Numb in Neuro-Disney

After a few drinks, who cares if it's real or not?
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The Independent Online
My youngest child has been begging me for some time to take her to "Neuro-Disney". Every other child in the universe, it appears, has been. It is not just the children of royalty who demand regular trips to Alton Towers and Thorpe Park - the modern child considers theme park deprivation a reason to call Childline.

Over half-term I relented and booked a package. EuroDisney has changed its name to Disneyland Paris, to make it seem less European and more American, I suppose. I prefer my daughter's mispronunciation: Neuro-Disney conjures up a lovely William Gibson fantasy where Mickey Mouse can be wired straight into your cortex. Which is how it feels. "You do realise there are five different Fantasy Lands," said an irate man on the end of the phone when I tried to book. No, I didn't. Nor did I realise that there is a special Disney station, but we were soon on our way, bags tagged with Mickey Mouse labels, ready for non-stop fantasy.

If your fantasy is never-ending queues for everything, then Disneyland Paris delivers. You queue to check into your hotel, to get a drink, to get on a ride - 45 minutes in the case of Space Mountain. You spend hours waiting for fast food. Room service takes for ever. Apparently, not enough people were going to EuroDisney, and now that they are, no one is ready for the rush. None of this matters to the kids who, in a sugared daze, trudge about all day stopping only to queue for the occasional hot dog.

All except my oldest, vegetarian daughter who went into a rant about the lack of Quorn sausages.

The peculiar thing, though, is that once you get what you have been waiting for, it all seems amazingly worthwhile. To be whooshed around in a wet boat on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is wonderful; to be strapped into a simulator, guided by a Gallic robot as you crash through meteorites, fantastic. When the little boy next to me vomited, it only added to the authenticity of the simulation.

The themed hotels welcome you each in their own way. We stayed in the New York, which promised to send us "into the exciting heart of Manhattan". If, in the exciting heart of Manhattan, you have to grovel, turn on the tears, threaten suicide and produce every credit card you have ever owned just to get the mini-bar opened, then again this was a truly authentic experience.

Still, by evening, when the ice-rink below was lit up and the contents of the mini-bar finally liberated, my friend and I thought it was really beautiful. Indeed we started to warm to the whole enterprise. The sensory overload and mindless consumption - everything is expensive and pointlessly Disneyfied; who needs a Minnie Mouse spoon rest, for God's sake? - soon alternates with a blankness that has a Zen-like quality. While waiting to get into Phantom Manor, I noticed the strange silence while everyone shuffles along expectantly. Parents cannot be bothered with their Euro- casual offspring. The only people who talk to each other are those odd couples without children. I would like to say that I had some suitably Baudrillardian thoughts about it all - remember, Jean Baudrillard was the guy who said that the function of Disneyland was to make the rest of America look real - but I didn't. I briefly read a newspaper that told me about the new moral crusade that is blighting our nation. Would a remoralised Britain not to be a bit like EuroDisney, with flowers planted symmetrically and ethnic minorities forced to go round collecting rubbish, children always accompanied, "suitable dress" worn at all times, and "smoking, eating and drinking" not permitted in "queuing areas"?

I was wondering about this while the kids were ice-skating when I realised that Tigger had taken a bit of a shine to me and found myself being massaged by a large furry animal. I have never been sexually harassed by a character from Winnie the Pooh before and didn't want to make a fuss, so I just took a photograph of he/she, which seemed the right thing to do.

That night we were off to the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, which featured some guff about the "mutual admiration" between cowboys and native Americans. Yet, like everything else, however cynical you were, the show itself was brilliant, with lovely horses and huge buffalo. "Are they real?" the kids kept asking. "They don't look real." By now we had managed to queue up again to secure enough alcohol not to care whether they were real or not. We waved our cowboy hats at Annie Oakley as we were told that the sun always shines in the West and decided that Disneyland Paris was the best place in the world in a hyper-real, hyper-capitalist, hyper-pissed sort of way.

We quite forgot, of course, that we were in France, or in quasi-America, and shocked to find that we had to queue to get back on to EuroStar to get home. "Can we go back to Neuro-Disney?" "One day," I promised. It will take me another year to recover from having to wait so long for so much instant gratification.

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