How much time should an 11 year old spend in bars? I’m asking for a friend. Is too much unhealthy? Will it warp her for later? Or will she be so sick of the bar scene by then she’ll skip it all together? I can almost picture her when her friends try to sneak into a club underage when they are teenagers “I’ll skip it guys, it’s not that big a deal”. Should she know how to open and pour wine, order beer and ask for the tab in several languages? Should she enjoy quietly sketching the events of the day or doing math problems while her parents chat away the afternoons and evenings in café after café after café?
Should children be expected to traipse through countless cathedrals, museums, galleries and ancient cities then converse about the wonders they have seen in the aforementioned cafés? Do they need to ‘just try’ the foie gras or the mussels or the rabbit because ‘we’re here and that’s what they do here’? Should she be expected to hold up her end of the conversation with strange adults, try to learn strange languages (Basque anyone?), sleep in strange beds and always be polite, yes even to strangers? Do you think it is a positive formative experience to carry a backpack nearly as big as she is up and down dark winding streets (ok, we do get lost occasionally) and hundreds of stairs in crowded metro stations trying to find our way?
Should she sit in the back seat or train car for hours upon hours reading or listening to podcasts without complaint? Is it acceptable to have Haagen Daaz and potato chips for dinner when that’s all we could find? Ours has, is and does. She misses her friends terribly, her school a little and simply doing what 11 year old girls normally do. She takes it all in stride and actually seems to be enjoying herself. That’s why we decided to surprise her with a trip to Disneyland Paris. After three months of being a total trooper, Lyla deserved some ‘kid time’.
Disneyland Paris, originally Euro Disney Resort, is about 40 mins by train east of Paris in Marne-la-Vallée – Chessy, a new bright and shiny town that sprung up around the resort when it was built in 1992 and is now full of crisp hotels, shops, a huge mall and many restaurants and bars. It seems to be a little bit French with an American slant. Like a dog that’s mostly pure bread except for the ears. I actually saw ‘nachos’ on a menu. So NOT French. Actually, the food is one of the big differences we noticed. There’s not as much of it. Perhaps it was because we visited in November but there just didn’t seem to be food, food, food everywhere as there is in the LA and Florida parks. People don’t walk around with giant jugs of coke, clouds of cotton candy or the turkey legs I love so much. You don’t even smell it in the air. As per the French custom, walking around with food is not common. You sit down to eat and drink. Oh, and the smoking! A little less of that would be nice thanks. It’s everywhere. We are in Paris after all.
There are two parks. Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Disneyland Park is very similar to the the Magic Kingdom with Pirates of the Caribbean (no sign of Johnny Depp), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, The Haunted House and Space Mountain. One of my favourites is still “It’s a Small World”. Somehow it gives me faith that we can work it all out. Way to go Walt! This one has a particularly European and Asian flavour though we were delighted to see the Canadian elves skating around the mountains with a moose. No beaver in sight though. Plus it was decked out for Christmas which I just love. We spun on the teacups and flew through the sky with Peter Pan. The little girl that still lives inside our daughter really enjoys these simple magical attractions but her favourite was Big Thunder Mountain. It’s a total gas and it’s pretty much the same as the one in Anaheim. There is also a cool maze system of caves and caverns attached to Pirates of the Caribbean called “Davey Jones’ Locker” which is fun to scout around in.
The other side, called Walt Disney Studios Park, all about making movies. Here you have the Tower of Terror, a special effects movie set tour similar to Universal Studios where you experience earthquakes and floods, a very cool and fast roxk’n’roll ‘in the dark’ Aerosmith roller coaster, the totally awesome dude Crush’s Coaster where you fly around in the dark (again) on a giant tortoise shell navigating the East Australian Current and the 3D Ratatouille attraction. These last two were our hands down favourites. Crush’s Coaster had just the right mix of thrill and Disney cuteness. We went back three times Dude!
Ratatouille was just fantastic. I think LA might be jealous. Officially opened in July 2014 at a cost of $270 Million US. The ride shrinks you down to the size of Rèmy the mouse chef and zips you through the restaurant in a rat shaped car that uses LPS trackless ride technology to automatically slide across the ground… no tracks! You are a scurrying rodent. It also has a 3D dome segment where you fall through a glass roof into Gusteau’s Restaurant. Woah, heart stopper.
We were swept up by brooms, chilled in the fridge, smelled the soup boiling on the stove and were splashed with champagne. It’s interesting the way the Disney imagineers have combined english and french on this and other atractions. Both are spoken but they are blended in such a seamless way that if you only speak one or the other the story flows and the narration still makes sense. It was quite ingenious.
We had lunch in the theme restaurant Bistrot Chez Rèmy, which was expensive but one of those ‘we just had to’ moments. I mean, men who doesn’t want to be inside a movie? The decor is simply adorable with huge cutlery, champagne cork chairs and christmas light chandeliers that all perpetuate the illusion that we are as small as mice. Of course the ratatouille was delicious.
Though it was quite chilly (about 4 C) and most visitors were bundles in heavy winter jackets and toques (we wore every shirt we had in our backpacks) we felt charmed and warmed by the Christmas spirit. Nobody decorates like Disney. The lights, the snow, the music? All perfect and made us feel a little nostalgic for home. On the downside some lines were much longer than we expected. We felt they could have used the Fast Pass system more effectively. Perhaps that’s a summer thing? It was low season so we were under the impression we wouldn’t have to wait long but they closed the Fast Pass tickets for a few of the big rides and made us wait anyway. Perhaps anticipation increases your enjoyment? We like each other’s company so hanging out together is a fine way to spend some time. The other difference we noticed from the North American experience was the staff. It seems that though they have graduated from the Disney school of hospitality and are therefore warm and welcoming, they are still French after all and therefore still just a little aloof. I like it that way, no fake smiles or manufactured affection.
Of course what would a visit to any Disney Resort be without music and live performances? We bumped right into the Christmas Parade and danced and sang along with Mickey and Minnie in their holiday finery. Some french, some english, completely cute and so much fun! We all agreed that the highlight of our visit was the big Disney Dreams show at closing time. Anna, Elsa and Olaf are projected onto Sleeping Beauty’s castle to tell the Frozen story. Even the little french kids packed along Main Street USA were all singing ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” A hit is a hit in any language. Dancing water, dazzling lights and of course sparkling fireworks fill the deep blue sky. It’s magic like only Disney can create.
It was a lovely few days to take a break from historically cultural travelling, to be kids and have some fun together. Lyla loved it, which was the main thing. Then we hopped the train and headed back to Paris to sit in a cafe with a glass of wine and take a walk along the Seine.