Fading Star…

Parkeology was on location at Disneyland Paris the other week. We discovered things both expected and surprising.

The PR photos make it look so, well, magical!

Disneyland Paris features Discoverlyland in lieu of Tomorrowland. It is meant to serve as an ageless look into the future as imagined by Jules Verne. One surprise came at the realization that the costume designers confused Jules Verne’s 1886 with Bill Cosby’s 1986: 

What’s a 100 years or so between friends?

Last week there was an accident on Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris. This was a week after our return but it was still sort of creepy to hear about this happening so closely to the time we were riding it again and again and again (my daughter would still be riding it if she was allowed). 

You may want to check out the posts here from the Disney and More blog… Alain does a good job keeping up with the goings on at Disneyland Paris. Ironically the avalanche scene really did drop a rock onto the tracks, the train hit the faux rock and debris hurled into some passengers, one of which was seriously injured. It sucks.

Sadly the ride that was seemingly operating the best was big Thunder.

This is what may be the biggest surprise of our visit and one that honestly should probably not be a surprise… that is the general shocking and even appalling condition of much of the park. In the near future we will post some on the flip side of this, in other words some of the cool things being done well there, but in light of the accident I wanted to share some snapshots from a couple weeks back.

It is true that we have no idea what caused the Big Thunder accident but one leading theory is poor maintenance, I think we take for granted that Disney parks will be clean, well run and in nearly flawless shape. People get all worked up when a trash can has not been painted this week or when some paint on the upper tiers of Space Mountain starts to peel… but we are talking a whole different league here folks.

The Pirate ship in Adventureland is a central key feature. Much of the land is designed around it, it was once a beautiful focal point…this is what it looks like today, right now:
(Click on them to make them larger)

I’m not sure what is better, the authentic rotting wood, peeling paint, moldy moss or perhaps the weeds
growing out of the cannon opening.

Mind you, these are not taken with some crazy telephoto lens or anything… you can walk right up to and touch the thing (though wear gloves or you will get a splinter). This is on view in plain sight of every single guest… I don’t think this was the Paris country fair or Six Flags over fromage that we stumbled into… this is Disneyland Freaking Paris!

Yea, they have announced that this entire ship will be scraped and replaced in time for the 20th anniversary of the park next year… but how could this be allowed to get to this state? How could they allow it to sit there right now like this? Do they expect people to be excited about this finally being addressed after two decades of neglect?

Looks pretty nice here.

How about that Discoveryland we mentioned before… it’s holding up right? Well the cost cutting is clear everywhere, ranging from showing old movies on screens at Videopolis instead of live stage shows (the guide promises a live Lion King show… it is not playing) to much worse. 

Even nicer here.

The French version of Space Mountain is undoubtedly the best. Not just because it goes upside down, in fact I hold that against it, rather because it has a very cool Verne from Earth to the Moon theme, onboard sound and a magnificent show building. One of the key and coolest features of the show building is that giant cannon sitting along the side. Guests used to be blasted out of the cannon with a huge “boom!” and a billowing puff of smoke. Today neither the smoke nor the recoiling motion of the cannon (or the sound) work. Worse yet rust is streaking down the sides and the new “mission 2” show is a huge step backwards from the original. Oh well.

Not so nice anymore.

Sometimes it is not big expensive things… ever hear of a vacuum cleaner guys? I think vacuum is a French word… Le Vacuum s’il vous plait?

This is the ceiling as you enter Buzz Lightyear caked with dust and cob webs… it doesn’t really cost much to clean this off say every 5 years or so, does it?

And speaking of big expensive things… it looks like they are going to allow the Nautilus to head the way of the Pirate Ship. It HAS to costs less to fix this thing now than is does to replace it in 3 years… or maybe they will just shut it down and remove it like they did with the once (but no longer) functioning geysers in Frontiereland. By the way, most of these shots were taken the actual first day the Nautilus came back from a month long rehab… what exactly did they do during that time? They did not even bother to clean the garbage out of the pond. Imagine what it was like BEFORE the rehab!

The 3rd and 4th shots may look almost the same… but they were
taken days apart and no one bothered to remove the soda can
floating there for that whole time. Oh yea, the sub is
also falling part.

Pirates of the Caribbean actually just came off a month long rehab as well and yet the sword fighting pirates were hidden behind a thatched curtain for a good part of our trip (when they are broken they are hidden from view) and the once swinging pirate is now the motionless hanging pirate… I guess it takes some work to keep these things functioning huh?

This may look exciting but when you see a him just hanging there with no motion
it is not quite as amazing.  He does not even get a yeti strobe light!

Check out these shots of the concrete in the large plaza area between Disneyland Paris and the dreadful Walt Disney Studios Paris (better than years before but still amazingly bad). Again, these are not some isolated small patches of hidden concrete… this is what the majority of the ground is like, you cannot walk without navigating large potholes. This type of thing exists in the actual parks as well.

The attention to detail is just astonishing. They have perfectly recreated the pot hole
ridden streets of New York or Chicago, BRAVO!

I could go on and on, there really is this type of thing all over the parks, especially the older and much more detailed Disneyland Paris park.

See that scroll molding above the display.  On your next visit look closely,
you will see one missing.  that was the one that nearly ended up
embedded in my head 6 years ago… and is still not repaired.

In 2005 I was standing in one of the covered arcades that run parallel to Main Street. As I was admiring a display I heard a loud snap and a decorative piece of molding came tumbling down from the top of the display. This is a piece of wood molding about 3 feet long, is crashed to the floor nearly hitting me on the head! I took the wood and leaned it on the display, assuming that it was a freak occurrence and that it would immediately be repaired. In Japan the arcade would be shut down while teams of uniformed workers rebuilt the entire complex, probably repaving sections in gold and magic but this is Paris not Tokyo… I did not expect much. Well 6 years later that same molding is still missing from the same display… simply never replaced or perhaps even noticed. A sign of unfortunate things to come.

OK, there must be a French word for paint because they are using some here.

Now to be fair they are currently repainting the castle (it needs it), recently rebuilt the Molly Brown paddle wheeler (which was in almost as bad shape as the pirate ship) and have been repainting much of Main Street (of course the tarps are un-themed white eyesores but there is painting going on at least).

I think the current management has realized how horrible parts of the park are and they are desperately trying to address some of this prior to the spotlight that the twentieth anniversary will shine on them. But for example the rehab plans do not address the Nautilus or Space Mountain at all. They seem to be trying to spruce up some of the more obvious and famous facades while letting others fade… and don’t even think about something as unheard of as adding a major new attraction.

Pardon monsieur, may I have your assistance in climbing the fence and
destroying the landscaping?  Merci.

Europeans do not have the same admiration and social respect for the parks as Americans (and certainly not the Japanese) have. This general chaotic nature of the guests makes it challenging to maintain the park. During a small parade all hell broke lose with guests climbing over fences, trampling landscaping and generally acting what we would consider to be rude. But that is cultural differences and should be expected… but the lack of any Disney supervision or guidance is still shocking.

In Tokyo this would be the stuff of nightmares.

At one point we were trying to cross the street prior to a parade heading in. The cross path was clearly marked but several guests were sitting in the crosswalk smoking and blocking the way. A cast member was standing feet away… when I asked him to move the guests he shrugged and looked at me as though I was insane… then motioned to climb over them as though he could not be bothered.

The park still is wonderfully designed, contains some impressive attractions and could be a true gem, but alas it has been allowed to decay, to literally rot in some cases. It is likely that we hit it at a low point, that it has never been worse and will only get better… but should it ever have been allowed to get to this point to begin with.

Wake up guys! Allow me to translate:


Votre parc est en train de s’effondrer et bientôt personne ne se souciera plus.”

Looking good Jules!


Comments (14)

  1. wow, who would have guessed that Europeans would have worse theme park manners than Americans? talk about irony….

  2. It truly is depressing to see and hear about.

    I had my first and only visit just over two years ago. It was a cold and rainy day, so I honestly didn’t spend much time inspecting the details–but I do remember taking a photo in the Town Square gazebo and coming home to discover that a finial from the gazebo was quite prominently missing. I wonder if it is missing still….

    A park with what *could* be the best details and design….but suffering such a sad fate.

  3. KML:

    We were there close to each other…

    One fact I must clarify with you is that DLP is actually very popular. Last year for example it was the 3rd or 4th most popular park in the world! More attended than Any of the WDW parks except for the Magic Kingdom, about on par or slightly more than Tokyo Disney Sea, FAR FAR more than any non Disney park (about 3 times what Isalnds of Adventure for example pulled in even with Harry Potter).

    It is NOT nor has it ever been an attendance problem that has dogged DLP.

    The main issues are the gross over building of hotels when the park first opened, which made it virtually impossible to earn a profit early on. The much lower per guest spending habits that Europeans have as compared to Americans or especially the Japanese. And the mishuided (though very complex) choice to build a poorly designed second park. The second park was intended to make the resort a multi day experience and thus fill up the hotels. Rather it forced the resort deeper into debt and has not paid off because frankly the park is poor and attracts few visiitors just to see it.

    But the actual resort does not want for visitors… the place is packed and has been packed from day one. It is however so saddled with debt that it is clear they have cut maintainence costs to try and save money. Disneyland proved years back that the way to remain profitable is NOT to cut costs… that makes thigs worse. In fact you must SPEND money and give people clear reason to visit. DLP has spent money, they have just spent it very, very poorly.

    FInally Disney owns 37% of the park… it is an extremely complex structure and this makes it even harder to get things done as inevitably different owners have different priorties and feelings of how to “fix” things.

  4. I took my family on our first visit to Disneyland Paris over the Easter weekend, and we were also disappointed by the poor state of the park.

    The Disney hotels are all now suffering too. One third of the elevators in our hotel were not working, hundreds of burnt-out fairy lights in the trees had not been replaced, and my daughter’s sofa-bed looked liked it had been chewed by a thousand teething infants over the last 19 years (the park opened in 1992) — and this was in Hotel New York, the second-best hotel on the resort!

    The Thunder Mountain ride broke down while we were there, and then two days after returning home it failed again, this time injuring some people: One man seriously injured in accident at Disneyland Paris.

    Disneyland Paris is not a profitable park and I think the problem for Euro Disney is that most Europeans are not interested in sampling American culture in Europe. Most can afford and would prefer to travel to Florida to experience the real thing in person.

    And when it comes to tourist attractions, Europeans are spoilt for choice . Not even Disney can compete with the real London, Paris, Venice or Rome.

    I fear Disneyland Paris may never make money, in which case Disney would be better off closing the park as soon as possible. Don’t let it die a sad, slow, demoralizing death. That would do irreparable damage to the Disney brand.

  5. Melissa:

    It is a shame… I think that the overall design of the park is beautiful, and their versions of Thunder, Space Mountain and Pirates are the best ones or close to the best out there. The Paris Fantasyland is also great. But the problem is that they more or less have not grown in 20 years and now the maintainence issues are crept up.

    teh only major new ride they have added was Space Mountain which was built immediately after opening. They did add Buzz a few years back as well… but as compared to the growth of other parks after 20 years it is very, very slight. Rather they built this secodn park, did it very cheaply and it has served as a drain on the bottom line.

    Regardless in y opinion having somehting like the pirate ship on display in that condition is just unacceptable.

  6. Wow, I am amazed that it is that bad of a state of disrepair!

  7. It’s such a shame, since when it was new a lot of the attractions were aesthetically superior to the American parks. I wonder if they overextended themselves building the new park, instead of focusing on maintaining what they had – that’s a trap lots of businesses fall into.

  8. Julia:

    No, in 2002 it ws already Disneyland Paris.

    the second park was actually a massive mistake and rather than making things better it was really a catalyst to push things over the edge.

    Teh second park is a small, mostly unthemed mess. It further strained the bottom line while not attracting many new visitors. If only they had taken that money and put it into the main Disneyland park by building several much needed major new attractions. This woudl have driven attendance and perhpas allowed them to build a much better second park down the line. Instead they spent more money on a poor park that has now become a financial drain as they try to fix it. Unlike California Adventure the second park in Paris is in my opinion really beyond any sort of easy or realistic fix so it is just throwing good money after bad… it’s a mess.

    With all that said there is still lots of good at DLP and we will post about some of the cool things as well… but I am afraid the DLP resort will forever be a case of what could have been.

  9. Neon:

    Yes, the Tokyo parks are simply the best run hands down and seeing them can kind of spoil the others a bit I agree. But I don’t think the U.S. parks are necessarily poorly run, in fact I think Disneyland is pretty well run… but they cannot compare to Tokyo. Disneyland Paris however is in a world of hurt.

    I have said this many times but the Japanese have a major advantage cultrually in having guests who are rule followers and very respectful of property and each other. They also spend a lot on merchandise that obviously makes the parks vert profitable and therefore easier to spedn more money on. Europeans on the other hand tend to climb on things, cut in line, throw garbage on the ground and not spend much on stuff. This is not to say they are in anyway bad people… it is just a very different culture.

  10. Neon – you can only run a park as well as the people you hire want to run it…..

    It also saddens me to see this report, but not surprising. In 2002 I took a day trip out of Paris to Euro Disney (wasn’t it still called that then? maybe not). I had spent my life going to WDW (with a few DL visits) and was SO excited about finally getting to a new park. And although I don’t recall any decay or very obvious neglet, I do remember being very let down by the general nature of things. I remember the bathrooms on Main Street in particular…. just horrible….
    All this time I had hopped that with the opening of the Studios things would have gotten better…. but I guess not 🙁

  11. this saddens me but seeing how poorly the american or even chinese parks are run its not surprising.

    Having been to the tokyo resort, its like a whole different world. You would think you were their on opening day with how nice everything looks.

    The saddest thing is after finally getting to the tokyo parks, its kind of ruined all the others for me. Why can’t disney run its own parks as well some other company can.

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