by Garry Cook (published in Daily Star Sunday)
WHAT’S tall and dark and has a seven-year-old grabbing on to his dad for fear of his life? The answer is the Tower Of Terror – and it’s no laughing matter.
My seven-year-old son Teddy and I didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for when we entered the Hollywood Tower Hotel in Walt Disney Studios, sister park to Disneyland Paris.
The Tower Of Terror is the tallest building in the two parks and we entered expecting freaks, frights and fear. It started with spooky music and lightning as the giant lift in which we were seated moved creakily up a level.
Then the true terror was unleashed with total blackout.
There was a sudden jerky drop and ferocious blast upwards and the doors drew back so those on the ground outside could hear our screams.
It was an experience my son and I will never forget – but then memories are what Disney does best.
The two parks are packed with rides, tours and shows to impress even the fussiest kids.
We began our Disney experience with a spot of laser blasting, Buzz Lightyear style, on a ghost-train with a difference that we rode three times.
Then we tried the Star Wars-inspired Star Tours, an unexpectedly brilliant simulator.
I now feel personally responsible for destroying the Death Star.
Part of the fun of Disneyland Paris is the journey on stress-free Eurostar from London St Pancras. Arriving at Hotel New York, just a few minutes’ stroll from the action, we were greeted by Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
After the short walk through colourful Disney Village to Disneyland itself, even this cynical dad had entered into the spirit.
The main park is split into four sections, all easily reachable from the central area in front of the castle.
Disneyland Paris is currently marking its 20th anniversary, with celebrations extended throughout the summer.
That means extra-special light shows and parades throughout the day and into the evening.
Disney Magic On Parade is joyously extravagant, with all the familiar characters delighting the crowds in a blaze of brilliant colour.
And the Disney Dreams spectacle, an awesome light show that turns Sleeping Beauty Castle into a multicoloured canvas, was jawdropping.
Backed up by 40-metre-high dancing jets of water, blazing towers of flame and fireworks, this perfectly-choreographed show is what Disney is all about.
We even wore Mickey Mouse light-up ears that changed colour in time with the effects. It all adds to the magic.
The queues can get long on some rides but there are ways to avoid them. Hotel residents get access to the park at 8am, two hours before it opens to others.
Some rides in Discoveryland open early so you can be the first to take a spin – then be at the front of the queue when the big rides open at 10am.
There is a lull in activity at lunchtime and the big parades at 3pm and 5pm see people lining the street – so you can sneak an extra turn on Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Peril, Pirates Of The Caribbean or Autopia.
Youngsters will be awestruck by Fantasyland boat trips, It’s A Small World and Le Pays des Contes de Fees (Land Canal Boats).
Add the ultra-popular Peter Pan Flight and spinning fairground staples like Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups and Dumbo the Flying Elephant and you’ve got a children’s paradise.
Older kids will be drawn to the thrills and spills of Adventureland and Frontierland, with Indiana Jones and Big Thunder Mountain thrillers, Space Mountain: Mission Two and, over at Walt Disney Studios, Nemo-inspired spinning dipper Crush’s Coaster.
Traditional rides are still hugely popular. Slinky Dog Zig Zag Spin from Toy Story and a dizzying Carsinspired spinning circular ride got the thumbs-up.
But after the Tower of Terror we needed a rest. And the Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular was a massive hit.
A series of car and motorcycle stunts was unleashed against a backdrop of fire and explosions, with enough twists and turns to keep the audience gripped for 45 minutes.
Lunch is easy in Disneyland, with everything from couscous and spare ribs at themed restaurants to Planet Hollywood.
This is a good time to switch parks as we did to visit Frontierland’s Phantom Manor.
When our heads finally hit our pillows all we could say was: “Wow!” On our final day the Disney experience continued until 4pm when we walked 100 yards to the Marne-la-Vall©e train station and picked up our luggage, transferred by the hotel so we could enjoy every last minute.
“Normal life seems a bit strange,” said Teddy upon our arrival back in London on Sunday night. I couldn’t agree more.
DISNEY’S 20th anniversary celebrations take place until the end of September.
During the celebrations prices for a two-night, three-day package including return travel with Eurostar in April start at £1,610 for a family of two adults and two children (aged four to six).
It includes accommodation in a lakeside room with continental breakfast at Disney’s Hotel New York and three-day hopper tickets with unlimited access to Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.
Book before April 28 for up to 30% off Disney hotels and park tickets for holidays taken before August 31, 2013. Kids under seven go free (even during school holidays) for bookings made before April 28 for holidays taken before November 7. Transport not included.
See disneylandparis.com or call 08448 008 111.
Eurostar travels from St Pancras International to Disneyland’s Marne-la-Vall©e station daily in just two hours 40 minutes. See eurostar.com.
Virgin Trains operate regularly on the West Coast mainline to Euston Station, just a few minutes walk from St Pancras. See virgintrains.co.uk.