This year Disneyland Paris
is celebrating its 25th anniversary
. This is a big milestone so they’re giving their guests a mixed bag of a programme as a gift: new parade, new stage shows and nighttime castle projection show, attraction updates and also the end of ✨Project Sparkle✨: a massive program aimed at refurbishing the whole resort after two decades of absolute neglect. As I’m not a specialist of theme park entertainment, I’ll focus on attraction updates and refurbishments in general.
On Twitter I’m often poking fun at their overpromising use of « Exceeding Guest Expectations ». As this years marks the completion of ✨Project Sparkle✨’s first phase, let’s find out if DLP did actually exceed my expectations with this big Quality Control review!
A bit of context first. To understand what’s happening today at Disneyland Paris we have to travel back in time before EuroDisney even opened. In the late seventies, Disney was contacted by a Japanese company called Oriental Land to build a theme park in Tokyo. That would be Disney’s very first attempt at opening a theme park outside of the US. Because it was a risky bet, Disney signed a deal that limited their investment in the soon to be Tokyo Disney Resort. But this licensing deal also greatly limited the profits for The Walt Disney Company. When it opened, Tokyo Disneyland turned out to be an insanely profitable Disney resort by all accounts, but Disney wasn’t getting much money from this successful Tokyo outlet.
Photo: Tokyo Disney Resort
When Disney decided to open a new gate in Europe, they sure would not make the same mistake. The success of Tokyo was so huge that it seemed obvious that a Disney theme park in Europe would have the same instant glory and possibly be an even greater success if they made the park even more spectacular. So they made EuroDisney’s size and scope even greater, with more details, more noble materials, more rich and complex architecture and signature attractions and lands. Oh and seven massive hotels too. They also created a complex financial system that would maximize profits for the Walt Disney Company, while limiting its investment and shares in the operating company. Pretty clever, Michael Eisner… but is it ?
Unfortunately Disney’s initial previsions were way too optimistic. After a couple of years, Disneyland Paris was a commercial success: millions of people were visiting Disney’s European flagship. But on the other hand the custom financial scheme and the fact they just built too much too soon made EuroDisney an unsustainable company, unable to make any profit. The financial debacle of Disneyland Paris was like a 20 years long news headline soap opera. A very bad one. Just like Russian dolls, new money problems kept coming every couple of years: from multiple employee restructuration (aka firing people) to the fact Disney had to build a second theme park on the cheap otherwise they would loose some parcels of land, as stated in the contract between Disney and the French government.
For about twenty years all these factors forced Disneyland Paris to cut costs everywhere it could to save money here and there. Maintenance and personnel was reduced to the strict minimum. Of course it had a negative impact on overall guest experience, despite being a super premium priced destination. The early 2010s marked the point where the Paris resort was in an disgraceful neglected condition, never seen before in any Disney park. Visiting the parks as a frequent returning guest was like holding a checklist where you could check most of the boxes when a piece of decor or effect was turned off, broken or literally falling appart. Rides broke down way more often and longer than any local park in Europe. Shows were canceled. Food was overpriced yet not tasty. Hotels were expensive yet outdated. Overall guest experience was low-range but admission ticket price was high enough to make you feel robbed. If you wonder why DLP always had a very low rate of returning guests, look no further.
Disneyland Paris’ bad reputation reached such a critical point that The Walt Disney Company eventually decided to address the Paris situation a couple of years ago with an « Experience Enhancement Program » code-named ✨Project Sparkle✨ – because Disney parks can never be too gay. For the past three years, most attractions, lands, restaurants and hotels have been closed off entirely for months, sometimes an entire year, in order to bring back the world class standard Disney Parks are famous for. DLP’s communication service also put a lot of effort to spread the word on these massive works. So, did these efforts pay off?
Big Tunder Mountain
The resort’s most popular attraction now looks absolutely jaw-dropping. Vibrant colors, clean cut greenery, new whistle sound effects give the ride – and the entire land – more life than ever. Even the long extinct splashdown effect is back. The new, enhanced scene on the last lift complete with dynamite explosions, video mapping and smoke effect is a nice addition but it works too randomly at this time. The smoke effect, which is the most thrilling part of the finale is often missing. Most updated show elements are a success but the technical update, not so much: the frequent breakdown problem hasn’t been fixed yet despite a complete upgrade of the ride’s operating system. Although it’s currently getting better, I wonder if BTM will ever be able to operate normally, without hours of interruption a couple of times a day.
The rest of Frontierland looks just as stunning. The « Rivers of the Far West » lake has been drained during the Big Thunder Mountain’s one year long refurbishment and DLP took the opportunity to completely bring the infamous geysers back to life. Unfortunately all water and smoke effects were turned off when we visited but the rock work looks clean and more colorful than before. Elsewhere in the land, large pieces of architecture and facades have been refurbished from ground like Fort Comstock at Frontierland’s main gate. Visiting it today makes it easy to forget how it was literally crumbling just one year ago. Frontierland is also the land where major works still must be completed on the next phase of ✨Project Sparkle✨, with a complete update on Phantom Manor (closing scheduled this fall for at least nine months) and we’re still hoping that the Mark Twain steam boat will eventually be refurbished and will join the Molly Brown someday to bring back this ride to full hourly capacity instead of half capacity.
Adventure land’s large island complex including
La Cabane Des Robinsons