Planning a trip to a theme park? Here is my top tip for having a brilliant day: go to Disneyland Paris in early December. Do not, whatever you do, bring any children with you. At this time of year you’ll be able to go on all the rides with a minimum amount of queuing and since this is not America, you’ll be able to drink beer and wine in the actual park. Without any children to stress you out, the combination of Christmas spirit and Disney artificiality will prove utterly intoxicating. You might look like a self-indulgent kidult on your own but believe me, the minute you add genuine youngsters into the mix, it all goes horribly wrong.
My best ever day at a theme park was in 2002 and it was pretty much as described above. My partner and I were in our twenties, child-free and had a fantastic day. Up till then I’d hated theme parks. Here are the reasons why:
- Flamingo Land, 1982 – a man in a gorilla suit jumps out of nowhere and the memory scars me for life. I don’t remember any flamingos – just this one man (or woman. I am assuming it was not a real gorilla).
- Camelot, 1983 – I lose my shocking pink Hula Hoops digital watch in the ball crawl. 16 packets dutifully eaten and sent off, and my reward is gone in an instant.
- Lightwater Valley, 1984 – a friend and I are falsely accused of having gone on Space Mountain twice and thus made the Brownies coach late in departing. The injustice still stings (especially as my “friend” started crying and I didn’t, meaning I also got told off for “leading her astray”).
- Disneyland, 1985 – our family can finally afford a holiday abroad. But only just. Thus my father’s catchphrase for the entire time is “smile, you buggers, this is costing me a fortune!”. We smile. It hurts.
Now I can add “Peppa Pig World, 2012” to the list. Only for the first time, I’m neither a child nor a slacker student. I’m a long-suffering parent, catching the eye of other parents as we queue. “35 minutes from this point”, it says, as we wait for a three-minute ride in a pretend car. We look at each other, we parents, and it’s a look of shared pain, mixed with wry humour. We know the drill. Then we glance down at our impatient offspring, who’ve at this point climbed halfway over the barriers that separate us out into snaking lines. We yank our kids back down and quickly spray some Soltan onto their sweaty heads before they can wriggle from our grasp. It’s a great parental leveler, the theme park.
On this particular occasion it crossed my mind that theme parks are a bit like nightclubs. Both are places constructed with no other objective than to offer patrons a good time, yet should you enter either of them and look around you, you will find people looking miserable as they wait in line for overpriced drinks. There will be fights (a bust-up at XS has nothing on a contretemps over balls at George’s Soft Play Recycle Centre). There will be tears. There will be unwelcome effluvia (generally more wee than vomit in theme parks, although the Windy Castle Ride brought me right to the brink, nausea-wise; I had a pink potty on hand and was totally prepared to vom in it if I had to). You will go to the good-time place and you will not have a good time. Even so, you know that you will go back. You always go back.*
You have less chance of pulling in a theme park than in a nightclub. You are obliged to leave with the same people you arrived with. You can try to escape this fate, but they have “lost children” posts set up to counteract all attempts at abandonment. Even so, it’s not all that bad, I suppose. At least the people you leave with are a known quantity. And yes, they might be sick in the car on the way back, but they’re unlikely to be demanding a kebab five minutes later.
So I survived Peppa Pig World, in a clichéd, long-suffering, parent-y way, and I have the pictures to prove it. Including the £8 picture I was obliged to buy at Mme Gazelle’s school. It would have been less of a waste of money had my Youngest not been staring at plastic Peppa with a look of sheer terror on his face but never mind; it’s a rite of passage. Plastic Peppa can be his Flamingo Land gorilla man.
* Indeed, the whole of Peppa Pig World reminds me of this lyric from Pulp’s She’s A Woman: I don’t know why you pretend / That it causes you pain / When you know very well / You’re gonna do it again. I bloody well am, as well.