Disneyland Paris in October!!

Hooray! In case you didn’t guess, our trip to DLP went ahead!

The original plan was that Andy would get the Eurostar on the Thursday (as he could book Friday off) and I would travel on Friday after work. This is because we were going as a big group with Andy’s family (his parents, his 2 brothers and their wives, plus our niece and nephew- they were all travelling on the Friday as they didn’t have school that day/ can book a day off work). However, we had a bit of a hiccup with a passport, which meant that with a week to go the trains were changed to later in the year, hotels were cancelled etc. Then, when the passport was sorted (eg arriving) the Eurotunnel was booked (Eurostar prices were crazy high to book last minute). Everyone else travelled on Friday, and we drove down to Kent on Friday night and then got the Eurotunnel early on the Saturday morning (eg we got up at 4.50am).  There were delays (a train was stuck in one of the tunnels so they were having to run batches of trains in one direction, then batches in the other)- so it was frustrating to be waiting around for a train, thinking we could have got up later, but of course the reality is that if we got up later we would have been further delayed. The drive down there was fine, and thankfully we weren’t as delayed as originally told. When we drove through the gates at around lunch time it was such a welcome sight.

As you can imagine, a trip with a big group is very different to when the two of us go. My first Disney trip was a trip to Florida with Andy’s family (probably 18 years ago?)- his aunt, uncle and cousin also stayed in the villa with us, and ever since then (when we did not have matching t-shirts) I have loved seeing the big family groups in Florida with their matching tops, telling us “Smith Family Vacation 2005” or whatever. One day we will do that! I did look into matching tops but as the weather was going to be cold and they’d be hidden under coats it seemed a  bit of a waste.

Anyway, we had booked (with our annual passes) the Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Everyone else had 3 day tickets (we had planned to use our AP discount as you can buy discounted tickets, and had reserved them, but Andy had cancelled his when the trip was postponed, and even though they still had mine, the 3 day ticket worked out cheaper than a 2 day ticket plus the discounted one through me).

Vegan burrito, Starbucks, tea in the room and vegan breakfast sorted

I was prepared with some food- I bought along a pack of vegan croissants and we always take lots of tea with us. There were some vegan options- the place that did the falafels in the summer now did a vegan burrito which was really tasty- and huge! I had it for lunch one day and was so full for the rest of the day. Of course we popped to Starbucks a few times. My sister in law bought a (quite expensive) tea in one of the Disney restaurants and it was in a teeny cup, only half full of water. Honestly, go to Starbucks as you get a huge one (plus they will add soya milk, not something I think is available in the parks).

The three days were super busy, often going between parks. We did some things as a big group (Buzz Lightyear was a particular favourite of the kids) and then other times would break into smaller groups- it was nice for Andy to have company on the rollercoasters as I don’t go on them.

I was very keen to go to the Frozen show- I love it anyway but also knew my niece was love it (she’s 5 and was loving all the princess things). The first time we didn’t manage to get there (there are only a few shows each day and it has a small capacity), so on the Monday we queued for over an hour to be let in. We had one of those magic moments though, as she thought she would be watching it on a screen (like Philharmagic) so when she saw an actual person (Elsa) she gasped “Elsa ‘s real!” Perfection.

Plus Andy actually “got” it this time- when we went at Christmas in 2019 he thought the reindeer model was broken as Kristoff “speaks” for Sven- now he’s seen the film a few more times he realised it’s meant to be like that.

I loved all of the autumn/Halloween decorations that were out and we had fun at some of the photo spots. Frontier land was decorated for the day of the dead (like the film Coco)- at night it was even better as all of the lanterns were lit up.

There were also little mini parades (an amazing steam punk dragon that breathed fire, a princess float) plus a little autumn/ Halloween parade with a very catchy tune. Lots of cheerful Disney magic touches.

Over the 3 days we managed to go on most rides a couple of times (especially Phantom Manor for the spooky season)- I had wanted to go on Philharmagic again but only thought about it on the final day and by that time it had closed (it shut at 5pm). We went to see the Lion King show which was amazing- different to the Florida version and with a real Cirque du Soleil feel.

I was also really pleased to manage the drawing class. We had to queue for a bit and ended up watching a group draw Mickey and then Olaf (I would have loved to draw Olaf). We did Donald and Andy, who says he is terrible at art, joined in with me too. I think we both did pretty well- the instructors tell you in English and French and they do it step by step so everyone can manage it.

Our art of animation class drawings, plaits (as hair down was not working for the first day) and the animation academy.

After everyone else left, we were due to head further north in France, but Andy happened to look on the annual pass website and saw that we could reserve the Tuesday, so we quickly booked a hotel, and after charging the car for a bit headed back to the parks for a final bonus day.

Brighton half 2021 and enjoying a weekend away

In times past, I would be in Brighton for the weekend several times a year- for the half marathon (usually in February) and the 10k (November time) but also maybe a last-weekend-of-the-summer-holidays trip, or a weekend in May for my birthday, or a long weekend over Easter…. this weekend we realised that we had not been down to Brighton for over a year.

We drove down on the Friday night- we did look at trains but there were the dreaded rail replacement buses on the Sunday- we got a Just Park driveway which was super easy.

Finish token, Brighton in the sunshine and acai bowl breakfast

Of course I could not resist going to parkrun. Hove Prom was the closest to our hotel (but only just)- it was heaving with people! Joe Wilkinson was marshalling and I spent a lot of the first lap wondering if I said something like “hey, you were really funny on The Last Leg” if he would then wonder if I didn’t think he was funny on Cats does Countdown…. so I just said “thank you marshal” as usual…

Andy picked us up some acai bowls for breakfast ready for when I got back, and then we went on a nice long walk to Hove and back. It was such a gorgeous day and so warm. I’d only packed thermal long sleeved tops (one for each day) and a sweatshirt, so I was boiling! That will teach me to pack lightly! In the end I changed into the t-shirt that I was going to wear for the race on the Sunday.

Of course we went to Bird & Blend- their strawberry lemonade iced tea is perfect on a warm day.

After a bit of a rest in the afternoon we went out for an evening walk (and came across a bakery piled high with vegan cinnamon buns, so of course had to buy one), and then we got a takeaway pizza from Purezza (100% vegan pizzeria and very delicious).

The race started at 9am, and they were asking people to turn up close to the start time (because of covid) which suited me fine. I was on time and then realised I’d forgotten my sunglasses (they are more comfy to run in than my normal glasses, and on the Saturday the glare from the sea made my eyes quite sore), so Andy kindly ran back to the hotel for me. This slight panic was not ideal but I was still in the pen 10 minutes before the start time (right behind Joe Wilkinson it turned out, although as soon as we started running he was off). It was a lot more spread out than usual, and I think I’d read that the capacity was about half the usual capacity to allow for more distancing. It was prompt to begin, and soon my wave were off. They did announce that everyone in my wave (2-2.15) was aiming to keep up with the 2 hour pacer, but I was definitely not one of those this year! My aim was to enjoy it, which I did.

There is always good crowd support in Brighton, but there were less people out on the course. There was one band (near to Hove) which moved from the road to the lawns so I heard them twice. I only saw the 4, 9, 10 and 11 mile markers, but I imagine that they were at every mile, and I didn’t look at my watch as I wanted to run on how I felt.  It was the traditional route of going east to Roedean, back to the centre, a loop of the centre (which I am sure is now bigger as you go further beyond the pavillion) and then west to Hove, before turning and coming back along the seafront. I decided I would try to keep the 2.15 pacer behind me, and managed to finish in 2:08:something so I was pleased with that.

The 9am start meant I had enough time to head back to the hotel for a shower before the midday checkout, and then we were off to get lunch from Leon. We actually sat inside – we chose a table right by the doors and not near any other tables, and it felt OK.

On our walk back to the car I got a pumpkin spiced latte from Bird &  Blend, and then we also passed a vegan doughnut shop so bought a couple to share once home (my first half with tea and Taskmaster- good recovery).

All in all so good to have a more normal feeling weekend.

Vegan food at Disneyland Paris

France has never been the easiest country to visit for vegetarians let alone vegans. When I was vegetarian I would struggle a bit in France as they didn’t ever quite seem to understand that I didn’t want meat, so I approached our trip with a little trepidation. I looked online in advance (for blogs and so on) but again couldn’t find very much. I would say it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be! Disney’s website seemed to indicate that every restaurant/café will have a vegan option, but I ended up going in circles a bit, usually being referred to the “allergy menu”. This lists some restaurants and then has a long list of food apparently available at each place, but it includes things such as gluten free items (which were not all vegan as some contained egg). I felt more confused after looking at that than I did before! You can look at the menus individually (download them as PDF’s) but that takes ages as there wasn’t an easy way to search. Some of the menus seem much older- for example the Chez Remy menu listed a vegetable tofu which seemed like it would be vegan, but marked with a green v, which meant “vegetarian suggestions”- some of which contained laughing cow cheese (remember that? Bleurgh), so I would not be confident that the tofu dish was totally plant-based.

We stayed in an off site hotel, planning to have breakfast in the room before heading to the parks each day, and as I wasn’t sure what the supermarket would stock I took along some vegan pain au chocolate with me. It turned out to be a good decision, because even though I’d read that the big Auchan had a vegan section, I couldn’t find it (of course the fruits and veggies are a big vegan section).  We bought some fruit and bread in there to take with us to the parks, and had also taken along a few snacks from home, so we only needed to buy one meal each day in the parks.

The only breakfast option that I could find in the parks was fruit (and some places did fruit cups that were not labelled as vegan, even though other things were- not sure if they just leave it because they think it’s obvious that it’s vegan, or if they contain some preservative that isn’t vegan friendly)- fine, but not really comparable to the croissants, pancakes and waffles available for others. WDW has loads of options including vegan waffles and vegan French toast- Paris really needs to catch up.

Vegan chilli, menu and of course there’s always Starbucks

I was pleasantly surprised when walking around the parks that some places had clearly labelled vegan items on their menus. We found a stand in the studios that sold vegan chilli (when we were there in December 2019 we found it but it was never open when we went to get some- I still have no idea how you find out when it’s actually open…), and Last Chance Café in the main park. It was really good, and would be perfect in the colder months too.

A couple of places sold vegan Magnums but these seemed very limited and most places had just the regular ones. If you want one, buy it when you see one!

Falafels and the menu with the vegan magnum on there too

In the main park, the Fuente del Oro Bar in  Frontierland had a good option of falafels with a vegan sauce. I ordered in English here because they also sold chicken nuggets, and my French accent is terrible and I didn’t want my terrible pronunciation of “bouchees aux pois chiches” to be mistaken for chicken nuggets. Anyway, they were tasty. We’d walked past the menu for the Hakuna Matata restaurant, and they had a really nice sounding salad (sweet potato, beans, lettuce, pineapple, tomato, grilled peanuts) but the queue was huge and so I didn’t try it on that visit. There’s always next time. The falafels would have been nice with a salad to go with them.

Earl of Sandwich mushroom sandwich and good old Starbucks

Between the two parks you have Disney Village with plenty of dining options, although again looking at the menus the best option seemed to be tomato pasta- not the most exciting food for when you are on holiday. There’s a Starbucks there, although it didn’t have any vegan food options the couple of times we popped in (it did have a big range of plant milks though).

The Earl of Sandwich didn’t have a vegan item on the printed menus, but I’d seen online that they were doing a vegan one. We went to the screens, and could order “The Portobello” ( 100% VEGAN -Portobello mushrooms, fried onions, green peppers and agave mustard dressing). I’m not a big mushroom fan, but it was OK. I saw it on their social media in Feb 2020, and I can’t find it online now, so who knows if it’s there now. It’s worth looking at the screens though. I was hoping that they still did the tomato, balsamic and mozzarella one that they do in Florida, as you can swap out items, so I could swap the cheese for avocado and have a delicious sandwich, but it wasn’t to be.

In summary, there are vegan options there, but if you are going for more than a long weekend, or eating more than one meal a day in the parks, it’s going to get samey quite quickly. On our next visit I think I’d do pretty much what I did this time- bring along breakfast and snacks, and get one meal in the parks/village each day.  The DLP Instagram account released a video a while back of the vegan options that were coming, including a vegan burger, but I didn’t see that anywhere, and it wasn’t clear in the video either.  It’s great that they are clearly labelling more items, and having a few options in each park, but I am sure they can do better. They need to sort out the labels on the menus to make it clearer too. So, you’ll find vegan options but it might not be the treat that you are after on a holiday.

Rushmere parkrun for the gong of glory!

So this weekend was time for more parkrun tourism, as both Jersey Farm and St Albans were off due to events taking place. As it was Dad’s 200th parkrun, it was his choice, and he chose Rushmere.

Partly because it’s a beautiful woodland trail run, and partly because they have a gong! My brother was also coming too- he sometimes plays football on Saturdays so doesn’t go to parkrun as often, so it was perfect timing that he could make it too.

We arrived at around 8:45, and Dad revealed his “special t-shirt”. He’d made a 2 with “200th today” written on it, and safety pinned it over the 1.

The run brief was observed in silence, and then we walked around to the start. I’d remembered it as one and a bit laps, but it’s really just shy of 2 laps. It’s through woodland, past bike trails and bridleways (no dogs allowed because of this)- we did see a horse on our second lap.

The route is just beautiful and so peaceful. The pine trees are so tall, and it’s shaded and cool, filled with birds singing and then the gentle sound of runners feet on the soft earth. The three of us ran together and just enjoyed chatting, thanking the marshals, waving at the photographers and saying good  morning to the other park users. Andy always asks me why we do this when we could just run a 5k around near home, but I just feel we are so lucky to have places like this nearby and we can experience such a range of parks and places while enjoying running.

On the second lap one of the marshals called out to Dad, and it turned out to be the headteacher from my first school (Dad was also a headteacher in the same town, so they knew each other a bit, and his wife who was also a head). As Disney say, it’s a small world! When we finished we saw his wife and chatted to her too.

Then of course we had to visit the gong of glory. There was hand sanitiser to use first (of course) and then as he hit the gong, lots of people clapped. It was a really nice way to mark the occasion. (Yes we know 200 isn’t an official milestone, but it’s a long way between 100 and 250 even without the long pause, so we are going to celebrate these things).

Then it was time to head home for breakfast cooked by Mum. Our next milestone will probably be my 250th (I’m on 241 now)- Uncle Brian is on 97 but he is injured at the moment so I’m not sure when his 100th will be. I’m not sure what I am going to do about it though, as Ellenbrook Fields is still closed. I did my 50th at Panshanger, which I loved, but that was before EF started, and I don’t feel such a part of that community any more. EF was where I celebrated my 100th and it feels like my parkrun home, so I can’t decide if I’ll go to another local event (I could go back to St Albans where it started for me?) or do a bit of tourism?

What milestone are you working towards?

At last a trip to DLP!!!

I was not even looking forward to this until we were actually there for fear of being disappointed again. We have had to cancel quite a few trips in the last year and a bit, and with travel traffic lights changing, test requirements and so on, it all felt uncertain.

But all went well and on Friday lunchtime we drove through the gates into Disneyland Paris!

As we walked down Main Street I did feel a bit teary- I think I was so stressed about all the testing and paperwork needed, and so getting there was a huge relief. I could start to enjoy myself!

The castle is undergoing maintenance but the covering was very clever. We could see parts of the towers poking out of the top. There were no parades or fireworks, but it still felt very magical. They had sort of mini parades, so you would hear the Frozen music and suddenly an amazing float would appear with the characters on them (and Olaf spinning around)-it was like a flash mob where suddenly lots of people would appear and follow the float. We saw a Stitch one, Cruella Deville, some Jungle Book characters and Alice in Wonderland.

We ended up being in the park until nearly closing time on the Friday, and then got up early on the Saturday and Sunday to make the most of it (and to charge the car, as there were only 4 charging points in the entire car park). The queues were not too bad- there were no paper maps so you just looked on the app to see wait times- I think the longest we did was 30 minutes. I’d imagine a normal August weekend would be busier.

They have just changed over from the fastpass system, so now if you want to skip the queue you have to pay, which I think is a bit cheeky (12 Euros for Peter Pan- I mean what???). I am not sure if this kept the queues shorter because they were not letting fastpass people on, but we saw lots of people paying so those fast track people were still holding up the normal queues.

This is me getting excited with the Frozen parade going past, and then Stitch going past in his car, plus some fun photo points in the studios.

Philharmagic, one of my favourite rides/ shows, had a new section added from Coco, and I really enjoyed that part. The only other new ride was the Cars ride (basically upcycling Catastrophe Canyon) but this wasn’t great- I feel like they could have upped the theming a bit. I think you can tell that Disney has now taken over the running of the park, as a few years ago some of it was looking quite run down and it looks much better now, but compared to the Frozen ride in Epcot (where they basically changed the Norway log flume ride to a Frozen one, and it works really well) it wasn’t anywhere near as good.

I took a photo of the goodbye sign, hoping it would mean good luck and that we can see them again real soon.

I did treat myself to a few items. I’d seen these Stitch tops online, previously in the AP shop (which we didn’t go in in the end) but when we got there they were in all the main shops.

I can’t resist new mugs either, especially if there is a Christmas one! I did however resist new ears. I’d packed 3 pairs, one for each day, and had said that if they had the deep green ones that I’d seen online, then I would get them, but they didn’t have them.  Before our cancelled trip last year I’d persuaded Andy to get matching t-shirts (same design but different colours- the monorail with “please stand clear of the closing doors” plus the Spanish version) and we actually wore them together on the Saturday! The first time I went to Florida was with Andy’s family and we saw so man groups of people with matching tops so it has been a goal of mine for nearly 20 years!

A Starbucks from Disney Village and of course my Minnie cup cosy had to come along- from Enchanted Cosy Co.

We didn’t do any of the characters meets (if we ever get to go with our niece and nephew then I imagine it will be top of the list) but they had quite a lot of that, you just had to stand on a spot so you were not too close to the character.

On the Sunday we had to drive back to the tunnel, so left the parks in the afternoon. We could charge the car at the tunnel before driving onto the train, and that was enough to get us home. A busy but really enjoyable weekend- hopefully it won’t be another 20 months until the next visit.

Testing etc.

We drove down to Kent the night before, then in the morning took our LF tests, emailed the results and then drove onto the tunnel. You can take your return test 72 hours before, and on the Gov website it states that this can be in England, so this was the only way I was going as I did not want to risk testing positive while out there.  This was simple enough, but the small window of waiting to see the line appear on the LF kit was a bit stressful (plus the wait for the email, although that took only a few hours to come through).

The Day 2 test (on return) was ridiculous as we both posted ours at the same time, but mine arrived a day later than Andy’s and took ages to be processed. Thankfully both negative but it was a bit frustrating to have to wait.

I wasn’t sure how Disney would feel with all of the extra precautions in place, but it was fine. You always have to go through security/ bag check to get into the Disney Village and parks, and so here someone stood at the front of the queue and checked your vaccine passport before you could go on. France were very strict on this. We stayed in a hotel close to a shopping centre, and you had to show your vaccine passport to get into the shopping centre, and they were scanning them to check they were valid.  In Disney, if you wanted to buy food from an indoor place (even counter service) someone would check you scanning your phone on the French Anti Covid app. You had to wear masks all the time, inside and outside once in Disney, unless eating. We would try to find a quiet space to stand to the side to have a drink, but we both noticed that we probably didn’t drink enough water as usually if in a queue you might have a quick sip but it didn’t seem right to do that. Lots of the queues had been moved outdoors, and they all had these stickers with “do not stand here” on them. Some people paid attention to this, and others didn’t. We always left space in front of it, and some people behind would leave space too, but as they were mainly outside and everyone had masks (including children over 6) it felt OK. They had put up perspex barriers between the rows so if the rows double back you had a barrier too, and when getting on the rides they would leave spaces/ rows. Some of them had plastic screens between rows too.  If there was a pre-show waiting area (eg Haunted Mansion) you were directed to a taped box on the floor so you were kept away from other groups, and there was no queue inside once you were past that. There was hand sanitiser everywhere- all the way through ride queues, in the shops and all around. If you were buying something you could ask for the same item from the back if you wanted something that other people hadn’t handled. We saw a few people with masks under their chins, but then you always see a few people breaking other rules (eg smoking in the queues) so overall it was good, and as someone who has not really been in many crowded places, I felt comfortable with all of the things in place.

Don’t stand here signs, taped squares to stand in, and the perspex screens.