What is this, my tenth country of this trip? Where am I? Paris? Huh.
Looks like I’ve got a few hours. Well, what to do? The Eiffel Tower? The Louvre? The smoking ruins of Notre Dame? Fuck that shit, I’m going to Disneyland!
One shivery February wait outside for a train and a blur across the French countryside later, and I was at L’endroit le Plus Heureux du Monde.
One of the best things about returning to a country you’ve already visited before is that once you have the “must-see” things out of the way, you can often have more fun seeing the things you actually enjoy, guilt-free. Over the years I’ve discovered that I love visiting theme parks in other countries, both for the way they trigger nostalgia for my Southern California childhood as well as for how fun it is to see local families in different cultures out enjoying themselves.
The air buzzed with excitement, and cold rain. This was the last Disneyland in the world I hadn’t been to yet, and I felt like a little French kid.
Waiting with the surprisingly large February crowd for the park to open, I found myself entertained by all the familiar things that looked so foreign when translated into French.
I was also amused by the park employees, who were… not exactly dicks, but not exactly up to the customer service standards of the rest of the Disney parks around the world. I laughed as I suddenly realized they were pretty much exactly the same percentage nicer than the average Parisian that American Disneyland employees are compared to the average American. They were just starting out with a larger handicap.
The gates opened and we flooded into the park. I’d heard the Paris park described as the prettiest of the Disneylands, and this was immediately apparent.
My first priority was seeing the Phantom Manor, Paris’ version of the Haunted Mansion, which was supposed to be completely different. Outside, the theming was spot-on.
Inside, the room-stretching elevator was familiar, with the possible addition of weird cat-gargoyles I didn’t remember seeing before.
But the rest of the ride quickly diverged from anything familiar. Rather than the story from the California/Florida/Tokyo versions, this… wait, actually those versions don’t really have a story, do they? They’re just a bunch of ghosts ghosting shit up in a house. This one switched things up by actually having a story.
As far as I could tell from within the confines of my high school French, a young woman named Melanie who lived in a frontier town was thwarted in her quest for love by her jealous father, who secretly killed off any suitors who would have taken her away. After her father’s death he came back as “The Phantom” a ghoulish figure who hung her fiancé Jake in the attic of their mansion on their wedding day. Melanie roamed the house for decades looking for Jake, which is how we find her as we tour through the manor on the ride, The Phantom never far from her side. Some of the scenes from the Haunted Mansion are repurposed as a part of this story, like the ballroom where Melanie waits for Jake’s return as ghostly guests dance below.
The most striking divergence from the regular ride is a section that replaces the graveyard scene, where you travel out of the mansion and into the old west frontier town outside, where all kinds of supernatural shit is going on. This was very fun. At the end of the ride, where you pass the mirrors and would normally see ghosts “hitchhiking” with you in your little traveling booth, Melanie appears beside you instead and asks you to marry her. Thanks, I’m good!
Alternate-universe Haunted Mansion curiosity happily sated, I made my way to Big Thunder Mountain nearby.
The ride was similar to the versions in the other parks, except that it is located on an island where Tom Sawyer’s Island would be at Disneyland. To get there, the train goes down under the river for an extended section of pitch-black rollercoasting that was surprising and fun. The train cars are also made to look old and shitty in this version, just for fun.
From there, it was off to Indiana Jones, which is (a) absolutely nothing like the ride in California, (b) if my memory serves right, just a rebranded copy of the Raging Spirits ride at Tokyo Disneysea and (c) another hilarious instance of the disorientation of having something familiar Frenchified.
The ride itself is decent, though way too short, but it does offer the rare opportunity to go upside down on a Disneyland ride.
By now I was getting a feel for who was at the park with me. There were French families, of course, but also Europeans of all stripes. Plenty of British tourists, but I also heard a lot of German and Italian being spoken. It was a fun mix, and I think the most international blend I’ve ever seen in a single Disney park. I remembered when the park opened as “Euro Disney” back in the 90s it was considered something of a failure, as nobody was going there. In those days when I had less world awareness I remember not even being sure if the park had closed or gone out of business or what. But it was clearly doing fine now, full of people on a rainy Monday in February, certainly more crowded than the California park would be in this kind of weather.
The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the castle in the center of the park.
Inside the castle was a bizarre little world of Show White’s helper animals doing their chores.
Probably the coolest thing that sets Paris Disneyland apart is that the castle has a dragon in the basement. This feature is surprisingly well-hidden, but if you follow a curving walkway around the back of the castle you can find a small opening that leads you into a cavern, where a huge dragon sleeps.
Daaamn, that is cool!
The dragon opened its eyes and slowly lifted its head. AHHHH.
The murmurs of awe from the children around me switched gears into concerned gasps as they clutched at their parents. The dragon strained against its chains and began to look very pissed-off.
This is the coolest animatronic in the world and I can’t believe any of these kids are going to sleep at all tonight. Smoke began to puff out of the dragon’s nostrils.
The dragon roared at us and all the kids cleared out of the cavern in a hurry.
I followed after, you know, just to make sure the kids were okay and stuff. Paris Disney, you may never replace Tokyo in my heart, but that was pretty cool.
I wandered across the park to check out the Alice in Wonderland-themed maze.
This had a lot of fun theming from the movie and was much larger than I was expecting.
The paths dawdled into a genuinely difficult hedge maze that my height only gave me an occasional slight advantage in. This experience alternated between “Wow, this is an honest-to-God hedge maze, how cool!” and “Fuck, I only have 3 hours at Disneyland and I’m lost in a goddamned hedge maze!”
Eventually, I cut a deal with a hookah-smoking animatronic caterpillar and he showed me the way out.
Rather than Tomorrowland, this park has Discoveryland, which was basically the same thing, but leaned heavily on a pretty neat quasi-steampunk theming.
The highlight of this for me was Space Mountain, which I didn’t have time to ride due to the hour-plus line, but the ride’s Jules-Verne-inspired exterior was very cool. A strange ornate cannon device shot the coaster up to the roof of the building at the start of the ride.
I wasn’t too worried about missing Space Mountain since I’ll be back in Paris this summer to visit the Disney Studios park next door. This abbreviated visit was mainly about me being impatient to see Phantom Manor and the Paris version of Pirates of the Caribbean.
Pirates ended up being disappointingly almost identical to the other versions, the main differences being the addition of a red-headed female pirate and the lack of the politically-correct modifications that had been made to the ride in the other parks, where the pirates are now chasing women because they have food, etc. In Paris, the carnal lust was still on display.
More impressive for me was the cool skull waterfall outside the ride.
I had time for one more ride and decided to spend it on It’s a Small World, as I’ve come to enjoy the experience of drifting through this parade of foreign countries while I’m in a foreign country.
The artwork appeared totally different in this version, which I really enjoyed.
And of course there’s a lot more French singing.
As the boat wandered through different countries, I laughed to myself as I realized this ride was starting to become like the map I have at home where you can scratch off the countries you’ve visited. Sailing along, I couldn’t help but check boxes in my mind, like, yep, been there. Been there. Ooh, going there this summer!
I thought the Native American representation in the Southwest US section was pretty cool.
I was curious how modern-day America would be represented here, and of course it was basically a mash-up of California landmarks.
That was fun. I looked at my phone. Oh man, time to go. I looked around for a quick moment and admired the mash-up of Mali and the Middle-East all around me in Adventureland. It’s funny to have traveled enough now to recognize where they’re getting different elements from and also what does and doesn’t really go together.
I still hadn’t eaten anything all day so I ducked into the Hakuna Matata restaurant, which I’d read from several people online had the world’s most amazing French fries. Seemed fitting for Paris Disneyland. They were supposed to be coated in corn or something
And they… turned out to be completely average French fries. Like, from your grade school cafeteria. I got the impression that the amazing ones had been discontinued. As I hustled toward the exit, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the red and yellow packets I’d been given with the fries. This should spice things up. Maybe it’ll even be like that amazing mustard I had the last time I was in Paris! I bit off the corner of the yellow packet and squeezed it all over the fries.
Not an ideal vegan scenario. Passersby looked at me oddly as I tried to fling just the mayo’d fries into passing trash bins as I shuffled by. Good one Paris!
Back inside Charles DeGaulle Airport, I traveled through bizarre and whimsical tubes that just seemed to be there for effect.
Damn, maybe I didn’t even need to leave the airport to experience this kind of thing. Lesson learned.