Disneyland Paris: Marvel where the magic happens on a theme park break
First things first, I have a confession to make: The Marvel revival completely passed me by. I don't even remember how, but it did.
It's as if I fell asleep some time after one of the Spiderman movies - you know, the ones with Tobey Maguire - and woke up years later to find out that we are now on the fourth Avengers film.
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Apparently, there have been 22 films out of the Marvel stable of superheroes… who knew?
Apparently it's a big deal, such a big deal in fact that the Marvel Season of Super Heroes is one of the feature attractions at Disneyland Paris at the moment. The anchor is a 30-minute high-octane show at the Walt Disney Studios Park - and yes, Spiderman makes an appearance, along with a host of others. Some I'd heard of; others I hadn't. Anyway, my eight-year-old son more than made up for my lack of awareness of this phenomenon, impressing those around us with his knowledge and carrying off a full conversation on the Avengers with our companion for the day, David.
David is a Disney buff; he knows a lot about the Disney history and tradition, and for a while worked in the park. These days, he works with the Vienna House hotel group and having made his acquaintance during our stay at one of the hotels near the park - the Vienna House Magic Circus - we were delighted when he volunteered to be our guide for the day at Disneyland.
We really fell on our feet, because he did all the hard work and had our day worked out to a tee, cutting our queueing time (and walking time) to a minimum, which is no mean feat. He knew the history of every ride and attraction, as well as plenty about Disney itself, and the little nougats of information he fed us through the day added to the whole occasion.
Aside from Marvel, I've also managed to meander through life avoiding roller-coasters - the big, scary ones at least, which let's face it, is most of them. But I finally ran out of places to hide on this trip on that score too. At my son's behest, I braved Space Mountain (or is it Hyperspace Mountain? yikes) - the Star Wars-themed ride which confirmed exactly what I had always suspected, that me and roller-coasters don't mix. I didn't enjoy one second of it, and was made to feel all the worse by young John's roar of laughter in the seat behind me. He enjoyed it so much that he went a second time later in the day with David while I chilled out with a coffee at the Sleeping Beauty castle.
The more sedate rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or It's a Small World were more to my liking. It turned out that Eleanor, aged 10, is of a similar disposition. She was happy to join with me in avoiding being dropped at great speed from a height, or being turned upside down, or all those other gravity-defying things best experienced on an empty stomach, or in my case not at all.
Sometimes, for young and old, simple is best, which is why the elegance of It's a Small World was such a hit with us, as was the gentle Peter Pan flight over the London night sky all the way to Never Land.
If you plan your day out in Disneyland it makes all the difference - or having an expert plan it for you is even better!
There's a good mix of fast and slow in the parks, and our children were just about the right age, passing the height test for all bar one ride (thankfully another big scary roller-coaster!).
If you didn't already know, Disneyland Paris consists of two theme parks, side by side - Disneyland Park, with all your favourite Disney characters and newer members of the family like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and Walt Disney Studios Park, which is even more movie focussed, and so is where you will find the Marvel and other similar attractions. There is also Disney Village, which is the shopping and eating district.
The famous parade of Disney characters, which happens every afternoon, is a real family treat, surprisingly so, it has to be said, and we were glad we followed David's advice and picked a good spot early to get a good view.
It's hard not to be taken in by Disney Village, and even harder to avoid buying something as a memento of your visit as you stroll through it. There's no shortage of items to choose from in the shops, and I went for a Mary Poppins poster which now adorns my office at home: 'Practically perfect in every way'!
Unusually, for a three-day family trip to Disneyland, we decided to spend just one day in the parks and instead to explore other attractions in the area as well. I know it's not always the done thing, but we were glad we did, and more and more, families are adding other elements to their Disneyland holiday for a more complete experience. Thanks to David's inside track, we managed to fit two days' worth of excitement into one long but fulfilling day in Disneyland. We stayed right until the end for the light and fireworks show in front of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, which starts at 10pm. This is as spectacular and jaw-dropping as you might expect from Disney, with amazing special effects - it must cost an absolute fortune to stage every night. Two tired but very happy children slept soundly that night.
The Vienna House Magic Circus hotel has been newly refurbished. The themed suites are cheery and colourful and our family room had a funky bunk-bed set-up which the kids adored. The hotel has all the facilities you might expect for a good family break, including a swimming pool and play area, and the food is excellent. The hotel is also set in scenic surroundings with nice walks. Most important of all, of course, is that it is only five minutes to Disneyland via the hotel's shuttle service.
Less than half an hour from the hotel is the dual delight of the Parcs Zoologiques de Lumigny and the Parc des Felins. The latter is a breeding and conservation centre predominantly devoted to the feline family, from the smallest species (sand cats, margays) to the largest (lions, tigers and leopards). This is the kind of place where two or three hours pass by very quickly. The park covers about 150 acres, divided into zones for each of the continents where the animals roam in prairie-style conditions. A train ride around the park gives you a good sense of it, but despite its size, it's well set up for walking too, I'd recommend both.
All the way through your visit, there is a strong message being made about the future of the planet. It is cleverly done, more educational than preachy in tone, making it easy for children to get some understanding of the threat faced by many of the animals on view in their natural habitats.
Before you leave, be sure to make your way to the cinema room near the cafe for a short 4D film about a family of tigers. It's a real treat, an absorbing adventure and for us it was a first taste of 4D, which added to the experience. The film also reinforces the message about the need to protect the planet's future.
The zoo across the road is an intimate affair, where you can get up close and personal with many of the animals, including a curious interaction with several species of birds in the aviary. They will land on your head or outstretched hand to take a drink or nibble on some nuts.
The medieval city of Provins is a world heritage site, and is well worth an afternoon visit too, while we also took in the Val d'Europe shopping mall.
It's not your average mall in fairness, with a large entrance lobby inspired by the Grand Palais exhibition hall in Paris. There are over 190 shops to cater for all tastes and we actually spent more time there than we thought possible with two young children. It was hard to choose from all the food outlets and in the end we went for a large, and delightful, platter of fruit and treats in Le Paradis de Fruit. A perfect way to round off a perfect few days.
Take Two: Top attractions
Make a splash
Another simple idea - getting up early and enjoying a family dip in the pool before a hectic day in Disneyland. Thankfully, the pool at Vienna House Hotel Magic Circus is very child-friendly.
Studio Tram Tours
Such a simple idea - going behind the scenes at Disneyland to get a little understanding of how a big film is made. The tour includes full-scale movie sets, some props from famous films and a big surprise.
John and family stayed at the Vienna House Magic Circus Hotel, which brings the magic of Disneyland to your hotel.
The hotel has a very smart casual feel, which adds to the sense of a relaxing holiday. Facilities include a swimming pool, on-site wellness area, scenic walks and dining at the Restaurant L'Etoile, which overlooks the gardens, or at the Bar Des Artistes.
Rates start from €109 (Monday-Thursday) and €129 (Friday-Sunday). Check out www.viennahouse.com/en/magic-circus-paris/ for more.
The Parc des Felins and Parcs Zoologiques Lumigny are side by side and only half an hour from the hotel and offer various packages to explore one or both.
The Val d'Europe shopping mall is only five minutes from Disneyland. It has 190 fashion boutiques as well as restaurants, cafes and an on-site aquarium.
This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.
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