Greetings and salutations from the high seas! I’m currently in the middle of a transatlantic cruise from Barcelona back to Florida, but even in the midst of my marvelous voyage on the newly refurbished Disney Magic (more on the boat’s upgrades in an upcoming column) I still can’t get my recent visit to Disneyland Paris out of my mind. If you read the last edition of Best Week Ever, you already know I didn’t find much positive to say about the Walt Disney Studios park at the resort formerly known as EuroDisney, but the Disneyland Parc — as the French call it — was a different story altogether. When I’m back on dry land, I’ll go into greater depth on the strengths and weaknesses of that potential-packed park, but for right now I want to share some visual highlights from my favorite unique attractions. Disneyland Paris is well know for its unusual variations on classic Disney rides like Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Haunted Mansion (a.k.a. Phantom Manor). Far less publicized — but just as exciting to me — are the one-of-a-kind Disneyland Paris walkthrough attractions that can be found in each of its lands. While most guests attend a theme park to climb aboard moving ride vehicles, I invite you now to take a stroll through some of Disneyland Park’s most exciting pedestrian experiences.
Main Street, U.S.A. Arcades
Though the original concepts for Disneyland Paris called for a 1920’s themed Main Street, the final product is much more in line with the turn-of-the-century look seen in Disney’s other castle-centric parks around the world. One big difference is the covered arcades hidden behind the shops along either side of Disneyland Paris’ main drag. No, there are no video games in these arcades; just a charming pedestrian walkway offering much-needed shelter from the frequently inclement French weather.
On the left side as you walk towards the castle, you’ll find the Liberty Arcade behind the Emporium shop. This side features displays on the construction of the Statue of Liberty, the iconic symbol of America that was a gift from the nation of France. If you don’t remember the story of the Statue and its monumental pedestal from grade school, you’ll find these exhibits fascinating.
Hidden in the center of the walkway is a tiny theater you can peek into, where sound and lighting effects recreate the Statue’s dedication ceremony. If you didn’t know it was there, you might think the entrance was a cast member-only exit backstage, so don’t miss it. The lighting inside was unfortunately inoperable during my visit, making the static figures inside seriously creepy, but you can still get the general idea.
On the opposite side of the street, the Discovery Arcade highlights inventions and innovations from the early 20th century. Many of the objects on display here are actual antique models submitted to the U.S. patent office by their inventor’s over a century ago! Take the time to read all the labels, and you may discover the ancestors of tools and toys that we still enjoy using today.
Sleeping Beauty Castle Dragon and Stained Glass
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris isn’t only one of the most beautiful icons in any Disney park, but it’s also home to two great walkthrough experiences. The headliner here is the famous audio-animatronic dragon hidden in the castle dungeon. This creature certainly qualifies as the “sleeper hit” of Disneyland Paris, and no trip to the park is complete without watching him wake from his slumber.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth several million. So here is a video of the dragon’s impressive animation cycle, shot in 1080p at 60 frames per second for optimal clarity.
While the dragon gets all the attention, the stained glass windows on the castle’s second floor are also not-to-be-missed. Very similar in artistic style to the dioramas found in the original Disneyland’s castle, the Paris version exudes old-world craftsmanship; on a sunny day, the light streaming through these works of art is absolutely stunning.
You can also get a picture-perfect view of Fantasyland from the attraction’s outside balcony. Just watch your step coming back down the twisty spiral staircase!
Frontierland’s Boot Hill
The entrance to Frontierland features a rustic fort with static scene you can peek into, not unlike Fort Langhorn on Tom Saywer Island in Orlando’s Magic Kingdom, or the Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm.
Sadly, most of these were sealed off during my Disneyland Paris visit, but the park does have another walkthrough that was open. Every Haunted Mansion attraction has a small graveyard with humorous tombstones in the queue, but Paris’ Phantom Manor features a fully fleshed out Boot Hill to explore after you return from regions beyond.
The tone here is a little more serious than in the stateside graveyards, and there aren’t the same comical epitaphs paying tribute to old-school Imagineers like Yale Gracey or Leota Tooms. But the stones support the overall story of Thunder Mesa, and feature a clever sequential gag involving a hungry bear.
Adventureland’s Enchanted Passage of Aladdin
In Disneyland Paris, a huge proportion of the park’s sprawling Adventureland area could qualify as one big walkthrough attraction, thanks to the ginormous Adventure Isle playground and Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.
Since those features alone could fill an entire column, I’m going to focus instead on the often overlooked Enchanted Passage of Aladdin walkthrough.
This modest yet charming attraction retells the story of Aladdin with window displays similar to those seen in the Emporium windows in Anaheim and Orlando. Limited mechanical animation and a few projection effects enhance the detailed dioramas, and the walkthrough offers a quite respite from the park’s other overstimulating attractions.
Alice’s Curious Labyrinth in Fantasyland
Most of the attractions in Disneyland Paris’ Fantasyland are variations of familiar dark rides from other Disney parks, but the Alice in Wonderland walkthrough is one-of-a-kind, and absolutely wonderful.
Though there’s obvious maintenance issues visible throughout the attraction, I was absolutely charmed by it anyway, and the hour I spent exploring the hedge maze and the Queen of Hearts’ castle was one of my favorite experiences in the resort.
Discoveryland’s Mysteries of the Nautilus
If you miss Walt Disney World’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride as much as I do, you can’t miss this walkthrough of Captain Nemo’s famous submarine, which is moored in the lagoon next to Space Mountain. This loving recreation of the sets from the classic Disney film did “steampunk” to a T decades before that style became a pop-culture phenomenon, and the attention to detail in here is stunning.
The villainous squid glimpsed outside the portholes in the walkthrough’s finale wasn’t nearly as animated as I would like to have seen, but the ghostly appearance of Nemo himself in his pipe organ is still a nifty effect.
What are your favorite walkthrough attractions at Disneyland Paris and other theme parks? Let us know in the comments below, and come back soon for a final wrap-up of my Disneyland Paris experiences!