Sunday, 28th December 2008

2008 Annual Report: In profit, Over 15 million guests

In 2002, Euro Disney S.C.A. learnt the hard way not to spread itself too thinly too soon. After the costly opening of Walt Disney Studios Park, it was hit by a general downturn in tourism which led to its 2001 profit of €30.5m plunging to a loss of €33.1m the next year. In 2008, after two very positive years and great leaps in attendance and occupancy, the resort has proudly posted its first net profit since the opening of that second gate.

The key points of the 2008 Annual Report were as follows:

Net profit of €2m, third consecutive year of growth
• EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) increased 21% to €249m
• Park attendance up 0.8m to 15.3m
• Hotel room occupancy up 1.6ppt to 90.9%

The net profit of €1.7m cements a growth trend which saw losses shrink from €88.6m in 2006 to €41.6m in 2007, showing steady growth for three years running. Some reports suggest that the operating group would have achieved a far greater profit still, but wisely chose to move €30m directly into paying off its long-standing debt of over €2bn rather than take this as (subsequently tax-deducted) profit.

In the Theme Parks segment, revenues were up 8.7% to €715.8m, primarily reflecting the increased attendance and a 3% increase in average spending per guest, to €46.3. The increase in Theme Parks attendance was driven by higher guest visitation from the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.

Park attendance of 15.3 million guests is by far the highest in the resort’s history, the previous record being 14.5 million last year, for the first time marking an entry in the kind of attendance levels hoped for during the original construction of the resort and again during the construction of Walt Disney Studios Park. This comes in the same year that the resort celebrated welcoming its 200,000,000th (two hundred millionth) park guest.

Hotels & Disney Village saw its segment revenues rise 6.7% to €515.6m, reflecting the increase in room occupancy and a 7% increase in average guest spending per room to €211.4m. The increase in occupancy represented an extra 37,000 room nights compared to Fiscal Year 2007, driven mostly by more visitors from the United Kingdom and Spain.

Commenting on the results, new CEO Philippe Gas said:

“We reached an important milestone in 2008 by achieving profitability. Our revenues, theme parks attendance and hotel occupancy contributed to our performance which is noteworthy given the economic environment.

The popularity of Disneyland Resort Paris, Europe’s number one tourist destination, continued to grow as guests discovered our new attractions including the iconic Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Cars Race Rally, Crush’s Coaster, the interactive experience Stitch Live! and the High School Musical shows inspired by the popular Disney franchise.

We are convinced that our development strategy, together with the commitment of our cast members and the strength of the Disney brand, position us well for long-term growth.”

The report also contained an update of upcoming events:

“In line with our ongoing development strategy, in the Walt Disney Studios Park, Playhouse Disney – Live on Stage!, will provide the opportunity for our younger guests to join friends from the Disney Channel in an immersive entertainment experience, for the launch of the summer season. The park will also debut Disney’s Stars ‘n’ Cars, a new Hollywood-style show starring characters from Toy Story, Snow White, Monsters Inc., Mulan, The Little Mermaid, and more.”

— You can download the full Annual Report here (PDF).

Saturday, 27th December 2008

Philippe Gas takes the helm at Euro Disney SAS

Replacing Karl Holz, who announced his departure eight months ago, Philippe Gas has effectively assumed the position of “president” of Disneyland Resort Paris, alongside Ed Grier of Disneyland Resort in California, Meg Crofton of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Toshio Kagami of Tokyo Disney Resort and Bill Ernest of Hong Kong Disneyland. Holz is now president of New Vacation Operations at Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

The operating company, known more casually amongst fans as simply “Euro Disney SCA” or “Euro Disney”, to avoid the lengthy exposition of the group’s complicated structure seen above, released a quick biography of our new CEO:

Philippe Gas

Philippe, 45, is the first CEO of Disneyland Resort Paris who was a member of the opening team. As a 17-year Disney veteran, Philippe has extensive experience with both Euro Disney and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts worldwide. After having completed his law studies at the University of Paris Assas, he joined the Disney organization in 1991 as Finance Controller and held a variety of positions at the Resort over the next six years. In 1997, he was promoted to Director, Corporate Compensation and moved to The Walt Disney Company headquarters in Burbank, California. In 2000, he served as Regional Vice President, Human Resources, The Walt Disney Company Asia-Pacific, overseeing the HR strategy in 13 countries in Asia – first based in Tokyo and then in Hong Kong.

In 2004, he returned to Disneyland Resort Paris as Senior Vice President, Human Resources, where he was responsible for all HR Operations for its more than 12,300 cast members. In 2005 he was appointed Senior Vice President, International Human Resources, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and in 2006, he was promoted to his current position as Executive Vice President, Human Resources, Diversity & Inclusion for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts worldwide. In this role, he was responsible for the Human Resources strategy and services for nearly 100,000 Cast Members.

The official corporate website also posted an interview with Philippe, with comments from Gas about his recent work for Disney, his priorities at Disneyland Resort Paris and — most exciting of all — his plans for the future:

Question: You have returned to Disneyland® Resort Paris after working several years abroad for Disney. What is it like?

Philippe Gas: I am proud to return to Disneyland Resort Paris, the place where it all started for me. I joined the Disney organization in 1991 and was a member of the opening team at Disneyland Resort Paris. In Paris, the United States and Asia, I have held a variety of positions, notably in defining global human resource strategies. I have learned a lot from my international experience, but Disneyland Resort Paris has always held a special place in my heart. I am happy to be back and to see how much the Resort and its more than 13,000 Cast Members have developed over the years. It is our Cast Members who provide the service and ensure the high quality experience for which Disney is known. I am glad to lead our efforts in building the Resort’s future.

Question: Disneyland Resort Paris is the #1 tourist destination in Europe. What are your priorities in the next years?

Philippe Gas: It is a particularly exciting time for Disneyland Resort Paris, optimistic and dynamic. I am grateful to join such a great international team. Together, we are committed to the company’s long-term strategy and growth as Europe’s top tourist destination. We will keep working on driving results towards profitability, providing a high-quality guest experience, and investing in the personal and professional development of our Cast Members. I have had the chance to grow within this company and I hope this will inspire others.

Question: What are your future projects?

Philippe Gas: Imagining, creating, developing and growing is, and always will be, top of mind for us. We have already served, entertained and touched the hearts of more than 200 million visitors. We intend to continue exceeding expectations to remain Europe’s most-visited tourist destination. We would like to welcome more and more families, by continuing to grow and provide the quality and creativity that only Disney can create. That’s why we are always innovating and working on future development. We are studying a variety of projects – some would enhance exciting assets, while others are on a grander scale. For example, we are interested in increasing the Resort’s hotel capacity, adding to our convention facilities, or enhancing the Disney® Village. We work and plan all the time – today, tomorrow, and for the years to come.

The thoughts of increasing hotel capacity, enhancing Disney Village and adding to convention facilities are all expertly-worded in order to give an impression of the company’s priorities yet not officially announce a single thing. “Increasing” hotel capacity, for example, may not technically mean new hotels, nor might “enhancing” Disney Village mean constructing new buildings.

The years of Karl Holz brought the resort huge prosperity and several brilliant new attractions, with a quite remarkable return to the kind of Disney quality and service we remembered from earlier years.

However, the resort and its parks are not quite in the home straight just yet. And, as we head into 2009 with the two-year 15th Anniversary coming to a close and the impending challenge of a successful follow-up to contend with, we can only wish Philippe Gas the best of luck — and hope, beyond the business ability, he has the same dream in his heart as we do…

— The official statement from the company can be found here (PDF).

Friday, 19th December 2008

More preparations for busiest weekend of year

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and, for several years now, the busiest for Disneyland Resort Paris. As the success of the resort’s Christmas season has gone from strength to strength, it has truly replaced the Summer season as the key high season for the two Disney Parks.

However, all this festive cheer has a downside. Because, though Christmas Season runs for effectively the same length as Christmas, the core holiday period when families can visit is mostly condensed into just two weeks either side of Christmas Day itself. This weekend, between the 20th and 22nd December, is therefore the most hectic of all, not least in a record-breaking term where the resort is attracting over 15 million guests per year.

So, what are the preparations? On Tuesday, we spread word that the resort was taking the unprecedented step of advising visitors without hotel packages or dated tickets against visiting. However, as was pointed out, the warning was only posted on the ticket pages of the French official website — and furthermore, vanished a few hours after our article was published.

The warning was true enough, and the placement only on the French website was actually entirely intentional — trying to dissuade French visitors with cheap offer tickets from visiting at the busiest time of the year. Everyone is, of course, welcome to visit the resort this weekend, but you may well have to contend with some horribly busy parks.

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Annual Passport holders were also given the warning, via an email sent out to the entire mailing list, suggesting visits would be better saved for another day.

Now, the Events Calendar pages of the official website have a different, additional warning in place:

Conseil Malin pour venir à Disneyland Resort Paris

Si vous désirez vous rendre à Disneyland Resort Paris avec votre véhicule, nous vous conseillons de planifier votre arrivée avant 9h30 ou après 11h30 afin d’éviter les ralentissements.

Nous vous conseillons également d’utiliser les transports en commun en empruntant le RER A, terminus « Marne la Vallée Chessy » ou les lignes de bus.

This is again an announcement we’ve never known from Disneyland Resort Paris — if you’re going to be arriving by car at the resort, you’re recommended to try to plan your arrival either before 9:30am or after 11:30am, to avoid tailbacks on the A4 autoroute and access roads. Or, an even better option — use the public transport options such as the RER A line or local bus services.

This warning comes after the huge traffic levels seen around the resort on recent weekends.

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Finally, once all these guests are at Disneyland Resort Paris, they’re now being given a special Christmas treat to help cope with the huge visitor levels: extended opening hours at Walt Disney Studios Park!

Originally scheduled to open only from 10:00am to 7:00pm, the longest regular hours the park usually sees, an exception has been made to keep the gates of the Studios open right up until 9:00pm on Saturday and Sunday, likely to prevent Disneyland Park seeing an evening overflow of too many extra guests.

— You can find the updated opening hours on the relaunched DLRP Magic! Calendar.

[Lead image: www.photosmagiques.com]

Tuesday, 16th December 2008

Warning: Sunday 21st December will be FULL

It’s not the kind of message you expect to read on the Disneyland website, but for this Sunday, 21st December 2008, the official line really is: don’t visit today.

The urgent notice has only been posted on the ticket pages of the French official website. It reads:

• Attention: Le 21 Décembre nos parcs vont subir une très forte affluence.
• Nos billets ne sont plus disponibles à cette date.
• Il est fortement recommandé aux personnes non munies d’un billet ou munies d’un billet non daté de décaler leur visite sur notre site à une autre date.

Roughly translated, this warning announces that, on 21st December, the Disney Parks will have very high attendance levels. Tickets can no longer be purchased for this date, and it is strongly recommended that people without a ticket or without a dated entrance ticket for this day reschedule their visit for another day.

If you’re staying at a Disney Hotel or you’ve booked a package including tickets at one of the partner hotels, your tickets will be dated and you will be guaranteed access — but do prepare for a very, very busy Disneyland Park, with waiting times in excess of 2 hours at most major attractions.

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Image: Yao, Disney Central Plaza forum

This announcement comes just a week after Disneyland Park officially reached its capicity and the gates had to be closed. On Saturday, 6th December 2008, guests arriving late would have been faced with the sudden appearance of a “PARC DISNEYLAND – COMPLET/FULL” sign on the resort hub, with only the choice to visit Walt Disney Studios Park for the day instead.

Visitors on this day described long queues on the resort’s access roads and A4 motorway, with guests being allowed to park for free in a bid to ease the congestion. Disneyland Park’s official capacity is believed to be around 85,000 guests.

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Image: Nicholas-c, magicforum

Though parks reaching capacity can be quite common at other Disney resorts, particularly Disneyland Resort in California, where the original Disneyland park regularly has to close its gates on exceptionally busy dates, this is a very new thing for Disneyland Resort Paris. Clearly, with now more than 16 million visitors wanting to experience the parks each year, their popularity is becoming too much to handle.

Whilst these kind of attendance levels are obviously incredibly bad for visitors on the day, they do highlight the need for further expansion and make it ever more likely. Notably at Walt Disney Studios Park, which still does not apparently present enough of a draw to sufficiently take pressure off its older cousin.

Thursday, 4th December 2008

Buy magical music on CD, beyond the parks

But hold on, “choo choo” fans, this isn’t the long-awaited release of the Disney Characters’ Express theme song ‘Tous En Train’. If you’re a fan of Candleabration, however, you’re in luck…

Yes, we’re pleased to announce the unexpected release of a brand new souvenir CD, ‘The Best of Disneyland Resort Paris – Songs and music celebrating 15 years of magic’, released in the UK by Walt Disney Records and EMI Gold at the end of September.

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It’s a full 24 tracks and 75 minutes of magical music from the resort, like a condensed version of the actual 2-disc 15th Anniversary Double Album available in the parks themselves. The music is old and new, from C’est Magique to Just Like We Dreamed It, with several tracks from Disneyland Park attraction soundtracks such as Phantom Manor and “it’s a small world”.

The tracklisting in full:

1. Steamboat Willie
2. Cinderella
3. La Petite Sir ne/The Little Mermaid
4. Mickey Globe Trotter
5. Mary Lou
6. Europe
7. Phantom Manor Medley
8. Yellow Rose Of Texas
9. Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)
10. Pays Du Merveilleux
11. It’s A Small World
12. Medley
13. Baroque Hoedown
14. Euro Disneyland Feel The Magic
15. Dancin’ (A Catchy Rhythm)
16. All Around The World
17. Just Like We Dreamed It
18. La-Di-Da Carnaval
19. Halloween-Halloween
20. Proud Lights
21. Fantasia In The Sky
22. Les Feux De La Fée Clochette
23. Wishes
24. Fantillusion

Once again, if you already own even just a few Disneyland Resort Paris CDs, you’ll have heard it all before. Except for one track, which has never been released before… ‘Proud Lights’, the brilliant drum and trumpet-filled theme from Candleabration‘s opening dance number. If you read our Wish List entry last year asking for the 15th Anniversary and other tracks to be released, you’ll know its’ sudden inclusion here is very welcome indeed.

Though the CD is released by EMI and has the mark of Walt Disney Records, which is usually missing from the resort’s own CD releases, this is clearly a product of the regular music maestros at Disneyland Resort Paris. The booklet features a similar design to recent releases, the album was mastered by Michael Obst at Le Studio, Marne-la-Vallée, and finally… the tracklisting on the case is, like the best of the resort’s releases, wrong. (Listing Just Like We Dreamed It as track 24, rather than 17).

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Priced at just £6.99 (RRP £7.99), however, this is one of the best value CDs you can find, and a perfect stocking filler in the run-up to Christmas — available both in the high street and on online stores such as Amazon.co.uk, HMV.com and Play.com. If you missed your chance to own this music in the parks, you’ll no longer have to wait until your next visit …or attempt to communicate with the infamous mail order service.

Now, finally, the magical music of Disneyland Resort Paris has made it beyond the berms.

— The CD is also available on our new Christmas Shop. We’ve made use of a little feature from Amazon to hand-pick hundreds of great Disney gifts from across their website. If you’re stuck for ideas for a Disney fan friend (or even yourself) take a look — some of the wonderful Imagineering books in particular are usually completely lost on their main store.

Wednesday, 3rd December 2008

New, nostalgic ‘Tourisme Info’ building completed

Back when the Euro Disney Resort opened its gates in 1992, it was the current Disney Gallery unit in what was then known as Festival Disney which housed the Maison du Tourisme. Come 1999, Disney Village was seeking new attractions and the tourist information office moved out onto the main resort hub, in a purpose-built and designed hexagonal kiosk.

The concrete and white construction matched somewhat the neighbouring train station (and its “château” spires) with its Disney-meets-modern-France architecture style, a kind of “afraid to be too nostalgic / afraid to be too modern” mix which was born out of the initial opposition to what was seen as the “kitsch” Disney style.

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In September this year, the original kiosk promptly closed for good with little warning. A temporary building appeared whilst we awaited the results of the “refurbishment”, but, as construction fences appeared, it became clear the original kiosk had had its’ day. Plans for a whole new building appeared on the walls, matching almost completely the more nostalgic, European design style of the 2005 PanoraMagique ticket kiosk with its more traditional details and “hidden Mickey” roof supports.

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Jump ahead to this weekend, and the new ‘Tourisme Info’ building is complete! The new construction is clearly much larger than its predecessor, which was often far too small for the number of visitors, taking up a slightly bigger footprint and losing the canopy which took up almost half of the hexagonal shape in the old design.

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The paint scheme of simple, full green might admittedly have been better given more shades, like that at PanoraMagique, but the general look is far closer to what you’d expect at the heart of Disneyland.

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We’ve seen for many years the attempts to soften and “Disneyfy” the bleak architecture used in the original Disney Village buildings, back when Disney was so keen to modernise its architectural image, and now here’s the next step — the first of the French services at the heart of the resort to admit that the nostalgia Disney trades off is no bad thing.

[Images © Photos Magiques, J°o°eL]

Wednesday, 3rd December 2008

Place des… Marchés de Noël

Though traditionally put aside whilst its neighbour celebrates seasonal events in lavish and brilliant style, the newfound importance of Walt Disney Studios Park since the opening of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was arguably ignored in the planning of this year’s Christmas season. And so, the increasing visitor numbers at the second gate found nothing more than a small ‘Merry Christmas Walt Disney Studios’ morning welcome and ‘Toons en Scène pour les Fêtes’ meet ‘n’ greet events to make the season special in the Studios.

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These entertainments are down even on last year, when the popular Ciné Folies cast delighted with their regular Christmas movie-making farces inside Disney Studio 1. Since the re-invented version of this show on the outdoor Place des Stars Stage‘Shooting Live’ — was duly cancelled at the end of September, there is no sign of a return. Last year’s late December return of the musical ‘Goofy presents Swing Along Santas’ on the same stage also does not appear to be scheduled for 2008.

So… what to fill that gap with? Rumours surfaced recently that a small Christmas market could appear on the space between CinéMagique and Stitch Live!, and they were almost right — the market has, in fact, appeared within the park, on Place des Stars itself. Quite literally filling a wide gap in the park, alongside the currently disused parade route.

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The pine wood huts are decorated with white roofs and green garlands, with a neat patch of snow-dusted fir trees between the two rows. They join the new Studios Christmas tree which appeared late in last year’s season, adorned with movie-making props and accessories for decorations.

Though they appear to be stalls used in the Disney Village market of years gone by, they sell primarily Disney merchandise, such as Christmas gifts and Princess toys, alongside hot drinks and snacks. There is no link made to the cinema/studio setting.

It was revealed in our recent exclusive Media Magic interview with entertainment director Christophe Leclercq that Walt Disney Studios Park will host its own New Year’s Eve celebrations for the first time, using “identical” fireworks and music to the show at Disneyland Park.

[Images © J°o°eL and Disneytheque.com]

Monday, 1st December 2008

Accident nothing more than staircase fall?

New confirmations and reports from Disney Central Plaza forum, which has several Cast Members amongst its members, state that the accident occurred when Crush’s Coaster was being routinely evacuated, not during a normal ride cycle.

Furthermore, the fall involved an evacuation staircase and not a fall from a ride vehicle itself. The man did not fall seven metres, and did not fall from this staircase but on it, as he was being evacuated. He was able to drive home that same evening, Saturday, 28th November.

Clearly, a certain party here has severely exaggerated the accident which occurred on Saturday. And, though having a guest fall on a staircase is still to be regretted, it has no reason to be covered by the media in such a sensationalist fashion. No doubt the actual explanation of true events above will not be featured so far up the news agenda — or on it, at all.

One confusing factor, however, is that many the reports featured a quote “from a Disneyland spokesperson” who was contacted by the AFP news agency, stating the man was safe and well and due to return home. Either the spokesperson was not aware of the far more disastrous chain of events the media were reporting, or, if they were aware, for some reason did not attempt to completely invalidate them.

Nevertheless, it was announced that Crush’s Coaster would reopen Sunday morning as usual, but in fact visitors have reported that it opened even earlier — for a privatisation of the Studios that same evening.

[Sources: Disney Central Plaza members]

Sunday, 30th November 2008

Reports of “serious” accident at Studios attraction

News first began to spread on French news bulletins and websites from 9pm last night, Saturday, 29th November, that a young man, in his 20s, had been “seriously injured” during the day at Disneyland Resort Paris.

Though details are not yet entirely precise, it is generally reported that the man was riding an attraction at Walt Disney Studios Park when he suddenly began to believe, for an unknown reason, that his harness (restraint) was coming lose. In his panic, he apparently struggled free and fell seven metres to the ground. It is now believed the attraction was Crush’s Coaster, the indoor spinning roller coaster which opened in Toon Studio in 2007.

The attraction was immediately stopped and evacuated following the incident, with the resort’s own emergency services treating the man on the scene before he was taken to the nearby Lagny (Seine-et-Marne) hospital.

Reports have clashed in describing his condition, ranging from the casualty having “a serious injury” (Figaro) to being in a “serious state” (Libération), to merely announcing it as a “serious accident” (SFR). A Disneyland Resort Paris spokesperson contacted by the AFP, however, has stated that he is “not in danger” and is “expected to recover his car in order to return home”.

Forum members on Disney Central Plaza forum have reported seeing the attraction listed as “temporarily closed” on the park’s Tips Board yesterday afternoon. We currently have no confirmation that the attraction has reopened this morning, Sunday, 30th November.

Stay with DLRP Today for more as this story develops.

Monday, 17th November 2008

Sleeping Beauty fireworks launch Christmas 2008!

The launch of seasonal events at Disneyland Resort Paris usually just means a raft of (to our mostly non-French audience) unknown celebrities and a bank of photographers obscuring the publics’ view at the special shows and parades throughout the day.

True, this year’s Christmas launch yesterday inflicted both of those upon regular park guests, but they were also given a very unexpected Winter treat when it came time for the evening’s Enchanted Candleabration finale.

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If you were confused by the special park Programme for 15th November and the switching-round of Fantillusion so that the illuminations ceremony came last, here is our reason why — as the bells chimed and the Castle sparkled in its now-completed array of crystal lights, majestic music in the vein of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty began and fireworks flew up into the air!

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The special launch show on Central Plaza Stage featured performances by live singers, a group of children helping out with preceedings and an encore from Princess Aurora and Prince Philip as their fireworks exploded overhead.

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Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant itself was lit in a classic scheme of pink towers and blue spires, rather than the usual all-purple colours used during Christmas Season.

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Below, Daviddu59 was lucky enough to catch the special one-off fireworks — albeit from behind the impenetrable wall of photographers — and shares the video with us:

Even in the short length of these fireworks, the Castle is almost completely engulfed in smoke due to the cold temperatures — perhaps that’s our reason for the general lack of Winter fireworks on other busy weekends and holidays.

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And, though it’s expected the resort will put on its best show to give the press the best possible impression of the seasonal entertainments, is it honest? Do they know that Enchanted Candleabration doesn’t usually have this firework-finale, or doesn’t it matter, in the name of good publicity for our beloved resort?

— Read our exclusive interview with the creator of this year’s Christmas Season here.

[Pictures © Disney, Video by Daviddu59]

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