“Everytime I come back, it’s like becoming a kid again,” a French colleague of mine said to me dreamily when I shared my weekend plans. “I think I never really stopped,” I replied.
I thought about this some more in the RER train en route to Disneyland Paris, making my fluent in perfect French sibling laugh with my literal English pronounciation of the Noisy-Champs station we passed. It translates as nutty fields, by the way. I don’t know which I enjoy more. But hey, to quote Daria, it’s a nutty, nutty world, and maybe with Walt and Mickey’s help I could escape it for a while.
I want to remember her as well, I realize. The child who discovered herself, not just the adult. I want to carry the things she found out then inside myself, because they still make me who I am. And she is me, just independent, bill-paying, more knowledgable about polite sarcasm and prone to sentimentality.
Somehow I felt this trip would round up all these thoughts anew, since Disney animation was such a big part of my childhood and continued to be so later on in life, coloured by a special sense of memory and appreciation for discovering the stories from an adult point of view.
Trekking along to our hotel independently at first with the aid of Google Maps proved fruitless, as despite Google’s encompassing power, the Maps failed to recognize the high rows of trees blocking our progress as impenetrable. But we were already essentially in Disneyland, with Disney thinking and Disney music inflitrating our brains, so off to the bus shuttle we went, which just didn’t arrive for a while – one of the easiest things to do if you want to make someone who’s lived in Germany for years twitchy.
Once we reached Hotel Cheyenne it was truly like stepping back in time.
Except we were larger and the security check in the lobby was a painful reminder of current events. What I notice is also how I automatically switch to accommodating this necessary procedure in my daily routine for the moment, while simultaneously thinking it’s just sad.
Hotel Cheyenne is one of the affordable accommodation options at Disneyland Paris. Family-friendly and spacious, many buildings with apt names like Billy the Kid or Calamity Jane spread beyond the main one with the lobby, lining a broad street built like a typical scene from a town in an American Western. Not only do they look the same as I remember from the one time I stayed here as a child, but so does the interior of our room. It’s almost bizarre to see the exact same table lamp with a cowboy boot for a holder, or the horse-patterned stripe of wallpaper just below the ceiling. A short attempt to climb the ladder to the top bunk proves that this is a) painful and not advisable in socks; b) silly as the bunks are too small for us now anyway. There’s also a weight limit I’m pretty sure I exceed nowadays.
If you can walk from your hotel to the park, do! The surrounding area is green and wide in the summertime, otherwise bus shuttles from the hotels actually are frequent. As for booking the travel package and all that practical stuff, two words: in advance!
One more predictable security check and we were strolling towards the gorgeous, prominent and posh Disneyland Hotel. I was still having trouble believing where I was, so I settled for the dreamy state of acceptance.
Little girls dressed like Belle and Snow White skipped past me along Main Street. Bachelorette party (or hen do) groups from England popped up every few minutes in a flurry of sequinned Minnie Mouse ears and young sisters holding hands dashed in to shops overflowing with Elsa and Anna dresses, some emerging as two Elsas or two Annas. Yes, Frozen was being marketed very heavily indeed, despite being released all the way back in 2013.
Lunching and snacks immediately and predictably wander in to the fast food area, especially if your weekend budget revolves around the € and not the €€€. Service is efficient and quick, though, and visitor traffic moves fast enough so that seating opportunities don’t require major waiting time. The Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlour beckons from accross Casey’s Corner, bringing back memories of reading The Langhorne Sisters by James Fox, but the hot dog and fries I had don’t leave room for more.
Leaving the beautifully decorated shop window displays on Main Street behind us, we proceed towards Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Blush pink and blue-capped, just as I remember, it’s animation come to life without being overdone and the elegant landscaping around it reminds of the various aspects of hard work connected to putting Disneyland Paris together.
A major point of excitement was exploring the castle inside, where I promptly went Disney crazy with my camera among all the carefully reproduced scenes from the eponymous animated classic.
And then off to the Dragon Lair we went. The wailing I heard inside confirmed what my Disneyland Paris app said – some of the scenes could frighten younger guests. While I wasn’t one, I still clutched my sibling’s hand simply because it was so dark in there.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant was the first ride stop on that day and the slight nerves I had about going up and down (I know, pathetic, it’s a carousel that kids go on) dissipated as soon as I took in the view seated atop our little soaring elephant.
I’ll just have to suck it up and watch Dumbo to the end, because when I was little the scene with him and his mother in separate cages broke me and I couldn’t continue.
My logically thinking sibling successfully took us through Alice’s labyrinth, leaving me only slightly dizzy, but not late.
A quick dash in the Mad Hatter’s Teacups (no, we didn’t want to turn the wheel in the middle of our cup to make it spin when the WHOLE PLATFORM of the ride was already doing so) made us laugh. And then, like any self-respecting Disneyland visitors, we set off for the Princess Pavillion, me singing along loudly to various instrumental Disney soundtracks wafting from hidden speakers around us.
While waiting in line I busied myself with my camera once more, particularly enjoying the glowing Disney artefacts displayed behind glass panes and accompanied by a short snippet from the relevant story in French and English.
“Is there anyone else here without kids?” My sibling whispered. “I don’t know,” I replied, “But look, it’s from The Little Mermaid, it’s the shell, the shell!” I succeeded in getting the lady in front of us to turn around and give me a look, though I didn’t care. The shell! Yes, the Princess Pavillion is essentially for kids, but once we were there, I wanted to see it through. Snow White was lovely, by the way, and she said she liked my earrings. She also compared us to Elsa and Anna, so a good day’s work for us, I say.
The boat ride through Storybook land followed all this princess excitement – a ride I thoroughly enjoyed, with all the recognizable details in the careful miniature reproductions of some of Disney’s most iconic animated features.
To shake things up and with more memories running through our minds, we lined up to go on Pirates of the Carribean just as it started to rain. Savvy! Deeper and deeper we ventured until we reached our boat. Even my limited French was enough to understand the dad seated in front of us saying excitedly to his kids, “Descente!” and I screamed my head off even if it was a short drop, because I’m a scaredy cat. Points out of ten to this ride in terms of atmosphere, though, and I could understand the British teenagers dashing past us to line up again. “We’ve already been three times!” Due to the movie(s) having already come out since I last visited as a child, scenes of looting pirates laughing were all the more impressive and for a few minutes you forget where you are.
One more stop was on our list and as we rounded a corner, the Phantom Manor suddenly came in to view.
During my last visit I was successfully scared in to not going inside, and I said I would come back. Convincingly draped cobwebs adorned the lamps above our heads and the darkness in the antechamber we entered was immediately intimidating. My feverish visual scan of the premises strengthened the hope that this house didn’t include hidden roller coasters, as did the presence of small children around us. I don’t want to include spoilers, of course, but I will say that the wait of many years was worth it and the interiors are fantastic. Surely fun stop at Halloween.
Sated with impressions and walking as we already were, there was one more special point of the evening left to attend to – Disney Dreams, the evening show. Darkness was starting to settle as we approached Sleeping Beauty’s Castle later. People were lining Main Street as we grabbed some hot chocolate and found a good spot.
Music began to play and the castle became an illuminated mesmerizing stage for a medley of Disney animation and music. With the rest of the crowd I sang my heart out to Elsa’s Let It Go amid one of the most beautiful fireworks I have ever seen.
A truly enchanting end to a special day, not without “adult” thoughts (How much does it cost to put on such a display? How eco-friendly are those flames? Is all the merchandise produced under the same unfair employment conditions we read about so much?)
But I do still remember her, the girl I was thinking about on the train ride here.