Only recently we saw Disneyland Paris advertise its Experience Enhancement Plan / Reinvent the Magic via this great animation, and now, just as I write this, It’s a Small World at Disneyland Paris has just reopened after its five month refurbishment. The Experience Enhancement Plan (EEP) is a programme to majorly refurbish a number of attractions between summer 2015 and summer 2017 – the year of the resort’s 25th Anniversary – which you can read more about it our article discussing the most important changes which it will bring. The EEP largely relied on fans to initially spread the word, as its announcement was made in an internal briefing to cast members, nonetheless it has been met well by the resort’s active fan community on their own blogs and across Twitter. The resort monitors the reaction of major fan accounts, such as DLP Guide, DLP Today and DedicatedToDLP, so I’m certain it will be pleased at the positive reaction which discussion of the EEP brings. It is free marketing for the resort after all. However I feel the need to pick up on some of the subtext which the comments of fans often entail regarding whether the EEP is really a selling point, or merely something which the resort should be doing as part of its routine upkeep programmes. I have to say that I sit firmly with the belief that making improvements to attractions should not be the best thing which Disneyland Paris has in its advertisements – this suggests to me that it is neglecting development elsewhere. There is a certain undertone with major refurbishments that suggests that the pre-refurbished state was perhaps sub-quality, and it also suggests that important refurbishments don’t just happen when they’re needed as part of normal quality control. I don’t want this article to read like an attack on the EEP, because I’m thrilled that the resort is undertaking it. I do, however, want to ask the question of whether it’s what the resort really needs and whether the EEP is just a little underwhelming.
Being a fan of Disneyland Paris is not a particularly fashionable thing for a nineteen year old guy to be in our society, and I often find myself defending why I love Disney themeparks so much. I stress their abilities at story telling and the fact that they are a significant level of quality above most other themeparks. The two themeparks I get to visit most often (due to where I live and holiday) are Drayton Manor, near Birmingham, and Oakwood in Pembrokeshire – both of which have some great individual attractions but are utterly incomparable to the overall experience of a Disney themepark. Part of this quality advantage comes from a level of upkeep regarding the engineering of attractions, the theming of them, and of course the standards of the theming and amenities around the parks. All Disney themeparks have teams of people dedicated to ensuring that everything looks great and runs efficiently, and I do think they do a good job of this overall in Paris. The EEP is about more than just this, it’s about bigger changes to attractions, such as a full repaint and recolouring of the façade of It’s a Small World and new lighting effects for Space Mountain: Mission 2. What we’ve seen of these changes so far has been impressive, but I can’t feel they’re really anything revolutionary. To take just the example of those two attraction, Space Mountain won’t be getting any new story elements or music, and it turned out when It’s a Small World reopened that they haven’t actually replaced most of the dolls yet, they’d just improved the lighting and sound. It’s good, I’m glad they’ve done it, but to suggest it’s anything huge is really not to Disney’s high standards.
Part of the issue with the EEP is that I can’t imagine the marketing department at Disneyland Paris are really having an easy time selling it. By the time we reach Disneyland Paris’ major 25th Anniversary in 2017, it won’t have had a ‘new’ ride in three years; only new shows and upgrades to existing attractions. A trip to Disneyland Paris is expensive for a family, so guests will want to feel like they’ve got something new to experience there – there are plenty of other theme parks in Europe to choose from. Being told that Big Thunder Mountain has a new effect on the third lift hill, or that Star Tours goes to multiple destinations now, isn’t going to immediately sell a holiday. In contrast, major new rides do get people through the gates – the resort has witnessed this with Space Mountain and Tower of Terror, both attractions designed to boost guest numbers at struggling parks. And the problem isn’t just that ‘oh, x has been made better now’ isn’t a strong enough selling point: it’s that it’s very difficult to justify a refurbishment programme without implying that things were in a poor state previously. Credit to Disneyland Paris on this one, I think they have managed to market it in a way which does avoid this, ‘reinvent the magic’ implies that things will be different rather than merely fixed. I know many fans would think the tag-line ‘reignite the magic’ would be a little more fitting though. Any potential guest who follows any of the fan community on Twitter will unfortunately have heard us all slagging off the parks in their current state as sub-Disney standard and in need of this refurbishment – which I have to say is a little harsh, but as fans of Disney theme parks we inevitably demand the very best. Nonetheless a savvy consumer is likey to agree with us, and could well be underwhelmed by the idea of mere upgrades. Similarly I can imagine consumers who know only a little about Disneyland Paris could also be put off; when one looks through a list of attractions at a theme park, they want to see new things. With this programme, guests will see all the same names there and – regardless of whether they’ve been upgraded – will think “oh, I’ve done that”. I am glad to have read that the show which will replace Animagique will have a different name to its predecessor after all. If Disneyland Paris want to suggest to potential guests that something is new, the first thing I would do is change the name of it. It’s undeniable that ‘brand new magic’ is a stronger sell than ‘reinvent the magic’.
As a Disneyland park fan, I feel I should also draw some comparisons here to other Disney theme parks. In America, this kind of refurbishment happens as a matter of due course. Major attractions frequently go into their own individual refurbishment for important changes like the ones we are about to witness in Paris. Of course, many of the changes are identical: Thunder Mountains have already been upgraded in America, as has Star Tours – almost literally identical upgrades, but not the same level of fuss. In fact, just for the season of the force Disneyland Resort has given its Space Mountain a full Star Wars make-over to become HyperSpace Mountain – a makeover which dwarfs the refurbishment to Disneyland Paris’ Space Mountain: Mission 2 (both the 2005 and 2015/17 ones!). Disney has a reputation for creating utterly top-quality theme parks, and changes to attractions in the American parks are far more frequent than in Paris. Maybe this is because Paris is a franchise? Maybe this is because Disneyland Paris remains in a financial mess? Either way, it’s not good to see that what American parks will take for granted is Paris’ major selling point for an anniversary to celebrate a quarter of a century of magic.I will accept that Indiana Jones recently had a major refurbishment, but apart from some new night-time lighting, there was nothing new to impress guests. This is not the same as Disney theme parks in America.
It’s great news for the resort that the Experience Enhancement Plan is happening. Attractions are being improved and that is undeniably a good thing, regardless of whether you view it as essential after years of neglect or not. My problem is that I just don’t think it’s enough. If every change was on the same scale as Star Tours to Star Tours: the Adventures Continue then it would probably be enough, but just changing some lighting isn’t much. Imagine if a band said they were going on exactly the same tour again next year, but that you should definitely see it again, because they’re using LEDs instead of old par cans this time. It’s not that impressive. The shows are a big deal however, because they are new, and I hope Disneyland Paris makes a bigger deal of them than it currently is. We’re also expecting a new daytime parade. Nonetheless the resort won’t be getting a Space Mountain, or Tower of Terror style major new attraction to help promote the 25th Anniversary, it will instead see its existing attractions improved. One question will sit on the minds of the minds of the bosses at Disneyland Paris as we get nearer to 2017: is it enough to get people in the door?