“Some days are just bad days, that’s all. You have to experience sadness to know happiness, and I remind myself that not every day is going to be a good day, that’s just the way it is.” – Dita Von Tesse
“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season;” 2 Timothy 4:2A
What is the best type of sunset? Is it the ones that happen on a clear evening without a cloud in the sky? Is it ones that include a beach or mountain? Is it the ones that occur after a day of storms and the clouds are lingering to catch the red glow of the sun? Which is it? Most have their preference. Mine is the sunset that includes dark clouds hovering around that seem to ignite with red and orange as the sun sinks low. The contrast between the dark and the light bring a symphony like no other. My family has this discussion everytime we experience a sunset on Lake Bruin in Louisiana. We all sit on a small pier that overlooks the water directly facing West into the sunset. We enjoy each and everyone, but the ones that include clouds are the ones we post on Instagram, Facebook, and the ones we print and hang on our walls. Why is that? Contrast.
I fondly remember growing up in the nineties. I remember always being ready for the next stage of life. Then when I got to the next stage I dreamed about going back. Life changes and I began to see that having the exact same events everyday was not a way to live. Even I got tired of summer and being “off” for three months. I decided a good mix of boring days and busy days was the way to live. Plus I don’t think I would even know what a busy day was if not for the boring ones.
Lately this blog has been left in the dust due to a bunch of “busy” days packed together for the last four months. The Spring months are by far the busiest ones of the year at my office I share with my father. It has been a whirlwind of events, meetings, and strategy. Now that the season has changed, I am starting to space out meetings, begin working on other projects, and taking time in the mornings to write, reflect, and prepare. As I sit at my kitchen table, watching my backyard, drinking a cup of coffee, and listen to acoustic guitar radio on Pandora, I appreciate the busy times and I realize that I have a new appreciation for these quiet times. This cup of coffee has never tasted so rich. Contrast.
In Fall 2013, I lost 25 lbs in a month, I developed a cough, and I woke every morning drenched in sweat. These were the result of having blood cancer, but I didn’t find out until I went for a PET scan. My general physician found something wrong with my blood first. See he compared my blood to that of someone without disease. He sent me to an X-ray machine and saw something that did not look right compared to how things should look. Then he sent me to get a PET scan.
At my first PET scan I was used to pictures of my insides by then. The tech placed me in a room and sat me in a comfy chair. I was then asked if I wanted to have Berry or Coffee flavored shake. Well Coffee sounded awful so I went with Berry. She walked in to give me what looked like a plastic bottle of milk that you would get at a gas station.
“Drink every bit of this,” she said.
“What does this do?” I asked.
“It makes the cancer glow, so we can see it. It’s called a Contrast.”
Contrast. With my cancer cells glowing in my body from my shake, my Oncologist could easily see the fist sized tumor sitting on my heart. Now the treatment could begin. Each scan after this showed the tumor smaller and eventually, my scan looked just like someone’s without cancer.
As a people, we are always comparing things, trying to figure out the “best” way to do things, the “best” way to think, and the “best” way to feel. We compare and contrast. Try to find the differences and the similarities. If everyday was boring or everyday was busy, we wouldn’t appreciate the other. But I know that without contrast, I wouldn’t know my favorite sunset, the doctor’s wouldn’t have found the cancer in my body, and I sure wouldn’t enjoy this quiet morning cup of coffee as much as I do now.
There is one great truth behind all this. Though the days change and we experience both prosperous and difficult times, Christ remains the same throughout. As it is stated in Hebrews
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8
He is the same through every experience. Always loving, always welcoming, always teaching. The thing about Christ is that He shows us what a glimpse of Heaven is. A place where we will truly contrast it to this life. My favorite picture of Heaven is at the close of the Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis writes:
“And as He (Aslan) spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
In 2 Timothy, Paul writes to be prepared in season and out of season. I think He means in good times and bad. Christ is the same in all, so why not lean on Him, the constant? I thank Him for the contrast in life, because He is preparing me for the future where things are better and better, and that’s a Contrast I am looking forward to the most.
I started this blog exactly two years ago, right after my diagnosis of Hodgkin Lymphoma. I started it to tell others about what was going on with me so that my friends and family would not have to worry about hearing news and updates. This little blog has brought me so much joy and love from those of you that read. I really can’t thank you enough. It was last year in the Spring that my friend Zach and I decided to go on a trip together. We were going to visit three regional theme parks and ride around thirty roller coasters. Zach dubbed it the Coaster Crusade and man it was fun! Through this blog I have met numerous other bloggers and lovers of the blogosphere. One such person, Heidi, encouraged me to pitch a book idea to Theme Park Press, an online book publisher, about my Coaster Crusade. In all honesty, I would have never thought about this idea if it weren’t for Heidi suggesting it. Surprisingly, the idea hit with Theme Park Press owner, Bob Mclain. He sent me a contract and we were in business. That’s when the daunting task of writing an actual book sunk in.
Over the next five or so months I strategically planned out and wrote a narrative surrounding each roller coaster Zach and I rode during May of 2015. The book would cover three regional parks and their thirty total coasters. I was told that the book had to be at least 50,000 words. To put that in context, a typical blog post of mine is between one to two thousand words. The task seemed massive, but the best thing I could do was write a chapter at a time. It was just great timing that my wife Carly was studying for her Physician Assistant boards while I was writing. We must have spent weeks in the local coffee shops in Jackson. I was writing and she was studying. I have never recounted in so much detail a trip experience. I frequently had to research roller coaster stats through websites, videos, and texts with Zach. In the end, my book would be over 56,000 words. A feat that I am still overwhelmed by!
I was never a fantastic grammarian, although I truly believe in my ability to weave stories. I hope that the journey of a coaster enthusiast is the one thing that shines above all else in Coaster Crusade. I was never a solid English student as my true strengths were in math, but I can’t help but thank my English teachers Mrs. Lilley, Cunningham, and Reynolds, who showed me what it was to write well and to love literature. I am almost positive they are as in shock as I am that I am published. So my book, Coaster Crusade, and all it’s 154 pages can be bought on Amazon. Please go check it out and write a review for it.
Back during the week of Thanksgiving I started a blog post about life now and never finished it. The Monday after Thanksgiving marked two years since my doctor found the lymph nodes in my chest and neck enlarged, which was the start of answers to my health issues that were happening at the time. That eventually led to a Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis and treatment. I now live because of a few things. First, the cancer was found in an early stage, which made the treatment effective. Second, my body reacted well to the chemotherapy and fought well against the cancer cells. Those first two reasons are medical, but the third and final reason I am alive is the hardest one for me to swallow. The third reason I am alive is that God wants me to be. That’s the one that is hard to understand.
I don’t remember the first time I thought about this concept that my life had a purpose, but it was back sometime in Junior High or High School. In those days, I was just started to comprehend what it meant to be a believer in Christ. I remember a pastor or youth leader saying that everyone’s life has a purpose. A specific job for you to do, that only you can do, that God has planned. That idea really excited me, because growing up I wasn’t the best at anything. I wasn’t athletic. I wasn’t the smartest. I wasn’t the most musically talented. I honestly couldn’t put my finger on the specific skill that would make me rise above the rest. I would be sad about this idea that there was always someone better than me at everything I tried to do. But the message about Christ having a specific purpose for me? Now that was an amazing thought. Something that only Bryce could do for Him. This fact really meant the world to me and I began seeking for that purpose through Christ as I finished high school, completed college, and started my teaching career.
I also recall how my parents used to react to bad news. If we say had a wreck in a car or a tire blow out, they would simply say to each other, “God must be testing us.” Then they would go about fixing the issue. This idea came to full fruition while reading the books by John Eldridge, my favorite Christian author. He would talk about how we as believers always ask God, “Why is this happening to me?” Instead he pointed to a different question, “God, what are you teaching me?” It is a slight change in question, but a completely different mindset. Instead of prodding and complaining, the second question almost sounds excited about the trial. What are you teaching me God? Show me. I want to know. When I approached God like this in the face of anguish, the result was far less stress on me and far more room for God to grow in me.
Taking these two approaches in life have helped me immensely throughout the years. I seek for God to show me the purpose he has for me and when I hit a speed bump or trial during that journey, I seek for Him to show me things, because I know He is at work, always preparing me for the next step. But there are seasons where I fail to do either of these things. Recently through the month of November and December, I have hit a slump. I lost track of my goals and slipped into a bit of a wandering soul mentality. All the different goals I set for this past year have not come to fruition. Also, the world feels so much darker than it used to. Even in this holiday season, the feelings of Christmas and Hope have been lackluster. Much of this has been interior, you would not know that I was struggling with these feelings if you saw me. But all that changed this past Saturday.
I remember meeting Reginald when I was just a Junior high kid helping out at my church’s inner city ministry. Reginald was a tall lanky kid like myself. He had a brother who played basketball and was on our church team. Reginald attended our ministry, His Heart, for years. He was different than the other guys that came to the church from our neighborhood. The biggest difference was that he played the cello. Me being the naive, suburban kid, I didn’t know that inner city schools even had a strings program. But Reginald became a quick friend, always kind and willing to help out in any way. He even brought his cello and played during our services for special music. I remember when Reginald was diagnosed with Lymphoma. He fought against the chemo and even had to take off a good bit of school to complete his treatments. We didn’t see Reginald or his brother often after he was sick, but we celebrated when he defeated the disease. Then the cancer came back. He fought again and again. He was such a great kid, I just knew he would be fine.
I was diagnosed with the same disease in 2013. Reginald was one of the first to reach out to me and talk about it. I remember the first time I saw him after I was diagnosed. He came to the church and we embraced. Now we have a much different connection than before. We knew the horrors of cancer, even if it was a type that had a good success rate. I pronounced my remission in 2014 and again Reginald was one of the first to congratulate me. He said that one day he would be able to say that too. Reginald passed away this past Saturday from years of battle against cancer. He died the day he was supposed to graduate from Belhaven University at the age of 24. My mom, sister, and I went to his visitation together. My sister was in youth group with him and we all loved him.
This is the hard part. Reginald celebrates today completely healed with Christ by him. It is nice to think about him playing the cello beside an angelic orchestra. Reginald was a success story. A kid in the rough inner city of Jackson, who loved classical music and worked so hard to get a college degree. He did it. This is the part where I ask the questions. What was Reginald’s purpose that only he could fulfill for Christ? What is God trying to teach through this? Why am I still here? Why are you still here? They are tough to answer.
I have to remember a key part of my belief in God when I think on these questions. That belief is, “If God is good….” That’s it. If God is good then what? Here I have been sad about my life over the past month and God still has me here. Life is not a depressing walk, but instead a gift. Life is worth living fully. You don’t know when it will end for you. I can’t get lost in the mentality that I have been in over the past month. Christ has a plan for me, He’s got a plan for you. I might never understand why my friend Reginald left us, but one day I’ll ask him. Until then I’ll leave with this hymn, which can’t leave my mind when I think about Reginald.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know, He holds the future
And life is worth the living, just because He lives
“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” – Princess Leia
“In the bleak midwinter, a stable-place sufficed. The Lord Almighty, Jesus Christ.” – In the Bleak Mid-Winter, hymn
Advent – the arrival of a notable person, event, or thing
I don’t think I have ever had such anticipation for a movie in my lifetime. Star Wars: The Force Awakens cannot come soon enough. I have recounted in a previous post about how my father introduced me to the world of Star Wars when I was young. There have been so many times when I have tried to use the “force” to my will and taken a gift wrap tube and used it as a lightsaber. Yes that still pertains to my life today.
I just watched Star Wars: A New Hope a few nights ago and the movie still enveloped me. The banter of the droids C3PO and R2D2 still makes me laugh. The whining of Luke and the brash attitude of both Princess Leia and Han Solo create such a unique blend of human characters that you can’t help but root for them. Then there is Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, who set such a perfect view of good vs. evil. The whole package of the story, the characters, the effects, and the settings changed the world of cinema and pop culture.
The holidays have always been a bright spot in my year. From the time that Halloween dies down to the beginning of the New Year, the whole world around me seems to be alive with energy and life. This is crazy because it is this very time of the year that all the leaves are almost gone from trees, the sun disappears around five o’clock, and the weather turns cold and wet. It is also the time of year that colds and sinuses act up and no one really wants to be out of their house. It is a bleak time, contrary to what we as humans have concocted.
At the beginning of the first theatrical release of Star Wars there it was blazing on the screen: A New Hope. That word stirs something in us doesn’t it? Hope. It is the reminder that not all is lost. Hope says that even when everything looks dismal and certain to fail, there at that moment you can still hang on to the fact that everything will be better. It’s not an idea that good things will come, but a fact that good things are coming.
In the days of the prophet Isaiah, God’s people were awaiting the Savior to come. The one who would save them all. Isaiah told of a Virgin birth and that someone would come before the Savior to proclaim that He had arrived. This took roughly 700 years to happen. I can’t imagine waiting that long for anything. In the Star Wars saga, the evil Sith and the Galactic Empire destroyed the Jedi, who fought for good. It took roughly 20 years for Luke and Leia to come into the picture and bring a renewed sense of hope of victory over the Empire. The point I am trying to make here is that with all hope there is waiting and patience.
The Christmas season has always been Advent for me. In a liturgical church the Advent wreath consists of 3 purple candles, a pink candle, and a white candle. The purple candles represent Hope, Love, and Peace. The pink candle stands for Joy. Finally, the white candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve is Christ, because that is when he arrives. Advent means the arrival of a person, event, or thing worth noting. The Christmas season is a celebration of the arrival of Christ, the Savior. The one who holds all the Hope of the world. Yes we can argue dates of when Jesus was truly born, but the Christmas season celebrates the arrival of Hope. It marks the arrival of Love in human form. “That is what Christmas is all about”, as Linus would say.
What if I was just as excited about Christ’s return as I was about The Force Awakens? It puts life into perspective a bit when I think about that question. If I knew when Christ was coming back, would I have pre-order tickets with all my friends? Would I wait in line for hours just to be the first to see Him? Would I know every detail about His character? Would I have cried at the trailer that previews what it would be like when Christ returns? Would I purchase exclusive memorabilia of Christ returning on a white horse? Would I spend hours reading accounts of what it will be like when Christ returns on message boards and news articles? Would I study side books by authors who spent their life studying the story of Jesus?
The first candle of Advent is the Hope candle. It is what comes first in the story of Jesus, Hope. It is Hope in the most bleak of times. A New Hope for all.
On December 17th, I will be seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a large group of friends and the excitement will be overwhelming. But I cannot discount the true thrill and joy it will be to see my Savior come. His arrival is the true Hope and I am glad that he created me with a love for this little film franchise that inspires me to have Hope and to enjoy the life that He gave me when He came down in a bleak time to show A New Hope to the world.
Are you terrified to speak in front of an audience?
Growing up, I hated being the center of attention. I didn’t like being called on in class, I was quiet (shocking I know), and I spent lots of time worrying about what others thought about me. I don’t know when I began to truly come into my own personality, but it was sometime around my senior year in high school. I started to give more presentations, speak more at family events, and I even looked for ways to stand out and give a talk or speech of any kind. In college I tried out for a drama team on a whim and was selected to be in the group. I found a love for improv and performance. I never performed in a play or took acting lessons, but I had a good amount of experience in front of a crowd. Then I became a teacher.
What was I most excited to do in Paris? That’s right…..Disneyland. If you look back two posts ago you can read about our time in Paris
Disneyland Paris Resort is laid out in a somewhat similar fashion as Disneyland Resort in California. There are two theme parks, a Downtown Disney area, and seven resort hotels. The two theme parks are Disneyland (a typical Magic Kingdom park) and Walt Disney Studios (similar to Hollywood Studios in Florida). The two theme parks sit as next door neighbors with big courtyards and walkways between them. The Downtown Disney area spreads out in front of both park entrances. The Disneyland Hotel sits literally on top of the entrance to Disneyland Paris Theme Park. Three other hotels, Hotel New York, Sequoia Lodge, and Newport Bay sit on three sides of a manmade lake on the edge of Downtown Disney. The other resorts are farther from the theme parks. Carly and I were staying in the Newport Bay resort, which resembles the Yacht and Beach Club at Disney World.
HINT: we used the UK website for Expedia to book our hotel stay. This site saved us $$$. Disneyland Paris is EXPENSIVE, so we took the price cut anywhere we could.
Newport Bay was a good 15-20 minute walk from the guard tent so we began our trek through the drizzling rain to the hotel. Downtown Disney was quaint, but nothing spectacular. Most of the fronts were restaurants and then Disney stores. We made it to our hotel and sadly it was covered in scaffolding. The entire resort is in the middle of big renovations for the 25th anniversary of the park in 2017. We entered through the back of the resort and it actually took us a good 5-10 minutes to find the main lobby. This was the first big difference from other Disney resorts. The main lobby was very small. The ceilings were low and the layout was not the best. I am so used to seeing big expansive lobbies with lots of room, instead this lobby was about the size of a regular Hampton Inn down the road. The check in process was a breeze and we found our room. The theme at Newport Bay is that of New England coastline and nautical adventures. The walls and carpet were decked out with captain’s wheels, ropes tied in knots, and pictures of lighthouses. The television in our room was turned on the Disneyland Paris Resort info channel and my name was featured on the screen. Nice touch. We unpacked, dried off, changed clothes, and pretty much just relaxed for a little while after the crazy ride from Paris and watersports we just did.
We had three nights at the hotel, three day park passes, and breakfast for each morning with our hotel package. I called and made dining reservations about a month out from the trip. Dining was easy to get and most places we ate at had plenty of empty tables for anyone to join. Definitely different from Disney World’s call 180 days before your trip or you will only be eating at Restaurant Marrakesh. We made it to Disneyland Paris right around 6 PM and our first dining reservation was at 8 PM at the Blue Lagoon in Disneyland Paris Park. It was about 7:30 when we left our hotel and walked back into the rain. We were armed with typical theme park attire. I always try to wear Disney themed shirts at Disney parks, but I always try to wear Disney attire from another resort. So at Disneyland Paris I would be sporting some EPCOT, Disney Studios, and Imagineering attire. I also brought in my rain jacket and camera bag. Whenever we travel to Disney my camera bag becomes the main storage unit for our day in the park and this did not change here. We walked out into the cloudy and rain filled sky. It was 7:30 but still the sun was not yet down. We walked all the way to the Disneyland Paris hotel that sits on the entrance to the park. Walking through the tunnel with ticket booths we exited into a courtyard that had the front gates. We entered and walked under the train station as usual and there we were. We were on Main Street U.S.A. ……….. in Paris.
One thing I will say about Disneyland Paris is that everything about it is the same, but different from any other Disney theme park. Main Street was the same, but it was much smaller than the other Main Street’s I have been on. The castle was Sleeping Beauty’s castle only much more unique and elaborate. This is due to the fact that down the street are real castles so this had to be fantastic. We took the obligatory picture in front of the castle and walked through it. The layout of Disneyland Park is much akin to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. There are only five themed lands, which is different from the others. The lands are Main Street U.S.A., to the left of that is Frontierland, then in the back left corner is Adventureland, in the back is Fantasyland, and to the right of Main Street is Discoveryland. We headed straight to the back left of the park to Adventureland and the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Connected to the attraction is the Blue Lagoon restaurant. At the front podium they took us back into the main restaurant room. The main room gives the feeling of being outside sitting on the back porch of a thatched house overlooking a beach of the Caribbean. Boats pass by filled with guests on Pirates of the Caribbean while you eat. The atmosphere was so nice and lit by candles and soft light. There were waterfalls, torches, and the sounds of the outdoors.
After dinner, the sky had cleared and it was time to ride. The park closed at 11 PM that night so we still had a good two hours to enjoy the park. We first rode Pirates of the Caribbean. Again this ride was the same, but different. The ride is in reverse order than that of the American parks. You start in the jail scene, move to the rampage scenes with the pirates breaking everyone out, and then the final scenes are the grotto scenes with treasure and the skeletons of pirates from the past. The whole experience makes much more sense from a story standpoint, but essentially it was the same ride. Next up was a new one for us both, Indian Jones et le Temple Du Peril. This has great theming, but in the end its just a wild mouse roller coaster with one loop. There are no indoor scenes or anything to really write about that makes it great. Just a fun small ride. However, the next ride was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, one of my favorites in the American parks. Parisians love the wild west of America. So Frontierland is huge and Big Thunder takes up a massive portion of it. The ride starts on the side of the Rivers of America, but where Tom Sawyer’s Island should be is instead the majority of the Big Thunder Mountain track. The coaster starts by entering a big tunnel under the water. At the end of the tunnel the train was out on the island in the middle of the Rivers of America. The final ride back under the river and into the train station was by far the best part of the ride. Again very similar to the other Big Thunders I have been on, but a little better. By now the sun was sinking low as it was after 10:30 PM. So we made our way to the front of the castle and waited for the nighttime spectacular: Disney Dreams!
The nighttime show does not rely on fireworks, but instead utilizes digital projections on the castle and water screens in front of the castle. The show revolved around Peter Pan and Wendy wishing on a bright star attached to the top of the castle. Just like any Disney nighttime show, there were different segments and clips from many Disney films. I was glad to see a Hunchback of Notre Dame segment even though the animation of Quasimodo was terrible. The show was fun and the crowd really seemed to enjoy it. Nothing about the park seemed really European yet. Every interaction was very Disney standard interactions. On our way back to the hotel we stopped by the McDonald’s (before you whine it was the only thing open with food) and grabbed a snack to make it to the room. Even though we had no air condition, we had no trouble sleeping through the night.
The next morning, we started with breakfast in the hotel restaurant. There was so much construction going on around the hotel that we couldn’t even look out the windows of the restaurant. So instead we just ate and talked about our day ahead. The breakfast consisted of non-hot items like croissants that we had become so accustomed to and other various pastries, cereals, and fruit. After breakfast, we walked over to be at Disneyland Park for the early entry that you get if you are staying at one of the resort hotels. This is where a big problem with Disneyland Paris occurred. The resort hotels boast early entrance into the parks, but there are NO RIDES OPEN! There was nothing open for us to do. We could go get in line for a ride and wait, but the rides did not open until park opening. What is the point in early entry then? Yes there were a few characters around, but not enough to warrant waking up an hour early. Eventually the rides began opening and the rode as much as possible. Instead of boring you with the play by play I will just hit on some favorites and what is different about established favorites.
Let’s start in Discoveryland, their version of Tomorrowland. Space Mountain and the Nautilus walking tour were both closed while we were there, which was the most disappointing part of the whole Disneyland Paris trip. I have wanted to ride Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris since I became a Disney fan in the late nineties. It is the only mountain that features multiple inversions. Discoveryland as a whole is completely different than our Tomorrowland. It is themed as a Jule Verne look at the future. It is amazing. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast is the same course as the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disneyland and Star Tours is the old Star Tours with the flight to Endor that ends with blowing up the Death Star.
Fantasyland brought some old favorites a very cool new one. It’s a Small World was fun because it was the first one I had been on that had multiple America scenes. Guess what was chosen as the America scenes? You guess it, a farm, cowboys, and Hollywood. That’s America in a nutshell for the French. We also rode the Storybook Canal Boats and the Casey Jr. Train, both of which are in Disneyland, but still fun. The normal dark rides were there, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Toad Hall was there…..but it wasn’t the ride, just a restaurant…bummer. But hands down the coolest attraction in Fantasyland was Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. I was very excited about this walk through maze that ended in the Queen of Hearts’ Castle. The maze, although not very tough to find your way through, was amazingly fun. There were characters, props, sound effect, water effects, and lots of twists in turns. Even though there were lots of people in the maze, it did not feel crowded. The hedge maze turned into a spiral, which turned into a pine tree maze, which turned into bushes and roses. It was really immersive and by the time we got to the castle and left the whole attraction, we spent about twenty minutes enjoying it. This type of attraction would never work in America, I decided. “We would all get lost,” I determined. Also in Fantasyland, a dragon lives. The animatronic dragon can be found underneath the castle in a cave. The attraction is just a small walkway through a cave that features a lake with the large dragon sleeping. His eyes open, glow red, and he blows smoke and roars. The sight is so much fun to stand and watch that we found ourselves walking through there a lot more than was necessary.
Adventureland has already been discussed for the most part above. The two major attractions in the area are Pirates of the Caribbean and the Indiana Jones coaster. The bulk of Adventureland is essentially Tom Sawyers Island, but with Peter Pan. There are caves and a Pirate ship, play areas, and cool lookouts. Carly and I spent a good bit of time on the second day of our tour exploring the caves and area. Skull Rock is featured by the ship as well as the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. We took lots of pictures of the area especially of Skull Rock both from the outside and inside.
Frontierland might just be the most magnificent land in the park. The land is expansive with a large Rivers of America and Big Thunder Mountain taking up a huge portion of it. There is also a Haunted Mansion deemed Phantom Manor that sits on the edge of this land. We ate here at the Lucky Nugget Saloon on the first full day for lunch. The set up was very similar to the Diamond Horseshoe. You sat at a side bar or small table looking out at a stage. We ordered at the front counter and sat down to wait for our order. Most meals come as a package to sort of give you some “courses” to the meal, even a quick service. We actually had to specifically ask and explain that we wanted a cup of water at every meal. We needed water, we didn’t want wine or a soft drink for each meal, but that was a tough sell at a lot of places. Also we explained we didn’t want dessert at most of these places too. It was a small challenge, but we eventually got what we wanted. I was excited to see how the French did Barbecue and well, it wasn’t good. A valiant effort, but I will stick with American BBQ.
Phantom Manor in Frontierland truly took me off guard. This attraction was so different than any other Haunted Mansion attraction I had been to and yet most of the scenes were the same. First off the mansion looked like the Bates Motel house. It was an old Wild West manor, very different façade from the American ones. The entire queue line is expansive and eerie. The initial entrance room features a similar changing portrait just like the two parks back home. The stretching room features all different portraits, my favorite being a portrait of a couple having a picnic. There is a small spill on the blanket that ants are walking to. When the stretching room has fully stretched the ants grow massive in number along with rattlesnakes and other attacking creatures. The ride system is the same as every other haunted mansion attraction and the layout of the ride is similar too. The major difference is that the story revolves around the bride. In the American parks, the bride figure only shows up in the attic scene of the mansion. Here in Phantom Manor, she appears in almost every scene. She is at the beginning, the ballroom scene, the attic, and the very end. As I have heard in interviews with Tony Baxter, legendary Disney Imagineer, the French understand scary and they understand funny, but they don’t understand scary funny. So instead of being somewhat humorous like the American parks, Phantom Manor is all scary. The final graveyard scene is replaced with traveling underground with open caskets and skeletons reaching for you. Then the whole Grim, Grinning, Ghost section is based in an old Western town with Zombie type locals. It is weird and terrifying, but very fun. The final scene is the bride descending into a green abyss as a skeleton. We rode multiple times to take in everything.
On the last day of our Disneyland tour we ate at Walt’s, a restaurant on the second floor of a Main Street building. The food was American so that meant a burger as the main staple. The food was ok, but the restaurant was beautiful. It was Victorian in design, but each room upstairs matched the theme of a land at Disneyland. We ate in the Discoveryland room, which featured a starry painted ceiling and a Nautilus above the mantle. Overall the food at Disneyland was ok, but the real treat was at the Walt Disney Studios park.
The second half of the first day and throughout the second full day we toured the Walt Disney Studios park. This park was a short walk to the entrance from the entrance of Disneyland proper. The front entrance has a small courtyard with a fountain featuring Sorcerer Mickey. After the courtyard is a huge studio building called Studio 1. This building acts as the “Main Street” of this park. Inside are multiple stores as well as a huge eatery. We spent very little time in here, except to get a glazed donut, which was delicious. So much so that we (I) bought multiple ones while we were there. Outside the back of Studio 1 there was the famous Partners statue of Walt and Mickey. This statue usually sits in front of the castle at every Magic Kingdom park, but at Disneyland Paris the statue was here out of the way at Disney Studios.
There are three main areas at Walt Disney Studios: Toon Studio, Production Courtyard, and the Backlot. Let’s start with the Backlot. The Backlot’s main two attractions are Lights, Motors, Action! Stunt Show that is an exact replica of the show at Hollywood Studios in Florida. We skipped this one. Next door to the stunt show sits the famous Rock’n Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. The ride was exactly like the one at Hollywood Studios in Florida except a few things. The pre show was slightly different and instead of black light props of Los Angeles sights, there are concert lights flashing and spinning around you as you ride. Across from the coaster was a meet and greet with Spider-Man. Yes Spider-Man. Spider-Man is owned by Marvel, but Universal owns the theme park rights to the character……in the U.S. In Paris though, Spider-Man could appear at a Disney park. Armageddon: les Effets Speciaux was the only unique attraction in this area to experience. By unique I mean that this attraction is not in any other Disney park. The Armageddon attraction is hard to explain, but it is essentially a special effects show. You enter a round room with a hole in the center. The entire room looks like you are in a space station with different steel doors and screens that peered out into space. Once the experience begins, we are supposed to be experiencing an asteroid impact while standing in the space station. The show features lighting and sound effects galore. There are also wind blasts and fire that explodes through the center of the room. The best part of the whole show was when the floor gave way about an inch. We all yelled and then laughed. There is no way this ride would last in America. The whole place would be chaos with everyone running all over each other. It was surprisingly enjoyable.
Production Courtyard had an old favorite, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This incarnation of the famous ride matches the one located in Disney California Adventure. Not as good of a ride as the original, but still fun. We rode this at closing one day with a vehicle full of teenagers. They immediately broke into a soccer chant at the end of the ride. Carly and I were baffled. There were three shows in this area. Cinemagique is a stage show about classic films. Sadly it was closed while we were visiting. Playhouse Disney also had a show here too. Then there was Stitch Live!, a show that matches Turtle Talk with crush only with Stitch. The final ride in this area is the terribly unexciting Backlot Tram Tour. The entrance to this attraction sits directly across from the main entrance to the park. It was twenty minutes of torture. There was the normal Catastrophe Canyon scene just like the now closed canyon in Florida, but the drive there and back only had a handful of props from the over twenty year old television miniseries Dinotopia. The other big scene was from the awful Reign of Fire movie about dragons. No you do not see a dragon. Instead you see big flams come out of a tunnel in a burned up city scene. It was so anticlimactic that I was almost angry. Just skip this ride.
The last area of the park was our favorite part: Toon Studio. Here there was a conglomeration of different Pixar film themed rides. But first there was the Animation Building. It had the now defunct Magic of Disney Animation show with Mushu as well as some cool animation displays not featured in other parks. Outside there was the Flying Carpets of Aladdin just like the one in Magic Kingdom in Florida and a fun spinning ride based on Cars. It was much akin to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree at Carsland. Carly and I laughed a good bit on it. Sitting directly to the left of the large Studio 1 building was a large theatre that housed the show Animagique. This was a stage show starring Donald and Mickey and a host of different Disney animated movie stars. The entire show was in black light and the songs featured were from Dumbo, The Jungle Book, as well as some new favorites. Carly and I took a small nap during the show. It was great, but man were we exhausted. Next door to Animagique was also the great Crush’s Coaster. This indoor, wild mouse spinning coaster packed a lot of punch. The ride started as guests loaded into a turtle shell, two facing forward and two backward. The first section of the ride was a dark ride up the lift hill. Here we meet Dory, Marlin, Bruce, Jellyfish, and other creatures from Finding Nemo. At the top we spin and fly around curves, drops, and banked turns all the way back to the load station. The ride was so fun. We rode as much as possible, but it never had less than an hour wait.
Toon Studio also had two separate themed lands connected to it. Toy Story Land was a small area with three rides. We rode all three. The first was a parachute drop ride themed to the green army men. Carly and I used the single riders line and waited about ten minutes. It was delightful and I hope they add this one to the new Toy Story Land coming to Hollywood Studios. The second ride was a Himalaya type spinner where you rode in Slinky Dog. Even though we waited a good thirty minutes for the ride, it was not very good. Ok for little kids I suppose. The final ride in the area was themed to RC Racer the remote control car. The ride looked like a halfpipe and the car rode up one side and then back down and up the other side. We were strapped in like a roller coaster, but the ride was pretty tame. Even though it was tame, the experience was fun, I just wouldn’t wait longer than a half hour to ride it. All in all this area really made me excited about the Toy Story Land coming to Florida.
The final area of Walt Disney Studios Paris was Ratatouille. This whole area was amazing. It featured a city scape of Paris with a gift shop, a large ride Ratatouille:The Adventure, and the Bistro Chez Remy restaurant. We rode Ratatouille: The Adventure first. The queue line was immaculate. You start outside under a canopy that enters into a theatre. Inside the theatre you walk into a “room” that looks like you are shrunk down to the size of a rat out on the rooftops of Paris at night. Shining above the line, is the signage for Gusteau’s restaurant. Every few minutes Gusteau comes to life and talks about Remy and how he is waiting for you to arrive. The ride vehicles are rats and you can sit up to six guests per car. The ride uses 3D glasses, screens, and live props to tell the story of Remy. We start on the roof above the kitchen where we meet Remy. Chaos ensues as we fall through the glass roof and into the kitchen. We travel into the freezer, under a rolling cart, and even into the walls of the restaurant, all the while being chased by Chef Skinner. I don’t wan to ruin too much of the ride, but it was incredible. We rode multiple times, even after a kid that sat next to us puked on the loading station after the ride was over. The best part of Ratatouille: The Adventure is that you end the attraction at Remy’s restaurant. After our first ride on Ratatouille we ate at Bistro Chez Remy. Everything in the restaurant was rat sized. The seats were mad out of wine bottle toppers, the tables were matchbooks, and the lighting was Christmas tree lights. It was incredible. We both had a steak and every entrée came with a side of Ratatouille. We loved our experience in this restaurant and there were many pictures taken.
We did walk away from Disneyland Paris with only a handful of souvenirs, but our memories will last a lifetime. We left our resort at 3 AM on our last morning. When we left there was no one in the lobby except for our cab driver. This was so odd to me. There was not even a single person running the desk. Again we were surprised by the resort. We left with the cab driver and drove about a half hour to the airport. Here at the airport there was a problem. Taxi drivers were parked on the bridge leading to the airport. They were out of their vehicles protesting Uber. We were stuck. Well our driver helped us with our luggage out of the car and we walked the hundred yards or so to the airport terminal. It was a long two hour wait for our plane to take off, but we spent the time snoozing and recounting our time in Paris. Our small plane arrived and we took a bus to the tarmac area where our plane sat. We loaded up and a short few hour flight that we slept through landed us in Dublin. But the story of our Ireland journey will have to come another time.
Disneyland Paris shocked and amazed us in so many ways. The design and layout of the park was so different and yet it was all the same experience. I loved the unique changes in attractions from the American versions. Although the park does need some extra attention especially at Walt Disney Studios, the resort overall was a great retreat for a long weekend away from it all. Will we go back? I sure hope so! I really have to get a ride on Space Mountain.