Springtime in Big Thunder Mountain

John Watkins clocks a day in Disneyland Paris, which celebrates its 5th birthday today
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The Independent Travel
John Watkins took the Eurostar to Marne la Vallee/Chessy, better known as Disneyland Paris, accompanied by his children Joe (12) and Sam (10). This is his minute-by-minute account of a day in the park

9am Enter park.

9.05am First disappointment. Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster closed. Worryingly, cast member cites "lack of traction". Told to come back in an hour.

9.20am Cross to Discoveryland. Second disappointment: Sam too small for Space Mountain - but lip quiver bravely quelled. Joe and I undaunted. Inside holding-area, glimpse roller-coaster roaring through darkness. Joe thinks he's developed a serious heart condition and wants out. Involuntary groan as Columbiad is catapulted up launch tube into blackness. Car twists through asteroid belt, pauses before cheesy moon, then plunges to earth.

10am Nausea subsiding, prepare to board Star Tours' Endor Express. Novice pilot Rex takes wrong turn and crashes into workshop. Get trapped inside huge ice crystal. Then stray into combat zone and have to be escorted to safety. Phew.

10.50am Autopia. Forced to employ blocking tactics to prevent unruly French scouts muscling past us. Question: why are grown men with tattoos so keen to drive cars with lawn-mower engines?

11.45am Hot dogs at Casey's Corner, Main Street, just in time for Toy Story Parade. Green plastic soldiers particularly impressive. See Mickey holding court at top of small flight of stairs.

12.37pm After painful and protracted deliberation, make our purchases at the Toy Store. Sorcerer's Apprentice Mickey for Sam; velvety-black panther Bagheera for Joe.

1pm Catch train to Frontierland. Fend off aggressive geese craving popcorn.

1.05pm Spot Pluto and Minnie outside Cowboy Cookout Barbecue. Minnie gives Sam autograph and kiss. Pluto more interested in young French girls stroking his nose.

1.10pm Big Thunder Mountain now open. Shuffle past ancient belt-driven machines into old mine.

1.20pm Still shuffling. Sudden suspicion that some of these buckets and oil lamps may be real.

1.30pm Can't work out queuing pattern. Didn't we pass that boiler a few moments ago?

1.44pm Board runaway train. Cast member Olive nonchalantly swings her six-shooter. Duck involuntarily as we career through low tunnel and just evade a rock fall.

2pm Target practice at Rustler Roundup Shootin' Gallery. Uncertain if it's our shots making rooster lay, coffins open, cans spin etc.

2.30pm Waft past phantom dancers and diners in the Haunted House. Emerge in Boot Hill graveyard.

3pm Head for Adventureland. Miraculously, Sam has grown an inch and can ride on Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom. Joe decides to sit this one out. Queue in authentic bamboo grove before emerging at foot of ancient Mayan temple encircled by rickety-looking track. Cranked up and up, then sickening plunge into loop-the-loop.

3.20pm Regain composure in Swiss Family Robinson's Treehouse. Tree definitely not wooden and river smells of chlorine, but rooms evocatively detailed.

4pm Join Pirates of the Caribbean and are pitched into fearsome piratical battle. Buildings flame. Cannonballs splash. Brigands roister.

4.50pm Inspired by the pirates, Joe and Sam stage their own fight. Both informed that next aggressive act will incur 20-franc fine.

5.10pm Enter Fantasyland and Alice's Curious Labyrinth. Surprisingly enjoyable, especially hookah-smoking caterpillar and ranting Queen of Hearts. From castle, we view Fantasy skyline: crooked houses, minarets, pointed towers.

5.55pm All suffering from sore legs, feet etc. Premium on relaxing rides. Cruise through Storybook Land in a pink boat. Joe hopes we don't see anyone we know.

6.15pm Revived by popcorn sugarburst. Take a spin in Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, then queue for Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Divert children with mathematical poser. If 16 elephants each carry two people, and rides last one-and- a-half minutes, how long do we have to wait if there are still 67 people in front of us?

6.30pm Sun disappears behind Toad Hall.

6.36pm Get to ride Flying Elephants. Agree it wasn't worth the wait.

7.20pm Pizza at Pizzeria Bella Notte. Indiana Jones on Joe's mind: he wonders if you could vomit on your own head in the loop-the-loop. Vows to go on ride first thing tomorrow. Trees twinkle. Floodlights illuminate spires of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.

8.45pm Catch train for Frontierland. Blue neon crackles on Space Mountain. Myriad white lights turn Hotel Disney into luminous two-dimensional dot- to-dot.

9.10pm Return to Big Thunder Mountain. Train like cartoon silhouette. Exhilarated by rushing descent past luminous bats and red warning lights. Go round again.

10pm Back to Main Street for Electric Parade. Cinderella's carriage in a thousand tiny glittering lights. Fireworks over Frontierland.

10.45pm Return to Santa Fe Hotel. Notice volcano at bottom of road.

11pm Totally exhausted. Crash out in Mexican-style room with ceiling fan and 16-channel TV.

Numerous operators sell package holidays to Disneyland Paris; some companies also offer day-trips. Eurostar (0345 303030) runs direct trains from London Waterloo.

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