Friday, 26 April 2019

Aladdin the Musical at the Prince Edward Theatre, London

I’m sure you’ll know by now that I’m a massive Disney fan, but I’m also really into musicals, as is my Mum. So when her birthday came round this year, I decided to buy two tickets for us to go and see Disney’s Aladdin the Musical up in London. I’d heard a lot of good reviews of it, but even after hearing those, the show still well exceeded my expectations.

Early one Saturday, we took a very packed train up to London Waterloo (turns out we’d picked the same day the Rugby was on!) and got a taxi over to the West End. I had planned to take my Mum to Pizza Express for a nice lunch before the show, but as we approached the restaurant I noticed there were some steps to get in. My Mum went inside to ask for their ramp, but after what felt like ages, came back out to tell me that they didn’t have a ramp and so we couldn’t eat there. Their excuse for not having a ramp was because they don’t have a disabled toilet! Just in case anyone reads this who happens to run a restaurant – most disabled people I’ve spoken to would rather be given the choice to still come and eat in a restaurant, whether there is a disabled toilet or not. As long as you make it clear when we first come in to the restaurant, it shouldn’t be a problem and is then our decision whether we would need that accessible toilet or not. Unfortunately, because this all took up quite a lot of our time, we ended up just grabbing a McDonalds, which wasn’t really the nice lunch I’d had planned.

Thankfully, as soon as we got to the Prince Edward Theatre, our experience improved dramatically. The security guards quickly spotted us looking for a way to get in, and directed us round to a side entrance where we waited for a lady called Heidi, who would be looking after us that afternoon. As we were a bit early and the house wasn’t open yet, Heidi asked if we would like to go into the foyer or use the toilets (to which I said yes!) Unless you’ve been in a wheelchair, you may not appreciate how overwhelming it can be trying to get through tightly packed crowds of people all pushing and shoving to get to where they want to be. But Heidi was fantastic; walking in front of me and clearing a path so I could get to the toilets without people bashing into me. I told her I needed someone like her with me all the time!

Once we’d made ourselves more comfortable, Heidi took us back around to the side entrance and we were able to go in to our seats. There are two choices when it comes to disabled seats – you can either go in a box and stay in your wheelchair, or transfer from your chair into a seat in an accessible part of the theatre. I had decided to transfer, as we weren’t 100% sure if my chair would fit through the door into the box (in retrospect I think it would have been OK). So I took my chair right up to the first row of the Dress Circle and transferred across to a seat with a pretty amazing view. My chair was then taken off to be stored, but I was told I could ask for it back at any time if I needed to use the facilities. 

As we sat down, I suddenly realised we hadn’t been able to buy a programme or look at any of the merchandise, so I mentioned this to Heidi. I honestly thought we would have to go all the way back round to the foyer, but instead, Heidi asked one of the Disney staff to come to our seat with the merchandise so we could buy anything we wanted without having to go anywhere. My Mum bought the programme package, which consists of two different books, as well as an Aladdin tote bag. We sat chatting excitedly, flicking through the programme as we waited for the show to start.

I was really intrigued to see how they had translated the original film into a theatre show, and as with any classic, was a bit nervous about whether they would do it justice. But I really shouldn’t have worried – it was AMAZING!! I honestly don’t think I can find the words to fully explain what a fantastic show Aladdin is. It had me crying, laughing, signing and dancing, and by the end I really didn’t want to leave! 

When we saw it, Matthew Croke was playing Aladdin and Jade Ewen was Jasmine. They both did an amazing job of bringing the two main characters to life on the stage. Aladdin came across, just like in the film, as a cheeky and fun young man, and Jasmine was just as beautiful as she is in the animated film. 

But by far my favourite character in the show had to be the Genie, played by the amazing Trevor Dion Nicholas. I think it’s probably the hardest role to play, as with Robin Williams playing the original Genie in the film, there are huge shoes to fill. But Trevor brought everything you could possibly wish for to the role. He was incredibly funny, sassy and had the whole audience crying with laughter with his witty one-liners and feisty comebacks. He also has the most insane voice, which was particularly noticeable in the Friend Like Me number, which nearly had me crying happy tears because of how well put together it was. It had a whole part that was just dedicated to tap dancing, which for someone that used to do tap was pretty darn awesome! And it even included some snippets of other Disney songs that really showed off Trevor’s incredible talent. I just wanted to take him home with me at the end!

Talking of the music, I was so impressed with the way Alan Menken (who has also written music for films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Tangled – seriously, he’s amazing!) had not only included some well-known songs from the Aladdin film, but also composed some brand new pieces for the stage show. And with beautiful lyrics from Howard Ashman, Sir Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin, I was desperate to buy the soundtrack and listen to it on repeat over and over again! It was so nice to hear some of my favourites, like ‘A Whole New World’ and ‘Friend Like Me’ whilst also hearing new songs like the touching ‘Proud of Your Boy.’ 

Before the show, I was wondering what the set would be like, as I knew from the film that there are a fair few locations, some of which are pretty difficult to replicate in a relatively small theatre. But, like with everything else, I was awestruck by how the team (Bob Crowley on Scenic Design, Gregg Barnes on Costume Design, Natasha Katz on Lighting Design and Ken Travis who designed the Sound) had managed to bring everything to life. The street and palace scenes were full of colour, charm and a fair amount of sparkle, but by far the standout scene for me was the Cave of Wonders. I actually couldn’t believe what I was seeing! This golden cave just seemed to appear out of nowhere in front of us and was the perfect background for the big number before the interval!

I was also left speechless by the famous magic carpet scene. I don’t want to give too much away in case you’re hoping to see it, but I still cannot work out how they made that carpet fly! Watching that and listening to ‘A Whole New World’ left me feeling rather emotional (yep, I’m one of those people that cries at Disney songs!) 

The production came to an end all too quickly and I remember sitting in my seat for a minute just thinking that it couldn’t possibly be over – I just wanted to watch it all over again! As the audience started to leave the theatre, Heidi returned with my wheelchair and helped us back out of the side door. I needed the loo again by this point, so again, she cleared a path for us back round to the foyer so we could reach the toilets without being trampled by everyone leaving. By the time we’d come out of the toilets, the foyer was looking much more empty, which meant we were able to have a proper look at all the merchandise behind the counters (there were a few bits that hadn’t been brought to our seat). I’m a big pin badge collector, so when I noticed they were selling an Aladdin the Musical pin badge, I knew I needed to get one to add to my collection!

On our way to the theatre in the taxi, I had spotted the patisserie Maître Choux just a couple of streets away, so I told my Mum I would treat her to a fancy éclair as we hadn’t been able to have a special lunch. Unfortunately, there was a step into the store, and again, my Mum was told there was no ramp. It was getting cold, rainy and dark, so there was no way I was going to sit in the middle of the pavement eating an éclair, so in the end, feeling slightly upset and frustrated, we just made our way home. It’s a real shame, because the production was so amazing and the disabled access at the theatre was brilliant, but the two experiences of trying to get food and not being able to did spoil our day a bit. 

Still, I’m really glad I was able to take my Mum to see such a fantastic show and am so thankful for how easy Heidi and the rest of the Prince Edward Theatre staff made our afternoon there. 

If you like the sound of Aladdin the Musical and fancy going to see it yourself, you’ll have to be fairly quick, as it’s closing in August 2019! From Monday to Saturday it plays at 7.30pm, but on Thursdays and Saturdays there are also matinee performances at 2.30pm. You can book tickets through the website, but if you need an accessible seat, it is better to ring on 0344 482 5137 or buy them in person at the Box Office. 

Seeing Aladdin the Musical has definitely given me the musical theatre bug and I’m now desperate to go and see more shows (I have a rather long wish list, as well as wanting to go back and see Aladdin again!) Although I haven’t seen many shows, this one is definitely up there with my favourites, so if you love the original movie and are looking for something funny, full of sparkle, laughter and with music you can sing along to for weeks afterwards, I would definitely recommend booking Aladdin soon.

Are you a fan of the theatre? Have you seen Aladdin or are there any other shows you would recommend I put on my wish list?

Friday, 19 April 2019

Day Three at Disneyland Paris - Characters, Fantasyland and Fireworks

So far, I have shared what we got up to on our first day and second day at Disneyland Paris, and today I’m back to tell you all about Day Three! If you haven’t seen my first post, my family and I went to Disneyland Paris back in September 2018 to kick off my 30th Birthday celebrations. 

We were up very early on Wednesday morning, as we wanted to make the most of our Extra Magic Hours (if you stay in a Disney Hotel, you can go into the park before the general public). So my Mum, Bekkah and I headed through the Disney Village to the Disneyland Park before breakfast, with the aim of making some appointments to meet some of our favourite characters. Unfortunately, it turned out that you couldn’t actually make the appointments (which you can make if you have an accessibility pass) during Extra Magic Hours. However, we still decided to make the most of the quieter Magic Hours and managed to meet Minnie Mouse in her gorgeous 25thAnniversary blue dress. I absolutely loved the PhotoPass photos we got during our character interactions. I only wish I had been more organised and worked out some Disney bounding outfits so I looked a bit more put together! 

We then made our way down Main Street, where I met Donald Duck for the second time of our trip! But as far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as too much Donald, so I was more than happy to get some more photos with him! He’s great for interactions as well and had everyone laughing, including the Cast Members!

As the park was still relatively quiet, we wanted to try and get some photos in front of the castle. Unfortunately the sky was a bit grey and dreary, but that wasn’t going to put us off getting our photos! I do think it’s a real shame that they don’t have a PhotoPass photographer around this area like they do in America, as so many people want to get a good picture in front of the iconic castle that I can imagine it would be a really popular PhotoPass spot. Still, we managed to get a few nice photos between ourselves.

After meeting Minnie and Donald, we were feeling pretty peckish, so we went back to our hotel for some breakfast. As with every day, there was a character meet in the hotel lobby, and today’s character was Pluto. The queue was fairly small by the time we got there, so while we waited for my Dad to come down from the room we went to say hello to Pluto. He was another great character for interactions and was so funny in front of the camera.

Once we had eaten our breakfast (this time in the Manhattan Diner, which had a Marvel theme), we went back to the Disneyland Park and, after taking a few more photos in front of the castle; we went to meet the main man himself – Mickey! Unlike a lot of the other characters, you meet Mickey Mouse inside a special building, where you head backstage to see him in between his magic shows. The queues looked pretty long for this meet and greet, but luckily my Green Access Pass meant we could go in the disabled entrance and so we didn’t have to queue for too long, which was a real lifesaver!

We had hoped to meet Winnie the Pooh next, so we wandered through Fantasyland towards his meet and greet spot. I think out of all the areas in the Disneyland Park, Fantasyland is probably my favourite. I just loved seeing all the buildings, decorations and theming as we walked through it. We went past Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, which I’m gutted we never got round to doing, as it looked really good. We also saw the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups, which look so pretty (and I’ve heard look amazing lit up at night) although I’d never be able to go on them, as I get too dizzy!

Unfortunately, all the Winnie the Pooh appointments had already been booked up and the queue was really long, so we decided to give seeing him a miss. But as we were walking back through Fantasyland, we bumped into Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They were definitely in character and were up to no good, causing mischief around the park! When one of them saw I had a birthday badge on, he ran to grab the other one and they both ‘sang’ Happy Birthday to me, which was great fun and drew a bit of a crowd!

By this point, we had decided it was time to go on some rides, and as my sisters had gone off to do something else, my Mum, Dad and I opted for a few of the more gentle rides in the park! We started with Peter Pan’s Flight, as I had heard so many good reviews of it. They weren’t wrong! It was one of my favourite rides of the trip – you float through the air in a pirate ship and see various scenes from Peter Pan below you. The attention to detail was fantastic and you really feel like you’re flying – I would recommend it again and again.

Next up was Le Pays de Contes de Feés; a relaxing and gentle boat ride through the enchanting realm of Disney’s Storybook Land. This is something that the whole family can enjoy, and it was lovely seeing miniature versions of well known fairy tales like The Wizard of Oz, The Sword in the Stone, Peter and the Wolf, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. We followed this with It’s a Small World, which, if I’m totally honest, scares me a little bit (although I’m not sure that’s the aim!)

As we made our way back through Fantasyland towards Main Street, we had to go through the centre of the castle. I knew you could climb up into the castle to look out onto the park, but assumed that because I was in a wheelchair I wouldn’t be able to do it. But as we were passing through, we noticed a lift, so decided to head up into the castle to see what was up there. I would definitely recommend doing this if you can, because upstairs are the most beautiful stained glass windows that are well worth a look. You can also have a fantastic view over the whole park from up there and it’s good fun spotting different rides in the different areas.

We were feeling pretty hungry after so much exploring, so Bekkah suggested we try out Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost in Adventureland for a bit of lunch. This is a counter service restaurant serving Italian dishes like pizza and pasta. They did a pretty good meal deal, which included a pizza, garlic bread, salad and an ice cream, although we ended up with way too much so probably shouldn’t have ordered quite so much!

As we were already in Adventureland, after lunch we decided to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, as we remembered really enjoying it when we visited ten years ago! Basically, you ride in a boat around an old town as you join Captain Jack Sparrow on his quest to unearth his hidden treasure. It’s pretty dark and noisy, so young children might find it a bit scary, but there are some great special effects, music to sing along to and even a very small dip down (which you feel is going to be more of a drop than it actually is!) 

Rosiie, Bekkah and I were desperate to go on Big Thunder Mountain again, and as we were so close we made our way over for a quick spin on the old mine train. By this point we were feeling pretty exhausted, so started heading back up Main Street with the intention of going back to our hotel for a bit. But, like always, I was soon distracted by some of the shops on Main Street, so had a little look around Harringtons (which has beautiful window displays) and Boardwalk Candy Place. I’m so gutted I didn’t buy any Mickey shaped treats – they looked so yummy!

We were heading towards the exit, but then my Dad noticed that the Disneyland Railroad was running again, after having a technical fault earlier in the day. So we decided to take the lift up to the station and go for a leisurely ride around the whole of the Disneyland Park. I think this would be a really good thing to do at the beginning of your trip to Disney, as it allows you to pretty much see the layout of the whole park from above, as well as parts you don’t see when you’re walking around. It’s also a good way of getting between the different lands without having to walk all the way, so would be good if you’ve got young children or if you’re just struggling to walk.

After some down time resting back in our hotel room, it was time for some much-needed dinner! This evening, we had booked to eat in Hunter’s Grill, which is a buffet restaurant in the Sequoia Lodge Hotel, just a short walk from the New York Hotel. It feels really cosy as soon as you enter, with lots of dark wood, stone and beautiful lights that show a cut out of a forest, mountains and some deer. The food was also amazing again, with so much choice and something suitable for every possible taste. Plus there were some delicious mini doughnuts for pudding and my favourite raspberry sweets!

Once we’d eaten, we made our way back into the park for the firework display at the castle. Despite us being fairly early, it was already really busy, but thankfully a Cast Member spotted us and took us round to the disabled area right at the front. We were so lucky to have such a good view! I’m not sure I can even find the words to describe the fireworks – they were just incredible. The photos just don't do them justice, so do head over to my YouTube to see some video footage as well. It’s a mixture of fireworks, water, fire and projections onto the castle, all put along to a medley of Disney tunes. Everyone was singing along, gasping every time some fireworks came and I even shed a few tears at one point because it was just so spectacular and I couldn’t believe I was there watching it. At the end, we followed the crowds out of the park and waved goodbye to Mickey Mouse as he stood above us at the exit. We were beyond exhausted after a jam-packed day, but it was totally worth it!

Check back again soon to find out what we did on Day Four of our Disneyland Paris holiday! And don’t forget, you can also check out my vlogs from our trip on my YouTube channel

Have you been to Disneyland Paris or are you planning a Disney holiday soon? I’d love to hear your favourite things about Disney!