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June 6, 2012

Disneyland Paris: Special Events with the Disneyana Fan Club.

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Preamble
Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.

Part of my trip to Disneyland Paris was under the auspices of the Disneyana Fan Club (http://disneyanafanclub.org/home) who put together a multi-day group program, centering around the 20th Anniversary festivities. The last time I traveled with them was for Tokyo Disneyland's 25th Anniversary some years ago, which was also a terrific trip.

The first full day of events took place on April 11, the day before the anniversary. It started off with lunch at Inventions--a fabulous buffet in the Disneyland Hotel.

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After lunch, we convened in the Founder's Club--an executive lounge in the hotel--to see presentations by Tracy Eck, Art Director of Lighting Design for WDI Paris, and Disney Legend Tony Baxter, who served as Executive Producer for the creation of Disneyland Paris.

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Both presentations were wonderful--Eck gave several details about all the work the park had recently undergone to get ready for the celebrations, particularly the large fiberoptic Tinker Bell sign on the train station entrance, the recreation of the previously-eroded pirate ship, and the creation of a few newly themed meet-and-greet locations.

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Baxter spoke of the many trials and tribulations that beset the Imagineers when they were creating the park, and some of the cultural adaptations they made to better suit the park to the surrounding populace. Realizing people residing in France were likely to be all too familiar with the real castles which serve as inspirations for the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom castles, they styled the castle to better reflect that of a fairy tale aesthetic.

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He also recounted some of the hidden in-jokes and homages they put in. He remembered that when the Imagineers were remodeling the Fantasyland in Disneyland Anaheim, the doorway out of Village Haus Restaurant had a beam going down the middle that forced them to place the Exit sign off to the side (which he thought looked terrible.) To try to cover it, he painted an image of Figaro with a rope tied to the sign, trying to pull it to the center. In Paris, the equivalent restaurant, Au Chalet de la Marionnette, had no such problem, so as a nod to the original, Baxter had another Figaro placed giving a thumbs-up to the onlooker, as if to say "we got it right this time!"

He noted that it would be a difficult reference for anyone to get, because you'd have to have seen them at each park. Only I, your strange little Disney friend, have traveled across two continents to bring you this trivia.

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Afterwards, we were surprised with a presentation of all the Disney Parks Ambassadors from around the world, gathered together for the first time in anyone's memory to celebrate the occasion.

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And if that weren't enough, a couple of other guys who happened to be traveling through popped by:

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...Frequent Disney Artists, Kevin Kidney and Jody Daily!

The next day, after the anniversary excitement of the morning, the group arranged lunch for us at the beautiful Walt's, on Main Street.

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The decor inside is magnificent--each room is decorated in the style of one of the separate lands. We happened to eat in Adventureland.

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Joining us for lunch was Chief Operating Officer of Disneyland Paris, Joe Schott, who graciously said he was happy to spend part of such a momentous day with people who had traveled so far to experience it.

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He seemed very invested in finding ways to constantly improve the park experience for his guests and spoke briefly on the difficulties of putting together the various components of the new anniversary attractions in the short ~two years since he had been appointed his position.

For our final special event, on Friday the 13th, no less, they arranged for us to enter the park before opening to have breakfast in front of the Phantom Manor.

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Unfortunately, the weather that day, as most of the other days, was freezing cold, so the decision was made to move it indoors. Fortunately, it was moved into the Lucky Nugget Saloon which proved to be a gorgeous venue on its own.

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The food, alas, was identical to the somewhat limited fare the hotel served for its breakfast buffet each day, but a few familiar faces turned up to enliven the event.

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After a photo in front of the Phantom Manor, that concluded the exclusive part of the trip. There were a number of other meets to watch various parades and shows as a group, but these were the activities they arranged that were special to the club.

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While the Disneyana trips aren't cheap, they do provide some experiences that would be difficult or impossible for you to arrange on your own, and they also offer the chance for people new to travel or the area to enjoy the support system of a group. I have enjoyed both trips I've taken with them, and would encourage anyone interested in their events to check out their webpage.

Next: The Big Day Arrives.

May 13, 2012

Disneyland Paris: Magic on Parade!

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Preamble
Part 1.
Part 2.
Part 3.

So as another component to their 20th anniversary celebration, Disneyland Paris added in a new/updated parade and "Disney's 20th Anniversary Celebration Train."

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This was something I hadn't seen before: The train, containing a number of characters, starts off down Main St. like a traditional parade, circles around the hub, and then stops. At this point, I thought maybe they would all put on a show or something.

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Turns out, not so much. The characters get off the train and then the CMs escort each one straight out into the mob of guests, and at some point in the morass of humanity, just stop...and that's where their meet n'greet takes place. The density of people around them was pretty impressive, and I was constantly surprised at the lack of bloodshed.

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Their new parade however, Disney Magic on Parade! is a little more substantial.

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The floats reminded me a little of the old Parade of Dreams from Disneyland's 50th anniversary, although perhaps a little less elaborate, with fewer moving parts. Magic on Parade apparently is an updated version of the parade they had been running for awhile, with a few additions and new segments.

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Travel Tip #4: Consider a tour.

One of the activities I enjoyed towards the end of my trip was taking one of the guided tours of the park. I'll give a little more detail about it later, but one of the perks of taking it was getting reserved viewing of the parade. Because it was my last day and I had already planned some different activities for the rest of the afternoon (and I had already seen the parade a couple times,) I actually didn't get to take advantage of that, but it's something I would definitely consider doing earlier in my trip next time.

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The music is catchy enough, but I might wish for the song to be a tad longer, as it did seem as though you heard the refrain quite a few times by the end of the parade.

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In any case, it's a perfectly respectable parade without any of the show stops or dance parties that so many of Disney's contemporary parades seem to find essential. I am thumbs up on it.

Next time: Special Events with the Disneyana Fan Club.

May 2, 2012

Disneyland Paris: Disney Dreams

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Preamble
Part 1.
Part 2.

So about a week or two before I arrived there, DLP had premiered its marquee event for the anniversary celebrations, Disney Dreams: A nighttime spectacular that combines fireworks and water projections and castle projections all into one big show. Joe Schott, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of DLP, told us that he had asked Steve Davison, Vice President for Parades and Spectaculars at Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment, to come up with a show they could spotlight for the 20th Anniversary only 13 months earlier--making the accomplishment of wedding all these disparate elements into one show that much more impressive.

Here's a video on the making of Disney Dreams:

The first night I was there, Dreams was shown twice, despite the fact that it was lightly raining.

Travel Tip #3: Pick up your map and show schedule when you first enter the park.

Unlike the US parks, in which you can usually always pick up a map and a show schedule in any store or from any available custodial CM, the only place I ever found them in DLP was at the entrance or in the AP center. I actually asked around for a show schedule once I was in the park, but apparently did a poor job at explaining what I was looking for, as the response was "I don't think we have those."

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The show is done in an interesting hybrid of English and French. As far as I can tell, any character who was obviously French, such as Remy, Lumiere, or Quasimoto, all spoke and sang in French. Main characters who were not French, like Peter Pan, King Louie, and Rapunzel, spoke and sang in English. Captain Hook and Wendy only spoke in French.

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Although it sounds a little confusing, the storyline isn't really so involved that it takes much to follow it--Peter Pan and Wendy are admiring the magical Second Star to the Right, when Peter's shadow takes it into its head to run away. On trying to elude Peter, the shadow inadvertently lets all the magic drain out of the star, causing all manner of Heck to break loose.

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At first, as these stories do tend to go, the musical interludes are happy and inviting for Peter's shadow, using numbers like "Be Our Guest," and "Step in Time," but eventually turn darker as villains such as Dr. Facilier start menacing him/it.

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Eventually Peter swoops in to save the day, and everyone lives Happily Ever After, as you do.

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The first showing was broadcast online, and one of the questions was whether it would look as awesome in person. I am here to tell you that, yes, it does. All the lights and projectors must be the next generation editions, because the visuals are exceptionally clear on the castle. The fireworks are integrated well into the show and really work as accents. Although the water screens on either side of the castle are effective, I actually thought they were the most dispensible part, as a lot of the time I felt like I was trying to look past them to what was happening on the castle.

To see the show, some people like to be further back towards Main Street, so they can get a better view of the water screens, but I actually found I liked it better up close because it was easier to see the projections at the base of the castle. As with World of Color however, the spray from the screens does start pelting the people in front...and when the temperatures were in the thirties and forties, as they were when I was there, that can quickly become a huge drag.

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Some nights the park closed at 9:30pm and they had one show at closing, and some nights the park closed at 11, in which case they had one show around 10 and a second showing at 11. My findings were that, on the days with two shows, absolutely everyone in the park went to the first show, leaving all the other attractions complete walk-ons, and no one went to the second one, making it possible to stand pretty much wherever you wanted to watch it. (Whether this was because everyone had to leave to catch a train back to town or something, I never found out.)

In any case, it is a stunning show, and, I think, the best of Davison's recent productions. He's clearly learned from his experiences with World of Color and Tokyo DisneySeas' Fantasmic! and created a show much more easily viewed from different angles. As good as it looks in the video below, it is easily twice as striking in person, so my advice? Get your passport in order.

Next: Is A Parade In Town?

April 29, 2012

Disneyland Paris: Ticketing and Transportation

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Part 1.

Depending on the hotel you stay at, you have different options for getting to the parks. If you pony up the dough to stay at the Disneyland Hotel, your life is easy, given that the hotel is directly opposite the Main Street Railway Station. Sequoia Lodge, Hotel New York, and Disney's Newport Bay Club are all located within walking distance, around Lake Disney.

Panorama of Lake Disney

Because it was dark, cold, and rainy the first night I went to the park, I took the bus. Although the pickup for the bus is pretty convenient--right in front of the hotel--the drop-off is less so. The buses all drop off along the side of the railway station/garage, with the stop for Sequoia being pretty far back.

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From that point, there is literally nothing within eyeshot of the parks, and if there were any signs indicating which way to go, I didn't see them. After watching me standing around for awhile wondering if I had gotten off at the wrong stop, the bus driver finally broke down and high-beamed me, to give me directions.

There is also, again, absolutely no one around the bus area to answer questions, so you need to get all the information from the bus driver that you want before leaving. Subsequently, I realized I didn't know when the buses stopped running and asked a number of security personnel (the only ones still around after the parks closed,) all of which gave me different times, none of which ended up being correct.

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Here's the map I wish I had had--I ended up taking the bus every day because it was pretty freezing and wet most mornings, and as a result never realized until my last night there, how close the hotel was to the Disney Village. Some nights, after the parks had closed, I actually walked the length of the Village to pick up food (at that point probably less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel,) then walked all the way back out of the Village, down the length of the train station, and waited around for the bus. The More You Know.

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Anyway, assuming you finally meander your way around the train station, you then get to go through the usual security check. In an interesting twist, there are several lines, one of which has an x-ray machine for your bags instead of a person doing a manual check. The line may be shorter for the machine, and it may seem compelling to just be able to throw your bag down without having to open it up and expose all the contents to a stranger, but don't do it--it inevitably takes longer for some reason. The security is also a little more cavalier than at home, as a couple of times I just walked through with my bag uninvestigated, when none of the security guys seemed interested in looking at it.

On passing through security, you then find yourself contemplating the beautiful Disneyland Hotel.

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Tony Baxter later spoke to us about how on creating the park, the Imagineers felt that European towns usually had an inn by the train station, and wanted to emulate that by designing the hotel to be directly abutting the park. At the time, they were beset by a lot of naysayers who said that no one would want to stay there from the noise of the parades or fireworks, etc...and subsequently the design was so successful, it was replicated with the Miracosta at Tokyo DisneySea, and the Grand Californian at California Adventure.

Travel Tip #2: Consider the Annual Pass.

Here are the prices for day tickets to Disneyland Paris:
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...And here are the prices for Annual Passes.
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As you can see, assuming your visit isn't going to coincide with the AP's blackout dates, if you are even going for three days, you're better off with the Fantasy pass (the one I got.) The one under that is worth it if you're even going for more than one day, however that might be limited to purchase by locals. The other advantage to the Fantasy AP is that it gave around a 10% discount at pretty much all the stores and restaurants on property which is less than the 20% that the Dream pass got, but better than a poke in the eye.

Activating the AP can be a bit of a challenge--I entered in the evening of my first day there, and found that the AP center (on the Discoveryland side of the hub,) was already closed. The next day I had to go around to guest services because my AP voucher no longer let me in, since I had already used it for an entry the day before. After a number of phone calls, the CM had to walk over and manually let me in, admonishing me that I had to activate the AP as soon as possible. I went over to the AP center...and of course, it wasn't open yet.

Anyway, you enter by passing under the hotel, at which time you get your first glimpses of the park.

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...and it's gorgeous. I mean it--everything I've said up to this point has probably made it seem like a big ol' hassle to get over here and get in, but at the point where you walk in and see all the detailing and the beautiful castle...it's all worth it.

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Next time: Disney Dreams.

April 26, 2012

Disneyland Paris: It Begins

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I'm back! Did you miss me? Wha...what do you mean, "oh, did you go somewhere?" Oh well...

Disneyland Paris celebrated it's 20th anniversary on April 12, 2012, which seemed like a good enough reason for me to make my inaugural trip out there. As I mentioned in my last blog, Jack Spence has already done a terrific job detailing the resort in his column (http://land.allears.net/blogs/jackspence/disneyland_paris/) I'll stick to relating my personal impressions and recent changes.

I flew over on British Air, connecting through Heathrow, and flew back on Air Tahiti Nui, non-stop. I know I've harped before on the importance of upgrading international flights...and I'm going to continue to do so. For me, being able to show up at a place without feeling like I've just been put through a meat grinder for the last 12 hours is a huge contribution to my travel experience. I would much rather get a cheap hotel room that I'm only going to use for showering and sleeping, and then put the money towards a better seat/bed that I'm going to be strapped into for a day.

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Plus, I got to fly in the same cabin as Ewan McGregor--which I texted to everyone I knew before takeoff. Of course then, during the flight, I got to ponder that if the plane went down, the last words anyone was going to have received from me was "Ewan McGregor." On the upside, I figured if we crashed, anyone who got a seat in his liferaft was golden, because you know that's the only one anyone's going to care about rescuing.

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Arriving at the Charles de Gaulle Airport, I had the difficulty of located the VEA shuttle, for which I had previously bought tickets online (http://www.vea-shuttle.co.uk/). I'm told they typically have obvious signs, however due to construction they appear to no longer be obvious.

Travel Tip #1: Write down and take with you as much information as you can find out in advance. You cannot always be reliant on the kindness of strangers.

If you use the VEA shuttle, the advantage is that it will take you directly to the hotel and you won't have to maneuver your luggage around as much. The disadvantage is that it is slightly more expensive than taking the train, and only leaves from one terminal at CDG. If your flight comes into a different terminal, you need to figure out where to catch a separate bus, which will then take you to the that terminal. Faced with the prospect of waiting outside in the rain to then have to heave all my luggage on and off another bus, I ended up just walking around the airport to the pick-up point. I asked a number of people about the bus, most of which were happy to point you in the general direction of where you had to go, but were non-specific on details, and there were very few official people around to ask in any case. As a general rule, this was a theme I found for the entire trip--the number of people available to ask for directions or information were pretty sparse.

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On arriving at Disney's Sequoia Lodge, one thing immediately noticeable was that there was again no one around the front to direct you...consequently, I had to make a couple of trips trying to check in before finding the correct place to do so. Although there is a baggage desk, it's located in a separate room off to the side of the hotel entrance, so there really aren't people readily available to volunteer to help you with your luggage. If you were expecting a folder-full of information as you usually receive when you check into a WDW hotel, you'd be disappointed on that aspect as well--I received a key card and an envelope with my new AP in it, and that was it. I asked whether they had a map of the resort in case I got a chance to go around and see the other hotels, and the response was "no."

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The rooms were relatively unexceptional. My room was in the main building (an asset, as the ones in the outer lodges could reputedly be a hike to the buses and restaurants,) and part of a block of rooms recently refurbished. Comparable to a moderate (although with prices closer to a low deluxe,) it was clean with reasonable furnishings, however the towels were pretty bad--your gym probably hands out ones about the same quality. If you like face towels, much like in the rest of Europe, you should probably bring your own, as they don't stock them here. There was no liner for the ice bucket which seemed unsanitary until I remembered that, by and large, they don't like terribly cold beverages, which probably means that they only use the bucket for chilling bottles. The room doesn't come with an electric kettle but one is available on request--if you know to ask. There's no folder or anything inside the room to let you know what's at the resort. There is information in the form of an electric menu on the TV, however some of it (hours of operation, etc.) was out of date. You could theoretically have gotten your account information on the TV as well, but mine said it was "unavailable," which was probably just as well, as it also had the wrong name on it.

The best thing by far on the TV was a "Stacy's Top Seven" equivalent--a British girl named Sophie, who would enthusiastically expound on various parts of the resort and then end each item on her list with "SORTED!!"

Next: I finally get over to a park.

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About Disneyland Paris

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Salute to All Things Disney but Mostly Disneyland in the Disneyland Paris category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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