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April 12, 1992
In 1955, the world was turned upside down when Walt Disney opened his revolutionary theme park, called Disneyland. It was a first of its kind, and featured four distinct lands. They were Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. The park was an enormous success, and became instantly recognized by everyone in America. Unfortunately, the land Disneyland was built on was quite small, and many cheap motels and cheesy diners sprung up around the borders of the park.
This was the one thing Walt Disney regretted about his park. To fix this, he began scouring the nation for a second park. Eventually he chose the swampland of central Florida as the location for his next venture into the amusement industry. This time he purchased over 20,000 acres, affirming that no unwanted businesses would spring up around this park. However, Walt died in 1966, five years before the park opened in 1971. When the Magic Kingdom opened, it was an enormous success, even though it was almost an exact duplicate of Disneyland.
After the success of the Magic Kingdom, a second park in the Florida resort, known as Walt Disney World, opened. EPCOT was a unique theme park that focused on the future, and celebrated all different parts of the world. With three theme parks up and running, America was about to burst with Disney mania. It was time for the Disney theme parks to expand to other parts of the world.
On April 15, 1983 Disney debuted a brand new theme park, Tokyo Disneyland, located just outside of Japan’s capital city. This was the first time a Disney theme park had ever opened on foreign soil. The park was similar to its sister parks in Florida and California, but was also unique. Instead of Main Street USA, Tokyo Disneyland opened with the World Bazaar as its entrance land.
Ever since Disneyland’s initial success, Walt had been thinking about a European park in the back of his mind. When Michael Eisner took the reigns as President of the Disney Company, he announced the Disney Decade. This would start in 1990 and conclude in 2000. Throughout this time Disney would greatly expand, although not all the details were announced. One of these expansions would be Disney’s first European theme park.
Hundreds of locations were looked at throughout Europe. The final four locations were located with two in both France and Spain. Eventually France was chosen, mostly because its center position in Western Europe. It was estimated that it would be at most a two hour plane ride for over 300 million people. It was also located just outside of France’s capital city, Paris. The resort was give permission by the French government in 1985 to begin early construction and planning for the resort. This was an important step in the process, because without the government’s permission the park could never be built.
For the next three years, the park was undergoing the planning and design process. It wasn’t until August 1988 that construction officially began. The site was just less than 5,000 acres, which provided plenty of leg room. In 1990, Disney opened a unique building called “Espace Euro Disney” which was an entire building dedicated to the construction of the new Disney park. It was basically a preview area for the public, so they could see how construction was progressing and what it would look like when it was complete. The building was demolished shortly after the park opened.
As Euro Disneyland, as it was then called, started construction, another park was already in the works for the resort. It would be called Disney-MGM Studios Europe. The park initially had a budget of $2.3 billion, and was set to open in 1996, four years after the first park. The park went into planning soon after the Disney-MGM Studios opened as part of the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
Similar to its sister resort in Florida, Euro Disneyland would be surrounded by Disney themed hotels, making it a complete resort. 5,000 rooms and seven hotels were scheduled to be ready for booking on Euro Disneyland’s opening day. All of the hotels would feature an American theme, each depicting a different area of the nation. Each of the hotels receive a rating by Disney, represented by a golden key. The scale goes from two to four and is a “comfort scale.” The more keys there are, the more comfortable, and most likely luxurious and expensive, the hotel is.
Disney’s Davy Crockett Ranch is actually located just outside the main resort, but is still a Disney property. It is similar to Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground at Walt Disney World in that they are both essentially campgrounds. However, unlike Fort Wilderness, Davy Crockett Ranch features exclusively bungalows, which total 595. Davy Crockett Ranch features a woodland theme, and is spread out over 140 acres. The hotel has a two key comfort rating, equal to a value resort at Walt Disney World.
Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne is also a two key hotel. The hotel features an Old West theme, very similar to the theme in Frontierland. Across the Rio Grande, a man made river not to be confused with the river of the same name in America, is Disneyland Paris’s third two key hotel, Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe. As the name suggests, the hotel is set in New Mexico. The hotel is a bit different from Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne in that it does not focus on the old west. Instead, a large focus of the hotel is Native Americans as can clearly be seen by the architecture of the buildings.
Disney’s Sequoia Lodge is a three key resort, equivalent to a moderate resort at Walt Disney World. This hotel is themed around North America’s majestic and enormous national parks. This resort is unique in that hundreds of Sequoia and other trees were imported from America to grow in the one-time farmlands of France. The hotel is located at the edge of Lake Disney, which is a large man-made lake that was previously named Lake Buena Vista. The hotel is very similar to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, although the hotel in Walt Disney World opened two years after Disney’s Sequoia Lodge.
The other three key hotel located on site is Disney’s Newport Bay Club. It is modeled after the New England region of the United States, and features a quaint setting. The hotel’s name comes from the town of Newport, Rhode Island which is famous for its island setting and popularity among the rich and famous. The hotel was partly modeled after Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts in Walt Disney World, which had opened two years previous. It is the largest hotel in the resort.
Disney’s Hotel New York is one of two four key hotels, equivalent to a deluxe hotel at Walt Disney World. As easily discovered by the name, this Disney hotel is themed after New York City, which is arguably the cultural center of the world. The hotel itself is designed to resemble a skyscraper and follows an art deco theme. Like Disney’s Sequoia Lodge, Disney’s Hotel New York is located on Lake Disney.
Known as the most prestigious hotel on the property, The Disneyland Hotel is also a four key hotel. The Disneyland Hotel is the only one of the seven hotels that is actually located in the park. The hotel is built over the turnstiles and ticket booths at the entryway to Disneyland Park. It carries a Victorian theme that looks astounding upon arrival and blends in with Main Street U.S.A. once inside the park. Its style of architecture can be compared to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa located in Walt Disney World.
Prior to the resort opening, Disney began an extensive search for employees, or cast members as they are called on Disney properties, as over 12,000 of them would be needed just to run the park. As done in Walt Disney World, executives at Euro Disney Resort wanted an international line-up of cast members. In order to accomplish this casting centers were set up in Frankfurt, London, Paris and Amsterdam, which would almost guarantee a diverse line up of cast members. By 1991, one year before the resort was set to open, over 24,000 people had applied for work. However, the French government made it clear that a majority of the employees should be French to help with unemployment rates. To narrow down the overwhelming number of employee, Disney looked for outgoing people who were bilingual. Once people were cast, a Disney University was built that would train employees.
Also within the resort would be an entertainment and shopping complex similar to Downtown Disney, which was then called Disney Village, at the Walt Disney World Resort. This complex would be known as Festival Disney. It would be quite large covering about 18,000 square meters. Throughout Festival Disney would be different forms of entertainment, restaurants, shops and much more.
And of course, there would be the park. On opening day and for the next two years the park would be known as Euro Disneyland, although this would change numerous times throughout the park’s history. The park was based on the original in Anaheim, but there were quite a few changes as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The area of the park known as Tomorrowland would change to Discoveryland. This was also the first time a Disney Park had been built in a cooler climate. To accommodate this change, thirty-five fireplaces were added in restaurants and shops around the park. Also, many covered walkways were built. The architecture of Sleeping Beauty Castle also changed, as there were actual castles and palaces throughout France. However, for the most part Euro Disneyland was very similar to the original park in California. There would be five lands at opening which were, Main Street U.S.A., Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland and Discoveryland.
Euro Disney Resort opened on April 12, 1992, with crowds projected to surpass 50,000 at Euro Disneyland. Due to this, many media sources warned people to stay away from the area surrounding this new entertainment complex to avoid incredible amounts of traffic. Perhaps these warnings were a bit too strong however, as the park opened to an abysmal amount of people. The number of people was half the projected amount, at around 25,000 people. Also on this day, there was a strike that affected the rail transport throughout Paris. Many have speculated that these and other things led to the atrocious attendance on Euro Disney Resort’s opening day.
However, this became a trend. Attendance remained well below expectations years after the resort went into operation. The drought of guests was so bad that during the resort’s first winter, Disney’s Newport Bay Club was shut down due to extremely low hotel occupancy rates. On top of this the park gained a bad reputation by word of mouth. One French journalist, Jean Cau, went as far as to call the park, “a horror made of cardboard, plastic, and appalling colors, a construction of hardened chewing gum and idiotic folklore taken straight out of comic books written for obese Americans.”
Park employees weren’t exactly helping matters either. Only months after the resort’s opening, thousands of cast members had quit their jobs citing issues such as poor working conditions. Due to these and more conditions, the Disney MGM Studios Europe project was pushed to the side. Throughout this time period, executives made many attempts to try to raise attendance and park expectations. One of these was the introduction of alcohol in the park, something that was very much requested by Europeans.
1993 brought the park’s first major addition since opening day. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril opened on July 30, 1993. It became the first Disney coaster to feature an inversion, which was a vertical loop. This was hopefully going to help boost the park’s attendance and reputation, but unfortunately something happened to stunt this growth. Only weeks after the ride opened, the emergency bakes locked during the middle of the day. This caused some minor injuries, and was yet another blow to the park’s already poor reputation. The ride was briefly closed down for inspections.
By 1994 there was little light for Euro Disney Resort. The park had yet to even make a profit, after being in operation for two years. Michael Eisner announced that unless things soon changed, the park would be closed and Disney would never again set foot in Europe. He gave the park a large sum of money to develop something that would save the park and keep it alive. If this flopped, then Euro Disney Resort would be no more. By the end of 1994, the park and resort were both renamed to Disneyland Paris.
This new attraction did in fact turn out to be Disneyland Paris’s saving grace. Space Mountain was added to the Discoveryland area of the park in 1995 and became an instant success. This iteration of the ride was quite different from all of its previous versions. This ride used a launching system, as opposed to a more common chain lift, found on all other versions of the ride. On top of this there were two inversions and a synchronized soundtrack built into the ride, a first of its kind.
The same year Space Mountain opened, attendance skyrocketed, up two million from the previous year. On top of this, hotel occupancy increased by six percent, the highest it had ever been. During the holiday season, all hotel rooms were booked for the first time in the resort’s history. Perhaps the best part about all of this growth was that Disneyland Paris made its first ever quarterly profit. It seemed that things were finally looking up for the troubled tourist destination.
1996 did not bring any major changes to the park, but Festival Disney went under a few changes. The entertainment complex was renamed Disney Village, a friendlier and welcoming name. Planet Hollywood was added to the newly renamed Disney Village. Over the next two years, no major attractions were added. The last year of the twentieth century brought a new attraction, Honey I Shrunk the Audience. This was a 3-D attraction that can also be found in EPCOT. 1999 did bring an unwelcome visitor however; a freak storm slammed into Disneyland Paris. The hotels received minimal damage, but many of the glass structures throughout the park were breaking, creating a dangerous situation. On this day, the day after Christmas, the park was forced to close at 12 P.M.
The new millennium brought a few changes to the resort and some new additions. Disneyland Paris received a new acrobatic show featuring Tarzan. In typical Disney style, the show was also a musical. The biggest change to the park was the reworking of one of the park’s major attractions. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril became Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril: Backwards! As the name suggests, the ride and trains were altered so guests would travel through the course backwards. This would last for four years, before being reverted to its original forward position.
2001 brought near to nothing to the resort, but 2002 was an enormous year. The resort officially celebrated its tenths anniversary that year. This was an especially huge milestone for the complex, when it had nearly been shut down before its fifth anniversary. Names were changed once again, as a second park opened in celebration of the birthday bash. The entire resort became Disneyland Paris, the original park became Disneyland Park, and the new theme park debuted as Walt Disney Studios Park.
Although not exactly like the original plans for Disney MGM Studios, the park was still based on the movies. However, the setting is a bit different. Walt Disney Studios Park is supposed to be a working studio, and each land is a different lot. The four lands at opening day were The Front Lot, Animation Courtyard, Production Courtyard, and the Backlot. The new park opened on March 6, 2002. This was the last of three Disney parks to open in two years. The previous two opened in 2001 and were Disney’s California Adventure and Tokyo DisneySea in the Disneyland Resort and Tokyo Disneyland Resort respectively.
However, Disneyland Resort Paris was still recovering from its initial loss. This park, which had originally started out as Disney MGM Studios Paris before being put on the back burner for nearly a decade, had shrunk in size and ambition since its original conception. The park opened with only ten attractions. The headline attraction was the Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, a direct import from the ride of the same name in the Disney MGM Studios. Other headline attractions included Cinemagique; Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic; Motors, Action Stunt Show Spectacular, and Animagique. This park would suffer the same fate as its neighbor. Once again, crowds were far under expectations and executives became worried that this park would never take off.
Life at the resort did go on, although people were less than overwhelmed with the second Disney park in Europe. The year 2003 did not bring any major additions anywhere on the resort. The biggest change was behind the scenes. At-the-time CEO Jay Rasulo left Disneyland Resort Paris, and was replaced by Andre Lacroix. This was good news to many park fans, as they did not agree with the way Rasulo ran the park. As soon as Lacroix took the reins, he started working. Parts of Fantasyland were remodeled along with Discoveryland and Main Street.
2004 was another steady year at Disneyland Resort Paris. A theater attraction in Disneyland Park was removed, although there was no word on what would be replacing it. This news came in the first month of 2005, the year that would have more announcements than any other. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast was confirmed to be filling the place of the old attraction. This would be similar to the ride at the Magic Kingdom. The biggest announcements of the year were for France’s fledgling park, Walt Disney Studios Park. The Tower of Terror was revealed along with a new area for the park; Toon Studios.
2005 was the beginning of a new era for Disneyland Resort Paris. The Resort received a huge financial boost from high-up executives in the Disney chain. From 2005-2009 the resort would be receiving one new major ride per year. For the first year Space Mountain was completely remodeled, and became Space Mountain: Mission 2. This had been done with numerous Space Mountains across Disney parks worldwide. The following year also brought an addition to Disneyland Park. This was Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast which had previously been announced.
Starting in 2007, Walt Disney Studios Park will begin its long-awaited expansion. The park will receive two new major rides, one for 2007 and one for 2008. Both of these are well under construction and on task to open at these dates. This summer, the previously announced Toon Studio will open. Along with it will be two totally new and original attractions. A Tea-Cups style ride called Cars: Race Rally will open as the smaller attraction of the new area. The headline attraction of this new area will be Crush’s Coaster. This is the park’s second roller coaster. It is an indoor ride that spins as it travels along the track. The 2008 addition to Walt Disney Studios Park is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. This will be the third ride of its kind in the world, and will be nearly identical to its California counterpart.
Disneyland Resort Paris was an idea that began with Walt Disney himself and was carried out by the Imagineers. Starting as Euro Disneyland Resort, Disneyland Resort Paris now has seven beautiful resort hotels, two thrilling theme parks, an entertainment district and a golfing complex. The Disney trend has now spread to the most romantic city in the world, bringing with it a touch of excitement, a big-eared mouse, and an experience only found at Disney.