Giant mice chased me across my dreams

21st September 2001 at 01:00
How Carl Davies made it through a 36-hour trip to Disneyland Paris without losing his grip on reality, or the pupils

I look back on some of the things I've attempted in my life with a great deal of pride and some with dread. With yet others Ijust ask: "Why on Earth did I even think that would be a sensible idea?" The daynight trip to Disneyland Paris, with three other teachers and a bus full of 15-year-olds, definitely falls into the last category.

The itinerary reads like the nightmare John Carpenter must have had before he started work on the Halloween films.

We started from St Mary's School, Lugwardine, Hereford, at 9:30 on a Thursday evening, with every intention of having a full Friday of Walt-inspired mayhem. Then we would travel back through the night to a pick-up and return home from St Mary's at 10:30 on the Saturday morning. Easy.

The teachers had to take stamina and adrenaline in tablet form before we even set off. For weeks beforehand giant Minnies and Mickeys chased me in my dreams.

But mad ventures, in my limited experience, often turn out to be more enjoyable than the most rigorously planned expeditions with hotels and regular meals.

Sunshine is important to the success of a whistle-stop venture like this one. Michael Fish and friends did not disappoint. The only precaution I had to remember was to pack the Factor 12 sun cream and a decent sun-hat - I am somewhat challenged in the hairline department.

We had one full day of the theme park to enjoy. I expected, however, to wander from ice cream kiosk to ice cream kiosk in the mid-afternoon, sweeping up exhausted children as sleep deprivation kicked in.

Disneyland Paris is located in what were once beet fields. It was also the first overseas resort project for Disney. A showpiece attraction in every sense, it is laid out in much the same way as the other Magic Kingdoms around the world. It begins on an extremely glitzy Main Street, full of stores and eateries - and a barber shop. From this central hub all the other lands spread out.

There were, however, obviously a lot of special considerations before the park was set out in the first place. Northern France may not be as cold as Humberside in February, but it is considerably more grey than sunny California or Florida. With nearly half the year spent under cloudy skies, adjustments have been made. Everything is extraordinarily bright, more cloakrooms have been made, the attractions have more covered areas, and so on.

As this is France, the park is noticeably more artistic than other Disney attractions around the world.

Much visual flair has been expended on Adventureland, Discoveryland and Frontierland.

At times I felt myself thinking this wasn't some over-priced Florida nightmare but a well-thought out theme park - actually quite attractive to look at on occasion.

Adventureland was a good case in point. Filled with a wide variety of lush plant-life, it was home to all sorts of attractions combining fake Asian, Polynesian and South American themes. There was a huge roller-coaster, an authentic-looking paddle-steamer and some surprisingly good restaurants, serving everything from Texas steaks to Thai curry.

My personal favourite managed to combine most of the above to very inventive effect. The "Pirates of the Caribbean" featured a sort of log flume affair that made it's brisk way up, down and around a number of attractions before making rather serene progress through the middle of a seafood restaurant.

Being France, nobody tucking into their shark steaks even batted an eyelid as group after group of soaked 'pirates' made their way through the water in the middle of their restaurant.

And I'm pleased to report that a fabulous time was had by all. I think the fact that I'm a bigger kid that most of my fellow travellers had a lot to do with it. I remember a sportsman's bet with most of the pupils on the bus.

It went something along the lines of myself, the ageing and balding English teacher, being able to hold his stomach together for more rides than any of them.

I managed this with a minimum of fuss, making it onto 23 rides before the day was through - and consuming an excellent prawn madras in the middle. No one else came close.

During the trip back to Hereford everyone on our 52-seater bus was far too busy sleeping to even think about any travel sickness problems they may have been experiencing. And I never saw Mickey once.

Contact Reservations agent. Tel: 0870 606 6800. Web: www.2000disneylandparis.com The trip by St Mary's School cost pound;35 including coach fares and park entrance. Ticket prices start from 236ff for adults and 184ff for children for a one-day passport. Tickets are also available from Thomas Cook and Disney stores.

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