The History of DisneyLand
In the beginning...
Following on from the success of the DisneyLand theme
park in Anaheim, plans to build a European version first started
around 1975, nine years after Walt Disney died. Initially Britain,
Italy, Spain and France were all considered as possible locations,
though Britain and Italy were quickly dropped from the list of
potential sites because they both lacked a suitably large expanse
of flat land.
The most likely site was thought to be in the Alicante
area of Spain, which had a similar climate to that in Florida
for a large part of the year, however the area was also beset
by the notorious Mistral winds.
Eventually the French location won, and a site was
duly investigated at Marne-la-Vallee, partly because of its close
proximity to Paris, and also it's central positioning within western
europe. A factor that was though to be crucial to the park's future
success if it was to attract sufficient visitors. The proposed
location put the park within 4-hours drive for around 68 million
people, and 2 hours flight for a further 300 million or so.
Michael Eisner signed the first letter of agreement
with the French Socialist government in December 1985, and started
to draw up the finantial contracts during the following spring.
Robert Fitzpatrick, a key organiser of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
was appointed as the Euro Disney President, and the park slowly
started to take shape, with construction starting on the 2,000
hectare site in August 1988.
In December 1990, Espace Euro Disney (an information
centre) was opened to the public to show what Disney were constructing.
This was followed by the opening of the casting centre on 1st
September 1991 in order to start recruiting the hundreds of Cast
Members that would ultimitely operate the park's many attractions.
Euro Disney first opened to employees, for testing
during late March 1992, during which time the main sponsors and
their families were invited to visit the new park. The formal
press preview day was held on April 11th 1992, and the park finally
opened to visitors on April 12th 1992.
The opening day crowds, expected to number up to 500,000
visitors, failed to materialise, however, and at close of the
first day barely 50,000 people had passed through the gates. This
may have been partly due protests from French locals who feared
their culture would be damaged by Euro Disney, but whatever the
cause the low initial attendance was very disapointing for the
The first phase of development (the theme park, hotel
complex and golf course) had gone massively over budget, and had
eventually cost 22 billion French Francs to complete. Over the
next few months attendance figures failed to improve much, and
by May the park was only attracting something like 25,000 visitors
a day, instead of the predicted 60,000. Combined with the admission
that only 3 in every 10 visitors were native French, the Euro
Disney company stock price started a slow downward spiral, rapidly
losing almost a third of its value.
By August 1992 estimates of annual attendance figures
were being drastically cut from 11 million to just over 9 million.
EuroDisney's misfortunes were further compounded in late 1992
when a European recession caused property prices to drop sharply,
and the massive interest payments on the startup loans taken out
by EuroDisney forced the company into serious financial difficulties.
The situation was worsened by the fact that the cheap dollar was
persuading more and more people to forego Europe in favour of
holidays in Florida at Walt Disney World.
EuroDisney was also over-populated with hotels, especially
for a park that can be reasonably well explored within a full
day. Coupled with high prices for food and souvenirs, the EuroDisney
company started to close hotels during the winter months.
A brave face was put on the first anniversary of the
park's opening, and Sleeping Beauty's Castle was decorated as
a giant birthday cake to celebrate the occasion, however further
problems were just around the corner.
In summer 1993 the new Indiana Jones roller-coaster
ride opened, but disaster struck just a few weeks after opening
when the emergency brakes locked on during a ride, causing some
guest injuries. As a result the ride was temporarily shut down
By the start of 1994, with the company in serious financial
difficulties, and rumours circulating the the park was on the
verge of bankrupcy a series of emergency crisis talks were held
between the banks and backers.
Everything came to a head during March 1994 when Team
Disney offered the banks an ultimatum, that Disney would provide
sufficient capital investment for the park to continue to operate
until the end of the month, but unless the banks agreed to restructure
the $1bn debt that the park's construction and operation had run
up, the Walt Disney company would close the park, and walk away
from the whole European venture, leaving the banks with a bankrupt
theme park and a massive expanse of virtually worthless real estate.
EuroDisney then forced the bank's hand by calling the
annual stock-holder meeting for March 15th. Faced with no alternative
other than to announce to the stock holders that the park was
about to close the banks started looking for ways to refinance
and restructure the massive debts. Then to further increase the
pressure on the banks, Michael Eisner, Disney's CEO went public
shortly before the stock-holder meeting and announced that Disney
were planning to pull the plug on the venture at the end of March
1994 unless the banks were prepared to restructure the loans.
Finally on March 14th, just before the annual meeting
the banks capitulated, and agreed to Disney's demands, effectively
writing off virtually all of the next two years worth of interest
payments, and a three year postponement of further loan repayments.
In return the Walt Disney Company wrote off $210m in unpaid bills
for services, and paid $540m for a 49% stake in the estimated
value of the park, as well as restructuring it's own loan arrangements
for the $210m worth of rides at the new park.
The tide turns...
By August of 1994 the park was starting to find its
feet at last, and all of the park's hotels were fully booked during
the peak holiday season.
In October 1994 the park's name was officially changed
from EuroDisney to "Disneyland Paris", in order to more closely
link the park with the romantic city of Paris, and to disassociate
itself with the poor reputation that has become linked with the
phrase "Euro Disney".
The end of year figures for 1994 showed encouraging
signs as the previous year's UKP 650 million loss was reduced
to around 200 million, despite a 10% fall in attendance caused
by bad publicity over the earlier financial problems.
By the end of March 1995 top Walt Disney executives
were predicting that DisneyLand Paris may break-even by the end
Helped by the opening of Space Mountain on June 1st
1995 in August 1995 Disneyland Paris and the Euro Disney resort
complex announce a 22m GBP profit, followed by the first annual
operating profit announced in November 1995.