I am a gigantic Disney nerd. Well, okay, let me amend that.
I am a gigantic ridiculous Disneyland nerd.
You want to hear about the Jungle Cruise? Why Pirates of the Caribbean was better before Johnny Depp got involved? What used to be where Star Tours is? Or do you want to hear in great detail over and over about the Haunted Mansion?
Yeah, that’s me. I nerd hard for Disneyland. I have been ever since I was a little kid, because I grew up in the L.A. area, I was around when a California ID and 20 bucks could get you in all day.
Which is why, for our 19th wedding anniversary, we went to Disneyland Paris.
And it was same but different. Of course it was, but it was in weird ways.
Actually staying in a hotel
So this was the first time I actually stayed in a Disney hotel, and we stayed at the Sequoia Lodge.
I knew it was based on the big forest lodges like The Stanley Hotel or Yosemite Valley Lodge, but, holy smokes, I was not ready for exactly how much the hallways reminded me of The Shining.
We went for it because it was mid-range and fairly close to the parks. Then we went for the slightly fancier option, where we’d be in the hotel itself rather than one of the side buildings.
And let me tell you, if it’s only like a hundred quid more? Go for it. Special check-in, special breakfast place, specialness all around.
The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness
We also had Fastpasses for one ride per day for all four days we were there (even though we got there late on the first day and were leaving early on the last day). But having a Fastpass for that first day did mean we got to Big Thunder Mountain before the park closed.
When I was a little kid and my brother and I were finally tall enough to go on Big Thunder Mountain, Dad got us in the line and kept telling us it was “a little train that putts around”. That the bit we could see from the line was the only fast part, honest, it was just a slow train.
It was not a slow train. We were a little terrified.
But I’m still deeply fond of it.
So going on this version was absolutely fantastic. It’s very similar, but has some fantastic underground bits that really shine.
Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialise
We had “Magic Hour”, which meant we could get in the park at like 8:30, but we’re also tired old adults, so we never took advantage of it. But since we were going on a Monday and a Tuesday after school holidays, we weren’t exactly drowning in people either no matter what time we went in.
And that’s when I got to discover Phantom Manor.
My Disneyland nerdiness really focuses on the Haunted Mansion. When I’m at my most stressed out, I listen to that slow and low version of Grim Grinning Ghosts and I’m suddenly calmer.
And I knew that Phantom Manor was incredibly different from the original, that rather than just a motley crew of motley spooks, there was the story of the beautiful bride and the mysterious phantom. I also knew that the refurbishment that it had recently underwent brought back the Vincent Price narration that had been created originally for it, so, let’s just admit it, I was a bit hyped up.
And it was wonderful. I’m not going to say it was perfect, just because it’s not the original, but it was still a wonderful, beautiful thing that I absolutely adored.
(I will complain, however, that the “ghosts” shaking the omnimover from time to time? Really messes with your photography. I wanted to take so many pictures and right when I tried, it shook.)
On board your Starspeeder 1000…
Aside from Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain, the other ride I wanted to go on was Star Tours.
And this isn’t because it’s different (well, okay, it’s in French), but just because I’ve always loved Star Tours.
When it first came out at Disneyland, there were two-hour lines. And my brother and I would ride the Peoplemover (which, by the way, still the best ride ever), and shout at the people down in the line, telling them how much it sucked, because we really really wanted to go on it, but we couldn’t wait two hours.
(It didn’t work. And eventually we did wait.)
And I like the new version a lot – the 3D bit kinda irks me, but to be honest, 3D anything kinda bothers me – but the multiple routes, the different bits, all of that is absolutely fantastic.
One of the weird things about our trip was that nobody was on Star Tours. Like, ever. Most of the times we went, it was a 5-minute queue, which meant that, really, you were walking through the queue right up to the ride itself, because it took you around five minutes to get up there.
I did get to see my two favourite bits, though. I’ve always loved the Mon Calamari traffic controllers.
And they have Captain Rex about to be shipped back. As much as I love C-3PO (and would you believe he’s even prissier in French?), I love Rex so much more.
So we kept on going on Star Tours. Over and over. Because it was there and we knew we’d have a good time.
But where are the snacks?
One of the pretty disappointing things was the lack of snacks. Okay, there was popcorn, proper Disneyland popcorn served from the little carts, and while I didn’t get any, I got to smell it and be instantly taken back, but no churros, no pretzels, no Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, none of the stuff I get to hear about that exists at the other parks.
(Really, it was the lack of churros. God, I miss those big ol’ Disneyland churros.)
On the other hand, I think only Disneyland Paris could have a champagne cart. Which would be right in the middle of Main Street every evening.
The animatronic under the stairs
Another thing I really wanted to see was the dragon that lives under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I had seen videos of it, and I knew it was one of the largest animatronics built, so I knew it’d be a really neat thing to see.
And it was. A great big ol’ sleeping dragon that’d wake up, snap at you, grumble, and then go back to sleep.
So of course I loved it.
I didn’t love the fact that it was being closed for parades (and it seemed like there was always a parade about to happen or happening now or just finishing up), and I also didn’t love that people kept on using their flash, since it’s a pretty dark space and I hate flash photography in general.
(You know that episode of The Simpsons where they go to Itchy & Scratchy Land and the animatronics turn evil because of flash photography? I’m Itchy. Or Scratchy. Or maybe one of the Presidents.)
Another animatronic I was delighted to see, even though it’s tiny and most people don’t notice it, but it makes me giggle – in Discoveryland, there’s a giant airship over the Hyperion Cafe. It was part of the Jules Verne-esque theming they had when they opened up the place. (It’s still there, but it’s kinda faded, especially since Space Mountain’s become Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours and Buzz Lightyear brought in media-based rides, and when we went, the pond holding the Nautilus was drained and we couldn’t go in it.)
The airship has animatronic pigeons. You go to Hyperion Cafe (maybe for a BB-8 burger), and you’re like “Do you hear pigeons?” You look up, and there they are.
One I wasn’t expecting was in Snow White’s Scary Adventures. I’ve always liked the Disneyland version of this ride, because it does have some pretty creepy parts, but everything is done in a lovely style based on the film, so it’s beautiful to look at.
Except at the end, when suddenly you’re faced with human versions of Snow White and Prince Charming. Now that’s the scariest part.
Now I know how everyone felt about the early days of California Adventure
We tried to go to Walt Disney Studios (the second park), but it was just terrible. There weren’t many rides, which meant each queue was well over like 45 minutes, even for little rides.
And a bunch of the rides were for all ages, which means that every possible annoying family was in the queue, and being surrounded by screaming children for 45 minutes meant that even the five seconds of a nice ride wasn’t good enough.
Also, the idea of a “studio tour” where there’s no actual filming just seems ridiculous. But I also grew up going to Universal Studios (back when they’d regularly use the backlot), so I might be biased.
We spent the morning there, and promptly went back to our five-minute Star Tours queue.
(Although the food stands by the Ratatouille ride did look fantastic. Maybe we should have gone back for lunch.)
I think I earned my British citizenship
Something that I couldn’t believe was happening was the sheer lack of respect for queues. People kept on cutting in, pushing past other people, or let their children run around. Even for rides that didn’t have really long queues.
C’mon, people. The Disney imagineers take a hell of a lot of time to make sure that even if you’re stuck in a queue, there’s something to look at and be delighted by. Take the time to admire it.
Also, I was really surprised by how often I saw people smoking outside of the smoking areas, using selfie sticks, and pulling along those giant wagons. In the US parks, I know that you’d be jumped on by a firm but polite cast member almost immediately, but here, it just seemed like they ignored it.
It was more or less the off season, so maybe they get a little more lax, but it was just frustrating, especially when you’re tripping over a wagon while breathing in cigarette smoke because you’re having to evade a selfie-stick crowd who have stopped right in the middle of the road.
I was so angry I almost started having a dance party on the rides. Yeah, that’ll show the park!
Where’s all the merch?
Another thing that was different was the lack of merchandise.
Now, I gotta point out, I don’t mean there wasn’t merchandise at all because, obviously, every inch of ground is potentially a place to sell things, but I mean the variety.
I’m not going to lie, I was looking for Phantom Manor merchandise. I’m used to there being an entire store filled to the brim with spooky delights, and my husband looking at the pile of things I’ve picked up and saying “Are you sure that’s going to fit in our suitcase?”
I found a shirt that didn’t come in my size, a dress that also didn’t come in my size (and that pretty much broke my heart because it had the wallpaper on the skirt! My HEART!), a figurine of the Hat Box Ghost (who isn’t in Phantom Manor), and a couple of pins.
As you can see, I came home with pins. And a spoooooky lanyard to put them on. But on the Disney Store right now, I can get the gargoyles or a foam Madame Leota tombstone or oh God I want it so much the grandfather clock. (And that’s just on the UK store – I won’t even get into what you can get in the US because that just kills me.)
It all just seemed to be character-driven, which, I suppose, makes sense for the park, but come on, there’s so much possibility there.
Also? They don’t do the mouse ear hats where you get the name embroidered on them. Just headbands. I suppose it’s an effective cost-cutter, since you don’t have to have staff on hand to embroider everything, but it was always a great gift for kids who didn’t go with you or a gag gift for friends.
On the other hand, at the Rainforest Cafe outside the parks, I did pick up the greatest Parisian souvenir in the universe.
Yep. That’s the Eiffel Tower. And a T-rex. In a snowglobe. Definitely a winner.
So would I go back?
Of course I would. I’d love to have a longer stay, where I could spend maybe a day just exploring the hotels and enjoying the pool and chilling out. I’d love to actually see Walt Disney Studios (maybe with headphones so I can drown out the screaming children while I wait in queues). And there were plenty of rides that were under refurbishment that I’d love to go on. (The Disneyland Railroad was closed. The single most perfect ride for just chilling out and ignoring everything around you for like a good 20 minutes. The easiest way to avoid parades and people. And it was closed.)
Plus, they’re turning the New York-themed hotel in a Marvel-themed hotel, and they’re apparently doing Jack Kirby-themed rooms. Now I don’t know about you, but if I was gonna drop acid and hang out at the park? It’d have to be in something straight out of a 1960s’ Kirby-designed issue of Thor.
But it’s not Disneyland. It’s a decent substitution, but it doesn’t have the same feeling.