Dear Mr. Iger,
When you were named Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company back in March 2005, former board members Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold ceased their “Save Disney” Campaign, a campaign set up to restore the company’s policy to strive for excellence, a value that deeply characterises the activities of The Walt Disney Company since its creation by Walt himself.
Thanks to your efforts, The Walt Disney Company is now operating stronger than ever. This can mostly be attributed to a series of important key events needed to solve major problems:
The Pixar acquisition (2006)
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ recovery
The revamp and expansion of Disney California Adventure (2008-2012)
The Marvel Entertainment acquisition (2009)
Shanghai Disney Resort’s groundbreaking (2011)
Hong Kong Disneyland’s expansion (2011-2013)
The Lucasfilm acquisition (2012)
These big investments (such as the expansions of Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland) allowed you to fix parts of the company that were in a bad state and become stronger in demographic groups that your company struggled to conquer for a long time. All of these key events have one thing in common: the quality of the product or experience. As your friend and colleague John Lasseter once said, “Quality is the best business plan”.
Unfortunately, recent developments have seriously damaged the quality of one of the world’s most beautifully designed parks: Disneyland Paris. We would like to take this opportunity to share our sincere concerns about the current state of this destination, which bears the name of your company in Europe. We have grown fond of the resort, over its relatively short lifespan, and we sincerely do not want to see it decline further.
When Disneyland Park (then Euro Disneyland) opened its gates back in 1992, it truly was Disney’s greatest achievement; a technological and artistic marvel. Its high quality shows, rides and theming proved successful with European audiences, and its guest experience was similar, if not superior, to that of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. However, due to constant financial problems, the overall quality of the experience has slowly deteriorated over the years. The many years of budget cuts in maintenance, entertainment and food and beverage, have left the resort in an unacceptable neglected state.
This year, the quality has declined even further as the situation has reached a critical point; 2013 marks the first summer season since opening with not a single stage show presented in either park. This is a first in Disneyland Paris’ history and most likely a first for Disney Parks worldwide.
We would like to highlight the major problems of Disneyland Paris from the guest’s perspective, in the following four categories:
The upkeep of parks, attractions and hotels has been neglected so often during the past 20 years that many facilities are not “Disney standard”. Many themed elements are decaying and crumbling, while others are literally falling apart.
On a positive note, an extensive rehabilitation program has been put into place in recent years, aiming to fix many of the broken, outdated or deteriorated rides, effects and theming. While this indicates that Disneyland Paris’ management is seriously taking notice of its shortcomings,it only touches the tip of the iceberg. The many years of neglect have taken their toll on the most beautiful Magic Kingdom ever designed; the cost of bringing it back to its former glory is now higher than it would have been, had things been fixed sooner.
2. Budget Cuts
The Tarzan Encounter show at the Chaparral Theater, The Legend of the Lion King show at Videopolis, and the iconic night-time parade Disney’s Fantillusion! were all cancelled this year. Meanwhile, other show venues, such as Le Théâtre du Château, have been left disused and empty for years. In addition to that, several rides as well as countless restaurants and boutiques are now open for limited hours: e.g. from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. while the park is open from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Furthermore, bad maintenance is dramatically reducing the capacity of certain attractions over time. For instance, Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing (open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) has been operating with just one of the two available paddlewheel steamships for many years and a few of the roller coasters are operating with fewer trains, thus reducing capacity.
The lack of maintenance combined with the budget cuts have created a never-ending cycle of ride breakdowns, which affects all types of rides. These breakdowns, together with lowered capacity, make the park constantly overcrowded while Disneyland Paris keeps beating attendance numbers year after year; the resort welcomed 16 million guests in 2012. As a result, a day at Disneyland Paris has become a succession of walks between what is open and what is not.
The food offerings in the resort vary greatly, but overall the quality is never as good as what’s offered in your American parks. The majority of restaurants offer either counter service fast food or all-you-can-eat buffets. Just a small group of table service restaurants remains; initially more were available but several have been turned into counter service restaurants, such as the Explorer’s Club being turned into Colonel Hathi’s Pizza Outpost, a standard pizza restaurant.
In recent years, the quality of the food offered at the more expensive table service restaurants has been declining. Dishes of industrial pre-cooked meals are served in mere minutes after taking up the order, an indication the food was not made-to-order. The fast food offerings are steep in price and cannot compete with the better known alternatives, such as McDonald’s which is just a few minutes’ walk from the parks in Disney Village.
What is perhaps even more concerning, besides the low food quality at premium prices, is the opening hours of some of the restaurants. When Disneyland Park closes at 11:00 p.m., you would expect to be able to have a nice evening dinner, not to discover the restaurant closed at 7:30 p.m.. These short opening hours make it impossible to book a meal for later in the day; you either have to plan ahead or settle for counter service offerings in Disneyland Park or Disney Village.
4. Walt Disney Studios Park
The smallest Disney theme park, the only park to open without a traditional Disney dark ride, the park that is struggling with its identity; in short the park that never met the “Disney standard”. The lack of attractions, the bare environment, the unclear overall theme, the poorly designed master plan, the low capacity of the new attractions, etc., are all major issues. This park needs a serious placemaking project and a complete reevaluation of its theme to bring it up to the standards of your company.
Beyond these four main categories (Maintenance, Budget Cuts, Food, Walt Disney Studios Park), there is also plenty of work to be done on the ageing Disney Village, the mediocre-quality merchandising and its lack of diversity, and the outdated Disney Hotels that offer poor services at extremely high rates.
Mr. Iger, how many breakdowns, closed attractions, bad experiences and unhappy guests will it take for The Walt Disney Company to step in and help? We don’t understand why, after all these years of struggle, loss and bad reputation, The Walt Disney Company (owner of 40% of Euro Disney S.C.A.) hasn’t done anything to change Euro Disney’s financial structure? It was created by The Walt Disney Company and has always restricted Disneyland Paris from becoming a truly successful company without debt. Is your company OK with the fact that the Disney brand is being tarnished by the constantly decaying, yet overpriced guest experience at Disneyland Paris for 740 million European citizens? We refuse to believe that Disney intentionally wants to send their European guests home with substandard memories.
Of course, there are positive things about Disneyland Paris. The original design from 1992 is stunning, cast members are devoted and friendly, the nighttime entertainment show Disney Dreams! is amazing and the renewal of the Halloween and Christmas seasons started last year looks promising. Unfortunately, the poor operational management tarnishes these assets.
Mr. Iger, we ask you to take a good look at the operational budget for Disneyland Paris. We ask you to stop neglecting the most beautiful park ever built by your Imagineers. We ask you to restore the quality of the dining experiences, bring back live entertainment with stage shows and streetmosphere, fix broken effects and theming as soon as noticed, completely rethink the second gate and, of course, open new and exciting rides in both the Walt Disney Studios Park as well as Disneyland Park. No quick fixes, but a lasting solution to the problems that have plagued our resort since the very beginning.
Walt Disney once said that “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Since 2005, you have brilliantly saved Disney, including the rescue programs for Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland. We now ask you to save Disneyland Paris… for good.