Paris in the spring …

I love Paris in the spring. In fact, I pretty much love Paris at any time of the year. Sure, the locals are arrogant, bad-tempered and unfriendly (in stark contrast to most French people), but the place itself is well worth the cost of putting up with its inhabitants. The sense of history, the grandeur of the boulevards, the great spectacles of architecture, the wonderful pavement cafés and restaurants, and even some of the quirky little alleys and back-streets – they all combine into being one of those places that always manages to lift my spirits a little. And this week finds me at a conference in Paris, in the spring.

Except I’m not, because this conference is actually in the conference centre at Disneyland Paris.  And Disneyland Paris bears absolutely no relation to the Paris that I know and love. Apart from the locals, of course.

I must admit my bias up front here – I’m not really an amusement park kind of person. I’d much rather spend a day with a picnic, a good book, and a beautiful view than being herded from one queue for an artificial experience to the next, hemmed in by large numbers of other people and their badly-behaved kids. However, we’re all different, and I can see that Disneyland and Disneyworld in the USA have created an experience that many people enjoy.  I’m sure the weather there helps, and probably the fact that like all things American, it will be built on a grand scale with large paths and drives, to accommodate the number of expected customers. There will also be the usual American levels of customer-service and attention to detail, ensuring that people go away wanting to come back for more.

Unfortunately, this place lacks all of that. The check-in at my hotel (The Dreamland Castle) took nearly 30 minutes of standing in a queue. The room turns out to be very faded indeed, and was clearly never that well fitted out in the first place. Despite being a 4* graded hotel costing $250 a day, there are no complimentary toiletries, and the mini-bar is empty.  And to get them to put anything in it, you need to pay an additional deposit. Frighteningly, Internet access from the room costs a startling $20 a day more. The worst thing so far though was the food. Apparently there is an a la carte restaurant here, but it’s only open from 11am to 5pm, at which point the restaurant switches over to only supplying a hot buffet.  The two restaurants in the nearby “Disney Village” that offered a proper sit-down menu were both full, with long queues. Dinner ended up being a takeaway New York style sandwich – which was nothing like the sandwiches that I’ve had in New York. While searching for something to eat, I met some colleagues who were also searching for food.  In the end we decided to have a beer in the local hotel bar together, only to be hit with a charge of $8 a beer.

So, in summary, Disneyland Paris is the worst of all worlds; Disney kitsch, American capitalism run mad, with French customer service. And to think that people want to come here for a holiday? P.T.Barnum may have been wrong – it looks like you really can fool most of the people most of the time.

Ah well, only four more nights to go …

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