Mickey says: Hi, kids] Have an icy day

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The Independent Online
I'M WRITING this from a hotel called the Santa Fe, which looks like a cross between the National Theatre and a nasty Seventies council estate. Except that it has been given a pink rinse and plonked next to a cold, green canal called the Rio Grande. We are in Euro Disney, due east of Paris, a charmless place at the crossroads of Europe.

Now that the complex has been rescued, and after a few friends have returned with mildly encouraging tales, I have gullibly ventured forth with my four-year-old. After two days here, all I can say is: the critics are right. Euro Disney is a place where little children cry in the themed streets because they are cold.

There is nothing particularly wrong with the five related theme parks, which are rather like the Chessington World of Adventure multiplied by 10. My daughter loved Alice's Curious Labyrinth, a maze where mad fountains spurt on your head, and the Mad Hatter's Tea Cups, a fairground ride where you sit in giant tea cups that career around. But the basic, insurmountable problem is that Euro Disney has been built in the wrong place.

Even for hardy British souls, the place is freezing. A fierce north-westerly wind blows straight into your face from under the arches of the mock-castle leading to Fantasyland. And it never stops. A basic question for Mickey Mouse: can you really enjoy yourself when you are cold?

It's rather like taking a holiday at a British seaside resort: you have to grit your teeth and try to enjoy being somewhere different. But do you really come on holiday for an endurance test? People do look cheerful from time to time after certain rides, but overall there is a strange sense of joylessness. The most sensible visitors dress up as if they are going mountaineering - a ski suit would work pretty well here. The Disney cast members wear huge greatcoats down to their ankles and thick yellow scarves and gloves, yet they still look cold.

Euro Disney will say that there are lots of covered walkways between the parks, but they don't exist between the hotels, which are a good 15 minutes' walk away. Nor do they exist in another outcrop called the Disney Festival, a parade of American-style shops, bars and restaurants which is constantly rocked with loud music.

Far too few of Euro Disney's mighty rides are indoors, and when you do find one it is such a huge relief that you want to go back on it immediately. The only other free warm refuges are the toilets.

The mystery remains why Euro Disney, if it was determined to set up near Paris, didn't call in the help of a northern European resort expert, say Center Parcs, who would know that one of the key things many Europeans want when they go on holiday is to escape their climate.

The other problem is that Mickey is greedy. I usually hate those whingeing reports of how much things cost. And if you go to France, you know full well that with only eight francs to the pound, prices are bound to seem high.

But at Annette's Diner, an over-hyped hamburger joint where waiters serve you on roller-skates, I asked if my daughter's junior burger meal, already costing 45 francs, could have a slice of cheese. For one slice of bright orange processed cheese they added 10 francs. Three burgers came to 229 francs, just short of pounds 30, for something little different from McDonald's.

The simplest ice-cream is 10 francs, a Mickey Mouse balloon 35 francs. Shop after shop sells standard Disney tat - T-shirts, hats, bric-a- brac - at amazing prices, and there are no market forces in Mickey's land - the prices are the same in all the shops.

One English couple who had been forewarned said they brought a suitcase full of food. French day trippers must surely picnic in the car- park. And although no food or drink is supposed to be taken into the park, I spotted people breaking the rule right, left and centre.

My advice is that if your children are a little older than mine, it would be much better to stay in Paris, at a cheaper but nicer hotel, and take the regional train to the Euro Disney station at the park's entrance, cutting out all those horrible walkways. Treat Euro Disney as it should be, a fair-weather experience to be popped into. As for me, I'm glad to say I've seen Euro Disney, been there, done that - but never again.