To be very frank I was feeling less than magical and closer to a vague sense of grumpiness as we began our recent visit to the huge and sprawling Disneyland complex of gi-normous hotels and theme parks located about an hour northeast of Paris.
A mistake with our online booking had proven very problematic to resolve. Disneyland may do magic and fairy dust, but they don’t, apparently, employ human beings to man telephone lines to deal with customer queries. Or at least, not enough of them. One’s patience wears very thin when waiting in interminable queues for a customer service representative while the same annoying, upbeat music plays incessantly in the background.
Storm Dennis had gifted us the bumpiest flight I’ve experienced in a long time. Hat’s off to the Aer Lingus pilot’s aplomb as he calmly kept us informed about what lay ahead.
And finally, our Magic Shuttle (aka a coach transfer) had failed to materialise in Charles de Gaulle airport, leaving us shivering in a wind tunnel for over an hour.
But finally we arrived.
Our woodland themed hotel – the Sequoia Lodge – was warm and comfortable, if dated. We had upgraded to a Forest Club package which enabled early access to the parks and Fast Passes for selected rides (in my limited theme park experience this is essential to avoid death by queuing). In a nice touch, our package also included a buffet style afternoon tea in the hotel on a daily basis and free (non alcoholic) drinks from midday onwards.
As for the food in the wider resort area, I had been well warned in advance.
“Don’t expect to eat well.”
“It’s burgers and chips all the way.”
“Endless fast food, at really, really, expensive prices.”
All of this was indeed true. At least we were prepared, with our pockets stuffed with lots of healthy-ish snacks to fortify us as we queued for some of the more popular rides, and an acceptance that excellent gastronomy just wasn’t going to be a feature of our few days at the parks.
What is a little weird about the food on offer is that the restaurant facades within the parks are often different, so as to give the impression that there is some variety. Really there isn’t, with pricing and menus pretty much homogenous across the whole resort. There is a strong emphasis on menu deals consisting of drink, main meal and dessert at fixed price points.
Some of these are eye wateringly expensive such as in the Café Mickey, with menus priced at €65 for an adult and €35 for a child. This does however include a guaranteed meet and greet with Disney characters at your table. In truth the food is probably not the highest priority here. We did catch a glimpse of Minnie Mouse sashaying through the restaurant and high fiving some very excited children.
Here and there, there are pockets of hope in the form of street style vendors. Alas the queues were so long (and the weather so chilly) that we quickly abandoned these as an option.
As I mused over all of this, I reflected on the very different experience we had had in another theme park in France the year before. Puy de Fou is perhaps Europe’s best kept theme park secret. It is the second most visited park in France, but is virtually unheard of outside of the country. There are no rides, but historically themed shows or “spectacles” that are quite breathtaking – real chariot rides in a Roman colosseum, Viking invasions, feuding knights at the round table. And we found the food on offer to be far superior. Still expensive, but authentically French and more than decent quality.
I’m also told that the food at Europa Park in Germany is reasonably priced and good quality. So too in Efteling Park in the Netherlands, the third most visited theme park in Europe. It’s clearly possible, with a little imagination and will, to provide good value and healthy food to the masses.
Disneyland please take note.