NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
I just came to a surprising conclusion. I’ve written nearly one hundred trip reports over the past five years, but surprisingly I never wrote about Disneyland Paris. You’ll find reports about every single Disney theme park in the world on my website, but the European resort is missing for some mysterious reason. It’s about time I’m going to change that. Although we like to complain about the current state of attractions, common breakdowns and unmotivated staff, we should actually be happy that there’s a Disney resort within a good three hours’ drive from our front door. After all, that’s a luxury that most people can only dream of. So sit down, relax and enjoy your virtual trip to Euro Disney. Or was it Disneyland Resort Paris? Or just ehm… Disneyland Paris?
The European Disneyland will always have a special place in my heart. My first visit took place in the year 1995. I was five years old, I thoroughly enjoyed the colourful parade (‘Dancin’, A Catchy Rhythm’ remains one of Disney’s most legendary songs to me) and Orbitron was my favourite attraction at the time. Lots of visits would follow and I’d become an annual pass holder for many years. Finally, in 2011, the dream of being a Disney Cast Member became reality. I did a four-month internship at various Disney hotels within the resort and I enjoyed every second. In short: I have quite a few good memories of Disneyland Paris.
First impressions are important. And honestly, Disneyland Park makes the best possible first impression. The gardens around the entrance are simply stunning. The Disneyland Hotel and its impressive fountains look great, while the European version of Main Street USA is definitely the most beautiful of them all. No seriously: we like to complain about lack of maintenance and the park is in desperate need of new ride, but this section of the park is top quality. I’ve rarely seen so many details and so much beauty as here. I adore the picturesque Sleeping Beauty Castle and I love the covered arcades on both sides of Main Street, especially during these ice-cold February days.
The visual splendour isn’t limited to Main Street USA. On the contrary. In fact, almost every land at Disneyland Park is considerably nicer than its siblings in the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and China. The Tomorrowland concept was successfully transformed into Discoveryland, a more stylish and timeless alternative. How did visionaries like Jules Verne envision the future? Discoveryland provides the answer. Or well… Discoveryland provided the answer. Although Discoveryland still looks great, some attractions no longer fit in with the original philosophy. Most rides in this area underwent updates based on successful Disney films, which took away some of the original atmosphere. In 2004, for example, the legendary Visionarium disappeared in favor of Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. If you take a look at the wait time display, that wasn’t a bad decision: this interactive dark ride is very popular with the general public. I don’t understand why. This is a fun ride, but I wouldn’t queue longer than 15 minutes for it. Most scenes look rather generic and the attraction is a bit too short, if you ask me. Besides, certain effects aren’t working today, but that’s a typical Disneyland Paris thing apparently…
I’m not into Toy Story and I don’t really like Star Wars. That’s unfortunate, because most of Discoveryland is dedicated to these both film sagas. The least interesting Star Wars attraction is Path of the Jedi, a useless show that’s taken over the Discoveryland Theater. If you have a fetish for extremely long pre-shows and incoherent film compilations, this is the place for you. To all other people: please skip this! Fortunately, Star Tours – The Adventures Continue is a lot better. This motion simulator recently underwent a very expensive upgrade with various new story lines and the addition of 3D glasses. That’s nothing special if you’ve visited the US or Japan parks during the past few years, but oh well… It’s nice that the European park finally got this much-needed Star Tours upgrade. Thanks to its high capacity and its repeat value, Star Tours is once again an attraction worth visiting. Nice to know: Cast Members can now provide an English ride. So ask for it; it is worth the effort.
Most theme parks celebrate birthdays with brand-new top attractions. Disneyland Paris’ 25th anniversary should be celebrated with a ride like Indiana Jones Adventure, Splash Mountain or Radiator Springs Racers, right? Unfortunately, Disneyland Paris doesn’t think that way. Walt Disney Studios’ latest addition is a three and a half years old Ratatouille dark ride and Disneyland Park just got a few updated rides. The most striking update is that of Space Mountain, which should be referred to as Hyperspace Mountain nowadays. This indoor roller coaster also fell victim to the Star Wars mania, although I have to admit that I actually like the new version. Hyperspace Mountain was equipped with brand new trains, which make the ride remarkably more pleasant than it was. It’s still not the smoothest ride, but at least it doesn’t give headaches like it used to do. The lighting and sound effects have all changed and look quite elaborate. Hyperspace Mountain is more than just a cheap overlay; it feels like a high-quality coaster. It’s a shame that Disneyland didn’t bother to fix the cannon, which acts as the ride’s visual highlight. Fortunately, even without a working Columbiad, Space Mountain remains one of the world’s most stunning roller coasters.
I wouldn’t consider waiting 45 minutes for Autopia and Orbitron, so we start looking for rides with a shorter queue. We find one in Fantasyland, where the iconic It’s a Small World is a walk-on. This famous dark ride is hidden behind a colorful facade and it’s mostly known because of its catchy soundtrack. I’ve already mentioned it in other reports and I’ll gladly say it again: It’s a Small World is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. People may say I’m crazy, but I actually think that this is a great dark ride. I love the cheerfulness, the stylized sets and the soundtrack that keeps playing in your mind for hours. Thanks to the usually short lines, this colourful cruise is a must-do during my day at Disneyland.
Fantasyland isn’t designed for adults, so I don’t usually spend too much time here. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize that the European Fantasyland is pure eye candy. It’s a stunning land full of detailed facades, playfully designed fountains and frivolous gardens. The Japanese version is too grey, the Californian version is too cramped and the Orlando version looks bizarre due to its clash between Old and New Fantasyland. This European version is definitely the winner in terms of beauty, but the rides are just mediocre. Peter Pan’s Flight, for example, is less impressive than its modern counterpart in Shanghai. Pinocchio and Snow White’s dark rides are also just okay. One of the highlights of Fantasyland is Storybook Land, the home of Casey Jr and Pays des Contes de Fées. This cute area is incredibly beautiful and it’s also pretty unique. Unfortunately, this quiet corner often remains closed during wintertime, so we won’t be able to make a cruise through a miniature fairy tale land today.
Surprisingly, Fantasyland’s most popular attractions aren’t the rides, but the meet & greet locations. Meet Mickey Mouse and Princess Pavilion have wait times of up to one and a half hours! We wouldn’t want to spend this much time on a photo opportunity, so we head over to the jungle of Adventureland. This huge area is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful themed lands ever created. It’s virtually impossible not to believe that you’ve been transported to an exotic faraway place. This world full of palm trees, splashing waterfalls, rocks and suspension bridges is stunning, but it lacks some rides. Apart from some walk-throughs (don’t miss le Passage Enchanté d’Aladdin), the huge land features just two major rides.
The most impressive attraction of Adventureland is undoubtedly Pirates of the Caribbean. This dark ride has been a Disney classic since the original version opened in 1967 and its popularity remained unchanged ever since. Disney Parks & Resorts gave this concept a new impulse by adding film characters to the attraction. The American and Japanese parks got this upgrade long time ago, but Europeans had to wait until last Summer. Since then, our own Pirates of the Caribbean has been fitted with the well-known film soundtrack and audio animatronics of Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa. I’m not opposed to this change, but I wouldn’t call it a huge improvement either. I understand that the general public adores such recognisable characters, but I partly lost the authentic feel of this dark ride. I miss the cheerful music on the lift hill, I miss the desolate atmosphere in the cave scene and it’s hard to accept that Blue Lagoon is now called Restaurant des Pirates. The subtlety is largely gone and that’s a shame. Unfortunately, many rides and themed areas in all Disney parks seem to be affected by this in-your-face IP-driven craziness, so we’d better get used to it. And don’t get me wrong: Pirates of the Caribbean will always remain a splendid dark ride.
Admittedly, not every IP-based attraction is inferior. I’d commit a crime to get a copy of Indiana Jones Adventure in the French resort, to give an example. Unfortunately, our European Indiana Jones attraction is far less impressive than those in Anaheim and Tokyo. This isn’t a world-class dark ride, but it’s just a very simple Intamin roller coaster. No really, there is nothing Disney-like about Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril. The decoration looks good, but I miss a few special effects during the ride. Even the coaster itself is anything but fascinating. The restraints are uncomfortable and the layout looks like it belongs on a cheap funfair.
Welcome to Frontierland. Unlike the Frontierland areas in the US and Japan, this zone was designed with a story line. The good news is that Frontierland has hardly changed since park opening in 1992, so the Thunder Mesa story line is still intact. Unfortunately, you may also interpret that as bad news: the western corner of Frontierland has been in desperate need of an attraction expansion for years. In its current state, Frontierland has no more than two major attractions and you must keep in mind that Phantom Manor is undergoing extensive renovations in 2018. This fine dark ride will definitely be missed, but this big refurbishment doesn’t come a day too soon. While riding the Haunted Mansions in Anaheim and Orlando last year, I had to conclude that those older rides provided a smoother ride with less technical issues. Let’s hope that Phantom Manor will shine again soon.
Frontierland’s other E-ticket ride is known as Big Thunder Mountain. This mine train coaster is generally considered as one of the best of its kind, but hardly a day goes by without technical difficulties. Big Thunder Mountain has been Disneyland Park’s least reliable ride for a very long time, but the park tried to fix this issue with a lengthy refurbishment. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if Big Thunder Mountain performs better nowadays; it’s still horribly sensitive to malfunctions.
Big Thunder Mountain’s reliability might be questionable, but it remains a great ride for the whole family. Especially the theming deserves praise. In fact, I can’t imagine a roller coaster which has been themed better than this one. No other theme park has ever attempted to place a roller coaster on a private island, right? This crazy idea makes Big Thunder Mountain an experience rather than a simple family roller coaster. Besides, last year’s big renovation ensured that the rocks and theming are once again in perfect shape. Unfortunately, the actual ride didn’t get better than before. It even seems as if Big Thunder Mountain has become a bit rougher since the refurbishment. The rattle isn’t terribly disturbing, but it just doesn’t feel right. Furthermore, the train is braked way too often, which results in a very controlled experience. Especially in the final tunnel – which once was the intense climax of the ride – you can feel the difference. I’m not going to claim that Big Thunder Mountain has become a bad roller coaster, but I actually enjoy the versions in the American Disney resorts better. That’s a shame, because this European version used to be considerably better.
Before 2012, Disneyland Paris usually ended the day in silence. There were fireworks and/or the Fantillusion Parade during the Summer months, but the park lacked nocturnal entertainment during the rest of the year. Fortunately, that era has ended since the 20th anniversary of the resort, when Disney Dreams was introduced. I never expected to write this, but our European Disneyland suddenly had one of the best Disney night shows ever created. Disney Dreams was simply fabulous: the story was clear, the projections used clever tricks and the special effects were simply beautiful. I’ve seen the show dozens of times, but I still got goosebumps from the first to the last second. For the 25th anniversary, Disney Dreams was replaced by Disney Illuminations, a show with similar ingredients. I expected it to be equally grand, but damn… that’s not the case. Illuminations starts promising, but the second half of the show is rather pointless. The Star Wars section doesn’t feel right at Disneyland Park and the Frozen finale is downright boring. The biggest mistake is the fact that the Let It Go-scene is performed in French. This should’ve been English, if you ask me.
Disney Illuminations provides a disappointing end of our day at Disneyland Park. And I hate to write this, but Illuminations actually covers my feeling about this park rather well. Don’t get me wrong: I love visiting this park and I enjoy the unique beauty which can be found here (it’s undoubtedly the world’s most beautiful Magic Kingdom), but the park is in desperate need of new rides and experiences. The last new ride has been added 12 years ago. And for the most recent new attraction that wasn’t a replacement we need to go back to 1995. Of course, Walt Disney Studios was opened and expanded in the meantime, but that’s not a valid reason to ignore Disneyland Park. Especially now that the adjacent park is facing a period of extraordinary expansion, I hope Disney will provide extra capacity for Disneyland Park. Will they finally make use of the park’s theaters year-round for qualitative performances? Will they build that long-awaited new E-ticket? Will they find ways to optimize the total capacity of the park? Will they keep rides in the state they’re supposed to be in? And will they keep restaurants open until park closing time? I certainly hope so. It’s time for Disneyland Park to live up to its status of Europe’s number one tourist destination.
Would I buy an annual pass if I hated this place? No, of course not. We’ve had two nice days and I’m not walking down Main Street with a notebook full of negative comments. Yet, I don’t think I’ll extend my passholdership for the next few years. The magic simply disappeared after such a period with regular visits. After trips to the five other resorts, I realize that Disneyland Paris isn’t on the same level. And then I haven’t even talked about Paris’ second gate… But that’s going to change, because I’ll take you there in my next report. So be prepared for the least glamorous theme park that Walt Disney Parks & Resorts ever created: Walt Disney Studios Park.