TRAVEL GUIDE: Disneyland, Paris
Want to be the best daddy in the world? There is no surer way to light up your kids eyes and win their adulation than the magical words: “Would you like to go to Disneyland?”
My eight-year-old twins Emma and Andrew went into orbit when I announced we would be heading to Disneyland Paris in early March — if they wanted to, of course, and they promised to be good.
Their five-year-old brother Christopher joined in the general hysteria although wasn’t quite so up to speed on what exactly lay in store.
The twins quickly filled their wee bro in on all the famous rides, the characters and the general wonderment of it all — and then clicked onto Disneylandparis.com to give him a visual preview. “And you'll probably get to meet Buzz Lightyear and Woody,” Andrew told him.
That did it for little Christopher — he was now beyond excitement and beyond infinity. From then on it was countdown to Disney. Ten more sleeps to Disneyland, nine, eight, seven...
With every day came new questions about the rides, the hotel (did it really have a pool and an ice rink) or how we were getting there — was it true we were going to take the fastest train in the world? This is the thing about booking the trip to Disneyland — the wonder begins long before the event for the little ones.
Getting to Disneyland Paris proved a doddle. We flew with easyJet from Belfast International to Paris Charles de Gaulle and made a straightforward seven-or eight-minute walk through Terminal 2 to the TGV station for the high speed train.
Many visitors use shuttle buses or taxis but I liked the idea of a high speed French train — the famous TGV — which promises to take you from the airport to Disneyland in less than 15 minutes. So we booked in advance online, reserving our numbered seats. Sure enough the sleek, uber modern TGV had us in Marne La Vallee Station at Disneyland in 14 minutes flat and from there it was a minute or two's ride on one of the frequent shuttle buses to our hotel, the New York – famous for its outdoor ice rink.
It was early the next morning when we hit the Disney Parks for the first time — heading straight for the Walt Disney Park Studios and its new Toy Story Playland with its themed rides.The idea is that you are in Andy's (the boy from the Pixar films) back garden and you've been shrunk to the size of one his toys.
There are giant blades of grass and rocks made to look like pebbles. After posing for pictures with Buzz, Woody and Jessie our awestruck kids headed for the rides.The three of them being wimps, like their parents, they passed on the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. Other kids were shrieking with pleasure as the parachutes — which tower above Playland — dropped 80ft bungee style but I for one was relieved that my three weren't crying out ‘take me on that one daddy'.
Instead they opted for the gentler charms of Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin, a roller coaster which builds up enough speed to give a fun thrill for young kids but doesn't induce the kind of excited screams coming from the toy soldier parachutes. Good old Slinky dog proved a favourite with my kids who had three goes.
But one adrenaline-charged ride was enough for Emma and Andrew on Crush's Coaster, one of the nearby attractions in Toon Studios. The Finding Nemo-themed ride is described as a ‘whirlpool of adventure' not suitable for under sevens.
Of course, the star attraction for adults and brave kids at Disney Studios is the famous 180 million euro Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, featuring the 160ft faster than gravity lift drop. Everyone has got to do this at least once. It was too scary for the kids but daddy had a go.
Although I am a wuss I prefer it to the really huge roller coaster rides because it's so quick. It's just a matter of waiting for your stomach and heart to join you once you get to the bottom.
During our three full days in Disney we spent time on all the parks on the resort — Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, Main Street USA and Discoveryland — exploring many of the great attractions.
These were the top five for my kids.
1. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast (Discoveryland)
Buzz needs your help against the evil Zurg. You’re on a star cruiser which you can turn 360° and he’s given you a laser gun to zap the enemies.
2. Pirates of Caribbean (Adventureland)
A boat voyage through secret caverns filled with rogues and pirates.
3. Peter Pan’s Flight (Fantasyland)
It’s a sail trip on a flying Galleon over starlit London on a journey to Neverland — past mermaids and Indians.
4. Star Tours (Discoveryland)
A motion simulator ride based on the Star Wars movies. Fasten your seatbelts for a thrilling a bumpy ride to the Moon of Endor. Superb.
5. Dumbo The Flying Elephant (Fantasyland)
A high flying carousel ride which Christopher specially enjoyed although vertigo-suffering mummy was a little surprised at just how high an elephant can fly.
Key advice here is to plan your trip in advance and decide which rides your kids are most likely to enjoy. Also take time to work out the Fastpass system (it’s easy really) which allows you to skip the queues for your favourite rides at a given time.
There is so much to take and so much to do. The parks open at 8am for guests at the seven Disney hotels (giving them a two-hour head start on other visitors). It was good to get in early and whizz round the favourite rides ahead of the queues but we found that after an early start the kids were pretty whacked by mid-afternoon — all that excitement and quite a lot of walking wore them out.
By late afternoon we are all ready to chill out at the pool and luxury whirlpool at the Hotel New York, a two minute stroll from Disney Village. It’s a wonderful hotel, designed to echo the feeling of 1930s New York City. With a luxury spa, a couple of terrific restaurants and bar it’s the perfect place to wind down after a busy of day of adventures.