Official partners and attraction sponsors have been a part of the Disneyland machine since the opening day of Disneyland California in 1955. Whilst Walt had already signed up an impressive list of partners and backers for his ambitious project, it was when attention was drawn to Tomorrowland that the story really began. Unable to finance a full land for opening day, the area became an exhibition area for the park’s partners until the 1959 expansion brought some of its most famous attractions.

For Disneyland Resort Paris, the story is even more complicated. Following the 1955 model, a huge collection of partners from various product areas jumped at the chance to sponsor Euro Disney… though only a handful remain today. Coca-Cola, Esso, France Télécom, Hasbro, Hertz, Kellogg’s, Kodak, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Opel and Visa were the partners up until late March 2007, when the contracts were due for another shake-up after fifteen years in Paris…

The first change in-park came at the Disneyland Railroad, which has now lost McDonald’s as its sponsor. As Bob Iger and Jay Rasulo continue to spread a healthier feel through the menus of Disney Parks around the world, Disneyland Resort Paris have wasted no time in losing McDonald’s as an official partner, and the position they’ve held at Disneyland Railroad since 1999.

The restaurant at Disney Village will remain, but all signage and announcements at the railroad have been fully updated to remove the golden arches. One example, Frontierland Depot, now has a new entrance sign with larger text to fill the space left. And, of course, “your friends at McDonald’s” no longer welcome you aboard…

Railroad fans need not despair however, the grand circle tour will still be cared for in the same way. Whilst audio problems continue on almost every train, Frontierland Depot has also recently received a full “restoration” of its detailed interior.

A second loss can be felt in both parks. Opel, partner since the 2002 opening of Walt Disney Studios Park, when it replaced former partner Renault to help develop and sponsor Moteurs… Action! Stunt Show Spectacular, has now left the resort. After five years, the Opel contract expired and wasn’t renewed, as simple as that. In Disneyland Park, the various hidden details of the brand around Main Street USA have already been removed or hidden…

…Whilst over at Walt Disney Studios Park, the Opel badges have been removed from every car at Moteurs… Action! and the giant entrance marquee updated to reflect the loss.

The loss of a motoring sponsor is a fairly major change for the resort, so who could follow on from Renault and Opel/Vauxhall? As already confirmed at Autopia, none other than Ford Motor Company, one of the most recognisable brands in the world, has signed on to partner with Disneyland Resort Paris.

The iconic blue oval has already appeared on the entrance marquee and “Astrocoupé” billboard of Autopia, now officially sponsored by Ford. It’s interesting to note, though, that Ford here replaces not Opel but another oval logo… that of Esso. The petrol giant still sponsors Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril, but there is apparently some doubt now over how much longer this will continue – the sponsorship is no longer listed on the latest park map, for example.

Finally, the biggest change in sponsorship perhaps since the park first opened. When you think of brands featured at Disneyland, Nestlé inevitably springs to mind. From water to baby food, ice tea to Nescafé, ice cream to chocolate, the food giant was a major presence at the resort. From April 2007, however, their contract is over.

To replace a motor company is one thing, but how to replace a brand like Nestlé will all of its sub-companies and neverending products? Well, it looks like Disneyland Resort Paris have found the perfect candidate – Unilever. The name might not immediately ring a bell, but a quick look at some of the brands and companies in their portfolio shows they’re a more than worthy successor to Nestlé…

So now it seems we can expect Lipton Ice Tea rather than Nestea, Bertolli Italian foods rather than Buitoni and Miko (Walls in the UK) ice creams rather than Nestlé’s own – bringing Cornettos, Magnums, Calippos and Twisters to Disneyland for the first time!

The Nestlé name hasn’t been totally removed, however. The resort still uses the company’s chocolate products, Nescafé and baby food. Only time will tell if other new partners will replace these, or if Nestlé will remain on as simply a provider rather than a partner. The current park maps – valid until July and May respectively – also still feature Nestlé advertising.

One of the most popular changes already comes at Main Street’s Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor. Whilst The Ice Cream Company takes the more family-orientated Miko brand, the trendy Gibson Girl now takes the Ben & Jerry’s name – and serves a range of their most popular flavours for the first time.

The more “exclusive” Carte d’Or brand has also arrived, adding a golden touch to Fantasia Gelati in Fantasyland. With these positive changes to the products Disneyland Resort Paris can now offer at its restaurants and boutiques, the effect on sales will be interesting to watch.

Other possibilities are also opened up with the portfolio of companies – healthier Knorr foods at counter service restaurants? Dove soap and Lux shower gel at Disney Hotels? Or maybe – just maybe – Slim Fast at the Walt Disney Studios restaurants, for that true Hollywood experience.

More photos of the sponsorship changeovers can be seen at Photos Magiques.