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

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 VallĂ©e (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.