Allez, Allez, Allez!

Two very short days after my most spontaneous trip to London, I traveled yet again. This time, I was headed on my most preplanned vacation. Way back in the spring, before my time in Copenhagen was even confirmed, I signed up to run the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon (and 10k the day before). I’ve run the half marathon at Disney World several times so running Paris was on my bucket list. Plus, because I ran a half in Orlando, I would receive an extra medal for completing the Paris run in the same calendar year as part of the “Castle to Chateau Challenge.” Basically, signing up for the Disneyland Paris run seemed like a no-brainer, good idea at the time. I wasn’t feeling the same when the weekend actually approached. I had severely slacked on my training and the thought of running 19.3 miles over the course of the weekend was almost too much.

Nonetheless, I boarded my Air France flight on Friday, determined to at least give it a try. After all, I had spent good money on the races so I was definitely not going to waste it. At the very least, I was in France and I was determined to make the most of my weekend. I stayed in a hotel just outside of Disneyland Paris and arrived after an arduous bus journey that seemed to last forever. By the time I got to my room, I had very little time to recover because I had to catch a train into Paris so that I could make the free walking tour I had signed up for. I have extolled the virtues of free walking tours in past posts so naturally I had to do one in Paris as well.

I timed it pretty perfectly, arriving at the designated meeting spot with enough time left over to purchase a mediocre sandwich (my first meal of the day oops). Despite accidentally handing the sandwich man Danish Kroners instead of Euros, I had a pretty successful afternoon in that I didn’t get lost or take the wrong train.

Unfortunately, I was not enamored with my walking tour. We stuck to a fairly tight area around Notre Dame and the Louvre. While his stories were interesting, our guide was not the most charismatic person. Still, I don’t regret my decision to take the tour. I technically didn’t spend any money on it (just the tip) and it was nice to see even a little bit of Paris, considering my tight schedule for the weekend.

After my walking tour I trekked back to Chessy for my first glimpse at Disney Property. I had to pick up my race bib and to do so required me to navigate Downtown Disney. It was really weird being on Disney property and not knowing where anything was located but I managed to find the expo tent with minimal drama. By the time I had collected everything it was nearing 8pm. I was exhausted, starving, and my feet hurt from traipsing through Paris. Not a winning combination considering I was to run a 10k the next morning. I ended up just getting McDonald’s for dinner which was not the most ideal French dinner, but I didn’t want to spend the money on overpriced Disney food and there weren’t any restaurants convenient to my off-property hotel.

I arose bright and early the next morning because I was paranoid about making it to the 10k on time. Since I was relying on public transportation to travel to the start line I wanted to make absolutely sure that I wouldn’t be caught in some sort of delay and miss the event that I had traveled all the way to France for. This entailed waking up way too early to catch the very first train so that in case of a backup (or an ahead of schedule train) I would be ready. I was successful and even had enough time to grab a vending machine coffee and waffle.

I had somehow managed to be placed into Corral A for this weekend, meaning that I would be one of the first runners on the course. This was a little nerve-wreaking because I would be surrounded by people who are objectively much faster than I. It was also exciting because I would have a much longer buffer of time between my start and the closure of the course meaning that I could stop for photo ops without much worry of getting swept. I took advantage of my high corral and stopped for a few characters, something that I never had in the Florida Disney races because I was always very concerned about beating my previous times but also I was afraid of being swept.

All in all, the 10k was great. The weather was a little on the cold side but it was completely bearable. I really loved that the course was contained entirely within the two Paris parks. It made the run fly by as there was always something interesting to look at. Plus, I had yet to visit either park (I’m not counting the time I visited with my family when I was like 7) so it was a great first glimpse at both. The atmosphere was just top notch all around, and the Cast Members in Paris got very into cheering for and congratulating the runners. Running through Adventureland past a group of pirates yelling, “Allez, allez, allez!” made me feel almost invincible. I had a great race overall and was very pleased with my decision to run the 10k in Paris.

After collecting my medal and post-race refreshments, I headed back to the hotel for a much needed nap. I woke up at 5am and ran over 6 miles so really I deserved it. When I rejoined the world a few short hours later, I had to figure out how to spend the rest of my day. I knew that I wanted to go back into Paris but that was the extent of it. I had tossed around some ideas like taking a walking tour of Montmartre, visiting the Neanderthal Expo, or going to the Musée d’Orsay. Ultimately, I decided against all of these things. They all cost money and involved a lot of walking. One of the problems with Paris is that all the museums cost a not insignificant amount of money, which made it very hard for me to commit to one. If I didn’t like it or didn’t spend enough time there, I wouldn’t get my money’s worth. Maybe I was just spoiled by London, but I was not in the mood to spend money on attractions in Paris considering how expensive the train into the city was to begin with. Plus, my poor legs were protesting at the thought of working for a few more miles after the morning and I still had a half marathon to do the next day.

I eventually decided on something much more low-key: I would go to a grocery store and make myself a little picnic with a view of the Eiffel Tower. This was perfect for me because I love nothing more than wandering around a grocery store. Sadly, when I ascended from the metro after arriving in the city, I was met with a gloomy drizzle. Not optimal picnic weather at all. Disheartened, and with no backup plan, I trudged to the Eiffel Tower, stared at it for a solid seven minutes, and quickly took the most obligatory of tourist photos. My heart just wasn’t into it. Paris was not being kind to me so I gave up. I did a quick run through a grocery store just to browse and then headed back underground and back to Val d’Europe. Again, I went to sleep relatively early to prepare for another 5am wake up.

I repeated the morning ritual of the previous day: up early to catch the first train. This time, however, I would be running a half marathon and I was nervous, still sore from the 10k and definitely undertrained. Luckily, my paranoia of missing the train paid off. Only two trains would make it from my station to Disneyland due to an incident on the tracks between Paris and Val d’Europe. By waking up for the first train I ensured that I would make it to the start line right on time. Had I slept in, there was a very real danger that I wouldn’t have made it at all.

Once again I made my way to Corral A, this time without the comfort of vending machine snacks because the dumb thing ate my Euro coins. Still, I was ready to conquer 13.1 more miles, and conquer I did. I had the same strategy as the 10k which was to take it easy and enjoy the whole experience. After all, who knows if I’ll make it back for another race? I had almost as much fun during the half as I did the day before. The half course offered plenty of park time once again. There is nothing more motivating than running through the castle.

I did have a harder time with the back half of this race. After winding around Disneyland, the course went out into a nearby village. While scenic and French, this portion of the course was a challenge because I was unfamiliar with the area. I really had no idea where I was or how far I had traveled which was hard for me mentally as I couldn’t anticipate how close I was to finishing. This is one area where the Disney World races are much better for me. After working there for nearly five years and visiting frequently since I was a baby, I know pretty much every inch of the Florida property. This means that I can visualize exactly where I’m going and approximately how long it’ll take to get there.

I’m proud to say that I finished the half in about the same amount of time it took me to run my very first one. While not a personal best, it is worth noting that in Paris I spent a not-insignificant amount of time in line for photo ops. So I’m just going to say that I was unofficially faster. I really did love running in Paris and I’m so glad that I ended up running both the 10k and the half.

After the race and a nap, I headed back for my first official day as a guest in Disneyland Paris. From this point onwards, my trip consisted solely of visiting the two Disneyland Parks. Instead of boring you with a play-by-play, I will summarize my thoughts.

First of all, while I really did like Disneyland Paris very much I didn’t love it as much as some people do. It’s frequently called the “most beautiful Disney park” and I can certainly agree with that. The landscaping and sense of place in Disneyland Paris is top notch. Unfortunately, it feels as though the aesthetics take the place of actual content. Many areas of the park feel very empty. Adventureland is huge but only has four real attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, the Swiss Family Treehouse, and Adventure Isle. Only the first two are rides. The other two are walk throughs. Compare this to Florida’s Adventureland which has five attractions, three of which are rides, one is a show, and one is a walk through. Paris’s occupies a larger land area but has fewer attractions. It feels empty because there is a ton of walking in between experiences. Paris could really benefit from another ride or a show like the Tiki Room in this area. I used Adventureland as a case study simply because I worked in Disney World’s Adventureland so not only am I very familiar with it but it’s also my favorite for sentimental reasons.

A nice part about Disneyland Paris is that their most of their versions of the same rides that the States have are wildly different if not better. Paris definitely has the best version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Placing the ride on an island in the middle of the river was brilliant from an aesthetic point of view. It was the one ride that I absolutely prefer over the American versions. Space Mountain is also different in Paris. It is much closer to Rock n Rollercoaster as it features a launch and a few loops. While I understand what it’s trying to accomplish, I definitely like it less than American versions from a ride experience point of view. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, but I felt as though it was too rough and intense for me to ride more than once whereas I can ride Space Mountain at Disney World several times over before getting sick. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the launch part of the ride and the kinetic energy it brings to the surrounding area.

Let’s talk about Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates is my absolute favorite attraction at any park, hands down. It was the first location I ever worked at in Disney World so it holds a special place in my heart. With that being said, the Orlando version is definitely and objectively the worst version of the ride. While I love it for sentimental reasons, it is by no means my favorite version out there. On the flipside, Paris’s Pirates is objectively the best version of the ride. It has an immersive queue like in Orlando but the ride profile itself is long like in Anaheim. Paris, however, improves on the narrative and makes it more linear and easier to follow. Plus, Jack Sparrow appears much more sparingly in this version (though his presence still does not make any sense and his inclusion in all versions is just a shameless tie-in to the movie). The show quality is top notch and all the animatronics were operating. Those that weren’t were hidden by a screen that the casual guest would just think is intentional theming. I noticed simply because I am way to overly familiar with the ride. I loved it so much that I ended up riding it like five times over the course of my two days at the parks. With that being said and although objectively Paris is the best, my favorite version of the ride is still Anaheim’s. It’s the original and the most charming.

Another area where Disneyland Paris really excels is with Cast Member costumes. They are so elaborate and do an incredible job of place setting. For example, the Pirates (of course) costumes put ours in the States to shame. Like they look like legit pirates and would never get confused with elves (seriously happened to me when I worked at Pirates in Orlando). Plus, they get to wear tricorn hats with feathers. I have never been so jealous of a costume.

While I have been gushing about Disneyland Paris, my opinions of the Studios Park are much less positive. The theming is a hodgepodge and makes little sense. Most rides are straight clones of rides in the American parts or are dressed up carnival rides (I’m looking at you, Toy Story Land). I only rode two rides at this park, the two that are exclusive to Paris. First up was Crush’s Coaster. It was my favorite of the two. It was fun and fast and a nice little ride. However, it is ridiculously inefficient and is no way worth the wait or the hype. Still, it was my favorite of the two rides because the other, Ratatouille was objectively terrible. It was like a worse version of Spiderman at Islands of Adventure. I know that it wasn’t running at full motion as its refurbishment had been pushed back. Even so, I feel like the ride did not take full advantage of the trackless technology used (dare I say that even the penguin ride at Seaworld used it better?). I was honestly kind of bored by the ride. All I’ll say is that if Epcot is getting a direct clone of this Ratatouille ride, we should all be disappointed.

Despite some flaws, I really did enjoy my time at Disneyland Paris. Paris has the most gorgeous castle park and the show quality is enviable. I love the sense of place that the various walk through attractions give the park. I just think that there could be more rides overall. Even still, I would not mind returning to Disneyland Paris in the near future, especially to run their races again. Plus, Phantom Manor was closed during my visit which is a gosh darn travesty so obviously I have to go back just to ride it.

I’m sure exhaustion played a part but I was not too impressed with Paris. Transport was expensive, attractions cost money, and I just could not get into it. I’m glad I made it into the city but I’m not itching to return. I think that you’re either a London person or a Paris person. I am definitely a London person and there’s nothing wrong with that. And despite my mild whining, I really did enjoy my trip overall and I have no regrets at all.

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