Posts Tagged “fun”
All the way back in May, I celebrated my first birthday in Brussels. In addition to a trip to the Atomium for my birthday, I also had a few other treats.
Firstly, the city held a grand parade on my behalf. The theme of Zinneke parade was “The Dinner Table”, and was filled with colourful participants from all the different neighbourhoods of Brussels. One smart idea was to shape the parade into a loop that started everywhere at the same time. That way, no matter where one was on the route, one didn’t have to wait for it to begin – much better than the two hour rain-soaked wait that we spent at the end of the route in Dendermonde.
We also had a surprise Aussie houseguest for the weekend – Anna, one of the original Canberran Cookies. She joined us for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants – it’s called Houtsiplou, but we can never remember the name. They serve great modern cuisine, and they also let you draw in their bathroom.
On the Saturday night we hosted an evening of cosmos, champagne, and cupcakes. I ordered mini-cupcakes from this cute little shop down the street called Merrily’s. Truly, to have both a castle and a cupcake shop within a few minutes walk is a wonderful thing. As is tradition here, I brought some into work on the Friday, then picked up a fresh batch for the party on Saturday.
One thing that I really like about parties here is that many people are newcomers and eager to mingle. In Brussels most everyone has an interesting story to tell about how they got here and what they did once they arrived. While I was a bit sad that I couldn’t celebrate with my family and friends back in Australia, I was very glad that Anna was able act as their representative. However, when I looked around our living room and saw all the fascinating people who we have met in the past year, I decided that Belgium is not such a bad place to turn 30.
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Sadly, for all the happiness it brings so many, Disneyland Paris rarely breaks even. In 2009 the park operated at a loss of 63 million euro, despite a gross revenue of 1,231 million euro. Most guests are local, either Belgian or French, and spend an average of 44 euro per person per day on adMsion, food, beverage and merchandise. With an annual pass only 34 euros more than a two-day ticket, I was very tempted to pick one up myself. However, as park entry is always included with the cost of a Disney hotel, there didn’t seem to be much point. Perhaps I should buy shares, though, while the price is low, and get my own piece of Disneyland.
We woke Ms 14 and gave her a difficult decision: to stay in bed, or to ride Space Mountain. Grudgingly, she chose to get up. After an hour revisiting Discoveryland at Parc Disneyland, it was time to venture over to Walt Disney’s Studio Park. As the weather was much nicer – above freezing with blue skies, the lines were enormous. The queue for Crush’s Coaster was 80 minutes, so we grabbed a Fast Pass for the Tower of Terror at 12:15 and headed over to the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster which had ‘only’ a 25 minute wait. This was quite an experience – in a giant dark building, we were dropped, spun, lifted, and twisted to the songs of Aerosmith and the beats of coloured lasers. With a maximum speed of 97 km/hour, a g-force of 4.5 g, and three inversions, this is the most intense rollercoaster of the two parks. While Ms 8 was very nervous before hopping on this ride, after a few seconds she screamed to me “This is Awesome!”, so after I knew that I didn’t have to worry about her I completely focused on my own screaming. We grabbed some more Fast Passes so that we could enjoy more “Love in a Rollercoaster” in the afternoon.
We popped in to see Stitch Live, and watched the animated alien onscreen conversing and interacting with audience members. I had read about the real-time animated digital puppet, and it was very impressive to see the instantaneous rendering and improvisation. Some of the young children interviewed didn’t speak English, so their parents had to answer for them. However, considering these kids were from the Netherlands, I’m guessing they’ll be fluent in a few short years.
For lunch we went to Restaurant des Stars, where we ate delicious food and I was able to meet the chef from Ratatouille.
“Bonjour Monsieur Remy” I said.
“Squeak!” he replied, twitching his whiskers
“Qu’avez vous cuisiné aujourd’hui?” What have you cooked today?“Squeak!” he gestured to the cheese around him.
“Squeak!” he nodded enthusiastically.
Even with a Fast Pass, the line for the Tower of Terror took 30 minutes. Poor Ms 8, the “scary” theming of some of the rides really terrified her. By the end of the line for Tower of Terror she was in tears. This put us in a difficult position. I told her to remember that she was similarly frightened before Phantom Manor, the Temple of Peril, and the Rock N Roller coaster, but after riding on them, she loved them so much she wanted to go back on straight away. However, we insisted that the final decision was always hers, and she could choose to skip the ride and wait for us at the exit. She had the courage to hop in many of the intense rides, but Space Mountain and the Tower of Terror were too much for her. She was brave enough to even get strapped into her elevator seat on the Tower of Terror, but at the last moment, she raised her hand and a staff member helped her out. I hope that she learned that she was in control of her choices, and the adults around her would respect her decision.
However, as soon as the elevator doors slammed shut on the Tower of Terror, I suddenly realized that I was also equally terrified, and now it was too late for me to do anything about it. The elevator began to rise up to the 13th floor, the doors opening every now and again to reveal impressive holograms of ghosts and apparitions. I didn’t care, because I knew that once we reached the top floor, the elevator was going to plummet to the ground. I grabbed the handle on the wall with both hands, so tightly Adrian thought I might rip it off. “No no no!” I shouted. “No no no no nooooo!”. As the doors opened up to reveal an otherwise breathtaking view over the park, I shut my eyes and screamed. I don’t remember much else from the ride, apart from a sensation of falling in the dark. Perhaps I should have waited by the exit, too.
While Adrian and Ms 14 returned for more thrills on the Rock N Roller Coaster, Ms 8 and I watched the motorbike and car stunt show spectacular. It was very impressive – fast manoeuvres, cars jumping over trucks, fireballs, and even a man on fire. After that, we decided to bite the bullet and line up for an hour for Crush’s Coaster. The girls were very good – I entertained Ms 8 with Coraline on my iPhone, and Ms 14 patiently chatted with us as the line inched forward. Finally, we were tucked into our turtle shell to enter the world of Finding Nemo. We floated past Dory and Marlin, glided under a sea of jellyfish, and swum beside Bruce the Shark, when suddenly, it turned into another ride altogether. Now it was a spinning, looping, dipping, scary rollercoaster in the dark with a disco-ball – not really ocean-themed at all. Why do the rollercoasters always have to go so fast?
We stayed warm during the sub-zero weekend thanks to the wonderful inventions of Hotties hand warmers and Toasti Toes. These single-use packages stay warm for up to five hours, and make all the difference when out in the cold. The Toasty Toes stick to your socks and get up to 36oC, while the Hot Hands warm up to a fiery 57oC. Having warm toes and hot pockets really took the edge off the ice and snow. I bought a box of them in bulk from the internet, and they will now accompany me whenever I need to venture outdoors for a few hours in winter.
One last rollercoaster for Adrian and Ms 14, a hot chocolate for myself and Ms 8, some last minute shopping (a CD of Disney songs sung in French), and then back onto the train to Belgium. We hopped onto the train at 5:40pm, and were walking through our front door at 8:00pm. The girls stayed up watching movies, but Adrian and I collapsed into bed, exhausted but accomplished.
The girls seemed to really enjoy their weekend. It seemed to comfort them to find a slice of North America in Europe, with English signs and American-style food options. The USA is often frowned upon by their new neighbours, so it was nice for them to see Europeans celebrating some aspects of American culture. The next time I saw Ms 8, she said “Lydia, I miss Disneyland”. “Me, too.” I replied.
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For our very first trip to Disneyland Paris, Adrian and I invited two of our young Canadian-American-Belgian friends to join us. Ms 8 and Ms 14 were almost as excited to meet The Mouse as I was. Disneyland Paris is Europe’s most popular tourist destination, with 15.4 million visitors to the park last year, an average of 42,000 visitors per day. We were going on the first weekend of the February school holidays, and it was going to be packed. Detailed and precise planning was required. I hit up the various forums and review sites for tips and tricks to maximise our experience and minimize the hassle, and constructed an eight page plan for our 48 hours of magic.
I discovered that guests of the official hotels have access to Extra Magic Hours – entry to some of the rides two hours before the park officially opens. So we caught the train on Friday night, and we all went to bed early, ready to rise at 6:30 in the morning. Ms 14 is not a morning person, but I told her that if she woke up, she could have a present. I had bought us all crocheted mouse hats from Etsy, to keep us warm and get us in the spirit of the weekend.
At eight o’clock, we were the first guests to walk under the banner “Parc Disneyland” ( “they spelled it wrong”, remarked Ms 8). It was dark and freezing, but we had all of Main Street and its 225,000 lights to ourselves. We walked straight to Space Mountain: Mission 2, and rode the first shuttle of the day. It is an extraordinary ride, zooming past planets and asteroids, soaring through a sea of stars. Adrian laughed at me because I said that I wished that it would go a lot more slowly, so that I could enjoy the setting in a more relaxing atmosphere. As it was, I screamed and screamed through the 360 degree loops and turns. Adrian and Ms 14 repeated Space Mountain a couple more times while Ms 8 and I went off to experience some more gentle rides, like zapping aliens with Buzz Lightyear.
When Adrian couldn’t find me, he called me on my phone. I told him that I was in a spaceship, but he said that didn’t really narrow it down considering we were currently in Discoveryland. I spotted him down below me, and told him that I was up in the Orbitron, going around and around in the sky above. He spotted me and waved, and then chastised me for using a mobile phone while operating a spaceship.
Then it was onto Fantasyland, the fairy-tale village. We soared above the lights of London with Peter Pan, flew through the air with Dumbo, commanded a harras of Lancelot’s mighty steeds, and Adrian failed in his attempt to twirl one of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups.
At ten o’clock the park officially opened, and we smugly watched the stampede of hundreds of people running towards Space Mountain. We were content to sail through the many lands of It’s a Small World (originally designed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair), and then we found ourselves terribly lost in Alice’s Curious Labyrinth.
By this time it was snowing, and we were cold and exhausted. The lines were now at least 60 minutes for all the rides, so we returned to the hotel. Even though it was called the Chuck Wagon café, the hotel restaurant buffet was actually excellent. The girls could eat the American style food that they loved, while there was plenty of vegetarian choices for Adrian. After that, we enjoyed long baths and naps to warm up and rest our busy bones.
Feeling rejuvenated, we returned to the park. Adrian and I reserved front row seats for the pending parade, while the girls went exploring. Ms 14 returned with popcorn, and Ms 8 returned with Thumper, the rabbit from Bambi. Thumper accompanied us for the rest of the weekend, riding roller-coasters, getting covered in hot chocolate, and being greeted with “Bonjour Panpan” by all the cast members. Interestingly, many of the Disney characters have different names in French. Goofy is Dingo, Chip & Dale are Tic & Tac, Scrooge McDuck is Balthazar Picsou, Huey, Dewey & Loui are Riri, Fifi & Loulou, and my favourite: Captain Hook is Capitaine Crochet.
The parade was announced in half a dozen languages, and we guessed that the announcer had learned her English in Australia from the way she pronounced “Deeh-sney’s Wuhn-nce Uh-pon ah Dreeeam Puh-Raayde”. We figured that occurrence was a lot more likely than an Australian person learning to speak another five languages fluently. The parade was magical, with a bunch of floats and dozens of dancers recreating many famous and beloved characters.
At the centre of the Park stands Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), the most beautiful of all the Disney castles. In America, any castle is seen as magical, but in Europe the standards are much higher – Neuschwanstein castle (the inspiration for the original Disney Castle) is only seven hours away. Copying an existing structure would not suffice, so the Imagineers delved into old fairytales and medieval illuminated manuscripts for inspiration. The result was a whimsical rendering of turrets and towers. As we admired it, I explained to a disinterested Ms 8 that it looked much higher than it actually was due to the use of forced perspective. “Way to ruin the magic” commented Adrian, even though we both understand that unweaving the rainbow only serves to enhance its beauty.
The inside of the castle is like a miniature cathedral, and is lit by intricate stain glass windows created by Peter Chapman, who came out of retirement after having previously restored the windows of Notre Dame de Paris. The nine complementing tapestries were weaved in Aubusson, France, with an extra copy of one created as a gift to Head Imagineer Tony Baxter. The tallest window of the tallest tower is constantly lit, to remind guests that at Disneyland, the princess is always present.
After that, it was time to explore Adventureland. The landscapers did an amazing job of finding lush green tropical plants that thrived even in the harsh winter of Paris. We caught a rickety loop-the-loop train through Indiana Jones’ Temple of Peril, and then journeyed back to the Wild West in Fronteirland. We first visited the Phantom Manor, and poor Ms 8 was so terrified that she hid in my arms the whole time, despite my reassurances that everything was “fake fake fake”. However, after realizing that it was not actually scary at all, we repeated the ride so that she could appreciate the effects. We loved seeing the ‘ghosts’ dancing in the dining room and the skeleton head hovering over our carriage.
Then we were off to ride through the old mines of Big Thunder Mountain. This is my favourite rollercoaster in Disneyland – you zoom through a tunnel to arrive on an island in the Rivers of the Far West, with robotic donkeys watching us as we zoomed up and down, without any of those awful 360 degree loops that turn my stomach. We grabbed a few copies of the photo of us all on the train with our mouse hats. As in nearly all the action shots from the weekend, Ms 14 looked stoic and unmoved by the g-forces she was experiencing.
With our stomachs rumbling, we ventured into the Arabian Peninsula to Agrabah, Aladdin’s home town. We were greeted with a buffet of Middle-Eastern delights, and we relaxed in the warmth before heading out into the cold dark night. By now, most people had left the parks, and the lines were once again non-existent. After a few more turns on Indiana Jones’ Temple of Peril, we hiked up to the Caribbean to visit the Pirates. This was another favourite of mine, drifting underground in the warm humid air, surrounded by 119 singing and dancing robotic pirates.
At the end of the day we returned to Discoveryland to pilot a few more spaceships, and then it was time to head back to the hotel to get some sleep and get ready for another big day tomorrow, this time at Walt Disney’s Studio Park.
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Every Friday night, from June until September, there is a roller parade past our front door. The main road is blocked off, and hundreds of rollerskating and rollerblading enthusiasts go whizzing past us. It is quite a sight. Maybe next year I will be brave enough to join them.
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