Saturday, August 4, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 15 - Disneyland Paris

"To all who come to this happy place, welcome.

Once upon a time...A master storyteller, Walt Disney, inspired by Europe's best loved tales, used his own special gifts to share them with the world.

He envisioned a Magic Kingdom where these stories would come to life, and called it Disneyland.

Now his dream returns to the lands that inspired it.  Euro Disneyland is dedicated to the young and the young at heart...with a hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration for all the world."
Michael D. Eisner
Chairman, The Walt Disney Company
April 12, 1992

With Disneyland Paris, Disney had the imagineers swing for the fences. Recognizing that the setting in Paris put the theme park among the most beautiful cities and sights in the world, Disney knew its theme park had to be beautiful.  And the Disney castle in the land of real castles had to dazzle and amaze.

And in many, many ways, Disney succeeded.  Disneyland Paris is for sure the most beautiful castle park that WDI imagineers have created and it is a masterpiece of well thought design and master plan.  It encapsulates what a theme park should be, just like Tokyo DisneySea.

Imagineers made several interesting design choices, down to even changing the tried and true layout of the castle park and changing the purpose of one of the traditional lands, which pay off in many exciting ways.

For a great read on perhaps the six best ideas in the design of Disneyland Paris, I highly recommend the Disney and More blog and its current article.  Disney and More is a blog maintained by a French author, written in English (and including very helpful translations of French press releases) about news and rumors regarding the whole Disney organization and other interests.  Well worth checking out.

That's not to say there are not problems and issues that must be addressed.  But in terms of design and creation, it is one of Disney's most successful endeavors.

Primary Goals:

  • Project Sparkle - many of the complaints against Disneyland Paris come from upkeep and maintenance, feeling it is not up to the standards of Disney's American parks.  Now that Disney has majority ownership of Disneyland Paris, the whole park needs a spiffing up from top to bottom and a commitment to the excellent maintenance and cleanliness that Disney is known for.
  • Dedication to Discoveryland - Discoveryland is one of the greatest changes Disneyland Paris made and a great theme to be developed.  Disney has a lot of popular attractions that can easily fit this theme, so additions must be made to fit the theme, not to suit popular IP.
  • Consistent Hours and Quality in Restaurants - one of the chief complaints that is made for Disneyland Paris is inconsistency in food options.  I know theme parks are not known for having great food in general, but the stateside parks have made great headway in having inventive and delicious offerings.  And for a park located in one of the greatest (if not the greatest) culinary cities in the world, bad food in the park is unforgivable.  In addition, the operating hours of many restaurants are determined in a day-to-day crowd-based manner, leading to confusion as to what is available at any one time.  Standardization of operating hours would go a long way in improving this metric.
  • Vive la France! - there should be a greater embracing of French identity in the parks, investing in what is popular for the continent, not just what is selling in the world overall.

In terms of expansion, there are several plots open for expansion throughout the park.  The map below provides an overview of several of the locations I will be discussing.

A map outlining previously identified locations for expansion
With these goals in mind, I’ll walk through each land in the park and discuss the updates.  I'll be walking through the park clockwise from Main Street, heading through Frontierland first and working around to Discoveryland.  This is generally the approach we take in visiting castle parks, so it makes the most sense to me to approach it this way in addressing the parks needs and changes.

Main Street:
If Disneyland's Main Street represents small town America and the Magic Kingdom's represents a slightly larger town, Main Street in Disneyland Paris is mid-size city life at the turn of the century, with a handful of truly unique experiences.

First would be the opening act.  The parks entrance gates are all located at the base of the Disneyland Hotel.  This majestic Victorian hotel and its Fantasia Gardens appropriately set the stage for the park to come.

Second are the two arcades on each side of Main Street.  While other castle parks force all guests through the center of Main Street on to the castle and the hub, here there are two covered arcades situated "behind" the shops on each side of Main Street.  These arcades are meticulously dressed, filled with the level of detail that is synonymous with the best of imagineering.  The Liberty Arcade, leading to Frontierland, contains dioramas on the Statue of Liberty and the immigrant experience.  The Discovery Arcade, leading to Discoveryland, contains dioramas on American invention.

Finally, the castle.  Recognizing that Europe is filled with the true inspiration for the castles at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, the imagineers went completely fanciful in designing Sleeping Beauty Castle here.  A completely unique and beautiful structure, designed to allow greater utilization in the day.  There's an animatronic dragon under the castle, making for an exciting walkthrough.  The castle stage as been moved off center, to preserve the view from Main Street and to allow better views of the show during the day.  The castle moat has fountains and water screens that make the night time spectaculars packed with all tricks used across Disney shows.

I have no complaints or suggestions for Main Street beyond the general improvements to food options and operating hours above.  While I would have loved to see the original plan for the 1920s Chicago inspired Main Street, I am amazed by what has been realized.

In one of the more interesting design choices imagineers made, Frontierland and Adventureland swapped their traditional locations, putting Frontierland next to Main Street for the first time.  This works so well, for a variety of reasons.  It continues the exploration of America from turn of the century Main Street to the Wild West.  The architecture allows the transition to blend together more seamlessly.  It also contributed to unique offerings within the land itself like the Haunted Mansion version of Phantom Manor and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad located in the middle of the Rivers of the Far-West.

For the Rivers of the Far-West, I would make sure both the Mark Twain (the traditional paddlewheel) and the Molly Brown (the sidewheel boat) are refurbished and operating.  I would also want to add just a couple more Marc Davis style sight gags along the way.

I would also seek to ensure that the Lucky Nugget Saloon has a stage show.  How can you not have a can-can somewhere in Disneyland Paris?

There are a couple of areas that I would seek to re-develop.

First, in the area surrounding the Chaparral Theater, I would replace it with a Mine Train to Rainbow Caverns.  This would be essentially a "Little Thunder" Mountain, utilizing the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train technology to create a miniature mine train roller coaster that could be ridden by younger guests.  The signature moment of the ride would be the interior portion in the Rainbow Caverns, a faithful recreation of the same from the Disneyland Mine Train to Nature's Wonderland, complete with appropriate soundtrack.  While I understand theaters from an operational standpoint, the Chaparral Theater has never really housed anything theme appropriate since Pocahontas in 1999.  The Mine Train would add life and excitement to the area and essentially revitalize old plans for a mini-mine train ride.

Frontierland additions
I would also seek to replace the Woody's Roundup Village area with Geyser Mountain.  A space shot to Tower of Terror's drop ride, Geyser Mountain would rocket guests into the air from an underground cavern to the top of a derrick.  If more of the exterior portion were exposed, it could create a very unique experience from Tower of Terror.

These two attractions would fill out an already dense area, to make it one of the most unique Frontierland's Disney has to offer.

Adventureland in Disneyland Paris can be broken down into distinct locations.  An Agrabah Bazaar complete with Aladdin walkthrough, the jungle with Adventure Isle and the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, Indiana Jones, and Pirates (including Pirates of the Caribbean and a clean transition to Peter Pan in Fantasyland).

This Adventureland is missing at least two mainstays - the Jungle Cruise and the Tiki Room, but makes up for it with additions like Skull Rock and Adventure Isle.

The long rumored and needed addition to Adventureland has been the Indiana Jones Adventure ride, which would go between the current Indiana Jones Temple du Peril roller coaster and Pirates of the Caribbean.

I've also included a more detailed schematic of how the ride would look exactly placed in that location.

Adventureland really needs another ride that is not height restricted.  Currently it has Pirates and the walk through attractions.  While a Jungle Cruise would not be practical given Paris' climate, I would love to explore similar options.  Could the bridges to Adventure Isle be raised enough and the river around Pirates be widened enough to create an Adventure Cruise around Adventure Isle, similar to how Hong Kong treated their Jungle Cruise?

If not, could the service roads be routed in such a way, that ride could be inserted between Colonel Haithi's and Temple du Peril?  Something like a Jungle Tour, a safari jeep ride through the jungle, seeing the various sights and animatronic animals.  Perhaps something like Pacific Ocean Park's Banana Train?

Opportunity for additional expansion

As stated above, Fantasyland has a perfect transition from Adventureland, tying together the pirates of the Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan. The remainder of the land is whimsical and charming, standing out as one of the fullest Fantasyland offerings that Disney has created.  As indicated in the overview above, there are two spots indicated for attraction expansions and one major expansion pad beyond the berm.

For the additions to this land, I intend to embrace the Vive la France! objective listed above.  When the park was originally built, attempts to recreate Paris or France were avoided because the imagineers assumed that with the real thing so close by guests would not respond to it.  With the addition of the beautiful recreation of Paris in the Ratatouille area in Walt Disney Studios Paris, Disney has learned this is not quite the case.

First, in the large expansion pad beyond the berm, I would add a Beauty and the Beast sub-land, to honor Disney's most successful French princess.  In this area, I would add Gaston's pub, the Be Our Guest Restaurant, the new ride from Tokyo, and Enchanted Tales with Belle.  The latter does not need to be in the same setting as the Magic Kingdom version, but could just be an outdoor storytelling encounter.

Beauty and the Beast
I would even re-theme the nearby Casey Jr. Circus Train to remove the American Circus train from this location and replace it with Maurice's Mechanical Marvel, to really extend this storybook vision all across the area beyond the berm.

There are two other pads for attractions that can be filled as well.  The first is across from the teacups.  In this location, I would place a Cinderella dark ride, one in which you ride in the carriage to and away from the ball.  Cinderella has never had a dark ride and it could be very interesting.  The exterior should continue the chateau appearance of the area around it.

Two new dark rides
The other area is across from it's a small world and on the path to Discoveryland.  Here I would put a Hunchback of Notre Dame dark ride in which you would ride on a gargoyle and fly through the story of the Hunchback.  The entire ride could be the version of the story told in The Bells of Notre Dame, particularly with verses added from the musical.  A recreation of Notre Dame at the top corner facing it's a small world as the entrance.  The rest of the strip could be a recreation of a Parisian street, possibly with an Aristocrepes walk-up counter location included.

Discoveryland is a radical reinvention of Tomorrrowland.  Instead of creating a land focused on the future, imagineers turned to a future world envisioned by Jules Verne.  The whole land was infused with that steampunk version of science fiction.  Space Mountain had touches of From the Earth to the Moon, even carrying that in it's title.  The Nautlis from 20,000 Leagues was featured, as was the Hyperion airship from Island at the Top of the World.  Later additions have focused on more up to date intellectual property such as Buzz Lightyear and Star Wars.  My preference, though, would be to fill this area with time period and genre appropriate rides, focusing on stellar rides that Disney has already created that fit.

To do so, the area would become a great mixture of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G.Wells.

The Obitron would remain as it is.  Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters would be replaced by a War of the Worlds shooter ride.  Cafe Hyperion stays as is, but Videopolis would get a stage magic show with heavy steampunk influences like Mickey and the Magician instead of Philharmagic.

Lots of changes
The expansion pad between Videopolis and Star Tours would get a new dark ride featuring the Arthur Conan Doyle book The Lost World.  With the ride potentially straddling the train tracks and featuring dinosaurs, this would be a great way to incorporate a version of the primeval world diorama, such that the train could be seen from the ride.

Star Tours would be replaced with a Time Machine inspired ride.  Since there will be a Star Wars land in Walt Disney Studios Paris, it will make more sense to make sure the ride in this location is theme appropriate.

The Discoveryland Theater next to Star Tours would be replaced with a steampunk influenced version of Soarin, entitled Soarin' Around the World in 80 Days.  The video would be sequenced to complete a trip around the world.

The expansion pad next door would get the Tokyo DisneySea dry version of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea dark ride and a Vulcania restaurant.  There would not be a need to create Mysterious Island necessarily here or below, but the show building could hopefully be disguised in a way utilizing the train tracks.

Space Mountain would definitely lose the Hyperspace Mountain overlay and would be restored back to the Space Mountain From the Earth to the Moon version, complete with animatronic Jules Verne.

Finally, Autopia would be replaced by Journey to the Center of the Earth.  Again, there would not be the need to recreate Mysterious Island, but rockwork indicating digging within the caves would make a great backdrop.

Plenty of space for a great E ticket.
This would make a very compelling land, perhaps one of the greatest lands Disney has ever implemented, in my humble opinion.  Four, potentially five E ticket attractions.  Five other supporting attractions, plus new vistas for the railroad.  Five attractions without a height restriction.  All squarely within theme.  And steampunk remains a great aesthetic.

Seasonal Overlays:
I do not see a need for seasonal overlays in this park and would not recommend them.  The attractions that have received them in other parks either do not exist in this park or are in a radically different form.  I would stick with the themed decorations appropriate for Main Street and Frontierland, along with seasonal shows, parades, and entertainment as the extent of seasonal offerings.

Parades and Nighttime Spectaculars:
Disneyland Paris has recently added the Stars on Parade parade and Disney Illuminations for its nighttime spectacular.  Both are excellent additions for this park.  Disney Illuminations in particular pulls out all the stops for what a nighttime spectacular at a castle park could entail.  Fireworks, fire effects, projection mapping, water screens, fountains, etc.  It is truly impressive.  Future additions should seek to build on this vision.  If anything, Disney Dreams!, its predecessor, may have been a little more well received and could be used as the default show in rotation.

Cartoon Mascot and Magical Guardian:
For a cartoon mascot for this park, I would recommend Daisy Duck.  A perfect lady for a beautiful park, and a good fit given the popularity of Duck family in Europe.

[Editor's note: it occurs to me I did not do cartoon mascots for the Tokyo parks since I did not do a true If I Were Disney CEO blog.  In case you are wondering, I would recommend Donald Duck for Tokyo Disneyland and Duffy the Disney Bear for Tokyo DisneySea.]

For the magical guardian, here there would be three: Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty.  Given Sleeping Beauty's castle and the French location of the film, these three are perfect fits.

[Likewise, the magical guardian for Tokyo Disneyland would be the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella.  Again tied to the castle]


As always, thanks for reading.  Up next, the most likely candidate for best ugly duckling transformation - Walt Disney Studios Paris.

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