Disneyland Paris: A trip down memory lane
Sarah Blake Knox has been a Disney fan since forever. But could Disneyland Paris match her fantasies?
Paris is famous for its beauty, its air of romance, and its chic and sophisticated culture.
During my first visit there as a 10-year-old, however, none of that was relevant to me. All that mattered was that I was going to Eurodisney, in the hope that I would meet my heroine - and fashion inspiration - Minnie Mouse. I am a huge fan of Disney, I have seen most of the films. Which is why one of the best summers of my life was around ten years later when I got to work at Disneyland, Florida. To say I was excited about this second visit to Paris is an understatement.
Eurodisney is now called Disneyland, Paris, and I wondered what else had changed. Would it be as exciting? Would someone wish me a magical day? Would I finally conquer my fear and ride the Indiana Jones roller coaster?
Our first stop was our hotel, named the Dream Castle Hotel, a promising start to the trip. This hotel, along with its neighbour, the Magic Circus Hotel, (very few clown elements in either hotel, thankfully!), are two of seven centred around the parks run by Disney (Disneyland Parks and Walt Disney Studios Park) in Paris.
From the outside, the Dream Castle looks like something from the Middle Ages. Inside, the hotel also follows a medieval theme. A blue and gold coat of arms hangs in each room, and other heraldic motifs can be found scattered around the hotel. There is even the statue of a prince to greet you in reception.
The hotel is very child-friendly, and the lobby was teeming with kids - who seemed just as excited to be there as I was all those years ago. There is also an impressive range of modern facilities such as gyms, pools, internet areas, saunas and spas.
The rooms themselves were quite simple, but I can confirm that the beds were extremely comfortable, definitely fit for any princess.
Sleeping Beauty Castle
After a champagne reception, which set the mood perfectly, we travelled into the city centre for a tour of Paris by 4 Roues sous 1 Parapluie. This is a really fun way to explore Paris - traveling through the city in an open-air version of that iconic French car, the Citroen 2CV, was thrilling.
The tour lasted about 45 minutes and our guide was both charming and funny, telling the history and stories behind some of the city's most famous monuments and buildings, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Next stop was Chez Mademoiselle, a charming Parisian restaurant. The starter was a very tasty brie, followed by steak or salmon. For dessert, I had one of the best lemon tarts of my life.
The next day began with a visit to La Valleé Village, France's premier outlet shopping mall, which is conveniently located just beside Disneyland.
Normally, I am not a fan of outlet malls; I do not like big crowds and find sales can make even the nicest person go a bit crazy. However, with its cobbled streets, cute boutiques and relaxed atmosphere, this outlet was real retail therapy.
With labels such as Armani and Valentino beyond my pocket, I wasn't in a position for major spending, but I really did enjoy checking out the designer gear and discounted prices.
Then it was time for the big one, Disneyland itself.
As I walked through the entrance gates, the same rush of excitement I had as a child hit me with full force. I couldn't wait to go on all the rides. Sabine, our PR manager, had provided us not only with day passes, but fast passes; a ticket which enables you to join a faster moving queue, and avoid waiting around. Even with the fast passes though, there were a couple of rides that still involved long queueing.
Both parks were just as I had remembered them, with my favourite thrilling rides - The Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain, and the classic, The Haunted Mansion. As well as the scarier rides, there is a great deal that will appeal to younger children, such as Peter Pan's Flight, and Buzz Lightyear: Laser Blast. Throughout the day, the park hosts a number of parades, where the best-loved Disney characters walk across the main street of the park. It still seems like heaven for the young visitors, and, I have to say, for me!
Sarah at Disneyland Paris
For food, we stopped off at the Earl of Sandwich, which is located right by the entrance of the park and, as its name suggests, specialises in sandwiches.
After an exhilarating and for me, highly nostalgic day, we went for dinner at the German-style restaurant, King Ludwig's Castle. The real castle, built by "Mad" King Ludwig in Bavaria, is believed to have been an inspiration for the Magic Kingdom castle in Disney. In keeping with the Bavarian theme, we were served German cuisine, pork on the bone on a huge bed of sauerkraut.
And so to the highlight of our visit, when in a cordoned-off section at the front of the Magic Kingdom, we got to watch the nightly firework display: Disney Dreams. With our completely unblocked view, the show was truly spectacular, with a breathtaking mixture of digital effects, music and fireworks.
Make sure to have a hanky at the ready, in case, like me, you get a little dust in your eye. It was the perfect end to a jam-packed day.
I just love Champagne and the effect it has on me so I was thrilled when on the final day, we travelled to Reims to visit the world famous Champagne house of Tattinger.
The Tattinger estate belongs to the French family of the same name, who have produced the Champagne since the 18th century. I found the tour fascinating, especially when we went down to the caves where the Champagne is actually made. The tour ended perfectly as far as I was concerned, with a well-earned glass of bubbly .
Overall, my experience of Disney and Paris lived up to my expectations. After all, it's not every day that you get to relive your childhood memories - and see a new side of one of the world's most glamorous and exciting cities.
House of the Mouse: Disneyland Paris
VI International (vi-hotels.com) has two hotels that are affiliated and next to Disneyland Paris: Dream Castle Hotel and Magic Circus Hotel. Double rooms from £127/€176 per night, family rooms from £140/€194 per night. Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) operates daily flights from Dublin and Cork to Paris.
For quick lunch, try the Earl of Sandwich and for dinner Sarah recommends King Ludwig's Castle (disneylandparis.co.uk). Find out more about Vallee Village - Chic Outlet Shopping at lavalleevillage.com, and research your visit to Reims in n the Champagne region at tourisme-en-champagne.co.uk and taittinger.com.
Book the best value Disneyland Breaks with Independent Travel here!
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