On 26th February 2020 I received a phone call from Mickey and Minnie Mouse. As well as wishing me happy birthday, they sang happy birthday to me and they told me how excited they were to see me later that day at Disneyland Paris. I was incredibly excited and within minutes of receiving the call we were in the car and headed to the airport. That was a great start to the day but unfortunately my journey was essentially characterised by everything going wrong, the flight was delayed, the airport connection to Disneyland Paris went AWOL for over an hour and a half, and as we arrived at a bustling Hotel Cheyenne it turned out that our hotel was overbooked. We had originally expected to arrive at Disney for about 2pm, with a good few hours in the park before dinner reservations at the Disneyland hotel. From about 11am UK time that dinner reservation had looked increasingly unlikely to be met. Our Cheyenne room was upgraded to Hotel Newport Bay, our favourite Disney Hotel, which is great but the process took over an hour. Finally allowed into our room we quickly got changed and practically ran to Inventions (The Disneyland Hotel Buffet Restaurant). We arrived at 6:10, 10 minutes late. My birthday badge was quickly noticed by the cast members and our lateness was forgiven, we were taken to a lovely table overlooking the elegant and fanciful Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. As we sat down Tigger arrived (because thats how life is in Disney), I stood up to greet him and he put his arm on my shoulder pointing to the fireworks happening in the centre of the park.
I haven’t mentioned the titular cake yet, but its important to set the scene, the restaurant itself is decorated with inventions from the past in thematic extension of the Jules Verne inspiration for Discoveryland. Discoveryland being France’s reimagined version of Tomorrowland, where futurism is exchanged for a celebration of the real and fictional inventors and explorers of the past. The food in Inventions ranges from charcuterie, simple pasta and meatballs to fresh seafood, roast lamb and duck. Along with the food we had Glowtinis to celebrate – a Martini with a flashing ice cube. As we dined the characters interacted with us and we had several photos with Goofy, Pluto, Mickey and Minnie. Each of them kindly signed my birthday card. As we washed down our Frozen themed desserts, bizarrely not frozen, the ambient music in the restaurant stopped. The relaxing piano gave way to an energetic pop song, with all of the cast members and many of the diners clapping along, it was a birthday song and before I could put the obvious pieces together there was Minnie Mouse standing at our table with a birthday cake, inviting me to blow out the candles and make a wish. I had no wish to make, for a moment life was perfect, in every way. Minnie stayed with us for ages, asking me questions and posing for photos with the cake. The previous stresses and strains of the day were well forgotten.
I can tell you that the cake was a chocolate orange cake. That it was shaped like Mickey with his characteristic shorts design. I can tell you that it was delicious and that there was crunchy candied orange scattered through the soft chocolate mousse creating a pleasant and unexpected bit of texture. I can tell you that once we had eaten modest slices we put the cake in a box, and the next day, I’m not ashamed to say, we ate much of the rest of the cake in our hotel room, using our bare hands, for lunch. What I didn’t know then that I know now, was that only a matter of days after that meal Covid restrictions had stopped all character dining, and despite the park recently reopening to this date character dining has not resumed. What I also did not know at the time was that I personally would not eat a restaurant meal again until my partner’s birthday in November 2020, and that meal was characterised not with a surprise cake hand delivered by an icon, but by the faint whiff of sanitizer, being masked up and following a bizarre one way system to the toilet. For the 9 months in between those two experiences I replayed that birthday meal in my head, the picture of Minnie and I was my screen saver and I am certain that the cake tasted nicer and nicer with each remembrance.
Disneyland itself is a memory, or a more accurately a collection of memories, given form, Disneyland Paris is a refined echo of those memories. The park is the dream of a man who wanted adults to lose themselves and enjoy the fun, not just stand to one side as observers. Disneyland is a collection of dreams and wishes, a collision of fantasy and subjectivity where a baseball hot dog restaurant in front of a fantastical pink castle to the right of a cowboy town with a haunted house is not only acceptable, but it makes perfect sense, it is communal sustenance for the soul, a pocket reality where being happy is the only rule. What that cake did to offset the tiring and stressful trip Disneyland does to ease the tension of daily life. Walt’s vision of a playground for families is one that is needed so much more today than it was in early 2020. I am due to go again in a couple of months, and instead of getting grumpy at delayed trains or unexpected overbooking I just won’t care. I, like so many others, am excited for a break from reality, to return to a world Mickey shaped cakes and Tigger showing me the fireworks. I am all too ready for new pictures, stories, experiences and living life, Disney is indeed the best food of all. Cheers Walt, my next Glowtini will be raised to you.
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