A slightly downsized version of its United States counterpart, Disneyland Paris is a spectacular sight created with an acute attention to detail. Disney never had quite the following here as it did Stateside, so when the park first opened, few turned up; Walt’s vision, however, eventually won them over. Today the place is jammed with families from around the world reveling in the many splendors of the Disney universe.
Some of the rides can be a bit scary for little
kids, but tots adore Alice's Maze, Peter Pan's Flight, and especially the whirling Mad Hatter's Teacups. Also getting high marks are the afternoon parades, which feature music, introductions in five languages, and huge floats swarming with all of Disney's most beloved characters—just make sure to stake your place along Main Street in advance for a good spot (check for posted times). There's a lot here, so pace yourself: kids can easily feel overwhelmed by the barrage of stimuli or frustrated by extra-long waits at the rides (also be aware that there are size restrictions for some). The older the children, the more they will enjoy Walt Disney Studios, a cinematically driven sister park, where many of the newer attractions can be found.
Disneyland Park, the original part of the complex, consists of five "lands": Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Discoveryland. The central theme of each is relentlessly echoed in everything from attractions to restaurant menus to souvenirs. The park is circled by a railroad, which stops three times along the perimeter. Main Street U.S.A. goes under the railroad and past shops and restaurants toward the main plaza; Disney parades are held here every afternoon and, during holiday periods, every evening.
Top attractions at Frontierland are the chilling Phantom Manor, haunted by holographic spooks, and the thrilling runaway mine train of Big Thunder Mountain, a roller coaster that plunges wildly through floods and avalanches in a setting meant to evoke Utah's Monument Valley. Whiffs of Arabia, Africa, and the Caribbean give Adventureland its exotic cachet; the spicy meals and snacks served here rank among the best food in the park. Don't miss Pirates of the Caribbean, an exciting mise-en-scène populated by lifelike animatronic figures, or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a rapid-fire ride that recreates some of this hapless hero's most exciting moments.
Fantasyland charms the youngest parkgoers with familiar cartoon characters from such classic Disney films as Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. The focal point of Fantasyland, and indeed Disneyland Paris, is Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty's Castle), a 140-foot, bubblegum-pink structure topped with 16 blue- and gold-tipped turrets. Its design was allegedly inspired by illustrations from a medieval Book of Hours—if so, it was by way of Beverly Hills. The castle's dungeon conceals a 2-ton scaly green dragon that rumbles in its sleep and occasionally rouses to roar—an impressive feat of engineering, producing an answering chorus of shrieks from younger children. Discoveryland is a high-tech, futuristic eye-popper. Robots on roller skates welcome you on your way to Star Tours, a pitching, plunging, sense-confounding ride based on the Star Wars films; and another robot, the staggeringly realistic 9-Eye, hosts a simulated space journey in Le Visionarium. Other top Discoveryland attractions include the Jules Verne–inspired Space Mountain Mission 2, which pretends to catapult exploronauts on a rocket-boosted, comet-battered journey through the Milky Way; and Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, which challenges kids to blast the villain Zurg with their own laser gun from a whirling star cruiser.
As you’d expect, Disneyland Paris has lots of dining options, ranging from snack bars and fast-food joints to five full-service restaurants—all with a distinguishing theme. If your child has his or her heart set on a specifically themed restaurant, say, Pirates of the Caribbean (a dark corsair's lair that looks over the titular ride) or the Auberge de Cendrillon (Cinderella's Inn, where the nasty stepmother and sisters themselves bustle through the aisles), make sure to make advance reservations in person or online. In addition, Walt Disney Studios, Disney Village, and Disney Hotels have restaurants open to the public. But since these are outside the park, it's not recommended that you waste time traveling to them for lunch. Disneyland Paris has relaxed its no-alcohol policy and now serves wine and beer in the park's sit-down restaurants, as well as in the hotels and restaurants outside the park.
Walt Disney Studios opened next to the Disneyland Park in 2002. It's divided into four "production zones." Beneath imposing entrance gates and a 100-foot water tower inspired by the one erected in 1939 at Disney Studios in Burbank, California, Front Lot contains shops, a restaurant, and a studio recreating the atmosphere of Sunset Boulevard. In Animation Courtyard, Disney artists demonstrate the various phases of character animation; Animagique brings to life scenes from Pinocchio and The Lion King, while the Genie from Aladdin pilots Flying Carpets over Agrabah. Production Courtyard hosts the Walt Disney Television Studios; Cinémagique, a special-effects tribute to U.S. and European cinema; and a behind-the-scenes Studio Tram tour of location sites, movie props, studio interiors, and costumes, ending with a visit to Catastrophe Canyon in the heart of a film shoot. Back Lot majors in stunts. At Armageddon Special Effects you can confront a flaming meteor shower aboard the Mir space station, then complete your visit at the giant outdoor arena with a Stunt Show Spectacular involving cars, motorbikes, and Jet Skis. The newest addition to Walt Disney Studios opens in the summer of 2014. Appropriately, it’s a mini-land—complete with ride and restaurant—themed around the Paris-based Pixar flick Ratatouille.
Marne-la-Vallée, 77777, France