What is the Disney experience? Disney is a sum of many factors; whether it’s meeting your favourite character, buying a Mrs Potts and Chip tea set, or watching a firework display that outperforms anything our St. Patrick’s Day has ever seen, the Disney experience is, I believe, undefinable. While it does sound a little cheesy, unless you’re a complete cynic, it’s hard not to get swept up in the magic of Disney.
Disney is a childhood experience that comes to physical fruition when you visit one of the six theme parks. The two most well known are located in the US – Orlando, Florida and Anaheim (near LA), California; there is also one in Europe – Paris, France; and three in Asia – Tokyo, Japan, and Hong Kong and Shanghai in China. Having visited the former three, I believe I can at least attempt to explain the magic of Disney and why it still attracts over 120 million people every year.
Disneyland Paris, located in Marne-la-Valleé, is about a 40 minute train journey from Paris itself, and offers an excellent sample of what the theme parks have to offer. Significantly smaller and less friendly than its American counterparts, Disneyland Paris is an excellent addition to a Paris city-break or a long weekend away. This particular park has numerous advantages, the most obvious being that it will save you approximately €450 in flights and 6 hours travel time. The fact that it is much smaller (one sixth the size of Disney World in Orlando) allows for a more complete experience. Normally, being able to make your way around a whole theme park in peak tourist season is rare, if not genuinely impossible (with wait times for most rides often surpassing two hours), but in Disneyland Paris you’re allowed the time to meet every character and go on every ride – more than once.
However, there are also many flaws in Disneyland Paris that its sister parks don’t have. Firstly, the staff need to re-take their customer service exam as Disneyland Paris has some of the most unhelpful staff I’ve ever come across. Secondly, it is in France, so unless you speak French then you will have to converse with people in a mixture of broken English and hand gestures. Finally, Disneyland Paris is missing the undefinable spark, the magic for lack of a better word, that its sister parks have in abundance. Disney has the knack for making theme parks, then giving them the magic touch, an extra layer of polish – something they didn’t do in Paris.
Walt Disney World on the other hand is in a league of its own. The most visited theme park in 2010, Walt Disney World Resort rests on over 30,000 acres of land and comprises of four separate theme parks, two water parks and numerous hotels. Each Disney theme park has the same common elements of characters and rides – but these can be found in any theme park; it’s what Disney does with everything else that makes their parks so unique, and the best example of this is seen in Orlando. While it is more expensive and time consuming then travelling to Disneyland Paris, I believe the payoff is far greater than anything Paris has to offer. For one thing, unless you visit Florida in July, you’re all but guaranteed excellent weather; the staff (including the costumed characters), nearly fall over themselves trying to help you; the queues are constructed in such a way so that you never feel as if you’ve got a long wait still ahead; and you always get your value for money. No tree is left unpositioned, no handrail unpainted – all to fit together to make visiting WDW an unforgettable experience.
Maybe the magic of Disney is impossible to define. All I know is that you’re far more likely to find it in Orlando than in Paris.