Legends of the Force at the Walt Disney Studios, Paris

DSC_0374Although this is the first time I’ve been in Paris for this event, I have been around for various Star Wars bits and pieces, both here and in Walt Disney World going all the way back to the Star Wars weekends they used to run in Florida. Now so much in the way of Star Wars entertainment has become a staple of the American parks all year round that it feels strange to consider them a part of a ‘festival’ elsewhere. But even then, there’s a lot of this that has been in Paris for years as standard entertainment, too so the only real addition to make it an event is the evening fireworks.

DSC_0357The March of the First Order hasn’t really changed, nor has A Galaxy Far, Far, Away beyond updates for newer movies as they come along and they are identical to the originals in the Florida parkThe newer addition of the Imperial March with Vader was very good. It felt like a fresh alternative to the First Order March and there was more to it; with the Imperial Officer who hammed it up wonderfully with his distaste for Rebels. The way his smugness is brought down a peg or two when Force choked by Vader was also a highlight!DSC_0423

The evening show has a lot of similarities to the Galactic Celebration in WDW, though using the projections on the Tower of Terror rather than the Chinese Theater. The difference here was essentially combining the fireworks, lasers and projections with the cast of character used in Galaxy Far, Far Away, which gave the show something a little extra that’s missing in the Hollywood Studios version. I had very little to do later in the evening so staked out my spot about 45 minutes beforehand. It was raining and cold but I persevered and was glad of it when discovering the characters were being used as it meant I had a better chance of getting photos without heads in the way!DSC_0322

It’s difficult to get a good view of the projections in that the Hollywood Tower Hotel is nestled in such a way that there’s no way to see the whole thing. All you really want to do is avoid being behind someone tall, so staking out any place to stand that’s by the ropes is all you can really do. I think I did pretty well and tried to maximise how much of the Hotel I could see as I wasn’t sure how they’d do the projections, though the canvas coverings over parts of the structure do give away areas they concentrate the projections on!

It was a pretty miserable evening for me as it was raining and cold and I stood for 45 minutes parked in place. Of course, it seems to not matter if you stake your place – some small child will always be pushed or push themselves in beside you or try to get in front of you (other pet peeve!) and it seems to be more common in France than in other Disney parks. I do tend to make myself quite big to avoid it as much as possible but on that night I was huddling to shelter myself and my camera as much as possible from the cold rain!

DSC_0434I really enjoyed the show. I honestly think it’s better than the Hollywood Studios version. The problem at DHS is also something that’s good about it – there’s so much going on around you. Yes, it can be immersive but you can also easily miss things. Here, you are mainly looking in front of yourself – at he stage and at the Tower of Terror. And the other plus as I mentioned before is that they bring the cast out. Actually, being in darkness for it really helps make the lightsabers pop in photos, too!DSC_0464

I can’t however tell you to make a special trip out to Paris to attend for this particular event. It’s a good add on/extra for those already going, especially at this time of year when they take down rides for refurbs and you need something to do, but so much of it is actually just regular Star Wars attractions that unless you are a hardened Star Wars fan there’s no real need.

The Galactic Celebration is pretty spectacular though. Even in the rain!DSC_0470

 

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Walt Disney Studios

As a companion blog piece to my other post about Disneyland itself, this is my impressions of the other Paris park based on my recent trip. Again, I’m really getting to grips with the parks now that I’ve been a good few times and have worked out the best way for me to enjoy my time there. So this is my observations on the Studios on a trip in January.DSC_0263

It seemed like a lot of the Studios was down for refurb even though it’s actually only two main rides (and a kids area), though with both Crush’s Coaster and the Backlot Tour being time suckers, I think that’s part of why it seems like an obvious gap in your daily schedule and it does make a bit of a dent in your day to not have them as options, more so than you think but that’s because the park is still small and lacks a lot of entertainment.

With Extra Magic Hours it’s easy to knock out a lot of rides – I had done all but Tower of Terror and Rock N Roller Coaster by 9.30am. I’d even ridden Ratatouille twice before park open. It’s a ride I love and am looking forward to getting in EPCOT soon. It’s certainly a flagship ride for the park as it can hit wait times of over an hour and the fastpasses go reasonably quick. Getting on during EMH is a real plus.

DSC_0272Toy Story Playland looks like it might need a little bit of TLC and a coat of paint, but at least their Slinky Dog still has a tail attached! It’s a cute little kids ride and actually feels like it goes faster in it’s little circles than it looks. The RC Racer is a simple fairground style ride that still gives decent G-force, and The Toy Soldier Parachute Drop is an excellent way to introduce kids to a free-fall ‘drop’ style ride.

The best area of the park is the French section and the Ratatouille ride. It’s a weird thing to say about a park in France but it has a ‘French’ feel to it that’s similar to EPCOT’s pavilion and the ride, which is being built in Florida, is briliant and immersive. They also still had a small food festival going on that was out for Christmas, so there was a lot of food to try at the various booths. It’s an aim of mine to eat at Chez Remy at some point but alas it was closed during this trip.DSC_0278

Tower of Terror is a classic, and I enjoy doing it in French. It’s a carbon copy of the California version of the original ride (pre Mission Breakout) and you can’t go wrong with it. With Crush being down though it did generate quite a queue, but with fastpass I was able to ride twice during my day.

Rock N Roller coaster was feeling rickety. I’ve been thinking the same of the Florida version which makes me wonder if there’s plans worldwide to change the rides away from Aerosmith at some point in the future. The difference in Paris is that it’s not about the story of getting to the gig on time. Instead, Aerosmith have designed the coaster for you to enjoy, so it’s less immersive in that sense of storytelling. I’d say the track is pretty darn similar and definitely not as smooth as it once was. I only rode once because I didn’t want to have a headache for the rest of the day!

DSC_0264Stitch Live! is always fun. Much like with Turtle Talk or Laugh Floor, you can get a different show experience each time you go in. They alternate shows in French and English. I did debate going into the French one to test myself out a bit but never had the chance later in the day. The show works really well with Stitch since he’s so mischievous and he can get away with a lot of different audience interaction. His intro these days was singing Baby Shark (which I’d just got out of my head after it being used in pantomime this year!) so… thanks, Stitch!

DSC_0354I always make a point of heading into Moteurs! Action! even though I watched it so many times at Hollywood Studios and have seen it a few times here in Paris. It feels like a classic that you can’t miss. And it certainly entertains for 40 minutes and kills time at the very least.

And Armageddon, well, it’s not really much of a ‘thing’, honestly. Once you’ve done it once… It’s got a lot in common with the Twister attraction at Universal Studios (or the old Earthquake ride but without the ride element) in that you pretty much just stand there and watch things happen around you. Depending on where you stand, you might not actually even see anything. I suspect it’s one of those things that they keep because it’s something for people to do, but once the park expands, I’m sure it’s something they’d look at changing out.2019-01-26 09.37.49

And that’s the park! Or at least, what there is to do on a cold weekend in January. (The Legends of the Force event is something I’ll touch on in a separate ‘events’ post). Mickey and the Magician only returns in February but trust me, had it been on earlier, I would have just made sure to go to every showing of it. Not only because I love it, but it’s inside and getting out of the cold would have been a plus!

The Studios is definitely a one day park. At most, you might hop back over to do a favourite ride(e.g. Ratatouille) on a second day, or maybe spend an EMH there and get everything done, then head over to the main park for the rest of your time. Hopefully once the park has been expanded, it’ll be the kind of park to spend more time in. It’s pretty much like its Florida sister park in that way. Until the new lands debut, there’s just no need to spend a great deal of time there on one visit. It feels a bit like a park that was created in a rush on a tight budget and needs the investment to make it something special. With the proposed Marvel, Star Wars and Frozen lands, I think it could become something quite epic down the line but for now the best advice I would give is to make sure to go during some kind of Festival or event in order to get your money’s worth!DSC_0427

 

Disneyland Park

I’ve been to Disneyland Paris a few times now and though I don’t know it as well as I do the American parks, I’ve started going out more and more and feel like I’m getting to grips with it to be able to form better opinions! In this blog post, I’m going to look at the main park in more detail – especially the things that are unique to it – and make some observations and maybe the odd recommendation based on my recent trip in January.DSC_1187

Main Street

Well, let’s face it. Main Street is Main Street. There’s shops and a bakery and Casey’s for hotdogs! The one difference is that if it’s cold or raining you can walk down either of the arcades that run parallel down either side of Main Street in order to stay dry – and by arcade I mean the European meaning of it, not the American idea of a videogame arcade! Over here it’s basically a roofed walkway/gallery and in this case it means there are back doors into each of the shops as well as some dining areas as spill out from Casey’s.DSC_1180

The good thing at Paris is that they still run the Main Street Transportation more than they do elsewhere, perhaps because of crowd levels! Obviously there’s a castle to head to at the Hub and in Paris it’s Aurora’s only bigger here than in California. The shaping is a little more unique in its turret design and square trees and a waterfall line down the left hand side of it giving a lopsided feel to photographs.

The best part about the castle here though is that there’s a dragon underneath. You can go visit the sleeping Maleficent, and maybe try not to wake her up!

Discoveryland

On my last visit, they were in the process of updating everything Star Wars related, so this trip was my first chance to do Hyperspace Mountain. The last time I’d ridden was when it was still Mission 2, and was in desperate need of refurb because your head really battered about in the headrest. It’s quite strange to go into the building as it still has so much of the Jules Verne inspired steampunkish-ness about it. The only real Star Wars influence in the queue is some banners at the load dock and the video safety messages. The ride itself however has truly returned it to its former glory. Though I know many would prefer the original look to the ride, the track hasn’t changed and is now back to being the best Space Mountain I’ve ever been on. It was once again a smooth ride and being a Star Wars fan, I loved the way they had it laid out with the screens and lasers and the story line.DSC_1193

Star Tours was… well, Star Tours! As much as Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger spin is also just the same as any other Disney park version.

The newest addition to the land is Philharmagique, which resides in the theatre that used to hold Captain EO. Being refitted for Philharmagique meant there were differences between the Paris and Orlando versions. I did feel that the imagery on the screen was sharper, with the 3D a better quality and didn’t make you go cross-eyed. The scent and water effects were missing but they had instead incorporated the moving floor into the show. If they could combine both versions, the show would be really great!

Fantasyland

Nothing much differs from one Fantasyland to the next. It’s always good to do the classics that are gone from other parks: Snow White and Pinocchio dark rides are certainly a throwback that i enjoy reliving. Peter Pan’s flight is slightly different here but the main concept certainly doesn’t change. And Small World, Dumbo, Mad Tea Party and the Carousel are identical to anywhere else! I didn’t bother with the walk-throughs for this trip as I was avoiding staying out of the cold where possible!

Adventureland

I love the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Paris. It’s got a double drop and the area surrounding the ride feels more grand, with the Jolly Roger berthed nearby and Skull Island, merging the Peter Pan pirate aesthetic with the Caribbean one.2019-01-27 13.10.06

The Indiana Jones ride was rather rickety when I’d last dared to go on it, but I’d  been informed in advance that it was smoother again now, so I braved it and agree that it’s been improved again. I rode a few times and only once did I feel like my head was being a bit battered against the restraints. But at the same time, it’s still pretty much like Primeval Whirl with a loop!

They also have their equivalent of Jack Sparrow’s Pirate Tutorial held here at the Jolly Roger, called ‘Hoist the Flag!’. It’s a lot of fun and they combine French and English throughout. There’s a few different times they pick kids out of the audience for it which differs again from the American versions. It’s a bit tight for audience space, but at least it’s built on different levels, and with it being at the ship, I think it gives much better photo opportunities!

Frontierland

Well, of course, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Big Thunder Mountain in Paris is better than the American versions/originals. It’s longer, smoother and in order to get over to the main island where the ride is located, the train has to go under the water, which kind of adds some excitement as you go hurtling along in the dark. Though they no longer have the falling rocks effect, they use projection to do the dynamite which adds a little something on the final mount. And it always amuses me that when the train pops back up at the station, you roll past the entrance to the ride. 🙂2019-01-25 11.52.01

With Phantom Manor closed for refurb there wasn’t much else to do in Frontierland currently except some shopping or photo opportunities. That end of the park is a little empty currently. I really enjoy Phantom Manor so it was a shame to have it closed, but these things happen and I look forward to getting on during my next visit later in the year.

Disney Illuminations

They’re sparkly, for sure. Just as advertised! I do miss Disney Dreams, but moving towards projection and other effects beyond fireworks, for me, makes these night time shows more spectacular and immersive. And it means that should weather be bad (as I have experienced), the show can still go ahead and be really good even when missing a few elements.DSC_0736

The rain came battering down on Sunday night about halfway through the show, so we only had fireworks up until approx the Pirates of the Caribbean section and after that, just projection, lasers and fountains. I was watching thinking that maybe we were supposed to have some going off but couldn’t remember for sure. I only realised they’d stopped using the fireworks during the ‘grand finale’ where I knew they were definitely missing!

2019-01-25 18.50.31-1But I had the chance to enjoy the full show on Friday night. With a 6.30pm show at this time of year it feels early, but with it being so dark anyway (and having been in the park since 8.30am’s EMH) I was tired and cold and happy to be finishing the night! I rocked up around 6pm to the area on the left of the castle just behind where they cordon off for wheelchairs and other disabilities. With that area mostly empty though, it left me with a great view of the castle at a distance and with no one in front of me (better yet, no small children being put on adult shoulders and ruining it for dozens of people standing behind, grrr, my biggest pet peeve). I decided to go there again on the Sunday night and was really happy with the view. I may do the same in future and use this as me ‘go to spot’. 🙂

Disney’s Santa Fe Hotel – Review

I just got back from a little trip to Disneyland Paris and for the first time, stayed in the Santa Fe hotel. Though I was due to stay here on my last trip, I wound up with a free upgrade to Sequoia and didn’t get the chance (not complaining!).

This hotel is one of two value resorts at DLP and is usually the cheaper option of the two. It’s themed towards Pixar’s Cars trilogy and is styled like a motel, with a few different building all mainly on two or three levels. They’ve split it into themed areas for McQueen, Mater, Sally and Luigi.

DSC_1157My room was in Luigi’s section and on the ground floor. Although it is one of the outer sections, and therefore further away from the main lobby building where the restaurant, bar and shops are, I felt luckier because I was in the building that is closest to the walkway that leads to the parks. It cut a possible 5 minutes off my walk, which was a plus in my book!

DSC_1152The room I was in had a queen bed and bunk beds. So I was given a family room even though it was only me using it. The bed was comfortable and there was plenty of space for me, and I should think for a family of four as well with drawer space and room to hang things up. There’s a safe if you need to use it. The bathroom was a little small to move around in – perfect for me but maybe trickier for a bigger family using the space.

Unlike in other Disney resorts, they still have the individual bottles of H2O products, so I snaffled those away each day! They had a hairdryer on the wall of the bathroom that was basic, so anyone needing anything fancier would be best to have their own things with them. There was a kettle out in the main part of the room, but nothing to go with it – no mugs or spoons, let alone any tea and coffee. I think you could get more bits and pieces if you called information but not being in the room as standard probably saves them on replacing things. I know I’d have used them if they were there, but I wasn’t going to bother making a call for anything else!

DSC_1154The theme of the room is very obvious but it’s not overblown. Beyond the cone shaped mirror and lighting, and the wallpaper that borders the ceiling, anything else blends into a more discreet ‘cars’ theme, like the chequered flag motif in the bathroom tiles, or the arrows and lighting around the bathroom mirror. Frankly, by booking into  Disney resort I want the themeing though! It’s all about balance, and I think they strike it well, here.

The outside of the hotel itself is pretty basic – there’s no over-size IPs like you’d get at the Florida value hotels. There’s a billboard style sign on the front of the hotel and small silhouettes of cars and desert motifs around the buildings in a small border but that’s all.

2019-01-25 08.13.38The walk to the Disney Village is pretty easy once you find it! It’s a small path that meanders past Sequoia Lodge and then over the bridge to the Village, through which you then get to the parks. I think I did it in less than 15 minutes, but I do walk pretty fast. They advertise it as being 20 minutes, but I also assume that’s the furthest walk from the back of the hotel that I pleasantly missed out! I don’t mind a walk, but being January meant it was bitterly cold and at the end of a long snowy/rainy day at the parks, you just want to get back to your room fast and get the feeling back in your hands and feet!

The walls were a bit thin. There was a lot of noise at that 9-11pm kind of time as everyone returns from various places, but through the night itself was blissfully quiet until 7am when everyone gets up to go enjoy Extra Magic Hours (which I was using, so the noise wasn’t a problem!)

I didn’t get a chance to use the restaurant but I headed to the bar on Friday night. Service was a little slow with only two bartenders on and being France, they take their time preparing drinks. I ordered something new on the menu which the bartender wasn’t too familiar with yet. It was also incredibly strong but I’m not sure if that was to do with how he made it or it’s actually designed that way. But it certainly looked pretty! The atmosphere in the bar was great and I sat in front of the big screen that had the football on so was just paying attention to my phone and my drink and my nuts!

The ‘Trading Post’ shop was well stocked. In fact, I put off buying the ears I wanted and then couldn’t find them in the park the next day until late afternoon in one of the Main Street boutiques, so it was good to see more unique merchandise in amongst the more popular things, and you can purchase drinks and food as well as toiletries you may have forgotten. Even better? It’s just a 5 minute walk to the Esso Garage next door where you can get food and drink a little cheaper! I made a point of grabbing some snacks to take into the parks as well as water for the room. Why pay 3€ in the park for a regular bottle, when you can get 2 litres for 1.30€ in the Esso!

Another great amenity to use at the hotel is the baggage hold. If you arrive early or need to check out ages before you really need to leave, they’ll hold your bags for you, allowing you to go spend time in the parks. Unfortunately, my flight home was really early so I missed using my last day of park tickets, but if the flight was later, you bet your bottom dollar I’d have been up early and using Extra Magic Hours before having to leave!

2019-01-28 06.29.47All in all, I loved my stay. I find it difficult to justify being in more expensive hotels when you’re really only spending time there to sleep. Though perhaps in winter you can get more use out of the Resort when the parks are closed and pretty much empty by 7pm. If I was to go in winter again, I’d consider a bit of an upgrade, but at any other time, I’d be perfectly happy going for the value resort. Beyond an extra 5-10 minutes walk each day to get to the Disney Village, anything else isn’t greatly missed, especially on a short stay.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t love to stay at the Disneyland Hotel… y’know, when I win the lottery.

Disneyland Paris in January

DSC_1166Needing a bit of a Disney ‘fix’ and also needing to use up some holiday days from work, I decided on taking a weekend trip to Disneyland Paris. It had been about a year and a half since I’d last been so I felt due! The other great thing was that by using the deal for 2 nights free staying at a value resort, I was able to do the trip cheaper than if I’d just had a staycation – and that was still with just me staying in the room solo. I had 4 nights/5 days at the Santa Fe, including park tickets, for only about £350. Even by the time I added flights and Magical Shuttle, I was still well under £500 for a long weekend trip.

DSC_0407I timed the trip so that I could be there for both the Legends of the Force event at the Walt Disney Studios and the Pirate and Princess event at Disneyland Park. The only downside to being January is that rides close for refurb during low periods, so I couldn’t do Phantom Manor, Crush’s Coaster or the Backlot Tour, and the Disneyland Railroad was down, too. Also, on weekdays, both parks close at 6.30pm.

DSC_0008However, the midweek days were so quiet that ride waits barely exceeded 10-15 minutes and that included the E ticket rides. Big Thunder had up to half an hour at its peak, and I waited about that length of time at opening, but 20 of those minutes were from temporary downtime as they tested it for longer due to the overnight snow. With Extra Magic Hours from 8.30am you could get even more done. On the Saturday (when the weekend was busier with more locals coming out) I had all the rides possible done in the Studios except two (because they weren’t open during EMH) and I’d ridden Ratatouille twice (which went up to a 70 minute wait later in the day).DSC_0278

I plan on doing a bunch of separate posts about my stay, including a breakdown of each park and the hotel, so this is mainly just an overview for now.

DSC_1177The parks were cold and there was still snow on the ground on the Friday. By Sunday it had mainly gone but the rain was a bit of a nightmare. I think being on my own was a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allowed me the freedom to choose what to do and when, whether that be for eating or for rides. But when I was waiting for parades or nighttime shows, standing on my own in the cold for a long stretch of time was difficult on my back and my feet – I was very glad for the foot warmers I had brought with me that were stuffed in my Uggs!

As usual my meager amount of French that I remember from school helped me out, but sometimes I found myself struggling when people spoke too fast. Luckily, the cast members speak very good English. 🙂

DSC_1186It’s interesting to be in a Disney park when it’s freezing out and you’re in a big coat, scarf, hat and gloves. I actually forgot about how much time I’d spend outside since I’d assumed a lot of the time I’d just be darting between inside things, but even Paris is built with a lot of queue areas that are exposed to the elements in some form and there’s a lot of walk throughs. So January is certainly an interesting time to be there and I’d repeat it (certainly if the cost was still so low), but I do prefer going in Spring!