Saturday, 28 January 2012

Park Life

Here is an interesting fact. The area of land owned by Disneyland Resorts at Marne-La-Vallee just south of Paris (on which Disneyland Paris is constructed) is perfectly circular (look at it on Google Maps and you will see what I mean). What is less well known is the fact that Disney have options over two further areas of land adjoining the existing holding which, if exercised would form (alongside the existing resort) an area of land the shape of Mickey Mouse's head. Fact. And interesting. Don't you think?

I was completely oblivious to this piece of fascinating trivia when I turned up at Disneyland resort late one Friday evening in about 2003 to join my young family who had journeyed down there from London on the Eurostar earlier that day. The kids (then about 3 and 7) were tucked up in bed when I arrived at our room in one of the many themed hotels at the resort and after a room service Mickey Burger (which I ate having strangely failed to find anything French on the menu in the capital of France) I drifted off into the land of nod.

The following morning we (well, the kids, not me) awoke with eager anticipation of the Character Breakfast which - according to the marketing blurb - was "the ultimate way to meet and interact with your favourite stars of Disney's animated films". So - imagine being a 3 year old kid whose only previous experience of Disney's chipmunks had been seeing their playful frolics alongside Snow White and the seven vertically challenged ones. Cute, playful, cuddly little creatures tugging at Snow White's skirt and disappearing into holes in the trunks of trees in search of acorns and nuts to throw at each other, the little scamps. Imagine the expectation of a couple of playful critters bounding across the tables and scuttling up the curtains, pausing only to be stroked and petted by the spellbound kids.

And then imagine the horror of the same 3 year old kid being confronted by two fucking massive six foot chipmunks with three foot wide expressionless heads suddenly appearing above the rim of his cornflake bowl. The poor lad was terrified as these mute mutants towered above him giving it the full "jazz hands" as they stared into middle space like some deranged monsters from a 1970s episode of Dr Who. The little fellow immediately vaulted into my lap and buried his tear-strewn face into my chest, his sobs increasing as my soothing words were drowned out by the fifteenth chorus of "Happy Birthday" of the morning, as yet another candlelit cake made its way to yet another table occupied by yet another obese family who had read about the special birthday breakfast offer. (What are the chances of so many people sharing the same birthday and happening to be at Disneyland Resort all at the same time? Very slim (unlike them). Because they were all lying).

My first yellow card offence was then committed when I told the Chipmunks to "piss off and leave us alone" so that we could finish our breakfast in peace (I had previous in this regard having only a few weeks previously received a straight red for shouting "wanker" at H from Steps at a concert at Wembley Arena when he murdered Careless Whisper live on stage - to be fair one of the few bits of live singing on show that particular day). But I digress....

Once everyone had calmed down, we readied ourselves for the magical experience of the park itself. "In a Magical Kingdom not so far away - somewhere between a place where you wish upon a star and dreams come true - Disney heroes and heroines live in fairytales that are, happily, never ending." Hmmm. The only thing that was never ending that weekend were the queues. And the rows and rows of Disney stores. The part of suburban Marne-la-Vallee known as Main Street USA (I think it was called that, anyway) is lined with cutesie little village stores such as "Al's Muffin Shop" and "Bill's Barber shop", but anyone who wishes to buy a muffin or have a haircut will be disappointed to find that these shops sell nothing other than shelf upon shelf of Disney memorabilia.

>And the rain. Relentless Northern European rain, falling incessantly on the snaking queues of stiff upper lipped Brits stoically enduring their never ending wait for a two minute spin in a motorised tea cup. Or to watch a group of petulant froggies dressed as Disney Characters parade miserably along the Disney Store-lined boulevards of Disneyland Paris in the driving pluie.

My second yellow was issued for persistent dissent and I was sent back to the hotel for an early bath (or rather an early drink) ahead of the evening attraction, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

The Wild West Show was altogether a different proposition. We took our seats wearing our straw Stetsons and clutching our skillets of sausages and beans, and as the lights dimmed the sand arena was filled with a cacophony of whooping mounted cowboys roping steers and wrestling bison. At last - some real entertainment. Fuelled by the bottle of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais (not so) Nouveau that I had consumed when exiled earlier that afternoon, I was really getting into the mood, whooping and clapping at the rodeo stars, laughing at the antics of the rodeo clowns and their daredevil stunts, pointing excitedly at the buffalos and horses charging around in a cloud of dust......oblivious to the fact that my wife was sitting motionless beside me enduring a severe horse and cattle induced asthma attack. When this eventually came to my attention, and mindful not to panic the kids, who were by now fumbling around in the dark trying to cut their "not so Wild Western" saucissons on their skillets, we agreed that she would make her way back slowly to the hotel while I diverted the kids' questions about why Mummy had gone blue.

A truly dreadful evening to end a truly dreadful weekend. And I have never visited (or, put more accurately, been allowed to visit) another theme park since.

The same goes for waterparks. My last experience of a waterpark was at a place in Spain to which, for some reason, we decided to drag the kids on a public holiday in about 40 degree heat one day during our family holiday. Having stood in a queue for our first descent (the longest flume at the park) in the burning midday sun, my day of fun was brought to an abrupt halt when my fried body was ejected at about 70mph out of the end of the pipe into a pool of cloudy water and I promptly lost both of my contact lenses. Game over. I hadn't brought any spares or a pair of glasses so I spent the rest of the day groping my way around the park looking for non-existent shade in which to shelter from the sun, terrified of accidentally making physical contact with a bathing suit clad child or woman and being set upon by an angry mob of Spanish sex offender vigilantes.

It is that inadvertent contact with a stranger's flesh that really puts me off waterparks, that and the thought of accidentally ingesting someone's verucca plaster, hair band or one of the myriad other nasty floaty things that pollute such places. And wave pools - what is the point of them? If you like waves, why not just go to the seaside where they have real ones?

That is something that I don't understand about Center Parcs as well. I know that I am going to lose a fair few of my loyal readership here when I say that I simply do not get Center Parcs. I have only been once and it was not a particularly memorable experience, to be honest. It was expensive, it pissed with rain the whole time we were there (so perhaps I did not see it at its best), it was overrun with squirrels, two families ended up having a fight at the end of a game of laserquest (much to my kids' amusement), the pool was dirty and overcrowded (mainly with people trying to escape the rain) it was right next to a US Airforce base so we were plagued with the sound of fighter jets taking off and landing, and the list goes on.

Once you are there you are captive. Every activity or meal out has to be booked in advance and we spent the whole time rushing back and forth from tennis to laserquest to dinner to ten pin bowling. Center Parcs' tag line is "It's the times you have together that you'll carry with you forever" which apart from being annoyingly grammatically incorrect and not rhyming properly (it reads like someone has stuck the words through a Google translator) is also somewhat misleading.

Spending time at Center Parcs made me feel like an extra in the Truman Show. Not my cup of tea at all, though I can see why it appeals. As Truman Burbank himself might say "Somebody help me, I'm being spontaneous!" or perhaps more accurately "can we book a half hour family spontaneity session at 3pm tomorrow please"?

There really are an awful lot of quotes from that great movie that can be adapted perfectly for Center Parcs and which would be much better than that dreadful brochure tagline. My favourite is this :-

It's all true. It’s all real. Nothing here is fake. Nothing you see at Center Parcs is fake. It’s merely controlled.

All part of the great wave machine of life.....

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