Bonjour Mickey! Here’s a pop trivia question to float at your next dinner party. What is the most visited attraction in Europe? No, it’s not the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower or Pisa’s Leaning Tower, but the pleasure power of Walt Disney in France.
Disneyland Paris has just celebrated its 20th anniversary and people of all ages are riveted by Europe’s magical kingdom. The park recently welcomed its 250 millionth visitor. If you’re heading to the Continent, channel your inner child and prepare to be enthralled by the fizzing, hearty, head-spinning swirl of happiness. Just like its older Californian and Floridian brothers, the Paris theme park has artfully designed Disney’s respective “lands”, including Discoveryland, Frontierland and the crowd favourite Fantasyland. After greeting Monsieur Mickey with a gushing bonjour, I surrendered to Fantasyland’s dreamy little world of golden childhood memories – riding and reliving the dewy-eyed tales of Peter Pan, Snow White and Pinocchio. Fantasyland’s showpiece ride remains the gliding boat gorgeousness of It’s a Small World. The honeyed melody that floats you around the multi-national costumed characters will linger in your head for weeks. However, giving it a good ride for its money, is the uber-catchy tune that was specifically crafted to celebrate 20 years of Disneyland Paris, Magic Everywhere. You’ll hear the song in full cry as the daily Disney Magic on Parade swans down Main Street, jam-packed with twinkling floats and a giddy cast of characters, at 5pm daily. Based on my intrepid exploratory of the theme park, there are some extra-special rides you should not miss.
Meanwhile, in Discoveryland, Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast is exactly that – a blast. In Adventureland, don’t skip the Disney classic, Pirates of the Caribbean, a riotous swashbuckling spectacle. Disney’s Imagineers have concocted a techni-coloured cocktail of mystique in their treatment of Aladdin’s Journey, which is a charming encounter to calm the pulse, after the adrenalin rush of the Pirates. If you need a another heart-racing surge, Frontierland’s Thunder Mountain, a Wild West-themed coaster that rockets through mining shafts, will hit the mark. Alongside the mainstay of Disneyland Park, the neighbouring Walt Disney Studios is power-packed with movie magic, interspersed with some ingenious rides. Top billing must go to the Crush’s Coaster, where you are hurtled around a roller coaster in pitch blackness, in an upside down turtle shell. The ride was inspired by Finding Nemo. Sending your adrenalin to warp level, take your place in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which dramatically plunges down 13 floors. Regather your senses in the enchanting Toy Story Playland. The top drawer, for kids of all ages, is the Slinky Dod Zigzag Spin, which is hilariously entertaining. Every day in the Magic Kingdom is brought to a climactic close, with the unmissable night-time show, the spectacular Disney Dreams. Premiered in Paris, and centred around Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, this starry-eyed spectacle features an wondrous, whiz-bang mix of frothing fountains, super-charged lasers, endless pyrotechnics and all your cherished characters.
Disneyland Paris is loaded with so many sights, you’ll be struggling to do this world of wonder justice in a day. Maximise your experience by staying in the adjacent hotel district, where two particular properties are the stand-outs for me. If you’re travelling with children, the Magic Circus Hotel ticks all the boxes, providing a peaceful retreat for parents, and ample on-site activity geared for the kids. Built in a manor style, surrounded by lush gardens, the culinary offerings run the gamut from cheap eats to gourmet get-ups. Little ones will be agog by the magic of the big top, with acrobats, jugglers and clowns wending their way throughout the hotel. For a more discerning adult-oriented experience, although kids are most welcome, the Dream Castle Hotel is the sister property. Situated in a classic French garden complete with lake, the historic castle design celebrates French heritage, with majestic murals tracing the adventures of the Musketeers, the hotel staff are dressed in period costume, and the Excalibur Bar adds to the medieval atmosphere, as you unwind with a quiet tipple. Both properties are operated by Vienna International Hotels, which provides a high frequency shuttle bus, connecting hotel guests to and from the theme parks and the train station, for direct connections to Paris.
A variety of admission passes to the Disney parks can be pre-purchased, tailored to your length of stay, with flexible options. For full information, go to www.disneylandparis.com
If you are travelling in the peak European summer months, I strongly advise you to purchase an add-on Fastpass, which will save you valuable time, and eliminate the need to queue for lengthy periods for the most popular rides.
( First published in APN regional newspapers, March 2013.)