Much like Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration, the festivities extend beyond Disneyland Paris’ official birthday. The celebration begins March 6, 2022 and will feature a new daytime show, the opening of Avengers Campus this summer, new costumes for Mickey and friends, and special treats to enjoy!
“…we keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” Walt Disney
Disneyland was never going to be the completion of Walt’s dream and considering his love for Europe — which was his and his brother Roy’s chosen destination for their ‘Grand Tour’ in 1935 — and the Disney family’s ancestral ties to Ireland, expansion overseas was really just a matter of time. Although the Paris park project was not fully realized during Walt’s lifetime, this growth trajectory was very much in keeping with the vision.
As a young child in the 1980s, I can clearly remember my giddy excitement when news reports spoke of potential plans for a European Disney Park. Having never visited Disneyland or Walt Disney World, the thought of the magic coming much closer to home was a thrilling prospect, especially in the early stages when the United Kingdom was also a possible host contender.
It ultimately came down to a choice between Spain and France but due to France’s more central location and its good transport links by air and train, Paris was declared the perfect destination as it would be much more accessible for European visitors. The new park was to be called Euro Disney and a deal between Disney and the French authorities was signed in 1987.
To whet the appetite of future guests and to promote the Disney brand to its target audience across the Atlantic, a preview centre was constructed in the small village of Serris to showcase the new Park and its upcoming attractions. For 10 francs guests, could visit Espace Euro Disneyland which opened to the public in December 1990 displaying concept drawings, scale models, and an exhibition hall.
Designed by architect Robert A.M Stern, adorning the building was a large-scale version of Mickey’s Sorcerer’s hat, long before a similar version was installed at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida in 2001 (love it or hate it!). Cast members would act as custodians for the exhibits, talking to guests about the plans and explaining what wonders awaited them in this soon to be constructed happy place.
In the purpose-built movie theatre, visitors could watch a screening of ‘Euro Disney: Quand l’Imaginaire Devient Réalité (When the Dream Becomes Reality)’ before finally being ushered through to the gift shop where they could buy custom made merchandise, vacation packages and park tickets.
Euro Disney opened to the public on April 12, 1992, although not without some initial problems and financial concerns.
The unfortunate timing of the opening coincided with a recession in France which contributed to a French real estate crash. The Paris park also provided a steep learning curve for the Disney corporation when unforeseen cultural clashes emerged in the first few years of its opening. For example, allowances needed to be made for the different vacation and dining habits of European guests who tended to take longer vacations as opposed to American park guests who preferred shorter breaks.
European diners also enjoyed longer, more leisurely lunches which the fast-food restaurants were not designed or prepared for. But perhaps the biggest concession was around the sale of alcohol. French visitors especially enjoyed drinking alcohol with their meals which was not in keeping with the Disney family orientated ethos and the non-sale of alcohol was not a popular decision amongst French park guests. However, a compromise was reached whereby guests were permitted to purchase alcohol with a meal in the park restaurants.
In 1994, Euro Disney changed its name to Disneyland Paris and visitor numbers continued to grow steadily, especially following the completion of the TGV trainlink in France and the Chunnel tunnel project which provided a direct link from London on the Eurostar in 1996.
Over the years, many famous people have visited Disneyland Paris including Buzz Aldrin, Michael Jackson, and George W. Bush who dined with French President Francois Mitterrand in 1994.
In 1995, Elton John’s European Tour was sponsored by Disneyland Paris and he performed at the park that year to mark the opening of Space Mountain, later to become Stars Wars Hyperspace Mountain.
I had originally planned to visit Disneyland Paris in 1993 with my future husband but our trip was cancelled by the travel company a few weeks before our departure date. We planned to re-schedule for another time but decided to save up a bit longer and visit Walt Disney World instead which we did for the first time in 1997. My very first trip to Paris was therefore not until February 2017 when my daughter and I booked a girls trip just for the two of us and we had an amazing time!
Disneyland Paris is such a beautiful Park and houses my favourite Castle. It feels as though you have stepped into a story book set in Medieval times as you approach the entrance. The exquisite stained glassed windows designed by the British glass expert, Paul Chapman, when he was in his 80s, are truly stunning. To complete this fairy-tale image, you walk beneath the castle to find a sleeping dragon who intermittently wakes up and surveys the crowds surrounding him, roaring his displeasure before he falls back into a deep slumber.
When we visited in February it snowed on our second day and although it was cold, the snow just added an extra magical feel to our surroundings. We loved petting Uno the horse as he pulled his carriage along Main Street, and we spent quite a bit of time soaking up the details of the two undercover arcades that run parallel along each side.
Lily’s Boutique which opened in 1999 on Main Street is a tribute to Walt’s wife and is a quaint homewares store selling cookery items and china kitchenware. A lovely decorative touch is the black and white family photos of Walt and Lillian which hang from the walls.
In 2002, the Walt Disney Studios opened and it was here that my daughter and I experienced the Ratatouille ride and ate at Chez Remy. We loved this attraction and went on it multiple times. The theming in the restaurant which makes you feel as though you have been shrunken down to the size of a mouse, is so clever and imaginative.
For our trip, we stayed at Disney’s Hotel New York which has since been transformed into the Art of Marvel and now houses the largest collection of Marvel artwork. This is a great hotel with modern contemporary décor and when we stayed it also had art deco theming which I loved. The hotel has 471 superior rooms, 90 suites and (especially for Lou!) 25 Spiderman themed rooms.
Although a smaller park compared to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris is a beautiful and fun place to take a vacation. After spending three or four days exploring the attractions and soaking up the atmosphere, you are then just a stone’s throw from Paris and within easy reach of London and the rest of Europe. You can take your own Grand Tour whilst also getting your Disney fix, just remember to bring waterproof clothing and something warm to wear because one thing Disney can’t improve or predict is the weather!
My name is Karen Burns and although I am based in the UK, I have been a lifelong Disney fan. For a little girl growing up in London, this magical place was a distant wonderland I could only ever dream of visiting. But it finally happened in 1990 when I was 16 years old.I have since been back to Walt Disney World with my husband and then again with our two daughters, and I have also visited Disneyland Paris which has my favourite Cinderella castle. Fast forward to the present day when I found Lou’s podcasts and then my excitement when he asked for contributors to the WDW Radio website. To write about my happy place is truly a dream come true.