Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On the Frontier: Paris Part One

I flew IcelandAir, Paris by way of Reykjavik. Immediately I was impressed by the overnight setup - pillows and blankets on the seats. The last time I flew IcelandAir, it was 2001, and we got free, delicious hot meals with real silverware. This time I ate me some pre-packaged sliders and took sleeping pills so I could get to Paris refreshed and keep going. Jeff booked the AirB&B and it was awesome. Everything IKEA and we stood in the kitchen and ate the cheese he'd bought from Barthélémy, the most famous cheese shop in Paris. I made it my mission to get there eventually. Taking my first bite of the Roquefort, it finally locked into me: I was in Paris, my first time in a place where they spoke a different language. I wasn't fluent, but I came equipped with the language of cheese, and we danced in our rented kitchen eating Roquefort.

The trip to Disneyland Paris was about 45 minutes. Two transfers; not bad. I didn't really know what to expect. I had this expectation that it was going to be DIFFERENT, not necessarily BETTER. We stepped off the train and there it was at once: Disneyland Paris (not EuroDisney; that name changed over a decade ago). That was one similarity with Disneyland in Anaheim. The real world bumped up right against the fantasy, and Jeff and I worried if we'd be able to fall into the "bubble," that automatic feeling you get at Walt Disney World in Florida: the sense that Disney is all around you, and that you are fully immersed. We needn't have worried. The second we stepped through those gates, we didn't look back.

I wasn't prepared for how BEAUTIFUL the park was; the landscaping is the best in any Disney park I've seen. (Well, Animal Kingdom gives it a run for its money). It sprawled out in front of us like a glorious dream of symmetry. The castle - Sleeping Beauty Castle, reimagined with a sloping hillside of cube-cropped trees, waterfalls, and a dragon cave near the moat - commands every view. It's asymmetrical, too, which sets it apart from everything else. It's leagues better than its sister castle in Anaheim, and is almost as impressive as Cinderella Castle in Orlando.

Jeff asked if it was important what we rode first. I nearly said the teacups - that's my first ride in Disneyland (Space Mountain is my first ride in Disney World, but Space was closed for renovations during this trip) - but left it up to him. He chose Pirates of the Caribbean. It was the best possible choice. Pirates won us over immediately - logically sound, a little scary, with a storyline that makes more sense than any of the other versions. Plus it skirted a restaurant - the Blue Lagoon - that absolutely prepared us for the biggest crime of DLP, the mind-bogglingly terrible food.

We were unprepared for the biggest shocker of them all: Frontierland (good in WDW, almost an afterthought in DLR) was the best part of all of Disneyland Paris. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Phantom Manor (DLP's version of the Haunted Mansion) were not just the best versions of those rides anywhere. They served to anchor a land in which no expense was spared in placemaking, theming, and knock-out beauty. There's a whole coda to Phantom Manor that takes you to honky-tonk hell. Oh, the busts are singing "Grim Grinning Ghosts," but this is scaresville and no fooling. Big Thunder plunges you into pitch black TWICE and then put you on an island to swoop and dip and scream. They are perfect.

We finished off our first night in Disneyland Paris wandering through the steampunk insanity of Main Street and its twin arcades. Our feet were killing us and I was having that cascading exhaustion I get when I've stayed out all night or traveled to Paris from Boston and then immediately went to a theme park. Back to the Air B&B for 5 hours of sleep; we had to be up at 5:30 AM for our first full day at Disneyland Paris, and we couldn't wait.