Arriving at Disneyland Paris plunges you into the idealised version of American history in Main Street USA. As soon as you pass under the station you find yourself immersed in the facades of a bygone era and you are ready to experience the magic that is Disney.
Ahead, in the distance you can spy the castle of Sleeping Beauty but it is worth taking time to explore Main Street and to soak up its atmosphere. Having said that it is wise to pick your moment. I wouldn’t linger first thing in the morning when heading to the rides before the crowds build up should be a priority and I also would try to avoid it in the evening when there is a mad scramble to buy souvenirs before leaving the park and you can’t walk up the pavements due to people staking out their vantage points for the evenings Fantillusion parade. Mid afternoon seems the quietest time and that is also when the rest of the park is heaving so it is nice to take a break and slow your pace.
Town Square is the spacious first area that you encounter. Attractively themed with green planting and a bandstand in the middle this is actually the “office” part of the park. The City Hall is to your left where you can make general enquiries as well as make reservations for the parks restaurants and also find details of where and when the characters will be appearing around the park. If you have a little princess who is desperate to meet Snow White or a space ranger who needs to shake Buzz Lightyears hand this is the place to get your information so that you won’t have tears before you head home. To the right of the bandstand are the kiosks to obtain children’s buggies. I must admit I was shocked when I saw these, having been to Orlando and seen the funky, brightly coloured buggies there the ones in Paris are just black and very drab looking although possibly easier to steer. There are also general facilities here such as toilets, cash machines and a smoking area. Although the park is designated as No Smoking with smoking areas very little attention is paid to this and people light up everywhere including ride queues where you can’t get away from it. As a non-smoker with asthma I must admit this did surprise and disappoint me.
The obvious route to take is then down the beautiful red paved street towards the castle. As you go make sure you look at all of the shop fronts, the signs are so detailed and there are even little avenues that pretend to be side streets. This is the main area for shopping in the park with a huge Disney Emporium stretching down the left side as you look at the castle however you would be forgiven for thinking that you are looking at several smaller shops as the facades are cleverly designed to look like individual stores. On the right-hand side there are more specialised shops including a photographic store where you can get camera and video batteries recharged and buy photographic supplies, as you would imagine they are expensive so you are best to buy your commodities elsewhere. There is also the Story Book Store selling Disney books and CDs and Lillys boutique that specialises in glass and crystal. You can make purchases here and collect them at the end of the day or have them sent to your hotel if you are staying in Disney property. Should you wish you can even get a haircut or a shave at Dapper Dans Haircuts, a vintage style barbers, this strikes me as a strange idea whilst on holiday but it obviously appeals to some!
There is no shortage of places to grab a bite to eat here either. Walt’s-An American Restaurant is an attractive counter service restaurant half way down Main Street and the Plaza Restaurant is an all-you-can-eat buffet located near the castle end. I didn’t eat in either restaurant as we didn’t have time but the menus seemed to be about 27euro plus a drink. There are three counter-service restaurants that serve everything from croquet-monsieurs to doughnuts so you are bound to find something you like. Around the Central plaza near the castle there are a variety of food stands selling drinks, ice-creams, popcorn and toffee apples.
Although the counter service restaurants seemed to get very busy people appeared to disperse quickly around the park so if you want to sit and eat there are several sets of tables and chairs that have the feel of French cafes about them where you can rest your feet whilst enjoying your snack.
Some people enter the park and immediately use Main Street as their means of entry and exit to the other lands without ever realising that you can avoid the scrum at the beginning and end of the day by using the Arcades. These lovely covered areas run parallel with Main Street and are entered to the right or left when in Town Square. They were much quieter than the outside areas when we visited and they also had lots of seating which was nice and they were away from the sun but they would also offer shelter from the bad weather if visiting in the winter. The arcades allow access to all the stores and they are lit with gas-style lighting with beautiful metal work and wonderful tile floors. The Liberty Arcade on the left will bring you out in Frontierland and the Discovery Arcade allows quick entry close to Discoveryland.
Main Street ends at the Central Plaza, a circular area in front of the castle. This houses a show-stage which currently runs a great song and dance show featuring many of the favourite characters from Mickey and Minnie to Ratatouille and Mr Incredible.
Many people use Main Street, Town Square and Central Plaza to view the parades and the fireworks. The Once Upon A Dream Parade features brightly coloured floats carrying many popular characters along with dancers and walking characters. These stop at regular intervals to perform mini-shows and allow a little interaction. Good views are available all along the route but be aware that cast members will insist that feet have to stay behind the ropes or on the kerbs for safety reasons so don’t shuffle forward even if you are being pressurised from families behind (as seasoned Disneyphiles we know how to stand our ground!). In the evenings it is the magical Fantillusion Parade which is the attraction as the floats decorated with wonderful lights wind their way down Main Street in the dark. We found that positioning ourselves halfway between Walt’s and Town Square meant we were in just the right spot to watch the floats transform amazingly from one thing to another and for the colour changes to be most impressive. I believe this parade only runs in the summer and it doesn’t start until about 10.30pm but it is certainly worth waiting to see. Immediately after the parade finishes the fireworks are announced and most people who are in Main Street tend to walk toward the castle to view these whilst others head out of the park. This is a far more sedate experience than we have experienced in Orlando as the park is much quieter so you are not pushed about whilst waiting. The Fireworks are fantastic and will certainly round of an exciting day at the park and as soon as they have finished take a quick dive into one of the Arcades, walk briskly and you will be walking out of the park whilst the throngs are still trudging up Main Street!
Many people just use Main Street as a walkway and don’t take anytime to appreciate it but that is such a waste so much attention has been paid to all the tiniest details so don’t miss out and remember to explore this area too.