There’s no getting around it. The very start of a holiday is awful. It’s not quite as bad as the trek home, but it’s close. However, it’s a necessity and in a way makes the actual holiday so much better.
This time round, our plane was leaving at 5.30am and we were flying from Birmingham so we left at 1am for the drive. I’ll be honest, sitting in the car at one in the morning with a tired and excited 6-year-old, a tired and excited 22-year-old and her mum and stepdad is not really my idea of a great time. We were all in high spirits though as we were on our way to the truly magical realm of Disneyland Paris.
If I’m honest, lack of sleep, excitement and sheer will power allowed me to block out a lot of the ‘getting there’ part of the journey. I vaguely remember eating a pretty gross ploughman’s sandwich, wondering if 4am was too early to drink (it was for me, but not for a lot of others) and then being sat on the plane. Any conversations that may have occurred weren’t that interesting or are lost in the recesses of my mind. The flight itself wasn’t all that eventful. Cerrys gripped on for dear life during take off, but that was to be expected. She really, really hates taking off. There was a smidge of turbulence over France, but that was kind of it.
Upon landing, we taxied for an eternity. We just kept going. We taxied over a motorway at one point. Once we were off the plane, we got lost in Charles De Gaulle which is, without doubt, the most confusing airport I’ve ever been in. Eventually though, we made it out intact and with all of our luggage. By now, it was approaching 11am. We’d been awake for ten hours and we weren’t even at the park yet. Having only slept a few hours the night before and being generally incapable of dealing with any stress, fatigue had set in. Despite this, I knew I wasn’t going to be sleeping for at least 13 hours yet.
Stood outside, waiting for the Disney bus to arrive I realised just how magical this holiday was going to be. Not for me, but for Cerrys’ little sister, Seren. She’s only 6 and the magic and belief in all things Disney is still strong within her. Every time we saw a red bus, her eyes widened and her inability to hide her excitement when the bus arrived was testament to how she was feeling. It was a sound I can only describe as a ‘squee’ and it was lovely.
The bus journey was quite nice. I travelled France 13 years ago and I’ve been back a couple of times since. The last time I went, I visited Lille for the Christmas markets with some friends and we took the car across on the ferry. Seeing those motorway signs brought all of that back. Old friends who, through time and distance, I no longer speak to and some excellent memories.
It was around midday when we finally arrived. First stop was the Newport Bay Club. The last time I went to Disney was with my mum and my brother. I was about 20 at the time. We went in November to see the Christmas parades. For some reason, probably time and alcohol, my memory is somewhat faded but I do recall that it rained a lot that time and that, even with the bad weather the Newport Bay Club was a pretty awesome building. In 11 years, it’s lost none of its charm. Even before we’d got to our hotel, the Disney magic hit me. I think it hit all of us.
We’d decided to stay at the Sequoya Lodge. It was one that I’d passed by the last time we’d stayed, but we’d never gone inside and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. When the bus pulled up, we saw a huge hunting lodge style building. There was music playing and the feel of it really set in with me right away. The magic was faded – maybe dented is a better word – by the luggage scan, the armed police and the security checks but it was brief and momentary for when we entered I was taken to a different time or world. That magical feeling was growing stronger. We were told out rooms would be ready later in the day and to leave our bags in the store.
It was time!
The five of us, as tired as we were, walked quickly to the park. After a second round of security checks we entered the Disney Village. Music, lights and laughter filled my ears and I couldn’t suppress a smile. There was no time to stop though. For months – pretty much since we’d booked – Seren had been telling us that the first ride we were to go on was the Buss Lightyear ride. I hadn’t been on it before and knew nothing about it. As Seren was only 3 the last time she went, I was preparing to be underwhelmed. Even so, we rushed through the park, took the necessary pictures of the entrance, the clock and the castle and entered Discoveryland. Seren, by now, was at breaking point. Her excitement was not being remotely contained. Since we’d booked she had waited for this moment. It was raining and we were tired, but that didn’t put her off one iota. The queue was only twenty minutes and the majority of that was spent inside, listening to Buzz explain our mission on how we had to defeat the evil Zurg. Still, I remained underwhelmed. I didn’t know what to expect, but it wasn’t a SHOOTING GAME!
That’s right. I saw the spinning ships, I saw the gun and I was in. Cerrys and I jumped in our ship and were taken on what felt like Toy Story on acid. Neon enemies moving slowly around, Zurg
trying to shout us down. I scored highest and it set a rivalry that would last the entire holiday. Unfortunately for me, I could never quite beat Cerrys’ stepdad, Seb. When I say that, I mean he slayed me by like… 100,000 points every time. It was embarrassing. But compared to Cerrys I was a master.
After that, we decided to have a wander around the castle. I think the last time I went, I neglected this part. I had a quick glance, but because there wasn’t a kid (or a Disney mad girlfriend) with us, we just skimmed over it. The attention to detail in the castle is astounding. It’s not only the look, but the sounds and the feel of it all. It’s easy to see why a child would become so immersed in
that world. I was drawn in and I’m 31.
We went on some roller coasters, grabbed some food and walked more than I thought my legs would allow. I checked the time and it was only 6pm. I felt like I’d been awake for days and I was unsure of how Seren was even still functioning. At the same time, I was having a lot of fun. Whilst walking around, Cerrys spotted a teddy of Pua from Moana that was beyond cute and decided that we must have it. Thus began our epic search that lasted days.
We returned to the hotel for some food and to check into our rooms. Walking the corridors of the hotel made me feel like I was in The Shining. That part was eerie. I’m a grown man though, and I got over it (I really didn’t – I hated walking the corridors alone).
In all honesty, the food in the hotel was somewhat disappointing. I’m sure it could have been otherwise, but I’m a vegetarian, Cerrys is vegetarian and lactose intolerant and Seren is allergic to dairy, egg and nuts and they didn’t really cater for any of us. We had to have breakfast in the hotel everyday and it was mainly a buffet affair. I survived mostly on croissants and cheese which sounds great, but really takes a toll on you by day four.
Anyway, back to day one. It was 9.30pm and we’d eaten and showered. It made us feel a little more human. Seren had crashed out by this point, so Cerrys and I ventured into the park alone to watch the illuminations. We made a conscious decision not to take any photos or film but instead to watch every second of it together. This was a moment just for us, not to be shared in real time and it was incredible. There was music, light, fountains and fireworks. It brought back incredible childhood memories of films I haven’t watched in a long time, of my nan taking me to the cinema, of Sunday’s spent on the sofa with my mum and my brother watching Disney films or Ducktales. It took me to a place I haven’t been in years and it made me happy. I’m not normally one for nostalgia or known for being patricularly soppy but this was different. For twenty minutes, I really did get caught up completely in the magic of Disney and I enjoyed every single second of it.
It was after midnight by the time we got back to the hotel and Cerrys and I were riding high on the days events, but absolutely exhausted. I decided to buy a beer to calm down and took it back to the room, but after only a few mere sips I was asleep.
The following day, we woke early and headed down for breakfast. Croissants and cheese. Now, cheese and butter are things that I don’t get to eat much of at home due to Cerrys’ lactose intolerance so the prospect of authentic French all-butter croissants (inasmuch as I was eating them in France) and any type of cheese that wasn’t labelled ‘lactose free cheddar’ was a novelty and dream come true on day one. I embraced it and ate three different types of cheese and my own body weight in croissants. It was heaven. We walked into the park in glorious sunshine, that stuck with us for not only the rest of the day, but the rest of the holiday. It may have been a rocky first day weather wise, but the following four days more than made up for it.
If I’m completely honest, other than listing the rides, describing the actual days in the park seems kind of pointless. It was pretty busy, but the longest wait we had for a ride was 65 minutes. I think instead of all that, I’ll just post some pictures so you can get an idea. As we all know, a picture says a thousand words and I think Cerrys’ face on some of these demonstrates that although she was having a great time, she was not prepared for the roller coasters or the Tower of Terror. Enjoy.
I suppose the main purpose of this blog is really to discuss the second day of the trip. After a long day in the park, we went to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Despite my belief in animal welfare I did quite enjoy myself, however guilty I felt about it. There was lots of banging on the tables and shouting, the atmosphere was one of excitement, the characters were great and their rodeo skills genuinely impressive. The food was served on metal trays which really added to the overall experience and the food itself was pretty good. I was a little worried the vegetarian options would be limited or boring, but it began with a flavourful vegetable chilli and was followed by some mixed vegetables and potato wedges which, though basic, tasted good and really suited the venue. For dessert, I had apple pie and ice cream. I’m not generally a fan of apple pie, but it was pretty good. Cerrys on the other hand opted for the allergen menu, which was named the ‘Natama’ menu. We were both pretty impressed that they had managed to even create this. It’s got no nuts, no soy, no dairy, no gluten and no egg (as well as a host of other things). We’d looked online and it had mixed reviews, but Cerrys thought a slightly disappointing meal was better than days of agony. It wasn’t. Cerrys’ meal arrived all on one tray in 3 plastic pots. It was difficult to distinguish which course was supposed be which and I don’t think it really mattered. The starter was some kind of vegetable mush and the main was sort of the same thing with some pasta throw in for good measure. Dessert was basically baby food. It was bad. The images posted were found online and not taken by us, but it was the same thing. The sad thing was that for the most part, Cerrys could have quite easily eaten what I had. Still, at least now we know for next time. If you’re considering it, please think of other options if possible. It was the worst.
We finished up and decided to go for a walk in the park. Seren wanted to go on the Buzz Lightyear ride and my app had informed me that there was only a five-minute queue. We began the short walk to the park and my heart was in my throat. My plan, which had been in place since we booked the holiday, was nearing its end point. I think it’s the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. It went smoothly though. Seb had successfully delivered the package to me en route, away from prying eyes, and the sun was beginning to set over the Disney Castle. I suggested a photo of Cerrys and I in front of the castle and Cerrys’ Mum, Emma, dutifully took control of the camera… and then it happened.
I offered Cerrys an early birthday present and let her know it would make more sense once she opened it. Confused as she was, she opened it and laid eyes upon a fairy tale book entitled “The Adventures of Princess Cerrys and Sir Damien”. Inside was the story of us, from the day we met. It detailed some of our adventures such as the Polar Express, the London Dungeons, our trip to Santorini and ended with us stumbling across a beautiful castle in which I asked her the most important question I’d ever asked anyone. I pulled part two of her present from my bag, my heart like a hummingbird and dropped onto one knee. “Cerrys Wakefield. Will you marry me?”. Cerrys couldn’t repress her joy. A beaming smile and tears in her eyes, she made me happier than I’ve ever been with one simple word that I’ve heard a million times before. It’s quite strange that the word “Yes” can change the course of your life forever. We even got a round of applause from those around us and made a stranger cry. So, there we are – Cerrys and I are engaged to be married.
The book was written by me and drawn by my friend Ste. It was all kind of last minute and he had to do it in his spare time but, despite those limitations it turned out far more perfect than I could have ever hoped for. Subtle Disney references, Cerrys and I as Disney style characters and a book to record our adventures. It was more than I could have asked for and I cannot thank Ste enough for the time and effort he put into making the book a reality. The book was printed by a company I found online called Inky Little Fingers. It took about a week to arrive and was printed perfectly. The book is labelled as ‘Volume One’ and I’m sure that in time, we will fill many, many more. It is perfect and was the perfect gift for a Disney mad girlfriend. Or fiancée.
That night we watched the illuminations again, this time with Emma, Seb and Seren. Having already seen it, Cerrys and I both watched Seren’s reaction. It was incredible. She was in awe. Her eyes didn’t leave the castle once and the smile didn’t leave her face. For a child who has been surrounded by Disney all her life, I suppose it’s almost a part of her DNA. I know that my life would be very different were it now for films like Robin Hood, The Lion King, Alladin and Pinocchio so for Seren to be lucky enough to immerse herself and almost become part of that world as a child was truly something special.
On the third night, Cerrys and I ate in the Rainforest café. Again, we were both concerned by the prospect of eating as vegetarians. However, the quinoa and lentil burger was incredible. Cerrys had hers without the cheese, but said that the texture and taste were excellent and I agreed. As we all know though, everything is better with cheese. The burgers were served with fries, avocado and a side salad. I also bought a side of onion rings which we crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside and served with a smoky barbeque sauce. The restaurant itself was an experience I would recommend to anyone. Every fifteen or so minutes, a storm passes through, that sets off the animals that sit around the tables. It truly is an unforgettable atmosphere and was so much fun.
Following that meal, we looked in the Disney Store, the World of Disney, the Gallery, we walked to Adventureland, Frontierland and Discoveryland and searched shops we’d already been in but to no avail. We couldn’t find Pua anywhere. It felt like a lost cause and, as hard as it was, we came within spitting distance of giving up entirely. After more than an hour, we walked back to the hotel, our hearts sinking.
Disney is a tiring holiday. We were walking about 25,000 steps a day. The days are long, the queueing takes its toll and sometimes you just need a break. On the fourth day we ventured to the pool at the Sequoya Lodge. It was actually pretty cool. There was a slide and a hot tub. The only frustration was that the steam rooms were separated by gender, which seemed a little strange. Either way, Cerrys and I had a lot of fun on the slides. Seren went down with her Dad a few times but then braved it on her own. She practiced her swimming whilst Cerrys and I danced like ballerinas and started doing flips in the water. The pool was a good length and there was both an indoor and outdoor section.
Cerrys and I decided that the best way to relieve ourselves of the Disney stress was to sit in the hot tub. It was well deserved and necessary, but was doomed to be a short lived experience. After fifteen minutes of relaxation, a concerned looking staff member asked us to evacuate the pool. Maybe it was the armed guards we’d seen on the way in, maybe the way of the world at the moment but there was a moment of panic for me. Was the whole park being evacuated or just the hotel? Could it be that the wall of safety I’ve managed to hide behind was finally being torn down to expose me to the harsh realities of what this world has to offer?
In a sick turn of events some kid had, for lack of a better phrase, shit in the pool. It wasn’t your ordinary brand of poop either. There was no floater but instead a swiftly spreading muddy pool. The trail itself told a story. It began in the pool, then on to the floor towards the changing rooms. In a turn of luck (for me) the kid had gone to the female changing rooms so my account of this is second hand from Cerrys, but she described the inside of the changing room like some sort of scat horror film. It was on the floor, the walls and the ceiling. In my over-active imagination, the kid had run in, slipped, fallen down on to her backside and the contents of the swimming costume (which are generally pretty tight and would collect an equal amount as it let out) hade exploded. That probably didn’t happen, but for the purpose of the story lets just pretend it did. Whatever the truth may be, it was gross, grim and gruesome.
Luckily, the rest of the holiday was without incident and free from the terror of children’s bowels. Or anyone’s bowels for that matter. Let’s just stop talking about bowels.
As with any holiday, the final day was a mixture of depression and relief. We didn’t want to leave, but Cerrys and I were looking so forward to our own bed. In a stroke of absolute genius, we’d changed the sheets before leaving so the prospect of coming home to fresh sheets was so, so good. But we still hadn’t found Pua the pig. We revisited Discoveryland and hopped aboard Hyperspace Mountain, the Buzz Lightyear ride, went on Blanche Neige et es Sept Naines (Snow White), Peter Pan’s Flight and Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups in Fantasyland. But there was something missing.
A plush version of Pua from Moana.
Dejected, we decided to start making our way back to the hotel to await our coach via the Walt Disney Studios. By now, it was approaching noon and the queues were really picking up. It was easily the busiest day so we jumped on the Flying Carpet’s Over Agrabah as there was no queue, we watched Moteurs Action Stunt Show Spectacular and decided to have a look around to pass the time. Then we saw it. For some reason, there is a whole building that we had all but missed that is dedicated to meeting Moana. Inside that building is a shop that is mostly dedicated to Moana and one of the toys in that shop was the cutest little Pua plush. The quest was over and, despite our belief that it was lost, hopeless and dead, the opposite was true and now we are the proud owners of Pua the pig. He sits with Cerrys, Jeremy and I on the sofa now. We love him!
We went for lunch in Restaurant En Coulisse, which was basically a large food court. There wasn’t much for us, but we bought some fries to keep us going. We wandered back to the hotel and sat in the bar. By now fatigue had won each and every one of us over. I was running on fumes.
Despite some initial confusion, we found the coach stop and made our way back to the airport where the inadequacy of Charles De Gaulle struck again. Air France have adopted a self check-in service. You print out your own tickets and luggage tags. That was bad enough, but what made this whole ordeal far, far worse was that when it came to picking our seats, there were none left together. Fear washed over Cerrys. The prospect of sitting on her own set off her anxiety instantly so whilst trying to work out the ridiculous check-in machines, I was also trying to get Cerrys to relax by saying I was able to sort it out or, as its otherwise know, lying. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do. We checked in and then had to walk to another desk which, in my mind, could have just as easily been a check-in desk, to send our bags away. We walked to the departure lounge and found our stop but trying to find a staff member to discuss our options was an impossibility. To take our minds off the problem, we did some shopping where I indulged in a bottle of wine and a gigantic bottle of Morgan Spiced. We also picked up a bottle of Jägermeister as a birthday present for Cerrys’ father.
The only viable option I had come up with was to simply ask to swap seats on the plane. I figured that most people are quite reasonable and Cerrys’ allocated seat was quite close to me. It wouldn’t make too much a difference to anyone, right?
We were ushered onto the plane and managed to get to the front of the queue. When we boarded, I told Cerrys to sit next to me and we’d wait it out and discuss the seating matter when the time arose. A few minutes into boarding, it happened. A gentleman, maybe in his forties, suggested that Cerrys was in his seat. He seemed reasonable. I explained the situation to him as Cerrys’ anxiety was beginning to flare up again and, to my amazement, he not only agreed to swap seats, but showed a good deal of understanding and grace. He didn’t look annoyed or put out, but smiled it off and seemed to genuinely understand and for that, I can’t thank him enough. I don’t know his name or his story, but he made that flight far easier than it could have been.
Again, it was a pretty uneventful flight. The only really interesting – or scary – part of the flight was the landing. It came from nowhere and was over before it began. Only once in my life have I landed more quickly and that was during a flight to Egypt on which one of the passengers had a heart attack and we had to make an emergency landing in Sicily. For a short while on this landing, I thought something was wrong, but apparently not. Still, despite the shock, we landed smoothly and without incident and began our journey home. We made a stop in the services and picked up some junk food, but we’d decided on the plane that we were going to indulge ourselves and visit the chip shop once we were home.
We got back home about 10pm, tired and hungry. I don’t think we ate many of the chips. I made the mistake of opening the wine. I clearly hadn’t learnt from my day one experience and to make matters worse, couldn’t find our bottle opener so had to open it with a screw and a hammer which failed abysmally and in the end the cork ended up broken and in the bottle so I had to sieve the wine. It wasn’t my finest moment. But wine is wine.
Cerrys went to bed and I decided to stay up a short while to watch some TV, reflect and drink my wine. Instead, I fell asleep almost instantly on the sofa, left an almost full glass of wine and missed my opportunity to enjoy the fresh sheets on the bed. Not a perfect end to the holiday, but an end to a perfect holiday.
Waking up in the morning, I was able to reflect. Cerrys and I ate a healthy breakfast of chocolate and crisps and, despite the rain, the light occasionally caught the diamond on her ring. For some reason, in that moment, it all became real. Maybe the magic of Disney made it feel like fantasy at the time but it isn’t. I’m engaged to her. I’m marrying my best friend, my soul mate, my love. She is my reason for waking up in the morning and my reason for trying to hard to achieve something better. It might as well be fantasy. Despite the problems we face in our lives, I wouldn’t change any of it because I know we’ll be stronger for it. It may take some time, but I’m sure we’ll get our happily ever after.