Monday, September 3, 2012

Disneyland Paris and Au Revoir Europe

Our last full day in Europe started with a 7AM breakfast buffet at the Sequoia Lodge and a leisurely walk to the Disneyland Park.

Even though we learned that there wasn't a whole lot open during Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland Paris, we hoped to get a ride on Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Peter Pan in before joining the mosh pit of people that wait for the 10AM stampede to Big Thunder Mountain by the rope to Frontierland.

We arrived at Disneyland at 8AM and took the waiting Paddy Wagon up Main Street to the Castle.  That was a lot of fun.  The driver was very nice and offered to take our picture by the car in front of the castle.

After taking a few pictures, we made our way to Space Mountain.  Just as it was two days before, Space Mountain was not running due to "technical problems."  We got Fastpasses to use later in the day.

We rode Buzz, and then walked over to Fantasyland and rode Peter Pan.  Since there was a very short wait for Dumbo, we hopped on for a quick ride.  The kids rode the Tea Cups, but Lori and I decided to pass in order to retain our breakfasts.

Around 9:15 we joined the crowd waiting for the Frontierland rope drop at 10AM.  Just like two days before, we second-hand-smoked about 5 or 6 cigarettes.  When the rope dropped, the mayhem that we had come to expect at DLP ensued:  adults trampling children, full-out sprinting, pushing, shoving, etc.    

We arrived at Big Thunder Mountain a few minutes later to find the queue wasn't open.  We had experienced this before, so we didn't think much of it.  People started queuing up behind the rope, but the queue soon started turning into an orderless mob.  After about 5 minutes, there was just a huge mass of people jostling for position.  After 10 minutes it was getting a little tense.  I was holding both Michael and Abby's hands to keep them from being separated.  A large guy with a cigarette in his mouth pushed Michael out of the way and "excused" himself up to his family on the other side of the mob.  It was getting pretty ugly.

After about 15 minutes we decided it wasn't worth the stress of waiting any more.  We correctly assumed that the ride was down for "technical difficulties."  Because both kids really wanted to ride Big Thunder one more time, we promised them we'd get Fastpasses later in the day.  Even with the Fastpasses, they didn't get to ride, though, because each of the 4 times we stopped back, the ride was not running.

We made our way to Pirates of the Caribbean and rode.  It, too, was down for "technical difficulties", but opened just as we arrived at the queue.  

The rest of the day was spent exploring the park at a very relaxed pace.  Abby and Lori rode Space Mountain (which again magically stopped having technical difficulties at 10AM) using Fastpasses while Michael and I rode Buzz again.  Next to Space Mountain we explored the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea walk-through.  We waited in line for 45 minutes to meet Mickey, but the time passed pretty quickly as we watched Have a Laugh cartoons. 

For Lunch we had fish and chips at Toad Hall, a Mr. Toad themed counter service restaurant.  In the afternoon we rode Phantom Manor one last time, and saw some of the minor walk-through attractions we had passed up during the previous two days.  

The kids enjoyed pin trading in the afternoon.  In the back of Frontierland there was a shop that sold pins and Vinylmation.  We met the two best DLP cast members there.  Nadia and Triston are the kind of cast members that have made our trips to Disney so special over the years.  They explained to the kids that the pin-trading rules at DLP are the same as at the other parks, despite what other cast members have told us.

They brought our a pin board for the kids to trade on.  As I thanked them before we left, they asked us to wait a minute so that they could get something for the kids.  Michael and Abby were very excited and appreciative when Nadia and Triston returned with special "1st Visit" Vinylmations for them.   I asked if I could take a picture of the kids with them so that we could remember them, because they had been so wonderful.   

As we walked back to Main Street to pin trade in the Emporium, we passed a fountain.  About a dozen kids had climbed in to swim in their clothes while their parents sat on the edge with their feet in the water.  Based on our experiences over the past two and a half days, we probably shouldn't have been surprised, but we were.  This kind of thing just isn't allowed, and doesn't happen at Disney World in Florida.

Pin trading in the Emporium wasn't as pleasant for Michael as it had been before.  He only had one pin left on his lanyard that he was willing to part with.  He asked a male cast member to trade, but the guy wasn't willing to take the pin that Michael wanted to give him because it had Mickey on it.  According to the cast member he "didn't like Mickey because that's my boss."  Abby stepped in and offered a different pin, which she shouldn't have had to do, but the guy still didn't like either pin.  

Appalled at this guy's attitude, we told Michael to try and find a different cast member with whom to trade.  Michael was a bit upset because he couldn't understand why this guy wouldn't trade with him.  It would have been tough to explain to him that some DLP cast members make up their own rules, so we just told him that the guy wasn't a great cast member.

We had a dinner reservation for Walt's at 6PM.  When we arrived we spent a few minutes debating whether or not to get the dinner package that included priority seating for both the Fantillusion Parade at 10:15 and the showing of Disney Dreams at 11PM.  Even though the price wasn't that much more, we passed on the package because we didn't think we'd all make it if we tried to stay out that late again.

Walt's had a great atmosphere, decorated in turn of the century style to fit in with it's location on Main Street.  We rode up to the dining room in the antique elevator which had old filament style light bulbs and stained glass.  Dinner was good, but nothing special.  The kids enjoyed seeing some of the 7 o'clock parade outside the window next to our table.  

In the evening we rode Pirates again, where two guests got into a swearing match.  It got very heated and escalated to a point where the one guy climbed out of the boat as it was loading, leaned over the railing and spit at the second guy.  The cast members looked at each other, not really knowing what to do.  Finally they let them both ride, and had security waiting for them at the end of the ride.

The kids wanted to do a little more exploring on Adventure Isle, so we allowed them to play a bit and walked through the Swiss Family Treehouse.  On the way out of the park we walked passed Big Thunder Mountain one last time to see if it was running, but it wasn't.

We left the park just after it was getting dark.  As we walked under the train station and out of Disneyland, we had a little of the "we're sad we're leaving Disney" feeling that we know all too well from our trips to Disney World, but it wasn't nearly as strong as normal.  All of us were looking forward to getting home after twenty days of living out of backpacks.

As we walked back through the Disney Village we picked up a set of Disneyland Paris Christmas Tree ornaments for our Disney tree we put up in our foyer every year.  We took the long way back to our hotel, stopping in the lobby of the Newport Bay Club hotel to see how it compares to the Beach Club - a similarly themed Disney World hotel that's one of our favorites.  

We went to bed with the very pleasant thought that our next bedtime would be in our own beds at home.  Even though the trip had been amazing, and one that we will always remember, twenty-one nights spent on planes, overnight trains, and in hotels makes you really miss your own bed.

The next morning we woke up and went to breakfast at 8.  Our train to the airport didn't leave until 10:55, and our flight home didn't leave until 1:55, so we had a little time to meet characters in our hotel in the morning.  

I stopped by the front desk and asked them to print our airline boarding passes.  They told me that they couldn't do this, and that I'd have to walk over to the Hotel New York, and use the business center to print them myself.  This was another of those moments in which Disneyland Paris seems to make things much more inconvenient than they need to be.  Luckily we weren't too rushed for time.

We walked over to the Hotel New York, and the kids met Mickey one more time as I walked to the business center.  I paid 5 Euro to find out that our boarding passes needed to be printed at the airport.  On the way to the business center there was a sign for Shea Stadium, a place where I have so many memories from going to Mets games throughout my life, so I made Lori take a picture of me next to the sign.  I didn't take a picture in front of the Yankee Stadium sign.

The train to the airport, and the flight home were rather uneventful.  I did get stopped at security at the airport and had my bags searched.  The agent asked me if I had any butter in my bag, which I thought was odd, but let me pass through when he was convinced that I did not.  

We watched movies on the flight home, and got through immigration and customs in New York pretty quickly.  My father picked us up at the airport and drove us to his house out on Long Island to get our car.  The 2 1/2 hour ride back home to the Poconos was tough with jet-lag, but it felt great when we were all able to put on clean clothes and collapse into our beds.

It really was an amazing trip, and we made so many wonderful memories.  I feel so blessed that we were able to provide so many great experiences for our kids, and that we were able to spend so many happy moments as a family, and with other family members.

Friday, August 31, 2012

European Vacation Photo Book

With some of the 2000+ pictures we took on our European Vacation we created a Photo Book with Shutterfly.  After discount codes and promotions, the book cost us less than $40, including shipping costs.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Disneyland Resort Paris - Day 1

The alarm went off early again, but we all got moving quickly, excited to start the Disney portion of our trip. Since we were staying at a Disney Resort, the Sequoia Lodge, we wanted to get to Disneyland early enough to check in and take advantage of Extra Magic Hours. Each day Disney Resort guests are allowed into the Disneyland Park two hours before the general public.

We caught the Metro a little before 5, and transfered to the 6:10 RER A train to Marne la Vallee-Chessy at Auber. We had picked up our tickets the day before. During the ride we prepared our lanyards and Disney pins for trading and ate fruit and cereal bars for breakfast.

We arrived at the station at Disneyland around 6:45. When we walked out we tried to follow signs to the Sequoia Lodge, but got lost. There was nobody around to ask for directions. Eventually we figured out that we had to walk through the Disney Village, which was closed. The security guard checked our reservation and waved us through.

The walk to the hotel was about 10 minutes. It was nice to take our packs off when we got there. Upon entering the hotel's main building, we were surprised to find no Cast Members (Disney's term for their employees) around to point the way to the front desk. We spent a few minutes walking up and down stairs searching for it.

This was our first clue that the level of service at DLP and WDW are not comparable. The two words that come to mind when thinking of the service at Disneyland Paris are "understaffed" and "inconvenient". While the philosophy at WDW is to exceed guest expectations and to provide a "magical" experience, there is clearly no such mission at DLP.

After checking in we set off for the parks so that we could take advantage of the Extra Magic Hours. Abby and I were very excited to ride Space Mountain Mission 2, which was supposed to be much wilder than its American cousin.

We went through the turnstiles and were among the first to walk down Main Street for the day. DLP's Main Street is even more beautiful than the one in Florida, and the view of the castle was great. Aside from the beauty, we took notice of two things. Everything was just a little smaller than in WDW, which was kind of nice and inviting. Also, there were no cast members on Main Street. Nobody giving high fives with Mickey hands, pin trading, or greeting guests.

We walked toward the castle and then turned right at the hub toward Discoveryland. We went right to Space Mountain, where we were told it wasn't running due to "technical difficulties". This would be a phrase we would hear over and over again during our three days. We grabbed Fast Passes for later.

We ended up riding Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, which was fun and similar to the ride in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom. The only other ride open in Discoveryland was the Orbitron, a spinner ride that we skipped.

When we walked to Fantasyland we realized that there were only 7 attractions scheduled to be open during EMH: Space Mountain (which was closed), Buzz, Orbitron, Peter Pan, the Tea Cups, the Carrousel, and Dumbo. Also, most shops were closed.

We rode Peter Pan and the carrousel, and then got really bad cups of coffee around 9 o'clock. Fantasyland was amazingly themed and beautiful. The parks in Florida don't come close in that respect. We sat on a bench with a map planning our day, since there wasn't much to do.

Around 9:20 we noticed a crowd forming at the rope at the entrance to Frontierland. Since we wanted to ride Big Thunder Mountain we joined them and waited until the park officially opened at 10. While waiting, we each smoked 5 or 6 cigarettes second hand. That was less than enjoyable, but commonplace in the parks there.

When the rope dropped, it was madness. Adults and kids in all out sprints, small children being pushed out of the way, and no Cast Members around to maintain any kind of order. When we got to the ride, the queue was not open yet, so a mosh pit began to form near the entrance. People were pushing others out of the way and cutting in front of others. Thankfully the queue opened after a few minutes, and things got a little more organized.

The ride itself was great. I'd say it is slightly better than WDW's version. After riding we went back to Space Mountain and learned that the "technical difficulties" amazingly ended at 10 when the park officially opened. (This also happened on the other day we were there for EMH). Abby and I used our Fastpasses while Lori took Michael on Star Tours. He didn't meet the height requirement for Space Mountain.

Space Mountain was incredible. I'd rate it as one of the best Disney attractions I've experienced, despite the fact I felt sick for an hour after riding twice in a row (We used Lori and Michael's fastpasses the second time).

Next we rode it's a Small World, excited to see the North America scene that isn't in the US versions.

By this time, the park was swamped. Disneyland doesn't have nearly the capacity of WDW's Magic Kingdom, so wait times get crazy much earlier. There was even a half hour wait to get on the railroad.

We had lunch at the Blue Lagoon, a wonderfully themed restaurant overlooking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Unfortunately, the food and service didn't come close to matching the atmosphere. Our server was responsible for 10 tables, and despite working his tail off couldn't possibly serve them all well. Most of the tables around us were visibly as frustrated as we were with the service. The food was pretty lousy.

After lunch Abby and I used Fastpasses to ride Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, which was a short roller coaster ride around a temple. It was OK, but we agreed that we didn't need to do it again on the trip. Michael was disappointed that he didn't meet the height requirement.

We left the park and walked back to get into our hotel room. We took short naps so that we'd be able to stay up for the nighttime parades and fireworks.

We stopped at Earl of Sandwich in Disney Village on the way back in for dinner. It's one of our favorite places for a cheap meal at WDW, and it was about the same in DLP, although much more expensive.

On the way in we took pictures in front of the Disneyland Hotel, which sits in front of Disneyland Park.

Inside the gates we saw the 20th anniversary sign on the front of the train station. It was awesome.

We explored Main Street and looked around in the Emporium for a bit before making our way to Frontierland. The kids traded a few pins.

In Frontierland we rode Phantom Manor, the DLP version of the Haunted Mansion. It has a darker tone than the Florida version, and the music is less catchy, but we all enjoyed it a lot. Lori and I agreed after the trip that it's one of the top attractions in either Paris park. While we were waiting in the queue, the ride shut down for abut 15 minutes for "technical difficulties" but we waited it out.

Next we rode Pirates of the Carribean in Adventureland. This ride is excellent in all respects, and better than the WDW version. We were all very impressed. While waiting we experienced a few more line-cutters who pushed their way past while waited for 10 seconds for the woman in front of us to take a picture, but since the ride loads so many people at once, we didn't let it bother us.

We decided to skip the 7PM parade that night and let the kids explore Adventure Isle, an incredibly themed area for kids and adults to explore in Adventureland. This is one of the true highlights of DLP, in my opinion. The kids loved it, and we enjoyed it as well as adults.

Around 8:30 we started to work our way back to Main Street to stake out a spot for the 10:15 Fantillusion Parade. We walked through the Sleeping Beauty exhibit in the castle and saw the Dragon in the castle basement.

We found a spot on a curb in the hub in front of the castle to wait. We were shocked to see lots of people climbing over railings to set up in flower beds and lawns to watch the parade. There were no Cast Members that we saw managing the crowds, or anywhere in sight, really. We had ice cream while we waited.

About 30 minutes before the parade a few Cast Members started setting up ropes along the parade route. We realized that our spot was not on the parade route. Disappointed at my lack of planning, we moved down Main Street a bit where we waited the rest of the time on the sidewalk about 3 people deep. We met a family from Liverpool with kids the same age as ours and passed the time talking to them.

Right before the parade started things got a bit crazy. One woman came up and shoved her kids in the lap of another woman's kids who had been waiting for over an hour. Other people tried to squeeze their way to the curb in front of others who had been waiting. Shoving and arguing ensued. We used our bodies to try and protect our space and our kids. It was very tense and not very enjoyable. Nothing about waiting for parades in Florida had prepared us for this.

The parade was good, and I was able to hold Michael in a way that he and I had a decent view most of the time. Abby and Lori couldn't see much, and didn't enjoy it as much.

After the parade we made our way back to the hub and found a spot with a good view of the castle for the nighttime show, Disney Dreams. We found a a family standing next to a big stroller and had Abby stand behind the stroller so that she wouldn't have her view blocked. Luckily, there was a lot less tension and shoving than before the parade.

Dreams was incredible! Other than the "Summer Nightastic" (Pirate and Princess Party) show at the Magic Kingdom a few years ago, this was the best nighttime show I've seen. The use of projections on the castle, lasers, fountains, pyrotechnics, fireworks, and music was simply awesome.

Exhausted, we walked back to our room after the show, looking forward to going to DLRP's other park, Walt Disney Studios, in the morning.