Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – Disneyland Paris
We got lucky. There was a window in my work schedule; it coincided with the end of the kids summer break. That was itself a couple of days after everyone else and suffixed by a couple of teacher training days when they would not be required in school. In contrast the great mass of European kids were back at their books. We took a chance and took Bob and ZedBee to Eurodisney.
There is a predictable rhythm to theme parks: arriving later in the morning than the original plan; developing a strategy of what to see and when, based on locations and show times, and then into the rush and stop of queuing a half hour or more, riding for a couple of minutes and then on to the next thing.
A queue that lasts that long has its own internal rhythm. Arrange a large group of people in a snake and they will not only see those who are immediately fore and aft, but also everyone in a sequence ahead in the line and behind, to the distance of one row. So while you’ll see the same backs all the way round, you’ll be side-on to a whole gamut of others for the length of a trudge.
More than anything it means you can observe queuing etiquette, or more often its lack, and as no one does queuing like the British I feel in a position to judge and comment.
Just so that we are clear on this here are the rules:
1. DISTANCE – Maintain a small, clear distance between your group and the group ahead. The group behind is responsible for maintaining this distance. Each group has clear air dedicated to it, which moves with them.
2. CHILDREN – Children should be kept within the group boundary unless they are especially cute toddlers in which case limited roaming is allowed, but not so far that it suggests bad parenting. Toddlers with a mop of curly hair are allowed to go further. Children can hang off the guide rails as long as they don’t impinge on another group’s space, and they don’t cry when they fall.
3. CONSISTENCY – Maintain a set separation, don’t let the gaps grow too big – no greater than one stride. While this makes no difference to the eventual time anyone gets to the end of the queue it is an important emotional step for everyone to feel the queue is making progress.
4. COMMUNICATION – No cross group communication beyond rolling eyes at others’ lack of etiquette or sharing tired smiles as the queue stretches out. Tutting at the behaviour of others is permitted, but should not be done in collusion with another group.
5. QUEUE JUMPING – No pushing in. Ever. A significant sub group can hold places for the rest, this should be no more than 50/50, so 2 people cannot queue on behalf of a total group of 5. Adding more people to the queue than you committed in the first place is taking the piss.
6. FOOD – No eating of anything that smells, spills or makes a mess, or which will incite the children of other groups (e.g. ice cream). However small snacks are a sign of good preparation. If you have prepared well don’t gloat, this is unbecoming.
7. ABSENCE – If your entire group leaves the queue you lose your place. Except at the supermarket where it is acceptable to leave your basket to get one extra item from the shelves, however the person behind is entitled to move past you to reach the till if you take too long.
8. KISSING – No heavy petting. Get a room.
We got lucky because in general the queues were short, but it still meant we observed most of the rules of queuing being broken.
Most annoying was (1), and that in a very short, five minute, queue for Space Mountain. Everyone else was grabbing places for the fireworks and this thrilling ride was remarkably clear. There was an elder man and two teenagers behind us, let’s assume brother and sister. Bob, who is nine, and I were doing roller coasters while TBH and ZedBee (seven) were at Autopia. Brother from the following group was pressing up too close to Bob. Disney had worked its calming magic on me by then so I wasn’t in a mood to hit him, I just pointedly moved Bob away. The elder man noticed this after the second time and interjected himself between the younger man and us. Not a word was spoken. In fairness there was something in the younger man’s air that suggested social etiquette may not be his forte, so beating him into a bloody pulp may have been prejudicial.
I lied, the breach of (8) was the worst. A late teen androgyne and his girlfriend in the queue for RC Racer had me really wound up. He would periodically feel the need to crawl all over the girl, face chewing and dry humping while I stood behind with both Bob and Zedbee trying to distract them from the spectacle. This was before the Disney magic effect, and I am still a little alarmed by how vividly I imagined beating him into a boneless mass and kicking his oversexed skinny arse to one side of the queue. I hope the ride gave him a brain hemorrhage to keep whatever damage was in there already company.
Luckily for him TBH was not there (she was off on the Studio Tour and being Fast Pass ninja), he would have had a lecture at least, and more likely a sharp elbow in the ribs rather than my imaginary bodily harm.
But there were also moments of queue joy – the Australian family ahead of us in the lengthy wait for Crush’s Coaster displayed impeccable behaviour, and the cutest toddler wondered around the seemingly interminable line for Ratatouille (well worth it, we went twice, but the second time on a Fast Pass).
There are some advantages to TBH not being born on this sceptered isle. The queuing rules are not in her blood and breath, nor the intense British reserve. My problem is Lucknow blood born in Britain. For those that don’t know Lucknowites are ridiculed all over the sub continent for their excessive, absurd politeness. Two could stand in front of a door all day saying “you first”. Blend with my Britishness and … well you can guess the rest.
In a competitive positioning exercise like finding a place to watch the parade or the fireworks my combination is a terrible disadvantage. I’d concede space, passive aggressively fuming at the lack of reciprocation. TBH on the other hand is the expert in the art of the shuffle, edging slowly, inexorably into better and better positions. So one evening for the fireworks we were right up against the fence, with no one immediately ahead of us, and we were right at the front for the parade too, a place secured while I and the kids were off enjoying rides (a flagrant breach of the sub clause to rule 5). Zedbee got a high five off the White Rabbit, so I didn’t make an issue of it.
The ridiculous to the sublime came on the last day. I’d earned some Dadmiles ™ queuing for an hour in the rain to reserve a slot at the Princess Pavilion so the girls could meet an actress in a big dress. The timing slot we got was the last possible one before our train home, it had worked out swimmingly. I rejoined the family in the queue to meet Mickey, which benefited from being housed in a cinema which was playing a loop of old cartoons. It was the quietest, calmest queue of all the ones we encountered, and surely a model for hour plus waits in peak season.
We turned up at the Princess Pavilion, exactly on time at the beginning of our slot, only to learn there was a further hour of waiting. I was fuming. What is the point of make people queue to reserve a time and then making them wait again? (I should note my job title at the time: Director of Planning and Performance – I hate poorly designed processes).
The staff saved the day, they listened to our plight and with a little shuffling whisked us in the side entrance and to the warm smile of Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), who was wide awake and utterly charming. It could have been a disaster, but the moment was saved. Kudos to the staff and a reprimand for the people who do the flow dynamics and capacity management at Disney Head Office.
We made it to the train, which ran all the way to St Pancras without needing to change. It saved us from hauling cranky kids off one train through a station and waiting on another, but it also meant we were with about 1500 people of whom about half were waist high, over-sugared, tired, excited and sad all at the same time. I had my Ipod which drowned out the noisy kids behind us, and our own brood were so exhausted they fell asleep quickly. Alas TBH was kept up by a chattering monster who insisted on announcing his progress on Ipad games throughout the journey.
There is of course a coda of chaos. We were sold a digital download of the picture with Aurora, but given no means to actually access it. At present the email I have from Disney says there is no such service, which indicates I have been defrauded of the princely sum of 4euros. Let’s see how they recover this one. Fingers crossed for a free holiday.
If you are interested in my writing please check out more here