It was February last year when Disney first announced plans to completely transform its European home.
The crown jewel of the European theme park sector, Disneyland Paris will be completely reconfigured. Touted as one of the most ambitious development projects at the park since its opening in 1992, the investment will see the creation of three new themed lands and is a commitment from Disney to the long-term success of the resort as its brand beacon in Europe.
“When we were considering how to transform this park, we kept several principles in mind,” says David Wilson, Disney Imagineering site leader for Disneyland Paris. “One that we really focused on was franchise development, which is at the heart of our global park expansion strategy. Our stories, characters and franchises fuel the experience at Disneyland Paris and will continue to be key differentiators of our unparalleled experience for our guests and for our cast.”
Following this ethos, Disney has announced plans for giant themed lands based on Frozen, Marvel and Star Wars, and has announced an immersive Marvel art hotel themed on New York City.
Set to break ground in 2021, the multi-year plan will include a significant expansion of the main Disneyland park. In addition to the three new themed areas, the park will also gain a new lake, which will act as a focal point for entertainment experiences, while also connecting each of the new areas with the rest of Disneyland Paris.
“As the affinity for Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars continues to grow, box office success is only the beginning,” he says. “By incorporating those story worlds into our portfolio, we’re creating a unique content ecosystem that no other company can match.”
Work in progress
With Marvel, Frozen and Star Wars among Disney’s biggest hitters when it comes to its vast range of IPs, it makes sense that the operator is focusing its development dollars on these franchises.
“They continue to have a high appeal in France and across Europe,” says Wilson. “Our fans tell us they want to see the characters and stories they love both on and off the screen. We know there’s a huge appetite for guests to immerse themselves in our stories in the real world.”
Each of the new areas will be highly immersive, all-encompassing with new attractions, restaurants, merchandising, live entertainment and immersive environments. With a team of 350-plus Imagineers, Wilson is the man in charge, leading the multi-year expansion for Disney.
Frozen, which made its mark when it was released back in 2013, was seen in cinemas by more than 120 million moviegoers around the world. Since then, its popularity has grown exponentially, with the new Frozen-themed area the biggest addition of the franchise to any Disney park.
“As soon as guests enter, they will see Arendelle Mountain, rising up in front of a beautiful lake that will be the new heart of the park,” says Wilson.
“Approaching the new land, they will discover the castle inside a Norweigan-inspired kingdom. A new attraction will take guests into the heart of this kingdom, as well as characters, shops and a restaurant.
“This will be the destination for all Frozen fans who wish to live adventures alongside Elsa, Anna and their friends, and with even more immersive experiences.”
The Art of Marvel
Marvel will have the largest presence of the new additions, with a themed land and a hotel both in the offing.
Called Disney’s Hotel New York – The Art Of Marvel, the new addition to open in Q2 2020 will combine superhero-themed works of art with the atmosphere of New York City, home to many of Marvel’s most iconic characters.
“We’ve always strived to deliver an unparalleled guest experience that brings our characters, stories and franchises to life,” says Wilson. “This immersive storytelling and these unique characters and worlds are what set us apart and increasingly our hotels are also becoming part of that storytelling and extend the experience even after the parks are closed.
“This will be the first hotel dedicated entirely to Marvel art. New York is home to many superheroes, as well as the artists who created them. We thought this was the perfect chance to bring the two together.”
The 561-bedroom hotel will be styled as a luxury Manhattan location. Its interior design will be “sleek and cosmopolitan in the style of Tony Stark and the Avengers Headquarters”, with the “Art of Marvel” showcased through the hotel.
“As soon as our guests enter the lobby, they will feel as though they’re inside a contemporary Manhattan building,” says Wilson. “Each side of the lobby will have backlit panels featuring black and white comics. Our guests will also discover Iron Man suits of armour on display and pieces of Marvel art on the walls.”
The hotel will feature the largest collection of Marvel art in the world, with more than 300 unique curated Marvel works of art. There are exclusive works of art being developed especially for the property and the collection will be unique, with comic books, comic book covers, posters, concept art from films, storyboards, production design, props, original sketches, media and more.
Younger hotel guests can visit the Marvel design studio, a space which is themed after a real Marvel animator’s bullpen and where they can learn how to be a comic book artist.
For guests who want to meet their favourite characters, there will be a part of the hotel called Super Hero Station where guests can meet superheroes and villains in themed environments.
In addition to the hotel will be Disney’s first dedicated Marvel-themed land. Called Avengers Campus, the addition will immerse guests in the Marvel universe “like never before”, according to Disney.
“The experience is part of a larger story that takes part on a global scale, with Avengers installations being set up at our parks around the world,” says Wilson. “Avengers Campus will include the first Disney ride-through attraction to feature Spiderman, helping him collect spider bots that have run amok. This is just one of the many adventures guests will experience in Avengers Campus, set up by The Avengers to recruit the next generation of superheroes.”
The Campus will also feature the Ant-Man and The Wasp-related Pym Test Kitchen eatery, where Pym Tech Technologies is using the latest innovations to grow and shrink food.
“The Marvel heroes inspire us at Imagineering as they inspire millions across the globe,” says Wilson.
“We are, and we always will be, focused on immersing our guests in the stories they love, putting them right at the heart of the action.”
The Force Awakens?
Still shrouded in relative mystery is the new Star Wars land, which Disneyland Paris is remaining tight-lipped about.
The Star Wars addition will be smaller than the new Galaxy’s Edge expansions in the US, roughly half the size at 30,000sq m (326,000sq ft), compared to 57,000sq m (614,000sq ft).
Concept art shows Poe’s X-Wing parked instead of the Millennium Falcon, suggesting that Rise of the Resistance at Galaxy’s Edge will feature instead of Smuggler’s Run. The area will definitely include a major attraction, a dining location and character encounters.
The new areas will be rolled out by Disney over the course of several years, with Marvel or Frozen expected first in 2021 and Star Wars at a later date.
Disneyland is a key part of France’s tourism sector, with the park representing 6.2 per cent of the country’s entire tourism income. Hiring more than 16,000 employees and welcoming more than 320 million visitors since opening, it plays a key role not only for Paris, but the entire region.
The multi-year plan will strengthen that position, significantly increasing the park’s footprint. The plan is also key to turning around the fortunes of Disneyland Paris, which Disney took full ownership of in 2017. The attraction has struggled financially and in 2014, the company carried out a €1bn (US$1.1bn) restructuring of its debt. In June 2017, Disney forced a mandatory buyout to shareholders, delisting its shares from the stock exchange.
“Disneyland Paris is a place where dreams come true,” says Daniel Delcourt, COO, Disneyland Paris. “Making dreams come true has been our guiding principle.
“We’re the leading destination in Europe and the continent’s showcase for everything Disney. Our job is to breathe life into our stories and give them life in our hotels, theme parks and on our cruise line.”
Even with much work still to be done on this latest development, Delcourt already has one eye on what comes next.
“Disney just bought Fox, which adds an incredible number of IPs for us,” he says.
“Our teams have done such amazing work. Their creativity knows no bounds. We seek to provide complete immersion to our guests – from the time they arrive to the time they walk back out through our gates. There’s much more to come.”