Sunday 28 May 2017

Disneyland Paris: An Enchanted Christmas

Letting it go, goodo...

Castles in the air: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris in all its towering pink turreted majesty
Castles in the air: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland Paris in all its towering pink turreted majesty
Ship Shape and Disney fashion: Pirate ship and the Skull rock from Disney’s Peter Pan cartoon.
Oscar with Remy from Ratatouile in his Restaurant
Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland Paris
Disney characters at Disneyland Paris
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

Last week, I realised that I am a bad mother.

I am a cold, cruel, neglectful mother in the worst of all possible First World ways. You see, I have never, ever taken either of my children to Disneyland. Not the one in the States, nor the new (well, new to me) Disneyland in Paris.

Even though I have been in love with Disney characters since the first time I ever set foot in a cinema, I have resisted and resisted my own urges - and the pleas of my children -to take them to see all their favourite heroes and heroines and enjoy the fabulous treats that Disneyland has to offer. I think I was afraid that I might be disappointed - that the actual land of Disney wouldn't live up to the one I had created in my imagination.

The first film I ever saw was Disney's Snow White. Most of my childhood is measured in Disney films - Cinderella, The Aristocats, Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia, Dumbo, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Bambi. I still recall the trauma when I realised that Bambi's mother had been killed, the realisation that bad things happen to good people, and to young deer.

Disney doesn't just belong to the young, you see.

It's very much a part of my own generation's experience of growing up, perhaps even more dominant in its importance for us as we didn't live in multi-channel TV, Netflix, YouTube and whatever-you-want-to-watch-it's-there-land. We didn't even have a specific Disney Channel. For my generation, every new Disney film (or old ones re-released - remember no videos or re-runs on telly then) was a big event; a chance to dress up and take that trip to the cinema, buy treats, popcorn, ice-cream and chocolates, and sit back waiting to be whisked away to Fantasyland.

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Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland Paris

So, that's my excuse as to why I never made the journey to Disneyland and I was sticking to it. We'd probably hate it anyway, I reasoned. The long lines for the rides, the characters that perhaps don't look anything like the real thing, the whole sugar-sweet niceness of Disney, combined with the French looking down their noses at us because we don't speak the language. Nah, not for me. But earlier this month, when I got a chance to go to Disney Paris for the launch of their Enchanted Christmas programme, I surprised myself with how easily I was persuaded to overcome my hesitation, and be convinced by my 11 year old that yes, Disney would be awesome! And awesome it was.

The young boy (if you look at the photo you will understand why I can't call him 'small' boy anymore) did every piece of housework I asked him to do the week before we left, just in case I changed my mind and decided not to bring him at all. The night before we headed off he went to bed, hugely excited, very early: "It's a bit like Christmas Eve", he said breathlessly. Hmm. Rubbing it in I thought, just to make me feel guilty I hadn't brought him before. But no, he was genuinely 'up to ninety'. We may think kids are super-sophisticated these days but they still go weak at the knees at the prospect of meeting Mickey Mouse.

Getting there is a doddle. A quick Aer Lingus flight to Charles de Gaulle airport and a thirty minute drive from there to Disneyland Paris. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, you could get yourself to St Pancras in London where the "Chunnel" will take you straight from there to Disney. "That", said the young boy, "is how we're going next time when we bring the rest of the family with us". Indeed.

We got there in the evening, just in time to check into our Disney Hotel New York, which was just beside the entrance to the park. We were to meet our Disney Team in Main Street USA in the Town Square of Disneyland Park, but before we even left the hotel we were already part of the magical Disney bubble, encountering elves, fairy lights and the music from Frozen playing on to the intercom; "Let it go, let it gooooo, can't hold it back anymore...".

I was finding it hard to be properly, journalistically cynical as everything just seemed so goddamn real. When we finally got to the Park itself (after a quick foray into the Walt Disney Studio Park - yet another separate Kingdom) the illusion of Hollywood magic was complete; snow-covered squares, rows of historic-style shops and restaurants lining the wide open streets, we were in It's a Wonderful Life America, a new frontier.

It all led to the central plaza which sits in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, glowing in the winter darkness in all its towering, pink turreted majesty. You don't have to close your eyes to pretend you're in fairyland here, it's spread out right in front of you.

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Disney characters at Disneyland Paris

First up, we get to see Magical Christmas Wishes, an amazing illumination of the Disney Christmas Tree which is 24m high and decorated with constantly colour-changing baubles. Eyes fizzing, we take a break after that and head to a nearby all-American 1950's diner for some hot chocolate and - according to the boy, the "best Hot-Dog he has ever tasted!" Returning to our positions by the fountain, we are right on time to watch the highlight of the evening (so far); Disney Dreams! Of Christmas.

Olaf, everyone's favourite snowman (who loves summer) from the film Frozen, conducts this amazing production, set against the backdrop of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, with projections, special effects, dancing fountains, and endless rounds of fireworks.

At one stage, when the music reached a crescendo I actually felt my heart give one of those sentimental lurches as a tear came to my eye and I said; "get it together woman for God's sake - it's just a Disney show!" But of course, it's much, much more, as my 11 year old excitedly told me and he whooped and cheered and sang along to the song of Princess Elsa from Frozen.

"Let it goooo!"

Yes, we were letting it go goodo.

After that, the real fun began. We headed over to the Walt Disney Studios Park where my son and a friend he had made (Irish Mammy) persuaded us two hapless women to take our lives into our hands and go on one of the most terrifying rides I had ever experienced. But once I got over my shock at being bounced and rattled and flung around the place at top speed and at a great height, I began to remember the days when I loved roller coasters and terrifying rides.

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Ship Shape and Disney fashion: Pirate ship and the Skull rock from Disney’s Peter Pan cartoon.

That first evening my favourite ride was the new Ratatouille Adventure, a 3-D experience where you are "shrunk" to the size of a rat and get to experience the rooftops and floors of a busy Paris night-life. Conveniently we ended up beside Bistrot Chez Remy where we enjoyed a gorgeous dinner complete with some of the best Sancerre I have ever tasted. Theme parks don't necessarily mean you have to leave your tastebuds at home. Well, this is Paris after all!

Over the weekend, I discovered a side of myself that I thought I had left behind years ago. A Star Wars rocket cruise into space, a wild roller coaster ride in Indiana Jones territory, the Twilight Zone of Terror, the terrifying Space Mountain Mission 2? No ride was too high, wild or scary for me and my son to try. Why not? There was no-one else there to hear me scream - and scream I did as I hurtled round 360 degree circuits in pitch blackness in the middle of a "mountain". Or fell hundreds of feet in a "lift" in the Tower of Terror. Three times we had to go on the fabulous Big Thunder Mountain ride, it was so awesome. Three. Times.

And all around the carefully built landscape ensures that the fantasy remains intact; The American Wild West, Pirates of the Caribbean in the river, The Mysterious Orient. Everything is executed to perfection; including the performers in costumes - or the cast as they're called - who roam the park chatting with the kids, getting their photos taken and being generally Disney-ish.

While we're there the weather is Galway-like soft rain - but it doesn't matter a damn to us as we head from ride to ride with military precision. With a "fast-pass" ticket the queues are negligible and there is just so much to see and do. We falter a bit in the afternoon and wonder if the magic is beginning to wear off. But then the Christmas parade begins with its Sugar and Spice float, the sumptuous costumes and dancers, Tinkerbell, Minnie Mouse and yes.... it's Santa Claus... it's starting to snow - and we're back under that magical Disney spell again.

Take Three

The Kids

About an hour after we arrived on the first evening my son (pictured  with Remy from Ratatouille) asked me to take a picture of him running and jumping and kicking his legs up. He wanted to remember how happy he was. Truly, Disney is a kid's paradise. No moans or complaints just huge smiles all weekend and comments about what a wonderful Mammy I was for bringing him there. You can't buy that. (Well, actually you can!)

The Rides

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan's Flight, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Star Wars, Space Mountain and RC Racer; there is no end to the amazing, exciting rides and attractions at Disney. Get in touch with your inner child and surprise yourself at how much you enjoy being bumped, rattled and pushed to your limit. The magic of Disney is not just for children you know!

The Characters

Watch your children's dreams come true as they meet the Disney characters they know and love. Anna and  Elsa from Frozen, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Cinderella and her Prince, Merida, the princess from Brave - just a few of the friendly faces you'll recognise You'll not only be abloe to meet them but to pose for pictures with them as well. What a great Christmas present for any child.

Getting There

For information about a family break to experience Disney's Enchanted Christmas at Disneyland Paris from 9 November until 7 January 2015 call 08448 008 or visit www.disneylandparis.co.uk . Prices for a two night/three -day package start from £461.50 based on a family of four sharing (children aged 3-11). The price includes two night's accommodation with continental breakfast at the Disney's Santa Fe Hotel, three day park hopper tickets for the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studio's Park. Aer Lingus fly directly to Paris from Dublin. The Eurostar runs from St Pancras, London to Disney (Marne Le Valle).

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