Theme Parks, French style

23 02 2012

Travelling with children meant we tried to mix up the type of sites we went to: famous landmarks, educational sites, impressive historic castles – and theme parks. So we managed to get through a few of them. Here is my somewhat jaundiced summary of the parks we visited.

Paris Disney

Cheshire Cat in the Middle of the Alice in Wonderland Maze, Paris Disney


In my mind this is still Euro-Disney, but they seem to be making an effort to rebrand it. We had heard quite negative things about this outpost of the Disney franchise (dirtiness, smoking, poor service), but I have to say they seemed to have cleaned their act up. If you like Disney – well, it’s a Disney. Personally, having visited Orlando, it all seemed very deja vu. So Haunted House, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, teacups, fewer roving characters than we saw in Orlando, all the same merchandise stores. They do have creperies as an option within the park (small carts) for that French flavour, and the show in the afternoon (it was a show not a parade, so we were seated in exactly the wrong place) was in French. Yes perhaps we should have expected it but since the rest of the park was bilingual, we thought the show would be too.

Summary: if you like Disney, you’ll like this. If you are over it, you will be over this too.

Puy du Fou

Puy du Fou Viking story - this boat slid down the hill (this was not the one that rose out of the water)

This medieval theme park was pretty interesting, and seems to be the focus of great pilgrimages by people who are into medieval dress-ups. We stayed in the park hotel – little cabins built out over a lake – very nice. We ate in the hotel dining room – frankly pretty ordinary food and a limited range (despite the buffet). I’d give it a miss next time. The theme park itself has lots of olde worlde crafts and trades on display (live blacksmithing was a hit for us) and also has some historic shows which are really well produced and quite surprising. The viking show features a viking ship rising out of the lake complete with fire torches and live people on board. Love to know how they did that!. The Roman circus (in the Colosseum) featured live animals (lions) and a chariot race. The Joan of Arc show (it wasn’t called that) featured stunt riding and a massive mobile set. And another section had life-size automatons producing music and song. The merchandising is in theme – the salted caramel biscuits and violet-flavoured boiled lollies in the shape of delicate flowers were exquisite.

Summary: Even if you aren’t into medieval dress-ups, this is an interesting and suprising place to visit.

Asterix Parc

Asterix Parc

A great hit with the French – Asterix is a national hero! The great thing about Asterix Parc was that there were virtually no queues! After the queues at Disney, this was a great relief. Asterix Parc features a wide variety of rides including log-rafts, the swinging ship one, rollercoasters, and rides for smaller children. It is well set-out, the grounds are clean and the entire place is themed in the style of the various cultures of the Asterix books. The merchandising is also Asterix themed – we bought a selection of Asterix books in English (one of many languages available in the stores). NB: The Tom-Tom had difficulty locating Asterix Parc as a feature until we were in the local town.

Summary: a smaller park with fewer queues, but a great day out.

Futuroscope

Futuroscope

Futuroscope is another place the Tom-Tom had difficulty with it kept sending us to the staff entrance. As with anything labelled “Future”, it probably has difficulty living up to its name and hence had a sort of Jetsons feel about it, but having said that, there are a range of activities available, and some of them are even educational! The planetarium features shows about the origin of the universe. But there were also fun rides. Dancing with Robots involves sitting inside a robot contraption which then shakes you around, turns you upside down. Arthur and the Invisibles was a simulator ride that was an enormous hit with the children (but the queues were very long). And the biggest hit was a boat ride where you squirted water at the boats in front and behind you. Great shrieks of delight!

Summary: good day out, lots of quite unique attractions and rides, but the best ones all have long queues. Be prepared.


Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac
Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues
Chartres

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Tom Tom abroad

9 11 2011

Just as tourists in Australia love road signs about kangaroos, I loved this one - "remember"

On our recent European sojourn (European sojourn sounds so fab – actually we really only had time for France and a quick trip to Pompeii / Sorrento), we decided to drive ourselves around the French countryside. Paris is of course best done by metro, but if you want to see a lot of different things outside Paris, you will need to drive.

So, cleverly, we bought ourselves a Tom-Tom GPS system and loaded a map of France, with the text and the audible instructions were all in English. So far so good.

And generally it was pretty good. We managed to get ourselves from Gare de Lyon in Paris, where we picked up the car, to Mont Saint Michel on the west coast, down a little to Carnac and Brest, then across to Lascaux, up to Chenonceaux and back to Charles de Gaulle airport with a minimum of fuss.

This of course will be the blog about the “fuss”. not about the “non-fuss”.

The fuss was of course a combination of user-error and Tom-Tom error.

Some of the user errors:
1. assuming that the village of Lascaux would be near to the Caves of Lascaux. (No, it is not – it was very scenic though.)

2. Leaving the seeking of petrol stations until you had less than one eighth of a tank left. (Because we wanted some panic on the holiday – who knows who to call if you run out of petrol in France? Not me.)

3. Assuming that the Tom-Tom would also be helpful as a walking guide. (No, not really – because you aren’t moving fast enough it has difficulty deciding which direction you are going.)

Some traps for new (and possibly experienced) users of Tom-Toms.

1. While most of the roads are clearly as they are in the GPS, some of the inner city ones don’t identify one-way streets – or try to send you down them anyway. Combine this with a fairly rudimentary understanding of French road signs and you can see why tourist drivers are a menace, the world over.

2. We did on one occasion get sent down somebody’s very long country driveway which the Tom-Tom clearly identified as a through-road. There were also a couple of instances where driveways or carpark entrances off roundabouts counted as exits from the roundabout (take the fifth exit…) which was confusing.

3. There was one instance where the road we were being guided into seemed to be an off-ramp for a freeway. Luckily it was permanently blocked.

4. In the middle of the French countryside there are roundabouts at non-intersections. It looks like perhaps they might be intending to build a road through the fields, but at this stage there are just a couple of exits that go a couple of metres in each direction. Sometimes we were being told to take that road.

5. Finding a petrol station (see above for last-minute panic – user-error) was confounded by the Tom-Tom not differentiating between a truck petrol station (providing only truck fuels) and a petrol station that also sold petrol for cars. Likewise many of the petrol stations turned out to be agencies – which were closed.

6. Some of the attractions don’t appear to be listed how you would expect them to be. Parc Asterix (Asterix Parc, Asterix Park, Asterix) would not come up in the Tom-Tom under any spelling I could enter. Luckily we had a brochure which told us which town it was near, and once we were near the town I could enter “nearby attractions” – and hey presto, suddenly it was on the Tom-Tom!

7. Futuroscope was another that we couldn’t find until we were close by. Then the Tom-Tom kept guiding us into the staff entrance, which was quite some way from the public entrance.

8. We did get into a couple of loops, largely because of roadworks. The Tom-Tom gives you the option of saying that you have hit roadworks and then it finds you a way around them. Sometimes this resulted in a loop. You can resolve this by just driving off in another direction and then resettig the Tom-Tom destination again.

Having said all that, would I use the Tom-Tom again? Absolutely. Despite the small annoyances and frustrations, it was a great way to maintain some level of independence in our travels, and also get where we wanted to go without having to spend the journey with my head buried in a map-book. The Tom-Tom freed us up to drive and look around, knowing it would alert us in time to ensure we got where we wanted to go. It also helped us with avoiding toll-roads. By avoiding toll-roads we ended up driving on roads that looked like they were farm tracks – until you came across the tiny village in the midle of the fields. We saw some parts of the country-side that most tourist would not see, and some very picturesque and seemingly untouched villages.

And in fact I was so impressed, that the Tom-Tom is currently in France again with a work-colleague.