When Walt Elias Disney first penned a cartoon of a scrawny mouse back in the early 20th century he could never have imagined the size of the business empire that would be built on the back of Steamboat Willie – Disney Studios’ first significant animated short.
As well as the successful animation and film subsidiary the Disney Corporation now boasts a multi-national presence encompassing TV, retail, sports franchises and of course theme parks. A worldwide phenomenon, the closest park to the UK is the one at Disneyland Paris, currently celebrating its 15th anniversary.
Armed with the strap line “Where dreams come true” the complex was opened in April 1992 to a glorious fanfare and undisguised derision in equal amounts, with a significant number of French individuals and organisations turning up their noses at the perceived uncultured attraction.
After finally recording its first quarterly profit in July 1995 the Disneyland Paris resort has gone from strength to strength and now attracts in the region of 13 million visitors each year, making it one of Europe’s biggest tourist destinations.
The resort, situated in the Marne-la-Vallee some 20 miles outside Paris, features not only the two theme parks but an entertainment area, golf courses and themed hotels spread over some 140 acres.
The resort was situated near Paris for various reasons but one of the main attractions was that an estimated 70 million Europeans were within a four-hour drive with a further 300million able to reach it with a flight of two hours or less, making for a massive potential market.
But, as already touched upon it’s not been an easy ride for Disneyland Paris. After the idea of developing a European park was originally mooted in the early 1970s there was an initial list of over 1,200 possible locations throughout the continent.
This was eventually whittled down to four locations in France and Spain and at that point Paris was the least favourite. However, a combination of stiff Mistral winds and hard bedrock and a general lack of confidence in the Spanish infrastructure ruled out the other three locations in Northern Spain and the south of France leaving Paris to pick up the big prize.
Since the resort opened its doors on April 12th 1992 it has been in a constant state of flux with numerous different attractions and hotel rooms being added over the years. Landmarks in the development have included the addition of Space Mountain in May 1995, the park’s first quarterly operating profit in July of the same year, and the opening of a second park – Walt Disney Studios – in March 2002.
The amount of hotels rooms on site has grown steadily from 5,200 at opening and the total is projected to rise further to a staggering 18,500 by 2017. All on-site hotels are themed to areas of the USA, with Hotel New York, Newport Bay Club, Sequoia Lodge, Hotel Cheyenne and Santa Fe all surrounding Lake Disney.
A further Disney hotel, the Davy Crockett Ranch, is located outside the resort perimeter in woods but guests of the park aren’t compelled to stay in Disney properties and instead can opt for one of the seven well-known, independent hotels on the fringes, all of which operate free shuttles to the parks’ entrances.
With even more hotels planned the future looks bright for Disneyland Paris. It now draws the visitor numbers that will ensure continuance well beyond its 15th Anniversary Year.
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