Last week I went camping in northern France with my sister and we had to go to Disneyland Paris. This was not my choice or indeed my preference.
I first went to Disneyland Paris on a school trip in the summer of 2000 when it was a novelty and also when Disney-mania was not quite so manic.
Oh, of course people liked Disney but I had no concept of actual grown adults dressing up as the princesses or Guides shrieking “Disney!!!” when asked for a theme for camp or for people to be more horrified that you don’t love Disney than that you don’t want to have children (and people can be pretty shocked by the latter). These days it seems paramount to treason to declare that you don’t like Disney and don’t want to go to Disneyland.
And Odin’s beard, it’s expensive.
But I had to go. We drove from the campsite and got to Marne-la-Vallée easily enough but when you get closer, you find the RER/SNCF stations are well signposted and the hotels are well signposted but you’re clearly not meant to arrive at the park for the day by car. There didn’t seem to be any signs for a car park or for the entrance and so we parked at the station, which resulted in my first worry of the day – there were two parking price lists next to each other with no indication of which one applied in that particular car park. Was 6-8 hours going to cost us €16 or €70? That’s a huge difference when you don’t know which one you’re going to end up paying at the end of the day. Spoiler: it was the lower one.
So in we went. We got our bags scanned and checked and eventually found the right window underneath the big pink Disney Hotel to buy 1 Day 1 Park ticket. Which they don’t particularly want you to buy. They want you to buy, at the very least, a 1 Day 2 Parks ticket, for Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios. I’m furious to find, checking online, that there is currently a special offer for a Special Ticket Mini 1 Day 1 Park for £32 because my 1 Day 1 Park ticket cost an absolutely obscene €78. I’m not an idiot, I did look online before we went and it was £71 but my Dear Sister assured me “it’s not that expensive” so I wasn’t expecting it to be that when I arrived. But it was. The Special Ticket was valid from May 10th so it’s entirely likely it wasn’t available online when I looked two or three months before we went but it’s a lesson in checking again at the last minute.
So as we go through the door, I’m already hugely resentful of the entire experience. I’ve paid €78 and there’s a prospect of paying another €70 for the car later on in the day. The first thing I see is a slightly plasticky-looking Main Street, Irish music playing that I’m apparently supposed to think is American and crowds and crowds of people walking zombie-like towards the castle. I have never hated anywhere so much in my life.
I can’t quite help enjoying Big Thunder Mountain. It stays just on the right side of my terror threshold. I find it very frightening as I’m sitting in it waiting to go but then we zoom off and yes, I shriek and squeak all the way but… I quite like it. I’m less enamoured with the forty minute queue but I’m vaguely aware that I expected it to be much longer than that and I hadn’t mastered the art of spotting the wait estimate at that point and the queue was hidden inside where I didn’t realise it was even there until it was too late so I didn’t object too much.
And my little mind was a little bit blown by Star Tours. I knew it was a simulator but I wasn’t expecting much. Yes, as we plummeted through space, I did shriek “how are they doing this?!” in mixed horror and amazement. The queue was probably the longest we were in all day, much longer than the prophesied fifteen minutes at the gate and the couple in front of us needed to go back to the hotel for a little while and return in a better frame of mind for standing in a queue but the ride itself… very impressive.
What else did I like? I liked Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. I liked the dragon beneath the castle. I really liked the fire breathing steampunk dragon in the parade – Disney does do steampunk well. I liked Casey Jnr. I like the retro-future aesthetic of Discoveryland. I quite liked the dark and creepy Snow White ride. I actually liked It’s A Small World – I remember it very differently, dated and twee and faded and now it’s bright and cute (and having checked YouTube, it seems I’m the one remembering wrongly). I liked the tiara I bought in Merlin l’Enchanteur under the castle. I’m amazed more people weren’t buying tiaras, considering how many girls there were in princess dresses and how fond people seem to be of having something themed on their heads – 90% of the mouse ears seemed to be the Minnie ones with the red spotted bow. I’m not the princess type at all – warrior princess, maybe – but there’s something about wearing a tiara. (When I get round to writing that Arcticpunk urban fantasy novel, there’s going to be a shapeshifting princess in it. I’ve decided. I also cannot write fiction to save my life.)
What didn’t I like? Main Street. It’s not the overt commercialism of it. It’s the way people drone down it. It genuinely made me wonder if there’s something subtle in the eternal infernal music that alters your brainwave patterns. I don’t like Space Mountain – Hyperspace Mountain now – because I’m a big chicken when it comes to scary rides. I didn’t like the little kids that were constantly shoving against me in the queues. I didn’t like the queues. I didn’t like conforming attitude of the people who love this place – we love Disney, we love princesses, we shall wear ears and all bob up and down in the same approximation of dance when the parade begins, this is the song of our people – I’m not actually that non-conformist but something just feels so creepy and so controlling and so cultish about Disneymania. I will never be a big fan of Fantasyland, despite the fact that it contains the most rides I’m not scared of. I didn’t like that Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for refurbishment.
So I survived the day. I didn’t hate it. But I cannot for the life of me see what makes people shriek with excitement to ever, ever return.