At last! We were about to enter Disneyland Paris for the very first time. We stepped out of the super-secret Castle Club elevator, got our paper tickets scanned by the gate cast member and then… we were IN!!!
It’s not a feeling you get to experience very often. Can you even remember your first visit to Disneyland or Magic Kingdom? Well, I didn’t need to remember this visit because Patrick was shooting E V E R Y T H I N G—especially Main Street—so thoroughly that Google could create a street view just from his photos.
Join me now on this virtual tour of Disneyland Paris….
What do you suppose Patrick’s first shot inside the gate was? The majestic Main Street Station? The special 25th anniversary light-up sign with Tinkerbell and the Fab Four? Nope, it was…
Granted, it is a pretty gorgeous tree covered in magical snow….
Instead of a huge planter that forces you to enter on one side or the other, Disneyland Paris’ “foyer” has three tunnels that go straight under Main Street Station to Main Street, U.S.A.
I love Tink’s snow hat in this shot! Very Doctor Zhivago…
Say… Isn’t that the yellow safety cone from Westminster Abbey? I think we’re being STALKED!
According to Alain Littaye and Didier Ghez’s Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality, the Imagineers were worried that Europeans would have no familiarity with or nostalgia for the types of Main Streets found at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, so they considered setting this one in the 1920s. They referenced European interest in America of the ’20s, with its jazz and movies, and wanted to have an elevated train down one side of the street, a Circle-Vision theater dressed as a grand movie palace, and even a speakeasy. Everything was going to be Art Deco, with big flashy billboards lining the streets.
Then cooler heads prevailed/got scared and they went back to the original idea of Main Street, asking Herb Ryman to conceive for them the “spirit of Main Street.” Littaye and Ghez write, “The essence of Main Street, the Imagineers discovered, was tranquility, but with an awareness and welcoming attitude for the approaching world of progress, dynamism, optimism and new ideas. This was the spirit prevalent in the United States at the turn of the century—a new economic boom that nothing was going to stop.” The Imagineers decided that people anywhere in the world could appreciate that kind of excitement. So what Paris got was very similar to the American versions of Main Street, U.S.A. but more intricately detailed because—as we had already learned on this trip—everything in Europe is way more detailed than its American counterpart.
Looking back toward Main Street Station….
A-HA! Yellow Safety Cone IS following us!
To the left as you enter is City Hall, nice and familiar…
The adjacent Storybook Store is pretty amazing on the inside. More on that later….
To the right as you enter is the Main Street Transportation Co., where the trolleys go in and out. The blue building on the right of it is where you rent strollers and wheelchairs.
This shot was taken standing with the Main Street Transportation Co. on your right, facing the wraparound portion of the right side of Main Street. In California, the parades exit to the right of that lamp post.
This is the left side of the mouth of Main Street—pretty familiar to Magic Kingdom regulars.
I’ll bet you know where you are now!
Forget the snow hat—now Tink’s got a whole snow cape!
I love that Paris’ Main Street has both its side streets intact, with no store or restaurant occupying what was intended to be an open space.
THAT is how much snow they got at Disneyland Paris!
If this were an American park, the IP lawyers would have already demolished this snowmouse for being off-model!
Facing the opposite direction, toward the other side street, which is between the end of the Emporium and Walt’s — An American Restaurant.
Now we’re back on Main Street, heading toward the castle but taking lots of photos of what’s on our right!
Wow—the parade at Disneyland Paris sure is weird!
Mickey, are you in there?
I’m still kicking myself for not going in the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor and enjoying some Ben & Jerry’s inside a Disney park for the first time. It was closed for the rest of our trip. Actually, it might have been closed then too but just had the doors unlocked. I’m going to tell myself it was closed then too…
Patrick didn’t take a lot of shots of the opposite side of the street because so much of it was behind construction tarps. But here’s a section between Walt’s and Casey’s Corner…
And here’s the smaller entrance to Casey’s. This cast member helpful stepped alllllmost out of the shot for me so I could document the sign for my brother, Casey. It is a well-known fact that people LOVE being texted photos of random things with their names on them!
Enjoy al fresco dining adjacent to Casey’s Corner…. just bring a scarf! And a change of pants!
We never figured out what this building was, but looking at this photo, wouldn’t you want to LIVE there?!
I mean, THIS would be your view!!!
… And this…
… And this (trust me, these are all different pictures—I promise)!
You’ll always be able to tell which shots in this report are from my phone cuz I’m the one standing there mashing all the photo filter buttons shouting, “More color! MORE COLOR, I say!!!”
This hill is pure genius! It makes what is already arguably the most photogenic Disney castle in the world even MORE photogenic.
Sorry… Patrick got distracted by a shrub for a second…
… Back to the castle!
The castle is like a magnet, always drawing your eye. You’ll spy something you’ve never seen before—the astonishingly incongruous sight of a Moorish gate and desert palms all covered in snow….
… but the next thing you know, you’re staring at the castle again!
There’s something quite Seuss-ian about these snow-covered plants!
All three weather vanes agree: It’s snowy out!
Disneyland Paris’ Adventureland is just to the left of the castle, where Frontierland is at Disneyland and Liberty Square is in the Magic Kingdom. We decided to bypass it for the moment and continue back toward Frontierland, which is where Adventureland is at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom.
This section is particularly magical in the snow because it’s something you might actually have seen in the past of real life.
I love the way the Frontierland sign looks in the snow!
One thing I was particularly enchanted by were all the snowy creeks and ponds and rivers in the park, and I spent most of the trip tossing rocks into them to try and break the ice.
Disneyland Paris’ Fort Comstock is cool because there’s stuff to see in the windows. (Even when Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island fort was still open, it was all just empty rooms.) I think Patrick got some shots through a window later in our trip.
Frontierland was closed for business. I’d just barely gotten over the fact that Phantom Manor—the only ride I was really interested in—would be closed as part of its 9-month renovation, but we were nonplussed to discover Big Thunder, the Molly Brown river boat and all the restaurants were closed too.
In my haste to get this shot, my feet slipped right out from under me and I landed on my caboose in the snow for the first time since I was, like, 9! It was so ridiculous, I just burst out laughing.
Looking in the opposite direction, toward the Devil’s Ice Patch…
Not only was Big Thunder closed, it appeared to be giving us The Finger!
I was bummed to find Phantom Manor behind tall construction fences. I dunno why this was such a surprise to me… I guess I thought the construction would be limited to the inside of the ride and we could still get some amazing snowy shots of the exterior.
This is a nice touch I feel like the American Disney parks wouldn’t bother with if they closed their Haunted Mansions for 9 months.
Here’s what we managed to shoot through the cracks in the fence…
Undeterred, we decided to go back out to the Hub and enter Adventureland from the main gate.
But first…. CASTLE!
I was really excited about Adventureland because I love Disney’s take on the Middle Eastern aesthetic. Tokyo DisneySea’s Arabian Coast is one of my favorite places in all of the parks, and of course we’ll always have a soft spot for Morocco in Epcot.
One valiant torch continues burning away to spite the snow…
But once you walk through the gate, that’s pretty much it… The only other things here are an Arabian Coast-esque buffet restaurant and a “They Don’t Make ’em Like That Anymore” Aladdin diorama walk-through, both of which I’ll show you in a future installment.
Here’s a gift shop that was never open for the rest of our trip… We shoulda gone in right then! I could be the proud owner of a neon zebra-striped Minnie Mouse bobble-head pen right now!
Wow! Looks like Adventureland drivers are just as bad in the snow as L.A. drivers are in the rain!
Just another balmy day in Adventureland…
I threw a rock in there!
Further into Adventureland is the Adventure Isle playground, which was also closed that day and most of the rest of our trip.
I did get excited just to see the Pirate Galleon and Skull Rock. I was too little to remember these from Disneyland, so getting to see them here was like stepping back in time… and into a snow globe!
I know Skull Rock is s’posed to be scary, but it does kinda look like he’s barfing…
From Adventureland we headed into Fantasyland. Here’s Peter Pan, which I believe was also closed.
Toad Hall is a counter-service restaurant at Disneyland Paris, not a ride, but Tom at the Disney Tourist Blog says it’s one of the best for food and theming. After all I’d read about it online (the Imagineers made it a restaurant so people could actually spend real time inside), not being able to go in there was one of the bigger disappointments of our trip. We checked every day, even going so far as to run all the way back here minutes before we were supposed to leave for Paris, but it was never open. (Despite the fact that the Disneyland Paris mobile app kept saying it WAS open—argh!)
Time for a pit stop! Looky what we found in the bathrooms…
Are these new, in response to the longstanding complaints about lack of upkeep in the parks? Or have they always been here? Either way, I LOVE them! If the bathroom’s dirty, just punch the frowny guy in the face!
I dunno what this is. Let’s just say it’s a foie gras stand…
Ugh! OK, this is another one…. If we had gone to Disneyland Paris on a normal, snow-less week, we would have spent 10 minutes poking around Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and been like, “Yeah, it’s aight…” Instead, because it’s unique to Disneyland Paris and we were repeatedly denied entrance—including, again, when the app showed it as open—it became this sort of Holy Grail and we wasted so much energy constantly checking to see if it was open.
I tried to throw a rock in here but my arm wasn’t long enough!
I LOVE the inclusion of The Old Mill! What a great idea, even if it is just a quick-service Pheasant Under Glass stand…
This is either the head or the tail of a dragon. For safety’s sake, I should probably learn the difference one of these days…
It’s a Small World probably would have been a good ride to go on at that point, but we wanted to shoot as much of the park as we could before it got dark. I love how the lamps look like soft serve in the snow!
What the…? Yellow Safety Cone again?! I thought we’d lost that guy!!!
I remember it being very important to me that Patrick take this photo, but now I don’t remember why. Maybe because it was one of the few fully cleared walkways in the park?
The other side of the castle!
The area around the Plaza Gardens restaurant is probably already pretty gorgeous, but the snow took it over the top! We didn’t go inside cuz it’s one of those pay-right-inside-the-door buffet places. Also, Yellow Safety Cone…
Yes, I threw a snow ball in there.
Right about here is when I started to get really discouraged. For one thing, even though I’d planned the heck out of our wardrobes—preparing us with scarves, hats, long underwear, gloves, things that go between your gloves and your sleeves, and convertible rain jackets with zip-out layers of snuggly down—I hadn’t considered that we might need shoes with tread thick enough for walking on snow! So I’d exhausted myself slipping and sliding around Disneyland for hours, even as cast members were telling us it would be worse tomorrow because all the snow was expected to freeze into ice overnight.
Also, after the novelty of seeing everything covered in snow began to wear off, it was replaced by sinking dread as we noticed more and more closed rides, restaurants, shops and even entire sections of the park. Here we were during a season when many rides were already closed for annual maintenance, and suddenly it looked like we might not even get to ride most of the remaining attractions!
At that point, I felt about like this…
But Patrick gave me a pep talk, and I agreed that we really should round out our photo tour with Discoveryland before it got too dark, so we pressed on.
Actually, my curiosity about Discoveryland did overcome my sagging spirits for a while. I love that it’s a Jules Verne/H.G. Wells/Leonardo da Vinci/George Lucas mashup that finally abandons the flawed “future” concept of Tomorrowland. (Tony Baxter summed it up nicely when he said that people don’t get excited about technology, they get excited about what technology can facilitate.) And I’d always been curious to see if it worked better than our Tomorrowlands.
If nothing else, it’s certainly better looking! Somewhere in Disneyland Paris: From Sketch to Reality they mention that Discoveryland was so successful that the Imagineers imported the concept back to the Tomorrowland in California’s Disneyland. I had to scan the furthest reaches of my mind for a moment on that one… It finally hit me that the authors were referring to the Great Brown-ing of Tomorrowland in 1998. Originally Disneyland was going to import new ideas and rides based on Discoveryland. But then Disneyland Paris was such a flop that Eisner slashed budgets across the board, and “Tomorrowland 2055” became 2,055 gallons of bronze paint.
If I’ve said it before in past trip reports, forgive me—I want to be sure it’s down on virtual paper: Why doesn’t Disney just make Tomorrowland the land of the Future That Never Was, circa 1955? Yes, OK, Discoveryland is supposed to be that, but it’s a steampunk fantasy based on 19th Century visions of science fiction and fact. But Disneyland’s Tomorrowland could be an homage to all the bright, streamlined wacky visions of the future generated in the 20th Century. It would be a nod to Disneyland’s origins, to Walt Disney’s futurism and to the current mania for Mid-Century Modern everything. Oh yeah… they can’t do it because there’s no branded franchise they can apply to it. If only Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland had been a massive hit!
Discoveryland doesn’t have a lot of rocks just lying around. I think I threw a snowball in this one!
The Orbitron, so out-of-place in Disneyland, actually works in the place it was designed for—go figure!
These snow-covered trees were my favorite thing about Discoveryland. They’re downright otherworldly!
We finally decided we probably should try to get on at least one attraction before the park closed and chose Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain as our first-ever ride in Disneyland Paris. Our Club-level VIP FASTPASSes got us in a side door, so we only had to wait about 10 minutes.
I liked the being-shot-out-of-a-cannon intro, but overall it was a little bit disappointing. It felt like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (even though they actually have a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster over in Disney Studios Park) with a cheap, tacky overlay of screens showing Star Wars stuff. Also there was no music or sound effects, which was weird. (We gave it another shot later in the trip and liked it much better with music and sound effects!).
Afterward, we headed straight for Les Mystères du Nautilus, another attraction I’d been excited to see because we don’t have anything like it in the US (anymore). But guess what happened…. Just guess! That’s right: It was closed!
We ended up riding Star Tours and finding it remarkably enjoyable. We hadn’t seen any of the new Last Jedi scenes before, and we got two of them! Also, it was in English, so it felt very familiar but new at the same time. I also noticed over the course of our trip that the French cast members are more egalitarian (or possibly less interested) in who they secretly pick to be the rebel spy. It’s not always some cute little kid—sometimes we hideous grownups get a chance too!
Discoveryland is really really pretty at dusk in the snow.
Guess they don’t have chains or snow tires for the cars at Autopia!
If you think the castle is gorgeous during the day, just wait til you see it at night!
Patrick and I stole each other’s shot. Here’s his Canon Rebel shot….
…And here’s my iPhone X shot!
We thought about sticking around to see the fireworks from in front of the castle, but it was SO cold out that we decided to watch from the comfort of the Castle Club Lounge. We spent the last open hour of the park exploring the arcades on Main Street.
OK, so the Imagineers had the brilliant idea of creating indoor arcades that run behind each side of Main Street, U.S.A. to easily funnel guests in and out of the park in France’s frequent inclement weather.
Liberty Arcade commemorates the creation of the Statue of Liberty, France’s gift to America (and Disney’s way of reminding the French that they used to like us!), and runs behind the Emporium on the left side of Main Street as you face the castle.
This photo tour actually starts from the far end, down by Casey’s Corner, and proceeds up Main Street, U.S.A. toward the train station.
Halfway up the street you can pop out into Liberty Court, one of Main Street, U.S.A.’s two side streets I was enthusing about earlier, and look at the pile of dirty snow.
At the end of Liberty Arcade we stopped into the Emporium to marvel at this exquisite stained glass ceiling.
We crossed the street and started at the entrance to Discovery Arcade, which celebrates the “golden age of invention” via scale models of various gadgets and whirligigs inventors have patented. Also barbed wire.
I didn’t move back to L.A. until 1998, but I’m pretty sure none of this stuff was happening there in 1996…
This early fire escape would have been a big hit, except it was tiny and made out of wood…
John Hallner: “I call this stuff the ‘Tamer of the American West and Extinguisher of the Cowboy Way of Life’—catchy, amiriiiiiite?!”
The world’s first Rube Goldberg Machine!
The Uneasy Chair…
This early washing machine had wheels and handles on it so you could drag it back to inventor Mason Pike’s house whenever it ate one of your socks!
The Rocket Cycle: Guaranteed to get you there fast! (Not guaranteed to get you there in one piece)
On our tour of the Paris Opera House a few days later, we learned that it was one of the first places in the world to have electricity installed.
We tried to stop into the clothing shop at the end of Discovery Arcade to get Patrick another sweatshirt, but it was closed. Story of our trip! He used the last of the strength in his rapidly freezing fingers to get you these two photos…
Disneyland Paris closed at 8pm every night of our trip, and the fireworks were scheduled at closing. I made our California Grill reservation for 8:30pm so we could maximize our time inside the park while it was open and be able to watch the fireworks before dinner.
Retreating to the Castle Club lounge for the show seemed like the smartest idea on that freezing cold night. Patrick got us a great seat right by the window and ordered us two hot chocolates (which came with extra pieces of chocolate!). I was in heaven!
You can tell how excited I was by how blurry my photo is!
Unfortunately, due to the weather, they ran a modified version of the show with just the castle projections, no fireworks. So we were actually in pretty much the worst place to see the show!
XXXXTREME iPHONE ZOOM!!!!
On the other hand, once the show was over, we only had to walk a few feet around the corner to go to California Grill for dinner! What we didn’t understand at the time was that California Grill is actually the place downstairs that I showed you in the last installment. But since it was being used as the Inventions buffet while that restaurant was being refurbished, they opened up this room-that-I-have-no-idea-what-it-is across from the concierge desks by the Castle Club elevators. Let’s say it was Michael Eisner’s Secret Lair.
Little girl: “You know that Main Street is still open, right? And that we could be out there having fun?!”
True Story: I thought we’d been sitting next to a Secret Tooter all night until I passed this cheese display on our way out and realized THAT was the source of the smell.
We spent almost three hours here and still aren’t sure what’s “California” about it. True, this is not its normal location, but look at these photos of the actual interior and tell me how swagged cabbage rose chintz and tiny floral wallpaper is Californian. California restaurants didn’t even look like that at the height of the Shabby Chic Eighties! (To see what California restaurants did look like in the Eighties, watch Steve Martin’s L.A. Story.)
The food wasn’t particularly Californian either…. Foie gras, confit, tart, financier… You might find these things on a menu in California, but there was nothing uniquely Californian in their preparation or presentation. I mean, even California Grill at Walt Disney World, with its fixation on pizza/flatbread, bless it, offers more of a Californian experience than this place!
I dunno, maybe I’m just extra-touchy because I’m actually from California. Maybe French people go to Chefs de France in Epcot and roll their eyes because there’s no wine on the kids’ menu.
Your choices are the €90 (€115 with wine) Tinker Bell Menu…
Or the €130 Michael Eisner Menu…
There’s also a Premium Menu for people on one of Disney’s pre-paid meal plans. I did the math six ways to Sunday and could not figure out how any of these would be a good deal for us, so I skipped them. However, when I mentioned I’d pass on the dessert course with the Tinker Bell Menu (cuz… fruit!), they said I could have the chocolate dessert on the Premium Menu. So you may be able to order other stuff off this one if you’re paying out of pocket.
And there’s a kid’s menu, which I did not even dare try to order from, lest they eject us from the hotel altogether.
Probably the most “California” thing at California Grill is the iPad wine menu.
We were seated at the far end of the room behind a temporary screen that shielded the entrance to what I thought was the kitchen but now know was probably just Michael Eisner’s executive bathroom kitted out with a hot plate and a bag of ice in the sink for a fridge.
We had a lovely view of a table that had a lovely view…
Our table backed up to some book cases lined with neat old photos of Walt and Roy.
Walt: “Would adding arms make this Easter balloon more creepy or less creepy?”
Roy: “Oh it’s all creepy, Walt!”
Walt: “I think I can get this baby up to 55, 60 miles per hour!”
Roy: “Uh, you got 5 feet of track…”
Walt and Roy: “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Roy: “Can you believe this story about you accepting an invitation made the FRONT PAGE of the Marceline News?!”
Walt: “Heh heh… Just wait’ll I cryogenically freeze myself!”
I know much has been made about the lack of quality in Disneyland Paris’ food, though it seems the Internet has acknowledged an improvement since they began gearing up for the 25th anniversary. So I guess we should be grateful we didn’t have any truly horrible meals at Disneyland Paris. But we didn’t have any truly memorable ones either. And when you’re paying Disney prices with an unfavorable exchange rate in a country renowned for its food, that stings.
Our dinner at California Grill was fine. Nothing to write home about (but something to write half a blog post about, apparently!). I guess I could compare it to Citricos or Narcoossee’s, where we’ve never had anything terrible or wonderful. It certainly wasn’t as good as the better meals I’ve had at California Grill in Walt Disney World or our favorite steakhouse in L.A.
Bread: Acceptable, and no one chipped a tooth (my super-specific phobia after a classmate broke his front tooth on a baguette during our high school choir trip to Europe)!
Butter: Portable and adorable!
Amuse-bouche: What bouche wouldn’t be amused by a cube of salmon with a dollop of crème fraiche?
Appetizer: Patrick had the “Semi-cooked Scottish Label Rouge salmon tempura and wasabi yuzu sherbet” and said the “tempura” was more like a soggy Beef Wellington wrapper. Even the camera didn’t want to focus on it!
But the award for least-photogenic appetizer goes to my “Cream of cep [mushroom] soup with chestnut slivers, herb foam.” I never thought anything that looked so much like spit-out toothpaste could taste so good!
Entree: We both ordered the “Grilled Angus beef fillet, polenta with 12-month PDO Cheddar and grilled ceps, Robert Mondavi Cabernet sauce.” The filet was pretty flavorless, but at least they cooked it exactly as we’d asked (medium-rare). The best part was the garlicky mushrooms. I coulda eaten a whole plate of those!
The Robert Mondavi sauce came on the side…
Dessert: Patrick had the “Pistachio financier with seasonal fruit” and thought it was just OK. Sure was pretty, though!
I had the “Dark chocolate fondant, mandarin and sweet pastry croutons,” which was just a solid rectangle of ganache. I’m not complaining!
They aren’t kidding when they say the French like a leisurely meal. We nearly fell asleep while waiting for the bill and didn’t get outta there till after 11pm!
This was waiting for us when we got back to the room.
As was this view…
In my sleepy state, my positivity defenses were down and I started getting anxious and disappointed again about the snow. I felt like we’d saved up all this money for a blowout three-night trip to Disneyland Paris, but now we were not even going to get to do most of the things that you can do at Disneyland Paris and had wasted our money. Patrick pointed out that the thing we paid all the money for, Castle Club, was working out great—friendly, helpful cast members; gorgeous views; free meals; direct access to the park—so we couldn’t complain. But I can complain and did so vigorously until the second my head hit the pillow!