Tuesday morning arrived early, but not as early as it would have had I been at home with the crazy dog! I got to sleep in to the absurdly late hour of 8am! We both woke up, showered and were able to catch the 9:30 shuttle to the parks (which was good since otherwise we wouldn’t know where to catch it to bring us home, and in light of later events, that would not have been good).
We hit Disneyland running, figuring on doing the “E-ticket” rides first (and yes, I had to explain what an “E-Ticket” was – culture and age differences really coming into play, here) and Pirates of the Caribbean topped that list for me. But first… Main Street USA. We had to walk underneath the Disneyland Hotel and the train trestle to get into the park proper, but as anyone who’s been to a Disney park knows, there’s something about that first time, seeing the old time midwest street crowned with a fairytale castle. Even if you’ve seen it before in other parks, each new venue provides its own unique experience and for Rasa, who had no frame of reference, it was awe inspiring. There is something so fun about seeing a Disney park through the eyes of someone who has no idea what to expect. Seeing the pink castle dominating the skyline and hearing her sharp intake of breath and whispered “it’s beautiful” was great!
As we headed towards the queue for Pirates, though, I saw Skull Island for the first time. A truly impressive piece of concrete sculpture. A few days later we’d explore the back side of it, but for now, just seeing it was pretty cool. The wait for Pirates wasn’t bad first thing in the morning and felt more like Florida than Anaheim (important note here – I will be comparing the parks somewhat. While I can, and do, judge each individually, you can’t help but note the differences). The line wound around and through caves and grottos, there were jungles and diorama displays to keep us all entertained while we moved slowly forwards. As a first impression, it was a good one.
The ride itself was also very good. It reverses the scenes from Anaheim, giving us “living” pirates before we get to the skull and bones tableaus. We also don’t have any of the movie tie-ins or the pirates chasing fruit instead of women that now populate the original ride. Otherwise, just as good… although it is a little strange hearing the “Yo ho yo ho” song in French.
I suppose now would be a good time to say a few words about French, this being in France and all. First, it was funny watching Rasa deal with the idea she couldn’t understand people walking down the street (she speaks English, Lithuanian and German). I told her “welcome to my world.” In the parks, though almost everything is in both English and French and everyone who works there speaks enough English to do their jobs while interacting with the public. Sometimes, it’s a little touch and go and sometimes information gets a bit jumbled in translation, but generally, it works okay. With things solely in spoken French, there’s English (and German, Spanish and Italian) subtitles so you’re never too far off course. The strangest thing for me, though, was when they had more than one person talking and they’d alternate language in hopes you’d pick up what the other person was saying strictly by context of the language you could understand. A fascinating social experiment if nothing else.
Leaving Adventureland (home of Pirates) we headed to Frontierland, stopping to get a FastPass at Big Thunder Mountain along the way. We weren’t sure what to do next so we thought to explore a bit. What we discovered was Minnie Mouse, almost completely alone. We were able to sneak in a quick picture before heading back around to the french version of the Haunted Mansion – here called the Phantom Manor. The house is a bit creepier than in New Orleans Square, looking more like the Bates house than a dilapidated French Quarter mansion gone to seed. Inside, the set-up is the same except the pictures in the first room are a bit different (and, naturally, the narration is in French). The ride seems to move a bit quicker as there was no backlog of people before getting on to the “doom” buggies, which are the same. Inside the ride, though, things are very different. The start is similar, but we get a slight storyline with a black-widow bride (it seems to me this is also what’s happening now in Anaheim, but there, I seem to remember an extra room or two). Once past the set scenes, where we would enter the graveyard, here we enter an old west town and the ghosts are not the happy-go-lucky dead folks we’re used to back in the US. Nope, these are scary! These are actual skeletons, not halloween masks and sheets springing up from behind wobbly tombstones. The mayor, welcoming us to his town by removing his head along with his hat is of particular note. As for the end, I’m not sure if it was broken, but there were no hitchhiking ghosts, although the mirror set-up was still present.
Our FastPass window for Thunder Mountain was open when we got back to the world of the living so we headed there. This is where the Paris edition outdoes its international brethren. While the queue is on the main walkway, the bulk of the ride is on an island in the middle of what can only be described as the French version of the “Rivers of America.” This is the island the steamboat “Molly Brown” makes its lazy circle around. And as a roller coaster, it’s a good one! Lots of twisting and turning, some great drops and several bits in utter and complete darkness (when you’re under the water). Definitely one of the better coasters in the park.
We needed a breath catch after that one so we headed across the park to Discoveryland (what they call Tomorrowland) to check on Space Mountain: Mission 2. I’d seen pictures of this “land” and it didn’t disappoint in reality. The steampunk motif dominated, basing a lot on the works of national hero (and founding father of science fiction) Jules Verne. Space Mountain is designed to mimic Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and “launches” the rockets by firing them from a shotgun, which can all be seen from outside the ride. There’s also a blimp from Mysterious Island docking in a hanger and, in a small body of water, the jewel in the Verne crown, the Nautilus herself.
The wait for the ride was listed as 25 minutes so we decided to risk it and joined the queue. Sure enough, within a half hour we were being loaded into our rocket and being launched into the sheer blackness of outer space. This ride is even darker than the Anaheim version – which is to say, completely black. Seriously, you can’t see a thing. For me, this is actually a detriment. Barely being able to see the track heightens the sense of danger. When you can almost make out a support beam in your path and can’t see the sudden drop in front of it, that’s scary. When you’re merely being pelted around pell-mell by a ride which is hell-bent on causing maximum spine damage with no warning, it’s just annoying. The ride was worth going on once, but unlike other versions of the “dark” coaster (and for some reason, Disneyland Paris has a thing for coasters in the dark), this one isn’t worth repeated attention.
By this time, in an effort to avoid the starvation problems of the day before, lunch was in order, followed by a walk-through tour of the Nautilus. As a Science Fiction guy, the idea of the Nautilus sitting there made me absurdly happy. The attraction, ostensibly, was walking through the upper deck of the two-floor craft, seeing living quarters, map rooms and, of course, the Grand Salon (home of Nemo’s pipe organ – which, to be honest, seems like a bit of an extravagance as it uses such a precious resource as air to run). The mock-up is very TARDIS like, since there’s no way the rooms we were walking through would fit into the exterior we could see from the surface, especially when you add in the one bit of showmanship included. In the Grand Salon, on both port and starboard, are two large portholes, observation windows through which Professor Aronnax describes the wonderful undersea world. There’s also the infamous giant squid attacking! Without warning, a huge parrot-beaked mouth and ten grasping tentacles attack the sub until the electricity is rerouted and the beast is driven off…only to attack again minutes later. It’s certainly a creepy experience and the sub as a whole was worth revisiting, which we did two days later.
As long as we were in Discoveryland, we decided to hit up Star Tours, getting a FastPass for later. The FastPass is a great invention, allowing guests to basically reserve a spot during a specified time later in the day to bypass most of the standing queue. You get your FastPass based on the barcode on your ticket which ensures you can only have one at a time. This one allowed us to return a few hours later so we had time to do other things in between.
A quick shortcut to Fantasyland put us right in front of my favorite ride ever… It’s a Small World – and a reuniting with our friends from the Tower the day before! At that point, it really was a “small world.” We had a catch-up, telling about whatever adventures we’d had since we’d seen them some 14 hours before and we rode the ride together. Now, if you know me, you know I loathe this ride with a hatred reminiscent of The Wicked Witch of the West and Water but… as it was Rasa’s first trip and since I’m a firm believer in not hating something unless you’ve experienced it (Twilight book 1, I’m looking at you) I dutifully boarded the boat and, with gritted teeth, headed into what would have been Dante’s tenth circle had he but lived long enough to experience this treacly mess. I thought, at first, I might be safe since there were no words being sung until the second or third scene. It was just music, bad enough but tolerable. Then the singing started. From there it was just a race to see if the ride would finish before my head exploded. Thankfully, this ride is shorter than the one in Anaheim (and has a North American section so there was Hollywood and Hopi singers as well) so I made it out into the glorious French sun before too much permanent damage could be done.
After disembarking and saying goodbye again, we still had plenty of time before our Star Tours rendezvous (see, learning French) so Fantasyland was our destination. Our first stop was Le Pays des Contes de Fées (Storybook Land if you’re familiar with the North American versions). Basically, a leisurely boat ride (sans live guide here) through various miniatures of fairy tales. There’s the old stand-bys as well as a few specific to this locale – Night on Bald Mountain, Peter and the Wolf and the Emerald City of Oz were particular standouts. The entrance to Aladdin’s Cave of Mystery was also pretty cool.
From there, it was a toss-up between trying to see Alice’s Curious Labyrinth or head back to Discoveryland. We opted for the maze and it was well worth it. This is a unique attraction for this park only – a hedge maze right out of Lewis Carroll’s works, with switchbacks and dead-ends and various characters from the movie popping out at you at inopportune moments. In the center, the “heart” as it were, was the Queen of Hearts’ castle, the balcony of which provided a beautiful view of the whole of Fantasyland.
By this time, though, it really was time to get to our gate for imminent departure to Endor. Star Tours here hasn’t been upgraded like it has in Anaheim so we’re treated to the original adventure; a new pilot, a missed connection to Endor, being part of the rebel’s red squadron while blowing up the Death Star… you know – typical Tuesday. Still fun, but the main queue (which we bypassed due to the FastPass) is the same as elsewhere and again, hearing C-3P0 whinging in French is slightly disconcerting.
It was hitting mid-afternoon and stopping to catch the daily parade seemed like a good plan. On our way to the parade route (starting just in front of the Castle, heading down Main Street and circling around the Town Square before disappearing off-stage) we walked through the second floor of the Castle. Like Anaheim, this is a castle for Aurora, Sleeping Beauty. Her story is told through a series of aged tapestries and stained glass placed chronologically around the upper floor atrium. There’s also a balcony open onto Fantasyland for good viewing of the Carousel and Excalibur, still stuck in the anvil.
While the top might be interesting, it’s the underside of the castle where things really get hot. Down there is a 30 foot dragon, complete with wings, who is restlessly sleeping. Except when he’s not. From time to time, he gets a scent of something or someone invading his lair and the smoke starts to roil from his nostrils and his eyes open, searching the darkness. If he hears anything else, he just might raise his head on his long, snake-like neck and look around, roaring to scare away anyone who might be nearby.
Without drawing too much attention, we exited his lair and went to find seats for the parade, which we thought was starting at 5, about a half hour from then. At 5:10 I asked a passing cast member (people who work for Disney are “cast members” not employees. I suppose this is to remind them they are always “on-stage,” performing for the guests to create the Disney “show”) when the parade was supposed to start. I was told 5:20 (the real answer, by the way, was 5:30 and this misinformation would become a recurring theme. Around 5:20, though, the weather, which had been threatening for a while, turned and it started to drizzle. Then it started to sprinkle. Then it started to rain. A downpour hit and everyone took cover. The two of us, Lithuanians by birth or choice, didn’t have umbrellas so we ran for the nearest roof. Once out of the torrent, we decided home might not be a bad idea so we made our way through shops and back corridors towards the exit. Of course, by the time we got there, the rain had pretty much stopped and the parade was coming. Braving the elements, we stood in the middle of the square to watch “Disney Magic on Parade.” It was a cute parade, like most Disney parades, and when the last float had passed by, and the crowd filled in the gaps, we took leave of our senses and figured now would be a good time to try and ride Peter Pan, the only FantasyLand ride with enough interest to be worthy of a FastPass.
The line showed a 50 minute wait but we braved it anyway… at least until the rain came back. I went off to get us some hot beverages while Rasa stayed and made friends with the non-english speaking woman behind her, the woman who happened to have an umbrella. By the time I got back with tea, the weather had turned ugly and abandoning the ride seemed the better part of valor at this point. We bolted for the exit, going through shops on our way in hopes of finding postcards. Since we were leaving early, it seemed like a good time to purchase and write postcards. Unfortunately, this proved easier said than done. Postcards, it seems, are just one of the ways merchandise at Disney Paris is different from gift shops at Disney USA. We did, eventually, find postcards which, to my currency converting mind were outrageously expensive, but several were purchased anyway and we headed out.
Going through the front gates, the rain was starting to slow so we still had to run for the bus, trying to stay as dry as possible. Of course, by the time we got to the bus stand, the rain had stopped and a beautiful double rainbow appeared in the sky.
We made it back to the hotel where we discovered it wasn’t really a hotel. It was a “residence” which means they didn’t clean or replace towels or anything like that. Also, they didn’t notice the water in our tub wasn’t draining so I had to call down to try and get that sorted. Language barriers abounded but finally I got through to them. Then I asked about local areas to eat and was told there were places that delivered so I could come down and get a menu. The problem with going down, however, was one of keys. We’d only been given one key, which normally wouldn’t have been a problem…except you needed a key to run the electricity in the room (there’s a little box by the door and when you slide your key in, it activates the power). You also need a key to get back up to your floor in the elevator. So in order to go downstairs, I needed to take the key so I could get back up, but if I took the key, Rasa wouldn’t have any power. A conundrum certainly. So I went down without a key, but with my ID to ask for a second key — which they gave me without ever asking to see said ID. Needless to say, my security concerns were piqued. I ordered food for us (took three tries and two trips to get right) but eventually we ate and got ready for day two at the parks… no postcards were written that night.