Friday, 18th November 2011

Disney’s PhotoPass system now being trialled in Paris for simpler souvenir photos

From rumour to reality: Disneyland Paris has just begun trialling its very own Disney’s PhotoPass-style service for souvenir character photos. Word spread across Twitter last month that it might be happening, now low and behold @InsideDLParis has provided the very first look at one of the new cards. The “Disney’s PhotoPass” branding is conspicuously absent (and so is some of the functionality — see below) but the essence of the system is there: By handing this card to an official photographer before posing for a photo with characters, they’ll be able to “link” all your souvenir snaps into a single “account” on the resort’s computer system, meaning you can view and purchase all your photos in one go. Currently, guests have to fumble around with a separate paper ticket for every single photo. This credit card-sized slip, being less easy to lose or spoil, should also translate into more photo sales for Disney — if guests bother to check out their photos at one of the nine boutiques listed on the reverse.

Because it’s the clever online element to the American parks’ PhotoPass which appears to be missing, at least from this trial. Over the in US, guests can actually log into www.disneyphotopass.com after their visit using the details on their card, where they can then order prints or photo souvenirs at their leisure.

Quite why Paris don’t simply jump in with the same smart functionality (and branding) of the US system is a mystery, but at least this is a welcome first step to a more user-friendly (read: sales-friendly), 21st Century system for photo sales at a time when the resort’s guest spending levels remain stagnant.

VIA @InsideDLParis (Twitter)

Thursday, 17th November 2011

20th Anniversary Disneyland Paris brochure now available, events line-up confirmed

Here it is: the 20th Anniversary Disneyland Paris brochure! The multicoloured edition has been spotted out in the wild at travel agents in the UK since its limited launch a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s available online for all to see. Check it out here. Of course, there are new prices, new options and yet another new design for all the pages, but it’s the 20th Anniversary events and images we want to see. The final line-up to make the brochure cut is modest but promising. Star of the show in 2012 will no doubt be Dreams – the “magical, immersive” nighttime spectacular that’s due to take over the Castle, Central Plaza and even Main Street with projections, special effects and — yes — at least a few fountains, as it plunges guests inside a journey through classic Disney dreams.

Also given top billing is Disney Magic on Parade!, actually a reworking of Disney’s Once Upon a Dream Parade that will see the 15th Anniversary‘s showstopper (certainly the best parade ever to be seen in Paris) given new costumes, music and characters. The current Dreams of Romance Finale float will be turned into a mountain ledge for Sorcerer Mickey, with the gang expected to appear in their spangly multi-coloured outfits seen throughout the brochure, while the original opening float will become home to the fairies, wizards and sorcerers of the Disney world. Oddly, that appears to oust the Princesses from the parade almost entirely, although Rapunzel and Flynn are said to be taking over from Aladdin and Jasmine on the smaller Romance Prelude float to freshen up that aspect.

The new magician-themed permanent meet ‘n’ greet for Mickey is advertised simply as Meet Mickey Mouse, while the fourth and final 20th Anniversary event is the mysterious Main Street, U.S.A. Celebrates. The brochure blurb is suitably blurry but its references to “twinkles” and “glowings-on” are spot on with our sources, suggesting a gold theme for the street and certainly a lot of lights…

As we revealed in September, longer opening hours for Disneyland Park are due to be one of the big bonuses of the year. Advertised as 20th Anniversary Extended Hours, they’re confirmed to be in operation from 1st April to 30th September 2012, although there’s no mention of just how many extra hours we can expect beyond the usual closing time. Presumably, just as many as it takes for the park to see nightfall, providing a suitable canvas for Dreams.

Whilst the 20th Anniversary doesn’t coincide with any major attraction investments, the chance to stay in the park until nightfall every day of the year represents a big gear-change for Disneyland Paris. Add to that a real, signature finale to each day with Dreams — produced by Disneyland California entertainment legend Steve Davison and the team behind World of Color, did we forget to mention? — and the culmination of a huge investment in refurbishments. Looks like an E-Ticket year here.

VIA Disneyland Paris 2012 Brochure

Wednesday, 16th November 2011

Disneyland Paris welcomes 250 millionth guest – a quarter billion visitors in less than 20 years!

1, 2, 3… 250,000,000! A huge milestone was celebrated at Disneyland Paris yesterday, 15th November 2011, as the resort welcomed its 250 millionth guest into the parks. That’s a quarter of a billion visitors in just 19 years, 7 months and 15 days. Yes, ok, so they’re still not able to turn a consistent net profit, but let the urban myth that Disney’s European resort has been under-attended since 1992 officially be put to rest. In the 2011 financial year, the parks set a new record of 15.6 million visitors, making the outlook for the 20th Anniversary year rosy indeed. With the usual birthday year boom, longer opening hours through the year and the premiere of Dreams, the resort may well hit the magical 16 million.

The guests in question yesterday received the honour of a celebratory ride up Main Street, U.S.A. on the Fire Truck with Disneyland Paris Ambassador Régis Alart and a photocall with Mickey, Minnie and Duffy in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Just like the 100 millionth visitors in 2001 and the 200 millionth visitors in 2008, they were a family of mum and dad with two photogenic young kids, but in a groundbreaking move they were Spanish, not French, and visiting for the fourth time. Euro Disney SCA’s own press release (PDF) notes that families with young children make up 66% of visitors. So, by those odds, maybe we’ll see someone from the other 34% awarded the 300 million honour in a few years?

VIA Ambassadeur Disneyland Paris (Facebook), Disneyland Paris Corporate (PDF)

Thursday, 10th November 2011

More visitors but higher losses in 2011 Financial Results as Disneyland Paris invests in assets

Increased revenues from the Parks, Hotels and Disney Village failed to outweigh the extra investment pumped into maintaining those assets during the past year, Disneyland Paris has recorded in its Fiscal Year 2011 Results, leading to a net loss of €64 million. Though these Resort operating revenues rose by €60m to €1,275.2m, they couldn’t make up for an increase of €42.3m in direct operating costs to pull Euro Disney SCA, the operating group behind the resort, out of a net loss. As CEO Philippe Gas comments, “This past year we further invested in enhancing the overall guest experience, by introducing longer park operating hours, adding new entertainment and improving the appearance of our guest facing assets. Although these investments increase our costs, they are critical to maintain our long-term attractiveness as Europe’s number one tourist destination.”

Numbers are made to look worse, year-on-year, by the exceptional €47m sale of the land beneath the Val d’Europe shopping centre last year, which also affected Third Quarter 2011 results. Had this not taken place, rather than losing “just” €45.2m in 2010 the company would have seen a €92.2m net loss last year. Considering the heavy operational investment leading up to the 20th Anniversary and the lack of new attractions, the resort perhaps didn’t fare too badly in 2011. In fact, the figures which remain strikingly positive are those for visitor numbers. Park attendance rose to a new record of 15.6 million visitors, while hotel room occupancy grew back up to 87.1% from 85.4% last year (it was at 87.3% in 2009). Average spending per room also increased by around €10 to €219.74, no mean feat given the economic climate across Europe and continuous special offers.

But, as ever, the challenge for Disneyland Paris remains turning these strong numbers into a profit on the bottom line. €123 million in borrowings was reported to have been paid back this year, but if the resort can’t turn a profit on 15.6 million visitors, will it ever climb out of its estimated €2 billion debt? Was the heavy investment in refurbishments this year a one-off, or just the level of rolling investment the resort should be putting into its parks and resort all the time? And if visitor numbers rise again for the 20th Anniversary, will that translate into a profit, or will grand plans for the new nighttime spectacular (etc) — and the longer opening hours required to present it — outweigh the gains yet again?

Speaking of which, the report finally confirms: “In April 2012, Disneyland Paris will launch the celebrations of its 20th Anniversary. A number of brand new experiences await guests, including Dreams, a night-time show with classic Disney storytelling and the latest technical special effects.”

Perhaps the greatest special effect Dreams can pull next year is that, come November, Euro Disney SCA inches into a profit. That’ll take more than faith, trust and pixie dust.

FULL REPORT Euro Disney SCA Fiscal Year 2011 Results (PDF)

Wednesday, 9th November 2011

Opel rejoins Disneyland Paris as official vehicle partner, fleet of electric cars to come

After a 5-year relationship between 2002 and 2007, during which time the company sponsored Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, German car manufacturer Opel has returned to Disneyland Paris as its official vehicle partner. There’s no comment yet whether the General Motors subsidiary could return to sponsor the Backlot stunt show, but it will certainly make its presence known across the resort — if only for backstage Cast Members. As part of the two-year agreement announced on 7th November, Opel France will replace the resort’s entire fleet of cars with brand new, more environmentally-friendly models such as the Opel Movano, Opel Vivaro and Opel Combo. One vehicle whose presence won’t be felt quite so much is the striking all-electric Opel Ampera (the European version of the Chevrolet Volt), a fleet of which Disneyland Paris will take delivery of for backstage duties in January 2012 — one of the first companies in Europe to do so. The entire fleet will also be fitted with Opel’s latest CO² reduction technologies “ecoFLEX”and “Start/Stop”.

The resort’s previous vehicle partner, Ford, ended its three-year partnership in early 2010. During that time it was the official sponsor of Autopia, helping some new investment at the Discoveryland attraction with a new marquee and photo location. Since Opel has only signed for two years, a sponsorship of either motor-based attraction seems unlikely. Now, Disneyland Paris will ironically be replacing its fleet of backstage support vehicles with electric cars while this “highway of the future” continues to belch out petrol fumes. Only Hong Kong Disneyland currently operates electric cars on the attraction.

VIA Disneyland Paris Corporate (PDF)

Tuesday, 8th November 2011

Construction begins for Magician Mickey meet ‘n’ greet at Fantasy Festival Stage

Besides spots of Central Plaza being quietly torn up for that nighttime spectacular, the impending 20th Anniversary isn’t quite bringing us the fever of construction we might have hoped for in the parks. Nevertheless, there is one new attraction on which construction has been ongoing for a couple of months already: the Magician Mickey meet ‘n’ greet we revealed back in July. To be based at Fantasy Festival Stage, the indoor theatre below the railroad station at the back of Fantasyland, work for the permanent meet ‘n’ greet location has already seen the old seating removed inside. Now, construction walls have surrounded the entire building, including a sizeable area at the front entrance.

With a similarly lavish style of the Princess Pavilion which opened last month, Mickey’s new dedicated home in the park will take much of the inspiration from the “Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse” meet ‘n’ greet at Town Square Theatre in Magic Kingdom, Florida. One of the big selling points of that location is that, for the first time, guests can pick up a Fastpass time slot to meet the mouse, saving the kind of 120-minute queues normally associated with popular characters. Though the attractions will be closely related, there’s no word on that same service being available in Paris just yet.

For an experience like a character meet ‘n’ greet, couldn’t it even make sense for the whole operation to the Fastpass-based, with everyone required to pick up a ticket? What do you think?

VIA @InsideDLParis (Twitter)

Tuesday, 8th November 2011

Recap: Big Thunder Mountain reopens swiftly following minor derailment, no injuries

It was another round of bad publicity for Frontierland‘s biggest attraction on 27th October when one of the trains at Big Thunder Mountain suffered a minor derailment, but luckily this turned out to be a blink-and-you-miss-it blip for the ride. On the evening of Thursday 27th October, a coach near the back of one train derailed before the second lift hill in the middle of the ride, causing it to lift off the rails on a straight piece of track. Travelling at “low speed”, according to reports, there were thankfully no officially recorded injuries and all guests we safely evacuated from the island.

The attraction closed immediately, as pictured in the photo from 28th October above, but ultimately only remained shuttered for three full days. It reopened on Monday 31st October, just in time for the sold-out Disney’s Halloween Party that evening, having been deemed safe to resume service after all the necessary checks and verifications. Visitors such as member sfr31 on Disney Central Plaza have remarked that the ride was nevertheless operating at reduced capacity, with long queue lines and only three trains in operation. Reports of the incident — from its possible causes to the coaches which derailed and even the exact location of the derailment — have been contradictory to say the least, though a photo of the train has now appeared on the website of a South of France news service.

This incident clearly has no connection to that at the ride in April earlier this year, when a piece of fibreglass scenery fell and injured a guest, but no doubt its Cast Members will be hoping the “wildest ride in the wilderness” stays out of the headlines for the foreseeable future.

VIA @InsideDLParis, @Disney_ParisEN

Sunday, 9th October 2011

Princess Pavilion officially opens with royal ceremony …and 120 minute wait time

We’ve waited five years for a new attraction at Disneyland Park, the first since the opening of Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast in 2006, and here it is: a princess meet ‘n’ greet. Nevertheless, the brand new Princess Pavilion was given proper opening day treatment this Saturday as Régis Alart and Osvaldo del Mistero, Disneyland Paris Ambassadors, joined the Disney Princesses for a special inauguration ceremony. Fresh from their stint as Thunder Mesa town officials for the re-inauguration of Molly Brown earlier this year, the ambassadors proved themselves game once again by donning gold-stitched outfits perfectly befitting the kingdom of Fantasyland — even the tights!

Introduced as ambassadors for the royal court of Fantasyland, the ambassadors led the ceremony entirely in French but eschewed the usual black-suited ribbon cutting by introducing four of the princesses — Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella and Tiana  — one by one, to a series of fitting musical cues. All the while, as this medieval pomp was going on, fans were right back in 2011 by tweeting out live pictures, like those from @PhotosMagiques here. Finally, two young princesses selected from the crowd helped to pull the cover from a “Princess Pavilion” sign as the attraction was declared officially open. And, within an hour, attracted a 120 minute wait time.

The inside is practically unrecognisable from its time as the post-show room at the exit of “it’s a small world”. Stone walls, ornate carved columns and cornicing, eight beautiful backlit stained glass windows and eight crystal artefacts representing each princess line the queue. The lighting is subtle yet certainly high-tech: the torches on the walls (perhaps new LEDs?) dance in a realistic flicker, the artefacts are lit by fibre optics and change colour. Particularly stunning is the flower for Rapunzel, who rightly won the eighth spot over Mulan, which bursts into golden light from within just as in the film. A long wait it may have, but at least guests are now warm, inside and surrounded by top-quality Disney design work.

If this is how Disneyland Park does a meet ‘n’ greet, we can’t wait until it gets a real new attraction.

Video of the grand opening and a walk through the queue line follows… Read More…

Saturday, 8th October 2011

Bob Iger to remain Disney CEO for just 4 more years; stepping down in 2015

Get ready folks: you’ve got less than 4 years to work your way to top of the Disney corporate ladder. The Walt Disney Company just made the somewhat surprise announcement that Bob Iger will see his tenure as chairman and chief executive officer extended until 31st March 2015 when he will step down as CEO, giving him a neat 10 years in charge. This will leave the door open for a new leader, a rare moment indeed for Disney. Iger will continue to serve as executive chairman for 15 months as part of the succession plan, which you can read the full details of in the ABC News article here.

Unlike Michael Eisner, the previous CEO from 1984 to 2005 who was unceremoniously ousted from the position after a shareholder revolt led by the late Roy E. Disney, Disney has set Bob Iger’s departure date far in advance, while he still well admired by shareholders, Cast Members and fans. In the past six years, he has led Disney back toward quality entertainment after the deluge of so-called direct-to-video “cheapquels” of earlier in the past decade; overseeing massive expansions of Hong Kong Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom in Florida and of course the billion-dollar Disney California Adventure rebirth. Shanghai Disney Resort, which broke ground earlier this year, will open in 2016.

Beyond the parks and just a year into his leadership Iger led the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar, after Michael Eisner very nearly drove the visionary studio away from the company; bringing John Lasseter to the forefront of Disney’s creative vision and launching a rebirth of traditional animation at the studio. This would also make the now sadly passed Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs the largest individual Disney shareholder and member of the board, providing an important relationship with Apple at a pivotal moment as it revolutionised the entertainment and technology industries.

While Iger has so far been spotted during visits to Disneyland Paris several times, the resort has failed to see many revolutions during his time. The last expansion wave of new attractions between 2006 and 2008 was already signed and sealed a few months before he became CEO, and current projects such as the Ratatouille dark ride, Disney Village and hotel expansions continue to languish on the drawing board. A full-scale project to “fix” Walt Disney Studios Park with a huge DCA-style investment package has been rumoured for later this decade, but so far not forthcoming. The park is perhaps the final piece of Eisner’s later legacy that still requires fixing to bring it up to the Disney name. Could Iger help it along as a final hurrah before 2015? And who do you think will be his likely successor?

Thursday, 6th October 2011

Disney Village closes New York Style Sandwiches… but only for refurbishment

Is Disney Village seeing the first effects of Disney recently taking back control of some restaurants previously run by an outside company? The small New York Style Sandwiches shop, positioned between the Sports Bar and The Disney Gallery, closed on Monday 3rd for a refurbishment that will last until Friday 21st October. The windows have been completely covered over during the works. It’s currently unclear how big the changes will be: whether this is simply a freshen-up to get things back to Disney standards, or if changes could be on the way to the rather tired venue, previously operated by Groupe Flo along with Café Mickey, The Steakhouse and Annette’s Diner.

Opened in 1992 as Carnegie’s Deli with full table service, it was renamed after just a few years. In May this year, it gained some hefty competition from the new-build Earl of Sandwich just across the way and subsequently altered the focus of its menu away from sandwiches to pizza slices and other Italian-American snacks. Curiously, the signage notifying of the current closure (captured here by Mouetto on Disney Central Plaza) uses the New York Style Sandwiches logo but in its text calls the location by a new name: “New York Deli”. With the Earl now having the Village’s hot sandwich market wrapped up, will Disney further reposition the shop to offer greater variety?

This follows a major refurbishment of the Disney Fashion store nearby in June, which saw the formerly dull outlet gain a more quirky “boutique” feel. Of the retail units in Disney Village — notably Disney Store, Hollywood Pictures and World of Toys — that store was the least likely to effectively be made redundant by the opening of World of Disney next year, perhaps calling for an even bigger rethink of the offer along this side of the street, which has long been somewhat uninspiring.

VIA @InsideDLParis (Twitter)

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