The Euro Disney Resort: A European Walt Disney World

In a previous article, we discussed the genesis of Euro Disney’s master plan. Now, we’ll illustrate that the Euro Disney Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort, besides their difference in size and climate, both have striking structural similarities.


The Orlando connection

Walt Disney himself once did a sketch on a paper napkin to lay out Disney World after he had secretly bought land in Central Florida. This famous first sketch for Walt Disney World has a lot in common with the site plans for the Euro Disney Resort.


It is not known if the first sketch for Euro Disney was done on a napkin as well. But the Euro Disney Resort was optimistically developed to imitate Walt Disney World in number of theme parks and accommodation. Let’s see how Walt’s original sketch resembles to the Euro Disney Resort / Disneyland Paris master plans discussed above.


In Orlando, Disney placed his Magic Kingdom in the most northern part of the property to keep it away from the highways and thus potential competition. The same was done in Marne-la-Vallée, where the Disneyland Park (and the second gate) is located as far away from the A4 as possible.


In Orlando, Disney planned a central boulevard (“World Drive”) to run through the entire property, connecting the Magic Kingdom with the major roads of Central Florida. In Marne-la-Vallée, planners did the same. Here, the beautifully landscaped (Sasaki & Associates) “Boulevard du Parc” leads from the A4 interchange towards the theme parks and the resort center.


Great attention to detail shows up throughout the Euro Disney master plan. “Planners made sure, for instance, that the castle spires were visible from the overpass of the highway into the resort. ‘I want the kids jumping up and down in the back seat’ when the castle comes into view, Smith said.” (LA Times).

In Walt Disney World, man-made lakes and lagoons played a central role in the design of the site. The same is true for Euro Disney, where all hotels were planned to be waterfront properties.


Originally, master planners had proposed to add beaches to the Euro Disney Resort, just like the ones that could be found in Walt Disney World. For example, Disney’s Newport Bay Club Hotel was designed to have a beach near its lighthouse. A 1987 promotional brochure states that Euro Disney would feature water sports as well.


Back in the 1960s, the Floridian Magic Kingdom was not Walt’s focus any more. It was only the magnet that would draw tourists to the site, which would ultimately finance his next dream: EPCOT. In Florida, Disney planned his utopian corporate town of EPCOT, industrial parks, resort amenities and hotels all being located south of the theme park and along the main arterial road.


The same is true for Euro Disney. While Walt Disney World was planned around EPCOT, the Euro Disney Resort was planned around a world-class urban center anchored by the RER/TGV station, originally. Both urban centers were not part of phase I of either of the projects.

Comparing early sketches for the layout of Disney World and Euro Disney, it becomes clear that besides their difference in size and climate, both projects have striking structural similarities. In his biography, Michael Eisner states that there was “a conscious attempt to model the development of Euro Disneyland after Walt Disney World.” (Eisner, 1998: 282.)

It was the Walt Disney Company’s intention to create a resort destination similar to Walt Disney World in the cultural and geographical heart of Europe. Their optimism resulted from the demographic facts that had been gathered earlier and the superb infrastructure of the region. Paris was the center of one of the most densely populated areas of the world, while Florida had been like a geographical cul-de-sac from the beginning.


Early brochures suggest that Euro Disney could become as successful or even more successful than Disney World, especially after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. These general assumptions affected the planning and development of the site. In 1987 the French magazine “Le Figaro” announced that by 2017, Disney would operate four theme parks at the Euro Disney Resort.

The Euro Disney Resort was conceived in a way that it could easily compete with Walt Disney World concerning the number of accommodations, amenities and theme parks. And as Disney is going to refinance the debt associated with Euro Disney S.C.A, chances are that Disneyland Paris is finally on its way to realize its full potential as the small brother of Walt Disney World.

This article was written by one of our best Disney friends Will. His fascination and appreciation for Disney started with the opening of Euro Disneyland in 1992. Coming from an American Cultural Studies background, Will today is most interested in the original concept of the Euro Disney Resort and the cultural messages that the Walt Disney Company wanted to convey about the United States back in the late 1980s. To Will, the 1992 Euro Disney complex is an outstanding example of postmodern architecture and culture, which should be maintained in and reconstructed to its original state as closely as possible. These concerns and interests lead the author to follow and support 'Designing Disney'. We would like to sincerely thank Will for the efforts that he has made in writing this marvelous article!


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