To be honest, I’m surprised that it took me this long to write about Disneyland Paris. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Disney. Especially the Disney theme parks. I have been to five out of the six parks worldwide, and I wear that fact like a badge of honour. And yet somehow, nearly four years after starting this site, I’m finally writing about Disneyland Paris. And it’s all because I recently renewed my annual pass. Yes, I have an annual pass to Disneyland Paris. And like most things about my life in Paris, there’s a story behind it.
A Disney Birthday
I moved to France in the fall of 2014 about two weeks before my birthday. I wish I could say that I immediately found myself a whole new friend group, but the truth is it took me awhile to meet people in Paris. So when it came time to celebrate my birthday alone in a foreign country, I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Yes, I spent my birthday alone at Disneyland Paris. And it was amazing. It was a random Tuesday in September, so the parks were more or less empty, and I spent the day practically walking onto rides and taking in the shows and parades without having to fight the crowds.
I also kept seeing signs everywhere for the annual pass program, but I didn’t think anything of them at first. Then I saw the note that they would credit the amount I paid for my ticket that day towards an annual pass. That got my attention. I visited the annual pass office, and 20 minutes and a mere 40 additional euros later, I had an annual pass to Disneyland Paris. It was a great birthday.
A Year At Disneyland Paris
I must admit that that first year, I went to Disney about once a month. The park was only half an hour away by train, and I wanted to make the most out of my purchase. I also found Disneyland Paris to be a singularly fascinating place. It is a thoroughly American concept that has been shoehorned into a European sensibility, and this fusion can sometimes be hilarious. But it can also be breathtaking. The Sleeping Beauty castle, for example, is the best Disney castle I’ve seen to date. Disney realized that France is full of real castles, and therefore if they wanted theirs to impress, they would have to go all out. And they did. Very much so.
After that first year, however, my Disney visits declined. I still make the trip out to the parks to see the new shows and parades, and I love the holiday celebrations of Halloween and Christmas. But long gone are the days of my monthly visits. And with COVID-19 now a factor, I definitely considered not renewing my annual pass this year. But only for a moment.
Continuing A Tradition
As I headed out to the parks yesterday to renew my pass, I kept thinking about that day in 2014. I was brand new to Paris, still figuring out the train system, and wasn’t even sure I was heading in the right direction. I also had no friends, no job, and barely spoke French. And as I sat on that train, nearly eight years ago, I did wonder once or twice if I had made the biggest mistake of my life in moving to France.
But then I arrived at Disneyland Paris and I was immediately surrounded by a comfortable familiarity. I recognized the sights and sounds. The rides were the same and yet different all at once. And the cast members were nice to me. Sure, it was a Disney-mandated cheerfulness. But they spoke English while doing so, and it made me feel just a little less lonely. And when I bought my annual pass, it was the first card or membership that I bought in France. I had a Disney pass before I had a transit pass for pete’s sake. And I vividly remember the feeling of belonging that immediately washed over me when the woman handed over my shiny new card. It was the first time I felt that feeling of belonging since arriving in Paris.
Another Year, Another Renewal
I suppose it’s fitting that I first felt like I belonged in France at Disneyland Paris. If nothing else, it’s very on brand for me. But it’s also why I couldn’t bring myself to give up my annual pass this year. Not yet. Maybe one day I will decide that it’s no longer necessary, but yesterday was not that day.
It’s been nearly eight years since my birthday in 2014, and a lot has changed since then. I now have an extraordinary network of dear friends. I have a career that I love. And more importantly, I have made Paris my home. But in many ways, I feel like I’m still settling in. Even all these years later. And I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away. Perhaps a small part of me will always feel like I’m still settling in. Who knows? But what I do know is that as long as I feel that way, I’ll probably keep renewing my Disney annual pass. And you know what? I’m not the least bit bothered by that.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.