Cate will be at school next year so this is the last year we can take our holidays outside of the peak season. We decided to make the most of it, and I managed to get lucky with accomodation so we had a week's holiday at Disneyland Paris. It was a very active holiday with loads of walking about, but great fun and a good break from the daily grind.
I managed to get a deal with Marriott, using points I'd earned while staying at their hotels to pay for most of our accomodation costs. We stayed at the Marriott Village d'Ille de France, which is a timeshare complex about two miles from Disneyland. An Easyjet flight, the TGV from the airport and a local bus got us there with ease and without any great drama.
The complex was lovely, set in the middle of the Disneyland golf course. We had our own house with two bedrooms, three toilets, kitchen, living room, satellite telly and a lovely view out the back door, including a play park for Cate.
It was a great place to come back to after a long day at the parks. We made our own meals most nights and had a good few swims in the indoor pool, even venturing out to the outdoor pool (brrr) a couple of times. It was nice to relax and recharge, ready for another hectic day ahead.
OK, after a day travelling, settling in and buying food for the week, we had 6 days to make use of. We had four-day passes for Disneyland and so had two days for other activities. But we started off with a day at the bigger of the two parks, Disneyland Park, just a ten minute bus ride away.
It's certainly a big place and there seemed to be several entrances. First there was a bit where they check your bags. Then you come to the gates. After that there's the massive Disneyland Hotel, under which are the turnstiles where you get your tickets checked. Once you're through there's Main Street: a big street with two covered arcades and lots of shops and cafes, all done up in old-fashioned style. It's only when you get to the end of main street, to the roundabout at the end, that you come to the part of the park with all the rides.
From the roundabout there are four entrances to the four 'lands' within Disneyland Park. You can get this far before the park opening time, but ropes across the entrances stop you getting further until the place is officially opened (with music over the loudspeakers: it's difficult to find anywhere in the park without speakers playing some sort of music).
There's a train that circles the park as well, stopping at each of the lands and at Main Street. If you don't fancy walking about I suppose you could take the train, but you're just as quick walking so we only had a go on the train on our last day.
Throughout the day there are occasional times when some of the characters will do a song and dance piece, or will chug out on a little train, waving at everyone before disappearing again. At the end of each day there's a big parade with elaborately-made floats and favourite characters from Disney's films and cartoons.
One of the big attractions for the kids (and some adults, it seemed) apart from the rides is the chance to meet some of the Disney characters. They appear at various times around the park and are immediately mobbed by kids wanting their autographs. The Studios was a lot better than the Park in this area as it had a few places set aside for meeting some characters, with queueing areas and background scenery.
So, on to the rides. We tackled the lands in a clockwise direction, getting through all of the big park in two days. We spent another day in the Studios park and then chose our favourite rides for revisiting on the last day.
Frontierland is based on a wild-west theme. As you come through the entrance there's a fort to explore before getting to the main attractions.
We got an idea of the scale of the whole place when we found that one of the lands has its own lake and a full-size riverboat to cruise around it. The first thing we did when we got in was to take a leisurely ride on the riverboat while planning what order to do everything else in.
Phantom Manor is a good old-fashioned ghost-train, but done on a larger scale. The entrance was good: we were taken into a little room, which then descended like a lift, stretching out all the portraits on the wall. We were then put on little carriages which took us on a tour round the Manor, passing all sorts of smoke and mirrors tricks.
In the middle of the lake there's an island, which is host to the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster. We took an age queueing to get on to this, so when we came back on the last day we used the Fastpass system to get on with hardly any queueing at all. This was one of my favourites, a straight-forward rollercoaster that took you inside and outside and was a decent length.
Claire didn't like it.
There didn't seem to be all that much in Adventureland. Perhaps because Cate was too small for the Indiana Jones ride. It looked good though, with a big pirate ship and skull island in the centre, and had a nice little play-park for a respite from all the queueing.
Our favourite part of this land was the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Hardly a queue and an enjoyable boat ride through scenes of pirate revelry and down to their secret horde, all done with animatronics and accompanied by a jolly pirate song.
The fairy castle leads you through to Fantasyland, the biggest of the lands with the most attractions and most to do for little kids. The castle itself is fairly impressive, with scenes from Sleeping Beauty. If you can find the way down, there's also a dragon hidden in the dungeons underneath the castle.
Just after we entered Fantasyland we were treated to the story of Sleeping Beauty, acted out by some of the Disney cast members.
This land had some fairground-type rides, including a carousel, the Mad Hatter's teacups and the Dumbo ride. It also had a few of the sort where you're put in a carriage and taken around various scenes from a story. Snow White and Pinnochio were like this, as was Peter Pan, though the Peter Pan ride takes you up in the air and through a starry sky. This was Cate's favourite ride.
Another of our favourites was It's a Small World. Like the Pirates ride you're taken around in a little boat, but in this case you're taken past lots of depictions of countries around the world, with all the animatronic characters singing along to the Small World tune. We liked this a lot and the queues were short so we had a few visits.
The Casey Jnr ride was shut on the first day we were here, but open the next time. A little train takes you around some fairy-tale lands. Fairly tame and it was a long queue.
Discoveryland is all about the modern and future. The biggest attraction here is Space Mountain but we didn't get to try it out. Maybe we'll come again in a few years when Cate's a bit taller.
The Buzz Lightyear ride was another favourite though. Three to a carriage, the middle one controls rotating the carriage and the other two get to fire at the enemies you pass by, with a running score being displayed in the carriage. This was great and I have to admit I got a bit serious when my turn at shooting came around. This was another ride that eats up the queue at a fair rate, so we didn't have to wait long any time we were on it.
The rest of Discoveryland was ok, but we had to wait a long, long time to get on the Autopia racing cars, which were very tame. We didn't go back to that one.
We just had a day in the Walt Disney Studios park. It's smaller than the other park and mostly a bit more grown up, but was still worth the visit. When the doors were opened there was a mad rush for Crush's Coaster, but more of that later. We grabbed some Fastpass tickets for the Tower of Terror and aimed for the more child-friendly rides first.
When our time came round for the Tower of Terror we got in pretty quickly. It's made like an old hotel building, and they build up the atmosphere as you're led through to the elevator. Here about a dozen of you sit in a cage which then shoots you up and down in the dark, sometimes opening the shutters so you realise how fast you're going and how high up you are. It pretty much lived up to its name.
Crush's Coaster was a bit of a disappoinment. The queue was huge and the ride's pretty short. You get thrown about in the dark for a minute and then you get off.
At the back of the park there's a big seating area to watch the Moteurs stunt show. Cars and bikes did stunts and tricks while they pretended to be making a film. A good 50 minutes entertainment and a good place to eat our lunch.
There were a few other shows we went to see in this park. The Disney story time show was particularly good for the kids: they sit on the floor through the story and every so often bubbles or tinsel fall from the ceiling, giving them a chance to leap about and collect what they can.
On one of our non-Disney days we took the train into Paris. A ticket called the Ticket Mobilis got us the train to and from the city and all our Metro rides while we were there. The Metro's great once you work it out and it wasn't too long before we'd found our way to the Eiffel Tower.
700 steps! And that was just up to the second stage. But we made it and had a good view of the city from up there. After a while wandering around the platform it was 700 steps back down again. Walking up the steps was actually scarier for me than any of the Disney rides. Once we got to the bottom again we shared the most expensive crepe in Paris.
A short trip on the Metro and we were out at the Arc de Triomphe. Unlike last time we were here we didn't see anyone trying to get to it by crossing the maddest roundabout in the world: everyone seemed to have realised there's an underpass. Another couple of hundred steps and we were up the top, pointing to the Eiffel Tower and saying we were up there just an hour ago.
We had to make a final stop before we left Paris, Cate's biggest wish for the trip being to dip her feet in the fountains at the Louvre. It was raining but that wasn't a deterrent. Once this important task had been completed we wound our way back through the Metro system and out on the RER train to Disneyland and a bus back to base.
Our other trip off-Disney was to the sea-life centre, which is situated in the big shopping centre at Val d'Europe, just a mile or two from Disneyland. If you've been to a sea-life centre somewhere else, this is pretty much the same affair, plenty of fish to see, some demonstrations with the chance to touch some sea creatures and quiz questions for the kids to answer as they wander round.
We also did some shopping in the big Auchan hypermarket, a good place to stock up on food as well as some presents for taking back home. And there's a Disney Store in the shopping centre, in case you haven't already had enough merchandise thrust in your face at Disneyland.
We made our own meals all week but wanted to have a meal out on the last night. The restaurants in the local town all seemed to be shut (is Monday a day off?) so we went back to the Disney Village and looked for the cheapest of the proper food places there. The Rainforest Cafe seemed to be slightly less extortionate than the others so we tried there.
The cafe was really well set up, with a fish-tank-arch entrance, jungle-style trees and plants around the walls and lots of pretend animals, some animated. We had a nice meal under a mock-starry sky and handed over all of our remaining euros then headed home for a final night in France before the journey back to Glasgow.
All went well on the way home (didn't lose any soft toys in the airport this time) and we're left with some great memories of France and Disneyland (and well over 200 photos!).
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