Looking forward to Disneyland Paris' 20th birthday

September 21, 2010, 11:29 AM · Disneyland Paris will celebrate its 20th anniversary in a little under 18 months. In the world of Disney theme parks, where these corporate birthday events enjoy year-long festivities of a Soviet-May-Day intensity, you can be sure that the Paris jamboree will be given particularly special treatment.

Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris

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.'

Happy (early) birthday Disneyland Paris!

Replies (10)

September 21, 2010 at 7:39 PM · This is a really early, but good, story.

I was there for the 15th and they made a big deal out of it so I do not see why 20 isn't even bigger.

It also has been a park that has really grown in Europe. It started out terribly, and went to a top European destination.

As for my opinion, it has been the best "Magic Kingdom" style park I have been to. It has the quaintess of DL and the atmospheric size and feeling of WDW. It also has the best Thunder Mountain this side of the Wilderness!

September 22, 2010 at 5:59 AM · Let's hear it for the park that shows up in more articles than any other park, as being responsible for Disney either altering, delaying or out right cancelling projects stateside due to poor performance. Happy 20th!
September 22, 2010 at 10:17 AM · Any Parisian locals or park regulars care to share their thoughts on the park? Unlike the Japanese and Chinese, the French have never really struck me as big fans of American pop culture.
September 22, 2010 at 11:18 AM · I prefer to call it Dustyland Paris as they havn't had a new ride at the Disneyland Park since Buzz Lightyear. And I refuse to call Walt Disney Studios a park! It is the size of two lands put together. They need to do a resort wide expansion but I can't see them doing anything special for their 20th.

They placed EuroDisney in the wrong place anyway the French dont want an American park hence the lack of progress and it's failure.

September 22, 2010 at 11:28 AM · That sounds all very wrong, like a lot of projection. There are no numbers to back up the assertions.

How many French visitors and how many Europeans in general were there really at the Florida Magic Kingdom? And how many of those were theme park only visitors staying just at Disney property as the ones described here.

A lot of Eurodisneys neverending loss history can be attributed to exactly the same mistakes made here the idear that Europeans do theme park holidays the way Americans do. Theres a case to be made that Europeans might be more likely to do so if the park is in the south like the Florida one, but still, there are other problems with that idear. Europeans work shorter hours, thus they earn less and have longer holidays, which reduces the budget per holiday day a lot. Theres also competition from all the historic buildings which are free to look at and often more exciting than any Disney themeing.

September 22, 2010 at 12:04 PM · DLP to me is a great fill in place between trips to WDW. While the flights to Paris can be cheap by the time you have added return bus fare to the parks and the very expensive food costs in the parks anything more than a long weekends can be 1/2 the price of a trip to florida! Not that we don't love going but we tend to go to smell the roses and take in Mickey (if you can get past the non-smiley castmembers) atmosphere rather than ride rides.

But having been there for opening year, 5th 10th and 15th birthday years I am sure they will do something which will no doubt last 2 years like the 15th party LOL

September 22, 2010 at 12:22 PM · My wife and I went to Disneyland Paris some 12 to 15 years ago so my comments may be out of date....

However, it was a strange experience. When it was good it was very, very good - we were blown away by Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates, Haunted Mansion.... and then there was the rest which was just... kind of ordinary and at worst just plain bizarre. We saw a show where the speech was in French but the songs in English. The Snow White ride broke down whilst we were on it and the announcements were solely in French... It all felt kind of odd and mixed and not quite right... And it was tiny... The whole park was a fraction the size of our home-grown Alton Towers and that felt odd...

When we went to Florida some years later suddenly Disney made 100% sense and I fell for the Magic Kingdom hook, line and sinker. This was what it was meant to be...

I'm told Paris has improved greatly over the years since we went, not least with the addition of the Studios Park, (although it looks like a very slim line up of attractions). I'd be interested to go back but I can't help feeling that Disney chose the wrong country to host it's European park. Despite the UK's por winter weather, (not that different from Paris actually), the culture would have been so much more in tune with the Disney ethos and after all, who is the greatest overseas market for Florida and Disneyworld? Yep - the UK....

September 22, 2010 at 5:06 PM · If some money on entertainment can be held back during 2011 the 20th could be a cracking experience in both Parks and Star Tours 2 will premiere in 2012 with quite a short turn around as most simulators have already had a computer upgrade except one which should experience its upgrade during November with the Attraction staying open throughout. This means that the shut down will only have to be for 6 Months Rather than a year in the USA.
September 23, 2010 at 3:42 AM · Probably worth mentioning that the "rent-a-mob" of farmers took issue with the building of EuroDisney because the French government, so eager to court the business of Disney, told them that they were going to have their land bought off them to build a theme park on, and that they had absolutely no choice in the matter. Given some of these farms had belonged to the families that owned them for hundreds of years, it's kind of understandable why they weren't best pleased with this.
September 23, 2010 at 7:57 AM · Can you imagine that rather than being given gifts, cake, and party favours, everyone pointed out your faults on your birthday?

This has to be the worst 20th birthday celebration ever. Someone get that poor park a glass of Chardonnay.

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