As rainy and crowded as Tokyo was, Paris was the exact opposite – blue skies, sunshine and low crowds for the five days we spent in the park. The evenings and the mornings were cool but warmed up nicely during the day.
Paris Disneyland has two parks – Disneyland and Disney Studios. Given it was low season, the parks closed at 8:30pm and 6:00pm respectively. We arrived and got settled in with enough time to sneak in one hour at the parks and Judit could tick off her sixth castle. We were then up early for Magical Mornings at 8am but quickly found the park eerily empty. One downside of this was having to wait to find someone to take our photo (which looks like it’s against a blue screen as there’s no crowd in the background).
Only a few rides were running so we walked straight onto Peter Pan’s flight (try doing that at WDW!). The main attraction of magical mornings here seems to more be the chance to get character photos – Main Street was lined with characters so we hopped in the queue for Minnie and Mickey who were excited by our 6castles shirts, my Mickey hat and airplane necklace. This also caught the attention of a cast member who started asking about our trip. Would you believe this is the first time someone asked about our shirts? We are expecting more comments though once we get to the US and the matching, customized shirts are a thing. This didn’t seem to exist outside of the US.
We went over to Disney Studios in time for rope drop and made a beeline for one of the new anchor rides – Ratatouille! We got on in 5 minutes and then headed for Crush’s Coaster which had already ballooned up to 30 and growing.
Unfortunately, the down side of low season is that many rides and attractions were closed for renovations. The water around the castle had been drained, we couldn’t go upstairs into the castle, most of Frontierland was closed up. They don’t do as well here disguising the work going on – we saw people painting fences, laying bricks, working up on scaffolding. We respect that the work has to be done sometime but other parks do a lot better at not letting it disrupt the immersion.
By the end of the first full day, we’d been on most of the rides, many of which had minimal wait times. The next day, we gave magical morning a miss and we had friends and family arrive, so it was our first day where we weren’t theme parking alone! We did a round on all the rides again, especially as two of our friends hadn’t been to Disneyland in Paris before. By our third full day, we were hitting the smaller rides and attractions – Backlot Tour, Dumbo, the carousel, Small World – and generally just wandering around taking in all the theming and ambiance.
Our last half day was a Saturday morning and the day of the Run Disney 5k so the crowd level picked up significantly, and with it the wait times. We ticked off the Lights, Camera, Action stunt show as Judit hadn’t seen it before and it no longer exists at WDW.
Unique attractions at this park are:
- Ratatouille – the newest ride here and the third one we’ve experienced that uses trackless technology with two slightly different possible paths through the ride. You’re shrunk down to the size of a rat to run around with Remy and Emile and friends in Gausteaus. As is also the trend with new rides, immersive projection is a staple of the ride and this time in 3D but also some great facades within the ride. Well executed and a lot of fun!
- Crush’s Coaster – another anchor ride and hugely popular. Themed after finding Nemo, four people sit in a turtle shell that gets swept down the east Australian current. Feels similar to space mountain in that the ride is indoors in the dark so you’re never quite sure which twist or turn or drop comes next but the different style seat (2 – 2 back to back) which turns gives it a very different experience. Definitely a lot of fun.
- Mickey and the Magician – a new live show at this park, Mickey gets into some mischief as he is supposed to be cleaning a magician’s house. Very polished performance, as always, with appearances from many favourite Disney characters, told in a mix of English and French.
- Cinémagique – this was an unexpected gem (sadly, now closed as of March 2017). Largely based around a video screening but incorporated with live action elements, tells the story of the last 100 years of film. It interweaves clips form existing films with unique footage to tell a new story. Especially recommended for movie buffs.
- Space Mountain – but not as you know it! It’s called ‘Mission 2’ and it’s themed more in a Steampunk style, rather than the futuristic one you’re used to. The overhead hardness is your first clue that it’s not just the theming that’s a bit different and straight off the bat you’re launched from what looks from the outside to be a smoking cannon. It stays true to the ride in the dark style but not recommended straight after lunch!
- Indiana Jones – sadly closed for refurbishment. 😦
Also worth mentioning:
- Lights camera action – technically unique to this park and is the original of the attraction with the same name that used to exist at WDW but closed this year so worth seeing here.
- Phantom Manor – the local spin on the Haunted Mansion. Not quite a 1 for 1 clone but many parts of this dark ride is the same, but the story is a different one. There are some scenes that don’t exist in the Haunted mansion ride which are more creepy and sinister.
- Pirates of the Caribbean – as many people now know, the ride came before the movie, which was then redone to add the characters we all know and love. I always wondered what it was like pre-movie so was pleasantly surprised when I realized the one in Paris is still the pre-movie version. So no Jack Sparrow! Much of it remains the same and you can pick out which parts influenced the first movie but without the animatronic Jack singing at the end, it feels like it just ends abruptly without a proper story and leaves what is really quite a dark ride feeling even more sinister. We were at the ride as it opened for the day one time and saw them pick a child to be captain to open it which was a nice touch!
Once again, it was interesting to observe the balance of language and culture. This park is targeted for broadly Europe and English is treated as a common language, especially with London only 3 hours away on the Eurostar. We used our minimal French to get by with pleases and thank you’s wherever possible but otherwise everyone spoke perfect English and was perfectly friendly. Signage is in English and French and the entertainment and live shows were most similar to Hong Kong, where both English and the local language were used equally. Important signage and announcements are even repeated in six languages!
With both of us being of European heritage, we definitely felt more at home at this park and didn’t have the culture shock we faced in Asia. In terms of facilities, there weren’t any noticeable differences from the US parks. Food too was very Americanized – for quick service meals, Disney Studios only offered burgers and sandwiches. Disneyland offered a broader range of dining options, but if you want Parisian food, Chez de Remy next to the Ratatouille ride is the only option.
This park felt the most similar to Disney World in terms of size and the immersive experience it provides, especially for guests staying at Disney Hotels. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Fe, which was themed after Cars. Though it is intentionally made to look slightly dilapidated (which the theme added to as well) the rooms were clean and cozy – slightly smaller as per the typical European style, and only the bare necessities as far as amenities. But breakfast was included in the price with croissants and pastries piled high.
Transportation is provided but it was the only hotel we stayed at where we could walk to the park which took less than 10 minutes and takes you through the slightly less crowded back entrance of security and through Disney Village. Security is the tightest here of all the parks but it always has been – full X-ray and metal detector but they’re quick and efficient and have a sense of humor.
Overall, we had a fantastic time which was contributed too by the weather, the low crowds, the friends who joined us. This is a park we would definitely try return to in the hopefully near future.