On Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Iger visited the worst park in the history of The Walt Disney Company.
Accompanied by Disney’s Chairman of Parks, Experiences, and Products, Josh D’Amaro, Iger was in the City of Light for the first time since his reinstallment as Disney’s CEO in November 2022–this time, to see for himself the progress being made on the new expansion at Walt Disney Studios Park at the Disneyland Paris Resort, known in many circles as the worst park built by the Disney Company.
Disneyland Paris, formerly called Euro Disney Resort and Euro Disneyland, opened in 1992, and by 2001, the number of Guests who visited reached the 100 million mark. Then in 2002, a second park, Walt Disney Studios, opened alongside Disneyland Park in Paris, doubling the magic for Guests. By 2011, more than 250 million Guests had walked through the gates of Disneyland Paris. The Resort is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, a celebration which began in March 2022.
Bob Iger and Josh D’Amaro visited the Parisian Disney Resort on Thursday to take a look at the progress of construction currently underway at the Resort as part of the $2.1 billion expansion at Disneyland Paris, the plans for which were originally announced in February 2018, and include an overhaul of Walt Disney Studios Park and other additions over a multi-year period of time.
At the onset of the Resort’s 30th anniversary celebration, Disneyland Paris had welcomed more than 375 million visitors to the Resort, making it one of the most visited theme park resorts in Europe.
But Disney’s only European park has experienced more than its share of troubles. Aside from being dubbed by some a “cultural Chernobyl” since it first opened in 1992, Disney’s Paris parks have faced years of financial struggles.
According to a post by The Guardian, the Resort has struggled with debt and has lost money for a majority of the years it has been in operation. In 2014, its main supporter, The Walt Disney Company, was forced to step in and save the park’s parent business, Euro Disney. Mark Stead, the finance director for Euro Disney at the time, said that the company’s was being crushed under the weight of its own debt burden, which then exceeded $1.85 billion, making it impossible for the organization to keep up with the costs associated with keeping the parks looking fresh. He added that investing in impressive new rides like those in its sister parks was out of the question as well.
In the years leading up to the financial catastrophe in 2014, Disneyland Paris saw a massive drop in attendance. Over the 12 months between Fall 2013 and Fall 2014, attendance decreased by more than 800,000 Guests.
“We need to get away from tired-looking assets and make them look new,” Stead said. “We will be revamping attractions, bringing in new ride technology [and] new ride experiences. The look and feel will completely change. We hope to take technology from U.S. parks and bring it here. We wanted to [do that in the past] and we needed to do that, but we haven’t had the financial flexibility to do so.”
In October 2014, Variety reported that The Walt Disney Company had unveiled a massive bailout program for Disneyland Paris that included a more than $1.06 billion recapitalization plan in which Disney would infuse more than $525 million and then convert $750 million of the park’s debt to equity. Disney also agreed to defer payments on some of the Resort’s loans until 2024.
“This recapitalization plan would improve Euro Disney Group’s financial position and enable it to continue investing in the guest experience,” Disney said in a statement. “With this effort, we are demonstrating the Walt Disney Company’s continued confidence in Disneyland Paris, which remains the number-one tourist destination in Europe.”
On Thursday, however, as two of Disney’s top execs, Iger and D’Amaro, visited the Resort, it had zero to do with a bailout. Instead, according to a post on the official Instagram page for Walt Disney Imagineering, the purpose of the visit had to do with the “ambitious transformation” of the parks:
This morning, we had the pleasure of welcoming Bob Iger to see the progress of our ambitious transformation, including the ongoing expansion of Walt Disney Studios Park, which celebrates its 21st anniversary today and the future of @DisneylandParis. Bob [Iger] previously joined us in 2018 to officially announce this significant investment by The Walt @Disney Company in our Resort, and @WaltDisneyImagineering is hard at work bringing more immersive experiences to life for our Guests following last year’s opening of Marvel Avengers Campus!
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Iger and D’Amaro had the opportunity to survey the progress of the Disneyland Paris expansion project, which includes the creation of a new lake in the park and a brand-new themed land, inspired by Disney’s Frozen.
Disney’s concept art for the new areas within the expansion show a 7.5-acre lagoon as a centerpiece, which takes its inspiration from similar bodies of water at other Disney Parks around the globe, like World Showcase Lagoon at EPCOT inside the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Exciting, immersive new lands include the new Frozen-themed land, which has been under construction since July 2022. Imagineering has made considerable progress in the new land, which is inspired by the look of Arendelle in the blockbuster film.