So my trip report resumes – to newcomers, welcome! To those of you that have returned, thank you! Are you sitting comfortably? Good! I left you last at the end of Day One of our trip, after a whirlwind tour of the Walt Disney Studios. Day Two dawned under the gloom of ominous grey clouds that looked as if they were so low, they could touch the tip of the Castle and burst in a profusion of raindrops. Still, who needs sunshine and birdsong when you’ve got a Disney day ahead?!
Unfortunately, Extra Magic Hours don’t run on weekdays during the winter season, so rope drop was at 10.00am. We were raring to go – and so was the survey-taker who ambushed us just as we were about to take our first steps on to Main Street, U.S.A. While I am generally more than willing to help anybody out, this was something akin to waving a giant rainbow-striped lollipop in front of a baby strapped into a pram – and then putting it down juuuuuuuuuuuuuust out of arm’s reach. Close enough so that they can see it, and even smell it, but not quite there. Keith gamely attempted to provide coherent answers to the woman’s questions, while keeping a grip on my arm as I hopped from foot to foot like a five year old who has drunk too much juice and isn’t quite sure if they’ll make it to the potty on time. After the most agonising six and a half minutes of my life, I heard those most magical words – ‘Merci, au revoir!’ – and we were off!!
Of course, as soon as we got into the Park, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself, so I just blibbered incoherently for a bit, while pointing at things like lamp posts and rubbish bins. We wandered up Main Street in this fashion, with Keith sustaining substantial bruising as I intermittently thumped and grabbed his arm to direct his attention to a particularly witty window display, or a delicate flower arrangement. (I won’t even begin to pretend that I was that eloquent. My conversation gambits extended only to *thump* ‘Loooooooooook!!!!!’)
By the time we reached the Sleeping Beauty Castle, I had regained some of my savoir-faire. Goodness knows, I had to – we were about to visit my old nemesis, the Dragon, and you’ve got to have your wits about you when venturing into her lair. Those of you who have been kind enough to visit my blog in the past may recall a previous post where I outlined my relationship with the Dragon. She both terrifies and thrills me, all at the same time. When I first visited her in that dark, dank dungeon, I had no idea what to expect and it took numerous attempts before I actually got into that inner sanctum without running straight back out at the first hint of a growl. I really do think that my brain is lacking something in its wiring – whatever that bit is that tells sane, rational people that these things are not actually real. I can tell myself this, over and over, but my brain simply refuses to believe it, and there is always a little part of me that fears I will end up as Dragon tooth-floss.
Despite all of this, I adore that Dragon. Since my last visit, she and her lair have been refurbished in time for the 20th anniversary celebrations, and this Dragon has never looked better. In a gruesome, scaly, scare-your-socks off kind of way, obviously. The lighting (green and black and spooky), the air (humid and steamy), the sounds (loud and growly) – they all combine to create the most wonderfully-horribly terrifying experience in a cave full of stalagmites and skeletons, of secrets and shadows.
We were practically the only people in the dungeon at the time, and so we were able to get right up close to the sleeping beast. For the first time, I kept my eyes open long enough to see the way her tail snakes into the water, emerging at the other side of the pool, swinging lazily over a rock as it narrows to a razor-sharp point. I saw how her claw grips the stony ground, and the carcass of the unfortunate creature that had had the mischance to cross her path. Then, I saw how her broken chains dangled in mid-air, attached to nothing. ‘That’s not very safe!’ I told Keith, tutting and shaking my head. And then, she stirred and woke and I didn’t see very much more as I shut my eyes, turned on my heel and fled – right into the wall behind me.
(Note: all of the above pictures of the Dragon were taken by Keith. He wasn’t scared. The picture below was taken by me. I think this speaks for itself.)
There is method to my madness, and a very specific reason that my favourite way to enter Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is not through the sweeping promenade and the majestic entrance, but to dodge the Dragon and climb the rock-hewn, uneven steps from the stifling gloom of her cavern, only to emerge into the glittering trove of the Merlin l’Enchanteur boutique. This is one of the most magical corners of Fantasyland, where every nook and cranny contains something marvellous. Sparkling crystal tiaras and jewels jostle for pride of place, stashed in spotlit cabinets in a display that dazzles the senses as you emerge, blinking, from the darkness of the dungeon below. Inspired décor creates the feeling that you are indeed in Merlin’s living room and that any minute now, the enchanted tea set might trot along and give you too much sugar in your cup! (It’s easy to forget to say ‘When!’ when you’re surrounded by such fabulously fascinating treats and trinkets.)
One of the most special treasures to be found in Merlin’s Castle cubbyhole is beautiful glasswork, teased and twisted into all manner of fantastical creations. Delicate and sparkling, a whole host of twinkling glasswork is laid out for visitors to peruse; pick a gorgeously coloured replica of the enchanted rose from ‘Beauty and the Beast’, or take home the quintessential glass slipper, dainty and dazzling. It is even possible, by dint of Merlin’s magic, of course, to have a picture of your family or loved ones engraved onto glass keepsakes, to take home and add to the family treasure chest. When you have finished marvelling at the array of glistening glass, stroll over to the back corner of the shop, where you will find one of Merlin’s apprentices engaging in their very own particular brand of sorcery: glass-working. Watch as they manipulate fire and molten glass, moulding and manoeuvring it into the most magical forms. What could be more perfect than to take home a memory that you know has been created right on this spot? It’s just like putting a little piece of the Castle in your pocket and taking it away to keep with you. I myself own a silver headband from Merlin’s trove, adorned with a crystal and glass sparkling snowflake – and every time I wear it, I feel more than a little bit magical!
I could happily browse amidst the nooks and crannies of Merlin’s corner of the Castle all day long, but a flash of frosty glitter and the faint tinkle of sleigh bells in the air brought me swiftly back to the present – and to the Christmas shop, directly across from Merlin l’Enchanteur’s boutique. Skipping from one to the next, we found ourselves surrounded by the baubles, sparkle and twinkle that keep the Christmas spirit, the embodiment of that most wonderful time of the year, alive and well throughout 365 days in Fantasyland. Stepping into the Castle’s Christmas grotto is like immersing yourself in a giant glitter globe, as visitors are surrounded by swirls of colour, sparkle and sheer delight.
From the very depths of the Castle to the peak – up the stairs to the Sleeping Beauty gallery, where stained glass windows depicting Aurora’s tale shine rays of glowing coloured light over visitors, turning them into living components of the Castle itself. Window and watcher merge in a profusion of colour and light, until one is indiscernible from the other and the beauty of the Princess’s story is both inside and out.
I love the Sleeping Beauty Castle. I would live there in a heartbeat, with the ducks in the garden, despite the noisy downstairs neighbour. But, with only one full day in the Park, we had no time to linger longer, and on we went!
I had to make a quick stop at Excalibur; it is ‘The Sword in the Stone’, after all, which inspired both my Masters and my PhD theses! It was great to be able to snap a picture of this without having three or four children hanging off either side and bellowing for a go at it, as has always happened in the past. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – hooray for off-peak times!
Another first was the Carrousel de Lancelot. We’ve never had the opportunity to ride it before, but as we were passing, the ride was coming to an end and there was a queue of only about 11 people. It would be rude not to! Before we knew it, we were hoisting ourselves up onto horses that are a whole lot bigger than they look. There is something decidedly delicious about riding a carousel, isn’t there? Sometimes the old ones really are the best!
Feeling very Mary Poppins-esque, we dismounted. The carousel exit brought us out right by the Cinderella fountain (where I naturally had to sit and sing a few bars of ‘The Wishing Song’! There was a marked absence of forest friends gathering, though…)
Then it was on to Les Voyages de Pinocchio, where Monstro the Whale made me scream and almost topple us both out of the buggy. (Yes, I knew he was coming, but that doesn’t make it any less scary when he does!) It was, however, worth it for Jiminy Cricket and Figaro, who I love dearly.
After a speedy stop to say hello to Pascal and measure Keith up against a stray ‘Wanted’ poster, it was time for Peter Pan’s Flight. I have no words for how much I love this ride. (I have waxed lyrical about it in the past, right here in my little blogging corner.)
One of my favourite things to do is to fly over London with my not-so-Lost Boy at my side, before soaring over Neverland. I can’t tell you how much I love it. I love it so much that I looked so sad as we exited our pirate ship that the Cast Member on duty took one look at my pitiful face and opened that magic gate – the one that means you can skip the queue and hop right back on the ride! With much joyous squealing and ‘Merci beaucoups’, we were right back on track and sailing off through the skies to the second star on the right.
When we finally bid adieu to Peter, Hook, Tink, the tick-tock croc and our friendly Cast Member, we set off across Fantasyland to It’s a Small World. On the way, I noticed a familiar face. Not just a familiar face, but a familiar smolder. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Flynn Rider! There was a short queue people waiting to meet him, and I jumped right in, seriously excited for my first ever picture with a real-life Disney prince. All was well and we waited patiently, until Flynn started to wander away, taking his smolder with him. This simply would not do. I did what any self-respecting aspiring princess would do – leapt the rope and gave chase. I stopped just short of bashing him over the head with a frying pan, but I did grab him for a picture. He smoldered at me. In French. We’ll say no more.
We finally got to Small World, which was a delight, as always. My very own Prince Charming even had the chance to display his admirably heroic skills as he dried a little girl’s tears, rescuing her toy from the water after it had decided to jump overboard and take a swim through the rivers of Small World ahead of us.
Still humming the tune, we exited and went next door to call at the Princess Pavilion for the very first time. This, my dear DAPsonians, was an experience worthy of a blog post all of its own, and so I won’t even attempt to squish the magnificence of the occasion into a paltry paragraph here. Watch this space.
Following this, I reckoned that Keith must have been all princessed-out and was probably hitting his fairy sparkle quota for the morning – just how much can one man be expected to bear?! It was time to brave Frontierland, and the bandits and buccaneers to be found there! With a final wave of my wand, we crossed the threshold – Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo! – and poof! We be on Pirate ground now, mateys!
To be continued…