Curious Labyrinth.

 

For lunch, we walked over to the Disney Village, which was like a teeny Downtown Disney with a movie theater, a theater for a live show, a few shops, a game arcade and several restaurants, including the familiar Rainforest Café. And, cue the harp music and chorus of heavenly angels, Disney Village includes a fully functioning Starbucks. Amen.

 

DLPR Disney Village

Disney Village shopping and dining.

 

 

 

DLPR Disney Village

More views of Disney Village - is that a Starbucks I see? my precious....~Z

 

 

We had saved a few hours for the Walt Disney Studios. I had been warned that there was not much to do there, and true, it was rather small, but we found it charming. My Tower-of-Terror daughter thought the DLRP Studios version was fine. We enjoyed Cinemagic, a combination stage and film show, though I can’t say I’d go back for repeat viewings. And we got to see the Stars and Motorcars parade that had previously been at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.  We also got to peek over a gate and take a look at the new Toy Story play area that’s set to open this spring. Fun!

 

DLPR Disney Studios

The Walt Disney Studios

 

 

 

DLPR Disney Studios

A familiar parade through the Walt Disney Studios

 

 

 

DLPR Tower of Terror

The Hollywood Tower Hotel's Paris offices.

 

 

The most memorable part of the trip for my daughters was the Studios ride, Crush’s Coaster. They reeeeeeally wanted to do this and there was no Fastpass, so we waited for 70 minutes. It was perhaps the only time they were ever happy about waiting 70 minutes for anything. Every moment of the ride was pure fun, starting with Crush speaking in French with an Australian accent. Duuude! Think non-dark Space Mountain (the nice Florida version), with some of the Primeval Whirl spinning and some Dumbo up and down thrown in for good measure – just a joyful way to fly.

 

 

DLPR Disney Village

Warning sign for Crush's Coaster

 

I am so glad that I got to add all of this to my cache of Disney knowledge and experience. I certainly could have spent much more time at both parks. There were several rides we didn’t have time to get to, but the siren call of the Mona Lisa called us on to Paris. I guess I’ll just have to make another trip to see the rest of the resort. :)

 

 

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant avec trois jolies filles qui sont éveillés.

 

Thank you so much, Erin & family for sharing your experiences abroad with us. It sounds like it was definitely a unique and must-do trip for any Disney fan or, as you say: Disney Geek! ;)

{all images ©Erin Foster}

This post is now part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Go there to read more great Disney posts.





About Suzannah Mitchell

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Mom of 3, coffee addict, oh and Princess of course!