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Where dreams don’t come true

Far from a dreamland, Disneyland can be a nightmare for parents

I suffer from intrusive thoughts, especially when I am anxious. For years, I have found it difficult to stand on the platform of an underground train station, as the image of suddenly pushing a small child under the oncoming train can be very distressing. Or throwing a baby out of a window. Or kicking an older person up the backside (sorry, Bishop Brennan).

These disturbing thoughts will never turn into actions (I hope). They are a well-known psychological phenomenon, particularly associated with people who suffer from obsessive compulsive traits, but they can happen to anyone. Once I had learned more about them, I was able to ignore them, or pay attention to them as a warning sign that my anxiety levels are creeping up again.

The thing about them is that they are thoughts which are ‘not allowed’. ‘Forbidden’. ‘Wrong’. ‘Shameful’.

So when I stood in the middle of Disneyland Paris and thought to myself, ‘God this place is awful’, I had to double-check with my brain to see if it really meant to think that, or was it just some PTSD-related abomination. It’s a bit like crying over spilt milk. Complaining about Disneyland just simply isn’t permitted. If you think bad thoughts while you are there, you are a heretic who needs to be burned alive (presumably by Maleficent, or the Queen of Tarts, or any one of a number of homicidal step-mothers). Every step is supposed to bring joy, every sound brings good cheer, every sight fills your heart with rapture.

Except every step is just a shuffle along an absurdly slow-moving, infinitely long queue, filled with bored, hungry, tired parents and over-sugared children. You have to hand it to the design teams — every queue starts benignly enough, just a little roped-off area leading into the garlanded entrance, familiar soothing movie soundtracks swirling out of the artfully-concealed speakers. ‘Sure, this’ll be grand, only about 20 people ahead of us.’ Then you pass under the garlands, and find that the ‘real queue’ is just beginning. Weaving forward and back, in and out, switchbacks and chicanes, under and over. You can never actually see the end of the line. Every corner beckons suggestively, ‘it’s just around here. Not much longer now. And remember, complaining is forbidden. Because you’ll upset the children. And you paid so much money. And this is a trip of a lifetime. Don’t forget to smile! An automated camera is going to take your photo and we will sell it to you afterwards for €50! Or you can pay squillions for a PhotoPass, which will take your photo every 10 minutes so you can prove what a great time you had! So keep smiling! All the time!’



Of course, you may decide that queuing for an hour-and-a-half for a psychedelic nausea-fest that lasts three minutes isn’t really your thing. ‘But that’s okay! We have a solution! For the small additional fee of the price of a new fridge, we can offer you a FastPass (super or ultimate), which allows you to sail past the bedraggled masses and wave your fancy wristband at the cheery (well, French-cheery, like) attendant who will usher you into the flying carpet or pumpkin carriage ahead of all the losers who have started to chew their own hands in frustration.’ There is very little else that I have experienced in this world that has so clearly elucidated the inequity of our society, and I was deeply ashamed by how much I enjoyed the feeling. ‘See ya, suckers!’

And then there are the shops — sorry, boutiques. These are themed carefully to fit each particular section — ponchos in the Wild West village (but interestingly, no prostitutes), lightsabres in the Star Wars-y area (but no weapons-grade plutonium), tiaras in the Princess Pavilion (but no life-mangling tabloid newspapers). You can move contactlessly through a swathe of fluffy movie sidekicks and fire-resistant sparkly costumes, your credit card vibrating with overuse.

When hunger strikes (because even in Fantasy land, your stomach occasionally whines) you can join a queue of your choice to avail of ‘genuine’ Italian meatballs or ‘authentic’ deep south hot dogs. They arrive swaddled in single-use plastic, and you can sit outside to watch the hordes go by in search of their next thrill. Do not be tempted to bring your own food, however, as there are signs everywhere telling you that picnicking is not permitted inside the park. (My husband misread this as ‘panicking is not permitted’. I’d say he’s not wrong).

So yes. I am a bad person. I have disgusting thoughts. I think Disneyland is an overpriced capitalistic temple of doom, torture for anyone who dislikes sensory overload, an icon of social injustice.

But sure, the kids loved it, so what do I know.

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