Disneyland Paris 20th Anniversary: Magic moments and sweet dreams still in plentiful supply
Tom Evans and his daughter take in Disneyland Paris’s 20th Anniversary
DISNEYLAND Paris is turning 20. That makes me feel really, really old. I remember the days when EuroDisney (as it was until 1994) was seen as a failure, a blunt instrument of American cultural imperialism on the outskirts of Europe’s most treasured city and a pale imitation in the long shadow of its cousin in Florida.
Theatre director Ariane Mnouchkine famously called it a ‘cultural Chernobyl’ and the slur stuck. The opening was affected by strikes and its early years dogged by recession.
Then a few things changed. The recession ended – or at least, there was a gap between recessions. Disney dropped the ‘Euro’ and became Disneyland Paris. Big-ticket attractions like Space Mountain and the Tower of Terror started drawing the crowds. And American cultural imperialism... well, we all know how that one ended.
But the biggest change from a British perspective was the opening of Eurostar’s direct service to Disneyland Paris – first from Waterloo, now from St Pancras International. This is important when travelling from the North West as it reduces the transfer from Euston to a short stroll rather than a tricky tube journey with kids and luggage in tow. When combined with Virgin’s high-speed service to London, Mickey Mouse and the gang are about five hours away.
And the trains are convenient, comfortable and reliable. Compared with a journey to Manchester Airport, followed by security, a cramped eight-hour flight to Orlando, more security, then a transfer from the airport... it’s enough to make you love the idea of Paris in the springtime.
Four-year-old Millie and I were staying at Disney’s Hotel New York, which makes a virtue out of a necessity by playing up its all-American theme. Throughout the complex, only the accents and the climate tell you you’re in northern Europe rather than southern USA.
The weather was fine for our weekend but there are plenty of sheltered spots around the parks and the Parisian temperature is much more comfortable than Florida’s oppressive heat.
Stepping out of the hotel, we had just a short, child-friendly walk through Disney Village – a complex of shops, eateries and entertainment venues – to the gates of Disneyland Park and Disney Studios.
Millie, being a four-year-old girl with eyes full of wonder (and a belly full of ice cream), was drawn to Disneyland Park, based on the original Magic Kingdom in Orlando. It features mostly young-child-friendly, character-based rides – and the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle (pink, to promote a feeling of warmth, as opposed to the cooling blue of Florida’s Cinderella Castle).
At first glance, the place seems magical. It’s only when you look more closely that you realise it’s actually much more clever than that. The attention to detail is stunning and the landscaping done with such care that each of the five separate zones of the park has its own unique feel and atmosphere. Nothing has been left to chance – even the queuing areas are atmospheric and thoughtfully designed. Sometimes, you’re almost disappointed to reach the front.
Make your way through the gates and you’re in Main Street USA, with its shops, arcades and stalls selling huge, impractical helium balloons. It’s here the parades set off – including the spectacular new Disney’s Magic On Parade.
Turn left and find Frontierland, built around the terrifyingly fast Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (terrifying for me, that is – Millie loved it). This is one of several rides where our Fast Pass tickets proved invaluable – the difference in queuing time could mean getting everything done in a weekend rather than a week.
Next up is Adventureland, with the brilliant Pirates of the Caribbean. The tale of a bloodthirsty raid on a Spanish fort by Jack Sparrow and co might have been a bit much for some four-year-olds, but Millie lapped it up.
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