After the success of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and sister parks, it seemed like a no-brainer: build a new Disney theme park near Paris, where millions of Europeans could come see Mickey. Soon, however, Disney was at risk of losing not just its money but its infallible magic as well.
The story of Disneyland Paris starts from the very beginning, with Walt's original Disney theme park in California, the park that started it all.
Havel then reviews how one park became many, as Disney built more theme parks in Florida, Tokyo, and then Paris. We go on a journey to see how Disneyland Paris got built, how the French reacted to it, the many ways in which it differs from the parks that came before it, and the troubles that very nearly led to its closure.
Havel also explores the park's legacy and how it affected the Disney theme parks that came after it, and then speculates what the future might hold for Disneyland Paris.
Chapter 1: Walt Disney and Disneyland
Chapter 2: Walt Disney World
Chapter 3: Arrival of Eisner and Wells
Chapter 4: Tokyo Disneyland
Chapter 5: Picking a European Site
Chapter 6: Park Ownership
Chapter 7: Designing and Building Euro Disney
Chapter 8: Main Street, U.S.A.
Chapter 9: Frontierland
Chapter 10: Adventureland
Chapter 11: Discoveryland
Chapter 12: Fantasyland
Chapter 13: Hotel District and Disney Village
Chapter 14: Val d’Europe
Chapter 15: Media Reaction to Euro Disney
Chapter 16: Working to Opening Day
Chapter 17: The Park’s Early Troubles
Chapter 18: Remedying the Situation
Chapter 19: Restructuring the Debt
Chapter 20: Park Closures
Chapter 21: Second Financial Restructuring
Chapter 22: Walt Disney Studios Park
Chapter 23: Future
Chapter 24: Marvel and Disneyland Paris
Chapter 25: Star Wars and Disneyland Paris
Chapter 26: Post Paris Theme Parks
Disneyland Paris was a massive undertaking. The entire Disneyland Paris resort is made up of two theme parks with 59 attractions, 7 hotels with 8,500 hotel rooms, 2 convention centres, 55 restaurants, 13 cafes and a golf course. The park generates more than 56,000 direct and indirect jobs and is the largest single site employer in France. More than 500 professions, roles and trades are represented by a multitalented staff comprised of hosts and hostesses, dancers, stunt people, Disney characters, show technicians, dressmakers, glaziers, engineers, doctors and more. Even in the middle of the night there are almost 300 staff working in Disneyland Paris, half of them working in maintenance, making sure every ride is tested and every store restocked. One hundred nationalities and twenty languages are represented on site. The park has 250,000 flowers and 150,000 trees, of which there are 450 species, maintained by 100 gardeners. Disneyland Paris is the world’s most popular location for marriage proposals, with Walt Disney World Florida coming in second place and the Eiffel Tower coming in at number four. More than 320 million people have visited Disneyland Paris since 1992, 44% of them French. When talking about Disneyland Paris, Disney theme park designer Tony Baxter stated, “we were challenged to make Disneyland Paris the most beautiful of all the parks, and in the end, it’s the most beautiful castle park we’ve ever done.” One year after its opening, Disneyland Paris had already become Europe’s number one tourist attraction.
Europe seemed like a natural fit for a Disney theme park. Disney movies had done well in Europe and the U.S parks attracted lots of European tourists. Many of the fairy tales that inspired successful Disney movies originated from Europe. Snow White is German, Pinocchio is Italian, Peter Pan and Alice are British, the Little Mermaid is Danish, and Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle are all French. “Kindly seven dwarfs,” wrote French writer Andre Glucksmann about a proposed Euro Disney, “make yourselves at home, here you will never be invading, just coming home.” Europe’s Disneyland would represent a continental homecoming for centuries old European storybook characters who had been given a cinematic makeover by movie maker Walt Disney. Walt found much of his inspiration for the original Disneyland in California during his travels to locations such as the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, and the Matterhorn in Switzerland, to name but a few. The Disney family can even trace their European links back to Isigny-sur-Mer, a town in Normandy, France. Walt himself served in France with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver in World War One and once spent the night in the middle of the French countryside, just outside of Paris, a few kilometres from where Euro Disney would eventually be built.
Though Europe seemed like such a good fit for a Disney theme park, moving a European Disneyland from concept, to creation, to operation would not be a smooth one and would not be without its troubles. The parks massive construction costs burdened the European Disneyland with enormous amounts of debt which to this day the Euro Disney SCA company struggles to pay back. The financial debt has been a drag on the parks profitability since day one. This book explores the background to Disneyland Paris, starting with the story of the very first Disney amusement park in California, whose success, which was never a guarantee, has led to 11 more theme parks and 2 water parks. The story then moves on to Walt Disney World in Florida which is important because it was built without Walt Disney. Then we move on to Tokyo Disneyland which is the first Disney park built outside of the United States, and its success or failure would determine Disney’s appetite for overseas adventures. And then we’ll reach Disneyland Resort Paris. We’ll discover who’s idea it was, who built it, why was it built in Paris, and what were the main events and people that inspired the parks design and willed it into existence, and finally, what is yet to come. It is a story filled with controversy and unexpected plot twists, worthy of a classic Disney movie. Would the Disney management team, so full of undefeatable Hollywood optimism, be able to recover from the many obstacles in their way? Would Mickey Mouse, traditionally cast as the sympathetic underdog be morphed into a symbol of corporate power and greed? Would the whole endeavour go down in smoke? Many around the world were quietly, and sometimes loudly, rooting against Disney, in the hope that the cultured French would not accept a tacky American Disney theme park and that Disney had finally met their match. It’s a tale of brilliant design, over spending, crushing debt, Saudi Princes, and lessons learned. It’s the fascinating story of Europe’s most visited tourist attraction, and the finest of all the Disney castle parks.
Mark Havel has a B.A in Business and Economics and M.Sc in International Management from Trinity College Dublin and a post-graduate diploma in International Growth from University College Dublin.
He is a resident of Dublin, Ireland, and is a life-long fan of the Disney theme parks. He has visited Disney parks in the U.S. and Japan, and makes frequent trips to Disneyland Paris.