Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Disneyland Paris


IN LATE October last year, four of us – two adults and two children – visited Disneyland Paris. A ninety-minute flight took us from Aldergrove to Charles de Gaulle airport on the North East outskirts of Paris. A further 45-minute coach journey took us from the airport to our final destination – the three star My Travel’s Explorers Hotel. It’s just one of around a dozen different hotels that form part of the massive Disneyland Resort Paris complex. We arrived at the hotel in the early evening, so we spent most of our time relaxing with a meal and some drinks in the restaurant/bar area. A further hour was spent exploring our hotel and its grounds. It was then back to our room for a well-deserved first nights sleep.

The Explorers is a very family-orientated hotel and is just perfect for children. Indeed, on our first morning, excited children charging down the corridor woke us up just before 8 am. They were all heading towards the swimming pool! (It’s open from 8am – 9pm every day and is well worth a visit). Despite this, we lay on in our very comfortable beds and ambled down to breakfast around 9am. This seemed to be the most popular time for breakfast as the place was absolutely packed.

A self-service system was in operation. It seemed very chaotic to those of us used to patiently queuing, but we soon got used to this idea. Continental breakfast was included in our holiday package, but for a few Euros more a full English breakfast was available. However, we decided to stick with the Continental breakfast. Here you can lift as much food as you like – look out for the rolls, croissants, pain de chocolate and fruit salad. All were absolutely beautiful. There were also yoghurts, pureed fruit, cereals, tea, coffee and fruit juice available.

On the first full day of our holiday we decided to visit the main Disneyland Park. Getting from the Explorers Hotel to the Park couldn’t be easier as a free shuttle bus took us from our hotel direct. The bus served a couple of hotels but on average the journey was around ten minutes. The bus itself was a massive and reasonably comfortable ‘bendy bus’ – something similar to the City Express that runs between Newtownabbey and Belfast. As well as having a large number and destination information visible, the buses seemed to be colour-coded as to what hotels they served (ours was a yellow No. 54 bus). With the pick up/drop off areas being the same one couldn’t go wrong. On top of this, each bus supplied information via leaflets and TV.

Everything was translated into English, so there’s no problem in understanding announcements or instructions.

When we arrived at Disneyland Park we went through a brief security check and were then met by large queues. There seemed to be thousands of people waiting to get in but at least the queues were moving. We’d pre-booked our tickets for both the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. This proved to be very fortunate as we were able to join a special pre-booked queue, which only took between five – ten minutes to get in. (We’d pre-booked our passes at the Explorers Hotel – something we’d highly recommend doing).

One of our group was also disabled. Therefore, we were very happy to see that at each entrance a special entry system for wheelchair users and other disabled people had been put in operation.
Disneyland Park itself is divided into various different zones. Main Street USA is “a charming recreation of small-town America at the turn of the last century” and Fantasyland, which “is packed full of attractions based on classic fairytales, such as Peter Pan’s Flight and Pinocchio’s Fantastic Journey”. There’s also Discoveryland – “a world of tomorrow, as imagined by the likes of da Vinci and Jules Verne” and Adventureland “where you’ll experience the Caribbean, Africa and the jungles of Asia in one afternoon”.

We knew that there were special disability passes available and the staff at the entrance told us to obtain them from the ‘City Hall’ which is just inside the main entrance. (The ‘City Hall’ is also the main information centre for the Disneyland Park. All the staff spoke English and all maps and leaflets were translated into English). The ‘City Hall’ staff were very helpful and nothing was too much trouble for them. We had to provide our Blue European Disability card and in turn they provided us with our Disneyland Park disability pass. This pass enabled us to get on the various rides and attractions without having to join the main queue.

They explained that you had to take the pass to the exit of each attraction and staff would get our group on each ride. We were happy that some thought had been given to disabled visitor – however it was a very strange experience to enter each attraction via its exit. We thought this could be potentially dangerous, particularly to wheelchair users. Perhaps a separate entrance for visitors with special needs would have been more appropriate.

We found that our average wait to get on a ride was between five to ten minutes. Unfortunately we had to wait 45 minutes to get on the Thunder Mountain ride. Whilst we realised that this was perhaps the most popular ride at Disney the situation wasn’t good – especially as we had an autistic child with us, they don’t like to wait!

This aside we must say that Disneyland Park itself is absolutely amazing. We had just never come across anything like this before. There was almost too much to see and do. We soon realised that a three-day visit was inadequate for to see the whole of Disneyland – especially as we also wanted to visit the Disney Village and the Walt Disney studios. Our advice would be to go for a week if your budget allows it.

There’s something for everyone at the Disneyland Park. If you’re a thrill-seeker, head for Discoveryland. This is the home of Space Mountain: Mission 2, the newest and perhaps the most exciting ride in the whole Resort. Just reading its description will raise the hairs of your neck:

“The G-force crushes you deep into your seat as you blast off. Hurtling like a high-speed cannonball, the Mission spacecraft hits zero gravity and suddenly you're weightless. Then wham! You’re knocked off course, power-sliding and not knowing which way is up!”
We can testify that Space Mountain lives up to its hype! One trip on it was enough for us. It took us much of the day to get our breath back.

Every zone has its memorable rides and attractions. Also look out for the Enchanted Castle and the daily parades around the park. There’s also a free steam train railway that runs right around the park and you can get on or off the train in any zone you fancy. However, be prepared to queue a while for the train – it’s very, very popular!

All roads and streets were lined with various shops selling every type of Disney product available. These ranged from small enamel badges to clothes and costumes for the kids. There were also a lot of places to eat – but be warned they are extremely busy and can be a bit on the expensive side.

Our first full day at Disney flew in and before long it was getting dark. However instead of going back to our hotel we decided to visit the Disney Village. This is a vast area situated in the heart of the Disney resort. Full of Disney shops, bars, a nightclub and a multiscreen cinema. There also seemed to be every themed restaurant under the sun. Again there was a fantastic family atmosphere.

When we visited Disney it was at Halloween. This seemed to be a big holiday in France – and half the country seemed to be at the Disney Village! We’d never seen anything like this in our lives – men, women and children were all in fancy dress as ghosts, vampires, witches and so on. Some of the makeup they wore was very realistic. We had to look twice at lots of people who appeared to have terrible facial injuries – only to realise that it was elaborate make up.

We stayed reasonably late to enjoy the festivities. There were live bands, an open-air disco and various street acts. All in all there was a great carnival atmosphere. We’d highly recommend visiting Disney during Halloween period.

On 1st November the park was decorated for Christmas, the staff must have worked hard to transform it during the night. All part of “the magic” of Disneyland Paris!

John Field.


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