Monday 22 April 2019

'This is the best holiday ever' - A whirlwind family trip to Disneyland Paris

Barry Egan takes his family to Disneyland Paris, and accesses his inner child in the process...

Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris
Anna and Elsa from 'Frozen' in the daily parade of Disney stars along the resort's Main Street
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

We nearly didn't make it.

This trip came up so quickly that we had to get a passport - his first - for our baby boy Daniel in a hernia-inducing hurry, dashing to get forms signed by the couldn't-be-more-helpful garda in Blackrock, then a last minute appointment at the passport office in town.

Then, we almost missed our flight. We slept through the alarm calls and were only awoken by the taxi driver repeatedly ringing the doorbell at 4am.

We made it to the departure gate with seconds to spare for our 6am flight. Daniel's big sister Emilia wasn't able to sleep the night before (hence a frazzled mummy and daddy snoozing through the alarm) because she was that excited at going to visit Mickey Mouse and his girlfriend Minnie at their magical castle in France.

Who could blame her? Her excitement rose to near fever pitch on the train from Charles de Gaulle when the driver told us the next stop was Disneyland.

When we disembarked and made the short walk to the Disneyland Hotel, I thought Emilia was going to faint on the spot with pure joy at the sight of Donald Duck and Goofy in the lobby greeting guests. When Mickey and his mot Minnie arrived too, at this five-star Victorian-inspired establishment, little Emilia jumped into my arms and screamed: "This is the best day ever. This is the best holiday ever."

Anna and Elsa from 'Frozen' in the daily parade of Disney stars along the resort's Main Street
Anna and Elsa from 'Frozen' in the daily parade of Disney stars along the resort's Main Street

Her father's concerns about commercialised theme parks, global consumerism and political unrest in nearby Paris aside, this was, indeed, the start of the best holiday ever for our very young children.

For the next three days, they could not contain themselves. It was indeed pure joy to see them so thrilled. The adrenalin rush was only increased for Emilia because from the window of her hotel bedroom she could see Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant, Disneyland Paris's ornate interpretation of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

To put this in context: it would be like a connoisseur of art suddenly finding themselves living opposite the Louvre. So every night when she went to bed, Emilia would do so with the words: "Goodnight Sleeping Beauty!"

But back to the check-in. They not only checked us into our suite, they had tickets ready for us for lots of the rides at Europe's biggest theme park.

And because the hotel is actually a 50ft, if that, stroll from the entrance to Disneyland, the excitement levels with our daughter were now higher than a Buzz Lightyear rocket, we didn't even go up to our room.

We went straight into the theme park. We walked up Main Street, bought some ice cream and some lemonade. Emilia's eye was caught by a woman dressed as a princess doing face-painting. Five minutes later our four-year-old daughter had been transformed into a unicorn.

Licking her ice-cream, the unicorn walked straight up into Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Emilia looked like she was experiencing something akin to a fairytale or a dream come true.

What made it even more magical for our young child was that she was wearing her Sleeping Beauty dress as she explored the castle (a Sleeping Beauty dress which she wore on the plane and had all the Air France cabin staff in thrall at 30,000ft as she told them she was going to sleep in Sleeping Beauty's Castle.) On the castle's second-floor there is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale, in stained-glass windows and tapestries.

Downstairs, Emilia randomly met Princess Elsa from Frozen walking through the castle. Emilia was entranced. Just then, Anna from Frozen appeared, by chance. It was like visiting a hip disco in New York with Andy Warhol in the 1970s, but for kids. You never knew what legend or icon or superstar you'd bump into.

Baroque music was heard from the balcony of Sleeping Beauty's Castle as we made our way in search of further wonderment. It wasn't long before we found it. On Dumbo's Carousel. What's not to love about Dumbo? And then 30 minutes later - courtesy of one of the de rigueur long queues at Disneyland - we were all riding together in one of the Mad Hatter's Teacups.

I accessed my inner child in this surreal Shangri-La 20 miles east of Paris. Little Daniel had accessed his inner adult as he looked sternly at the passing Maleficent, the evil fairy witch herself.

We made it back through Sleeping Beauty's Castle just in time to catch the parade down Main Street at 6pm. It was a performance par excellence (that we went to every evening without fail) as all the Disney characters did their well-choreographed stuff in a spectacular show followed by an even more spectacular fireworks display that lit up Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

That night, we all slept like kings and queens in our beds - because we were utterly knackered. The sleep had been further helped by the fact that we had a leisurely dip in the hotel's rather fancy pool, followed by a fine dinner in the hotel's California Grill.

I don't think my wife and I ever earned a glass of wine as much in our lives - after a day being run ragged around Disneyland by Emilia, bravely assisted by Daniel in his buggy or in my arms pointing at every attraction that he wanted to go on.

As Beckett, who lived up the road in Paris, once said: "I can't go on... I'll go on." And to think we would do it all again tomorrow.

You can't have a day begin more bizarrely than to see Captain Hook and Peter Pan walk around the tables at breakfast in the hotel. Unsurprisingly, Emilia and Daniel practically jumped out of their seats with shock and awe.

And, then, once more we were off into the massive theme park again. We went on the Peter Pan ride (twice). There is something truly wonderful about holding your baby son in your arm as you fly through the sky to Neverland, where pirates and mermaids gaze up at you. This is followed by a boat trip on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride where scary pirates point at you.

It is difficult - unless you are of a particularly dour or downcast disposition - not to enter into the spirit of Disneyland. Walt Disney called Disneyland Park in California "the happiest place on Earth". Its opposite number on a 5,000-acre site in rural Marne-la-Vallee has the same aura of cartoon-ish utopia, of flying elephants, swirling teacups, to say nothing of singing mice, dancing ducks, pirates, princesses galore and the usual (big-eared) suspects.

After a while I found Disneyland good for my soul. I was forced to be a kid again for three days and nights, lost in my own (and Walt Disney's) imagination. There was something special about the innocent state that comes automatically with spinning around in a giant tea cup or flying through the night with Peter Pan with your two children who are laughing their little faces off. I hope they keep these precious memories.

In fact, for me, that is what the true magic of Disneyland is about: having fun, of course, but building memories. I believe Emilia will remember forever flying with Peter Pan when she is older (and the doll she got in the gift shop will be long forgotten).

One of my fondest memories as a child is holding my mother's hand as we cycled through the night sky high in the air on ET's bikes at Disneyland in California. Certainly our three days in the Magic Kingdom outside Paris created many memories that will stay with us hopefully all our lives.

Walking down Main Street of this pretend turn-of-the-century American town with its pretend turn-of-century shops selling Disney merchandise, there is a sense of the unreal. Personally, especially after a pre-dinner drink in Cafe Fantasia in the hotel, I felt like Jim Carrey's character in The Truman Show.

Yet in the end I loved it almost as much as my two young kids. This is despite the struggle to not go financially broke with Emilia permanently dragging us into gift shops selling kids Disney merch on every corner, or the fact that food in the theme park is a tad expensive. We made lovely picnics and brought it into Disneyland Park on our second and third days.

On our final day, I arranged for Emilia to meet Mickey Mouse and Minnie. When I made the introductions and the two most famous rodents in the world nodded (they don't speak) Emilia burst into tears and jumped into my arms. Daniel, for his part, acted like he had known the two mice all his life and kept pointing at Mickey's ears.

On the way back to the hotel for dinner Emilia said Mickey and Minnie were "as big as lions, daddy". Having pancakes with ice cream and a milkshake in the California Grill soon eased Emilia's sense of being overwhelmed by giant mice.

Even more so when her second favourite princess, Elsa made an appearance.

We'll be back - once my overdraft facility isn't frozen....

Take Two: Top attractions

Amaze-ing Alice

Not to be missed, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, is a fantastic hedge maze in two sections — Alice’s adventures before meeting the mean Queen of Hearts, and then Alice’s encounters with the Queen. My daughter was left smiling like the Cheshire Cat...

Marvel Superheroes

Daniel, my baby son (indeed my hero) would positively marvel at the new Disney attraction that everyone is talking about: Marvel Superheroes with Captain Marvel himself, plus Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America et al. Bring it on.

Getting there

* Prices for a three day/ two night package including Air France flights and Magic Shuttle Transfer to Disney's Hotel Santa Fe start from €1,568.20 based on two adults and two children sharing a standard room at Disney's Santa Fe Hotel.

That includes two night's accommodation, three-day park hopper tickets with unlimited access to Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.

* Price based on a May 12, 2019, departure date, subject to availability.

* For more information about a family break to Disneyland Paris, call 01 605 83 83 or visit: disneylandparis.ie or contact your local travel agent.

* Air France currently operates flights to Paris Charles de Gaulle from two departure points in Ireland: four daily flights from Dublin and once daily from Cork.

* Return economy fares from Dublin to Paris start from €99.89, including taxes and charges. To book or for additional information, visit airfrance.ie or call the reservations line on +353 16590442.

This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

Sunday Indo Living

Editors Choice

Also in Life