The Main Streets we’ve come to know and love in Disneyland and Walt Disney World were designed to replicate Walt Disney’s hometown in Marceline, Missouri.
When Disney’s planners were designing the chief thoroughfare at Disneyland Paris, they could have ditched the traditional Main Street concept and come up with something different … more European, perhaps, such as a replica of the fabled Champs-Elysees in Paris, the world-renown boulevard lined with cafes, cinemas and shops? [Indeed, there is a connection between the Champs-Elysees and Disney; Walt, in fact, drove along the street on numerous occasions as a member of the Red Cross ambulance corps right after World War I.]
But in the end, the planners stuck with a tried and true formula. “It was always America,” said former Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, who was instrumental in the design of Disneyland Paris. “There was a lot of thought about what era of America would be interesting … there was a lot of support for moving it forward to the age of jazz, motion pictures and motorized vehicles like a Chicago in the 1920s, but ultimately, we dropped it back” to Main Street, circa 1900, around the time Walt was born.
Disneyland Park [or Parc Disneyland, as it’s known in France], opened in 1992 and will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year. It is a truly magical destination and very much in keeping with the design philosophies of the Magic Kingdoms that came before it. But it also is a unique and well-thought-out park with a nice mix of classic attractions from Disneyland and Walt Disney World. The attention to detail throughout the park, particularly on Main Street and in Fantasyland, is breathtaking.
You enter Disneyland Park by walking under the beautiful Disneyland Hotel, which is awash in elegant Victorian architecture, and is very much reminiscent of the Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World.
The idea of a hotel at the Main Gate was a bold and unprecedented move, to be sure. “That was clearly an outgrowth of noticing how much effort was spent in the sense of arrival at a lot of the classic destinations throughout Europe,” Baxter said. To get to the park’s entrance, you walk down several steps and past water features and stunning floral displays. Along the way, there are bricks embedded in the ground with people’s names etched on them, a nod to the Walk Around the World concept at WDW.
Once through the turnstiles, you walk into a courtyard, then under the Disneyland Railroad’s Main Street station and out into the expansive Town Square. Much like Disneyland and WDW, there’s a City Hall to the left and a variety of boarding areas set aside for Main Street vehicles. As you enter town square, you can’t help notice the glittering castle off in the distance.
Prominently displayed in the center of Town Square is a gazebo. Walt Disney very much wanted a gazebo in the heart of Town Square in Disneyland and, in fact, one was placed there in the weeks prior to the park’s opening in 1955. But it was moved at the last minute when Walt felt it blocked views of both the castle and the train station. There are no such impediments in DLP, so a gazebo fits in nicely.
From Town Square, guests have a choice: They can walk right down the middle of Main Street U.S.A., as the song goes, or they can select one of two indoor arcades located behind the Main Street shops. The arcades [actually, classically designed covered walkways] are elaborately themed. To the left, is the Liberty Arcade, which pays homage to the Statue of Liberty, France’s gift to the United States, while to the right is the Discovery Arcade, which celebrates historic inventions and innovations. Guests can access Frontierland from the Liberty Arcade, while the Discovery Arcades leads guests into Discoveryland, Disneyland Park’s version of Tomorrowland. You also can enter all of the Main Street shops from the arcades.
Those who choose to walk up Main Street are greeted by storefronts that are similar in style and design to America’s two Disney theme parks. There are even souvenir shops honoring Walt’s mother [Flora’s] and his wife [Lilly’s]. About halfway up the street is Walt’s, an upscale restaurant that is reminiscent of the legendary Club 33 in Disneyland.
Main Street leads you to the Central Plaza, the park’s hub, and to the forecourt area of the imposing Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant … or Sleeping Beauty Castle. Until Shanghai Disneyland opened earlier this year, Disneyland Park’s castle was perhaps the most unique among the Disney theme parks.
To begin with, the castle appears to be set on a precipice and gives the illusion of being much larger than it actually is [“It’s bigger than Disneyland’s, but smaller than Walt Disney World’s,” is how Baxter explains it]. It’s quite an impressive structure, with pink siding and blue rooftops on its turrets. It’s also trimmed in gold.
And then there’s the dragon, a massive Audio-Animatronics figure located in the basement of the structure, “delivering on the dream of dragons living in the bowels of these castles.” according to Baxter. La Taniere du Dragon is a must-see walk-through attraction. Make sure to stick around to see his massive head and tail move around.
Should you decide to explore the castle even further, there’s a staircase that leads you up to the Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant, where you get a close-up view of the castle’s stained glass windows and rich tapestries … as well as a stunning view back down Main Street U.S.A. toward the train station.
The area surrounding the castle is quite large, giving Disneyland Park more than enough room to stage character-themed productions and parades.
The remainder of the park consists of four themed lands, most of which include familiar, though uniquely different, Disney park attractions.
The smallest land in Disneyland Park contains two E-ticket attractions [Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril] and several walk-through adventures geared to younger visitors.
Pirates’ Beach and Adventure Isle are attractions where the kids can let loose, exploring secret coves, pirate hangouts and take part in pirate-themed adventures on a pirates’ galleon or near the imposing Skull Rock. Le Passage Enchante d’Aladdin features elaborately detailed miniature scenes that depict the story of Aladdin, while the La Cabane des Robinson allows guests to explore the marooned Swiss family’s famous tree-top abode.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril is a thrilling coaster attraction that takes guests over, under, around and through the ruins of an archaeological dig site. There’s no shortage of stone idols along the route, and at one point, your ride vehicle spins around a 360-degree loop. Quite a unique adventure.
Pirates of the Caribbean sticks pretty much to the script of the classic Disneyland and WDW attractions, although there are many one-of-a-kind touches that make it a standout on its own. The beginning of the journey takes guests past the Blue Lagoon Restaurant, then into a world populated by scurvy pirates and elaborate Caribbean-themed tableaus. And, yes, the ransacked town will go up in flames.
The fact that Phantom Manor, Disneyland Park’s version of The Haunted Mansion, was placed in Frontierland might seem a bit perplexing … that is, until you actually hop aboard a Doom Buggy and experience it first-hand: The last few minutes of the ride are straight out of the Wild West, with a number of six-gun toting spirits populating a series of Western scenes, including a run-down saloon and a dusty graveyard.
The exterior of Phantom Manor, which overlooks the Rivers of the Far West, is a richly detailed recreation of a Victorian mansion, although close inspection reveals it seems to have fallen into disrepair. You walk up a series of stairs [all the while surrounded by overgrown, seemingly unkempt foliage] and onto a wooden porch before you enter the manor itself.
After experiencing the classic stretching room [this one features portraits of a mysterious young woman], you walk into a room laden with portraits that seem to follow your every move. From here, you enter the boarding area, which is more like a large parlor room [and one that’s spacious and well-lighted at that] before setting off in search of the mansion’s mysterious bride and a variety of other happy haunts.
After the ride ends and you step out of your Doom Buggy, you exit [appropriately enough] through Boot Hill.
Big Thunder Mountain, arguably the best attraction in Disneyland Park, is located in Frontierland. Those guests who’ve ridden the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions of Big Thunder will be downright thrilled by this decidedly upgraded coaster.
When Disneyland Park was in the design phase, a Tom Sawyer Island was in the plans. But when the designers realized that Europeans didn’t have much affection for the works of Mark Twain, they switched gears and incorporated the island and made it an integral part of Big Thunder Mountain layout.
The boarding area is similar to the American Big Thunders, but something is very different as your runaway train pulls out of the station: Instead of going up, you hurtle downward … into a pitch black cavern. What’s happening is you’re going under the Rivers of the Far West and out onto the would-be Tom Sawyer Island, where most of the ride track is located.
After spinning around and hurtling up and down, the train goes back under the river bed and careens toward the station. According to Baxter, the train is traveling “at a speed that’s the fastest we’ve ever done on any of our roller coaster rides and it’s pitch black.”
Other Frontierland attractions include the Rustler Roundup Shootin’ Gallery, Pocahontas Indian Village, the Chaparrel Theater and the Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing. [To savvy WDW fans, Thunder Mesa is a recognizable name: It was a planned Western-themed attraction that would have occupied the areas that now house both Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain.]
There’s even a Golden Horseshoe-type venue, known as The Lucky Nugget Saloon, which offers burgers, soft drinks and entertainment … albeit a guy playing cowboy tunes on a piano.
This themed land is packed with many familiar attractions, many geared to families, including it’s a small world, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups, Les Voyages de Pinocchio, Le Carrousel de Lancelot, Peter Pan’s Flight and Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains [Snow White’s Scary Adventures]. The latter attraction is very similar to the now-shuttered Snow White ride in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
There’s also an attraction in Fantasyland that is sure to drive guests bonkers. It’s known as Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and it’s described as “Wonderland’s wonderful hedge maze.” If you’re in the mood to get extremely frustrated, this is the attraction for you.
The Casey Jr. le Petit Train du Cirque is a decided upgrade over its Disneyland counterpart. The most notable difference is the train glides along on a coaster-type tubular track, which allows it to go a bit faster and take turns at a higher rate of speed.
Much like Disneyland, a quaint boat ride [Le Pays des Contes de Fees] through miniature scenes from classic Disney films winds its way around and under the Casey Jr. track layout.
Disneyland Park’s version of Tomorrowland also has a mix of classic Disney park attractions, all with a unique Disneyland Paris flare.
Orbitron, for instance, is similar in concept to WDW’s Star Jets, although the Parisian version is based on Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of the solar system. And Les Mysteries du Nautilus is an elaborately-themed walk-through allowing you to explore Captain Nemo’s fabled submarine from a different perspective.
Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast and Autopia are faithful recreations of the originals; Star Tours, though, is currently closed and is being updated to the more inclusive Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.
The most visible attraction in Discoveryland is Space Mountain: Mission 2, in part, because the building itself is so imposing, but also because the launch area of the coaster is located outside the multi-hued venue.
Space Mountain: Mission 2 is based on Jules Verne’s book From the Earth to the Moon, which featured the Columbiad cannon as the launch mechanism. Guests board the vehicle and are propelled up and into the mountain through the cannon, where they speed beyond the moon and into the edge of the universe.
Oh, one other thing: Space Mountain: Mission 2 is similar to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in that there are a number of loops and inversions to heighten the overall experience.
The Disneyland Railroad is a great way to get an overview of the park. The interior of the Main Street station is quite detailed and beautiful. The train stops at three other locations in the park: Fantasyland, Frontierland and Discoveryland.
Food options are plentiful in Disneyland Park. The choices in the quick service restaurants are extensive, although Americans may find things get lost a little in translation. At Au Chalet de la Marionette in Fantasyland, for instance, the hot dog on the menu is actually a giant sausage, the chicken is broiled and burgers are served on bagels. And coffee in Europe doesn’t come close to what Americans are used to … it’s thick and really strong.
Unlike Club 33 at Disneyland, which is for members only, Walt’s is open to the public, but requires a reservation. The entrance and stairway up to the restaurant is lined with Walt Disney memorabilia and photos.
Parades, character meet-and-greets and stage shows are featured during various times of the day at Disneyland Park. The afternoon parade is quite enjoyable, as is the stunning Disney Dreams nighttime fireworks show. Check the program guide for times and locations.
Although a no-smoking policy has been introduced and designated smoking areas are sprinkled throughout the park, many Disneyland Park guests simply ignore it.
The Thunder Mesa Riverboat landing is an homage to the scuttled Thunder Mesa project in WDW, which was the brainchild of Disney Legend Marc Davis. Two riverboats, the Mark Twain and the Molly Brown, ply the waters of the Rivers of the Far West, which encircles the Big Thunder Mountain island and gives guests a great, close-up view of the attraction.