There are twelve Disney parks worldwide; six of those are Castle Parks. Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park led the way, followed by Cinderella representing Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney Resorts. Next came Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris. Hong Kong’s Disneyland’s original castle (opened in 2005) was transformed into Castle of Magical Dreams in 2020 to represent all of Disney’s princesses and queens. Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disney Resort is the latest (and the greatest in terms of sheer size and scale).
I’m a lifelong lover of all things Disneyland, an avowed Disney geek, and now, a Disney author of 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime and Eat Like Walt, and Walt’s Disneyland. In this six-part series, I’ll highlight some of my favorite adventures and magical experiences around the Disney world. Let’s go castle hopping together! Together, we’ll visit each park after their recent anniversary; in just the way that Castle-hopping is one of the adventures I highlight in my book, I invite you to virtually visit each park with me!
Europe gained its Disney park when Disneyland Paris opened on April 12, 1992.
Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (French for Sleeping Beauty Castle) at Disneyland Paris is truly a fairy-tale castle. The castle and its surroundings were based on Disney Legend Eyvind Earle’s design work on DIsney Animation’s Sleeping Beauty (1959). It was also inspired by fictional palaces and real French and European castles. With soaring spires, regal royal blue roofs, tapestries, and stained-glass windows, it is both magical and magnifique! Stylized square trees reminiscent of those in the beloved film add to the enchantment.
Disney castles traditionally don’t have dungeons – with the exception of Disneyland Paris. At the base of Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, the sign “La Tanière du Dragon” tempts. Entering the dark walk-through attraction, venture along the stalactites in the cavern-like lair until you reach the pool of water and the beast. The chained dragon (consider his tether more like a pet leash), appears to be dreaming, his talons and tail moving ever so subtly. When he awakens – slightly startled and possibly grumpy – he raises his head, snorts smoke, and breathes fire. All with the just the right amount of intensity for small children. Considering the location, it’s easy to assume the beast is Maleficent; however, he belongs to Merlin, who also resides in the castle. The attraction’s backstory shares a thread with The Fox and the Hound (1981), where Merlin and the dragon have been friends since childhood. Before you bid adieu, visit the sorcerer’s cave nearby. Known as Merlin l’Enchanteur, you’ll find magical and fantastical souvenirs in this medieval shop. This attraction is hiding in plain sight. Don’t miss it!
The Haunted Mansions are among the most revered Disney attractions—and every storyline is unique to each park. Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris may be my favorite! No spoilers here, but the 2018 renovation has the feel of a movie script, cleverly integrating Big Thunder Mountain and the surrounding area into the narrative. I find myself solving another small nugget of the mystery every time I board a Doom Buggy. For those determined to get the official story – like me – refer to Phantom Manor: Decrypted, a park exclusive sold in the whimsical Storybook Store on Main Street, U.S.A.
“With its untold depths, couldn’t the sea keep alive such huge specimens of life from another age,” wrote Jules Verne. “Couldn’t the heart of the ocean hide the last-remaining varieties of these titanic species, for whom years are centuries and centuries millennia?” The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit debuted at Disneyland in 1955; it’s believed that Walt rolled up his sleeves and helped paint the giant squid the night before the park opened. Based on the movie of the same name, which Walt produced, the actual sets from the 1954 film were installed to create the walk-through. Now, Disneyland Paris features an updated version of Walt’s tribute to Captain Nemo. Just as the French author Jules Verne imagined it, Les Mystères du Nautilus is a full-scale reproduction of Nemo’s submarine. Look for more sea-worthy memorabilia in Walt’s – An American Restaurant on Main Street, U.S.A.
Speaking of restaurants, I am beyond besotted with Bistrot Chez Rémy. In my opinion, this is themed dining at its finest – and funnest – even if that is not a real word. Bistrot Chez Rémy imagines that our favorite rat chef—along with his cohorts Linguini, Emile, and mentor Gusteau—have opened their own fine-dining establishment. In this immersive eatery, you’ll dine atop a jam jar lid while sitting on a champagne cork chair. With your shrunken perspective, the decorative plates, bottle caps, silverware, and cocktail umbrellas all loom large. When it comes to eating, I share this sentiment with our pint-sized protagonist: “This much I know. I only want to eat the good stuff.” And that’s easy with the two and three-course French menu. Including ratatouille, of course. Did you know that renowned American chef Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame created the recipe used specifically for the movie? Just as the fierce critic Anton Ego was impressed, so will you. Bon appétit!
Join me next time to celebrate Shanghai Disneyland as we continue to highlight the Castle Parks for D100! For more adventures, please check out 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime.