On main street Dapper Dan’s Hair Cuts is doing a roaring trade, the Cookie Kitchen lures passersby with its warm aroma and couples walk arm-in-arm beneath the vaults of the discovery arcade. Suddenly, snow begins to fall, gently – strange because it’s such a mild November evening, and there was no mention of a flurry of the white stuff on the weather channel. Then again in Disneyland all things are possible. The scene has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood movie – this could be Miracle on 34th Street, or perhaps for the workers here as they listen to O Tannenbaum for the umpteenth time it’s more likeGroundhog Day.
Disneyland Paris is located some distance from Paris, in Marne-la-Vallée in the eastern suburbs of Paris but the big city seems awfully far away. It has a pioneer feel, a place where settlers from far across the ocean came to build their dreamland. There is a small (real) town called Magny-le-Hongre close by where all the cafés are shut at half-four in the afternoon. The newsagent says: “What’s the point opening up, they are all at Disney.” Was that tumble weed tumbling past his door?
New for this year is Disney Dreams®, a closing spectacle that runs for 20 minutes – it’s an attraction in its own right. Disneyland celebrated its 20th birthday this year and has spent millions of euros on the candles for their cake. And what a cake! The Sleeping Beauty Castle, no less. And what candles! It is the sort of light and sound show that only Disney can dream up.
I’m not a fan of spoilers but suffice to say that they somehow transform the physical castle into a living, breathing canvas of light and colour. The towers have a life of their own, 3d video mapping projects animated characters in the air as Peter Pan’s shadow runs amok (there’s clearly a sorcerer at work here and a touch of silliness from his apprentice too, perhaps). The sorcerer in question was Imagineer Steve Davison who designed the show. he was also in charge of the conception of World of Color in California.
Blinding fireworks and spewing fountains rise higher than the castle, and an animated Quasimodo happily climbs around the turrets and ledges as if he was back on his beloved walls on Île de la Cité. Above his head, flamethrowers cast fire bombs that burst in the air – even at the back of the 6,000 strong crowd they can feel the heat on their faces. As we filed out towards the carriages that would whisk us homewards, a little girl catches a snowflake and announces: “It’s mousse!” It’s complicit, this making believe. And, yet, I am convinced that I spotted Peter Pan’s shadow slinking off to join the rogues in the land of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
Like prairie schooners circled, hotels surround the parks, servicing some of the 15.7 million people who descend upon it every year. They are not all Disney-owned. The Magic Circus hotel is owned by Vienna International Hotels (a sister hotel Dream Castle is located very close by). You can tell by their names that they are keen to fit in with the theme world imported by the Americans but they’re not standing still. The Circus’ resident manager Tonio Logiudice said, “Hotels have to keep evolving, changing their ideas, coming up with something new because every hotel has a lifespan. Customers are very demanding these days, and they travel often and keep up with trends via the internet. They’re very knowledgeable.” In the lobby, strong reds and yellows abound, giving it a warm feel despite its large surface area. The entrance is rather grandly decked out in a little circus tent, and on all the walls you’ll find excellent photos of circuses from days gone by – clowns and acrobats and elephants doing things with barrels that they shouldn’t be able to do. Like Disney, making us and making us cry. There is a special pagoda where kids can let their hair down, and I wondered how they mix families and business people for conferences: “We keep them apart but I think sometimes the business people would like to escape.”
The parks have changed and so have the customers. “Increasingly we’re getting young couples coming and lots of teenagers staying with us, ever since Disney started adding more and more attractions for an older age group. there’s a new attraction, Hollywood Tower Hotel. Not like our hotel. It’s designed to scare the life out of you. Too scary for little kids.” And for this particular adult. With my vertigo, I was happy enough at the prow of the Mississippi steamboat as it slowly toured the lake. The water’s calm was shaken by the screams of teenagers aboard a runaway rollercoaster in a mock-up of a gold mine set on the aptly named Thunder Mountain, and an automaton dog barked at his automaton master who shook back and forth outside his shack. Is this all hokey? Perhaps. In the series Friends, Chandler demands: “Why would I cry when Bambi’s mother dies – just because someone stopped drawing her?” Later in the episode, he would open up a veritable floodgate of emotion. It gets to us all at some point.