My trip to Disneyland Paris two weeks ago may have prompted me to write first about Crush’s Coaster upon my return, but that wasn’t my initial destination when arriving at the resort. As a return visitor (this was my fourth mini-vacation to Paris), I knew to head to my favorites and introduce my wife (a first-time Paris visitor) to them.
And when I say “favorites,” I mean my favorite versions of these rides on the planet. Disneyland Paris is home to my favorite Pirates of the Caribbean, my favorite Haunted Mansion style ride, my favorite Big Thunder Mountain, my favorite Peter Pan, and even my favorite Snow White dark ride.
The Disneyland Hotel sits atop the entrance.
Let’s start with the small one. Snow White is the same basic idea as the ride in Orlando and Anaheim, but it’s got the length of Anaheim’s version and yet still has the ending of Orlando’s version. So it combines the best of both. Admittedly, this is a small thing, but ONE of the versions has to be my favorite, and this one is missing nothing.
Nothing like a good dark ride.
It’s a similar story at Peter Pan. I like the city effects and especially the island-from-above effects in this Pan the best. And there’s something to be said for the pixie dust glitter effect, present in Anaheim, missing in Orlando, but most sparkly here in Paris.
Everyone loves pixie dust!
Truth be told, it’s the BIG THREE that get my heart racing. Big Thunder Mountain here is on the one hand the same kind of ride all over again; many of the turns are the same. There is one additional drop in the midst of the coaster, where you’re supposed to spray water as your coaster hits the big river. But the sprayers weren’t working on my trip. Have they been off for years? More about maintenance in a minute.
Everything seemed to work in the Nautilus walkthrough…
too bad it’s not open the full operating hours of the park!
I do dearly love the mine scene in Paris. Yes, a rock fell here and injured people, but I saw none of that. What I did see was a side tunnel with a mine car, fog effects, and blinking lights—very effective. I saw a functioning cascade of gold dust in the “ahead and above” tunnel. Orlando’s attempt to do that is laughable; here it looks convincing.
Thunder is always good, and here it’s great. A mostly-familiar track layout awaits.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The primary reason to love Big Thunder is the ride over and especially the ride back. I’m referring, of course, to the coaster’s location. It’s on the island itself (there is no Tom Sawyer Island, in fact). Your train goes out to the island under the water, which is exciting by virtue of being a Chunnel long before the real one was done. You come back in a similar fashion, except the return trip has the added bonus of deeper descent and much increased velocity. The most thrilling part of the ride is the end and all that speed through darkness. It’s impossible not to grin.
The Phantom Manor looms over the river like a decaying hulk—none of this prissy exterior stuff (Walt would not have approved, senior Imagineers once said). Inside, it’s not just a Haunted Mansion. It’s a completely different storyline.
The Ravenswood manor.
Many of the elements are the same: stretching room, gallery, omnimovers, hallway with doors, séance, ballroom. But there is no attic scene (instead, we see the bride at a mirror) and the trek outdoors has us descend past rotting corpses escaping from coffins and into a ghost-populated Western town.
It’s a darker ride than Disneyland’s!
There is a consistent storyline about a new bride, and her husband, the Phantom who gives the house its name. She’s the victim here, not the bad guy (which is the opposite of the stateside parks).
The haunting orchestrated soundtrack, cinematic in scale, gives this ride a melancholy beauty. It’s impossible not to admire the clever classical-inspired arrangements of all the familiar Mansion melodies by John Debney as you leave.
Pirates of the Caribbean is similarly re-imagined from the ground up. For an American, everything appears here out of order: fortress scenes like jailed pirates and battle with the ship come first, then town ransack, then caves with skeletons in them. But this re-ordering is actually much more logical. Our boat sails past a long scene on the exterior of a fortress (and past the Blue Lagoon restaurant), then we go up a waterfall. I love how here they show big chains “pulling” us up the waterfall at this park. At least, they are supposed to. Only one of the two chains moved on our weekend visit.
Then, you tour the upper levels of the fortress, seeing things like pirates invading and breeching the walls. It’s all new to Americans. A swinging pirate overhead adds dynamic movement. At least, he’s supposed to. We rode perhaps nine times over the weekend, and only saw him swing once, in the early morning.
That’s not Jack hiding in the barrel.
The drop lands you squarely in the pirate ship attack, not safely far away like in Anaheim and Orlando. The ransack scenes are largely the same, though there is no Jack Sparrow here (yay for the original storyline!) and the chasing turntables (pirates chasing women, women chasing pirates) have not been altered to be politically correct.
Alas, the dueling animatronic swordsmen were missing in action all weekend. The burning town ends with glowing timbers and we drop through to the armory, which explodes because of all the fire (see, the ride makes sense!), breaking open a hole in the walls and we end up in caverns (now I get it).
The burning scene has a few minor changes.
So the skeletons being at the end show that the pirates don’t get away with it—the ride’s original message (though always garbled except for one brief pre-Sparrow moment stateside, when fixes improved the message before Sparrow flipped it around).
Dead men may not tell tales, but they sit atop piles of gold.
I can’t get enough of the BIG THREE. Plus, Disneyland Paris looks so beautiful. It really is the prettiest of the Magic Kingdom type parks, and I love exploring all its trails. Discoveryland looks less attractive as it ages—peeling paint is a real problem here—and its flagship ride disappointed. I’d seen the original Space Mountain years before, and Mission2 more or less works from a theme perspective. I miss the original music, though, and even more I miss the smoothness of the ride. Today’s version is a head-banging nightmare. My wife actively disliked the ride for it.
I lived in Southern California when Paul Pressler let Disneyland peel and rot into a shadow of its former self in the 1990s, and I’ve lived in Orlando the past eight years to see its decline too (maybe I’m the common element?!), so I feel comfortable in assessing how bad the maintenance is at Disneyland Paris. The answer: definitely getting worse, but not quite the crisis levels of Anaheim at its trough. We saw railings with peeling paint. We saw lots of trash in the streets, and we did not see any street sweepers. I’m not sure they have them. We saw custodial for restrooms and for restaurants, but no one just out in the streets. The broken show elements mentioned in the paragraphs above definitely stuck out, as did the non-functioning geysers next to the Phantom Manor.
The dark patches are intentional “damage”, but the white patches are peeled paint.
But by and large, things functioned. The place didn’t look a complete shambles, and a once a year visitor may not notice many declines. I like to think I’m not the usual once-a-year visitor, since my eye almost always picks out the problem spots, and I did not feel like upkeep was as bad here as it is in Orlando.
That said, my wife was crushed that the dragon beneath the castle was closed (it wasn’t a surprise, as I’d read about it online, but it was still disappointing). Despite all that, Disneyland Paris still packs a punch. This is a park that largely just works.
Well save the rest of this report until next time - when we'll be visiting its neighbor, the troubled Walt Disney Studios Paris (WDSP), which alas, has never enjoyed a good reputation.
A wink to Disneyland visitors. In Anaheim, the Village Haus has a sign that can’t go over
its door directly, so Figaro the cat is seen “pulling” the sign. Here in Paris, the sign
can go in the right spot, so Figaro just sports the thumbs up.