Working at Disneyland Paris - Day 153 to 314 - 6 months of updates
Working at Disneyland Paris - Day 153 to 314 - 6 months of updatesDay 153 (5th November 2014) to Day 314 (15th April 2015)
So... it has been an eternity since I last updated you. Almost six months to be precise, oops. Here I have attempted to do a resume of all the things that have happened during this period. Be warned, this is a LONG post so you may want to grab yourself a coffee.
1. Christmas season starts
The Christmas season started at Disneyland Paris in November and went all the way through to the start of January. It is notorious for being one of the resort's busiest times. The resort, of course, looked beautiful with a new Disney Dream of Christmas show (which I really enjoyed), a Christmas parade (which had a catchy theme tune) and the tree lighting ceremony (which was my favourite event of the day during this season). That's of course in addition to all the Christmas decorations up and down Main Street, including a giant Christmas tree and the ice lights on the castle - there really is something magical about the Christmas season at Disneyland Paris. We saw some record-breaking guests and we soon discovered how many people we can handle in a day. Read on for more. Quick side note: The week between the end of Halloween and the beginning of the Christmas season was very, very quiet.
2. Evacuation training
Overall, November and most of December are quite quiet seasons and during the weekday almost all rides are walk-ons all day. It is a great time to visit for guests. It is cold, but nothing like January. The parks take advantage of the quieter periods of the year to do evacuation training which is where each attraction is tested after park closing hours to some extreme circumstance - such as a fire, or a loss of power at a critical moment. The Cast Members at that attraction have to do a full scale exercise including getting the firemen involved, etc. Other attractions Cast Members also get paid to be the "guests" during the evacs, which is cool as you get to see lights on versions of the rides and walk through them. I ended up being evacuated off Snow White and Pinocchio (both are terrifying in the pitch black with just sounds and no lights), and Peter Pan (which is an interesting evacuation with ladders to get guests down from the boats - the interior is interesting with the lights on too!).
3. Carte Vitale and Social Security Number
In a bit of boring news before we get to more exciting things, I finally have my carte vitale (for reimbursement of medical charges) and a social security number. I even have chosen my GP, and my housing aid (APL) for 2015 is sorted too.
4. The busy weekends
The weekends in November and December took everyone by surprise as we hit some record figures and I saw guest levels similar to how they were at Walt Disney World most of the summer. One day we had twice as many guests as were predicted enter the park! On one particular day I remember that Fastpass hadn't been planned for the ride that day (as happens during low frequency days), and therefore we had to tell people all day that we didn't have Fastpass because the park wasn't busy enough (or at least wasn't predicted to be busy enough), meanwhile... the wait time above our heads topped 80 or 90 minutes. People were not happy - understandably.
|Photo: @InsideDLPairs (Twitter)|
5. Anna and Elsa have proven popular
Anna and Elsa (from Disney's Frozen) became meet and greet characters for the first time this Christmas season at Disneyland Paris. I thought people in Europe weren't as crazy as our American theme park counterparts. Then I saw the wait times increase for the Frozen, again and again, until they topped 330 minutes. That is 5 and a half hours. To meet characters. When there are 60 attractions in the park, it is a shame to spend half of your day in one queue line, especially as most of it was outside in the cold. Crazy! It seems to have been very successful for Disneyland Paris though and an entire Frozen Summer event has been announced for 2015.
6. Christmas cast member exclusives
As is customary in France, many companies have special benefits for employees in the run up to Christmas. Most of these, however, rely on you having been at the company for a certain amount of time. Out of three forms of bonus available, I was technically not eligible for any. So, I was surprised when I got a pro-rated version of one of them - I was set to miss it by just 9 days so having some sort of Christmas bonus was nice. It was given to Cast Members to thank us for our hard work and in anticipation of the 'difficult times ahead' as we prepare for the 25th anniversary - until then lots of the park is going to be undergoing construction work.
Another thing that happens twice a year are the annual staff parties where there is live entertainment, free food and even gifts. This year the Christmas party was at the Studios. It was good but, honestly, after a while you've been there and seen and done the theme parks - especially when there are only two. The Cast discount was also increased during the pre-Christmas period at shops and restaurants which was nice.
7. Family came over and Friends too
Over the Christmas week I had my parents and brother come over, and then for New Year's I had my Fantasyland friends over who I worked with at Walt Disney World. It was really nice to see some familiar faces, and it was nice to show off the parks. Especially to my family, as it had been three years since my parents had last been at DLP.
8. Experiencing the Christmas season
Nowadays I only really visit the park once every two or three months - every time there is a new season really. The change in stage shows, parades and characters are really the only things that change but they are welcome changes and it saves us doing the same rides again and again. Yes, I never thought I would say this, but there are only so many times you can do Big Thunder Mountain, Rock n Rollercoaster and Ratatouille. Space Mountain, however, is a different story. They are still fun, but the novelty factor has definitely worn off.
Anyway, this is all to say that at the beginning of November I went to the parks to experience some of the Christmas offerings. Part of the Christmas offerings, was meet Merida (from Disney Pixar's Brave). I usually try to be quite logical, so when I saw that Merida only appeared for 45 minutes each day, I said to myself that the maximum I could wait would be 45 minutes... Well, it turns out the 45 minutes time is how long they let people into the queue (and then they were still open beyond those 45 minutes anyway, so gosh knows what the point in having a schedule is!?).
The result was that we eventually got to meet Merida after 1 hour 30 minutes. And then because everyone spoke French to here, she had very little to say...as many of the characters at Disneyland Paris when you speak to them in French. The interaction was very minimal, and nothing more than hello and then a photo. It was nice getting the photo, but I was disappointed. I would never wait that long for a character again. I think more than 10 to 20 minutes is really too much. The interaction was nowhere near as good as the Jack Skellington we had met during the Halloween season...or any of the Halloween characters for that matter.
However, we did get to meet Santa who was nice although a half an hour wait for that was still a bit too long for me. The non-waits for the Beast, Minnie, Gepetto and Stitch were more my style - and I got all four photos in about 10 or 15 minutes which was great. The Beast was huge (and apparently he's a rare character too)! I still haven't managed to meet Anna and Elsa which I would like to do, but I am definitely not waiting an eternity for that - they've left now anyway, so we'll see what it's like at the beginning of June!
9. "Why is Disneyland Paris so ghetto???"
That's the title of the following Youtube video, where American guests see how Europeans guests behave in the parks at Disneyland Paris. I agree with them.
I have also seen an incredible rise in the number of stickers being stuck everywhere in the park - it's disrespectful and rude.
10. The Discovering Magic Tour
A few months ago I got to take part in an 8-hour tour that is exclusive to Cast Members. It is free and goes behind the scenes to show us how the magic is made. No photos were allowed so I'll do my best to illustrate with words what I can. Our tour guides were the new company ambassadors who were very friendly, and a pleasure to meet. The tour started off in the costume making department - this is the department which creates costumes for characters. We were told that a princess dress takes three months to create, for example. I was surprised at how big it all was and how traditional the work was - every single thing is made by hand. There is a big team working non-stop on this year's things as well as next-years.
|Inside the costume making department - Source: Mirror.co.k|
Next, we went to tour Central Shops which is where all the mechanical side of things happens. There is a separate "open day" event held yearly for this building, so we merely saw some of the highlights as we went through. Again everything is made specifically for the company from scratch - they don't just buy pre-made parts. We saw a whole host of things including animatronics up close, rollercoaster car chassises, carousel horses being repainted, and we even saw an Indiana Jones train being cycled (the process where they take a train apart entirely and rebuild it piece by piece). It was cool to see as working in operations this is a world you simply do not get to see. Next, we had a break and then went into the parade float hanger which is enormous and contains parade floats including things like the Casey junior train that is used seasonally, the current parade floats and even some old nighttime Fantillusion floats. It was nice seeing those floats as it was a great parade.
After lunch, it was time for the part of the tour I was most looking forward to - looking at the rides from the inside once they had been shut down for the night. The line-up was great so I was really looking forward to it.
We started off with a ride that I had always wanted to step inside of - Phantom Manor. The attractions section of the tour was led by Imagineers that work on and/or designed the rides. We started off in the load area when you get onto the Doombuggies. With the ride show stopped and the house lights on we were able to see many effects that I had never noticed before, including the lightning flashes in this scene and the fact that most of the staircase set in completely flat. We then walked the ride backwards and up the very steep ramp which leads to the unload area - I had always wondered how far apart these two sections were, and they are just around the corner from each other. We looked at the ghost mirrors section and we told how complicated it was to get it working, and then walked through the graveyard scenes and learnt a bit about the singing busts. We were told how the projector technology had evolved and been upgraded again and again over the years, but that Disney needed to be careful not to change the quality of the image too much - they want visitors from today to get the same experience as they would have when the park opened. I was surprised at how quiet the animatronics were in general with the audio turned off - I thought they would make a lot more noise.
We then walked along the track tot eh ballroom scene as viewed from the cars. It is remarkable how quickly you move from scene to scene when you simply walk the track and how short the actual track is. Here the imagineers talked about the importance of lighting as the scene uses a pepper's ghost effect. They have to get it just right so that you can see the ghosts appear and disappear, see the ballroom, and make sure that you can't see the two panes of glass separating you from the scene.
It had always been a dream of mine to step foot inside Phantom Manor and I was loving the guided tour, as we walked downstairs to see the animatronics spinning to create the ghosts for the ballroom scene. The ghosts were actually quite terrifying looking things as they had to have certain paint jobs to show up in the dark. It was at this point that I truly got a sense of the scale of how enormous the building was.
We then walked round to the ballroom scene itself and walked around inside. I was so happy at this moment, you can't even imagine. Again, the scale of things really came into perspective here as everything was in fact full size in the room - there were no perspective tricks. This was a real, full-sized table with cutlery and dinnerware laid out on it, a Phantom animatronic in the rafters, an animatronic of Melanie the bride, and much more. I even noticed several details like the sofa and collapsed bannisters that I had never paid attention to before. The spiders' webs are apparently made from stretched glue and then painted or given a matte finish. It was interesting looking from the room outwards, and seeing the ride track in the middle with animatronic ghosts both above and below the track to give the full effect. It was all very, very cool.
We continued the tour and see the back of the knocking doors scene, and show the show scenes are really very much back to back to keep the ride building as compact as possible (and if you use Google Maps you will see it is still massive). I really got a scale of all the mechanisms necessary to make even the smallest of effect work, and how much happens backstage to keep it all running. We unfortunately didn't get to go round to the Madame Leota crystal ball scene which was a shame as we ran out of time. Overall, I am sure you can see how exciting this all as for me.
Next, we walked on stage through Frontierland and Adventureland and were told to look at the floor and listen to the music and see how it changed from area to area, even within the same land to reflect the storyline. It was then time to go into Pirates of the Caribbean for a backstage look. Even though I worked in the same land, I had never actually been inside the building before. At Pirates, we walked through the pump room to see how much water was needed to power this immense ride (by far the biggest attraction in the resort - both in size and capacity). We walked onto the set itself and stood on the scene where the men are bidding for a woman. It was cool to see the animatronics all working up close - they look very powerful and every tiny detail is synchronised to perfection. We learned a bit about how at Disney the things closest to the visitors are all real but the further back you go the more fake things are. So, the buildings in the distance for example do not have real walls, but are rather very well painted scrims. Fascinating.
It was then time to cross the park and venture inside my favourite ride in the park - Space Mountain. We started off by going backstage, and immediately I learnt something - the ride is half underground. We walked around the bottom of the ride and looked and the immensity of it all - our loop at Indi can't even even begin to compete with the sheer size of Space Mountain's. We were told all about how the projection effects are triggered according to the positioning of the trains (these were the first HD projections in any Disney ride apparently) and how black screens are used to make sure you don't see things when you shouldn't. We were then shown how the star effect is accomplished - in fact there are a huge amount of disco balls on the ground and light is shone onto them, and in the dark these look like stars. We climbing the staircase to an area inside the show building above the queue line and then waited. The Imagineers turned the lights off for a minute and we just stood there, mesmerised in silence watching the stars swirling.
At the end of the tour, we gave back our safety hats and we got given commemorative pins to say we had done the tour, and we given sheets to provide feedback. It was truly a fantastic tour though I would have liked to have looked behind the scenes on several more attractions rather than going to the costume-making building for example. It did, however, really give us a scale of all the work that goes into making the park as perfect as it can be for guests every day. I really feel that this is an experience that regular guests would pay a premium for and hope that one day this will be something that is offered for everyone - it was an unforgettable experience, especially with an Imagineer explaining things, and by stepping into Phantom Manor one of my dreams came true!
11. Visiting the Disneyland Hotel Castle ClubI got to spend an evening in the Castle Club lounge in December with one of my friends who was staying there - this is one of the most exclusive areas of the Disneyland hotel. It was an incredible experience and I can truly understand paying for the extra benefits. The main benefit of the lounge, apart from the complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, is that you get a perfect view of Disney Dreams out of the windows - all this in the warmth without the need to wait around and with the music piped in. Unfortunately, it was exceptionally foggy day so we couldn't very much but it was still a really nice experience.
12. The transition of the seasons
After Christmas, the park went through the very, very slow month of January where guests were few and far between and every attraction was a walk-on. This also meant tonnes of ride refurbishment, of course, to take advantage of the low number of guests. Saturdays were much busier, as they are year-round, due to all the annual pass holders coming. I took the opportunity to go back to London for a week to get away from the Disney bubble for a while which was very much needed. It's amazing how a week-long break can change your mindset.
|The New Mary Poppins Show - Swing into Spring 2015|
13. I'm a Pirate of the Caribbean
I am going to end this update with my favourite bit of 'news' since the beginning. After having worked on Indiana Jones for over six months, I had got to the point of being tired of the attraction. I know how it works inside and out. I have seen every kind of technical problem, heard every guest question and understand the attraction well. In early January, the team leaders were looking for people to cross-train (being trained on other attractions) and I put myself forward strongly. At the beginning of February I went through the 7-day training process for the attraction. I had already made the step up from Casey Junior to a rollercoaster, and now I was making the step up to a 10-minute flume ride with the largest capacity in the park.
Training was great and I am now "checked" the attraction and most weeks I split my week and work a few days at Indi and a few days at Pirates. They really are two very different attractions. Pirate is a behemoth of an attraction for people of all ages and the interaction with guests is hugely different if only because of the costume - guests compliment you on the costume (which is by far the most beautiful in the park), they take photos with you, you sign autographs, they have tonnes of questions, they start themed conversations with you: "Hey Pirate", "Hey shipmate" and you can see that the theming and the show aspect of the ride really gets people immersed. Plus, you get a lot of interaction with kids which is a change from telling them all that they are too small.
|Every day at Indi...|
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