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Special Europe Issue | Taking the Kids

Too Much Paris? Slip Them a Mickey

April 28, 2002|EILEEN OGINTZ

Quick--what's Europe's top tourist attraction?

Hint: It's in France. No, it's not the Eiffel Tower. It's not even in Paris, but it draws twice as many visitors as the Eiffel.

Ask the kids. They won't be as surprised to learn that Europe's top tourist destination is Disneyland Resort Paris, about 20 miles and a 40-minute train ride east of Paris in the suburb of Marne-la-Vallee. The Eiffel Tower, by the way, gets about 6 million visitors annually, and the Tower of London, traditionally one of Britain's top tourist attractions, draws 2.3 million people a year.

When Disneyland Paris opened 10 years ago this month, many doubted it would recoup its $2.8-billion investment. But Mickey has proved the naysayers wrong. Each year, 12 million Disney lovers, mostly Europeans, descend on the resort. The occupancy rate at its seven hotels is 86%, and three more are being built. With the new $530-million Walt Disney Studios Park (devoted to film and animation) open next door, even more tourists are expected.

Visitors come for the rides, shows and Disney Village, which has concerts, a huge video arcade, movie theaters and popular American restaurants. A golf course and a designer outlet mall, La Vallee Shopping Village, are nearby.

Perhaps you're thinking you would never waste a day in France getting Goofy's autograph or riding roller coasters when you could be visiting the Louvre or Notre Dame Cathedral or introducing the family to French food.

Think again. A trek to Disneyland Resort Paris can be "a nice break from all of the culture," says Pennsylvanian Amy Barnett, who was on the train with us on a recent drizzly morning. Barnett was with her husband, Jeff, and their two excited grade-schoolers, Laura and Adam. Jeff later reported that after the Disney visit, the kids were game for more museums.

For American kids, including my 11- and 16-year-old daughters, there's something comforting about a visit to Mickey's house in the middle of a trip to a country where they're struggling with the language, unfamiliar food and a cultural overdose. The kids can even chow down with Mickey and his friends, whether it's breakfast at Walt's, a Tex-Mex lunch or a summer tea party at the Lucky Nugget Saloon in Frontierland.

About 40% of the resort's visitors are from France, 18% from Britain and 32% from elsewhere in Europe. Cultural differences are obvious, especially when you're standing in the park's lines. "You really had to protect your place in line pretty aggressively, or else people went right in front of you," Amy Barnett said. "Also, they seemed to bump into us a lot."

Disney's European resort covers 5,000 acres (including hotels), making it one-sixth the size of Florida's Walt Disney World but 10 times the size of California's Disneyland Resort. Although some of the attractions (like the beloved Peter Pan's Flight or the interactive Honey I Shrunk the Audience 3-D movie) are identical or similar to the ones at Disney's American parks, others are new--among them Walt Disney Studios' parade and its Stunt Show Spectacular, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at stunts and special effects.

Coaster lovers will be glad to know that the Studios' Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is intense, as is Space Mountain next door at Disneyland Paris, where there's also the novel backward coaster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril. And be sure to check out Sleeping Beauty's Castle, which has stained-glass windows and tapestries made using 500-year-old techniques.

Chicagoan Barbra Shwom, who spent a day here with her 12-year-old son, Nat, last summer, says the resort was a good change of pace during a European visit.

"So much of what you do on a trip to Europe is centered around the adults," Shwom said. "There's something to be said for heading to a place designed for children."

* Try visiting www.disneylandparis.com for information on packages and special events.

* By train, take the RER Line A from Paris to Marne-la-Vallee/Chessy. There are Eurostar trains from London, Brussels and Geneva.

Prices at Disneyland Resort Paris are lower than at Disney parks in the United States: about $32 for adults, $26 for children 3 to 11 for a one-day pass to one park. Children younger than 3 are free.

*

Eileen Ogintz welcomes questions and comments from readers. Send e-mail to eogintz@aol.com.

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