Disneyland Paris: Magic Kingdom
It wasn't even a month ago when our friend Tom texted Luke and asked if we wanted to take a quick trip to Paris to visit Disneyland because he could get his hands on some tickets. When Luke asked me if I was interested, my immediate reaction was YES! This is why living abroad excites me so much. A (somewhat) last minute trip to PARIS? Hell. Yes. DISNEYLAND? Hell. Yes. So off we went the first weekend of February.
We left on Saturday morning to drive to Paris via ferry from Dover to Calais. The road trip wasn't bad at all. We packed plenty of snacks and entertainment and the 90(ish) minute ferry ride broke it up so we could get out of the car, stretch our legs, and have lunch at a table. We got to Paris around 6:00 local time, I think, and checked into our hotel, which was outside of Paris and only a 10 minute bus ride from Disney.
The plan was to head into Paris for evening. Tom, Luke, and Luke had all been to Paris before, but it was my first time visiting, so I was glad to take advantage of an opportunity to go into the city for dinner and to see the city of lights all lit up. We headed straight to the Arc de Triomphe after a quick detour due to a mix up while riding the metro. From there, we followed the spotlights to the Eiffel Tower. Seeing it in all its glory nearly took my breath away. It was truly a dream come true to be able to stand there under the light of the tower, something I'd only seen in TV, film, and of course on Instagram. It was absolutely stunning. We looked for somewhere to have a late dinner nearby and stumbled upon one of the best steaks I've ever had. Accompanied with french fries, of course. After dinner, we decided to call it a night and made the long journey (about 45 minutes) on the train back to the hotel so we could crash and get an early start in the morning.
Luke and I had decided to call it a night with Tom and Luke (who had driven all day, so were a bit more tired than we were) with the hopes of getting up early to go back into the city in the morning. But before we went to bed, we decided to explore nearby instead because we'd have to get up really early to get a decent amount of time in the city before heading into the park for the day. We agreed we'd come back in the spring or summer (even if it's not this spring or summer) and spend more time in the city. So when our alarm went off in the morning, we got ready and headed out for some croissants at a cafe around the corner from the hotel. It was a lovely, quiet morning, but we were super excited to go to Magic Kingdom for the day.
Disneyland Paris opened as EuroDisney in 12 April 1992, so we got to celebrate their 25th anniversary while we were there with special shows and attractions. Paris was chosen after nearly 1,200 locations were presented by the theme park heads in order to capitalise on the instant success of Disneyland Tokyo, which opened in 1983. Eventually it was narrowed down to four locations: two in Spain and two in France, but Paris was ultimately chosen because it's a travelling hub within Europe and less than a four hour drive for approximately 68 million people and less than a two hour flight for an additional 300 million. It struggled in the first years for many reasons and nearly closed, but experienced a turnaround in 1995 with the introduction of Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune (now Hyperspace Mountain) and posted its first-ever quarterly profit. The name was changed in 1994 to EuroDisney Paris so prospective guests could more easily identify its location, and in 2002, it was changed to Disneyland Paris as "Euro" held certain connotations for both Americans and Europeans. The resort includes two parks: Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney Studios, which didn't open until 16 March 2002. Magic Kingdom was modelled after previous Magic Kingdom parks, with Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty's Castle) at the centre and five "lands": Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland.
On Sunday, the park was open from 10:00 to 20:00 that day and our plan was to be there for as much as possible, so we caught the (free) bus from nearby. We grabbed a park map (in English) near the entrance and decided to tackle it "land" by "land" and get our first Fast Pass of the day as quickly as possible.
As we were walking up to the entrance, I started shooting on our camera, but was really struggling to get the settings right so the photos weren't completely washed out with overexposure or blurry due to the wrong shutter speed. I think the settings got jogged in the bag during our road trip and I just happened to luck out with them at night with all the lights, but it wasn't working so well now that it was daylight and the sky was basically white with overcast clouds. Luckily there was plenty around on Main Street for me to practice with.
We decided to get a Fast Pass for Hyperspace Mountain first, but the slots were already well into the afternoon. While were were there in Discoveryland--not Tomorrowland, like it is at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom--we decided to ride Star Tours. While in line, Luke and I messed with the camera settings a bit more to try to get them just right for the current conditions, we munched on some snacks we brought in (Yes, you can bring food and drinks into the parks!), and outlined a tentative plan for what was next. Tom downloaded the app to get information about shows and wait times across the park. Definitely download the app! The ride was great, but everything inside the ride was only in French and there were no subtitles. I've ridden it before at WDW and it's easy to get the gist of what's happening even if you hadn't, but it definitely made me think about what it's like for all the foreign guests who visit the American parks where everything is only in English and cast members aren't required to speak a second language. (At Disneyland Paris, cast members are required to speak French and another European language. It seemed like most spoke French, English, and Spanish.)
After Star Tours, we beelined for Big Thunder Mountain in Frontierland. (Side note, Splash Mountain isn't at Disneyland Paris, but I wouldn't have been too keen to ride it with how cold it was anyway.) The line for Big Thunder Mountain was lengthy and completely outside to go along with the rollercoaster being completely outside. We couldn't really figure out why Disney hasn't put in heaters in the ceilings because it does get cold in Paris! We played Head's Up on Tom's phone to pass the time and even tried to use the Disney Parks pack, but you had to be in a US park to download it free, which was a bummer. In that line, we started our Hidden Mickey competition after I explained to them what Hidden Mickey's are. I found one in line and then Tom and I both found one each on the ride.
By the time we got off Big Thunder Mountain, we were able to get another Fast Pass, so we decided to use it for Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland, but failed to look up on Tom's app or on the map to see if you could even get a Fast Pass for that ride. We stumbled across Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril (and the Temple of Peril), a rollercoaster that isn't at WDW. Tom went off to get Fast Passes--to no avail--while we waited near the entrance to our next ride. With a short wait time, we had just enough time to squeeze it in before lunch and finally Hyperspace Mountain. It ended up being a favourite for all of us! If you like loops and corkscrews and rollercoasters with all the works, this is the ride for you!
We went back to Frontierland to get lunch at Fuente Del Oro Restaurante, a Mexican restaurant, which has undergone some rebranding outside to embrace Disney's new movie Coco. After we sat down with trays full of Mexican food, I realised Disney Rule #1 (according to Friends): Don't eat Mexican food and then ride Space Mountain. Especially don't scarf it down because you have Fast Pass tickets that you can't use outside your allotted time. We did all of the above.
It didn't even click with me at first that Space Mountain had been rebranded for Star Wars. I mean literally until we were about to get on the ride and there were Star Wars posters hanging overhead. I mean, duh! I wondered aloud if they would rebrand the whole thing eventually because the outside is still set up to reflect Discoveryland's original concept of celebrating thinkers and explorers. Still, it was a blast (even though we had a random delay before the final leg of the coaster). I really liked having the Star Wars ships and blasters flying by while we were flying through space. It was a cool change.
After the ride, we were sad to discover that all the Fast Passes were out for the day, so we decided to explore Fantasyland. We didn't end up riding any rides even though we talked about riding both Peter Pan's Flight and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, but it's always cool to be in the part of the park that is so quintessentially Disney.
The last major ride we really wanted to do was Pirates of the Caribbean, so we made our way back to Adventureland to meet up with Jack Sparrow. I was back on my Hidden Mickey hunt and saw one on the ride, but I think that was it for me for the day. I also thought it was cool that they had a restaurant that had a "patio" that overlooked the very beginning of the ride. It kind of reminded me of the Mexican Pavilion at Epcot, but I might be misremembering the layout of it, so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. By the time we got out of Pirates, it was time to head back to Main Street for the 17:00 parade.
Tom and Luke went off to get hot drinks for everyone while Luke and I attempted to save a prime spot that would fit all of us. In the end, we had a front row view and warmed up with coffee/tea/hot chocolate thanks to getting in place at about 16:30.
The parade was great and since we were right along the road, it felt like we were interacting with basically all of the characters. Tom and I both got some great shots of the characters--both people and in costume--looking straight at us! It was tough to shoot some of the characters that were higher up though. I should have been shooting them from further up the road because pointing the lens straight up really messed with the lighting and the photos of Mowgli, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and some others turned out really dark and difficult to even see who they were. Bummer.
After the parade, we had some time to kill before the fireworks show at 20:00 when the park closed, so we decided to go back to our favourite rides. We chose Indiana Jones because it had a quick wait time again and it was all of our favourite. On our way there, we climbed through La Cabane des Robinson (the Swiss Family Treehouse), which proved to be perfect timing to catch the sunset over Paris.
Then we had to choose between Big Thunder Mountain and Hyperspace Mountain. We chose the latter because it had an indoor line and now that the sun was down, it was colder than ever. Since we were already in Discoveryland, we got in line for Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. It was slow and we were freezing, but it was a fun ride and it was fun to go head-to-head with our ride buddy to see who could laser blast the most targets. (Luke crushed me.) It reminded me of Toy Story Mania, which was all the rage at Hollywood Studios while I was working there in 2010.
We made our way back to Main Street to find a good spot to watch Illuminations and we ended up finding a prime spot about halfway up right in the centre of the road. Luke and I did some practice shots of Main Street all lit up and he took the camera for the fireworks show. Sadly, the camera died only a few minutes into it since I hadn't charged it after our night out in Paris. Still, he captured a handful of good shots, but we realised we need to get a good tripod.
The show was really cool and unlike anything I ever saw in the parks at WDW. They projected animations and footage from live-action films onto the castle, accompanied with lasers and some fireworks. Some of it was in English, but a lot was in French, including "Let It Go" during the finale. I thought that was pretty cool to experience something so big in our pop culture in another language.
We had to make our way out of the park along with everyone else after the show ended, which meant missing the 20:15 bus and having to wait until 20:45. (BRRR!) Our friend Luke suggested a pizza place had spotted the night before across from the train station, which was also right by our bus stop. We went straight there since we were all starving and enjoyed delicious pizza. It was seriously so good!
The plan for the evening was to stay up to watch the Super Bowl in the hotel at 12:30 in the morning. Sadly, after I took a bath to warm up from a cold day outside, I put on my PJ's and was immediately fighting to stay awake. I remember watching the National Anthem and that's it. I didn't even see kickoff. Luke and Luke both said that I was complaining about them "talking too loudly" when they were whispering and then asked for the score, to which Luke responded with the halftime score. In the morning, I asked him why he didn't wake me up for the halftime show and he said I was awake, I asked them the score, and then told them off for talking too loudly. WHOOPS! Sorry, guys!