Let me say this from the beginning: Disneyland is designed for adults. It is conceived for mothers and fathers to suffer in a kind of consensual and self-prescribed torture. The agony begins when one takes out the credit card to pay for the trip and continues with the insufferable park food and the eternal lines for its attractions.
It could not be better engineered: what we adults are looking for in this experience is to have a miserable time, to test the extent of our patience, so that this sacrifice becomes undeniable proof (to ourselves) of how much we love our children. Hence the absence of audible complaints among those who stand in line beneath a sign that reads: “Waiting time, 90 minutes.” The longer the waiting time is, the greater the ecstasy.
This “act of self-denial inspired by the vehemence of love” – one of the meanings that the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) gives for the word “sacrifice” – starts months earlier, when parents begin to weigh up the idea of devoting their extra savings – not to go diving in Bali or to see Broadway musicals in New York, which is what we would like to do, but instead to visit the domain of Mickey Mouse. In my case, it was in February when my partner brought home the brochures. And when Disneyland brochures enter a home, there is no possible escape.
There are many ways of going to Disneyland Paris, some less expensive than others. The person at the travel agency wanted to sell us a “package” that included flights, four nights at a hotel, and tickets for five people (we have three small daughters) for €2,400, but we soon learned that “package” does not always mean “cheaper.” We ended up saving €300 by buying the plane tickets ourselves.
Staying in one of the park’s accommodations is the only way to take full advantage of the opportunity for torture, which is the entire purpose of the trip, after all. They are located on a lake at the entrance of the premises and have varying prices. We opted to stay at the Newport Bay Club, of nautical ambiance and average quality.
Day 1: Surprises from our first foray into the park
If the park’s afflictions are massive in and of themselves, our experience was compounded by two extra incidents of suffering – one being that our luggage did not arrive in Paris. (I’ll never forget the expression of anticipation turned to despair on the faces of my daughters, as they eagerly watched suitcases descending onto the carousel, only to spot everyone else’s but ours.) The other was that when we visited the park, an exceptional heat wave struck the north of France. The combined result of the two occurrences was traumatic, as we were forced to sweat in the same socks for four days (though my daughters thankfully got their bags after just one).
What joy! Seeking a solution, I searched the park for clothing stores, and there was certainly no shortage of them. Window after window was plastered with Mickey merchandise: T-shirts, underwear… everything, of course, bearing the character’s likeness. But socks were nowhere to be found.
Day 2: Hours and hours on foot, in a line that would not move
It did not take me long to become disenchanted with the “fast pass.” This system allows you to “schedule an appointment” at the attractions and proceed through a special entrance. The machine emits a slip of paper stating the set time period during which you can return without having to wait. Sometimes, it can give you a spot four hours later, so it’s advisable to take advantage of that time by waiting in line for some of the other attractions.
For a large portion of your visit to Disneyland, you wait in lines that seem to stand still for an endless amount of time. This does not, of course, mean that your children will do the same. At least, it wasn’t the case with my daughters, who ran, jumped and climbed on anything they could. Combined with the heat, this process is absolutely wretched. What makes the fast passes even more useless is that only seven attractions in the park use the system, and you can’t hold more than one at a time. As a result, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to skip the lines at more than two or three rides in one day.
Thankfully, the fast passes did manage to get us into what became my favorite attraction in the entire park: the Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast. It entails accumulating points by firing a laser gun at various targets while you sit in a spinning car – a clever initiative by the park’s designers to allow adults to vent their anger. After it was over, while browsing the catalog of photos that they take of you during the adventure and try to sell to you afterward, I saw plenty of enraged and deranged expressions from the ride’s older participants.
Day 3: “I am your father”
In the morning, I allow myself the feast of a father’s self-denial at the Jedi Training Academy. This is the day that I begin to comprehend how suffering and happiness work. I know my daughter wants to duel with Darth Vader, so without hinting at any resentment, I sit with her in a line of indeterminate end – because it is long, hardly advances and eventually arrives at a closed door. We spend 90 minutes there, during which the line meanders slowly, circling the terrace of a cafe. Amazingly, it does not occur to anyone else to take a chair and sit while waiting. Clearly, we were not in Spain. We know that in order to participate in the spectacle, you must be at least seven years old. Though my daughter is younger, I tell her: “If they ask you, say that you’re seven.”
What awaits us on the other side of the door is a lectern where a young lady quizzes the children before letting them enter. The boy in front of us rebels against the prospect of fighting Darth Vader and shows it with a feverish tantrum. His mother is stunned, undoubtedly thinking about the time she has just spent in line, now in vain. Ignoring her child’s supplication, she insists on entering until, exhausted, he gives in.
When our turn comes, the woman asks my daughter her age (“Seven,” bravo!). Then she asks her to raise her right hand. My daughter raises her left, as a chill runs through my body. When asked again, however, she does it correctly, and we are granted admission. They give us a time to return in the afternoon when the exhibition of Jedis fighting the perfidious Vader will take place.
In the afternoon, we return to a new line in the same place, although this one is a bit shorter. On the other side of the door, the children are given a Jedi uniform and a lightsaber – along with an accelerated course, in English and French, on how to use it. First, you have to swing the sword to the right (hence the pop quiz from before), then to the left, and finally, you must crouch in defense. Once on stage, the actor portraying Darth Vader will do the opposite moves, resulting in exquisite choreography.
Day 4: Celebrity sightings
Another feature of the park, along with attractions, is the furtive presence of Disney characters here and there. They leave without notice, and in order to greet them, you similarly have to wait in a line. We had bad luck. We only managed to see Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) and Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty), the latter of whom we only saw from afar because she does not take pleasure at the site of three excited young girls (even though they are sisters and she could easily have posed with all of them in one picture). Just as she approached us, she retires from the premises. Logical, of course: she is Maleficent.
Peter Pan and Wendy pass by, and – although we run to race after them – they do not stop for us. We happen to be fast in the exchange of greetings. Quick smiles for a photo and that’s it. But some parents have armed their progeny with notebooks so that the characters can sign autographs for them. It seems to be something that is beyond absurd: wanting the signature of an amusement park employee.
And we must talk about the park’s food, of course…
Gastronomically speaking, the park is a monument to fast food. At establishments with generally unenticing names such as Restaurant Hakuna Matata or The Lucky Nugget Saloon, the lines are extremely short compared to the attractions. Perhaps the suffering includes not eating, or maybe word has spread that the menus leave much to be desired. Given the heat, the consumption of water throughout the day is delirious: I think we spent more than €100 on those little bottles that are sold at €3 a piece.
Day 5: I finally feel like a human being
On the morning of the fifth and final day, we made the most of it, staging a necessary farewell to the park. Our last encounters with the lines and the endless melodies that blare from the speakers made me long to be stuck in a traffic jam on Madrid’s M-30 beltway.
My conclusion. Do people enjoy Disneyland? The children certainly do but no more than they seem to enjoy the local fiestas in my neighborhood. They wind up exhausted, which means good sleep for their parents, who are also dead tired. It makes sense that the park is designed for adults, as I mentioned earlier. By my calculation, there were as many if not more adults than kids in the park (given that most families are made up of a couple with one or two children).
Anyone who needs total immersion in an activity dedicated exclusively to their children for 24 hours a day, five days in a row (something unthinkable during the rest of the year) will surely find what they are looking for there. In my case, the best moment came when I could relax in the hotel’s warm pool. I felt… like a human being again.