Belle Isle: A little bit more of Brittany


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entering the walled harbor at Le Palais on Belle Isle, France.  You see the city of the left and the citadel on the right.

Today we are docked just off of Belle Isle, France.  Like our previous stop, the island is in the Brittany region of France.  It is the largest of Brittany’s islands and less than nine miles from the Quiberon peninsula extending from the French coastline.  The island has numerous small inlets and beaches and a breathtaking coastline, as seen on our way in to anchor.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Le Palais, Belle Isle, France

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Photo ©Jean Janssen Belle Isle, France

Artists have always been drawn to Belle Isle.  It is the home to the largest Opera festival in Western France.  Impressionist Claude Monet depicted the island in his work; Australian impressionist painter John Russell established an artists colony on the island; and Matisse’s work is said to have changed dramatically after and been influenced by his visit to Belle Isle.  Author Alexandre Dumas’ characters from The Three Musketeers have ties to the island and the second sequel to the novel is set in part on Belle Isle.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Belle Isle, France

The island is the second home to many of the French.  The island’s population of 5,300 swells in the summer months with the vacationers and opera guests.  The island’s economy depends on tourism and fishing.  That said, they are not set up for nor do they encourage cruise ship visitation.  This stop is a new one for Azamara as the cruise line tries to expand their unique offerings and set themselves apart in the market.  There were only two excursions offered on the island.  The one we were interested in was sold out, so Boris and I are touring on our own.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Azamara Journey as seen from the Le Palais Harbor, Belle Isle, France.

Not surprisingly, we can not dock at Belle Isle and once again were using the tender boats.  It is a gorgeous day with sunny skies and cool temperatures.  The air feels wonderfully fresh and clean.  The ship’s arrival was timed for 11 am.  I had an early morning massage and then showered.  We had lunch on the ship and then tendered into shore after the excursions had gone out and we no longer needed a tender ticket.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Belle Isle, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Le Palais, Belle Isle

We stopped off at the Tourist Information Center right at the ramp that served as our tender station and picked up a map.  Belle Isle’s harbor at Le Palais is a walled harbor.  (Our tender boats could only enter the walled harbor one at a time and we had to sit just outside the wall and wait for another tender to leave on our way in.)  The city was small and easy to navigate on foot.  I found it utterly charming.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Belle Isle.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Beautiful stained glass in the church at Le Palais on Belle Isle, France

I am always drawn to churches and led Boris straight to Le Palais’ Catholic Church just across from city hall.  With the church’s unassuming facade, I was shocked upon entering.  The stained glass windows were beyond beautiful and the altar decoration was colorful and unique.  What a surprise!  However, it will be no surprise to my blog readers that I took lots of pictures inside.  (Boris never complains.  He enjoys sitting and resting inside.)


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Hotel de Ville (City Hall), Le Palais, Belle Isle, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris wanders into La Maison d’Armorine, a confectioner that opened in 1946.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris liked the name of this restaurant, named for a character (Corto Maltese) in Hugo Pratt’s graphic novel.

The intersection by the church was full of riches with the interestingly named restaurant Corto Maltese and the Hotel de Ville (city hall) with its attractive facade.  Boris chose a nearby candy store as the first place he wanted to go into and of course he made a purchase-some wonderful caramels in a unique tin.  The proprietress did not speak English and I think Boris enjoyed using his French.  I just pointed and smiled.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen The canal in Le Palais, Belle Isle, France

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Wash day on board, Belle Isle, France

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Van, Kayak, bicycle, ready! Belle Isle, France

The small city winds around an canal.  There were lots of pleasure boats of varying sizes tied up along the canal.  For some it was wash day, others were restocking supplies, and others had just tied off to explore.  There were lots of people-including families with young children- in town just sitting by the canal and enjoying a picnic lunch (where I would have looked for a grassy area, they enjoyed the harbor walls and the view of the citadel just across the canal).

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. A Westie! We look for West Highland White Terriers everywhere when we travel to remind us of our own Peabody at home.

Lots of people were on bicycles.  Many others were walking their dogs.  We were excited when we spotted a West Highland White Terrier (think Caesar ads) like our Peabody.  Of course I had to snap a picture.  There was a market in town on this Thursday which was just starting to shut down when we arrived.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Market Day in Le Palais, Belle Isle was just ending when we arrived.

Boris was on a mission to find crepes.  There were plenty of places, just not when he starting looking for them.  We rounded a corner and found a nice spot overlooking the citadel and took a seat at one of the outdoor tables.  The citadel can be seen from everywhere in town, from the harbor and canal that runs along it, and even from our cruise ship at anchor.  It is now a museum.  A walking bridge across the canal gets you there.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cider on Belle Isle with a view of the citadel.

Brittany is too wet to produce grapes for wine, but they do produce a lot of apples and consequently cider.  We started with two glasses of cider. Boris spent a lot of time discussing the traditional crepe for Brittany with the server.  I just went with the special-strawberries, hazelnuts, whipped cream and ice cream.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Crepes on Belle Isle

The crepes came out as big buckwheat cakes.  Yum!  I definitely out-ordered Boris.  We found out later than this is the place the locals recommend.  Boris was proud of himself for stumbling upon it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Must be a local artist on Belle Isle that makes these metal creatures. We saw them at the entrance to the citadel as well.

Around the corner numerous sidewalk cafes lined the street facing the harbor.  Some served wonderful large seafood platters like we the one we had in Bruges.  If we had come in for lunch, that would have been my pick.


Sunset on the deck as we left Belle Isle

Having made the circuit, we headed back to the tender to return to the ship.  Belle Isle is a lovely island.  There is more to see if you have the time and oh those beautiful beaches!  Belle Isle would be a wonderful place to come stay and relax for a few days or a week.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the church on Belle Isle, France. Beautiful

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Mont Saint Michel and St. Malo, France


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mont Saint Michel and its Abbey, Normandy, France

Today we are anchored off the walled city of St. Malo, Brittany.  Brittany is one of fifteen regions in France.  However, the main attraction on today’s stop is actually in Normandy, another region of France.  But for the flow of Couesnon River, the rocky tidal island of Mont Saint Michel would be in Brittany.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The harbor at St. Malo, Brittany, France. When I woke, this was in darkness with only the lights from the town and the boats making the scene visible. By the time breakfast had arrived in our cabin, this was our view.

Boris and I are traveling by cruise ship once again.  We left Southhampton yesterday after a direct flight into Heathrow from Houston and a bus transfer to the coast.  It was an hour of driving around to all the terminals at Heathrow to pick up other cruise passengers and then an hour and 15 drive to the cruise terminal.  We took a red eye flight, so we were early and had to wait about an hour for the ship to open for new passengers.  Boris and I were the first ones on after the guests with suites.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, France.

Our original plan was to go to Vietnam and Thailand in October but we had to cancel because Boris has a firm trial setting.  Those destinations are on my bucket list and we hope to get there in the spring.  This replacement cruise was the only one that fit in our schedules for the end of summer/fall. Billed a Wine and Romance Cruise, we will be stopping in ports in France and Spain before docking in Portugal.  Once we are land based, we will take a few days to see Porto which we missed when we were last here in May.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Houses along the city walls of Saint Malo, Brittany, France

Our first stop in St. Malo, France, a port city in the English Channel in the region of Brittany.  Historically, it was the home of French privateers (pirates sanctioned by the monarchy).  St. Malo’s old city is walled.  It has been destroyed twice.  First during the 16th century and then again during WWII when German troops were garrisoned in Saint Malo.  The city was heavily bombed by the Allies.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One of the entrance gates to the walled port city of St. Malo, France.

We hope to have time to visit the city when we return from our excursion.  It was predicted to be a beautiful sunny day and our group all headed out to the tenders without raincoats or umbrellas.  We are unable to dock at St. Malo, so we have to tender in to shore through an opening in the walled harbor.  About half way into our tender ride, the rain started coming down heavily.  There was no time to go back for coats or umbrellas.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our tender stop in the walled harbor of St. Malo, France.

It was only a light drizzle by the time we reached the dock so we made it to the bus without mishap.  Our destination is Mont Saint Michel just on the border of the regions of Brittany and Normandy, about an hour away.  This is a spectacular world heritage site that is not to be missed.  The climb to the Abbey at the top is supposed to be grueling, but I have been told by anyone that has gone that it is worth the attempt.  Post surgery I can do pretty well with flat walking.  Uphill is a different situation.  Houston has no hills; so injury or not, I am not conditioned for climbing.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Bay surrounding Mont Saint Michel as fed by the River Couesnon

Mont Saint Michel is an island just over half a mile off the mainland coast.  The River Couesnon forms an estuary at Mont Saint Michel.  The final stretch of the river “forms the border between the historical duchies of Normandy and Brittany.”   The first monastic settlement was built on Mont Saint Michel in the 8th century;  the Romanesque church was built in the 11th century.  When the Abbey was built, pilgrims could only cross at low tide.  Water wasn’t the only hazard; the quicksand surrounding the mont still claims lives today.  The water level varies widely with the tides, as much as 46 feet.  The tides made the island “defensible as an incoming tide stranded, drove off, or drowned would-be assailants”.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The new light bridge over the bay has a wooden boardwalk for pedestrians and a road for shuttle access.

Crossing to the island has changed over the years.  There was a tidal causeway and then in 1879 a raised causeway was built with the later addition of car parks.  More recently, a dam has been created along with a light bridge which allows the water to pass freely around the island.  The causeway has been eliminated and the car parks have been moved to the mainland.  Today you can walk to the island or take a free electric shuttle.  There is a charge for the horse-drawn shuttle.  Some still brave the sandy marshland, but should only do so with a guide to get them around the quicksand.  The light bridge flooded once in 2015 as the result of a “super tide”.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey at Mont Saint Michel

“According to a legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to Bishop Aubert of Avranches and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.”  The Abbey which sits at the top was one of great prestige until the Reformation reduced both the number of pilgrims visiting and the number of monks in residence.  With the French Revolution, the remaining monks were forced to flee and the Abbey was stripped of it ornamentation and became a prison.  “[B]y 1836, influential figures, including Victor Hugo, had launched a campaign to restore what was seen as a national architectural treasure. The prison was finally closed in 1863 and the mount was declared a historic monument in 1874.” The Mont and the surrounding bay were named UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1979.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mont Saint Michel

The mont and its Abbey are visually dramatic.  The best view is from a distance, which you speed by while on the shuttle.  If you have the time and the energy, walk the wooden path toward the island to see this almost unparalleled site.  If you are on the shuttle, you will still be left off some distance away and can enjoy the view.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The old pulley system used to raise and lower items to/from the Abbey is still in use today. Sure wish it was me they were pulling up.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Top of the pulley system at the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Pulley wheel, the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel.

Our guide lead us up what she said was the easiest path.  Easiest being a relative term.  It is a difficult climb up a less than smooth pathway with rock, cobblestones, and steps.  The young and fit will most likely have no problem, but I recommended some conditioning if you are not in the best of shape.  I had to stop a few times to rest and catch my breath.  The guide was sensitive to the needs of our group.  There were some people who simply couldn’t do it.  The cruise line had given us warnings about the difficulty.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Boris made the trek up to and through the Abbey with me.

Don’t be fooled once you make it to the Abbey.  It may be easier, but is not easy to make your way through the structure.  To tour, you will still be going up and down steps and ramps and utilizing straight and circular staircases.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey Church features Romanesque architecture


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The roof of the Abbey church was designed to minimize weight and pressure on the lower floors of the structure.

The Abbey church features both Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture.  It has a wooden, almost straw-like ceiling to reduce the weight on the lower floors.  The top of the church spire features a statute of Michel the Archangel.  In March 2016, a helicopter was used to temporarily remove the golden statue on the spire in order to restore its lightning rod device.  A model inside the Abbey recreates the procedure.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The golden statute of Archangel Michel was restored by helicopter in 2016

Leaving the church, you walk into the Abbey cloister.  There were views of the garden and the bay from the cloister.  This cloister didn’t have the same wow for me after visiting the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Victory in Batalha, Portugal in May.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey cloister, Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Detail on the cloister arches, the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The cloister and church at the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel.

The Abbey has several levels.  God dominates the top level, next came the clergy, then the noblemen, than the rest of the population.  The distinction in amenities was not as clear with all the decoration removed.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Abbey at Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Fireplaces in the Abbey at Mont Saint Michel.

We walked through the gardens on our way out of the Abbey.  We descended the Mont from the Abbey via the town.  Throngs on tourists were on the pathway, either due to the later hour or the popularity of this route.  It felt a little like our experience in Obidos.  None of the shops caught our interest enough to go inside and actually our tour time was so limited that there really wasn’t much time to do anything other than walk down.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Perched in the niche of the Abbey Walls of Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Descending Mont Saint Michel through the town.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I saw this in a alleyway as we descended Mont Saint Michel through the town. It almost looked like a mini drawbridge to me.

I did enjoy the facades of the buildings and particularly the iron signs.  At one inn/restaurant, two cooks beat batter (presumably for crepes) in time against their metal bowls and attracted quite a crowd.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cooks beat their metal bowls in rhythm attracting a crowd of on-lookers, while my camera decided to focus on the iron rooster in the foreground instead.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Iron sign on Mont St. Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Gate to the town on Mont Saint Michel

We made it to the bottom and I snapped a few more pictures before we returned to the boardwalk to wait for the shuttle.  I was pretty hot, tired, and wet.  Wet not from rain but the exertion.  Of course, I was pretty proud of myself and glad I didn’t let anyone talk me out of trying.  Ideally, I would have gotten a picture from a greater distance, but I honestly didn’t have the energy or the time.  The guide told us it was a least an hour to get back on foot and I would have missed the bus.


I did it! Natasha climbed and descended Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the silt at Mont Saint Michel.

Returning to St. Malo, we drove around the walled city from the opposite direction, giving us a nice view of the beach and the fortress out in the bay.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The fortress just outside the walled harbor of St. Malo, France.

When we got off the bus it was not raining and it was a reasonable walk to the city gate, but we were tired and hungry and wanted more than the two hours remaining before the last tender to explore.  We decided to save the old city of St. Malo for our next visit.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Leaving the walled harbor of St. Malo by tender.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The coastline near St. Malo, France at twilight.

We went to a very late lunch when we reached the ship and then (no surprise) took naps.  As we left our spot at anchor outside the walled harbor, I enjoyed taking in the coastline, the beautiful hotels and homes, and the charming beaches.  St. Malo is definitely worth another visit.  On to more of Brittany with a stop at Belle Isle tomorrow.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of the Bay as we ascended Mont Saint Michel.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Mont Saint Michel

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Journey to a Galaxy Far, Far Away: Natasha previews Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Smugglers’ Run in Galaxy’s Edge, Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World Florida features a life-size Millennium Falcon.

Today is the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, the new Stars Wars (SW) section at Disney’s Hollywood Studios part of Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando Florida.  Natasha was among the lucky few season ticket holders who got to go to a preview last week.  While I liked the movies when I was younger, Rocky has turned me into a true Star Wars fan. In Natasha terms, that means repeatedly watching the movies and referencing them in everyday life, going to the premieres of any SW movie, carrying special SW purses, having custom SW ears featuring the droids and the pets (designed by my own niece Maggie), owning a SW name tag (I’m from Naboo by the way but my computer cannot support the language font), R2D2 pants and a dress, going to SW dessert parties, and not to be missed, a Star Wars cruise.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. I felt pretty special to have the opportunity to tour Galaxy’s Edge during the August previews.

The review came as a perk of my Platinum Annual Pass at WDW (unrestricted access to the four main theme parks in Florida with no block out dates).  I got in by the skin of my teeth; my pass expires in mid September. I am renewing at the Gold level that has some block out dates at Christmas and Easter.  I try to avoid crowded times anyway, so no real loss there. I did meet some Gold Annual Pass members while in Florida who confirmed that they were not invited to the preview. Theme park tickets went through the roof this year.  Disney raised the cost of their annual passes as much as 28%.  I saved over $200 by renewing at the lower level.  In addition, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) membership saves me 15% and I got a renewal discount of $50.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Early morning photo of Galaxy’s Edge, WDW, Florida.

Just a few weeks ago I was checking emails and read the invitation to the preview.  I clicked on the link and waited in the queue for 50 minutes, but I got in!  Maggie was the only other family member who had a qualifying annual pass, so it is just the two of us.  There were no weekend times available so we got the first one on Monday.  The preview is for a four-hour window (ours was 9 am to 1 pm), but they don’t really check when you leave so you could stay in the section the whole day if you wanted to.  Maggie has to miss the first day of her second year of law school.  She thought about it for a while, but has her priorities and is going to Galaxy’s Edge.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Galaxy’s Edge, WDW Florida.

Last minute can be expensive but I did this almost expense free.  I booked a DVC room, used miles for my plane ticket, will enter the park on my annual pass and the party on my free ticket.  I will use my redemption card (earned from putting anything I can on a Disney Visa Card) to pay for meals, snacks, and drinks.  Out of pocket I will only need to pay for my UBER home from the airport (Boris is taking me to the airport for my Sunday departure) and a meal at the airport.  The real advantage I had was that I had no required meetings or events on my calendar.


Natasha with Maggie, the Princess of Fantasyland with her light up Rapunzel hair.

Maggie went in for the weekend and got a budget room at Disney.  She transferred over to meet me at Saratoga Springs resort on Sunday. From there we both went over to the Magic Kingdom and the rest of the day.  We just missed the two o’clock parade.  It was hot and very crowded but we used the few fast passes we had and then looked for extra fast passes that gave us a quick turn around.  Maggie is a seasoned pro at this.  Rather than watch the light show from in front of the castle (which you should do if you are only going to see it once), we watched from the back.  This placement actually gets you a lot closer to the fireworks and your can find a seat at the last minute.  Maggie had on her Rapunzel outfit with the lighted hair that she made.  Unknown to us, the custodial staff in Fantasyland names a Princess of Fantasyland who actually starts the fireworks with the wave of her wand.  Maggie was chosen.  She did an excellent job!  Afterwards we were both presented wishing stars.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. When in Fantasyland….Dessert time.

We capped off the night by getting in line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride that has impossibly long waits and difficult to get fast passes.  However, as long as you are in the line before the park closes, they will let you ride.  The sign said the wait time was 60 minutes (actually pretty short for this ride); it was actually less than 25 (they don’t change the sign in the last hour to discourage riders so they can close).


Natasha and Maggie with Mickey and Minnie.

Then we took the bus back to Saratoga Springs and retrieved Maggie’s bag.  Disney will transfer it free from one of their hotels to another if you switch Disney resorts.  Just confirm your Magical Express bookings if you switch hotels.  Then we set 3 alarms so we wouldn’t oversleep for Galaxy’s Edge.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Who is excited to be here-ears and all? Galaxy’s Edge

At all the Disney parks, they actually open the gates and allow you to go through bag check, security, and the ticket entrance before the opening times and let you mill about in the entry areas.  We got there and even found a cast member with a “Passholder Event” sign who told us where to go when the park was fully open.  We headed straight to the Galaxy’s Edge main entrance (which Maggie had scoped out for us the day before) as soon as the rope dropped.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. You have great views of the top of the Millennium Falcon from inside the queue to Smugglers’ Run.

With our party confirmation, annual pass, and ID ready, we were quickly inside.  We had already planned to go straight to Smugglers’ Run, the section’s one open ride.  We had hoped to have a wait time of 45-60 minutes, but knew it might be more.  We also hoped to ride more than once during the 4-hour preview.  It took everything we had to stick to the plan and not stop at the many sights along the way-an X wing!

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie at the entrance to Smugglers’ Run check out her cool yellow rebel pilot shades.

The first impression was a big wow!   This is total immersion into a planet from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.  The cast members were in great uniforms and even have specialty nametags.  They talk in different terms.  Purchasing lunch the cost was quoted in “credits” not dollars; we were given a cargo slip and not a receipt.   When I commented on how hot it was (their multi-layer uniforms were theme on, but must have been incredibly hot), the cast member didn’t miss a beat and said “it was what you could expect for a planet with three suns.”


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Checking out the detail on the Millennium Falcon in Galaxy’s Edge, WDW.

When we made it to Smugglers’ Run, the wait was only 35 minutes and it may have actually been a few less than that.  A full scale Millennium Falcon sits just outside the ride.  Smartly the queue area for the ride goes around the ship so you are taking this all in during your wait.  Once inside, they continue to set the stage that you are in a smugglers cargo and hanger area.  The queue area is really well done.  Windows allow you views of the Falcon from above and we saw none other than Chewie checking out the ship from the ground.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. We weren’t the only ones checking out the Falcon. Thats Chewbacca underneath the ship.

The idea is that you are being recruited to serve as crew on a smuggler’s vessel and commandeer particular cargo.  In addition to overhead and onscreen dialog, there are two other group queuing areas for developing the theme.  In one of Disney’s smartest moves, as you wait you are given time within the Millennium Falcon to look around and take pictures.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Recruited to be smugglers inside the queue area.

At this point, you have already been assigned your role on the ship and given a color-coded card and assignment card.  You are called by color to board the ship in groups of six.  There are two engineers, two gunners, and two pilots.  You do have a role to perform and are scored on your performance.  The success of the mission depends on the combined scores of the participants. This is not as obvious when you were an engineer, my first role.  I just enjoyed hitting lit buttons, although watching the buttons did distract me from the screen.


Natasha and Maggie inside the Millennium Falcon, Galaxy’s Edge, Walt Disney World.

At special points in the mission, I was prompted to do certain things to happen by either  the verbal cues or the lit buttons and switches.  The six participants are sitting in the replica of the Falcon’s cockpit and a screen shows the mission and your activity.  It truly is interactive.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Inside the Falcon.

I will share just a bit on the roles.  There is no other way to say it; all jobs are not created equal.  The engineer hits buttons and switches; they sit in positions 5 and 6 in the cockpit.  The gunners go trigger-happy shooting; they sit in the second row in positions 3 and 4. These two roles do require you to look away from the screen at times.  As a gunner, you do see your efforts reflected on the screen.


Photo©Jean Janssen. Smugglers’ Run pre-show

The primo role is the pilot. These are the first jobs the cast members assign (so there is little hope of getting that role as a single rider.) The pilot on the left controls the ship’s movement from side to side.  The pilot on the right takes the ship to light speed and moves the ship up and down.  You are right up next to the screen, so not only do you have the most important role and do the most; but you really feel like you are right there in the action looking at the screen (out the front window of the ship) the whole time.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Galaxy’s Edge

We rode three times. The first time we rode as engineers. The second time we did single rider and-not surprisingly-were engineers again.  We learned.  The third time we waited in the line again and got to be pilots; we were prepared to ask for this role if we didn’t otherwise get it.  At least at the preview party, they were honoring this request. My advise is always try to be the pilot if possible and don’t be afraid to ask.  Maggie had been able to see the drill from her seat and wisely selected the right side pilot; that is still on my bucket list.  I would like to be the one to take us to light speed.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Smugglers’ Run experience, Galaxy’s Edge.

The ride is incredible, especially from the pilot’s seat.  The queuing area with the chance to walk through the Falcon was an added bonus. You will get to experience the Falcon’s interior waiting area even if you do the single rider option.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Oga’s Cantina, Galaxy’s Edge.

After our first ride we went over to line up for the Cantina.  Unfortunately, they were not taking any walk-ins.  We tried a couple of times, but there was never any space. I recommend trying to make reservations as soon as that window opens up for your trip 180 days out.  Maggie was quite impressed when I asked if there was a way to see it since it was unlikely we would get in.  The manager instructed one of the hostesses to give us a tour. It was brief, but the interior was impressive and right on theme.  Not sure if they will allow you to do this when it first opens to the public, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie made this amazing dress for the day featuring BB8 and modeled after a rebel pilot uniform.

Maggie had heard about the blue milk so we headed over there next.  You have the option of blue or green milk with or without rum.  We tried one of each. Ok, none with rum; we thought 10 am was a little early for that.  We both liked the blue a lot better.  The green milk was also good; it had the taste of green tea.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. The First Order’s section of Galaxy’s Edge

There are droid stages and restrooms nearby, but the big focus of this area is the First Order from the ship with a platform for Kylo Ren to descend (we saw him leaving) to the specialty First Order gift shop.  There were lots of characters roaming this area.  It is also where two stormtroopers spotted Maggie in her homemade BB8 dress and warned her against getting any ideas about funny business.  Maggie had also incorporated the Rebel pilot uniform into the design of the dress.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Storm Troopers offer Maggie a warning after spotting her in her rebel pilot inspired dress. Galaxy’s Edge.

We turned the corner and went in a door only to find ourselves in the cutest droid gift shop-actually my favorite gift shop in this whole section of the park.  There were so many unique offering of things I had never seen. There is also a lifesize R2D2 you can take your picture with.  I made a mental note that I wanted to return here later; I didn’t want to have to carry anything around.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Waiting to build a personalized droid, Galaxy’s Edge WDW.

The gift shop spills into the droid workshop where you can build your own droid from the many materials offered.  There was one wall of sound attachments that will react as you enter different sections of the park.  You will need a reservation.  The droid experience starts at $100/droid.  We chose not to partake, but I made a reservation for Rocky to have the experience when we return in September.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to Galaxy’s Edge Marketplace.

After the shop, we headed over to see the Marketplace with the cool open-air shops featuring SW creatures in cool carrying cases, amazing SW clothing, a replica of the Millennium Falcon chess set, etc.  You can even get a fan styled liked the SW cargo.  Not only are the items available new and enticing, but the area itself is very well styled.


Photo ©Jean Janssen  Grilling at the Edge of the marketplace, Galaxy’s Edge.

At one end there are tables and an eatery featuring food that appears to be of galactic origins that has been turned on a spit and cooked by a droid.  You didn’t need the styling of the spit to feel the heat in this area.  Next door is another outside eating area, but this is overflow from the quick service restaurant next door.  We tried the cantina again, but no luck.  The wait time at Smuggler’s Run was longer, so we decided to try single rider.  You miss the first set up waiting area, but you get time in the Millennum Falcon, so it’s a good option if you are not particular about what role you are assigned.  Our wait time was 5 minutes.  Probably not going to be that way again for years.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Quick service dining in Galaxy’s Edge.

After our second run, we returned to try the quick service restaurant.  The food was good and the atmosphere was SW authentic.   We made another pass through the area.  Maggie has to fly home today so she was toying with the idea of going to other areas of the park.  In particular, she is a big Tower of Terror fan and wanted to go on it.  She had had absolutely no luck getting a fast pass. She did get one for Toy Story Mania-hard to get but easier as a single rider.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Galaxy’s Edge, WDW.

We wanted to go into one more shop with a lightsaber focus.  This one reads almost like a cool museum and display area.  Mounted heads of some of the exotic creatures from the movies adorn the walls and some serious SW costuming is found here. Worth it just to look around even if you aren’t planning to fork over $200 to make a custom lightsaber. You’ll need reservations for that too. We saw some-they look pretty cool with the curved handgrips.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Found in the Galaxy’s Edge Marketplace, WDW.

So it was dilemma time-does she leave or does she stay.  We still had time on our preview window, although we could have actually stayed longer had we wanted to.  I told Maggie I was going to ride one more time.   I wanted to be a pilot.  Then I was going to purchase a few souvenirs and check out the area near the entrance that we passed through quickly.  The wait time was to be the deciding factor.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Speeder garage, Galaxy’s Edge.

Just then she got notice that Toy Story was down so she was able to use her fast pass at almost any ride in the park-including Tower of Terror-anytime that day.  Then we saw that wait time had gone back down to less than 30 minutes.  Decision made.  We rode that third time and it was the best yet.  We rode with two others that said they had been on 5 times and we were the best pilots (highest score) yet.  We didn’t even realize that you could pick up more contraband until we were that successful during the interactive third ride.  You have got to be a pilot.  Yes, Maggie and Natasha kicked ass!


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Galaxy’s Edge, WDW

After a return to the droid shop, we headed out checking out the cool ships that tried to attract our attention on the way in.  I thanked one of the Disney cast members not in character and he ended up being from the evaluation team so we gave him lots of feedback.  Outside of Galaxy’s Edge was a special shop with pass holder exclusive items, so we had to get some of those.  It was an awesome experience.  Galaxy’s Edge is even larger than I expected.  It is a not to be missed Disney experience.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Found in the Galaxy’s Edge Marketplace, WDW.

We will be back next month.  Who knows how large the crowds will be?  Until then…may the Force be with you.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Galaxy’s Edge, WDW



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An American in (Disneyland) Paris


Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris. Natasha shows off her custom dress by Maggie highlighting the movie featuring her favorite Disney Princess, Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Paris

There were so many more outfits to wear and so many more things to do that we wanted to get an early start on our return visit to Disneyland Park in Disneyland Paris.  This is day three (our final) in the parks.  We rode our favorite rides during early entry, a perk for Disney hotel guests that gets you in early before general admission guests can get in.  We made sure we arrived at Phantom Manor just before 10 am to get a picture with Phantom Mikey.  This is the only park you can meet him at.  Emma in particular wanted this photo.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma with Phantom Mickey. You can only meet him in Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris.


Off to Adventureland, Disneyland Park, Disneyland, Paris

One of the areas of the park that was in place when I visited in the 90s was Adventureland.  I remember the pirate ship was sitting by a frozen waterfall because it was so cold.  It is also the home of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.  It is a great version.  Like the attraction in California, there is a restaurant that looks out into the ride.  We will eat at Captain Jack’s tonight.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Disneyland, Paris

The ship sits next a waterfall that comes from a large skull rock.  The skull rock is more than just a decorative element.  There are trails, lookouts, and activities in this area and it is worth a walk-through.  Nearby is the Swiss Family Treehouse which is not very popular in the other parks, but this one is very well done and was more popular with park guests.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie at the entrance to Adventureland, Disneyland Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma in the camel chair, Disneyland Paris

They also incorporate Aladdin-themed elements into Adventureland including a entrance passageway with amazing lighting and a really cool camel chair.  You can also meet Aladdin and even rub the magic lamp.  At the right time, the smoke (genie) will appear.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie calling the genie at Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking toward the upper floor of the interior of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Sleeping Beauty story in stained glass, the castle, Disneyland Paris

Next stop was an interior visit to Sleeping Beauty Castle.  The lower portion gives access to the shops and dungeon, but go up the stairs and you can follow the story of Sleeping Beauty through stained glass and tapestries in La Galerie de la Belle au Bois Dormant.  Great photo opportunities.  There is also a balcony from which you can look out over Fantasyland.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The story of Sleeping Beauty in tapestry in the castle, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Looking out over Fantasyland from the castle balcony, Disneyland, Paris

We also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the parade one more time.  We picked our spot so we would have the castle as our picture backdrop.  Its a Tuesday, so this is the one day of the week that they bring out a special character, one that is rarely seen.  Today is was Jasmine’s father, the Sultan from Aladdin.  Pretty good timing since the new Aladdin movie is being released this week in the US.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Sultan from Aladdin was the day’s special character at Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. It wouldn’t be Sleeping Beauty’s castle if Phillip wasn’t there to save the day. Disneyland Paris

I mentioned in an earlier post that Maggie designs and sews Disneybounding outfits for us to wear at the parks.  This is very big in the US, especially at the California parks.  The guests here clearly didn’t get it.  Some even laughed.  We didn’t care; we might be the start of a European trend.  Either way, we enjoyed ourselves.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie Disneybounding Aurora in one of her own designs.

Maggie started by making decorative and unique (Disney) ears.  Next she branched out to full outfits including some incredible dresses.  Last summer we visited Fantasyland in Florida wearing dresses that Maggie designed and made based on park attractions.  We even ran into HGTV designer David Bromsted who complimented us on Disneybounding.


With HGTV Design and television star David Bromstad in Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida, August 2018

This trip we are wearing dresses associated with Sleeping Beauty.  Both Emma and I consider Aurora/Sleeping Beauty our favorite Princess.  We love the part in the animated movie (of our generation) where the fairies fight over what color her dress should be, blue or pink.  My preference is blue and Emma’s is pink. Ironically, the dresses we are wearing are opposite.  I am wearing a dress that is primarily blue, although you will notice the fairy “making it pink” (which is spelled out in beads on my purse-I may have forgot to mention that Maggie also makes us purses that compliment our dresses).  Emma’s dress is primarily pink.  Maggie is dressed like Aurora.  When in Disneyland Paris…


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma in Maggie’s design in her pink dress with a “make it blue” theme.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie in her own design inspired by Aurora.


Maggie’s dress designs inspired by the fairies flight over the dress color in Sleeping Beauty.

There was still more for us to see in Fantasyland.  There is a Storybook ride in California and it is recreated here with more efficient loading as Le Pays des Contes de Fees.  After your boat goes through the Cave of Wonders (from Aladdin) you come to the miniature recreation of castles, homes, and locations from Disney movies.  This version is very well done.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris

We toured through the Alice in Wonderland maze, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth.  It is an attraction that is unique to this park.  It is a cute exhibit and you can also go up on the tower for a better view of this older section of the park.  This is the perfect attraction to enjoy with young children; it offers lots of opportunities for fun pictures.  You’ll note from our pictures and the jackets that it was starting to get cooler as the sun went down.

Our evening meal was at Captain Jack’s overlooking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.   Its terraced dining so everyone has a view of the ride.  The menu fit the theme, but we all struggled to find something we liked.  In the end, it was our least favorite dining spot.  Afterwards we wandering around Fantasyland some more, rode Pinocchio and the Carousel, and ended up at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  No spinning for me, but I loved the canopy and the wonderful lighting.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma on a footbridge in Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Twilight in Fantasyland, Disneyland Park, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at twilight, Disneyland Paris

We ended our visit where we began it, back in Frontierland at Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Railroad.  Early in the morning we will take the bus to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport for our flight back to the United States.  Next time, I won’t wait 23 years between visits.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. View of Big Thunder Mountain from the porch of Phantom Manor, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Leaving Disneyland Paris and headed to the airport on a cool morning.

Can’t wait until my next visit.  –Natasha


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Disneyland Paris

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Walt Disney Studios Park, Disneyland Paris


Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris promotes the Marvel connection and Natasha came dressed for the occasion.

Disneyland Paris’ second park, Walt Disney Studios, opened in 2002, 10 years after the resort’s original opening.  Maggie had done her research and we were going to start the day with the more popular rides that will get crowded as the day progresses.  Taking the bus over from our hotel, we still had to deal with the rain.  It was really pouring and our shoes were completely soaked by the time we got into the park.  He headed straight to the Crush indoor rollercoaster, one of the newest and most popular rides at the park.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Crush’s Coaster, one of the newest and most popular rides at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris.

You ride in a turtle shell with two seats facing forward and two that face backward.  The shell moves along the track, sometimes spinning and changing position so sometimes you face forward and sometimes back.  There is a great use of theme on the ride incorporating a popular character and the settings from Finding Nemo.  We liked it, although my stomach was little upset after riding several times in a row.  Each time the line got longer.  Unlike some of the other rides at these parks, there are no fast passes for Crush’s Coaster.


Check out Remy on the manhole covers, along with our soaked shoes, Walt Disney Studios Park, Disneyland Paris.


Ratatouille: The Adventure at Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris.

After leaving Crush’s Coaster, we went to the nearby Toon Studio section with another newer ride, Ratatouille:  The Adventure.  This is an amazing ride.  We rode both with and without fast passes.  You sit in a small rat car that seems to move on a magnetic track.  You view screens in various settings all from the perspective of a small rodent.  The ride is extremely well done and not to be missed.  The setting in the park, a Paris inspired courtyard, is quite nice as well.  I loved the fountain with champagne bottles, especially since champagne is Natasha’s favorite drink.


Who doesn’t love a fountain with champagne bottles? Natasha at Walt Disney Studios Park, Disneyland Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma on a stationary (probably safer) vespa in Toon Studio, Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland, Paris

After the ride it was time for our specialty restaurant of the day at Bistro Chez Remy, French dining also from a rat’s eye perspective.  Everything is oversized as it you were the size of Remy and his family.  The chairs are styled after the medal tops and cages on Champagne Bottles and booths are between serving dishes on a plate rack. You might even be seated under a drink umbrella.  One glass wall looks out to the boarding area of the ride.  This restaurant is very popular and I definitely recommend reservations.  Ours was for the opening and the waiting area was packed with guests spilling out to the courtyard.  It stayed full the whole time we were there.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Bistrot Chez Remy, Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland, Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. See what you can find in this interior picture of Chez Remy…like Christmas tree lights that double as overhead lighting, a large salt shaker, a drink umbrella as a table umbrella, a champagne topper chair, etc.

Another surprise was that a waiter we met last night who had taken our picture (and his as a selfie joke) was also working there and recognized us.  We had to get another picture with him.   We loved the food, but the setting was the really special part.  Our actual waiter was a little off and eventually he left for the day and was replaced.  Since the restaurant had just opened, it couldn’t be that his shift had ended.  Kind of strange.


On our first night, we went to the specialty restaurant at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and Lucas was the greeter. We asked him to take a picture of us outside the restaurant and when we got the camera back this picture was also on it.


…and who should appear the next day at Bistrot Chez Remy but Lucas who snapped this selfie with us.


when we found out Lucas was going to off the next day and wouldn’t be at Captain Jack’s we just had to get one more picture with him before we left Chez Remy.

The park has adopted a Marvel Theme in the large section to the right as you enter.  There was to be an outdoor stage show and even though the rain had cleared, technical problems prevented it from going forward.  We had to contend ourselves with the large size Marvel statues outside.  There was also the opportunity to have your picture taken with some of the characters.  The lines weren’t exceptionally long, but the characters took a lot of time to interact with us.  Since Maggie and Emma had not met Captain Marvel-I met her on the Marvel Day at Sea cruise in February with Rocky-we chose to have our picture taken with her.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie with Captain Marvel at Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie with Iron Man at Walt Disney Studio, Disneyland Paris


Natasha with the Hulk at Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland Paris

Nearby was one of our Florida Hollywood Studio favorites, Rock ‘N Roller Coaster.  The exterior lacked the wow factor of its Florida counterpart.  Although Emma was convinced that it was the same exact ride, it lacked the “special” element that makes it one of favorites in the US.  We were disappointed and only rode it one time which is unusual for us.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Large production show at Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland Paris

There was a Marvel-themed show with a lot of the characters.  We missed an earlier show due to long lines and ours was completely full.  I thought it was really cheesy and find it hard to recommend, but younger extreme comic book fans may want their fix.  The tech presentation was pretty good.


Mickey and the Magician at Walt Disney Studio Park at Disneyland Paris.

The really great show at the park was Mickey and the Magician, a live stage show with a definite French feel.  The show is done in French and English, alternating between characters.  Mickey speaks in French.  Mickey is transported into scenes of several of your favorite Disney movies by the use of magic.  We throughly enjoyed it; be sure to get in line early.  The show is very popular and if you arrive shortly before seating there won’t be room.  (We know this from personal experience.)


Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland, Paris

Emma and Maggie are big Twilight Zone Tower of Terror fans so they also enjoyed that ride.  We did skip a few attractions that are available at the US parks and are were not particular favorites of ours.  Waiting for one of the shows, we tried the backstage tour which had been continually shrunk and finally eliminated in Florida.  This Paris ride wasn’t even worth the time to sit down.  There is nothing to it; just skip it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Loved our fruit- filled Groot treats at Walt Disney Studio Park at Disneyland Paris.

I also got my Guardians of the Galaxy fix at this park through their special treat offerings.  I liked the big hanger we walked through at the beginning with its use of theme in the counter service restaurants and the gift shows.  However, more understaffed and/or inefficiencies here-again long and slow moving lines for food.  If you want some unique gift items or souvenirs, I recommend the shop near Ratatouille, Chez Marianne.  There are lots of items based on Ratatouille, but also a selection unique to Disneyland Paris.


Best shop for unique souvenirs in Walt Disney Studios, Disneyland, Paris

Overall this is a smaller park with lots of construction going on.  If you are not a Marvel fan there are limited attractions, although some of those (Ratatouille: the Adventure, Crush’s Coaster, and Mickey and the Magician) are not to be missed.  In other words, Walt Disney Studio Park is very hit or miss.  If you are there for several days, give it a try and hit the big attractions, making wise use of fast passes or going first to the most popular rides.  You’ll have to go early and commit some time if you want to see the shows too.  Eat at Remy’s or maybe outside the park; the “fast food” is anything but fast.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Guardians of the Galaxy Mix Tape Volume One as a chocolate treat at Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland Paris


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Here is Emma by one of the story board walls that were hiding construction at Walt Disney Studio Park, Disneyland Paris. She points to one of her favorites of the lesser known characters, the fox Robin Hood.

I wanted to close this post with a word about our hotel, Santa Fe.  Since we were here for several days, I loved staying on a Disney Property due to the ease of transpiration and daily early entry into the parks.  The package, with park tickets included, was a better deal.  Even though it was one of the cheaper Disney options, Hotel Santa Fe still made great use of the Cars theme.  It was particularly attractive at night with creative lighting that showed off the buildings, iron accents, and the drive-in facade.


Hotel Santa Fe, Disneyland, Paris

All that said, I wanted to offer a word to the wise.  In Florida, you would never think to ask if the hotel had air conditioning; all the Disney hotels do.  However, it is not uncommon for European hotels not to have air conditioning.  We didn’t ask and spent three miserably hot nights in our room (and it was only mid May).  The rain made it tough to leave the window open and Emma wasn’t comfortable doing it anyway since we were on the ground floor.  If you’ll be there in a warm month, be sure to ask.  Not sure which, if any, of the Disney properties at Disneyland Paris offer this amenity.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Hotel Santa Fe (as seen from the bus) with its drive-in facade, Disneyland Paris

Tomorrow is our final day.

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Disneyland Paris Past and Present


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The pirate ship at Disneyland Paris is one of the original fixtures at the 27-year old park.

We got up to catch an early morning train from Paris to Chessy where the train station is just at the entrance to Disneyland Paris.  From the Les Halles metro station right at our hotel, we caught a direct train, lots of stops along the way but no change of trains.  It was about a 45 minute ride and cost about 6 euros.  We take our Disneybounding seriously, so we have big duffle bags full of outfits for our visit and all of Maggie’s things for her internship at the Hague.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma, like Maggie and I, was still a little sleepy on the train to Disneyland Paris.

These trains have been operating since the park opened.  We rode a train out to the park in 1995 as well.  There is also bus service from the airport.  Unlike Florida and its Magical Express, none of these services are complimentary.  Our train car was double-decked, probably for all the commuters who use them on a daily during the business week.  This means you will have to go up and down stairs with your luggage.  We were still pretty tired, so we dozed a bit during the ride on this rainy Sunday morning.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our Disney hotel room had a Cars theme.

We are staying at Hotel Santa Fe, a Disney hotel.  There are several Disney hotels to choose from, although there are no Disney Vacation Club (timeshare) properties at this park.  We got off the train and walked over to the bus that will take us directly to our hotel.  Hotel Santa Fe is one of the lower cost properties themed after the Disney Cars movies.  As you pull in, the entrance looks like a drive-in movie.


Disneyland Paris’ Hotel Santa Fe.

The lobby was packed and check-in did not move as smoothly as it does at the US properties.  They is also paperwork to sign.  Emma arranged a resort package for us, so we picked up our park tickets at the hotel.  The card was pretty plain for a Disney ticket.  Not surprisingly as it is still early morning, our room was not ready.


Hotel Santa Fe lobby at Disneyland Paris

Next we had to stand in a ridiculously long line to check our luggage until we could get into our room.  People who were checking out of their rooms were also in line to store luggage while they visited the parks on their last day.  This system was not run very efficiently, although the cast members were doing their best.  If you arrive in the morning like we did, I recommend one member of the group checks in, while another stands in line to check in the luggage.  Also, the luggage check-in/out closes at 10 pm, so you may need to come back and move your luggage to your room before the park closes.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Disneyland Hotel, Paris.

We took the bus back to the parks.  When I visited in 1995, there was only the Disneyland Park.  Now there is a a second park, Walt Disney Studio Park, which opened in 2002.  You first go through security which covers both parks, then clear the ticket entrance separately for each park.  The Disneyland Hotel is within the secured area.  Another deluxe property, the New York Hotel, is currently under renovation being re-imagined with a Marvel theme.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Big Thunder Mountain Railway in Disneyland Paris.

We started at Disneyland Park.  There were familiar parts and others that were added after my first visit.  We went straight to my favorite ride, Big Thunder Mountain railroad.  The queue is along the main pathway, but you go under the water after boarding to go to the mountain.  It may be that I have the one in Florida memorized so I don’t get the surprise element anymore, but I thought this Parisian version was just terrific.  The Florida version is definitely better than California, but the ride at Disneyland Paris is by far the best in the use of the theme and the most exciting ride.  The one section I really don’t like in Florida-the jerky section through the western town-has been eliminated here.  The ride is faster and more thrilling and the return through the underwater tunnel at the end is really fast.  We all loved it!


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma at Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris.

Next we headed over to Phantom Manor (their version of the Haunted Mansion as it is called in the US parks).  It has just reopened after a renovation.  There was no line.  They worked to incorporate the US old west theme into this ride so it works better than its Florida counterpart given its location in the park in Frontierland.  There are some elements that have carried over from the US parks, but the story is entirely different and its a little scarier.  We really liked it.  Just before you head in there is also a pavilion where you can meet Phantom Mikey; this is the only park where he appears.  We plan on getting that picture on the last day.  There is generally a line for that photo.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma and Maggie at the Temple of Peril, unique to Disneyland, Paris.

We tried a newer ride, Indiana Jones’ Temple of Peril.  This is a short outdoor roller coaster, completely different from the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland in California.  They did a great job with the theme elements and setting the mood, but the ride itself is short and jerky.  We didn’t have any interest in going again, in spite of the fact that you could walk right on.  No crowd at all.  Anyone who had been there before apparently avoided it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The theme elements on Indiana Jones’ Temple of Peril at Disneyland Paris are very well done.

We decided it was time for a great roller coaster, so we headed over to Hyperspace Mountain.  When I visited in 1995 there were long lines and the ride had a Jules Vern theme.  This time we walked right on.  I couldn’t believe it.  Arguably it is the best version of Space Mountain.  They added a Star Wars theme on a temporary basis, but it proved popular so the star wars elements are being left in place.  In fact on the Disney website it is referred to as Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Eve and Wall-E can be seen in Discoveryland near Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain.  Below, Maggie and Emma checked out the iconic Astro Orbiter.

Hyperspace Mountain was the location that Boris abandoned me on our first visit.  He and Rocky said they would look around a little and then wait at the exit while I rode-Rocky was too young and Boris doesn’t like rollercoasters (well, most rides actually).  But they took off and didn’t return for over 2 hours; they showed up 45 minutes after I got off.  I was pretty panicked by then.  It had gotten dark, was freezing cold, and I was in a country where I did not speak the language.  Yes, I still remember it (vividly) and no, I wasn’t happy about it.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost in Disneyland Paris.

We decided we would get some lunch before the afternoon parade, having rode the big/busy rides in this park.  We went back to Adventureland and tried Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost; Colonel Hathi is the elephant herd leader in The Jungle Book.  It was a charming building with lovely flowers that offers both in and outside dining.  However, the service at this counter service restaurant was horrible-long lines and extremely slow response times.  This was the worst I had ever experienced at any Disney park and this is the the low season.  The food was not great either.  The best part was the building and the live entertainment.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Loved Malificent’s hat on the sign for the entrance to the dragon’s dungeon in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland Paris.

After lunch we slipped in to see one of special and unique elements at Disneyland Paris.  The castle here is Sleeping Beauty’s and it comes complete with a chained dragon in the dungeon. There are several entrances, but from each you can see the dragon move and take a look around.  Definitely worth a stop.


The dragon in the dungeon of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Disneyland Paris.


The dragon in the dungeon of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Disneyland Paris.

We entered from the side of the castle, but you can also go in and out through a giftshop in the castle interior.  The shop features lovely Christmas decorations as well as dragon-themed items.  The interior detail was quite impressive including the light fixtures and the stone-looking fireplace.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. In the castle giftshop at Disneyland Paris. You’ll notice the characters from Sleeping Beauty are featured in the fireplace.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Parade at Disneyland Paris

Afterwards, we stepped out of the castle and saw the parade.  It was great character watching.  It is similar, yet different from other Disney parades.  I think this is the only parade that they do at either of the two Disneyland Paris parks.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Our room at the Santa Fe Hotel, Disneyland Paris.

We went back to the hotel so we could move our luggage to our room.  Maggie changed into one of her Disneybounding outfits.  She was inspired by Ariel and made a unique skirt and added other clothing pieces to complete the outfit.  Maggie designs and sews all of her outfits.  She has even made ones for Emma and I and a Star Wars themed hat for Rocky.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Maggie with the character that inspired her at Auberge de Cendrillon in Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. The Auberge de Cendrillon restaurant in Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, Paris. A pumpkin carriage is parked outside.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Auberge de Cendrillon at Disneyland Paris.

We selected several of the unique dining venues at the parks to try during our trip.  Tonight we are going to the restaurant in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Auberge de Cendrillon.  It may be Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, but this is Cinderella’s Royal Table.  No worries on how she gets there each day; her coach is parked outside.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Emma with one of the rarely seen Disney characters.

This is character dining with some of the Disney princesses.  I give the entertainment staff a lot of credit.  This is not a rushed interaction; the princesses stay and talk to you quite a while.  It was also a much better dining experience than lunch.  However, you pay dearly for it.  The fixed-price menu is not cheap.  In addition to the traditional Princesses you find at Disney castle dining, two of the sewing mice from Cinderella, Suzy and Perla, also circulated among the diners.  What a treat to see these rarely seen characters.  The big surprise was the conversation with the princesses, some of them almost broke character at times.  Sleeping Beauty even asked if we knew who she was; apparently most guests do not.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. While Maggie was in her Ariel inspired outfit, we walked through and took some pictures in Fantasyland. Here at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Its a Small World at Disneyland, Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Its a Small World at Disneyland, Paris.

After dinner, we walked through Fantasyland.  This is one of the original sections of the park.  Afterwards, we decided to ride Its a Small World, a traditional favorite.  Some of the displays were different from the the US parks.  The surprise was that they had several displays depicting  American  and Canadian culture.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Its a Small World at Disneyland, Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Its a Small World at Disneyland, Paris.

Before the evening show, we walked around and even rode a few rides that we loved again-like Big Thunder Mountain.  The nighttime castle show was a combination of Illumination-like lasers, the castle light show, and fireworks.  It was a great show in the true Disney standard, but I did not like it as much as the Florida show.  We were glad we stayed to see it, but I didn’t feel that I needed a repeat showing.  Tomorrow our plan is to take advantage of early entry at the Walt Disney Studio Park.


Photo ©Jean Janssen Nighttime at Disneyland Paris.

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A chance to see Notre Dame before our visit to see the (European) Mouse


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Notre Dame Cathedral in May 2019

Note:  Most of the pictures in this blog post are of Notre Dame Cathedral as it looked in May 2019, one month after the fire that ravaged the 850-year-old church.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Entrance to Disneyland Paris.

So I will start with a bit of background as to why I am back in Europe so soon.  Disneyland Paris opened as EuroDisney in 1992, but two years later it adopted the name it operates under today.  I visited in the early years of its operation and now have a chance to visit again.  Anyone who regularly reads the blog knows our family (well, not Boris) loves Disney and we jump at the chance to make a visit.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris on a wet May evening

My niece Maggie will be doing an internship at the World Court at the Hague in the Netherlands and is going to Europe early for a little sightseeing.  I got an invitation to go along.  Having just finished a 3-week transatlantic crossing and visits to Portugal and Great Britian, I was tempted to pass.  However, it had been cheaper to buy a roundtrip ticket to and from London so I had already paid for return air.  Their departure date was the fictitious return date I had selected months earlier.  I decided it was fate.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Still Beautiful, Notre Dame in May 2019

Maggie and Emma (my sister and Maggie’s mom) are going directly to Paris.  My return flight is to London so I will fly in and head over to Paris to meet up with them there.  I was surprised to find that it would take as long to change terminals and airlines and catch a flight to Paris as it would be to take the TUBE into town and go over on the Eurostar.  I didn’t want to pay to check a bag on a flight, so I decided to save a little money and take the train to Paris.  I figured it would be easier to sleep on the train than in the airport terminal waiting for my Paris flight after the long flight over.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris, France

In addition to not paying to take a bag with me, I liked having an assigned seat (again without paying more), and was able to enjoy the view out the window in route.  I would also end up in the city with a direct metro line only five stops from the hotel Emma had selected.  That is a lot of rationalization.  I admit this travel option was a bit nostalgic for me; more on that later.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris on the Ile de la Cite as seen from the River Seine, May 2018.

We are spending the night in Paris before going over to the park.  Before my arrival in Paris, they are visiting several museums and taking a tour of the Paris Opera House.  I have done the Opera House tour and highly recommend it.

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©Jean Janssen. Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House, France.

All of us had flight issues.  I landed a little late, but the real problems began at passport control in the UK.  I had never seen the lines at London Heathrow that long.  They did have a fair number of officers working, but the volume of visitors on this Friday was beyond the additional queue markers that had been set up.  When I had been in line an hour and a half and had only moved up through a third of the line, I started texting Emma and Maggie to let them know I might miss my train.  (I don’t even want to think about how long passport control will be when/if the UK really does leave the European Union.)


Photo ©Jean Janssen Paris, France

Eventually, they got a few more officers checking passports, but I didn’t get through the queue until 15 minutes after my drop dead time.  In all, I was there over 3 hours.  Suddenly that 5-hour window between my flight and train reservation didn’t seem like enough.  I still had to collect my bag, go through customs, get on the TUBE to the St. Pancras station (you don’t have to change lines, but it is not an express train), go through security at Eurostar, and be at the Eurostar terminal at least 30 minutes before departure.  You often can’t get into the Eurostar waiting area more than 1 hour before departure due to space issues, but you must arrive at least 30 minutes before the train unless you are a premier passenger (who must arrive at least 10 minutes before departure).


Photo ©Jean Janssen Paris France

There are frequent Eurostar trains to Paris each day, but the next one was 2 hours after mine.  Also, there was a 60 euro change fee and an increased ticket price for the later departures that I would have to pay.  Fortunately the bags had been pulled off the belt at Heathrow and I found mine; there was a station attendant who not only told me confirmed what tube line to use but also helped me get my ticket; and I was able to get on a train in less than 3 minutes after arriving on the platform.  With every stop on the TUBE, I recalculated my arrival time at St. Pancras.


Photo ©Jean Janssen.  One month after the fire.  Stabilization and reservation measures were already in place at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

I made it.  The line was still open for my train.  I saw people arguing with an attendant because they were there before their train’s departure but after the designated time.  They were not allowed into the security queue.  It took a while for me to get through security and passport control out of the UK and into France (which allows you to just get off the train when we arrive in Paris) at the St. Pancras Station terminal.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire, stabilization and reservation measures were already in place at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

Eurostar offers direct train service from London’s St. Pancras Station to Paris’ Gare du Nord, a portion of which is travel under the English Channel by use of the Channel Tunnel, commonly referred to as the chunnel.  The chunnel opened on May 6 (Boris’ birthday), 1994 creating the only “fixed link” between England and Continental Europe.  This trip is a bit of nostalgia for me.  My first chunnel crossing was in December 1995 when we were among the first Americans to make the trip.  It was on this same trip that I visited Disneyland Paris for the first time.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

Back then, London to Paris and the reverse were the only routes they operated.  Additionally, there was only one crossing each day.  Today, Eurostar has 7 direct routes and many connections.  There are 19 options each day for travel from London to Paris.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

That year, Boris wanted to take Rocky on his first European trip.  He had business in London and we both went along for the time between Christmas and New Years.  Before we left for London, Rocky didn’t feel great so I called the pediatrician; I was advised to just give him a COKE and take him along.  He felt worse when we arrived in London.  The only thing he saw was the Tower of London.  The next day I had to take him to a British doctor and we spent the rest of the time in the hotel room as he recovered.

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Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

When it came time to make our Eurostar crossing, we sat in the center of the car with 3 seats facing a center console.  A French family sat facing us across the table.  When Rocky threw up all over my coat, the mother commented that the train movement must have been unsettling for him.  She didn’t know the half of it.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

In Paris Rocky’s recovery continued.  He does have fond memories of his visit to the Eiffel Tower.  Boris was so eager for him to remember the trip positively, that our last full day in Europe he took us to the newly renamed Disneyland Paris.  It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius); the pirate ship sat next to a frozen waterfall.  Once again, we were among some of the first Americans to visit the park.  I will be curious to see how much I remember.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

Just after I cleared Eurostar security for this trip, they called my train and I got right on.  I am an aisle girl on an airplane, but on a train I like to sit by the window and enjoy the view (except durning the chunnel portion of the trip).  A young woman was in my seat.  She moved for me, but that started a conversation that lasted the entire 2+ hour journey. It was an interesting conversation, but by the end it was almost impossible for me to keep my eyes open and I had missed my nap window.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

When we arrived in Paris and got up to pull down our bags, the man in front of us decided it was time to share the following with us:  “congratulations, you talked continuously for the entire trip”.  I told him he should have mentioned it if we were bothering him.  My seat mate was not as polite.  She complained that people she met in Europe (she is originally from South America) preferred to complain afterwards instead of telling you at the time if your behavior bothered them.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. One month after the fire and stabilization and reservation measures were already well underway at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris France.

I transferred to the metro line to go from Gare du Nord to the Les Halles metro stop.  I was barely conscious so it took me a while to figure out the ticket machine-which one, what route, etc.  When I got to Les Halles I was fortunate to have had Emma identify which exit out of the metro to take.  (There were at least five.)  My walking navigation on the phone just took me in circles, but fortunately a young man on a motorized scooter helped me find the hotel.  Emma and Maggie were napping.  I decided that was a good idea.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris in May 2018

I missed their next museum visit, but joined them for a walk over to Notre Dame.  It had been just a month since the shocking fire that ravaged the 850-year -old iconic church.  My first visit to Notre Dame was in 1986 while I was still in law school; I have visited multiple times since then.  Just last year, Boris and I had stopped by on his 60th birthday trip to Paris.  Less than three years ago, we had enjoyed an anniversary dinner in Paris at La Tour d’Argent.  The historic restaurant has been in operation since 1582 and is known for its amazing views of Notre Dame.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Dinner at a sidewalk cafe in Paris.

On the walk over we stopped for dinner at a sidewalk cafe, a must for any Paris visitor.  After dinner we walked over to Notre Dame.  A month after the fire, you could get pretty close on foot.  The immediate area was barricaded and guarded.  We walked around most of perimeter and I was impressed with the stabilization and reservation methods already being employed.  You have seen the shots of what I saw from multiple angles throughout this blog post.


Photo ©Jean Janssen

It started raining on the walk back, so we stopped into another sidewalk cafe for drinks and desserts.  When it slowed, we started out again only for the  sky to let loose about 4 blocks from our hotel.  We looked like drowned rats when we got back to the hotel, but after hanging up our wet clothes and turning the hair dryer on inside our tennis shoes, it was time for a good night’s sleep before our train to Disneyland Paris in the morning.


Photo ©Jean Janssen. Paris, France


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