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April 24, 2017

Former Imagineer Eddie Sotto reflects on his contributions to Disneyland Paris

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Eddie Sotto poses for a photo in front of Main Street Motors right after Disneyland Paris opened in 1992. [Courtesy of Eddie Sotto]

Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland was Walt Disney's pride and joy ... a window into his life as a young boy growing up in Marceline, Missouri, in the early 1900s.

According to Disney historian Dave Smith, Walt's plan for Disneyland's Main Street "was to present an idealized town at the turn of the [20th] century. Such a town never really existed, but if guests were to conjure up their ideal town, it would be something like Main Street U.S.A."

In the minds of many of Walt's trusted lieutenants, including John Hench, Main Street also was much like the opening scene of a movie, drawing guests into "the show" with the promise that what was ahead, beyond the quaint shops and themed restaurants, were areas "threaded with adventure, romance, thrill and fantasy."

Since Disneyland's opening in 1955, every designer who has been tasked with creating a new Main Street for a new Disney park has had to live up to that first nostalgic thoroughfare, the only one Walt actually had a hand in designing, watched being built and experienced first-hand for more than a decade before his death in 1966.

Imagine, then, being given the daunting assignment of designing a Main Street U.S.A. for a new Disney theme park.

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Main Street in Disneyland Park. [Disneyland Paris]

That's what Eddie Sotto was faced with when he was hired by Tony Baxter during the early design phases of Disneyland Paris, which is located in Marne-la-Vallee, France. On April 12, Disneyland Paris celebrated its 25th anniversary.

On going to work for Walt Disney Imagineering, Sotto said in a recent interview: "I was working in Baltimore at the time and had lunch with Bruce Gordon, who was Tony's No. 2 man. I showed him this project I was working on that had images in it that were very Victorian, very 19th century. Kind of Jules Verne-inspired, with submarines and lots of sets.

"Tony really took to it. He thought it was really neat, as far as the design was concerned. So when he was thinking of Disneyland Paris, he hired me directly out of that. I didn't have to work out of the model shop, didn't have to pay those dues [at Walt Disney Imagineering]. I was named a vice president, which is relatively rare, especially at my age. It was very exciting."

When the assignments for the park's different lands were handed out, "I thought I was gonna get Discoveryland, because of the submarines and things I had shown them," Sotto said. "Tim Delaney justifiably got that and I ended up with Main Street."

Chronologically speaking, Sotto was asked to design the fourth Main Street in the Disney theme parks' catalogue, after Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland, but the first on European soil, which was a challenge unto itself. Once given the assignment, the question facing Sotto was: "Do we change things up or stay with a tried-and-true formula?"

"It was always was going to be a Disney-themed Main Street of one type or another," he said. "We explored turning the clock ahead, somewhere in the 1920s, something that Europeans might relate to more. We thought about that for about a year, but that idea was rejected and we went back to kind of a Walt Disney World base."

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The arcades in Disneyland Park, located behind the Main Street shops, are attractions unto themselves. [Disneyland Paris]

Designing Disneyland Paris' Main Street had its own unique challenges, not the least of which was weather. Paris, in fact, has a rainy, often chilly climate.

"There was a time when the company thought about some type of covering [for DLP's Main Street] like they have in Tokyo Disneyland, but we talked them out of that and switched that protective covering to behind Main Street with the arcades."

The arcades - one called Liberty and the other Discovery - are long, heavily-themed hallways located behind the shops along Main Street. They add a unique and practical element to the overall design of Main Street in Disneyland Paris: They protect guests from the elements and they assist in traffic flow, particularly in the evening, after the nightly fireworks shows. Plus, they are an attraction unto themselves.

"When we designed the arcades, the president of the company at the time, Frank Wells, was adamant about making the arcades really beautiful ... making it just as nice an experience to walk there as it would be walking down Main Street itself," Sotto said.

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Main Street in Disneyland Park under construction. [Courtesy of Eddie Sotto]

For the Discovery Arcade, which leads guests from the main gate to the Discoveryland section of the park, "We put on display real patent bottles from the U.S. patent office that a collector lent to us. We wanted people to see real inventions from the 19th century. We also used murals and posters of what people envisioned American cities to look like in the future."

The Liberty Arcade, which leads to Frontierland, is an homage to the construction of the Statue of Liberty, as well as to the entire immigrant experience. "Each arcade was an intellectual show or pre-show for each land they led to, so they would make sense in their own way," Sotto said. "They are exclusive to Disneyland Paris."

The overall philosophy of Main Street in Disneyland Paris pays tribute to Walt Disney.

"Preserving Walt's memory kind of drove the thinking behind many of the concepts on Main Street," Sotto said. "Walt Disney as a brand is very well-known throughout the world. And the films are well-known. If you look at Main Street in Disneyland, it initially was kind of based on the nostalgia Walt had for his own hometown on Marceline, Missouri. The sort of idea of the little town that was transitioning from no electricity to automobiles. It was about America at the time, kind of growing up a little bit."

So you have stores named after Walt's wife [Lilly's] and his mother [Flora's]. There's a faux gas station [Main Street Motors] and there's also Walt's, an American-themed restaurant that has a Club 33 vibe, but is open to the general public.

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Elegant Walt's in Disneyland Park was modeled after Club 33 in Disneyland. [Disneyland Paris]

"I thought Walt's restaurant on Main Street should be something that would tell the story of Walt Disney, the man, vs. Walt Disney, the corporation. The ground floor is about Walt Disney's beginnings, pictures of his home town, kind of connecting him to the culture of Main Street and the steam trains. The second floor shows him photographically, through the success of Mickey Mouse.

Was it intentional to make Walt's look and feel like the legendary Club 33 in Disneyland?

"Completely," Sotto said. "The thinking was, 'Why can't people who don't have a membership get the experience like Club 33? Why can't you watch a parade, especially if it's raining, from a beautiful window looking down on Main Street? The elevator in Walt's is a definite reference to Club 33, and as a matter of fact, the initials of Walt Disney, the WD on the railings of New Orleans Square where his apartment was to be, are on the doors of the elevator, they're on every gas light sconce, they're in the furniture ... so those WD initials from his first apartment are filtered secretly through that restaurant."

Sotto also had a hand in designing another signature element at Disneyland Paris ... the Disneyland Hotel, which was a Disney Parks first in that a hotel was located at the main gate.

"Initially, for weather protection, we designed a gigantic roof structure to cover the people waiting in line to buy tickets. But it was very expensive. So I made the structure look almost like the del Coronado Hotel in San Diego, which was almost the reference for the Grand Floridian. But that was too expensive.

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The Disneyland Hotel serves as the entry portal to Disneyland Park in Marne-la-Vallee, France. [Courtesy of Lenny Myrhol]

"So I said, 'Why don't we put hotel suites, just a few, on a second floor above it and people could stay there? They liked that idea. One of the people on the Disney Board, Gary Wilson, from Marriott, decided to take the notion of a few suites and turn it into hundreds of rooms. I believe we did studies at the time that the hotel could be extended to the second stories of the stores on Main Street, and the hallways could lead into the park. We didn't go that far with it, though.

"You have to give Tony Baxter credit. He was the senior vice president at the time and really fought the operations folks, who were dead set against the idea if this hotel, and convince them it was a great idea. And [then chairman and CEO] Michael Eisner really loved the idea, too. I even have a memo from Michael congratulating both Tony and I about never giving up on the idea of a hotel and fighting everyone to make it happen. But I give Tony all the credit for that."

Sotto was the point man for another Disneyland Paris attraction and another Disney Parks staple: The steam trains.

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The George Washington steam train pulls into the elaborately-themed Main Street Station at Disneyland Park. {Disneyland Paris]

"The Disneyland Paris trains were built in Wales, England, and they were all based on the blueprints of the No. 1 Disneyland steam train, which was the C.K. Holiday. We took that basic design and then cosmetically changed it several times because we only built three trains when we opened the park [a fourth was added] and we did three different trains out of one. The boiler is the same, but the cabs are different. We had guys in the shops who were rail fanatics, and I'm a rail nut. We said, 'Let's make this something a purest would love. If you're from Europe and you love trains, you'll be able to see these American trains. They are kind of historically inspired, so we went to the Sacramento Rail Museum to get really the most beautiful and unexpected color schemes and so each locomotive has a true story behind it."

Each of the four trains used in Disneyland Paris have an embracing theme.

"The George Washington has a France-America connection," Sotto said. "It's is based on the Revolutionary War and has a red, white and blue color scheme. The W.F. Cody [named for Buffalo Bill Cody] is a Western train with Denver and Rio Grande gold and green. There are antlers on the headlamp.

"The C.K. Holiday is based on the East Coast trains which the trolley companies would build to take people to Coney Island and Atlantic City and other popular East Coast towns." The last of the four trains, the Eureka, celebrates the California Gold Rush of 1849 ["Eureka is Greek for 'I found it!'" Sotto noted].

"If you look at the coaches, they all have the names of cities from those places, so if you look at them closely, there's some depth there. You get some history there.

"Herbert Ryman, a gentleman I had the privilege to work with, said, 'Bad taste costs no more,' meaning it's just as expensive to do something that's well-researched and has some depth to it than it is to do something with no meaning whatsoever,' so we tried to put a lot of meaning into" the trains' designs.

Sotto also designed the Main Street train station and even supplied the voice of the train's conductor.

"It was kind of a first-time thing, doing the voice of the conductor. As a kid, I spent time practicing doing different voices, things like soundalikes of the attractions. It's easy to cast yourself when you're controlling the project. It was kind of an honor and a privilege to be the railroad conductor voice.

"Each land designer had his own responsibility. We all knew each other and all consulted with one another. It was very collaborative effort."

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The interior to this modern airplane was designed by Sotto Studios. "It's like being inside the Chrysler Building or the Queen Mary," says Sotto Studios founder Eddie Sotto. [Courtesy of Eddie Sotto]

Sotto left Walt Disney Imagineering in 1999 [not before working on several other noteworthy projects, including the short-lived Pal Mickey interactive plush] and formed his own experiential design firm, Sotto Studios.

"When I left Disney I went out to take what I learned about experiential design, working from emotion backwards, working on what the design should be. After working there for so long, I tried to analyze what was so different about working for Disney. Who thinks of it the way we experience it? Which means you walk in a room, your body is absorbing all of these things, the sound and the temperature in real time and you're making an opinion about it in real time, collective opinions.

"So my thought was, if you could manage all of these collective senses and at least think about the project holistically, and then have the architect come in and guide it like an Imagineer would, you'd have a much more emotional project. So that's what we started with the company ... you'd start with WOW! and then go backwards to what the design should be.

"This has led to everything from restaurants to technology, even a new aircraft, which is literally like going back in time ... like being inside the Chrysler Building in New York or the Queen Mary. It's a 1939-themed private airplane. We do a lot of just fun projects."

March 20, 2017

This blogger's been busy: Two new books recently released

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The entrance to Disneyland Park in France goes under the Disneyland Hotel. [Ginny Osborne]


When my first book was published, I had what can be best described as a George McFly moment.

You remember the scene from Back to the Future: Surrounded by his family, George proudly opens a box containing copies of his newly released book. He's obviously excited about adding the title of "author" to his resume as he glances, chest puffed out, at the hot-off-the-press finished product.

Even in this age of portable devices, telecommunications and digital wizardry, it's still quite a thrill to see your name on the cover of an honest-to-goodness, printed-on-paper book. As the author, you know how hard you've worked and how proud you are to see the finished product; the only thing that's left now is waiting on the public's response, which, of course, you hope is positive.

I had another George McFly moment the other day when not one, but two of my books arrived at our doorstep in a plain cardboard box -- the re-release of my first book, Disney's Dream Weavers, and the brand new An American in Disneyland Paris .

I must admit, there's always a bit of trepidation when something you've written "goes public." The hope is that everyone loves what you've written ... the fact is, some people may not. As in life itself, you take the good with the bad.

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The cover of "An American in Disneyland Paris."

It's truly gratifying, then, when an unsolicited comment comes your way from someone you've known and respected for years.

"What great journalism you are doing," wrote Rick Sylvain, the former print and on-line manager for Walt Disney World media relations. "Your deep dive into the personalities that shaped Disney is important reading, not only now, but for future generations. As Charlie Ridgway and others pass on, their stories live on."

Humbling, to be sure, but much appreciated.

And so, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure, that I steer you toward my latest releases:

** Disney's Dream Weavers

** An American in Disneyland Paris


Disney's Dream Weavers was first released in 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing. It was a three-year labor of love that began innocently enough when I filled in for a columnist colleague at the Staten Island Advance, who missed work for several months after surgery.

His column dealt with the people and places on Staten Island in bygone eras from the 1940s into the 1980s. For reasons I can't really explain, I decided to write several substitute columns on Staten Islanders' participation at both the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 New York World's Fairs, both of which were held on the same site in Flushing, Queens.

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The cover of "Disney's Dream Weavers."

The highlights of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair were, of course, the four Disney-created attractions: Ford's Magic Skyway, Carousel of Progress, it's a small world and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in the Illinois state pavilion.

I researched the 1964-1965 Fair, corresponded with folks who had attended and also drew on my own experiences as a Fair visitor. As I dug into the Fair, I came upon references to another amusement park popular during that era - Freedomland, which also was open in the early 1960s and was located relatively close to the Fair in The Bronx.

I had attended Freedomland as well, and have fond memories and some grainy photos to prove it. In researching Freedomland's story, it quickly became apparent to me that there was a link [a common thread, if you will] that ran through Disneyland, which opened in 1955, Freedomland [1960-1964] and the World's Fair.

Many of the people who had helped bring Walt Disney's dream of a park where parents and children could have fun together [the people who had, as I wrote, brought Disneyland from "fruit field to fruition"] also made significant contributions to both Freedomland and the World's Fair.

Unbeknownst to most of us, at about the same time Freedomland was shutting down and the World's Fair was in full swing, Walt Disney and some of his trusted lieutenants were scooping up land in central Florida to build what would turn out to be The Vacation Kingdom of the World.

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A German band plays a song in front of the Eastman Kodak building at Freedomland in 1962. The building to the left is a replica of the R.H. Macy's store in Manhattan. [Chuck Schmidt collection]

As the idea of putting together a book on that link among the four venues began to take shape, I was able to score interviews with a number of key people ... like Marty Sklar, Bob Gurr, Charlie Ridgway, Jack Lindquist, Tom Nabbe and Tony Baxter on the Disney side, and Ben Rossi, Bob Mangels and Mike Virgintino, speaking on behalf of Freedomland. Their combined insight helped, in my mind, to legitimize the book.

When Bob McLain of Theme Park Press agreed to re-release Disney's Dream Weavers, I could think of no better person to write a foreword to it than Mike Virgintino, who grew up near the park as a youth and has written about it extensively over the years. Along with a group of other "Friendly Freedomlanders," as they call themselves, he helped spearhead an initiative that resulted in the placement of a commemorative plaque near where the park's entrance once stood in the Baychester section of The Bronx.

Mike also has been a huge help to me in promoting my books over the years. I'm happy to report that he's currently working on his own book dealing exclusively with Freedomland.

An American in Disneyland Paris came about thanks to my ability to take notes no matter where I am. My wife and Janet and I joined our friends Gail and Julian Robinson on the trip of a lifetime in September of 2015, seven months after I had retired from the newspaper business. We visited Paris, France, Disneyland Paris and then sailed on the Disney Magic for its trans-Atlantic re-positioning cruise. [As luck would have it, also on that cruise were Deb and Linda!]

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Paris, and the Eiffel Tower, as seen from the Montparnese Tower. [Julian Robinson]

The fact that Julian grew up in England and had visited Paris on many occasions over the years allowed us to see the City of Lights not as first-time tourists, but as seasoned visitors [For example: Our trip to the Montparnese Tower, where we were able to view magnificent Paris from 56 stories above, right before sunset]. We saw things that very few tourists see and, if nothing else, his experienced hand allowed us to navigate the complicated underground rail system quite smoothly.

And when it came to Disneyland Paris, both Gail and Julian were park veterans. During our five-night stay, we got to enjoy things we probably might have overlooked, like Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Walt's, a Club 33-type restaurant on Main Street that's open to the public.

To top off our trip, we flew from Paris to Barcelona, Spain, where we boarded the Disney Magic for an unforgettable 11-night adventure.

Among the highlights: Sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar, where one can see two continents, Africa and Europe, by simply turning your head; a day-long visit to the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira; a number of presentations by several Disney Imagineers, giving incredible insight into what goes on behind the magic; behind-the-scenes tours of the ship, and a glorious finale on Castaway Cay.

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The Portuguese island of Maderia is located off the coast of northwest Africa. [Julian Robinson]

Photos taken by Gail and Julian during the trip enhance the book immeasurably.

Some time in May, another book I had a hand in will be published. It centers around some amazing, real-life adventures experienced by former Walt Disney World boating supervisor Ted Kellogg.

September 12, 2016

Disneyland Park in Paris: A magical destination with a mix of classic attractions and stunning attention to detail

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The entrance to Disneyland Park is located under the beautiful Disneyland Hotel. [Ginny Osborne]

The Main Streets we've come to know and love in Disneyland and Walt Disney World were designed to replicate Walt Disney's hometown in Marceline, Missouri.

When Disney's planners were designing the chief thoroughfare at Disneyland Paris, they could have ditched the traditional Main Street concept and come up with something different ... more European, perhaps, such as a replica of the fabled Champs-Elysees in Paris, the world-renown boulevard lined with cafes, cinemas and shops? [Indeed, there is a connection between the Champs-Elysees and Disney; Walt, in fact, drove along the street on numerous occasions as a member of the Red Cross ambulance corps right after World War I.]

But in the end, the planners stuck with a tried and true formula. "It was always America," said former Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, who was instrumental in the design of Disneyland Paris. "There was a lot of thought about what era of America would be interesting ... there was a lot of support for moving it forward to the age of jazz, motion pictures and motorized vehicles like a Chicago in the 1920s, but ultimately, we dropped it back" to Main Street, circa 1900, around the time Walt was born.

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Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Park appears to be sitting on a precipice, making it seem as if it's taller than it really is. [Ginny Osborne]

Disneyland Park [or Parc Disneyland, as it's known in France], opened in 1992 and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. It is a truly magical destination and very much in keeping with the design philosophies of the Magic Kingdoms that came before it. But it also is a unique and well-thought-out park with a nice mix of classic attractions from Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The attention to detail throughout the park, particularly on Main Street and in Fantasyland, is breathtaking.

You enter Disneyland Park by walking under the beautiful Disneyland Hotel, which is awash in elegant Victorian architecture, and is very much reminiscent of the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World.

The idea of a hotel at the Main Gate was a bold and unprecedented move, to be sure. "That was clearly an outgrowth of noticing how much effort was spent in the sense of arrival at a lot of the classic destinations throughout Europe," Baxter said. To get to the park's entrance, you walk down several steps and past water features and stunning floral displays. Along the way, there are bricks embedded in the ground with people's names etched on them, a nod to the Walk Around the World concept at WDW.

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A "paddy wagon" carrying willing guests rides along Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland Park. [Ginny Osborne]

Once through the turnstiles, you walk into a courtyard, then under the Disneyland Railroad's Main Street station and out into the expansive Town Square. Much like Disneyland and WDW, there's a City Hall to the left and a variety of boarding areas set aside for Main Street vehicles. As you enter town square, you can't help notice the glittering castle off in the distance.

Prominently displayed in the center of Town Square is a gazebo. Walt Disney very much wanted a gazebo in the heart of Town Square in Disneyland and, in fact, one was placed there in the weeks prior to the park's opening in 1955. But it was moved at the last minute when Walt felt it blocked views of both the castle and the train station. There are no such impediments in DLP, so a gazebo fits in nicely.

From Town Square, guests have a choice: They can walk right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A., as the song goes, or they can select one of two indoor arcades located behind the Main Street shops. The arcades [actually, classically designed covered walkways] are elaborately themed. To the left, is the Liberty Arcade, which pays homage to the Statue of Liberty, France's gift to the United States, while to the right is the Discovery Arcade, which celebrates historic inventions and innovations. Guests can access Frontierland from the Liberty Arcade, while the Discovery Arcades leads guests into Discoveryland, Disneyland Park's version of Tomorrowland. You also can enter all of the Main Street shops from the arcades.

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A table setting in the elegant Walt's Restaurant, which is open to the public and is located on Main Street U.S.A. [Gail Robinson]

Those who choose to walk up Main Street are greeted by storefronts that are similar in style and design to America's two Disney theme parks. There are even souvenir shops honoring Walt's mother [Flora's] and his wife [Lilly's]. About halfway up the street is Walt's, an upscale restaurant that is reminiscent of the legendary Club 33 in Disneyland.

Main Street leads you to the Central Plaza, the park's hub, and to the forecourt area of the imposing Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant ... or Sleeping Beauty Castle. Until Shanghai Disneyland opened earlier this year, Disneyland Park's castle was perhaps the most unique among the Disney theme parks.

To begin with, the castle appears to be set on a precipice and gives the illusion of being much larger than it actually is ["It's bigger than Disneyland's, but smaller than Walt Disney World's," is how Baxter explains it]. It's quite an impressive structure, with pink siding and blue rooftops on its turrets. It's also trimmed in gold.

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La Taniere du Dragon is an impressive Audio-Animatronics figure located in the bowels of Sleeping Beauty Castle. [Julian Robinson]

And then there's the dragon, a massive Audio-Animatronics figure located in the basement of the structure, "delivering on the dream of dragons living in the bowels of these castles." according to Baxter. La Taniere du Dragon is a must-see walk-through attraction. Make sure to stick around to see his massive head and tail move around.

Should you decide to explore the castle even further, there's a staircase that leads you up to the Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant, where you get a close-up view of the castle's stained glass windows and rich tapestries ... as well as a stunning view back down Main Street U.S.A. toward the train station.

The area surrounding the castle is quite large, giving Disneyland Park more than enough room to stage character-themed productions and parades.

The remainder of the park consists of four themed lands, most of which include familiar, though uniquely different, Disney park attractions.

Adventureland

The smallest land in Disneyland Park contains two E-ticket attractions [Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril] and several walk-through adventures geared to younger visitors.

Pirates' Beach and Adventure Isle are attractions where the kids can let loose, exploring secret coves, pirate hangouts and take part in pirate-themed adventures on a pirates' galleon or near the imposing Skull Rock. Le Passage Enchante d'Aladdin features elaborately detailed miniature scenes that depict the story of Aladdin, while the La Cabane des Robinson allows guests to explore the marooned Swiss family's famous tree-top abode.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a thrilling coaster attraction that takes guests over, under, around and through the ruins of an archaeological dig site. There's no shortage of stone idols along the route, and at one point, your ride vehicle spins around a 360-degree loop. Quite a unique adventure.

Pirates of the Caribbean sticks pretty much to the script of the classic Disneyland and WDW attractions, although there are many one-of-a-kind touches that make it a standout on its own. The beginning of the journey takes guests past the Blue Lagoon Restaurant, then into a world populated by scurvy pirates and elaborate Caribbean-themed tableaus. And, yes, the ransacked town will go up in flames.

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Phantom Manor, Disneyland Park's version of The Haunted Mansion, is appropriately dilapidated. [Disneyland Paris]

Frontierland

The fact that Phantom Manor, Disneyland Park's version of The Haunted Mansion, was placed in Frontierland might seem a bit perplexing ... that is, until you actually hop aboard a Doom Buggy and experience it first-hand: The last few minutes of the ride are straight out of the Wild West, with a number of six-gun toting spirits populating a series of Western scenes, including a run-down saloon and a dusty graveyard.

The exterior of Phantom Manor, which overlooks the Rivers of the Far West, is a richly detailed recreation of a Victorian mansion, although close inspection reveals it seems to have fallen into disrepair. You walk up a series of stairs [all the while surrounded by overgrown, seemingly unkempt foliage] and onto a wooden porch before you enter the manor itself.

After experiencing the classic stretching room [this one features portraits of a mysterious young woman], you walk into a room laden with portraits that seem to follow your every move. From here, you enter the boarding area, which is more like a large parlor room [and one that's spacious and well-lighted at that] before setting off in search of the mansion's mysterious bride and a variety of other happy haunts.

After the ride ends and you step out of your Doom Buggy, you exit [appropriately enough] through Boot Hill.

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Most of the track used for the Big Thunder Mountain attraction in Disneyland Park runs on an island in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West. [Ginny Osborne]

Big Thunder Mountain, arguably the best attraction in Disneyland Park, is located in Frontierland. Those guests who've ridden the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of Big Thunder will be downright thrilled by this decidedly upgraded coaster.

When Disneyland Park was in the design phase, a Tom Sawyer Island was in the plans. But when the designers realized that Europeans didn't have much affection for the works of Mark Twain, they switched gears and incorporated the island and made it an integral part of Big Thunder Mountain layout.

The boarding area is similar to the American Big Thunders, but something is very different as your runaway train pulls out of the station: Instead of going up, you hurtle downward ... into a pitch black cavern. What's happening is you're going under the Rivers of the Far West and out onto the would-be Tom Sawyer Island, where most of the ride track is located.

After spinning around and hurtling up and down, the train goes back under the river bed and careens toward the station. According to Baxter, the train is traveling "at a speed that's the fastest we've ever done on any of our roller coaster rides and it's pitch black."

Other Frontierland attractions include the Rustler Roundup Shootin' Gallery, Pocahontas Indian Village, the Chaparrel Theater and the Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing. [To savvy WDW fans, Thunder Mesa is a recognizable name: It was a planned Western-themed attraction that would have occupied the areas that now house both Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain.]

There's even a Golden Horseshoe-type venue, known as The Lucky Nugget Saloon, which offers burgers, soft drinks and entertainment ... albeit a guy playing cowboy tunes on a piano.

Fantasyland

This themed land is packed with many familiar attractions, many geared to families, including it's a small world, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, Les Voyages de Pinocchio, Le Carrousel de Lancelot, Peter Pan's Flight and Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains [Snow White's Scary Adventures]. The latter attraction is very similar to the now-shuttered Snow White ride in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

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Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains, or Snow White's Scary Adventures, is reminiscent of a similar attraction now closed in Walt Disney World. [Julian Robinson]

There's also an attraction in Fantasyland that is sure to drive guests bonkers. It's known as Alice's Curious Labyrinth and it's described as "Wonderland's wonderful hedge maze." If you're in the mood to get extremely frustrated, this is the attraction for you.

The Casey Jr. le Petit Train du Cirque is a decided upgrade over its Disneyland counterpart. The most notable difference is the train glides along on a coaster-type tubular track, which allows it to go a bit faster and take turns at a higher rate of speed.

Much like Disneyland, a quaint boat ride [Le Pays des Contes de Fees] through miniature scenes from classic Disney films winds its way around and under the Casey Jr. track layout.

Discoveryland

Disneyland Park's version of Tomorrowland also has a mix of classic Disney park attractions, all with a unique Disneyland Paris flare.

Orbitron, for instance, is similar in concept to WDW's Star Jets, although the Parisian version is based on Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of the solar system. And Les Mysteries du Nautilus is an elaborately-themed walk-through allowing you to explore Captain Nemo's fabled submarine from a different perspective.

Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and Autopia are faithful recreations of the originals; Star Tours, though, is currently closed and is being updated to the more inclusive Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.

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Space Mountain: Mission 2 in Discoveryland has a very distinct look, with a Columbiad cannon serving as the launch area. [Disneyland Paris]

The most visible attraction in Discoveryland is Space Mountain: Mission 2, in part, because the building itself is so imposing, but also because the launch area of the coaster is located outside the multi-hued venue.

Space Mountain: Mission 2 is based on Jules Verne's book From the Earth to the Moon, which featured the Columbiad cannon as the launch mechanism. Guests board the vehicle and are propelled up and into the mountain through the cannon, where they speed beyond the moon and into the edge of the universe.

Oh, one other thing: Space Mountain: Mission 2 is similar to Rock 'n' Roller Coaster in that there are a number of loops and inversions to heighten the overall experience.

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An aerial view of Disneyland Park. [Disneyland Paris]


Outtakes

The Disneyland Railroad is a great way to get an overview of the park. The interior of the Main Street station is quite detailed and beautiful. The train stops at three other locations in the park: Fantasyland, Frontierland and Discoveryland.

Food options are plentiful in Disneyland Park. The choices in the quick service restaurants are extensive, although Americans may find things get lost a little in translation. At Au Chalet de la Marionette in Fantasyland, for instance, the hot dog on the menu is actually a giant sausage, the chicken is broiled and burgers are served on bagels. And coffee in Europe doesn't come close to what Americans are used to ... it's thick and really strong.

Unlike Club 33 at Disneyland, which is for members only, Walt's is open to the public, but requires a reservation. The entrance and stairway up to the restaurant is lined with Walt Disney memorabilia and photos.

Parades, character meet-and-greets and stage shows are featured during various times of the day at Disneyland Park. The afternoon parade is quite enjoyable, as is the stunning Disney Dreams nighttime fireworks show. Check the program guide for times and locations.

Although a no-smoking policy has been introduced and designated smoking areas are sprinkled throughout the park, many Disneyland Park guests simply ignore it.

The Thunder Mesa Riverboat landing is an homage to the scuttled Thunder Mesa project in WDW, which was the brainchild of Disney Legend Marc Davis. Two riverboats, the Mark Twain and the Molly Brown, ply the waters of the Rivers of the Far West, which encircles the Big Thunder Mountain island and gives guests a great, close-up view of the attraction.

September 5, 2016

Walt Disney Studios: It's Hollywood Studios, with several wonderful exceptions

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Guests aboard their "ratmobile" take off for an exciting trip into the world of Ratatouille on Remy's Totally Zany Adventure. [Disneyland Paris]


As you walk through the entrance of the Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris, there's a feeling of deja vu ... you know, it seems as if you've been here before.

The Walt Disney Studios, which opened in 2002, makes no secret of the fact that it takes much of its inspiration from Hollywood Studios in Florida.

First, you pass under an arch and walk into the Front Lot, a formidable courtyard with palm trees and a water fountain, where the Earffel Tower looms large to the left.

Then you walk into the massive Studio 1, where, at first blush, it appears as if you've just stepped in to a carbon copy of Hollywood Studios' entrance area at Walt Disney World ... with one big difference.

In Paris, Studio 1 has a roof.

Walt Disney Studios' massive "opening scene" is actually a pleasant indoor arcade, with many familiar-looking store fronts: There's a red-and-white service station called Sunset Gasoline [similar to Oscar's Super Service in Florida] and shops with names like The Gossip Column, Hollywood & Vine Five and Dime, Shutter Bugs and Schwab's. Like the shops along the main thoroughfares in every Disney theme park, the names on the storefronts belie their true nature: They are either quick service restaurants or souvenir shops.

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The Earffel Tower greets guests as they enter The Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris. [Disneyland Paris]

When you exit Studio 1 and into the park proper, you can't miss the welcoming Partners statue, with Walt Disney waving his right hand and his buddy Mickey Mouse at his side. Similar Partners statues grace the Hub areas in the Magic Kingdoms at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

From here, the Walt Disney Studios fan out into three other themed lands: Production Courtyard, Backlot and Toon Studio.

Although Walt Disney Studios is much smaller than Disneyland Park, which is a short five-minute walk away, there is a diverse and interesting collection of attractions – some familiar to Disney regulars, others unique to the park – that make it a worthwhile destination.

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Hollywood Boulevard in The Walt Disney Studios. [Disneyland Paris]

Production Courtyard

The Production Courtyard is located just past the Partners statue and features "the wonders of cinema and television." Straight ahead is Hollywood Boulevard, a much more condensed version of Florida's street. There are a variety of Los Angeles-themed building facades and palm trees that will have you California dreamin' ... but looming behind one of those facades is the imposing figure of The Hollywood Tower Hotel, home to the iconic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.

If you can get past the fact that "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling introduces "tonight's episode" in French, you'll see many recognizable props in the entrance foyer, the library and the queue area of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. The ride itself, while enjoyable, isn't as elaborate as its Florida cousin; indeed, there seemed to be fewer random drops in Paris.

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Catastrophe Canyon is one of two live sets featured during the Studio Tram Tour in Disneyland Paris. [Disneyland Paris]

For Hollywood Studios' nostalgia buffs, the Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic is a blast from the past ... literally. The Studio Tram Tour in Paris is similar - if a bit more elaborate - to the now-shuttered Hollywood Studios version. [Indeed, the Tram Tour is one of several attractions still open in Paris that have been closed at Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World.] There are a host of film props and set decors on display and not one, but two live film "sets."

First, there's Catastrophe Canyon, where a gasoline truck ignites, flames shoot skyward and torrents of water come splashing down. A few minutes later, the tram rolls onto the set of a nearly devastated city of London [you'll know it's London because of the double-decker bus parked in the street], where dragons have caused havoc.

Disney Junior Live on Stage! and Stitch Live! give younger guests a chance to experience television and the movies. Disney Junior Live on Stage! stars many of the characters that have made the Disney Channel such a worldwide success, while Stitch Live! is an interactive experience using technology similar to Turtle Talk with Crush, shown at Epcot and on the Disney Cruise Line.

Perhaps the most unique attraction in the Production Courtyard is CineMagique, a clever look into some of cinema's most beloved movies.

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The entrance to CineMagique, a must-see in The Walt Disney Studios. [Disneyland Paris]

After taking a seat in the theater, guests are reminded to turn off their cell phones. As the show begins on the giant screen, there's a rude gentleman off to the side of the stage who is chatting away on his phone [apparently, his luggage was lost at the airport]. When a cast member confronts the man, he gets up and stumbles onto the stage ... and right through the screen and becomes part of the movie.

The rude gentleman, it turns out, is Canadian actor Martin Short, who becomes the unwitting participant in a whirlwind journey through a wide variety of classic movie scenes ... from the silent movie era to Westerns to Mary Poppins to Titanic. It's an extremely fast-paced [there's so much going on, see the show more than once, if you can], funny and imaginative attraction that's pure Disney magique.

Backlot

This themed land is short on attractions [only three], but packed with action, excitement and special effects. Or so it says in the guide map.

Armagedden: Les Effets Speciaux is billed as "an amazing demonstration of the world of special effects" ... but, frankly, it's outdated and not all that exciting. There's a pre-show that's too long and requires you to stand throughout as a cast member shows off his multi-lingual skills. The main show - you're still standing as you take your place inside the space station set of the blockbuster movie - features loud noises as "meteors" rain down on the station. There's some shaking, and a quick burst of flames. Usually, when you see something for the first time, it's thrilling. This just wasn't.

The Moteurs ... Action! Stunt Show Spectacular is another here-in-Paris-but-gone-in-Florida attraction that's sure to please car buffs. The Walt Disney Studios' version is inspired by the Disney/Pixar Cars 2 movie and features lovable Lightning McQueen.

As was in Florida, the show features coordinated stunts, leaps and skids performed by professional drivers at break-neck speed in cars and on motorcycles.

The final attraction in The Backlot is Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, starring Aerosmith. The setting [Tour de Force Records] of the Walt Disney Studios version of the coaster is quite similar to the Florida version. The pre-show and most of the props also are replicated quite nicely. The ride itself, in the recognizable elongated stretch limo, seemed a bit more jarring than the Florida version, but with similar twists, corkscrews, inversions and thumping music along the way.

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The view from the Flying Carpets over Agrabah in Toon Studios. [Julian Robinson]


Toon Studio

Toon Studio is the largest themed area in the Walt Disney Studios and, as such, has the most attractions. It also is home to the best attraction in the entire park.

Most of the attractions in Toon Studio are geared to younger guests. They include Cars Quatre Roues Rallye, Crush's Coaster, Flying Carpets over Agrabah, Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin and RC Racers. In total, it's a nice collection of rides on which parents and children can have fun together, as Walt Disney intended when he first conceived the theme park experience.

There's an Art of Disney Animation attraction, where guests can get a look into how the animation process works.

Animagique is a live show that takes some of the best elements of Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios and Mickey's PhilharMagic at Walt Disney World and combines them into an enjoyable, family friendly production.

Much like Mickey's PhilharMagic, Donald Duck wreaks havoc after disobeying instructions from Mickey Mouse. The setting is a film vault, which allows a host of Disney characters to sing and dance their way through a short history of Disney animation. In the end, all is forgiven and everyone lives happily ever after.

By far the crown jewel of Toon Studios - and, indeed, the Walt Disney Studios - is Ratatouille: L'Adventure Totalement Touquee de Remy or Ratatouille: Remy's Totally Zany Adventure.

The attraction is a richly detailed, cleverly conceived 3-D adventure through scenes from Ratatouille, the 2007 Disney-Pixar movie. The attraction is part of an entire area, opened in 2014, which includes a quaint Parisian-inspired courtyard filled with authentic touches like lampposts and fountains. There's also a restaurant, called Bistrot Chez Remy, as well as a gift shop.

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An elaborate Parisian-themed courtyard greets guests as they walk toward the Ratatouille attraction in The Walt Disney Studios. [Disneyland Paris]

The ride's queue seamlessly transports you into what Beth Clapperton, the attraction's art director, refers to as "Pixar's Paris." Recognizable music from the film serves as a pleasing backdrop. Then, as in the movie itself, Gusteau's sign magically comes to life, setting the stage for a trip into Remy's world.

You board a "rat mobile" and are instantly reduced to the size of a rat for a wild ride along some larger-than-life Parisian rooftops and into Remy's restaurant before you're discovered - and hotly pursued - by the notorious Skinner.

The ride vehicles seat six guests, two rows of three, which means that using the single rider line is a great way to beat the long wait times.

The ride system is referred to as a "trackless dark ride." Similar GPS-guided systems exist in Hong Kong Disneyland [Mystic Manor] and Tokyo Disneyland [Pooh's Hunny Hunt]. Basically, although your rat mobile seems to be traveling without rhyme or reason, it is actually moving smoothly through a series of scenes projected onto screens. On those screens, you appear to be moving into the restaurant's kitchen, under tables and into storage areas.

The ride itself, while seemingly frenetic, is actually smooth and not jarring at all, making it a perfect attraction for guests of all ages. Unlike the similar ride systems previously mentioned, Ratatouille's vehicles tilt and vibrate to replicate the movement of actual rats.

Throughout the attraction, the characters speak in both English and French, but in truth, nothing is lost in translation thanks to Pixar's stunning visual effects.

The adventure begins as your rat mobile spins away from the boarding area, following Gusteau's ghostly figure along a rooftop toward the restaurant where Remy will prepare a meal for us. As we enter the first of several projection domes, Remy paces above a glass rooftop window, trying to decide what culinary delight to prepare.

Just as Remy makes up his mind to serve the classic French dish ratatouille, the rooftop window opens and we tumble into the kitchen, where many of Remy's fellow rats are busily preparing meals for the restaurant's clientele.

From your rat's-eye view, we travel from one sequence to the next before the movie's antagonist, Skinner, sees us and a hot pursuit begins. At one point, the rat mobile goes under the oven, where "flames" come perilously close and heat can be felt.

Chaos is the name of the game during the final sequences before we arrive, safe and sound, for dinner with some of Remy's closest rat pals.

Outtakes

FastPass, Disney's innovative system created to cut down on attraction queues, isn't used as extensively in The Walt Disney Studios as in the two American theme parks. Only the real "E ticket"-type attractions have FastPass in the Studios.

Food options are limited throughout the park, with the new Bistrot Chez Remy being perhaps the most upscale. There's also a large fast food cafeteria inside Studio 1 with ample seating.

Next time: Parc Disneyland ... aka Disneyland Park

August 22, 2016

Disney Village in Disneyland Paris offers guests a rootin', tootin' good time

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The Disney Village in Disneyland Paris is a scaled down, but no less enjoyable entertainment venue based on similar shopping districts in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. [Disneyland Paris]

Europeans, in general, and the French, in particular, seem obsessed with America's rootin', tootin' cowboy past.

There are signs of America's Wild West days sprinkled throughout Disneyland Paris ... Big Thunder Mountain is set in a western town in the United States during the late 1800s; the closing scenes in Phantom Manor [DLP's version of the Haunted Mansion] offer some rather ghostly characters, including six-gun touting skeletons ... while the essence of a traditional Western dance hall is still embodied in The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland.

And then there's Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, perhaps the centerpiece of the Disney Village shopping and entertainment district in Disneyland Paris.

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The entrance to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Cowboy Mickey points the way as he hangs from the side of the building, upper left. [Julian Robinson]

Located between The World of Disney retail store and Annette's Diner, the venue that houses the Wild West Show's arena is deceptively large. As you might expect, the entrance is themed to appear as if you're walking into an 1880s saloon, with plenty of wood accents. It's surprising how quickly you get over the smell of live animals just a few minutes after you enter.

About 15 minutes prior to entering the arena, there's a lively pre-show featuring cowboy-themed songs and a chaps-clad Goofy.

The main show space is shaped like a hockey arena, with one big difference: There's dirt instead of ice. You are seated on a wooden bench with a long table bolted in front of you.

Europeans' fascination with America's Wild West culture can be traced back to the 1880s, when fabled American cowboy and showman William [Buffalo Bill] Cody took his traveling Western-themed show [known as Buffalo Bill's Wild West] to Europe and toured extensively for several years.

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Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale ride out onto centerstage during a segment of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. [Julian Robinson]

In May of 1889, Buffalo Bill's Wild West played at the Exposition Universelle in Paris [the big news of the day was the opening of the Eiffel Tower] and later that year, they performed in Rome, where the Wild West troupe was received by Pope Leo XIII. Buffalo Bill was reportedly disappointed when he couldn't perform for the pope in the run-down Colosseum. The 1889 tour also visited Spain and Germany and obviously left a deep and lasting impression on countless Europeans.

The present-day reincarnation of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which lasts 90 minutes, features trick riding, roping, target shooting, stunts, rodeo games, horses, bison and cattle, as well as appearances by Little Annie Oakley, plenty of cowboys and Native Americans, Buffalo Bill himself and, of course, Mickey, Minnie and friends.

During the show, you're served a family-style Tex-Mex meal – cornbread, chili, roasted chicken, ribs, sausage, potato wedges, beer, wine, soda and desert.

The show is unique to a Disney resort and definitely worth checking out during a visit to Disneyland Paris. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show is held Fridays through Tuesdays at 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost 76.90 euros adults, 61.90 euros children for 1st Category Seating, while 2nd Category seating costs 61.90 euros adults and 46.90 euros children.

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Mickey and Minnie join Buffalo Bill and Little Annie Oakley during the show. [Julian Robinson]

If the Wild West isn't your thing, there are plenty of familiar venues and attractions located in the Disney Village that should pique your interest. For one, there's the colorful PanorMagique [known as Characters in Flight in Florida] balloon ride. For another, there's an Earl of Sandwich location [unlike its Disney Springs counterpart, there's seating available on a second floor], with a menu that's similar to the Earl of Sandwich locations on other Disney properties.

Curiously, there is a Disney Store AND a World of Disney located in Disneyland Paris' Disney Village. It would seem that competition between its two biggest retail franchises doesn't bother the folks at Disney.

The Disney Store is unlike anything you've ever seen in the United States. Hanging from the ceiling are a variety of flying craft - a model of Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane, as well as a flying saucer with Mickey serving as a space age pilot.

Both the Disney Store and the World of Disney offer a wide variety of Disney merchandise, most with a decidedly Parisian flare.

Much like Disney Springs and the Downtown Disney District in Disneyland, there are a number of Streetmosphere performers entertaining guests as they stroll through the complex.

And, in keeping with Disneyland Paris' Western fetish, there's Billy Bob's Country Western Saloon in the Disney Village. Billy Bob's features a dance floor, a wide range of music [including live performances] and a Tex-Mex snack menu with nachos, ribs, chili and chicken wings.

Also included in the Disney Village lineup is a LEGO Store, Starbucks, Planet Hollywood, a steakhouse [appropriately named the Silver Spur], a New York-style sandwich shop and Rainforest Cafe. In addition, there's a 15-screen cinema featuring an IMAX theater, located next door to Buffalo Bill entrance.

Although The Disney Village is smaller than similar venues in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, it's a great place to relax, walk around, grab a bite to eat or be entertained ... all with a rootin', tootin' flare.

Next: The Walt Disney Studios

August 8, 2016

Upcoming series will take readers to Disneyland Paris

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The entrance to the Marne-la-Vallee/Chessy train station outside of Disneyland Paris.

It seems everywhere you turn, there's Paris.

Watch just about any television channel and inevitably, there will be a commercial -- be it for a high-end automobile, an expensive fragrance or a popular travel website -- with The City of Lights serving as a beautiful, beckoning backdrop.

Walk through many retail stores and you'll see the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysee prominently displayed on photos, T-shirts or knickknacks. And how many movies have been set in Paris over the years? Answer: Too many to count.

Paris, perhaps more than any other city in the world, is THE place where people aspire to visit. It's no wonder that, in the late 1980s, when the Walt Disney Company was exploring sites to place a European theme park, Paris was high on the list.

Disneyland Paris [then known as Euro Disneyland] opened on April 12, 1992. The resort, which now includes two theme parks, a variety of themed hotels and The Disney Village shopping district, is located about 20 miles east of the heart of Paris, in the quaint village of Marne-la-Vallee.

After a shaky first few years, Disneyland Paris hit its stride in the late 1990s and has been Europe's No. 1 travel destination since. The resort welcomed 14.8 million guests in 2015.

Jay Rasulo, the Disney's former CFO and Parks & Resorts Chairman, was a key figure in reversing the resort's flagging fortunes when he was named executive vice president of Euro Disney S.C.A. in 1998. When Jay arrived, he and his team quickly surmised that Disneyland Paris was just too American for European tastes.

"There was never anything wrong with the product that we opened in Paris," he told me several years ago. "It's an absolutely beautiful park, one of the most beautiful in the world. But what we probably didn't understand very well was that ... Disneyland Paris is an incredibly diverse environment and very different from the American environment.

"I was really determined to reverse that and to really embrace that," Jay added. "Instead of fighting it and trying to fit the American model, it was really about embracing the European model."

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Disneyland Paris [then known as Euro Disneyland] under construction in 1991. [Associated Press photo]

Jay and his team came to the realization that European guests devoted more time to meals, wanted wine with those meals, enjoyed more outdoor seating options and had different preferences when it came to hotels. When a second park, The Walt Disney Studios, was added to the resort in 2002, "we tried to evolve the product as we went along," Jay added. "It was really an effort to make visitors of Disneyland Paris feel like this was made for them, not made for an American audience."

The entire Disneyland Paris complex was designed in such a way as to make it convenient for guests to arrive, enjoy the resort, then depart. There is a transportation hub near the entrance of the resort where buses, taxis and trains all converge, and from that entrance, it's a short walk to the Disney Village, the Walt Disney Studios and Disneyland Park.

Disney buses, known as the Magical Shuttle, take guests to and from the seven on-property resorts [Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Hotel New York, Disney's Newport Bay Club, Disney's Sequoia Lodge, Disney's Hotel Cheyenne, Disney's Hotel Santa Fe and Disney's Davy Crockett Ranch] to the transit hub. In addition, there is public bus service, as well as bus transportation provided by nearby hotels that have partnered with Disneyland Paris.

The train station, known as Marne-la-Vallee/Chessy, is a clean, modern building serving a number of popular lines, including the RER [a local service which most folks utilize to travel into the heart of Paris], the TGV trains [a high-speed train which links Charles deGaulle and Marne-la-Vallee/Chessy in less than 15 minutes, as well as the Eurostar, which enables guests from England to travel through the Channel Tunnel to Disneyland Paris in just a few hours.

All arriving guests are funneled toward a centrally located checkpoint before entering either park or the Disney Village. Here, guests' bags are processed as if you were going through airport security, with agents employing an X-ray machine before going through your bags visually. [Indeed, security throughout the resort has been ramped up even further after the attacks in Paris last November and the attack in Nice in July].

Once through security, guests can fan out in three directions: To the right, is the Disney Village, similar in theme [though much smaller] to Disney Springs in Walt Disney World or the Downtown Disney District in Disneyland. The Disney Village features Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which is an extremely popular dinner/live entertainment experience; a cinema complex; restaurants; shops, bars and cafes.

In the left of the Disneyland Paris entrance complex is the Walt Disney Studios, which is home to some unique attractions and some Disney park staples. Although the park has seen a number of additions in recent years and is quite enjoyable, you'll be hard-pressed to spend an entire day in the Studios.

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Lush gardens and topiaries greet guests as they walk toward the entrance of Disneyland Paris. That's the Disneyland Hotel, which also serves as the park's entrance, in the distance. [Lenny Myrhol]

Finally, there is Disneyland Park, where guests are greeted by the stunning gardens, topiaries and the Disneyland Hotel at the entrance. In fact, guests walk under the hotel to reach the turnstiles at the main entry point. Once through the turnstiles, there's a small courtyard leading guests to the Disneyland Paris train station. Once you walk under the elevated station, you enter Town Square, with the stunning pink-hued Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant [Sleeping Beauty Castle] at the far end of Main Street U.S.A.

My wife Janet and I visited Disneyland Paris last September with our friends Gail and Julian Robinson. During the coming weeks, we'll go into detail on our visit, sharing our thoughts and impressions on the Disney Village, the Walt Disney Studios and Disneyland Park.

For AllEars.Net readers who will be taking part in the inaugural Disneyland Paris Half Marathon in late September, be advised that the roadways surrounding Disneyland Paris are pancake flat. The daytime high temperatures in late September are generally in the 60s. One caveat, though: It rained quite frequently during our visit last year.

One other note: For whatever reason, cast members at Disneyland Paris have gotten a bad rap over the years for being grumpy and aloof. Don't believe it. Every cast member we interacted with was friendly, courteous and extremely helpful. And all of them speak English.

August 1, 2011

What’s New (and Different!) at Disneyland Paris

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My family and I had an opportunity recently to visit the Disneyland Paris Resort for a day on a day trip from Paris. We planned to spend the whole day visiting both parks -- Disneyland Park and the Walt Disney Studios. Our last visit to Disneyland Paris was in the spring of 2008, so I thought it would be fun to focus our short visit on new attractions, and attractions that are unique to Disneyland Paris.

We took the RER A from Central Paris using multi-day Paris Visite passes. The passes that we purchased (more information can be found at www.ratp.fr/en/ratp/c_21894/paris-visite/) included Metro fare within Paris and the RER to both Marne la Vallee (the stop for Disneyland Paris) and to Versailles on another day. The Paris Visite passes also got us a 20% discount on 1 day, 2 park tickets at Disneyland.

We started our day at the Walt Disney Studios.

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The park's newest attractions are located in the Toon Studio section of the park, in an area called "Toy Story Playland."

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The whole area is themed around toys from the Toy Story movies, and includes three attractions: the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop

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The Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin

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RC (as in Radio-Controlled) Racer

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The resort was CROWDED (the wait for this ride was actually closer to an hour),


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so this was the only one of these rides that we actually rode. It was a lot of fun, and was similar to those big boats at amusement parks that swing back and forth, and basically make your stomach float up into your throat.

We also rode my absolutely FAVORITE ride at DLP: Crush's Coaster!

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There was a very long wait for this ride, as well. There is no FastPass, so if you want to ride, there is no other choice than to wait. The ride vehicles look like clam shells, and are set up in a similar manner to those for Toy Story Mania at Disney World, with two people on each side, facing away from each other. The coaster is mostly inside a building, as you fly through Australia's Humboldt Current, spinning unexpectedly as well as going up and down as on a traditional coaster. I have never laughed harder in my life as on the first time I rode this ride.

After lunch, we rode the Studio Tram Tour, a very pared-down version of the attraction at Disney World's Hollywood Studios (without the special effects pre-show)

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then headed over to Disneyland Park.


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The resort is having a "Festival of Magic Moments" celebration, which I think includes some new shows and character meet and greet opportunities, but unfortunately we never saw anything related to this.

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At Disneyland Park, we passed Sleeping Beauty Castle (one of the prettiest of all of the parks, in my opinion)

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then headed straight for Discoveryland, which is Disneyland Paris' version of Tomorrowland. I love the Jules Verne theming!

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We grabbed Fast Passes for Space Mountain: Mission 2, then went over to stand in line for Star Tours. When we were in Disney World last month, we got a chance to ride the new Star Tours, so it was fun to ride the "old" version here, even if most of the dialogue was in French!

Finally, it was back to Space Mountain. I think that the best way to describe this version is that it is a combination of the indoor, dark Space Mountain, with a bit of the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster thrown in.

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We then swung through Fantasyland, riding "it's a small world" (with a unique section devoted to America)

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then heading for Le Pays des Contes de Fees, one of my favorite rides at Disneyland Paris. This ride is similar to the Storybook Land Canal Boats at Disneyland in California, but has a faster-loading ride system, so the lines don't get so long.

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We left Fantasyland and walked over to Adventureland, then Frontierland. By this time the crowds were so large (90 minute wait for Pirates!) that we only rode one more ride, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, which is a roller coaster, not a ride similar to the Indiana Jones and Adventure at Disneyland or Dinosaur at the Animal Kingdom.

I wish we had had time for some of my other favorites at Disneyland Paris

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but jet lag was setting in, and our group was ready to head back to Paris. Another time perhaps . . .


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About Disneyland Paris

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to All Ears® Guest Blog in the Disneyland Paris category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Disney-Pixar's Brave is the previous category.

Disneyland Resort is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.