Monday, 9th June 2008

Bluetooth brings Disney park revolution to the Studios

In the evolution of the Disney theme park, this could be as big as Fastpass. You’re used to checking the latest wait times on the park information board before heading off to your first destination, but imagine being able to see them, live, across the park — on your mobile phone.

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Now, at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, you can. Grabbing the latest show times for CinéMagique whilst enjoying a bite to eat inside Disney Studio 1 might not be exactly revolutionary — what’s wrong with picking up a Programme leaflet, afterall — but it’s with the live, constantly updated attraction wait times where this system is truly exciting.

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Stand by Crush’s Coaster in Toon Studio and you can see the exact wait time of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith right across the park. Near The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, you could suddenly spot the queue time for Crush’s Coaster drop to 30 minutes and be able to make a quick dash for a quicker entry to the park favourite.

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Whereas the times on the central tips board would previously be out of reach to anyone stood more than 10ft away, and generally only used to plan your first attraction of the day, Disneyland Resort Paris has experimented with Bluetooth technology to give a park the biggest shake-up since Fastpass ticketing, distributing guests to the attractions with smaller queues throughout the day.

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Advertisement sent via Walt Disney Studios Park’s Bluetooth.

How does it work?

Most modern mobile phones come equipped with Bluetooth as standard, a short-range wireless feature that lets you exchange photos, messages and more between two handsets. You might use it for a wireless headset or linking to your car stereo, for example.day.

Turn Bluetooth on in your phone’s settings, and when walking into one of these “Bluetooth hotspots”, you’ll get a request to receive data. Accept, and the latest show times, wait times and more will be sent to your phone in the form of small images (see above). These cycle through the latest park information, which is updated in synchronisation with the main park information board, constantly updated with the latest times.

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Where does it work?

At present, the system is not available in every corner of the park. The Bluetooth standard only allows for a short-range frequency and so transmitters must be installed across the park to create the “hotspots”, much like the Wi-Fi internet you might use at cafés or in your own home. So far, the service will activate at Disney Studio 1, the Information Board, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Crush’s Coaster.

The park’s Entertainment Programme has advertised the feature since the end of May and the old information board (now placed at the end of Hollywood Boulevard) explains the system (see below). It is not known, however, whether this trial period could result in more transmitters being installed in the long term. Certainly, an additional hotspot in Backlot or the park’s restaurants would be very useful.

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What is expected, though, is that should the Walt Disney Studios Park trial be proven worthwhile and well-received (forgive the pun), the system will — in time — debut at Disneyland Park. Which, given that this park contains considerably more real “rides” than its cousin, could be where the new Disney theme park age really dawns.

The stepping stone to this ambitious project was the introduction of a new information board at Walt Disney Studios Park late last year, fully integrated into the new Hollywood Boulevard. Like the board at Disneyland Park which was refurbished back in 2006, this uses bright LCD screens behind the board to display the times, which the computer collects automatically from the electronic turnstiles at each of the park’s attractions.

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Bluetooth zones explained.

Disneyland Park was the first Disney theme park in the world to introduce this system, and remained the only park with such a “Tips Board” until Walt Disney Studios Park followed suit as the second. At the Studios, the concept was taken even further with small screens displaying clips from CinéMagique, Animagique and Moteurs… Action! on a loop, to entice guests to these shows.

So, next time you visit the Studios, you don’t need big eyes — or ears — to keep track of the latest wait times. Just a little mobile phone magic.

The Bluetooth Disney park revolution has begun!

[Images: DLRP Today; Joel’s Photo Hunt; Melroy, Disney Gazette]

Tuesday, 6th May 2008

Losses halved; Revenues, attendance increased again in First Half 2008

The road to recovery for Disneyland Resort Paris and its complicated structure of operating companies, brought together as the Euro Disney SCA “group”, was never going to be quick.

Today, as the group publishes its much-anticipated First Half 2008 report, we get a first taste of the real “Tower of Terror effect” — since, despite the advertising just starting, it has been open since December — and a final claim to success for the first year of the 15th Anniversary Celebration.

Covering the six months which ended 31st March 2008, the report builds upon the First Quarter publication in January to announce in full the finances, attendance and operating margin for the period.

‘¢ Revenues increased 18% to € 605 million, primarily reflecting growth in Resort operations

Theme park revenues increased 17.5% to €316.4 million from € 269.3 million in the prior year, reflecting an increase in attendance and a minor increase of 2% in spending per guest, likely due to increased ticket prices.

Hotels and Disney Village increased 14.9% to €235.9 million, from € 205.3 million last year, driven by a 10% increase in average spending per room and a 5.4 percentage point increase in
hotel occupancy to 88.5%.

‘¢ Positive operating margin of € 1 million, against a prior-year loss of € 36 million

The operating margin between the increased revenues (as above) and the costs and expenses incurred by the resort grew by an impressive €37.6 million, compared to an increase of €24.6 million in First Half 2007. It built upon this prior growth to finally push the operating margin into a positive figure — of €1.3 million.

‘¢ Net loss reduced by 47% to € 43 million

The key financial figure also shows a strong continued growth, here impressive enough to divide the resort’s losses by two for the First Half, when compared to the same period in 2007. As they continue to work toward a resort which can turn a reliable profit, this figure is particularly exciting for the growth of Disneyland Resort Paris.

The net loss for First Half 2008 was reduced again by more than twice the amount it shrank in 2007 — €43 million compared to €19.8 million — suggesting that, should this strong growth continue throughout the extended second year of the 15th Anniversary, the First Half or Annual Report for 2009 could well finally see the resort announcing a (very modest) profit.

In an even more optimistic outlook, a perfect Summer season this year could even bring the net loss down to zero as early as this November’s 2008 Annual Report. Euro Disney is now, at last, in the home straight.

Most importantly, this growth has been strong and consistent for several years now, continually increasing with each financial report. This would suggest the recovery is steady and well calculated, the massively improved figures not merely a flash in the pan.

‘¢ Attendance increased 14.8% to 7 million

In first half 2007, Disneyland Resort Paris recorded a record attendance of 6.1 million guests, up 10.9% from 5.5 million in first half 2006. For first half 2008, it has the chance to claim an impressive 14.8% increase, bringing the attendance for the six months from November to the end of March to a full 7 million.

The record 14.5 million guests of 2007 was a real victory for the resort, and this second big step forward again suggests that the growth is steady and still ongoing. Rather than struggling to equal its record figure for 2007, the resort could instead be lucky enough to post a modest increase on that amount. The earlier placement of some holidays, such as Easter, could have benefited the figures slightly, suggests the report, but growth from French, Spanish and Dutch markets is credited with the 0.9 million rise.

‘¢ Hotel occupancy increased 5.4ppt to 88.5%

Room occupancy at the resort’s seven Disney Hotels is now a full 10.5 percentage points higher than it was for the first half of 2006 (78%). Between the first halves of 2007 and 2008, the figure rose by 0.06 percentage points more than it did between first half 2006 and 2007, giving another sizeable achievement (total 5.4ppt) despite increased prices and fewer special offers, which in fact also contributed more to the hotels’ large revenue increase listed above.

Commenting on the results, Karl L. Holz, Chief Executive Officer of Euro Disney S.A.S, said:

“Our first semester of fiscal year 2008 was marked by an 18% increase in revenues and a positive first semester operating margin. This solid performance was driven by continued growth across all our key markets and throughout our Resort operations with increases in attendance, hotel occupancy and average spending per guest.

Our management team remains focused on the execution of our growth strategy as we continue to drive our business toward profitability.

Building on the success of our 15th Anniversary, filled with immersive Disney family entertainment and adventures, we have launched The Celebration Continues…Big Time! with the opening of the iconic attraction The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Stitch Live!.

The entire Disneyland Resort Paris team is committed to delivering a quality Guest experience and building on our positive momentum as we head into the peak summer season.”

The words of CEO Karl Holz might be beginning to seem remarkably similar which each financial report, but his comments on driving the business toward profitability are now clearly ringing true. Whereas the results of 2007 showed the amount of hard work still required before the resort could announce a positive result, the figures here for First Half 2008 clearly show the drive is now reaching a plateau.

Continue along this path for another 18 months, Karl, Philippe, and Disneyland Resort Paris will not only be breaking attendance records and announcing positive operating margins — it could finally be allowed to use that most magical of words… profit.

Click here to read the First Half 2008 results in full (PDF, new window).

Monday, 21st April 2008

The Celebration Continues… The VIPs

We begin on this rainy Saturday in early April. Once again, the curse of the press event has struck and Walt Disney Studios Park sits underneath a thick covering of rain clouds.

Throughout the day, both before and after the launch event we just watched, areas in front of the key attraction — The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — were cordoned off and reserved for cameras, officials and photo shoots.

Celebrities and VIP guests were led through Beverley Court and La Terrasse Perrier for photos in front of the Tower, posing either next to the fibre-optic Hollywood Tower Hotel sign or beside the familiar elevator cabin we spotted earlier.

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It’s here we spot our very first celebrity. No, not the guy in the green top, we’ve unfortunately no idea who he is, but the bellhop! Do you recognise him? He might be wearing the same maroon uniform and bellboy hat as the regular employees of The Hollywood Tower Hotel, but this, you could say, is the bellhop.

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You’ll know him from all of the videos on the official Tower of Terror website, not to mention countless visuals and posters that are appearing across Europe right now. He dropped back into the resort on the launch day to complete his Twilight Zone duties.

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This same bellhop and several others were on standby inside the boiler room of the attraction itself, ready to pose for photos by the famous elevator doors or even take a ride with the VIPs to capture some unique on-ride moments. It’s just as we enter the Tower of Terror for a ride ourselves that one of the resort’s most important VIPs of the weekend was giving an interview — Sébastien Chabal, the instantly recognisable French rugby player.

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Causing somewhat of a frenzy with guests passing by to their own elevators, the rugby star was being peered over by two of the bellhops as he was filmed on camera. The many visits from various national rugby teams during last year’s World Cup in France seems to have paid off, this being Sébastien’s second visit captured by the official press team.

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And so now we switch over to the official press photos from Disneyland Resort Paris, with the biggest VIP of them all posing next to the rugby player against a special backdrop of ‘HTH’ symbols, Tower of Terror and Disneyland15 logos. As for his ride on the attraction itself, that was captured from start to finish:

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Very willing to play along with the bellhops, Chabal’s long hair (he is often referred to simply as “the caveman” by rugby fans) also provided the perfect showcase for the ride’s “gravity-defying” capabilities.

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Interestingly, the resort also released one photo of the elevator as a “making of” shot, showing the photographers and equipment which went into capturing the VIPs on their ride into the fifth dimension.

As you might expect, the event was populated by mainly French VIPs, many of whom we expect most DLRP Today readers won’t recognise. The full list included Sébastien Chabal, Emilie Dequenne, Thierry Frémont, Pierre Mathieu, Bruno Solo, Philippe Vandel, Philppe Bas, Olivier Dahan, André Dussollier, Zoe Felix, Marc Lavoine, Aissa Maiga, Virginie Efira, Laurent Gerra, Hafsia Herzi, Audrey Marnay, Alysson Paradis and Jocelyn Quivrin.

However, since their photos from the boiler room were so expertly dominated by the scene-stealing bellhops, let’s take a look anyway:

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Sébastien Chabal / (above) / Jocelyn Quivrin

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Hafsia Herzi and Emilie Dequenne / Non-French Lucy and Nadja from ‘No Angels’

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Aissa Maiga / Bruno Solo

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André Dusollier / Virginie Efira

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TV presenter and star of the Tower of Terror competitions and promos on French channel M6, it was good to see that Virginie Efira was also present at the park to help launch the new attraction itself. Next to her, Mickey Mouse tries to reach his room in The Hollywood Tower Hotel.

Whilst Minnie wore her white dress from the Studios’ grand opening event in 2002 and last year’s Toon Studio opening, Mickey’s outfit looked brand new and very sharp indeed. He posed for pictures with VIPs atop a small podium to the left of Beverley Court, were we spotted some preparations the day before.

Now, for the United Kingdom. Disneyland Resort Paris always appears to have a hard time coaxing celebrities across the English Channel to Marne-la-Vallée specifically for these press events, so how did they do this time? Not too bad…

The main attendees from the UK were a team from long-running ITV1 daytime show This Morning, which included reporter Alison Hammond (who you might incidentally remember from Big Brother many moons ago). Alison took part in the filming of plenty of footage from the attraction and various locations around the resort, which has been compiled into short VT segments shown throughout the two hour show across the past few weeks, advertising both the resort and more specifically competitions to win trips to ride Tower of Terror.

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She might not be the most famous TV reporter, but Alison smiled, screamed and danced her way through the weekend with her family — DLRP Today spotted her at the front of the press crowd for the High School Musical 2: School’s Out! premiere, miming to every word. It’s a shame not all the press are that willing to enjoy themselves.

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As the TV reporter posed in front of the Tower, another British TV star was also enjoying Walt Disney Studios Park with his family. You’ll know him best from BBC Three sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, but he’s also a former Hollyoaks star and popstar (remember that?!) — it’s Will Mellor.

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The actor was captured outside (but not on-board!) Tower of Terror, at the Toon Studio Plaza character locations and enjoying Crush’s Coaster with other VIP guests. Below, he poses with wife Michelle McSween and son Jayden alongside Emile from Ratatouille.

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Our final British VIP will surely be the most well-known. Appearing for the nighttime inauguration event of Tower of Terror, long-time BBC Radio 1 DJ and occasional television presenter Jo Whiley, with son Jude and Mickey Mouse.

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Jo Whiley presents the late morning/daytime slot on Radio 1, one of the UK’s biggest radio stations. She posed in front of a classic 1930s automobile at the foot of Hollywood Boulevard. Full reports, photos and video from this nighttime event will be following shortly.

Our next country is the Netherlands, represented mainly by cast members from two soaps (serial dramas) that go by the abbreviations ONM and GTST — that’s Onderweg Naar Morgen and Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden.

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ONM & GTST cast on Tower of Terror / TV presenter Monique Smit with Stitch

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ONM & GTST cast with the bellhop / Dutch stars with the cast of HSM2

Finally we come to the last country to see some of its stars visit the press events — Germany! The first three famous faces will soon be recognised right across Europe — it’s Nadja, Jessica and Lucy from hugely successful female pop group No Angels. Following a reunion last year, they’re Germany’s Eurovision Song Contest entry for 2008.

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The three stars posed with Stitch, above, following the launch event earlier, and were captured both riding Tower of Terror and visiting Minnie Mouse over in Disneyland Park with their families and children, below.

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Also attending the event, and featured in publicity and press photos more than any other celebrity across the various international websites, the winner of Germany’s Next Top Model, Barbara Meier.

Barbara has special reason to be at the resort to help launch the major new attraction, since she currently stars in a German TV campaign for the resort, the first for several years, aimed at “reintroducing” it to the country that recently hasn’t been a strong visitor to the Marne-la-Vallée magic kingdom.

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Choosing the model with long, red hair certainly paid off for her publicity photos on-board the attraction, once again showing off its drops and zero-gravity moments.

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Above, Barbara poses with a bellhop and earlier, Mickey Mouse, atop the special podium in front of the attraction.

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The Top Model star was also photographed right across the resort, including signing autographs in Main Street USA, smiling with Stitch on the redecorated Place des Stars Stage

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…Posing in front of the 15th Anniversary overlay of Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant and finally, standing with the recognisable bellhop who now appears to almost have a smile on his face… !

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All of the German stars, including retired football star Fredi Bobic, posed for a final photo with the entire cast of High School Musical 2: School’s Out!.

The opening of such a high-profile new attraction at Walt Disney Studios Park has also given it a couple of other, more high-profile, stars in recent weeks. On his European publicity tour for Rocky Balboa, movie legend Sylvester Stallone didn’t just pay a visit to check up on his Planet Hollywood restaurant in Disney Village, the star dropped into the Studios to try this European version of the Hollywood Tower favourite.

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Visiting in late March with his two sons, musician Phil Collins returned to the resort once again to enjoy the new attractions of Toon Studio and Hollywood Boulevard that have transformed Walt Disney Studios Park since his last visit for the 15th Anniversary launch in April last year. The star now lives in Féchy, Switzerland and returns to Disneyland Resort Paris almost annually to celebrate his sons’ birthdays.

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The famous faces above could enjoy priority access to The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Crush’s Coaster in particular, which would have made the dull, cloudy and even rainy weather less of a disappointment.

Certain to be smiling in their perpetual “summertime”, however, were the stars of the all-new High School Musical 2: School’s Out! show. We take you to the official premiere performance, next…

Saturday, 12th April 2008

The Celebration Continues… The Preparations

We arrive on the evening of Friday, 4th April 2008 and head straight for the resort hub, the promenade, Centre Court. The day has already been one of bustling activity for the resort — alongside good guest attendance, many resort officials, VIPs and press crews have already arrived to begin their own preparations.

The day before, Thursday, preparations were made in the mezzanine of Disney Studio 1 for live radio station broadcasts on Friday morning — Paris’ Voltage FM from 6:30am to 9:30am and the UK’s Heart FM broadcasting live all the way from 7:00am to 10:00am.

Reserved zones were set up for The Legend of the Lion King, Disney Characters’ Express, Disney’s Once Upon a Dream Parade and Candleabration throughout the day.

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That’s where we’re headed, follow the bellhop…

So, here we are, on the hub of Disneyland Resort Paris, with the giant billboards and bellhops pointing the way to our first point of call – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. But before then, a little surprise from the gardeners — brand new flowers right around the promenade!

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Brand new flowers for the hub / New brighter colours for Town Square

All the areas bordering the paths here were previously just grassy banks, with the exception of a small parcel of flowers around the new information board and flags installed one year ago. Now, the lower section of all the grass has been given over to thousands of new flowers.

Hopping quickly over to Disneyland Park, the gardeners have made another change — last year’s yellows and blues replaced by multicoloured yellows and pinks in honour of ‘The Celebration Continues’ colour scheme.

Enough diversions, let’s head straight for Walt Disney Studios Park:

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Film crews prepare next to Beverley Court

Here, the Tower of Terror is already buzzing with preparations and special set-ups for the evening and days ahead. Beverley Court, the building on the edge of the new Hollywood Boulevard, is providing a convenient storage location for equipment whilst the film crews set up their equipment on the patch of pavement next door.

The Studio Catering Co. van usually here has been moved to allow the area to be used for exterior VIP shots and film footage against the backdrop of the Tower.

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Temporary HTH posters / Lighting rig tests behind the Tower

In preparation for the grand inauguration ceremonies to come the following night, movie posters on the lighting rigs, which are still to be found in this area, have temporarily been replaced by ‘HTH’ Hollywood Tower Hotel logos, as those on Disney Bros Plaza were with Crush and Cars imagery last June. Unfortunately, George of the Jungle, etc did return on Sunday.

Now, what’s that behind the Tower? Don’t worry, not a wrecking ball… a giant lighting rig, elevated by crane to sit behind the building. When the press and VIPs stood in their reserved areas for the show the next day, it was completely hidden, emitting an incredibly bright ray of lights from behind the hotel, making it look just like that famous mural in the Tower Hotel Gifts boutique.

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Show control/film crews’ podium

The crane had been elevated sometime in the late afternoon of Friday to prepare for the evening’s massive rehearsal of the inauguration show, which began just half an hour after park closing at 7:30pm and, for the 100+ extras that would bring a living, breathing Hollywood night to life, continued right up until midnight.

As seen above, the podium and control booth from the 15th Anniversary and Toon Studio launches was again present, providing a clear view of the Tower through a gap in the trees and Hollywood Boulevard buildings.

Saturday, 5th April 2008

The big day is finally here, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is about to be inaugurated at Walt Disney Studios Park over six years since the park first opened. Of course, the day also marked the launch of the entire ‘Celebration Continues… Big Time!’ year, not to mention the grand opening and inauguration of Stitch Live! across the courtyard.

The park was already busy at 7:00am, when rehearsals began for the ceremony that would kick off the year and officially open Stitch Live!, with Karl Holz joining the rehearsal from 8:30am.

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Giant lighting rig for Tower / Signs park-wide indicate Tower closes at 5pm

The white podium was suddenly joined by barriers and fences all around the Tower and Place des Stars area. The resort’s audio visual crew had the crane camera in place, ready to be moved around for various events throughout the day, and — as if you could miss it — a second giant lighting rig was now extending into the sky, ensuring the Tower stayed in bright light despite the typically cloudy press event weather.

The lighting rig behind the Tower wouldn’t extend into the sky again until later in the day, when preparations for the real show began. For that reason, and for the surprising amount of pyrotechnics that would be scattered across the hotel’s facade, the attraction closed to day guests at 5pm.

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Film crews and Bellhop actors on standby for VIPs at the Tower

All day, celebrities, VIPs and invitees were enjoying the attractions of Walt Disney Studios Park. At Tower of Terror, the resort’s own film crews and photographers were on “standby” for their arrival, with special acting bellhops inside and out ready to pose for the cameras.

Used in the background of many of the photo shoots… something rather familiar…

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Familiar prop from London reappears for photo shoots

The elevator cabin which briefly appeared in London’s Leicester Square had found its way across the Channel to the resort, where it sat outside of the gates of the attraction all day.

Look out for another article soon covering in detail the VIPs and celebrities who attended the event.

Finally, the location of our first event of the day — Place des Stars. The stage was dressed up overnight for the official kick-off ceremony, a ’15’ symbol surrounded by shiny golden wrapping paper and a backdrop of illuminated Stitch Live! logos.

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Stitch Live! & ‘Celebration Continues’ launch stage prepared…

On the stage, a red podium wrapped up in a golden ribbon and ’15’ symbol, with a giant red present topped by a gold bow. Now, who do you suppose could be hiding in there, waiting to burst out? Yes, he’s mischievous alright… In fact, if you took a look behind that backdrop, you’d have seen a second red square of wrapping paper for the front of the present… just in case.

This is where we head next, as our ‘Celebration Continues’ series… continues!

Friday, 11th April 2008

The Celebration Continues… with a new President!

The news of Karl Holz’ departure from the Paris resort has been bubbling under the surface for quite some time, and now it is confirmed. The popular Chairman and CEO, who successfully implemented several major new attractions, new advertising, refurbishments across the resort and the spectacular 15th Anniversary celebration will be leaving Disneyland Resort Paris on 1st September.

His successor, Philippe Gas, has a strong background in Human Resources for Disney Parks and a 17-year history with the mouse, more than half of which was spent in Paris.

Here is the press release in full:

EURO DISNEY S.C.A.
PHILIPPE GAS TO ASSUME TOP DUTIES AT EURO DISNEY

Marne-la-Vallée, April 11, 2008 … Euro Disney S.C.A. today announced the nomination of Philippe Gas to the position of Président of Euro Disney S.A.S., the management company of Euro Disney S.C.A. and Euro Disney Associés S.C.A., the operator of Disneyland® Resort Paris. Philippe will take over the responsibilities of Karl Holz who has been appointed President, New Vacation Operations, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

James A. Rasulo, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said: ‘ Philippe’s 17 years of Disney experience, more than half of which was spent at Disneyland Resort Paris, along with his expertise in human resources ideally prepares him to lead Euro Disney’s team of 12,300 cast members. Together with the strong international management team, Philippe is committed to the Company’s long-term strategy and to its continued growth as Europe’s number 1 tourist destination’.

Philippe’s appointment will be effective on September 1, 2008. He will transition into this new role over the summer, working closely with Karl to ensure continued commitment to the Company’s long term strategic priorities : driving results towards profitability ; providing a high-quality guest experience ; and developing our cast members.

Philippe Gas, 44 and a 17-year Disney veteran, has extensive experience with both Euro Disney and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts worldwide. After having completed his master of law from the University of Paris Assas, he joined the Disney organization in 1991 as Finance Controller and was a member of the opening team at Disneyland Resort Paris. Over the next six years, he held a variety of positions at the Resort. 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 is responsible for the Human Resources strategy and services for nearly 100,000 Cast Members.

Philippe said : ‘ I am pleased to return to Disneyland Resort Paris, where I started my Disney career to build on the solid foundation which Karl and the leadership team have achieved. I look forward to working with the cast to continue delivering high-quality Disney experience for all of our guests’.

Karl Holz joined the group in 2004 as Chief Operating Officer, following roles as Senior Vice President of Operations at Walt Disney World and subsequently president of the entire Disney Cruise Line. Although unnoticed at the time, his move to operations at Disneyland Resort Paris was clearly a strategic one on the group’s behalf, with Holz swiftly moving to chairman duties as soon as brief former CEO André Lacroix had finalised the group’s financial restructuring.

His move to new opportunities within The Walt Disney Company makes clear the very positive current position of Disneyland Resort Paris — with record visitor numbers last year and increasing profits, it seems Holz is now better placed as president of an area still needing help — New Vacation Operations, which we understand to include their ‘Adventures by Disney’ travel programme.

Moving back to Disneyland Resort Paris and assuming top duties at Euro Disney SAS, Philippe Gas brings with him an undeniably strong background in Human Resources and experience with Disney Cast Members. After seeing out the 15th Anniversary, Philippe faces the heavy challenge of producing a successful follow-up and retaining the record figures brought in by those recent investments.

We wish him the best of luck.

Sunday, 16th March 2008

Resort wins highest worldwide attendance growth

2007 was a big year for Disneyland Resort Paris in many ways, but none more so than its phenomenal boost in visitor numbers. The figures for the year were first confirmed in last November’s annual report, and, as we announced at the time — they well and truly “smashed the 14 million”, with a spectacular 14.5 million guests stepping through the gates of the two parks.

The annual reports from the Themed Entertainment Association stack up all the attendance reports from every theme or amusement park around the world, with one of the most interesting aspects for a DLRP fan being the chance to see attendance figures for the two parks separately.

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And, whilst Disneyland Park hasn’t climbed up the league table and Walt Disney Studios Park only by one place, they can boast the most impressive attendance increases of any theme park in the world — 13.1% for Disneyland Park and 13.6% for Walt Disney Studios Park, or 1.4 million and 300,000 respectively. The only park with a boost of a similar level was Heide Park in Germany, with a 16.7% increase helping its attendance by roughly 200,000.

Disneyland Park attracted a full 12 million guests of the 14.5 million total through its gates (5th place Worldwide, 1st place Europe) whilst, according to this study, Walt Disney Studios Park pulled in the other 2.5 million (1oth place Europe), putting it one place up the European leaderboard and ahead of UK rival Alton Towers for the first time.

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Click to enlarge; (C) TEA/ERA

But Studios fans, you’re right to object — the second gate at Disneyland Resort Paris does attract far, far more people than this. The inaccuracy in these estimated figures is that Euro Disney SCA count their parks on what they call a “first click” basis, so if you bought a Park Hopper and visited Disneyland Park the first day and Walt Disney Studios Park the second, your “point” would go to Disneyland Park, and the Studios wouldn’t get anything.

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Therefore we can only discover that, of those 14.5 million guests, 12 million headed straight for Disneyland whilst 2.5 million went straight for the Studios. The good thing here being that the Studios’ growth was 0.5% higher than that of Disneyland Park, suggesting the very first signs of guests’ priorities changing thanks to the new attractions in Toon Studio. If both figures were to be shown as the “true” number of unique guests which passed through the gates of each park, there is no doubt that Walt Disney Studios Park would easily be second on the list, just beating Pleasure Beach Blackpool, which, it should be noted, currently has no entrance charge.

Fans of Disneyland Resort Paris will no doubt await the 2008 figures with great anticipation, as we wait and see if the “Tower of Terror effect” can finally begin to readdress the imbalance between these “first click” park figures.

— You can download the full attendance report as a PDF here.

Friday, 14th March 2008

Disney Parks in Paris go smoke-free; New smoking areas announced

But smokers… no need to fret. Because instead, the two parks will follow their US counterparts by introducing airport-style “designated smoking areas” in secluded corners of each land.

This news, first rumoured several months ago, follows the introduction of a complete “smoking ban” throughout most public buildings in France last year, when England notably also joined the rest of the United Kingdom for a similar ban. Disneyland Resort Paris have wasted no time in taking advantage of this new-found French distrust of the smoker, banning smoking throughout all restaurants several years ago and now confirmed, from April this year, to be taking the brave step to outlaw to designated corners the legions of smokers amongst the millions who visit the parks each year.

Each park will have at least one Smoking Area in each land — 10 in Disneyland Park and 4 at Walt Disney Studios Park. The full locations list, as first confirmed by member HTH2004 on Disney Central Plaza forum via the new park maps for the April season, is as follows (and we’ve created a couple of maps to help illustrate the expected locations) :

Disneyland Park

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Click to enlarge

MAIN STREET, U.S.A.
‘¢ Entrance (outside of gates to the left of turnstiles, next to toilets)
‘¢ Arboretum (terrace outside toilets next to City Hall)
‘¢ Central Plaza (near Discoveryland entrance)

FRONTIERLAND
‘¢ Fort Comstock (covered walkway outside toilets on right of land entrance)
‘¢ Pocahontas Indian Village (outside the former Pueblo Trading Post store)

ADVENTURELAND
‘¢ Restaurant Hakuna Matata (unused terrace opposite the restaurant)
‘¢ Au Chalet de la Marionnette (covered walkway next to Adventureland exit)

FANTASYLAND
‘¢ Les Pirouettes du Vieux Moulin (former queue area of the windmill)

DISCOVERYLAND
‘¢ Autopia (near the toilets to the side of the attraction)
‘¢ Buzz Lightyear’s Pizza Planet (small square outside the entrance)

Walt Disney Studios Park

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FRONT LOT
‘¢ Studio Photo/Strollers (next to the stroller rental building)

TOON STUDIO
‘¢ Art of Disney Animation (between AODA and Cars Quatre Roues Rallye)

PRODUCTION COURTYARD
‘¢ Place des Stars (between Stitch Live! and CinéMagique)

BACKLOT
‘¢ Piazza Sergio Leone (between Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Moteurs… Action!)

The Parisian parks will certainly have comparatively more smoking areas than their American counterparts, with Disneyland in California home to just three smoking areas and its neighbour Disney’s California Adventure park having four. Smoking laws and public feeling about the habit are, however, much stronger in California than much of Europe, and the two parks in Paris may well have a tough fight on their hands in keeping smokers to these designated areas.

It remains to be seen just how strictly they will be enforced by Cast Members, but large warnings will no doubt be placed throughout the parks in addition to new information and location markings on updated park maps. As for the smoking areas themselves, in the US parks these consist of some extra seating, bins with ashtrays and subtle, neatly-themed signs declaring the area as designated for smokers.

The areas chosen — or perhaps “condemned” — in Paris — soon to become “no-go areas” for non-smokers — should not cause too much concern for fans, largely placed in secluded corners and near toilets. It is particularly interesting to note that Fantasyland, the most popular land in Disneyland Park, will have only one smoking area — a brave choice, but one which will benefit the children enjoying its attractions no end. The designated areas should also bring an end to smokers lighting up in queue lines, during outdoor shows or in the middle of crowds waiting for parades. It should improve the atmosphere and enjoyment of the parks’ pathways, and in turn help to increase all-important ‘guest satisfaction’ even further.

From 1st April 2008, it’s the start of a great big beautiful smoke-free tomorrow…

Saturday, 26th January 2008

Euro Disney revenues rise 20% in First Quarter 2008

The company’s announcement that revenues have increased 20% year-on-year to € 314 million compared a rise of 6% to € 284 million to the same period in Fiscal Year 2007 is an impressive step forward for the debt-troubled group. Whilst First Quarter reports do not include any operating margins or statistics, only a 3-month revenue report, the announcement does include some details behind the rise.

The Resort area increased revenues by 13.7% overall, a 14% increase at the Theme Parks and 17% growth at the Hotels and Disney Village. Higher guest spending (3%) at the parks can largely thank the ticket price increase last November, whilst the reported 10% growth in attendance is particularly reassuring, considering 2007 was a record year for the parks. The First Half 2007 saw an increase of 10% to 6.1 million guests. Should the difficult second quarter be as strong as the first, the results of April 2008 could take this over 6.7 million. Growth is reported to be mainly from Spanish, Dutch and British markets.

At the hotels, there were increases again in average spending per room and hotel occupancy, which rose 6.8 percentage points. Last year, the First Half brought only a 5.1ppt increase (no figures were announced for First Quarter). Unlike last year, however, visitors from the United Kingdom as well as Spain are attributed to the increase.

In its Real Estate dealings, the group’s revenues increased € 18.4 million to € 24.4 million due to a property sale in Val d’Europe.

Karl L. Holz, the Chairman and CEO of Euro Disney S.A.S., stuck to his line on enhancing guest experience to drive revenue growth:

“We are pleased with our first quarter results, with the growth in revenues reflecting increases in all our key business drivers. These revenue results show that our strategies, coupled with our team’s solid execution, are delivering and we remain focused on driving the business towards profitability.

Our 15th anniversary celebration, marked by the opening of the Crush’s Coaster and Cars Race Rally attractions as well as the new Disney’s Once Upon a Dream Parade, has created another level of emotional connections with our guests. In fiscal year 2008, the Celebration Continues, Big Time with the April grand opening of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in the Walt Disney Studios® Park. This iconic Disney attraction will add to the high-quality experiences we offer visitors to our Resort … the place where dreams come true.”

If a 14% revenue increase in the Resort is truly as good as it sounds, that glorious sunset horizon of profit might not be as far away as first thought.

The celebration — and hard work — continues… Big Time.

— You can download the full report in PDF format here.

Thursday, 8th November 2007

Euro Disney Annual Report announces losses halved by 50%, attendance smashing the 14-million

Without further delay, here are main points:

‘¢ Revenues increased 12% to € 1,220 million, reflecting volume growth in theme parks
attendance and hotel occupancy
‘¢ Operating margin at € 51 million, against a prior year loss of € 2 million
‘¢ Net loss reduced by over 50% to € 42 million
‘¢ Attendance increased 13.3% to 14.5 million, against a prior year figure of 12.8 million
‘¢ Hotel occupancy increased 5.8ppt to 89.3%

So, as widely expected, they didn’t hit a profit just yet, but future is certainly looking bright. With overall revenues increasing by a massive 12%, reflecting the growth in park attendance and hotel occupancy, the group can claim individual revenue increases of 14% for the theme parks division and no less than 17% for hotels.

Bringing the total revenues to € 1,220.3 million, this leaves a nice operating margin of €51 million between revenues and costs & expenses, swallowed, unfortunately, by the € 92.2 million of financial charges. Before depreciation and amortization (what we can basically read as “dealings to do with that whole load of debt they’ve got”), this operating margin was in fact even higher at € 205.7 million.

08-financial-01.jpg

Operating Statistics

Always the most interesting section for fans of the resort, this year the stats give real reason to celebrate. The resort’s previous attendance record for its two parks stood at 13.1 million guests, for the opening year of Walt Disney Studios Park in 2002. Last year they reached a second-place high of 12.8 million.

Between November 2006 and October 2007? 14.5 million guests. Read it again, 14.5 million! That’s an increase of 1.7 million over the previous year and 1.4 million higher than the Studios’ opening year.

Driven mainly be an increase in guests from Spain (as we’re sure you noticed…), France and Italy, numbers like these are fantastic news on their own. When we now consider the resort has yet to open the big-hitter E-Ticket that is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (and its exceptional advertising campaign), unveil the full Hollywood placemaking transformation at the park and introduce the massively popular “Living Character” concept to Europe with Stitch Live… next year’s results might be an even bigger surprise.

Over at the hotels, things are just as good — if not better. Following a slump in occupancy from 2001 onwards, the hotels grew their room-filling figures from 83.5% to a touching-on-spectacular 89.3%, equivalent to 123,000 extra room nights across the year.

08-financial-02.jpg

The Problems

Disneyland Resort Paris isn’t completely in the clear, though. Guest spending in the parks continues to be rather stagnant, from the looks of the figures driven only by the regular annual ticket price increases. At the hotels, spending per room increased 10% mainly thanks to price increases at certain hotels.

Of course, you can’t deny the fact that still having a € 40 million loss with guest numbers reaching 14.5 million is worrying. Regarding some of the exceptional costs relating to the 15th Anniversary celebration, however, it could be a loss worth… losing. The quality of the “Disney experience” here has never been higher, giving guests more reason to return, and special offers such as “Kids Under 7 Stay & Play Free” have clearly been a huge success in attracting new visitors.

Clearly, with a € 50 million operating margin, the resort is — or rather, could be — a profitable enterprise. The burden of its immense debt, however, continues to drain…

08-financial-03.jpg

However, if there’s one person determined to squeeze a real profit from the resort, it’s Karl Holz, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Euro Disney S.A.S.. It’s remarkable that this CEO hasn’t gained the cult following of say, Disneyland Resort (California)’s Matt Ouimet, considering the vast changes the resort has seen since his arrival as Chief Operating Officer, and subsequently CEO.

His message for the report reads as follows, again thanking the cast members themselves and speaking of the “experiences with only Disney can provide”, a favourite expression:

“This year’s results, marked by a positive operating margin, were driven by volume growth in parks attendance and hotel occupancy and an increase in average spending per room. In 2007, we kicked off the 15th anniversary celebration by introducing a fantastic new parade and compelling new attractions.

This year’s solid performance was made possible through the continued dedication and commitment of all our cast members, many of which celebrated their personal 15th anniversary with the Company this year.

We look forward to continuing the celebration in fiscal year 2008 with the introduction of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction and Stitch Live; new experiences which only Disney can provide.

In 2008, we will continue to execute our growth strategy and remain focused on driving this business toward profitability.”

Mr Holz, we’re behind you every step of the way.

— You can read the Annual Report in full here (PDF, new window).

Friday, 5th October 2007

England rugby team make headlines for Disneyland

Disneyland Resort Paris has a long and interesting history of sporting star appearances in Disneyland Park. From the several Tour de France events to Michael Schumacher’s unforgettable “test drive” along Main Street in a Formula 1 car. With 2007’s Rugby World Cup hosted by France, the chance has arisen once again for a little more good publicity.

The South Africa team visited Disneyland Park only a few weeks ago, as reported by the official 15th Anniversary blog, with some rather more local sporting giants quick to follow this weekend…

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The players who visited the park with their families posed for photos at an organised shoot in front of Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, however the usual welcome from Mickey Mouse apparently wasn’t given — a mouse next to rugby players may not have been the ideal match, afterall. Disney’s best opponent for the team was instead the Beast, Belle by his side. (Just don’t tell the team they’re French.)

The visit couldn’t have come at a better time for Disneyland, providing an interesting story for the newspapers as they reported the previous Friday’s win against Tonga early this week. As if guaranteeing the park’s mention in reports about the team, their ride on Big Thunder Mountain turned out to be a little different to most, as The Sun reported:

Rugby squad left high and try

THE England rugby squad got stuck up a ROLLERCOASTER when they celebrated a victory at Disneyland Paris.

Players went to the theme park after beating Tonga.

But the Thunder Mountain ride ground to a halt for 15 minutes halfway up a climb.Ace Jonny Wilkinson said: ‘I was convinced it was just designed to scare us. We intend that to be the last technical hitch at this World Cup.’

A Disneyland spokesman said: ‘We stopped the ride to let them board. That caused it to go out-of-sync so we had to do safety checks.’

It was The Times this Monday which gave the most amount of coverage to the squad’s Disneyland visit, however, going so far as to fill half of the newspaper’s back page with a photo of players on Big Thunder Mountain.

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Inside, a column written by player Jonny Wilkinson himself gives more details about the visit (with a surprising enthusiasm for the park, from a rugby player) and another large photo. The Big Thunder Mountain technical problems are also explained:

Image

“That brief lull on Saturday was spent at EuroDisney, which the boys — wives and kids on board — really enjoyed, and the irrepressible Lewis Moody so enjoying himself that we weren’t sure if the rest he took was because of sheer exhaustion or a recurrence of the headache sustained in action against Tonga the night before.

“The most memorable moment, though, was when we had a large number of the England team, plus assorted family members, all sitting on a rollercoaster that got stuck halfway up a climb. I was convinced this was just an element of a typical fairground ride designed to scare us, although, after about 15 minutes of sitting there, I had to concede that mayber there was a more deep-seated problem after all.

“On getting back to the ground, we were amused to learn that this was actually our fault and that we had loaded up too slowly. Suffice to say, we intent that to be the last technical hitch in our side at this World Cup.”

Overall, an excellent week of publicity for the resort in the British press. The only downside to these features in The Times was the use of ‘EuroDisney’ rather than ‘Disneyland Resort Paris’, but then the chances of finding a DLRP fan who’s also a sports journalist are probably close to zero, right?

Photos/pages from The Times and DailyMail.co.uk

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