10 Must-Dos in London

10 Must-Dos in London
10 Must-Dos in London

Venice Trip Report

Venice Trip Report
Venice Trip Report

Disneyland California Trip

Disneyland California Trip
Disneyland California Trip

WDW ICP - Booking flights

This is more a word of warming than a long post, but me and most of the fellow ICPs have learned from the error of our ways: sometimes booking really far in advance doesn't pay off.

My flights cost me £580, now they are available for £520... £60 less, or about 100 dollars. These prices definitely do fluctuate, but there’s a sale on at the moment and turns out that the Virgin Atlantic sale is in fact a real sale.

My family's flights that were £778 each indirect are now available through a diff company on the same day for £643 (almost £400 between the 3 of them). The day after they could have flown direct for £734 (still £120 cheaper and direct)

So sometimes if the price is too high initially, it may actually be worth waiting.

Next: Read my Florida Bucket List

WDW ICP - December 2012 Update

It's been a little while since my last blog post about my upcoming trip to Florida to work at Walt Disney World, so I thought I'd give you an update.

It's now coming up to Christmas time and the process has moved on a fair bit. After completing the interviews, we received an email offering us a place. I will be working on Operations - rides or ticketing, which is exactly what I wanted! We won't know where exactly we'll be working until we get there. I, of course, replied accepting the offer immediately.

I then received an email confirming my acceptance saying that an information pack would be emailed to me. This information pack is Yummy Job's step by step guide on 'what to do and when' to make sure you get to Orlando.

The first thing you must do is pay for, and complete, your criminal background check. This was due by 14th November 2012 and cost £60 in total payable to YJ, that's almost twice what the government charges to do it but we have no option here. The result then gets sent to Disney with a simple Yes or No answer. This takes 12 weeks to come back so we should know the results by the beginning or middle of February. As long as you haven't committed any crimes, or been arrested you'll be fine. 

The next step was booking flights - personally I wanted to travel to Orlando then after my program travel to New York, and then back to London. I got my Lon > Orlando and NYC > Lon flights for £580. I also paid a £120 supplement to upgrade to Premium Economy on the way back for the added comfort (hopefully I'll get to snooze a bit) and because it allows me two bags on the last leg which is very nice in case I get a bit carried away with all the shopping available in New York (I can easily see this happening!). I also booked an internal flight coinciding with one my parents are taking, this was with United and cost about £90. These are all booked and I'm looking at staying at the Chelsea International Hostel in NYC as it looks like a great price for what I need - a basic room. 

In addition to all this we were emailed the "highlights" of the program as a PDF which is essentially all the important info on one sheet. I also had to email my flight details to Disney and received my first Disney ICP email from Disney themselves after the interview confirming they'd received these and saying that I'd be responsible for getting to chec-kin on the day and not to pack too much! 

They also said to make sure the Immigration officer stamps my white I-94 card as well as my DS-2109 when going through customs. (I don't know what either of these are. Or why we have to do this but it was in bold underlined letters so it seems pretty important! 

The YJ information pack also said we'd get our official Disney welcome pack in February - I'm very excited for this! They also have notes on travel insurance, medical insurance, and the visa. All of these are in good detail and are very helpful. There is an additional Visa only sheet available to download on their website once you've been approved for the program which goes into more detail. 

The Visa will be done approximately 4-6 weeks before departure and 1 month before we must also pay our $100 program assessment fee which Disney uses to fund the cast parties!

Medical insurance has been arranged by Disney and costs $70 a month. This must be paid before leaving for the US and is compulsory. 

Lastly, we were emailed a sheet telling us how much the whole process would cost us...$505 for insurance, visa costs etc and £74 in CRB checks and courier fees. The cost of calling the embassy is £1.23 per min from a BT landline. Plus the airfare (let's say £580 base fare!) the total of all this.. £980ish before we even arrive. Then you've got to buy work shoes when you arrive in Florida, so around £1000 total.

So if we earn about $7.80 and work 9 weeks at 35 hours each that's just $2457 or £1637. Considering you have to pay for accommodation, food, shopping etc this isn't a program you will make any money from - in fact I am expecting to lose money but it'll be a great name on a CV, a fantastic summer and a nice change of pace from the UK.

Well that's it, till next time!

Next update? Booking flights!

Tales of a Tour Guide

You may be aware that I am a Tour Guide during my university holidays. I give open-top bus tours of London three times a day showing people the likes of Big Ben and the Tower of London. It could be a repetitive job if it weren't for the customers: they constantly amaze me with new facts, incredible questions or acts of kindness. Below I'll tell you some of the more unusual stories and questions.

1. A thoughtful man - Once, in the Summer of 2012, we were stuck just before Tower Bridge as the bridge had opened to left a shift through. One of the customers asked me if he could get off the bus to buy something from the shop across the road. I said something along the lines of "You'd have to ask the driver downstairs but I don't see why not" as we were going to be stuck there for 10 minutes or so anyway, and I had checked and there were two ships passing so it could be even longer.  It was a hot day and it was a completely open bus so it was a nice opportunity to sunbathe whilst telling people all about the bridge, the Tower of London on the other side, and the river cruise they could catch from the next stop.

The man hopped off the bus and walked over to the shop across the road. He same back a few minutes later with two bags filled with bottles of water and cans of coke and proceeded to hand these out to everyone on the bus. I was dumbfounded to be honest. What a lovely gesture.

2. A thoughtful girl - It's always nice when guests show an appreciation of your tour, by thanking you and even tipping you (all tips must be split 50/50 with the drivers). This is always nice and appreciated. It took me by surprise one day when a little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years of age, came up to me in my seat on her way out one day and gave me a big hug and said "Thank You." I've never felt so appreciated in the job as at that moment.

3. A generous tipper - In contrast to what I've said above, a good tip as always appreciated as having to pay for travel and food every day adds up to about £50-60 a week which is a substantial portion of my wages. This is fairly normal for a job but being in a position where you have the potential to be tipped is always nice. One man after paying over £25 for the tour thought I was so good that he tipped me £20 extra. Amazing.

4. A curious game - One day we were approached Big Ben on the bus and I remember saying the word 'downstream' as I was referring to the river Thames. At that same time a teenage boy on the other side of the bus shouted 'YES' in the same way as if he'd just won an achievement on a game. Turns out he had, the parents had asked their kids to draw up a bingo grid and write words down that the tour guide might say, turns out 'downstream' was the last word this guy needed. Bingo!

5. A backwards mentality - So it was the Summer of 2012 and we were on the bus, one of the many marches or parades that happens every year is Gay Pride in London. The group were loving the tour until I mentioned that we were going to be diverted because of the gay pride event as we wouldn't be able to go down a particular road as the march was walking down and the bus obviously wouldn't be able to get through as the roads were closed. 5 minutes later, we found ourselves in crawling traffic with the march surrounding us. A lot of very skimpy and hilarious customers were around including one transvestite man dressed as a urinal which I thought was hilarious. The man opposite me didn't, he said this was disgusting and we shouldn't encourage gay people to express their rights and continued to made rude remarks. I told him he couldn't say that in the UK and it was a hate crime. After almost an hour of being stuck moving slowly with the parade, we eventually got onto a different road and to the next stop. He got off and tipped me. What a backwards mindset.

6. A scribbled note - We had just reached the Tower of London, the point where most people hop off the bus to get the river cruise. One lady asked me to hold on a second as her daughter was just getting something, so I asked the driver to wait. The girl handed me something in my hand on the way out, I said my usual "Thank you, I really appreciate it", assuming it was a note, it felt like money or paper. It was paper, I turned it over and to my surprise there was a phone number - an Australian phone number for me to call. The girl was a bit young for me, she looked about 15. This wasn't going to happen and she never did receive a phone call.

Interesting questions that have been asked over the years:
  • Do I get off here for the river cruise? 
    • No. While at Oxford Street - with no river in sight.
  • How do I get on the bus? 
    • One guide apparently told a customer there was a ladder round the back. They went searching for it.
  • Was the Tower of London built by Walt Disney as a prop for a film? 
    • No, it is about 950 years old!
  • Is there an elevator on this bus? 
    • No. You use the stairs.
  • Does Sweeney Todd really kill everyone who comes to the London Dungeon
    • No. He's not alive, the story based on him is most likely fake and that'd surely not go down too well with the authorities.
If you would like a private London tour guide look no further than Private London Tours.

WDW ICP Summer 2013 - Face to Face interview

I'd made it through the preliminary interviews which was all very exciting and surprising and now it was time to move on to the big one - the Face to Face interview.

The interview was held at The Walt Disney Company's headquarters in Hammersmith, London which I was super-excited about seeing. I arrived in Hammersmith at 8:20 and met my friend Joe from uni who was also interviewing, we went for a hot chocolate/breakfast at Costa coffee and then at about 8:45 we rocked up at the front doors of the offices...only to be told we had to walk all the way round to the back of the offices. To those who need to do this (you most likely will) from the front of the offices, turn right and go into the shopping mall, walk down and then turn right and go past Costa keep walking to the escalators in front of you, turn left and walk to McDonalds and just before McD's take a right through the doors, walk all the way up this ramp to the bus station. Turn right and it's the building that has a Mickey on it inside...and lots of young people in suits.

Once inside, we had to go to the desk and get security passes. They had a bit of trouble finding my name but we got there eventually. Then we stood around for a good while and were finally called up by Yummy Jobs. Up we went through the security barriers and up the stairs. Upstairs we were greeted with framed pictures of Walt Disney, photos of the office building and posters of famous films. We queued up and handed in the documents which Yummy Jobs had requested in their confirmation email, confirming our place at these interviews.

We then walked into an auditorium while there was a video playing about the college program. The staff in the auditorium were the American Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Cast Members and were all very polite and friendly. They showed us a presentation and lots of videos (not too much repetition with Yummy Jobs, but a lot of it was unnecessary) for about an hour which included all the ins and out and just made me even more excited!!

The presentation started at about 9:30 and finished at about 10:40. Then Yummy Jobs took over and read the list of names and interview times...Joe had his at 11am-12pm slot and I ended up having mine scheduled for 4pm-5pm.

So I had to kill over 5 hours...this did mean that I got to meet some nice people that had interviews at 3pm and 4pm - we all went over to Subway and had lunch as we were starving by this time. Then we took the tube to Westfield which was exciting as I'd never been there before...it can only be SO exciting though. There's not an incredible amount you can do in a shopping centre apart from shop...so we people-watched for about three and a half hours and went into a few clothes shops and the Apple Store too.  There's only so much you can talk about though with people you've just met in a shopping centre, but it was nice. We saw a couple of celebs whilst waiting which helped pass the time - Dappy from N'Dubz and Nicola Adams, the Gold-medalist Boxer.

We made our way back to the offices for 3PM for one of the guy's interviews and then we waited around downstairs for about an hour for our 4PM slot. Security was very tight so we had to wait downstairs until then, and definitely couldn’t walk around exploring the building which is understandable. At 4.20PM we went up and found that about 4 people from the previous group had yet to be interviewed. The individuals interviews were not conducted in a big room with tables and interviewers on each corner as I had imagined, but rather with screens separating candidates and the waiting participants.

The order of being called in for interview was random... I was the third to last to be interviewed at about 5:15PM.

My interviewer was Sue who was very friendly, nice and polite but she seemed to be tired as anyone would be after conducting so many interview. Despite that, I think I still presented myself positively and it went as well as it could have gone. She did call me Gio though which was nice instead of my full name, as requested on my name tag.

The interview was less than 10 minutes long and focused quite a lot on why I wanted to do certain roles, and my experience at Disneyland Paris. There were no questions on "How I'd deal with the florida heat" or anything like that which I'd heard they might ask. And one particularly tough question was "What did you find the most challenging about working at Disneyland Paris?" which I gave an absolutely rubbish answer to, as I didn't find anything particularly difficult. She also asked how I'd heard about the college program.

They said we'd know by November 9th which was an eternity away...

I found out on November 2nd that yes! I will be going to Orlando, Florida to work at Walt Disney World!!

What happened next? Read my December update.

My Walt Disney World Preliminary Pre-Screening Interview Process

So, I finally did it...following on from my adventures at Disneyland Paris, I decided that the wise thing to do would be to take it one step further and apply to work in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

I filled out the application on www.yummyjobs.com and waited, and waited and finally I received an email inviting me to a pre-screening interview. This seems to be a relatively new way of doing things, as unlike last year YJ is no longer doing phone interviews and is interviewing people in groups instead.

I absolutely hate group interviews, after a terrible experience at Apple as I feel under more pressure and start comparing the way I'm answering things to the way others are answering them and it just messes me up.

Anyway, so the day started off with me getting up at 6AM to get the 7:12 train from Leeds to Manchester, arriving just after 8am. I was going with a Uni friend Joe. I arrived at the station to realise that I hadn't read the email properly - including the big red, bold, underlined text that told us to "BRING A CV AND PHOTO."  Panic ensued from my part as you can imagine, the next half an hour consisted of me getting photos taken in a photo-booth, getting a cab back home, printing and editing my CV, getting a cab back to the train station and running for my train. A VERY stressful half an hour. And one that I will not be repeating again. I'd told Joe to go on without me and that I'd meet him at the station on the other end if I made it in time.

I made it to Manchester at about 8.40am, and needed to be at Manchester Met uni for 9.15am so I still had plenty of time. I and Joe got a cab (notice how expensive this day is already getting) to the campus and got there at about 9am. We followed the very confusing signs and eventually made it all the way to the presentation room, to be met with a line of about 100 people in front of us.

Eventually we all shuffled into a lecture theatre and signed ourselves in. Whilst in the queue, I happened to be stood right behind Charlotte, whom I'd met at Disneyland Paris. She'd initially been told she hadn't got through to the interview stage so it was really nice getting to see that they'd reconsidered and offered her a place - and they should, she's worked at Disneyland Paris three times so has more than enough experience!

We made friends with those around us and eventually there was a group of 5 of us together. We sat down in the lecture theatre and were given an hour-long-ish presentation about Walt Disney World and the Disney International College Program. Essentially the presentation was just the information that was on the Yummy jobs website with a few videos thrown in from Disney. We were then put into groups for the interviews. I was in the first group and was going to be interviewed at 11am, just 10 minutes after the presentation had finished.

After the presentation, a girl I knew from uni called Jane was there which was a nice surprise too. During the interview, I managed to get across my attractions work experience at Disneyland Paris and my retail work experience University, but I didn't get a chance to chime in when they asked why we wanted to experience the programme.

I felt the group I was put in had a lot of big personalities, many of whom were not afraid of speaking over or interrupting others. This didn't seem to work well for them as most of the people who acted like that, I later found out didn't get through to the next stage. I guess it shows manners are needed too to work at Disney.

Apparently 1700 people applied and about 500 got to the preliminary stage. They still need to wittle these down to 220.

Artist Spotlight: Chatfield

I don't usually do artist reviews, or album reviews but one of my uni mates is part of a band called "Chatfield" and I just had to let you know about them, especially as they have a big gig coming up.

Chatfield is an Alternative Rock band from Sheffield which has been around since 2008, with the latest line-up being established from April last year.

They say they are influenced by The Foo Fighters, Oasis, The Stone Roses and The Script.

The band is made up of lead singer Chris Davis Smith (also plays the rhythm guitar), Callum Bagshaw on lead guitar, Stefan Rankine on bass guitar and Josh Obrien on the Drums (and backing vocals).

Check out their Facebook Page and then click on their BandPage to hear their music. They also have Twitter for the tweeters amongst you.

Check Chatfield out on Youtube below:

I'm glad I explored the bands Facebook page and really like the band's sound and music and am personally looking forward to seeing them perform in the future.

This month, on Saturday, July 28th they are supporting the Pigeon Detectives at Leeds Skyfest at 6pm. This is set to be a huge gig for the band and should be really exciting! Get a ticket and go!

Leeds uni accomodation -- James Baillie Park: review

As a first year at Leeds Uni, choosing from all of the little housing options was a tough choice. I eventually settled on James Baillie Park. (although no one says the 'Park' bit)

It's located 15-20 minutes walk from uni, has buses every 2-3 minutes going past the main road (but then it's a 5 minute walk up a hill to the residence from there).

It's also the most expensive of all non-catered accommodations. JBP is managed by Unite instead of the Univeristy of Leeds, but run in partnership.

It has a 24 hour laundry room (though they really need to invest in the key card system for this as needing exact change for washing machines and driers is very frustrating), a common room (which was always empty but has a TV) and BBQ point around the site.

Almost all the rooms at James Baillie are ensuite. I lived in the basement (aka the dungeon) which wasn't the most social of environments and was pretty much freezing if I didn't have an electric heater with me (the one in the room isn't the best).

It doesn't have a shop, a village feel or a gym.

I met so many people on Otley runs, block parties and birthday parties and I don't regret meeting any of them and I imagine that living in a house next year is going to be less social than this which will be a shame. At James Baillie there's a party going on EVERY night and ive heard it's defo the most social of all the accommodations.

It also has secure bicycle storage and Unite has probably the most helpful staff I've ever met!

I cannot fault the staff at unite. They are brilliant - Roger in particular at the office is great and he even knew me by name as he ended up signing for dozens of parcels for me. When I lost my keys I called the 24 hour hotline and they had someone out to me in less than 20 minutes and they gave me new keys the day after in the office (albeit at £20 per key x 3 keys).

In summer it was lovely sitting on the grass revising and chilling and they were great fun for when it snowed too. However neither happened too often, most of the time it's just windy and cold in Leeds.

The residence has a handy contract length though - it ends on 3rd July and as I live in London it means that I don't have to take all my stuff home and bring it back up as housing contracts (not halls, private houses) start on 1st July. It's also the most request accommodation so if you want it you do have to put it as your first choice.

Would I stay again? I think I'd go for something on site and cheaper next time. Sharing a bathroom really isn't that much of a problem really and the ensuite costs about £10 extra per week.
So unfortunately not, as nice as it was. It was just too expensive for what it was (over £500 a month). However, having said that I don't regret choosing it. I've had a great first year.

The New 2012 Macbook Air - Is there a better competitor?

Apple last week unveiled its new line-up of laptops including the latest revision to the Macbook Air. With prices staring at £849 for the 11-inch model, there's no doubt it's one of the more expensive laptops around but is there anything better on the market for it's specs and features?
Source: Apple.com

The Macbook Air competes with the latest line of ultrabooks - high-spec, low weight laptops running Microsoft Windows.

Below is a comparison of the Macbook Air and a few other ultra books - for the purpose of this comparison we'll be using the baseline 13-inch Air.

2012 Macbook Air 13-inch:
Price: £999
Screen: 13-inch
Processor: Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge 1.8GHz - Turbo Boost up to 2.8GHz
Hard Drive: 128GB SSD
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000
Notes: Available from £859 for students. 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 thunderbolt port, 1 SD card slot. Weights 1.3kg, 720p FaceTime camera, OS X Lion and iLife Suite included, 7 hours battery life, no built in ethernet port (adaptor available at extra charge), can upgrade to 8GB RAM for extra cost, backlit keyboard
Buy it now

Dell XPS 13:

Price: £949
Screen: 13-inch
Processor: Intel Core i5 1.6GHz
Hard Drive: 128GB SSD
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 3000
Notes: Weighs 1.4kg, claims 8 hours battery life, ethernet port, Microsoft Office Starter edition included (word and excel with ads), 2 USB 2.0 ports, runs Windows 7 64-bit, has a tapered design like the Air.

Buy it now
Verdict: A strong competitor, almost identical to the Macbook Air, with slightly better battery life (at the cost of an extra 100g of weight) but slightly slower graphics and processor. Also no USB 3.0. If you prefer Windows over OS X, buy this. If you're a student, the Macbook Air is cheaper via the educational store though.

HP Folio 13-1020EA:
Price: £669.95
Screen: 13-inch
Processor: Intel Core i5 1.6GHz - Turbo Boost up to 2.3GHz
Hard Drive: 128GB SSD
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
Notes: Up to 9.5 hours battery life, weighs 1.5kg, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, memory card reader (multi-format), 1 USB 2.0 port, 1 USB 3.0 port (so only 1 USB 2.0 device can be used at once!), Microsoft Office Starter edition included (word and excel with ads), no built in ethernet connection, finger print reader, backlit keyboard
Verdict: The battery life is astounding and could be worth it for the extra 200g of weight. The price is £330 cheaper than a Macbook Air making this a bargain in comparison - if you can deal with the fact there is only 1 USB 2.0 port and no ethernet connection! The aluminium finish and backlit keyboard are usually associated with premium notebooks so are nice to find on a much cheaper machine. If on a budget this is the one to go for!

Final verdict: At just £670 the HP Folio is a bargain for all its features. If you can deal with the fact it only has 1 USB 2.0 port (although this may not be a problem in the future it certainly is now due to the lack of 3.0 devices - combined ports like on the mac would make more sense).

If you live in the Apple ecosystem the Macbook Air makes sense, in particular with the upgrade to Mountain Lion meaning it will have further iCloud support, airplay mirroring and integration with all the Apple services. It does come, however, at a price premium.


Now some differences between PC and Mac in general: the PC will be loaded with crapware but comes with the reduced-functionality versions of Word and Office, the Mac does not come with any office program and these must be purchased separately. The Mac does however include iLife. On Mac you'll get an upgrade to Mountain Lion, on Windows it's an upgrade to Windows 8 (a major revision!)

Yes, I've only found two comparable ultra books at the moment but the line-up is sure to expand over the coming months. if you find something better post it below in the comments!

Disneyland Paris - Club Actionnaires Meeting - 31 May 2012

The latest Disneyland Paris Club Actionnaires (Shareholder's Club) meeting was held a few days ago on 31st May 2012 and offered members of the club an opportunity to ask questions about how the resort is favouring. This is particularly import in this pivotal 20th anniversary year with massive investments having been made. Below is what emerged from the meeting:

Villages Nature:
  • Construction agreements are being negotiated.
  • They are preparing the marketing for the real-estate there - it ill first be targetted at "Ecological forward-looking countries" such as Scandinavia, Germany, Netherlands, France, ... initially, before marketing them globally.
  • There will be roughly three levels of "comfort", but prices have not yet been finalised. 
  • The target customer will be families staying for an average of one week. 
  • P. Gas hopes to attract some of these families to the theme parks, but there won't be a central reservation system to avoid cannibalising resort hotel room sales (and vice versa)
  • Different offers and packages are being considered, including local residents who would enjoy the facilities. They are investigating what will work.

My view: A one week stay seems excessive for the scale of the project, this could be another example of the company making overly-ambitious plans, such as when all the hotels opened so quickly at the start of Eurodisney. It could be that the prices are affordable though.

Convention Centre:
  • Still going ahead but in the longer term as it requires working in cooperation with the government.
  • The principle is the same as the Palais des Congres in Paris, with the possibility of holding concerts / shows to fill the space (and attract visitors that the Resort would not come to the Resort)
Val d'Europe:
  • Ségécé (mall designers) had two plans for the future of the center. One of the two projects was not liked at all by EuroDisney because of its lack of image / atmosphere (story telling). 
  • The other plan is well suited for the center, but there's no detail either. Looking at 2015 at the earliest for implementation of this plan. ED is involved on the future of the centre.
  • P.Gas confirmed that Ratatouille was in progress, as he says in any case it was an open secret.
  • Planned opening in 2014. 
  • The attraction will be accompanied by a new restaurant concept of a new, more upscale table service. P.Gas cited a single menu concept, as the restaurant "L'entrecote" in Paris where the only thing to choose is how you want your steak cooked. Except Gas says here it won't be steak... they want to be innovative.
Background research on "L'entrecote" restaurant: "When you dine with us, there is no menu - simply tell your waitress how you would like your steak cooked.  After your salad starter, your steak is brought to you in two stages, with one half held back to keep warm, so you can enjoy it at its best and is accompanied with more freshly prepared frites. "

California Grill: 
  • A new chef arrived a few weeks ago, he can do whatever he wants and has been told to make the restaurant more "gourmet."

World of Disney & Disney Village:
  • The current Disney Store will be transformed into one of the "imagination park" stores such as those in London or Madrid for example. 
  • It opened the question of the future of the Disney Village, Disney Store, and aged appearance of the Village. 
  • The opening of non-Disney stores is what is anticipated. 
  • There is also the question of how to attract people to the end of the Village, although the Earl of Sandwich is satisfied with its result.
  • There is a need to think about the storyline of the Village as it now makes no sense.
Walt Disney Studios :
  • Park development will focus on the Studios until at least around 2017-2018. 
  • The future of Studios - there is a serious need for change and a change of theme is considered, there's two ways it can go about: 
    • Progressive: By adding things that have nothing to do with the original theme, we come to forget it and one day the theme will be changed as Disney has no other options 
    • Voluntary: Disney change the theme overnight (Gas:"and not just the name") after considering the case.
  • The second method is favoured because the change can be more easily communicated to guests, but it also requires a high investment. 
  • The disrepair of the Tower of Terror was also mentioned - The investigation is ongoing, but it is long because it involves insurance, experts, who is responsible, ... and all that before actually doing anything about it. 
  • A hotel at the park entrance is envisaged. A brand new hotel or an extension of the DLH which is in high demand.
20th Anniversary so far:
  • Reservations are up 6% to 7% over the same period last year. 
  • The satisfaction rate has jumped more than 10% in one month with the launch the 20th anniversary.
  • The 20th anniversary got 5 times the media coverage of the 15th anniversary. 
  • 3% increase in attendance compared to April 2011, despite bad weather.

  • High-end hotels and budget hotels are the most requested. 
  • "The rich continue to come to DLH", people who were want an intermediate hotel often downsize to the Santa Fe or Cheyenne.
  • The satisfaction rate of renovated lodges at the Ranch is the same satisfaction as at the DLH. 
  • The renovations of hotels will continue in 2-year plans, ( currently 500 rooms a year in Sequoia). 
  • 3.5 years left until all the hotels are refurbished
Dreams and restaurants: 
  • The satisfaction rate of Dreams is very incredible: 98%. 
  • People remain in near the hub and spend more than before between 20:00 and 22:00 until Dreams. 
  • Families with small children have a slightly lower satisfaction rate because the show is at 11:00 p.m. It should increase when the show takes place around 20:30 when it gets dark earlier. 
  • Also, they are trying to solve the problem of restaurants closing early. This should be fixed for the summer season. They blame some of the early closures on the fact that the fireworks close off a lot of fantasyland (I think: this however doesn't explain erstaurants in Frontierland closing early... )
  • They are also planned to develop an "evening" ticket to enable locals to come and attend Dreams, and a package including "evening park entry + evening meal + VIP Dreams positioning"
Shareholder's Club:
  • Someone asked about a Gold shareholder card that would offer 25% discount in restaurants instead of 15%. It is in fact planned for there to be two levels of the shareholders club in the future, these are not yet defined and they would offer different services. 
Annual Passports and the Website:
  • The "Super-Dream" passport is once again confirmed P. Gas said "I swear it will happen." 
  • A loyalty/reward system will also be introduced, and perhaps not only with the new passport. 
  • Someone mentioned the mess in the management of annual passports, they say they are well aware that this exists and are working on solving these problems, but it takes time to change an outdated computer system. 
  • Ditto for the website will be completely redone to be more intuitive, even Philippe Gas said that it is hard to find what you are looking for.

Thanks to Mikes at the DisneyGazette forums for providing this information in French. Further research has been done into some issues by myself.

The Best Weightlifting, Gym and Fitness Apps for your iPhone

Being a fan of going to the gym, and specifically lifting weights, i’ve been on the search for an app where you can log your workouts effectively. Anything extra is a bonus. Over the past couple of years I’ve seen apps come and go from the app store and I think that now is a great time for a nice round-up of what’s available before we get to the summer. 

There’s apps here for running, cardio, ab work, calorie counting and weights. What more could you want?

iFitness - on sale for £0.69. Brilliant app. Create your own workout, log it - it works. Basic but does everything it should. You can go back through your legs, have loads of different exercises with videos. No motivational component which would have been nice as would a stopwatch feature for rest between sets. Best weightlifting app out there. 

MyFitnessPal - Diet is everything in fitness so if you need a calorie counter, this is the one! It’s free and there is also an iPad version if you want that. You simply type in the name of the food, which supermarket and then add the calories. A great way of either adding or losing weight depending on your goals!

Nike+ GPS - A brilliant way to track your runs, using the gyrometer to work both on a physical run and on the treadmill. It gives you motivation after pre-defined internals, allows music to be played in the background, can be linked to facebook and even links to some gym treadmills as well providing accurate data. You can also connect it to the Nike+ trainer sensor for added accuracy as well. It does one thing but it does it very well.

iPersonalTrainer - £0.69 (on sale) This app seemed so promising at first. I wanted an app where I could create a custom workout and then log it. This app does that. It also has a BMI calculator, weight tracker, stopwatch, body measure tracker, plate calculator and motivation feature where you get stars for every workout. It also has a brilliant exercise database (the best I’ve seen) and videos to illustrate the exercises. Sounds brilliant, right? Yeah. Until you try to create the custom workout, first of all you can select KG instead of LBs but when you are entering the weight in the workout section you have to enter it in LBs and then it divides the number by 2 (which by the way is not accurate as 1kg = 2.2lbs). Then when logging if you have 3 sets of Exercise 1 and then 3 sets of Exercise 2, with this app you have to log exercise 1, then exercise 2, then exercise 1, then exercise 2. It essentially superset every exercise. If you have 6 different exercises this can definitely cause problems.

Another issue is the apps’ size - it is over 100MB (huge!) This is because of all the videos. After installation and specifying whether you are a man or a woman it should delete the videos for the other sex to save space (or at least give you that option). Or just allow people to download the videos if they want, if not - let them stream. An app update would fix all this - however it hasn’t been updated since November 2011. Don’t buy unless it is updated fixing these key flaws.

Bodybuilding.com app - Needs the ability to log progress pics, and to log max lifts for exercises. Good access to the forum, brill exercise database. The quality you’d expect from the biggest bodybuilding website in the world. Oh, also one major flaw - YOU CAN’T CREATE A WORKOUT AND LOG IT AT ALL! Update this app please

Ab workout - Does what it claims to, shows you a video, you copy it and it’ll hit your abs hard. You could also just follow a routine off youtube but at least this way you don’t need an internet connection. Doesn't matter as there's a free version. Don’t forget abs are 90% diet! You can work them as much as you want but if you have fat above them no exercise will fix that! 

Trip to Disneyland Paris (April 2012) - Day 2

So it was our only day in the parks today and we were determined to do as many attractions as we could. We got up at 8am and had breakfast at 8.30am...we went over to the Studios and got there at about 9.30ish. There was a bit of trouble exchanging my avios voucher as apparently they'd never seen one before but soon it was done.

In we went and of course we had a bit of a sprint and went over to Crush's Coaster - I assured Francesca it was worth it. We get on in under 20 minutes which was fantastic...well we would have done if the ride hadn't broken down for about 20 minutes. Anyway 40 minutes later the ride was done - we both loved it. What a wild ride.

Then it was time to go for some more thrill rides - we went over to Toy Soldier's Parachute Drop and used the single rider queue to get on in under 5 minutes. Then it was over to RC Racer which I was dreading.

I am absolutely petrified of this attraction. 10 minutes wait later and i was on. I held on very tightly and it turned out it was a load of fun, I did brace myself to stop myself falling forward and that made it very bearable and actually quite fun.

We walked over to the Tower of Terror and I thought "10 minutes? If we're going to do it...let's do it now before I chicken out."After my experience last April where I almost died with fear, I was very apprehensive about this one. I'd warned Francesca about this one but she was having none of it.

And oh what fun it was! When we dropped the first time, Francesca's hand darted onto my thigh and held on for dead life! It was hilarious. Still petrifying but a lot more fun. I think the trick is not to hold the rails which you can hold on. Always a ride where everyone screams and I think it has become one of my new favourites...not one I'll gone on a million times but much more fun than before. The atmosphere is amazing and this ride shows what all cast members should be like, saying lines such as "your rooms are ready" really adds to the atmosphere. Before you go into the pre-show they say "good evening" even if it is broad daylight and in the pre-show room one cast member stamped loudly in time with the video to scare people. The lady we had on this ride who loaded us was absolutely fantastic. Really played her part! Wish I'd got her name.

All the rides also seemed to have a yellow strap which you pull on now instead of the seatbelt - I noticed this on ToT, Parachute and RC Racer.

We went over to RnR and got a fastpass and then went over to Animagique - which was brilliant as usual. Singing along is the way forward! We went back to Rock n Rollerocaster and...it was down. Wah :(

So off we went to Disneyland Park and grabbed a Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain. As we were nearby I checked the wait times for "Meet Mickey Mouse" on the iPhone App and it was just 5 minutes, so we speed walked over and got a photo with the mouse himself! My first photo with Mickey after 4 trips! It's a cool concept to have a place where you can meet Mickey throughout the day, though Francesca said he smelled haha. The lighting in there is far from perfect by the way Disney! Luckily the new photo location opens up later this month (May).  The themeing was brilliant for a temporary attraction.

Then we went over to Pirates of the Carribbean which is still the most immersive ride in the park in my opinion. Absolutely brilliant even though a few effects were missing...Fran got scared of the first drop haha as she didn't see it coming.

We then went for some lunch at Au Chalet de la Marionette - chicken , chips, drink and an ice cream for 14e. This is my fave fast food place in Disneyland Paris as the food is decent quality and you do get loads and after that long day so far we needed it.

We went to watch the parade which was great and the new additions such as the fairies at the start are very cool, as well as the horse-drawn carriages. Peter Pan was brilliant as well!

I went over to Casey Jnr which had a 10 minute queue and saw Marie who still remembered me and we hugged across the carriages which was a bit awkward for those guests but it was nice seeing her again. I think went over to Storybook to see the rest of the gang who were there. I stopped Rafa as she was going into the attraction and she said it had been so long and only then did it hit me that yes - it had been 4 months now! WOW!! We had a short conversation where she asked if I was tourist for the day and I said yes and then I said how there were remarkably few people which was great. She said if ever there was anyone I knew at the unload of the attractions to just ask and they'd let me on which was still super nice considering I didn't work for them anymore.

When I reached the grouper Thibaud was loading and he didn't recognise me at first, until I went "bonjour!" and then we had a quick convo as I loaded - of course he alerted the whole ride to the fact I was there and all the other staff said hi which was nice. At the end they were all there to greet me including Marie again and they asked when I'd be back to which I said "hopefully in the summer! if they invite me!" and they said to just keep trying and I'd soon be back. I'd almost forgotten how brilliant the whole team were and that's the reason why working at Disney is so much fun! I bid my farewells and hoped to see them soon! It was a strange feeling being back at my work location as a guest but even more rewarding knowing who works there.

We'd just got Peter Pan's Flight fastpasses and still had a while till the return time so we went on Big Thunder Mountain, Phantom Manor and went over to Space Mountain and got a fastpass for that with the intention of returning later.

So we wanted to use that Rock N Rollercoaster fastpass and went to Walt Disney Studios...through backstage as it's quicker. I may have picked up a backstage magazine along the way ssshhh.... Fran saw one of her friends which I met which was nice as well.

Once in the Studios park we went over to Rock N Rollercoaster to find out that it HAD re-opened, but that it was closed once again. This meant that we got another ride on the Tower of Terror - the cast members were brilliant once again with the exception of one who was very, very rude to an English guest. The ride was scarier than earlier on that day: maybe because we thought we could handle it again and knew what to expect but it just felt rougher and faster.

Then, pain stuck for Francesca as her foot cramped up completely. We took a bit of a break by sitting down on a bench and she said she needed to go back to the hotel for a break. I wasn't going to leave Fran on her own so I went with her and we chilled in the hotel for about 2 hours (note that had we spent this time in the park we could have completed all the other attractions so it really was a very empty day!). This was a welcome break and the little rest really re-energised us. At about 21:00 we left to Disneyland Park again to watch disney dreams. We got there at about 21:25 and got a spot in front of the castle! In the middle of central plaza with a great view of everything. I then went and grabbed a hot dog to eat while we waited - delicious, but 6.40e is a bit steep!!

Dreams was absolutely spectacular, I'd recommend you don't watch videos beforehand to not spoil it as that did spoil it a bit. Also if you have cameras and are at Disneyland for multiple days, put them down the first time you watch it! Watch it the first time without distractions and you'll appreciate it more. I'd also recommend standing further back than I did - right near Casey's Corner seems the perfect place to be. Where I was I missed out of the fountains on the far left. The further back you are there the less you'll see the details in the castle as well, which is better.

Disney Dreams was fantastically designed and definitely what Disneyland Park needed. If only the studios stayed open late too...maybe in a few years.

Then, it was off back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Disneyland Paris trip: April 2012 - Day 1: Arrival

With the 20th Anniversary upon us it only seemed right to hop over for a quick trip to Disney and see some old workmates. I booked a hotel room at the explorers for £90 a night for 2 nights and used a Hotels.com reward credit bringing the price down to £96 for 2 nights for 2 people. I used 7300 avios points from tesco clubcard to get a free 2-park 1 day ticket and finally I got a Eurostar return ticket for £66 minus a £20 Eurostar reward, so it was £46. So essentially my trip ended up costing me about £100 plus spending money - cheapest trip ever, eh?

The day eventually came round and I made my way to St. Pancras. Before going through check in I went into M&S and get some crisps, a sandwich and a pasta dish. Then I went through check in, security and past the French border police. This all took maybe 3 minutes altogether.

I had not booked a direct Eurostar as the prices for that were closer to £150 and I'd love to not pay that much. So I booked an indirect Eurostar via Lille. This meant that the First train for me would be a Eurostar to Brussels (I'd hop off at Lille Europe) and then get a TGV to Marne la Vallée (Disney).

Without about half an hour left until the announcement of my train, I went to the cafe Nero inside and grabbed a hot chocolate and ate half of my M&S sandwich. A few minutes later we were boarding the Eurostar.

On board the indirect Eurostar it was actually more pleasant than the Disney one as there were less kids and there was no one setting next to me so I got to spread out onto two seats. An hour and a half later we were at Lille Europe.

There it was simply a case of getting of the train and going upstairs on the escalator. 15 minutes or so before the train was due to leave the platform number went up on the arrivals screen and then it was a case of validating your ticket in the ticket machines and going down to the platform.

When you get downstairs onto the platform, take a look to the left and right of you and there should be a red and black screen telling you where to wait for your carriage as the trains from here to Disney are usually 2 trains joined together or a very long one with up to 20 carriages.

The TGVs are nice inside if you get a duplex one (two floors) and are upstairs then you get some great views out of your window. You might even be lucky enough to get a refurbed train which have some lovely seats even in second class. Such as the one pictured here.

They are comfortable and have fold out tables too. The above-head storage is much narrower than on British trains. This means that if you have a small suitcase you will need to leave this at the end of the carriage or the storage mid-carriage as it will not fit above your seats.

The TGVs also have a cafe bar onboard and toilets. They are also a member of RailTeam which means that if you miss a the TGV because the Eurostar was late or vice-versa then you will be put on the next one. It also means all announcements are made in French, German and English and staff at stations and on trains also speak all three languages. This is very useful for anyone who needs help but cant necessarily speak perfect french.

An hour and a half later we were at Marne La Vallee - Chessy station (note there are no announcements that this is the station for Disneyland so pay attention) arriving 8 minutes later than the scheduled time. It was a simple case of going up the escalators turning right and then I was in Disneyland. For anyone who uses the Disney Express baggage service then you will find this here in the station too.

I went to meet Francesca and we both took the number 54 bus to the Explorers hotel which was the first stop. We checked in choosing the 8.30am breakfast slot. We then went up to the room to chill for a bit and I've got say I was very impressed with it.

There was a double bed and a sofa which opened up into a sofa bed which was a double as well. There was a small fridge inside the room which was a nice surprise as we could keep drinks and food fresh. There was also tea and coffee-making facilities, a phone, some shelves and a separate toilet and bathroom. Only foam was provided for bathing and hand washing.

I couldn't fault the hotel in any way, shape or form. The rooms were clean, the made up the sofa bed for us when we requested it, the maids also cleaned and tidied every day as well. The theming in the hotel was also decent as well with a slab on an elephant in our room and porthole mirrors and bedspreads. The staff were also very helpful at reception and in the restaurants. Perfect.

Sufficiently hungry we went downstairs and grabbed some pizzas from Marco's - Pizzas were 11 euros and chips were 4 euros. The pizzas came in under 15 minutes. While we were waiting we popped upstairs to the Disney store and explored.

There's an area to eat right opposite the pizza place and as it was late-afternoon it was empty. The pizzas were mediocre though we ended up eating them all. And the chips...

I then went to get a coke from the bar at the shocking price of 3.8e for a glass. There was a happy hour of 7-8PM where it was 2 for 1 drinks.

We went back to the room and watched the classic "Top 10 things to do at Disney" video on the TV screen in both french and english and then just stuck around and chatted. Then Francesca realised that she had forgotten her blackberry charger. I had a compatible charger but had no UK to EU plug as I'd forgotten it.

About 9PM we went over to the Disney village and went to Cafe Mickey to meet up with Katy who works full time at the Wild West Show. This was fun as we got to see the Disney characters although we didn't get any food as we'd just eaten and judging by the prices and the comments from the others, we were glad that we didn't. Fran has asked Katy to bring her blackberry charger but she had forgotten.

We left cafe mickey around 11PM in the hope of going through the stores in the Disney Village and finding a UK to EU plug adapter. We asked a member of staff and then got a bit of Disney magic as he said that they they didn't sell them but that he'd call to check with the hotel so he called the Explorers hotel and explained to us that we could get one from the reception there in exchange for a 30 euro deposit. This was a brilliant bit of customer service from a Cast Member - wish I'd got his name. On that note, throughout this whole trip there were so many Cast Members I wish that that I'd given positive feedback for. They were brilliant during this trip.

We then caught the last bus back from the Village to the Explorers which was at 11:45PM. We got the adaptor from the reception and the situation was just as explained by the Cast Member in the village. Off we went to bed ready for a very busy day at Disneyland.

New Kings Cross Station: Review

Today I walked into the new concourse of Kings Cross Station, one month after its opening expecting shops, a wider ticket hall and a more pleasant experience. Did it live up to my expectations? Read to find out.

Stepping off the Circle line platform at Kings Cross St Pancras and ready to make my way to Kings Cross station, one thing became immediately apparent: there was no new step-free access. The TfL website says that Kings Cross is used by more passengers per year than Heathrow Airport, considering that it is a major interchange with national and international trains people are lugging huge suitcases up and down stairs. This is unacceptable. There are places where a couple of escalators really are needed. Or lifts. Simply having stairs is unacceptable and some of the staircases are so wide than an escalator could easily be added.

Once I'd finally walked what felt like half a mile to the new entrance of St. Pancras I encountered those slow-moving escalators that give you a feeling of amazement as you moving into the station: no-doubt these are also to ease the flow of people moving into the station. Once eventually in a find myself amongst shops and a turn to the left revealed the station itself.

It is be-a-u-tiful. The new roof and the size of the station create a totally new atmosphere: more relaxed, more like travelling on the eurostar. If you are on the food court on the first floor there is also a passageway above the station that takes you to the platforms: not very many people used it and I was able to be on the train much quicker than everyone else by using it though I am sure this will change over time.

After the initially wow of the architecture of the station, I began to notice a few niggles:

1. There appears to be less seating than before... or at least less than I imagined there would be. There is a lot of space which could be used for seating - where people have currently opted to stand for example - which is simply going to waste.

2. The train announcements are quieter due to the immense size of the station: more speakers would solve this. I could hear them but I could imagine people with hearing difficulties struggling.

3. The departure boards are now very high up: it could be hard for those with bad vision to see the boards.

I suppose all of my niggles involve people with some kind of impairment...and if I thought of them, the designers should have too.

My final niggle is one which just seems inherent to the station, rail travel and in particular to East Coast: announce the platforms earlier and it stops people running across the station like lunatics. Further research in this topic has led me to believe this a problem caused by Network Rail and its signallers and not the station...but why does East Coast always seem to be the slowest then...

Questions and Answers about Working for Disneyland Paris [Part 2]

Part 2 of your questions about working at Disneyland Paris. Click here for part 1. Part 3 is here.

20. Do you ever get to go out at night time or is there ever any parties in the apartments or anything?
You do whatever you want, it's 45 minutes into the train to Paris where there's loads of clubs or if not...when you 500-600 people living in one place there are always parties going on in the residences. Especially when the big occasions come around like Christmas or New year. Apparently during the summer there are parties every day too.

21. What language do the employees at Disney commonly speak? And where are most employees from? 
Everyone speaks French backstage. Italian is very prevalent as well amongst the Italian cast members but everyone mainly speaks French. Some English too is spoken by all but it's never used as a primary form of communication. I'd say about 70-75% of employees are French but there are people from all over: Scandinavia, UK, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, etc. Most are from Europe.

22. Is it a big problem if your French is okay but not perfect/fluent when communicating with others? And when you get your room, do they put people from the same nationalities/languages together? 
Yeah perfectly fine, if your french is good but not perfect or fluent. If it is just "okay" or less than that you might struggle but there are roles for this such as Food and Beverage. Yeah I found people from the same countries or who speak the same languages were grouped together in the same flat.

23. I'm hoping to work as a character/dancer in disneyland for about 5 months this summer. Do you know how much holiday allowance I would get in that period of time? And is it possible to choose which 2 days of the week you have off? Can they ever be Saturday and Sunday (I have some weddings to go to this summer)? Thanks 
You are not allowed any holidays during the months of July and August except your standard 2 days off a week. These are sometimes weekends, sometimes not. You are not able to choose which two days of the week you have off but you can request days off in advance and they will try to accomodate it but there's no guarantees. For 5 months of work, you will be entitled to about 10-14 days of paid holidays but once again these cannot be taken in July or August.

24. Regarding transport I know Disney comp around 75% of the cost to work and the residences but do you know if this also applies to getting in and out of the city centre (Paris)? Thanks :)
If you genuinely commute from central Paris (Zones 1 to 5) yes they will reimburse 80%(!) of your Navigo pass - if you are buying that pass to go shopping, they won't pay for it.

25. Regarding internet, apartment with WiFi access available. How to pay for the use of WiFi?
Thanks :) 
In the Disney residence you go to the reception and there's a machine where you put in a note (10e for a week or I think 20/25e for a month) and you then get a login and password which you enter when you connect to wifi). You can share wifi login details with your friends in the apartment if you want but you can only use one computer at a time if you're doing this.

26. What is included in the fully equipment apartments? A computer?
Beds, bed linen, pillow, wardrobe, kitchen with utensils, hobs, oven (no microwave), bedside table, bathroom. There is no computer. You can pay for computer minutes at a reception and use one of the computers there like an internet cafe but there are only 2 or 3 so most people just bring a laptop. I don't know exactly how much the reception computers are but I remember it being quite expensive, about 10cents a minute.

27. One of the things not to forget for arrival in Disney is Vaccination book or health records. I have Vaccination book. Do I need health records? What form of records, language?
Thanks :) 
Different countries do different things so you just need some sort of document which proves you have been vaccinated. When I went, did they look at them? Not at all. Maybe it's because I was only there for 2 1/2 weeks but they didn't sort out any medical stuff at all which was a bit worrying. This was the case for everyone. I took my vaccination book in English with me by the way.

28. "You will need to arrive for your accommodation at the "Housing departament" at the FANTASIA Building, one day before the first day of your contract." Is it possible to arrive two days before the first day of my contract? 
Not as far as I am aware, no. There are hundreds of people checking in on the day before contracts begin and it is all done at once - they have coaches scheduled to take you to residences and lots of desks set up on the day. You will have to stay in a hotel the night before.

29. Are all the Summer 2012 contracts gone?
It appears that all of the operations contracts are gone with the exception of Ride Operators who can work the entirety of June, July, August AND September. Some character/performing roles still appear to be available. The reason for this is that Disney have hired a lot of extra permanent staff for the whole of the year because of the 20th anniversary as they intend the resort to be busier than usual, as such they don't need as many temporary workers.

30. When do applications open for Summer/Halloween/Christmas/Easter jobs?
Intake of applicants is continuous at Disneyland Paris due to the high staff turnover rate and short contract lengths. Go on the website and find the general job listings. If you get through to interview you then give your availability for all future dates you can do. So, in summary apply now. They recruit now for up to about 12 months in advance.

31. I was just wondering how you applied for a job at Disneyland Paris? I'm interested in being a character and was wondering who do I send my CV into or do you have to go to an audition?
Yes, you do need to audition. They are open auditions so you don't need to apply in advance, simply turn up on the day. More details are available at http://disneylandparis-casting.com/en/entertainment/our-auditions . Good luck!

32. I am hoping to work in Paris this summer! I was placed into the talent pool about two weeks ago (message from April 2014) and was wondering if you could let me know how long it was from being placed into the talent pool until being sent your contract? Also when do the summer contracts tend to start?
I got my contract one month after being placed in talent pool in 2014 and about three months after being put in the talent pool in 2011. The policy is that you'll hear back no more than 2 months before your contract start date. I've actually just got my Summer 2014 contract this week but I have applied for a permanent job (CDI) so I imagine the full-time jobs are going out now and then the short-term contract jobs should be going out within the next 2-3 weeks - this is all a guess though.

Want more questions and answers? Part 3 is here.

East Coast First Class Review

Standard Class travel on East Coast trains is definitely one of the nicest forms of standard class I have experienced on long distance journeys with 15 minutes of free wifi included, a cafe-bar on board and power sockets at most seats. When you are ready to upgrade to First Class though, the level of service changes and you can expect a lot more.

The first difference you will notice when stepping into first class is the different layout and generally how much quieter is it. This is perhaps due to the fact that there is usually only a few people in first class at any one time and that generally people there are more respectful than those who simply pile onto a carriage in standard class (I think this ia a fair enough comment considering I am in standard class 95% of the time).

The rows are 2 by 1 seats, instead of 2 by 2 seats, meaning there are only 3 seats per row and each seat is substantially wider. The seats also slide downwards to give the effect of leaning back slightly but without inconveniencing other passengers behind you. Due to how few passengers there were on the service, I was able to move from one of the individual seats to having 4 for myself around a table.

Speaking of tables, this is perhaps the best benefit of first class: complimentary food. During the weekends it is a rather paltry sandwich, crisps and a slice of cake which were fine although the only options were egg and cress or ham and cheese - I opted for the latter then spent the best part of 10 minutes removing the cheese.

However during the week at lunch and dinner times you get a full meal. I opted for the salmon fishcake and chips which arrived in under 5 minutes from ordering. It was absolutely fantastic and although the portion was small it managed to satisfy me with the rich sauce inside the fishcake and there were just enough chips to compliment this. As well as this I was offered crisps, a slice of madeira cake and a drink: I opted for a coke. Altogether this made for a satisfying meal which also helped the 2 hr 30m journey fly by.

During the weekday service I was also offered a complimentary newspaper but opted to stick with the 'guardian' which I had already purchased beforehand.

On both week and week-end services you are also offered tea or coffee multiple times and you can always request a glass or bottle of water which the staff are happy to bring to you.

In addition, in first class you have unlimited free wifi for the duration of your journey which is a nice perk too.

All this comes at a cost however, the cheapest first class fare from London to Leeds (or vise versa) is in theory £14.50 though I've never actually seen these on sale. The cheapest I have managed to get a first class fare with about £20 is 2011 and in 2012 I have purchased one for £26.10. All the aforementioned prices are based on a railcard discount of 34%.

Whether this is worth it very much depends on the price of the standard class ticket which can vary from £8.60 to £21. I would say personally the hot food is what makes the extra price worth it so I would personally only upgrade on weekdays. The upgrade from the cheapest standard ticket [£8.60] to the cheapest first class [£26.10] of £17.50 is a bit too much for me personally. But if the difference is of only £7-£10 I would definitely consider it.

The price of a couple of sandwiches, crisps and a drink to take on to the train is usually about £5-6 plus wifi is about £5 for a train journey too. The quieter atmosphere and the service is also worth a bit extra. So an extra £7-10 for first class seems worth it in these circumstances.

Conclusion: First Class is not something I'd take each and every time due to the price but it a nice treat every once in a while. The service itself cannot be faulted, particularly on weekdays.

Review: 'The Lion Ling' at the Lyceum Theatre

Yesterday I went to watch the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre in London and I decided that as it is rated the number 1 show according to Tripadvisor that it would only be fair for me to give it a review. If you don't want spoilers, don't read on:

My housemate at uni had gone to see The Lion King in London six times and with the show leaving at the end of the summer for a tour of the country, the next few months would be my last chance to see the show. With that in mind, I booked on Friday for Sunday the 25th March 2012.

The theatre:
Arriving at the theatre, the scale of theatre itself immediately impressed me: with over 2100 seats it certainly is a huge theatre and with a stage to match. The architecture inside is stunning, my mum said they'd never build something so beautiful today and I guess she's right. It was stunning. While waiting the sound of the rainforest filled the theatre.

The view from where we were which was the Royal Circle, Row C to the left was very good as it was easy to look at just the animals but you could also focus on the actor's faces.

Opening scene:
The opening scene with the Circle of Life was incredible with the lady who plays Rafiki filling the theatre with her voice. In the audience, you really got the feeling of being involved as the characters came down the aisles towards the stage in some incredible costumes. Huge elephants came down, followed by several other animals. Throughout the play the aisles were used. This scene brought a tear to my eye as it was exactly how I imagined it. The atmosphere was amazing.

The story was well told and some scenes like Mufasa's death were told in ingenious ways. Turning a 70-odd minute film into a 2 hour 25 minute play is no mean feat. There were also a few scenes added which felt unnecessary as I had seen the film but which worked well. Having said that the time flew, including the extra 20 minute break.

All the costumes were stunning. The giraffes were incredible, the cheetah's, the hyeenas, the elephants, Timon and Pumbaa, etc. were all incredible! Zazu in particular was my favourite of the puppets. The masks fro the lions were stunning as well and all the scenery such as the grass was created in an ingenious yet non-distracting way. It was very possible for ignore all the actors and simply focus on the puppets and masks for the most part. When the masks would cause a nuisance to explaining the story actors put them down and spoke the lines in character. Timon's puppet was very advanced, as was Zazu though I felt the actor portraying Timon should have been in brown and not in green which stood out a bit.

Similarity with the film:
The play was very funny with the majority of the lines taken from the film itself, and with a few added adult innuendos. Having said that the audience was predominantly adults and kids were actually few and far between for such a child-aimed show. Shows the work Disney has managed to put into making the film and show appealing to all.

Songs from the first and second Lion King film's were used and were sung generally to a very high standard. Especially by the adults. Unfortunately the young Simba's voice was not up to par with the film and songs such as "I just can't wait to be king" felt a little lacking compared to the movie. Nala was slightly better. Yes, they are just kids. But it has to be said the film's versions were better.

The stand-out actors for me were Rafiki and Zazu which both provided hilarious, believable performances. What a pair of astounding actors! Those who portrayed Timon and Pumba came in close second, followed by Nala. The choir was also fantastic and note perfect. Hearing many of the actors being British felt strange however with the exception of Zazu.

The set:
The set was very simple to the audience, but technically looked incredible with the raising and lowering of machinery constantly, though I felt it could have been more elaborate. Set changes were quick and efficient.

4 out 5 stars
For the price we paid which was £62.50 per ticket we got what we expected I guess: the costumes were all there, the storyline was there. However, as a Disney fan, with Disney you always expect something to WOW you and unfortunately nothing was particularly astounding with the exception of the actors who portrayed Zazu and Rafiki. I have to say for the price and the fact it sells out every night at full price, I was disappointed but that may have been due to my exceptionally high expectations. Having said that I did enjoy the show while watching it: it was funny, brought a few tears to my eyes with the wonderful singing and atmosphere, it was well told BUT I guess I expected more

If you have to choose between The Lion King and Wicked, I would go and see Wicked.

Questions & Answers About Working for Disneyland Paris [Part 1]

I've had quite a few questions via email, blog post comments etc about working for Disneyland Paris. Here you can find the answers to them. This page was last updated in April 2014.

1. I was wondering what areas you would recommend, I can't decide between working on the rides or in the shops. Do you know what people seemed to enjoy more from people you met doing various jobs?

Personally I have only worked on rides and only met one person who worked in a shop - the ToT shop. I think it really depends on your French. If it is not fluent or very close to fluent, they will not let you work on rides/attraction because of guest safety. There is no training in English either of course, all training is in French. I loved rides - even though you do a lot of saying the same thing "Bonjour. Vous etes combien?" and "Au revoir. Bonne journee!" and doing the same thing (opening restraint bars, opening and closing doors, pressing buttons) and you get breakdowns too which can be interesting, you can have loads of fun: talking to the kids, parents, joking about with them. It really is something where teamwork is 100% necessary so you'll really get to know the people you work with plus every 15-20 minutes you change role within the attraction and when you're changing roles there's always time for a few seconds of chat. This really is one job where you get what you put into it.

On shops I heard that it can be very quiet or very busy. You get the chance to talk to people probably more than on attractions but it is equally as repetitive - scanning and greeting people as well as arranging stock. It can be lonely if you get put on an outdoor merchandise cart but it can also be lonely inside on your own till - on the plus side you're always sure to have people from the shop with you on breaks and in less busy periods you get paid to simply talk to your co-workers next to you which will happen at certain times of day. Imagine shops far from Main Street practically empty for 30-45 minutes when the parade is on. Unless you're on a cart you're also guaranteed some shelter by being indoors plus comfortable temperatures which outdoor jobs do not offer.

Guest Flow seems like a very good job, although it is 10 hour days - you essentially have to keep guests behind the lines and get to watch the parade, help bring the characters out, take lots of photos of people, watch shows and control people doing shows and fireworks. If you LOVE talking to people this is the one for you as you'll get asked a million and one questions including "Where is the pink castle?" and "What time is the 5 o'clock parade?" and "Where are the rides?" but you will want to sit down at the end of the day after being on your feet for so long.

People in restaurants seem to have to hardest time, unless you get somewhere like the Wild West Show which seemed like loads of fun - but there is less of a level of French required for fast-food, servers/waiters need a good level of French and I assume previous experience too. Proprete (cleaning) do a lot of walking about but also always seem to be on their own breaks chatting away and you get a lot of interaction with guests, you end up being asked a million and one questions throughout the day. In properte it also seemed to me like management weren't so much on your back as with other roles. But for me personally picking up rubbish isn't the kind of experience I'd want to have at Disney, though I know people that has done this role that love it.

For me I'd choose something that you know you can't do anywhere else in the world: rides or Guest Flow.

2. What did you wear to the interview? Was it casual or smart? Or does it matter?
Everyone was very formally dressed to the interview, suits and all. I wore black shoes, sock and trousers with a blue checkered shirt with a tie and a red jumper on top. Now don't you all go copying me. For the ladies, it was either smart dresses or trousers, a blouse and blazer. Essentially if you've watched The Apprentice that is what the vast majority of the room looked like.
Don't make the mistake some people made of wearing jeans and a T-shirt, yes it's Disney... but it's a professional company where you will have to wear a uniform and appearance must be top notch for the Disney standards.

3. Is there such a thing as the Disney Look for Paris?
Well... yes and no. I read somewhere that it was eliminated in 1995 in Paris, but there is still a certain amount of expectation. Your costume must be 100% in order which is easy enough to do as it is cleaned for you, all you have to do is wear it correctly. Guys: shave every day, even though I did occasionally see some beards going on for a short period of time they are not officially allowed. Girls: little to no make-up. Hair colour doesn't really seem to matter, neither does hair styles as long as they aren't too extreme. As a guy, hair gel was fine and hair had to be short. Girls should have hair tied back so it does not obstruct your face.

4. Do you have to speak French to work there? Even characters?
Rides/Guest Flow = Strong French required (A-level 'B' or more)
Full Service Restaurants and Shops = Average French required (good grade at GCSE = 'A' or more)
Proprete = Some French required (GCSE pass grade)
Quick Service Restaurants = Minimal French required
Characters = Minimal French required

They do not ask for your grades, they will judge your French at interview by asking you questions - these are just my observations and what grade I think you'd need on a UK scale. These are by no means official but my estimates.

Characters will be asked to learn some phrases in French for when meeting kids if face characters, fur characters obviously need no French - a huge proportion of the character entertainment cast are British.

However, remember you are in France and not everyone speaks English: and why should they? It's their own country. You will need French in the supermarket, when you want to find somewhere/something, at the doctors, dentist, opticians, pharmacy, clothes shop, the bank, if you're looking for long term accommodation and for when you want to interact with people day to day, especially at work. After all what good is it going to France if you are just going to speak to the English people? You will learn a lot very, very quickly. I thought my French was at a good level and I still learnt loads of new words and phrases!

5. Do you want to work their full time, or would the novelty where off?
I'd like to do it for longer than I did so I could meet more people and do everything at a slower pace - not forever though, I think maybe 3 months maximum and then I'd want to try something else maybe within the company, maybe not. [2014 Update: I've now done a summer program at Walt Disney World for 9 weeks and loved it. I am going to start a permanent job at Disneyland Paris this summer with the aim of moving up the company so we'll see how it goes].

6. Do people work at night?
Yes but how late depends on what you do. 
Characters = After about 8.30PM most characters are done for the night, except if you are at Café Mickey at the village where characters are on till late 11PM+ some nights in peak season. There are a lot of early starts as a character though.
Rides = The earliest start time is 6:45am for Extra Magic Hours at 8AM and latest finish is generally 11:45pm when the park closes at 11pm. You work 8 hours per day (including breaks) during peak season and 10 hours per day during non-peak season.
Shops and Restaurants = It really depends where you work. The earliest start time could be as early as 5:30am or 6am if you're working a breakfast shift. For the shops the earliest start time is about 7am for Extra Magic Hours on Main Street shops or shops in a land which is open early. The latest finish can be anywhere up to about midnight for food locations and about 2am for shops.
Proprete = The Cast Members work mainly during park operating hours so 7:30AM earliest to 11:30PM latest I imagine.

These are all high season times, the parks can close at 6/7/8PM on non-peak seasons which of course means the chances of working at night are much lower. During non-peak seasons there are also days where there are no Extra Magic Hours meaning that some cast will get a lie-in on those days.

7. I thought, It would take you like 20mins to walk to the staff area? Doesn't that eat into the CM's lunch time!? Or are there staff areas all around?
You get about 10 minutes to walk to your lunch destination usually, but there are eating locations all around the parks in areas right next to where the guests are (but of course you'd never know it as a guest). Also there are buses backstage taking you around so it's not really a big problem as these are pretty frequent too every 5 minutes or so and can take you round the park in about 5 minutes. Places to eat are plentiful! Don't worry.

8. Do People get on? From everywhere within the park?
Yeah, you'll meet people from several different roles. However, as I was only there for a very short time I only met some character performers, lots of people from Fantasyland (attractions, propreté) and people from guest flow who were in my Traditions class.
I also met a few people who worked in the shops and the Wild West Show and hotels from the accommodation I live in and you meet new people every day. Where you work doesn't determine who you'll meet!

9. Do the two parks connect easily? 
Yes, the two parks are connected back to back - take a look at Google Maps and see the aerial view for a cool look at this.

10. Do the Parade characters just do two parades a day, and then go home? They have to have their make-up done everyday? Is it far to walk from the make-up area to the parade starting point? 
I'm not too sure on this one but I remember reading somewhere online that characters do about 4 hours of actual work per day (usually you do a 30 minute 'set' and then have 30 minutes off or something similar) but these are still regular 6-8 hour days. Remember that there are parades, shows, and meet and greets with characters, as well as daily rehearsals for those in shows and parades. You do your own make up for those whose face is on show. Those lucky enough to be in the parade get a parade bus to the start of the parade where the floats are waiting for you.

11. Who controls the Music around the park??
I couldn't tell you to be honest but I'm sure there's quite a few places scattered around and the Background Music for the parks is generally on all the time from the moment someone walks in to work at 6:30am to someone else clocking out at 2am. The ride attendants get to switch their own attraction's music on and off. For the parades there is a system which automatically locates the parades and floats and plays music according to their location so if there were an unexpected hiccup in the parade it wouldn't affect the music as it would simply loop.

12. I applied for the same job last week and I was just wondering how long it took them to call you for the interview? 
I actually got contacted the day after but that was because there was an interview within just a week. They say they will definitely get back to you within 3 weeks, even if the answer is no. The first time I waited almost 6 months for a reply then realised I hadn't actually submitted my application, just filled in the profile info! D'oh!

13. When I applied for the job I noticed the the job ad was posted in November 2011, do you think the positions have been filled and they forgot to take down the ad? 
They are constantly looking for people all the time so they just post an ad every once in a while and then wait. The list that follows is for operational roles and doesn't necessarily apply to performance roles. They ARE looking for people all the time:
January - End of Christmas Season.
February - Half term and French 2 weeks off for Ski season
March/April - Easter
May - Quiet month
JunE/July/August/September - Summer season
October - Halloween
November - Quiet month but Christmas Season starts
December - Christmas season, very busy from mid-December onwards.

14. I was just wondering, if the whole interview was in French and what sort of questions they asked you? I've got a skype interview so I'm guessing it will be slightly different to yours, but the questions will probably be similar! Thanks :)
I've got a post about that here.

15. I have an A in AS level french and A* at GCSE, it's been my dream to work at Disney but my parents don't want be doing it over going to university. Do they do summer contracts for just the months of July and August?
I wouldn't be able to tell you for definite as most summer contracts seem to be around 3 months long. However the only thing they do say is that for summer if you are going to be there in July and August you must be able to work every single day of those without holidays (obviously you get your usual 2 days off a week) - maybe an email to dlp.casting@disney.com might help?

15. Can you talk a little bit of the rooms? They got only the bed? Or they got wc, kitchen,etc? And about the net? How can we do to get it, any information to help?
[2014 update to this question] There is one accommodation called Les Pleaides (La Boiserie has closed down - some say it's for refurbishment, others say it is permanent) for Cast Members with a CDD. Each room is an open-plan studio flat for 2 people with two beds, one bedside table each, a table and some chairs, and a kitchenette. There is also one bathroom per flat. Pots, pans, plates, etc are provided. The rooms are very basic and there is no locker to keep your stuff in so you have to trust the other person with your belongings, such as a laptop, etc. During peak periods like Summer and Christmas there is also the possibility of being allocated to stay in a hotel apartment in the local area.

16. Any information about what not to forget? 
Money, passport, clothes, your disney documents folder (with medical records) and a smile. Next time I'll be taking a pillow too as the pillows were too big and fluffy so they hurt my neck but no-one else complained of this so was probably just me. Be aware you'll bring back more than you took. So maybe an extra bag or suitcase might be good too.

17. How did you manage your money? Is it really hard to stay alive just with DLRP's salary (I want to go for July, August, maybe September) or is it enough/more than enough (I don't want to go there just for money, but some extra cash after come back will be really nice :D); what are the prices of food, etc, etc?
[Updated with 2014 figures] Disneyland Paris' Salary is just above minimum wage about 1450 euros a month. Minus 23% of reign tax = about 1115e .The accommodation will cost you about 300e for a month which leave you with about 815ish euros. Take away the navigo travel pass and you're left with about 800 euros a month (after reimbursement), or about 200e a week. Even if you spend 50euros a week on food (meals are about 3.5-4 euros for a full meal including dessert and a bottle of water at work), you'll have about 150 euros a week for whatever you want (FYI: you are paid monthly not weekly). With most short-term contracts you also can't take holidays so you'll be paid those at the end of your contract with your travel as well. So with contracts under a month you'll need to pay for everything out of your own pocket and then get a big lump sum at the end, with other contracts remember you will need to fund yourself until you get your first payment.

If you are there long-term then you also have to take into account income tax which will be about 14% off your monthly salary, as well as the fact that long-term accommodation may be more expensive - don't count on saving more than 400-600 euros long-term, but then of course pay does go up every so slightly with experience and when you are there for a long period of time.

18. How did you find the whole atmosphere there?
Everyone is very friendly, you meet a lot of new people and you will tons of fun...but if you are expecting people who are Disney fans then you might be disappointed to hear this but many, many people see it as "just a job."

19. The idea of eating out everyday for 3 months of summer makes me worry about my health! are there any swimming pools or gyms nearby? 
You don't have to eat out everyday you are very welcome to cook in your kitchen but instant, tasty, cheap food backstage was perfect for me. There are also non fast-food options. I'm in quite good shape and lift weights and could definitely feel myself becoming unhealthy if I were there for too long but as I was only there for 2 weeks there was no point in investing in a gym.

There is a gym at Val d'Europe shopping centre which looks decent from the website.There is also an option called Club Dingo to cast members though the only info I can find for it is few and far between online - apparently it is 120 euros for 6 months or 180 euros for 12 months and it allows you to use the fitness suites in the Disney hotels. If you are planning on lifting weights I'm afraid there isn't much there for you to do but for cardio there is a decent amount. Apparently you sign up for it at the New York hotel and you may need a medical note to say you are in good shape. All the info I found is from here. [2014 update] Finally, I've also found a place called Fitness Park which I think I'll be using when I start in Summer 2014 as it looks like it has really good facilities.

Read part 2 of the Questions and Answers here. Part 3 is here.