The Mad Hatters Tea Cups at Disneyland Paris

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E

I am going to apologise right up front for this blog post. It may turn out to be one long string of clichés or a saccharine wallow in childhood memories. Or it could identify for you a place you definitely do NOT want to visit. But for this 50-something year old big kid, it was a dream come true.

As a child growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the highlight of each week was the Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night at 6p.m. I would be glued to the black and white (and eventually colour) TV and transported to every far flung corner of the world or my imagination. I don’t remember regularly watching the Mickey Mouse Club but man, I lusted after a pair of those perfect ears.

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Here at last. The Magic Castle, Disneyland Paris

A year living in England in 2003 placed all of Europe on our doorstep including, within spitting distance, Disneyland Paris. Of course we explained this trip as a birthday treat for the two much younger members of the household but, I admit to being just as excited as they were.

It was a challenge to temper the excitement as we trundled through the wintry streets of Byfleet at 5a.m. dragging our wheelie bags. Needless to say, the thousands of bleary-eyed commuters who joined our train trip into London were less than excited about their day. They had no choice but to put up with our jollity and two children bouncing off the walls of the train.

There are two very passionate train lovers in this family so the excitement levels threatened to go off the scale when we arrived at Waterloo station to board the Eurostar train to Lille and then onwards to Disneyland Paris. In reply to quizzical, and somewhat exasperated, looks from our fellow travellers, I would flash the cover of our Disneyland Resort Paris guidebook and they would nod knowingly, and redouble their efforts to ignore us.

Our short-break package included train travel, two nights’ accommodation, breakfast, and unlimited 3-day entry into Disneyland and Disney Studios. Does life get much better than that? As soon as we arrived at the resort park – yes, there is more to Disneyland than just Disneyland – we checked into our hotel, collected our admission tickets and ran squealing with glee towards the entrance turnstiles. We were there at last.

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M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E!!!

Before leaving England, the locals had tried to dampen our enthusiasm a little because (a) it was only Disneyland after all, and (b) it was Winter (usually preceded by ‘you idiot why are you going there now?’). Little did they understand the warped logic of we Disney-addicts and our assumption that the colder temperatures would reduce crowd numbers. Thankfully we lucked out on both points – cold but crystal clear blue sky days and a manageable number of other hardy souls running from ride to parade.

But our Disney passion was balanced by strategy and, before arriving in France, we had already identified our ‘must sees’ and importantly, how long we were prepared to wait for them. If the sign said ‘75 minutes to wait’ we would veer off and visit something else, and then circle back later optimistically hoping that the line would be shorter. Most times we were not disappointed.

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All aboard for the Disneyland Railroad…

The first part of the strategy (and see previous comments about the resident train nuts) was to get the lie of the land. The Disneyland Railroad chugs around the edge of the theme park, stopping at stations in each of the ‘lands’, and takes around 20 minutes to complete the full loop. Armed with this information, we were ready to immerse ourselves in all things Disney.

Main Street USA is a recreation of historic small-town America. It is the perfect welcome to the park and fires up the imagination for the rest of Disneyland. In reality it is just a string of over-priced cafes and souvenir shops, but the gauntlet must be run to get into the park proper.

I am a roller coaster fan from way back so I took to them with gusto. Big Thunder Mountain is a runaway mine train through forests, collapsing mine shafts and eventually into a ‘flooding’ river – equal parts corny and hilarious. How old did I say I was? The kids were lapping it all up too although the 9-year old refused to open his eyes from go to whoa! I think it would have been scarier than having them open.

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Adventureland, Disneyland Paris

We rode riverboat and Mad Hatter’s Teacups. We enjoyed robot-like animatronics in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and a reverse-ride through Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. Yes, more high-pitched squealing and tightly scrunched eyes.

Highlights included the ‘Honey, I shrunk the audience’ 3-D show. At last, an opportunity to sit and rest our tired legs. Based on the popular movies, the whole audience was ‘shrunk’ to matchbox-size and, crazily, it felt like it due to the highly convincing 3-D visual effects, surround sound and other sensations. The classic came at the end of the movie when a ‘giant’ dog on the screen turned towards the audience and sneezed all over us. Yes, we got sprayed with water at the same time. Gross but very funny!

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The Main Street Electrical Parade, Disneyland Paris

The Wonderful World of Disney Parade and the Main Street Electrical Parade at night were both worth plonking down on the street gutter and watching all the childhood favourites as they strolled or rolled by.

It was a truly fairy-tale experience and my only regret is that I came to my senses and did not buy my own set of mouse ears. I couldn’t quite justify the purchase in my adult-mind but I should have thrown caution to the wind and satisfied my every childhood whim.

We ran from joyride to roller coaster to parade for three days straight but soon it was all over, and it was a very happy but wearied family stumbling homewards from the Byfleet train station. It was 1130p.m., dark and cold, and I was mentally replaying the magic of the past days.

Imagine my surprise when the 9-year old called out, “Mel, what’s for dinner tomorrow night?” All the excitement and entertainment of this once in a lifetime experience, and he was thinking of his stomach?? Is youth wasted on the young?

February 2003

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Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Paris

The Basics

What: Three day package tour from London to Disneyland Paris – train travel, two nights’ accommodation with breakfast at Sequoia Lodge, unlimited Park entry, a guide book and activity packs for both children.

Where: Disneyland Resort Paris – about 32 km east of Paris.

When: Late Winter 2003 – yes, it was cold and sometimes grey but that kept the crowds (and therefore our competition) under control.

Why: A birthday celebration for one of the children and a long-held dream for both of the adults.

How: Eurostar train from Waterloo Station, London with connections at Lille direct to Disneyland Paris.

Who: Myself, The Brave Man* and two out-of-control-with-excitement children.

Related Blogs: For more up-to-date information about a family day out at Disneyland Paris, then have a look at this great blog that specialises in traveling with children: http://www.wheressharon.com/europe-with-kids/disneyland-paris-review/

 

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Who Says Cycling and Culture Don’t Mix?

I was nudging a significant birthday and decided that it should be recognised in an appropriate way. A normal person would throw a wild party or jet off to a destination to wallow in decadence and luxury. Me? I thought three weeks cycling in France would be a suitable acknowledgement of the previous mumble, mumble years. Seeing it was my birthday, The Brave Man* could only agree to come along.

After the usual research and bookings, a little training and a lot of packing, we were in the plane and touching down at Charles de Gaulle airport before we knew it. Even though I love that city passionately, I always cringe a bit when I get to oh-so fashionable Paris, as we are your typical daggy Australian travellers. In this instance, we were jet-lagged daggy Australians dragging large bike boxes onto an early morning commuter train. Pardon, pardon, excusez moi, excusez moi, said I in my best schoolgirl French and we received rolled-eyes and black looks in return.

Notre Dame
The Brave Man zips along the Seine.

More black looks as we dragged ourselves and our boxes off the train at Gare du Nord. The looks turned to puzzled sideways glances as we commandeered a corner of the station to unpack the boxes and reassemble our bikes. Within minutes we were packed and loaded and out into the Paris traffic. This may seem a bit crazy – being foreigners, being deliriously tired and being on bikes – but I think we perfectly matched the mental state of the standard Parisian driver and we easily navigated our way to the hotel, unscathed and way too early.

Eiffel tower
Daggy Australian tourist takes in the sites.

Full of enthusiasm and refuelled on coffee we decided that instead of waiting patiently for our room, we would enjoy the sights of Paris. It was a ‘pinch myself’ moment as we cycled along the Seine, in the shadows of Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower. I think it is surreal to step on a plane in Sydney one day and be cycling through Paris the next. Just too weird!

From the start, our plan wasn’t to spend long in Paris but to use it as the hub, in a hub-and-spoke model of travel. I had planned our trip using the Lonely Planet Cycling France guide and had selected three main tours with a little customisation here and there.

The first tour was to head north-east out of Paris to Compèigne and then work our way roughly south-west to finish in Giverny – Monet’s stomping ground. So, the next day we were back to the Gare du Nord, and back on the train for the short trip to Compèigne.

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Forest riding

Cycling is certainly a good way to get into sync with a new time zone – all that fresh air and exercise. After a sleep of the dead and an early morning raid on a patisserie, we breakfasted in the Clairière de l’Armistice – or Armistice Clearing – where the armistice was signed at the end of WW1. Interestingly, in the same carriage at the same site, during WW2, the Germans forced the French to sign an armistice recognising the German conquest of France. Tit for tat I guess.

Day two took us out of the forests and into the fields on our way to Chantilly – famous for its horse races, lace and cream. It was only a brief visit as we wanted to immerse ourselves in the artistic connections that lay just to the south-west of this city.

The first arty destination was Auvers-sur-Oise – the final home of Vincent van Gogh. As we neared the town, we rode past replicas of paintings by van Gogh, Cezanne and Pisarro, juxtaposed with the actual landscape depicted in the painting. Those reproductions provided the perfect excuse to stop, admire, read the interpretative information and catch our breath.

Fields riding
And into the fields…

Van Gogh lived in Auvers-sur-Oise for only 70 days before taking his life, but during that time he managed to generate an amazing 70 artworks. What a sad end to such a prolific and creative genius. We learnt more about his life after a visit to his home – now a dedicated van Gogh museum. The Brave Man* dazzled me with his art history knowledge (he was obviously paying some attention at school), then we bought the obligatory fridge magnet and postcards, checked the map and pedalled on.

Roadside painting
Roadside paintings

Not that we are Culture Vultures or anything but our next destination was Claude Monet’s house at Giverny. We had to tack together a couple of Lonely Planet routes and add a bit of guesswork as to how to connect one map to another that was a few pages further on in the guide book. The result was a very long, hot day mixing it with highway traffic, and a distinct lack of confidence as to exactly where we were. Our leap of faith rewarded us with our first ever stay in a Formula 1 hotel and a trip to an Aldi-style supermarket. We had never stayed in a pre-fab hotel before but it was clean and convenient AND they let us park our bikes in the room! The supermarket was equally convenient but confusing with its pallet-rack system and requirement to bulk buy. We walked out of the supermarket carrying our body-weight in lollies, fruit and nuts – enough to last us our entire time in France. Yes, we were sampling French culture on all levels.

But I digress…

Similar to van Gogh’s home, Giverny is incredibly proud of their most famous resident and again we enjoyed roadside artworks as we pedalled by.

Monets house
Claude Monet’s home

Monet’s house and gardens at Giverny were all that I had hoped they would be. Even though we were there in September (their Autumn), the gardens were in full bloom and I counted six individual gardeners busy amongst the shrubbery. Another of those ‘pinch myself’ moments as I stood on the arched bridge and pondered the lily pads. I do not possess an artistic bone in my body but even a Joe-average like me can appreciate the impact of such a talent as well as the special significance of that simple building and its lush, green surrounds.

The Lily pads
Pondering the lily pads

Reluctantly we packed away our mementos – yep, more postcards and fridge magnets – and said a fond farewell to that picture-perfect landscape. All too soon we were back on the bikes again and riding to Vernon to catch a train back into Paris. We could tick the ‘art history’ box of the tour.

Next stop the Loire valley and chateaux, chateaux, chateaux!

 

September 2005

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!