Have you ever watched a video about the Disney parks, specifically one about a ride or an event that took place in the ’90s? They usually feature the line “… and then EuroDisney happened”.
Disneyland Paris, or EuroDisney as it was once called, as been the ugly step-sister of the Disney Parks and Resorts since the late 90’s when investment in the resort seemed to come to a halt. This was due to financial struggles the resort caused due to massive under-attendence, mainly due to Disney entering a market that didn’t particularly want them there. Some French intellectuals even called the park a “cultural Chernobyl“.
Now, at almost 30 years old, the resort is now the only international park to be under the complete control of The Walt Disney Company, who are revitalising the hotels and are expanding the resort with Star Wars, Frozen and Marvel areas in the Walt Disney Studios Park.
Many will talk about the shortcomings of Disneyland Paris, and there are a lot, but not many acknowledge just some of the things that Disney got right when it came to building the resort.
Here are four (non-ranked) examples of things that Disneyland Paris did better than her sister parks around the world.
1. A True Fantasy Castle
You won’t find that many castles when travelling around the United States, and the ones you do are never the kind you find across Europe. That’s where the problem begins… how can you build a princess castle and have it stand-out against the real castles that may only be a short car ride away?
Disney found quite the solution. Unlike Sleepy Beauty Castle in Anaheim and the identical Cinderella Castle’s in Florida and Tokyo, the French Sleeping Beauty Castle is partially inspired by the Mont Saint-Michel monastery in Normandy, and medieval artwork from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a book of hours by John, Duke of Berry, and the Limbourg brothers.
You’ll find no castle as vibrant or inviting as the French Sleeping Beauty Castle, or Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant as it’s officially named, anywhere in Europe. It looks like it has been directly lifted from a fairytale pop-up book.
Standing at 167ft (51 metres) it is now jointly the fourth tallest castle with Hong Kong’s new Castle of Magical Dreams) out of the six castles worldwide. It towers past Anaheim’s castle by 90ft but comes short of Tokyo Disneyland’s Cinderella Castle by a mere 1ft.
2. The Land of Tomorrow Yesterday
Every Magic Kingdom park has its land of tomorrow, a place where everyone can explore the technologies of the future and even journey into outer space – if you’re in Florida’s Magic Kingdom you can even take a journey into the far-far-future on the Carousel of Progress where they actually show off some impressive virtual reality!
There’s just one difference with Disneyland Paris. It doesn’t have a Tomorrowland. It has a Discoveryland. A land of tomorrow as imagined in the Victorian era.
This land was inspired by the likes of H.G Wells and Jules Verne, another solid effort to appeal to the European crowd. Still, it was also a way of having a land of tomorrow without having ever to update it because it’s essentially forever stuck in the past.
Despite the aesthetic changes many of the old favourites are there such as Autopia, Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, Orbitron (DLP’s name for Astro Orbitor), and Space Mountain: Mission 2, although it currently has the Hyperspace Mountain overlay.
Space Mountain: Mission 2 is similar to each, and every other Space Mountain across the world, except it’s far superior in virtually every way possible.
The Parisian Space Mountain is more like Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith than it is any other Space Mountain. It has the distinction of being the only one with inversions and larger than life set pieces and projections that give you a better feeling of travelling through space.
If you’re lucky enough to go when the Hyperspace Mountain overlay is removed, then you’ll get to see riders shot-out of a giant canon as they “rocket to the moon.”
3. The Story of Thunder Mesa
Hong Kong has a Grizzly Gulch. Tokyo has a Westernland, and Disneyland Paris has Frontierland, but don’t let its name fool you. While it’s French counterpart is similar to that of the US and Tokyo parks, it has some very hidden details that the other parks don’t have.
The most significant of these is that when you walk into DLP’s Frontierland, you are entering a ghost town called Thunder Mesa, and here each ride is connected by a cohesive story.
Henry Ravenswood founded the town to support the mining of Big Thunder Mountain, which stands tall on its own island in the middle of the local lake. The mining was a complete success, and it allowed him to build Ravenswood Manor over on Boot Hill.
But as the miners of Big Thunder had to delve deeper into the mountain as the gold began to dry-out, an earthquake struck the town, fulfilling an old legend that said anyone who disturbed the mountain would face the mighty wrath of the Thunderbird. Some say that Ravenswood Manor has since become haunted due to the deaths incurred by the earthquake.
The story not only connects Big Thunder Mountain to the nearby Phantom Manor (DLP’s much darker version of The Haunted Mansion), but it allowed Imagineers to flex their muscles at completely revitalising the attractions. Phantom Manor is similar to the US and Japanese versions but has different characters, a continuous orchestrated score which gives it a very cinematic feel, and a much scarier tone.
Big Thunder Mountain, on the other hand, looks the same and is largely based on the Florida version, but it is hands down the best version of the ride. Instead of Tom Sawyer’s Island, Big Thunder Mountain is an island in itself. You board from the mainland, and the trains take you through an underwater tunnel.
4. Next Round’s on Me!
Although you can now buy alcohol at Disneyland, you can only do so within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, so this makes Disneyland Paris the only Magic Kingdom-themed park where you can purchase alcohol anywhere within the park.
Almost every dining location sells alcohol in some form or another, and you are even free to roam the park with it.
It might sound like sacrilege to a hardcore Disney parks fan because traditionally you can buy alcohol at the sister parks but never within the Disneyland parks. This is, of course, one of Disney’s efforts to appease the local culture, because from a European perspective, the no-alcohol rule is a bit weird.
And that’s just four things Disneyland Paris got right. Do you agree? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!