Sunday, September 4, 2011

Phantom Manor: Trip Report & Review Part 1

Ah, there you are...

Yes, I have returned form the, other side... Other side of the pond that is. Europe was an experience I'll never forget. Disneyland Paris was, of course, the main highlight of the entire two and a half week journey for me. Let me just say that the only thing they were missing was Splash Mountain. Everything else was perfect, and in some ways, better than both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. But I'll dive deeper into the entire resort experience later; for now, let's stick with the one ride: Phantom Manor...


Phantom Manor is obviously different from the Haunted Mansions in many respects. I won't dive into the obvious things that so many of us reading this already know of. The story of Melanie Ravenswood; the young bride forever trapped in the walls of her father, Henry "The Phantom" Ravenswood's dilapidated Victorian manor after an earthquake stuck the town of Thunder Mesa; is one any Mansion fan with any credit to his or her name has heard at least once. (Any Manor fan who hasn't has no credit to their name, period. Honestly, how can you be a fan of something like this and Not know the story?) As with my previous trips to both Disneyland in 2008 and Walt Disney World earlier this year, I started my vacation and ended my vacation at the resort with rides through the happy haunting ground. I lost count of how many times I rode, and unlike my January trip to Walt Disney World, I can't go back and look over the number of recordings to gauge the amount of times I rode. Okay; enough stalling... let's get on with the review...

Phantom Manor all begins with the same thing nearly ever other ride in Disney Park History begins with: a queuing area. Of course, not all attractions have a magnificent setting and abundance of themed elements as Phantom Manor does. (Dumbo, that one was directed at you...) Phantom Manor's garden queuing area is about as good as realistic "Haunted House" style exterior environments can get. From the cracked cobblestone, to the twisted trees and real spider-webs, the exterior area of Phantom Manor wins the best exterior of all Disney's Mansions in my book. Everything is set up perfect. Even the water fountains in the que are all dried up, keeping with the Frontierland theme of the boom-town that turned into a ghost town! (Though I doubt that was intentional...) Any mansion fan worth their name knows the haunting music box tune played in the gazebo. Slightly less well known is the 3 minuet loop of echoes from past parties and wind-chimes in the pavilion queuing area. And like all statues in Paris, the pavilion boasts four loosely dressed women made of cracked stone. Classy; just like in the Louvre or the Opera House.

I could go in to extreme detail about everything in the que; from the unique, twisted trees that cover the grounds, to the dusty lanterns and ornamental debris; but that would take far to long, and we must continue on to the interior of the attraction; as they say, "the real beauty of this house awaits us, farther on, and she'll just die if we're late..." What I mean to say is, I will devote a post later on discussing the intricate details of the gardens that only Mansion -Manor nerds will find any interest in. This is a report/review, not a break down of the fabric of nature.

So, the foyer. One thing that was neat about the foyer was the fact that when Big Thunder Mountain would go through the unique on-ride-photo section (right across the river from the front of the Manor) at night, it would look like lightning flashes in the window. Speaking of Big Thunder Mountain, check out the on-ride-photo; it comes with an image of Phantom Manor surrounded by bats in the background! As any Phantom Manor fan knows, but some Mansion fans may not know, the face of Melanie Ravenswood (the bride) fades in and out every 15 seconds or so in an ornate mirror hanging in between the two stretching room doors. Another thing that I failed to take a photo of that I liked was the "Sortie" signs like the one in the Foyer. For those of you who have no idea what "Sortie" means, it's the equivalent of "Exit" in french. However, these signs are themed with a Frontierland style font, making them much less of any eye-sore then the Exit Signs in the Mansions here in America.

The stretching room is where things are noticeably different to any average American tourist who has visited the local Mansion. For them, they would be surprised to see a look-alike of the tightrope walker girl in all four paintings. These four girls are all Melanie Ravenswood; and as the stretching room elongates, a chilling premonition of her ultimate fate is revealed in each. The paintings are not meant to be four different deaths she suffered, for even in Disney-logic, dying four times in such bizarre ways goes against the laws of nature. These painting are purely meant to cement one grisly fact into the story; Melanie Ravenswood will die in time. Of course, everyone will die in time, but the story of Melanie Ravenswood is essentially the story of the attraction that you witness on your journey through the ride.


When the lights go out; the image rafters above reveal the Phantom; also known as Melanie's Father, Henry Ravenswood; strangling the intended-to-be groom to death. While I knew what was above prior to visiting the Manor, I really never got a good view of it; both the stretching rooms had dusty scrims, preventing me from seeing the scene clearly. I was also lucky enough to become trapped in a thankfully half-full stretching room once it had reached the bottom. For those of you who do not know, Phantom Manor, like Disneyland in California, has the elevator incarnation of the stretching room. The door became jammed once we reached the bottom, and the floor lurched a few times. Even though it was half-full, the elevator's lift capticty is much lower then it's descent capticty. You can't take a full stretching room back up without creating a true-life tower-of-terror scenario. The house lights came on at one point, but we were only stuck for ten or so minuets at the most. Now I know how my guests feel in the themagical simulation, where the ride's stretching rooms constantly break down. On a more positive note, the eye-sore wall that appears in Disneyland's version of the ride has been painted over with wainscoting here.

And so, we enter the portrait hallway. This is the last time we hear the voice of our host, the Phantom. He bids us farewell, leaving us to board our carriage headed for the party, and beyond. He claims he'll be waiting on the other side for us. (Hint-hint! Foreshadowing!) The Phantom is a much more villainous spirit then the original Ghost Host from the Haunted Mansion. He's not leading you on a safe journey through the house here; he's hell bent on keeping you and ever other visitor trapped in his haunted home for all eternity. The paintings in the hallway contain Marc Davis' Medusa, Panther Lady, Knight, and Ghost Ship; along with various old, sepia tone photos of what is presumed to be some of the former residents of the manor, and plenty of ornate mirrors. It is in these mirrors that first time riders will undoubtedly lay eyes on the grand staircase for the first time; which waits around the corner. At the end of the hallway hangs a large bridal portrait of Melanie Ravenswood in her wedding gown; her haunting soprano seemingly emitting from the painting. We turn the corner, and enter one of the more impressive scenes exclusive to Phantom Manor. The grand staircase loading area is Phantom Manor's step up to Disneyland's still existing problem of the massive empty space that sits between the Loading Belt and the Endless Hallway in the floor plan. Not so impressive is the Staring Bust illusion, which is lit to heavily and is less then convincing. Sure, it doesn't help knowing how the gag is executed, but it's been effect still when seen at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Speaking of lighting; due to the real windows in the foyer, Phantom Manor gradually takes you from a naturally lighting into darkness; unlike Walt Disney World, where you step into darkness and have to pause to let your eyes adjust to the drastic change. One thing I noticed is that until you step onto the loading belt, you can't hear the Loading Area Music; instead, the Portrait Hallway music is clearly audible.

So, we board our Doombuggies... excuse me, carriages; there is never a mention of the word doombuggy in Phantom Manor. These Omnimovers, built in the early 1990's are a bit different from the versions used at the Mansions. These Vekoma cars have no speakers, as Phantom Manor was never intended to contain narration during the ride-through portion of the attraction. And so, we board the cars and venture off into the dark bowels of Phantom Manor...

I leave you now, but I'll be waiting for you on the other side...

(TBC - Part 2 Coming Soon)

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