When Disney announced plans to construct a European park at the end of the 1980s, it created the sort of sensation that would be hard to imagine today. In the wake of Skytrain, travel to the States had boomed during the '80s despite tough economic circumstances. A trip to Walt Disney World in Florida suddenly became the ambition of many family that now could afford the holiday. Disney World offered a family holiday of perfect hot summer Florida days, stunning theme park rides and good-value accommodation – all that and as many burgers, fries and milkshakes as you could manage.
From this success the Disney corporation estimated that a theme park built in Paris ought to flourish even more. Instead of flying nearly half the day to America to sample Disney fun, residents of France would only have to take the train a couple of hours to Paris. Since the idea was the brainchild of Disney’s saviour, Michael Eisner, who had established himself as a latter-day Walt, it reached fruition. From well before Euro Disney, as it was then called, opened to the public in April 1992 doubts were expressed. Was there really a market for a year-round theme park on the eastern outskirts of Paris where temperatures can be pretty frigid in the winter and spring? Would a predominantly French workforce be able to adapt themselves to the smiley Disney culture?
In the end only the French farmers – a sort of Gallic rent-a-mob – bothered to turn up (hard to see why they were opposed, but they were). In order to hog the TV channels of Europe, Disney had a televised broadcast of the pre-opening party that included an impressive roster of stars, from Pavarotti and Eddie Murphy to Tina Turner and Michael J Fox, in a lavish event that cost more than £20 million (a sum that would have bought a fairly substantial UK theme park).
Fairly quickly the park ran into financial troubles and had to be rescued by a substantial investment from a Saudi prince. Before the bailout there were real fears that Disneyland Paris, as it became in the rebranding, might not have survived. It says much about the Disney energy and spirit that the theme park has not merely survived but grown.
To get the most out of any theme park trip – but especially a visit to Disney – you need to prepare meticulously: study the guides and the maps before deciding where you want to go and when would be the best time to do it. If you want to watch the regular daily parades of Disney characters, you need to plan to find a good spot to watch the show well before the event. And you need to know what's new. This year, the resort's newest attractions are at Walt Disney Studios, the second, companion park that opened in 2002. The Toy Story Playland area, with Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, Slinky Dog Zigzag Spin and RC Racer offers the premise that Andy’s away and ‘the toys are ready to play.'
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