Disney is synonymous with both cartoons and theme parks – it could be argued that they are probably the founders of modern theme parks with all-encompassing, engrossing settings. What would other parks be now without Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and so on to set the example?
We cross from Studios towards the entrance to Disneyland Park (not to be confused with Disneyland, the original park in California). It’s a 5-minute walk, or thereabouts, bypassing the Disney Village and going through some very nice gardens in front of the main hotel. The entrance to the park is actually located under the hotel and, as you swipe your ticket and go through the turnstyles, the system seems to moan or sigh “welcome” at you.
And then you’ve got Main Street USA, stretching out in front of you, successfully transplanted to France and at the end, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
It’s fair to say that I’m not going to dwell too much on theming in this section – that is for tomorrow, when we’ve got considerably more time to worry about such things. In the meantime, we’ve got two hours and a whole host of attractions to do. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, and all that. Without knowing how much time we’ll have tomorrow, it’s to the main attractions we go!
We head along Main Street USA (which is, put quickly, a long street with various shops and arcades) and spot a sign which keeps track of the queue times. Space Mountain Mission 2 is 5 minutes, Pirates Of The Caribbean is 5 minutes, and Big Thunder Mountain is 30 minutes. Alright then, it’s off to Space Mountain Mission 2!
SMM2 is located in… wait for it… Discoveryland! You thought I was going to say Tomorrow Land, didn’t you? Nope. Clearly the Disney guys had figured out that Tomorrow Land is just going to look like “generic space-y future land”, because the future didn’t turn out how Walt had expected, so instead we’ve got Discoveryland – a more retro, steampunk affair which I wholeheartedly agree with – except for when it decides it can’t be arsed with the steampunk vibe and goes back to rubbish future stuff. I mean, we’ve got a games arcade with a steampunk zeppelin poking out of it like an airship hangar, the Nautilus, and SMM2 which quite frankly takes the biscuit. Then we’ve got a “cars of the future” or something (which is the Test Track, but in 1950’s style cars) in a weird thing, and round the corner is an X-Wing alongside Wall-E and Eve. Doesn’t quite gel.
But onto SMM2, which was initially constructed in 1995 to try and bring more visitors to the park. Set in a brilliant steampunk building, riders enter and see all sorts of designs for the “Columbiad Cannon”, intended to literally shoot craft into space like bullets from a gun, and other artefacts as if we were passing through some sort of old gentlemens’ club. We board the train, accidentally sitting at the front (we always try for the back if we can). Unlike Florida’s Space Mountain this one sits two to a row.
And we’re off!
Well not quite. First we’ve got to be loaded into the Columbiad Cannon and shot into orbit. Ho-hum, at least it beats the M62.
And we’re off!
Now then, despite being constructed in 1995, it was only in the 2005 refit that the launch was added at the bottom of the cannon, shooting us up as if from a gun. I honestly don’t know what they did up until that point – I assume just a standard lift hill – but in any case, the original Space Mountain here is not credited as the first launched coaster – it was another, in 1998. Or so Wikipedia says.
So we’re fired right up the barrel of the Columbiad Cannon, visible to those outside, and then slow down at the top before we dive down into the ride itself, housed inside the eponymous “Space Mountain” building. The dive down does give us a weird bit of slow-mo airtime, as if we have suddenly become weightless.
And then it all gets a tad chaotic.
SMM2 is the only Space Mountain to feature inversions, and there are a few. The ride is tight and full of effects, but I can’t focus on one long enough to know what’s going on. I know there’s some sort of explosion in there somewhere as a planet’s destroyed or something (curse you Vader!) but other than that we’re thrown here, there and everywhere with little warning, until it’s all over.
Initial reactions – not a bad coaster, but not a particularly good one. It’s pipped by Aerosmith over at Studios, for some reason. Florida’s Space Mountain is a more family-friendly affair and kinda seems like a different style of roller coaster, but it just seems a lot more fun than this. In Florida’s Space Mountain we’re given room to build up speed, to register what’s going on. It just seems a lot easier.
I should briefly mention the refit in 2005. Apparently, before then, there was a more dominating narrative through the ride, including being swallowed by a mining ship and seeing Jules Verne, upon whom’s work a lot of this ride, and Discoveryland itself, was based. Since then – well, it all seemed to go a bit pear-shaped. Ho-hum.
Glancing at the nearest sign showing queue times, we notice that Pirates Of The Caribbean doesn’t have much of a queue, so it’s off to Adventureland we go!
From the outside, the Pirates ride looks like a well-themed fort, and inside is the same – pretty well themed compared to what I recall from the Florida version. The loading area, however, really takes the biscuit and is themed so completely like an outdoor caribbean scene. To be honest, the only point where you can tell it’s not is if you look up and spot the black ceiling tiles, but the lighting is done exceptionally well. Heck, it even feels humid.
We get on the boat and go through the ride – there’s really not much to say in terms of progression, it’s the usual Pirates stuff. Yo-ho yo-ho, pirates looting, pirates in caves, pirates shooting, pirates in jail… the usual stuff. However, the animatronics are pretty good and, at the moment at least, doesn’t feature any of the modern Captain Jack from the movies which, when in Florida, jarred against the old animatronics. They’re better than the regular, original Florida animatronics, but not the newer Captain Jack ones – which, I think, makes the ride better.
And let’s face it, what trip to a Disney park isn’t complete without a go on Big Thunder Mountain (if, of course, there’s one available)? It’s got a longer queue than the other rides we’ve been on, but worth it. Themed brilliantly into a mine train, we proceed into the queue and up into the mine tunnels in the mountain, and finally board the train (though not at the back).
And we’re off, into a tunnel and… under a river.
I forgot to mention, the coaster itself is situated entirely on an island, which we go under. You can actually feel the temperature change as you go under, and then onto the ride itself. Those of you who’ve been on a Big Thunder Mountain will know the basics, but its a fairly long ride with plenty of twists and turns. Doesn’t go that fast, but is still a lot of fun and at times is impossible to tell what is about to happen, simply because you can’t see round the corners.
Better than the Florida version? Yep, I think so.
Now, it’s just coming up to 8pm – the time when the park shuts. But, of course, there’s one thing still to do – BOW DOWN TO THE DISNEY OVERLORDS.
A lot of parks nowadays have some sort of ending ceremony, normally including music and fireworks. Disney is no slacker when it comes to this – in fact, you could say Disney invented it (they probably did). In Florida there’s music and fireworks and all sorts.
Here, there’s music, a few fireworks, and a huge amount of projections.
Oh, and flamethrowers.This is a difficult one to describe. Everyone assembles in front of the castle in time for the music to start, and Peter Pan and Wendy are projected onto some fountains to explain things (in both English and French). Then there’s a huge montage of things projected onto the castle, superimposed onto it and augmenting it, turning it at times into a castle in the jungle, a cake, and so on depending on the particular cartoon segment. And boy is everything represented – old favourites like Mickey and Donald, more recent movies like the Lion King and Aladdin, and the new-ish (at the time) Brave and Ratatouille.
Then they bring out some fireworks and flamethrowers and call it a day.
It’s pretty damn ace.
So we leave the park, confident that we’ve managed three of the main rides and can have a bit of a relaxing day tomorrow exploring the parks at our leisure. We grab our backpacks from the luggage holding place and think about where to have a meal. In Disney Village there is the Rainforest Cafe, which has an extremely long wait time, but just around the corner there’s the Earl Of Sandwich (and a McDonalds, which we ignore). Earl Of Sandwich was a pretty nice sandwich place – not big sandwiches, but pretty filling nevertheless, and quite nice.
We’re staying at the nearby Val d’Europe (or Serris, or wherever). I’ve got a Google map downloaded to my phone of the area and we set out walking, only to find out that we’ve taken the wrong road and apparently gone down a road that, according to Google, doesn’t exist. I manage to get a GPS signal and we find our way to the hotel (Hipark Serris Val d’Europe) which, if you’re after a nice hotel in the area, comes highly recommended from us both – it’s a residence and actually includes lots of different things, such as a hob, utensils, vacuum cleaner and ironing board. From there you can also get a shuttle to and from the parks (the number 50) – we couldn’t get it from the park that night as we hadn’t yet checked in.
To be continued in the next part!