NEDERLANDS // ENGLISH
Okay, let’s do this: a trip report about Disney’s least praised theme park. It seems as if Imagineers wanted to prove that they’re actually just people like you and me while designing Walt Disney Studios. And everybody makes mistakes, that’s for sure. Still, let’s not be too cynical from the start. The park has received quite some additions since its opening day and it’s currently getting ready for a huge expansion phase.
Walt Disney Studios Park opened in 2002. Every existing Disney resort actually opened a new park at the start of the new millennium, but not every resort got the same quality. Walt Disney World got the stunning Animal Kingdom and the Japanese resort inaugurated Tokyo DisneySea, which is often considered as the world’s most perfect theme park. The Disneyland Resorts in Anaheim and Paris weren’t that lucky. The original Disneyland Resort got a simple park themed to California and in Europe, we had to deal with Walt Disney Studios. Life seems unfair, doesn’t it?
Disney headquarters soon realized that they’d made mistakes and they quickly tried to correct themselves. Famous rides like Tower of Terror, Toy Story Mania and Radiator Springs Racers were opened at Disney California Adventure, which eventually transformed the hated park into a beloved full-day destination. European Disney enthusiasts always considered California Adventure’s expansion as the dream scenario for our own Studio Park. Unfortunately, that dream didn’t seem to come true, until… last week. On February 27th 2018, Disneyland Paris finally made an announcement regarding Walt Disney Studios’ long-awaited master plan. Frozen, Star Wars and the Marvel superheroes will claim their places during the next decade and the total surface of the park will almost double. The future looks bright(er) for Walt Disney Studios Park.
Honestly, I didn’t expect to start this report with such good news. I visited Walt Disney Studios on February 20th and 21st and I wanted to share my opinion about that stay. During those days, however, we didn’t know about those big expansion plans. That’s why I walked through the turnstiles with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I just can’t hate the park; there are quite a few fun rides and shows. On the other hand, I always realize that the park isn’t built to match Disney standards.
Okay, I admit it… Studio 1, Tower of Terror and those California facades look pretty grand. The sad thing is that you can see most of the park while you’re standing in front of the famous Partners-statue. The colourful Toon Studio lies on the right, there’s an ugly area full of studio sets on the left and Imagineering’s worst project ever lies right in front of us. Studio Tram Tour‘s total surface is almost as large as its degree of disappointment. Do you know that feeling you get after riding Baron 1898 or Wodan? The feeling that tells you that it was fun, but that it should have lasted just a little longer. Well, Studio Tram Tour does the exact opposite. It seems to last forever and there’s so little to see. The same goes for Armageddon – Les Effets Spéciaux a little further in the park. This ride’s main show isn’t that bad, but the boring preshow seems to last forever. There’s good news, though: both rides are planned to disappear in the near future.
It’s time for some good news, isn’t it? So let’s ride Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. One of this ride’s greatest strengths is its wait time, which isn’t that bad most of the time. Even though there are school holidays in some European countries, we don’t have to queue for more than 20 minutes during these February days. That’s a good deal for a great Vekoma roller coaster which includes an impressive light show. However, Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster is making its final rides in its current form: Marvel will soon take over this corner of Walt Disney Studios and this will be transformed into an Iron Man attraction. Despite my nonexistent love for superheroes, I support this move. After all, the current story line is vague and the preshow remains boring as hell. Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster is one of my favorite attractions at Walt Disney Studios, but at the same time I realise that the current experience isn’t on Disney level. Let’s hope that this will change soon.
Let’s talk about Stitch Live, an interactive show in which the audience is able to talk to Disney’s most popular alien. And although I don’t consider myself as a Stitch lover, this show is surprisingly fun. More fun than the similar Crush’s Turtle Talk in my opinion. Everything depends on the Cast Members and the audience, but overall I think that Stitch Live is funnier and more mature than Turtle Talk. I don’t visit Stitch Live during every trip to Disneyland Paris, but I should change that in the future. After all, this is a feel-good attraction that always makes me smile. And things get even more hilarious if Stitch calls my company a grumpy-faced bad guy.
Let’s talk about grumpy-faced Cast Members: welcome to the Hollywood Tower Hotel. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is my favourite attraction at the European Disney resort. Everything about Tower of Terror is great. I’m talking about the grand exterior (which is in desperate need of a renovation, though), the beautiful hotel lobby, the mysterious boiler room and the ride which transports you directly to the Twilight Zone. There’s not a single part of this attraction that I don’t like, but you may want to ask for the original English narration at strategic moments. Tower of Terror deserves nothing but praise: although the preshow isn’t as stunning as the one in Japan and the Orlando ride feels a lot more unique, this is one of Europe’s very best thrills. Tons of airtime are included, by the way.
Shows and entertainment are inevitable in every Disney theme park. Let’s say that Walt Disney Studios has been in the middle class since the wonderful Cinémagique and the parade were cut. What remains is a boring car stunt show (it lasts for 45 minutes, but it mainly consists of talking), temporary Star Wars entertainment and Mickey and the Magician. The latter deserves a little more attention. After all, this is one of the best stage shows the European Disney resort has ever known. The story can easily be followed, the visual effects are great and the combination of English and French doesn’t bother me much. Mickey and the Magician takes us on a journey through recognisable film scenes, including beautiful live vocals and stunning scenery. I also liked its predecessor Animagique, but this is definitely the next level. Needless to say: the shows’s popularity is enormous. Long lines form well in advance and the theatre is usually filled to the brim.
Mickey and the Magician brought us to Toon Studio, the happiest and brightest themed land at Walt Disney Studios. The area is largely based on modern Pixar films. Exceptions are made for Mickey and the Magician, some meet and greet locations, Aladdin’s Flying Carpets and Art of Disney Animation. This attraction shows how animated films come to life. It’s not spectacular at all, but it’s one of those few rides which hardly ever has a queue. The best part of it is a cleverly edited compilation of diverse Disney movies which always gives me goosebumps. Art of Disney Animation usually gets little credit from the Disney fan community, but that’s a shame. Apart from its ugly location (the bright blue building clashes with the graceful facades of Hollywood Boulevard) it really is okay.
Cars Quatre Roues Rallye will always be special to me. I’m not a huge fan of generic Zamperla rides, but I once experienced the first ride during the first public soft opening. That’s cool, although we were actually hoping for a preview at the nearby Crush’s Coaster during that day in May 2007. Just like most people, I’ve rarely seen a queue of less than 40 minutes for this coaster. Please note that I usually visit Disneyland Paris on weekdays out of school holidays. So yes, Crush’s Coaster is definitely the resort’s most notorious attraction when it comes to lengthy waits. This didn’t come as a surprise, though. If Disney opens a family roller coaster with a hyper-popular Finding Nemo theme without considering capacity, then this is a logical outcome. Are those endless lines a valid excuse to ignore Crush’s Coaster? Unfortunately not: the ride is too much fun to skip. It’s surprisingly intense, blissfully smooth and the dark ride part makes me forget that I’m actually riding a fairground roller coaster. True… it’s a rather short experience and that the coaster part lacks good theming, but that doesn’t change the fact that Crush’s Coaster is so much fun. So I guess you’ll just have to conquer the queue, because the ride is worth it.
European Disney fans often complain about downtime and the lack of new attractions at Disneyland Park. Fortunately, Walt Disney Studios is better off in terms of expansions. A lot of novelties have opened since 2002 and theming has increased drastically. The park is gradually getting rid of the studio and Hollywood-related theme. One of the bigger expansions came in 2010, when Toy Story Playland was presented. Toy Story Playland consists of three classic flat rides, all of which were presented in a rather simple form. Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop, for example, might even be the ugliest attraction ever built within a Disney park. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that Walt Disney Studios didn’t choose a studio-based decor. On the other hand, it just isn’t good enough to convince. So actually I’m not sure what to think about it… Should I worship Toy Story Playland because of its dynamism and the fact that those family attractions were really needed? Or should I conclude that this was yet another Disney-unworthy addition? One thing is certain: it’s a good thing that they didn’t put this area at Disneyland Park, like Imagineers did in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
In 2014, Walt Disney Studios finally presented an area in which you can feel true Disney magic. Finally… E-ticket attraction Ratatouille – L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy opened together with a dazzling interpretation of a Parisian square. The facades are cute, the music is fun and we also got a cool new table service restaurant (with pricey, but tasty steaks). In short: this is Disney as Disney should be.
Unfortunately, my opinion about that main attraction is a little less enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong… Ratatouille is the dark ride that Walt Disney Studios desperately needed. I’m therefore an avid user of the attraction’s single rider line, but I’ll never join if the queue is longer than 10 minutes. Honestly, this 4D dark ride simply couldn’t meet my expectations. Those expectations were mainly created by the huge amount of money that Disney invested into this novelty: more than 200 million euros. This puts Ratatouille in the same category as Mystic Manor, Indiana Jones Adventure and Radiator Springs Racers. Still, the experience isn’t on the same level. The effects are moderate and with its huge video screens, Ratatouille actually feels like a Universal Studios ride. Besides, the ride lacks a real highlight. Mystic Manor has the Chinese Salon, Indiana Jones Adventure has the rolling boulder and Radiator Springs Racers ends with that famous racing sequence. Ratatouille, however, keeps going on without building tension. I don’t want to say that’t a bad ride, but it’s not spectacular either.
In the past, Walt Disney Studios often closed its gates at 6 PM, which is particularly early for a Disney theme park. Luckily, this has changed in recent years. During the Christmas season and in Spring, this park even has its own nighttime entertainment. At 7.45 we gather at Tower of Terror for Star Wars – A Galactic Celebration, the visual highlight during Season of the Force. The performance mainly consists of projections on the facade of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, lasers and fireworks. As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I don’t care about Star Wars. Still, this temporary show is definitely worth a visit. Don’t expect great storytelling – it seems to me to be a random compilation of spectacular scenes – but just enjoy some perfectly executed video mapping. It’s a visual piece of art and finally there’s a valid reason to stay at Walt Disney Studios until closing time. Yay.
Believe it or not… it was a true pleasure to write this report. Writing about a perfect theme park is often more difficult than writing about a theme park with obvious flaws. And I think we may agree about the fact that Walt Disney Studios has its flaws. This remains the world’s least beautiful Disney theme park and some attractions are well past their expiration dates. Armageddon, Studio Tram Tour and the horrible stunt show, for example, are worthless. Still, the evolution of Walt Disney Studios is admirable. The park is already in a much better state than it was in 2002, which is mainly due to the addition of high-quality rides and shows. Ratatouille and Crush’s Coaster are crowd pleasers, while Tower of Terror and Mickey and the Magician belong to the world’s best Disney attractions. Walt Disney Studios is on the right track and last week’s announcement made the future even brighter. This may remain Disneyland Park’s ugly brother forever, but in terms of attractions, Walt Disney Studios could become the better of both parks. There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow.