TRAVEL: An awesome Christmas in Disneyland Paris
In the mood for some pre-Christmas fun, Sherna Noah heads off for a weekend family break in Paris.
My son had asked the same question every day for a fortnight: “When are we going to see Mickey Mouse?” - and the moment had finally arrived.
With snow gently falling above our heads and the lights on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle sparkling ahead, Disneyland Paris looked like a scene from a fairytale.
And Isaac had his biggest wish granted when he spotted Mickey strolling through our hotel.
There were to be several more encounters with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Buzz Lightyear, and a rather haughty Captain Jack Sparrow, during our three days at Disneyland Paris.
We were here during one of the most exciting times to visit, when the giant resort celebrates Christmas in spectacular style - right the way through to early January.
During the festive period, a 24-metre Christmas tree twinkles with 850 decorations. It’s lit every evening in a ceremony conducted by Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and co.
To enhance the magic, snow - actually a soap solution - falls several times a day on a part of the park designed to look like small-town America in the early 1900s.
Of course, Father Christmas also makes an entrance during this time of year, at his village workshop.
My son was thrilled when he was told he could post a letter to Santa in Disneyland’s post office - and expect a reply.
It is Christmas with all the trimmings. But even without the celebrations, there is more than enough to keep anyone - toddlers through to adults - busy.
The resort consists of Walt Disney Studios and Disneyland Park and because there’s so much to pack in, it’s best to plan in advance, with a must-do list.
As my son was only just about to turn three, some of the most frightening rides were definitely a no-no.
The most hair-raising attractions include the over-the-top flips and hairpin turns of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, where you go from zero to 100kmh in less than three seconds.
In Space Mountain: Mission 2, a “supercharged canon... blasts you on a warp-speed ride... as you dodge screaming meteorites and black holes” while the Tower of Terror boasts a “faster-than-gravity drop of around 160ft”.
Isaac’s favourites included Autopia where, despite not being able to reach the pedals, he got to drive a 1950s-style car down a mini highway.
Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, where he zapped enemy robots as he piloted us through space, was so good we had to go back several times.
The Casey Jr Circus Train, a roller coaster for small children, and It’s A Small World, which took us on a gentle boat trip round the globe, populated with dancing dolls, were also perfect for his age.
The park is carved up into five areas: Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, Discoveryland and Main Street, USA.
In Fantasyland, inspired by Disney’s classic animated films, we visited Sleeping Beauty Castle. For my son, the highlight was not the structure’s turrets or towering spires but the loud snores we could hear when we went inside.
At first we thought they were emanating from Sleeping Beauty herself, but it turned out that sleeping knights, slouched against the walls, were responsible.
Afterwards, we had a flight with Peter Pan, a ride on Dumbo the Flying Elephant and took a spin in the Mad Hatter’s Teacups.
In Frontierland, which is inspired by the Wild West, we enjoyed exploring the fort, watchtowers and canons.
Adventureland is home to caves, wobbly bridges and rides such as Pirates Of The Caribbean, which inspired the film, and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Peril.
Main Street USA, a slice of small-town America, complete with horse-drawn streetcars and period arcades from when Walt Disney was a boy, is great for shoppers - so for the sake of my bank balance I limited my visits - while Discoveryland is something of an extraterrestrial experience.
Back to more earthly matters, and you need to stop every now and again to refuel the batteries.
We sampled the Cowboy-style Lucky Nugget Saloon, which served up Western-style food with live music, and Agrabah Cafe, for spicy North African dishes and Mediterranean food.
A great place to chill out in the park was Cafe Hyperion, where we ate fast food while watching vintage cartoons on a large cinema screen.
Hotel New York, where we stayed, was just a five-minute walk away, so close enough to head back for an afternoon nap, a swim in its indoor pool or an outing on its skating rink.
But it was difficult to stay away for long. As well as the rides and attractions, the resort puts on several parades.
Disney’s Once Upon A Dream Parade contained characters from Alice In Wonderland, Pinocchio, Toy Story 2, Winnie The Pooh, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, The Lion King and The Jungle Book and, at this time of year, ends with Father Christmas on his sleigh.
The parade route is packed with fans clamouring to get a good view of their film heroes, so it’s best to find a spot early.
Disney characters also make appearances at the two theme parks, where they are mobbed by excited children.
We spent much of our time in Disneyland Park, but Walt Disney Studios, just a few steps away, where you explore the world of cinema and television, is also a must-see.
We went behind the scenes on the Studio Tram Tour and experienced the Aladdin-inspired Flying Carpets Over Agrabah.
We had planned to see The Stunt Show Spectacular, a live action show of car and motorcycle stunts, but it is impossible to pack everything in.
Some rides get very busy, but queues shorten in the final hour of opening, or during the most popular parades.
Isaac and I travelled to and from Disneyland Paris for our weekend break from St Pancras International by the daily Eurostar rail service.
The speedy journey through the Channel Tunnel and the Kent and French countryside took us to Marne-la-Vallee station, which is almost on the doorstep of the mega-attraction’s two parks and retail village.
We’d had an amazing time and our weekend was soon over, but after getting home it wasn’t long before there came a new question: “When can we see Mickey again?”
Key facts - Disneyland, Paris
:: Best for: Thrill-seekers and fans of Disney characters.
:: Time to go: The Enchanted Christmas experience will run until January 8, 2012.
:: Don’t miss: Seeing float after float of Disney favourites, and Father Christmas, at the 5pm parade.
:: Need to know: Consider taking a pushchair for young ones when tired legs need a rest, or check online for details about hiring one.
:: Don’t forget: A mac or umbrella - so you keep enjoying the fun if it rains.
Sherna Noah was a guest of Disneyland Paris, which currently offers a two-night, three-day Enchanted Christmas package in December 2011 from £1,087.20 for family of two adults and two children. Package includes return travel with Eurostar, two nights B&B at Disney’s Hotel New York and three-day hopper tickets for Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, based on two adults sharing.
Same package at Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe starts at £878.40 for two adults and two children (aged 3-6).
Eurostar’s daily direct service to Disneyland Resort Paris does not operate on Tuesdays and Saturdays, except in school holidays. Fares start at £69 standard return for an adult and £49 return for children aged 4 to 11 on the day of travel. Under-4s travel free and are not allocated a seat.
Standard Premier travel return starts at £159 per adult, and £111 return for children aged 4-11.
Connecting fares available from more than 200 stations in the UK.
Eurostar tickets: 0843 218 6186 and www.eurostar.com
Disneyland Paris reservations: 0844 800 8111 and www.disneylandparis.com